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Use of Case Studies and a Systematic Analysis Tool to Engage Undergraduate Bioengineering Students in Ethics Education

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Ethics Education, Global Health, and Outreach in BME

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

25.1409.1 - 25.1409.16



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Paper Authors


Alyssa Catherine Taylor University of Washington

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Alyssa C. Taylor is a lecturer in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Washington. She received a B.S. in biological systems engineering at yhe University of California, Davis, and a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at the University of Virginia. Taylor’s teaching activities are focused on developing and teaching core introductory courses and technical labs for bioengineering undergraduates, as well as coordinating the capstone design sequence for the BIOEN Department at the University of Washington. Taylor currently pursues educational research activities, with the ultimate goal of optimizing bioengineering curriculum design and student learning outcomes.

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Use of Case Studies and a Systematic Analysis Tool to Engage Undergraduate Bioengineering Students in Ethics Education In addition to developing technical skills, engineering undergraduates must also be prepared tonavigate the ethical issues they will encounter during their professional careers. Inbioengineering in particular, students must be prepared to identify and solve the wide variety ofethics problems encountered in this rapidly-progressing field. Because ethics education is animportant component of any engineering student’s training, ABET criteria for the accreditationof engineering programs includes the requirement that graduating students be equipped with anunderstanding of professional and ethical responsibility and the ability to engage in engineeringdesign while considering ethical, economic, environmental, social, and safety constraints. At the[name of institution], this requirement is satisfied by addressing ethical responsibility andengineering ethics problems throughout the core bioengineering curriculum. Students are firstexposed to ethical issues in the context of bioengineering in a recently-implemented courseentitled Introduction to Bioengineering Problem Solving [# of course]. This course serves as thefoundation for the later bioengineering courses which also involve ethics instruction, includingjunior-level core courses and the Capstone Senior Design sequence. [# of course] is designed tomotivate students to engage in ethics problem-solving, through the use of real-world case studiesand the presentation of a strategic analysis tool useful for solving ethics problems.In this paper, we present our approach to engaging students in bioethics, through the use of casestudies and a systematic tool that can be used to solve any type of ethics problem. In the firstoffering of [# of course] in 2011, case studies were utilized to introduce students to the widerange of possible ethics problems in bioengineering and to illustrate the complexity of ethicalchallenges. Students were introduced to case studies involving human subjects, medical devicerisk, research misconduct, and clinical trials in developing countries. Established medicalresearch guidelines, ethical theories, and professional codes of ethics were discussed in thecontext of case studies. Case studies encompassed situations faced by clinicians, medicalresearchers, undergraduates, etc. and were presented to students and subsequently analyzed ingroups. In addition to identifying ethical issues, students must be able to actually solve ethicsproblems. Thus, in this course we taught students a strategic ethical analysis tool, the Four A’s.Students were taught the steps of the strategy and then asked to apply the technique to a specificcase during a group-based problem-solving session. Students gained additional practice throughan individually-based assignment which required them to utilize the Four A’s strategy.Based on student performance data, instructor observations, and student feedback, the casestudies and Four A’s strategy were effective methods for engaging students in ethics education.Case-based learning was used to convey the real-world importance of ethical issues. Studentswere able to utilize the Four A’s strategy to thoroughly research, analyze, and solve ethicsproblems. Student feedback was overall positive, citing that having a structured framework withwhich to approach a complicated ethics problem was valuable.In conclusion, these methods were effective in conveying to undergraduates the necessity andcomplexity of solving bioethics problems. Based on initial results, these techniques serve toequip students with the tools necessary to handle more complex ethical problems as theyprogress throughout their academic and professional careers.

Taylor, A. C. (2012, June), Use of Case Studies and a Systematic Analysis Tool to Engage Undergraduate Bioengineering Students in Ethics Education Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--22166

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