Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

An Investigation of the Evolution of High School and Undergraduate Student Researchers' Understanding of Key Science Ethics Concepts

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

An Investigation of the Evolution of High School and Undergraduate Student Researchers' Understanding of Key Science Ethics Concepts

Article excerpt

In 2010, the National Science Foundation (NSF) began to require all faculty, postgraduate, graduate, and undergraduate students participating in NSF-sponsored research to participate in formal ethics training emphasizing authorship, plagiarism, data handling, and research misconduct. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has had a longstanding requirement that those participating in NIH-funded research receive training in the Responsible Conduct of Research. At this point, NSF has left the design and implementation of ethics training to each individual academic institution. A common approach to science ethics training in summer undergraduate research programs is often a discussion-based seminar on science ethics. Some programs (Fisher & Levinger, 2008) offer a single workshop, whereas others (Shachter, 2003) offer more extensive training programs.

Although many summer programs offer science ethics training to their participants, surprisingly little is known about student perceptions of ethics in the research laboratory. McCabe (1997) reported that many natural science and engineering students, upwards of 40% of those surveyed, admitted they had falsified or fabricated laboratory data at least once for their laboratory courses. Rationalizations offered for their lapses included inadequate materials, facilities, and assistance and limited time.

An important question is whether student scientists view the classroom laboratory differently than they do the research laboratory. Del Carlo and Bodner (2004), probing undergraduate chemistry majors' perceptions of dishonesty, found that these students believe the classroom laboratory is fundamentally a different environment from the research or industrial laboratory. This perception is so profound that students appear to believe that there are distinctly different standards for academic honesty in these environments. For example, students working in the classroom environment considered copying from others dishonest; however, they felt that sharing data in the traditional, noncollaborative chemistry laboratory was an acceptable practice.

Also relevant are ethical issues that our undergraduate students face in college and university research laboratories. In an anonymous study of undergraduates involved in research in the fields of biology and chemistry in 2000, Mabrouk and Peters reported that 8% of the undergraduate research student respondents experienced ethical dilemmas in the course of their undergraduate research experiences. The ethical dilemmas most frequently reported were assignment of credit, confidentiality, plagiarism, and fabrication/falsification of laboratory data. To our knowledge, there has been no study examining the research experiences of high school summer research apprentices, either looking at the frequency with which these students experience ethical challenges or the types of ethical dilemmas they face.

Case studies are a frequently used pedagogical vehicle in science ethics training (Fisher & Levinger, 2008; Hoggard, 2008; Montes, Padilla, Maldonado, & Negretti, 2009; Niece, 2005; Treichel, 1999). There are many resources available to support the use of a case study approach to science ethics. A number of books (Kovac, 2003; Macrina, 2005; National Research Council, 1995), websites (Center for Engineering, Ethics, and Society, 2006; Mabrouk, McIntyre, Virrankoski, & Jeliffe, 2007), and videos (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2000) are available that contain excellent case study materials. Anecdotally, many summer research programs appear to provide ethics training using a single-session case-based workshop approach. The present study is a report of our first efforts to evaluate the efficacy of the case study-based workshop approach to science ethics training and learn what concepts in science ethics high school and undergraduate students carry away from their summer research programs. …

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