Bioethics course to make history

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

High school and extension educators will make history in January as the premiere class of students for the first bioethics course in Iowa to be taught entirely over the Internet, according to Rhonda Christensen of the Buena Vista County Extension Service.

"An Introduction to Biotechnology Ethics" will provide youth and adult educators with the background, resources and confidence they need to lead ethics discussions with their classes or extension audiences. The online course begins Jan. 14 and ends May 10.

The course was developed as part of a four-year, $3.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to nine land-grant universities in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. The consortium of institutions is studying the social, economic and ethical aspects of biotechnology.

Teachers and extension educators from the five states can earn one graduate credit from Drake University in Des Moines or one staff development credit toward renewal of their teaching license. All class work can be done at home at the educator's convenience.

But the ethics course is far from recreational Web surfing, says Kristen Hessler, a postdoctoral teaching fellow in bioethics in the Department of Philosophy and the ISU Office of Biotechnology. "Educators will spend much of their time online participating in and evaluating the bioethics case study activities they do in this course for use in their own classrooms or with other audiences," says Hessler, instructor for the course. "There will be lots of online discussion with other educators. By the end of the course, they will be able to critically discuss and teach others about some moral issues surrounding articular biotechnologies."

Educators will spend a minimum of 15 hours online, plus an additional 30 hours of reading, writing, research and taking exams. They will be introduced to moral philosophy and influential moral theories as tools to evaluate biotechnology arguments, both pro and con. Topics covered in the course also will include some ethical controversies surrounding transgenic plants and animals and ethical issues in human genetics.

To register for the course, for either graduate or staff development credit, educators should contact Lori Miller at the ISU Office of Biotechnology, (515) 294-9818, toll-free in Iowa (800) 643-9504.

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