The initial impetus for the project described in this report was rising concern that the knowledge, tools, and techniques resulting from research in the life sciences, while offering great potential benefits for human health, the economy, and the environment, could also be misused for bioterrorism or the creation of biological weapons. Research intended for beneficial purposes that nonetheless presents the risks of potential misuse is sometimes referred to as “dual use.”1
The speed of research advances and the global diffusion of academic and industrial research capabilities, led to recognition of the importance of engaging scientists in efforts both to recognize and to mitigate the risks and consequences of misuse. Raising awareness across the life sciences community about risks and ways to address them through education is a fundamental component of engagement. In many countries, colleges and universities are where the majority of innovative research is done; in all cases, they are where future scientists receive both their initial training and their initial introduction to the norms of scientific conduct regardless of their eventual career paths. Thus, institutions of higher education are particularly relevant to the tasks of education on research with dual use potential, whether for faculty, postdoctoral researchers, graduate and undergraduate students, or technical staff.
Although traditional dual use issues are focused on security, the role of scientists in recognizing and addressing them fits well within broader concepts of responsible conduct of research (RCR), research integrity (RI), and the social responsibility of science. Biosafety education and the teaching of science ethics that already address responsible conduct provide vehicles and educational templates into which these new concerns could be incorporated. Growing attention to the benefits of investing in research and the importance of inculcating responsible conduct/research integrity as
1 The traditional definition of “dual use” related to technology developed for civilian purposes that also had potential military applications; light aircraft, helicopters, and computers are frequently cited examples. Using the term to refer to research intended for beneficial purposes that could be misused dates from the early 2000s (NRC 2004; NSABB 2007).
part of building research capacity may expand these opportunities. Although research integrity traditionally has been considered as a set of ethical guidelines of concern to developed countries, the globalization of science and the resulting concerns about dual use now transcend national borders.
In addition to growing interest in research integrity, the lessons from research on adult learning methods (more below) may be able to contribute both a lens and focus for developing strategies to address dual use issues. The potential audiences include a broad array of current and future scientists and the policymakers who develop laws and regulations around issues of dual use. As with research integrity, improving the quality of science teaching can be considered part of broader efforts to build the capacity to conduct research according to world-class standards.
The core international agreement devoted to ensuring peaceful applications of biological research is the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC).2 The BWC is both a legal instrument and the embodiment of the global norm against the use of infectious and toxic agents as a weapon. BWC member states increasingly have recognized the importance of education and engagement as part of a mix of policies designed to create a “web of prevention” (Rappert and McLeish 2007). Over the past decade, this has led to a growing relationship between the BWC and a number of national and international scientific organizations through annual meetings of experts that address topics directly relevant to the conduct of science and policy issues where scientific expertise is essential. In 2008, for example, the focus was “Oversight, education, awareness raising, and adoption and/or development of codes of conduct.”3 At that meeting the U.S. Government announced that the U.S. Department of State would sponsor a workshop, to be organized by the National Research Council (NRC) of the U.S. National Academies in cooperation with a group of international scientific organizations, to: (1) survey existing courses and resources; (2) identify gaps and needs; and (3) suggest potential remedies. The NRC appointed an international Committee to oversee the workshop and prepare a report on these issues.
The workshop Promoting Education about Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences was hosted by the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, Poland in November 2009 (NRC 2010). The full list of findings and recommendations of this report may be found in Appendix A; one key finding, however, was the lack of faculty able to teach on
2 The text of the treaty may be found at http://unhq-appspub-01.un.org/UNODA/TreatyStatus.nsf/44e6eeabc9436b78852568770078d9c0/ffa7842e7fd1d0078525688f0070b82d?OpenDocument.
3 For further information see http://www.unog.ch/80256EE600585943/(httpPages)/8C24E93C19BDC8C4C12574F60031809F?OpenDocument.
responsible conduct of research and dual use issues given the diversity of scientific fields, interests and experiences involved. The report made two recommendations to address this need:
• Build networks of trained faculty as networks can help sustain teaching efforts on these topics.
• Take advantage of and incorporate the growing body of research on the “science of learning” as part of the education on dual use issues of faculty-teachers.
The second recommendation fits with the recommendation made in another NRC report, BIO2010: Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists (NRC 2003), which identified faculty education in new pedagogical approaches as a crucial component in improving [undergraduate biology] education. A condensed summary of these new approaches is presented in the next section.
Applying relevant findings from the science of learning to curriculum and materials development will enhance the likelihood of achieving desired outcomes. There is strong evidence that “active learning” approaches enhance learning generally (NRC 2000; Handelsman et al. 2006; Knight and Wood 2005; NRC 2011a). A critical component of active learning is that the learner, rather than the instructor, is at the center and focus of all activities in the classroom, laboratory, or field. Learner-centered environments are more likely to be collaborative, inquiry-based, and relevant (Brewer and Smith 2011). There is still a place for shorter, carefully structured lectures, but the instructor becomes primarily a guide providing effective learning materials and expertise as needed. Michael (2006) summarizes several characteristics of active learning processes:
• Having students engage in some activity that forces them to reflect upon ideas and how they are using those ideas.
• Requiring students to regularly assess their own degree of understanding and skill at handling concepts or problems in a particular discipline (this process is also called “metacognition”; NRC 2000).
• Attaining knowledge by participating or contributing.
4 The text in this section is modified and updated from Challenges and Opportunities for Education about Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences (NRC 2010, pp. 37-42).
• Keeping students mentally, and often physically, active in their learning through activities that involve them in gathering information, thinking, and problem solving.
As this list suggests, there are numerous teaching strategies to support active learning, ranging from in-class problem solving to case studies to learning from original investigations which they design in whole or in part. The variety of strategies enable active learning approaches that can be implemented in classes of any size, including large, lecture-based introductory courses.
Several findings from the learning sciences can inform education about dual use issues. For example, to be well understood, factual knowledge must be placed in a conceptual framework. Framing learning in the sciences as four intertwined strands of proficiency provides a sound basis for creating effective teaching and learning experiences across all levels of education, including the primary grades (NRC 2007, 2011b):
• Understanding scientific explanations;
• Generating scientific evidence;
• Reflecting on scientific knowledge; and
• Participating productively in science.
This model emphasizes the integration of learning about process and content in effective instruction. There are many opportunities for learners to engage with conceptual material, while being deeply involved in laboratory work. Thus laboratory work is not an add-on or distraction from content mastery, but rather one of many pathways to both factual knowledge and deeper conceptual understanding (NRC 2005). Social and ethical responsibility, as well as biological content, can readily be integrated in laboratory learning, whether it is a formal undergraduate laboratory experience or graduate-level research (NRC 2009a; NAE 2009).
Building in time for reflection, as called out in the third strand above, is an essential component of effective approaches to learning. To date, this is the only practice that has been demonstrated to result in student gains in understanding the nature of science (NRC 2005, 2008). Reflection involves the opportunity to engage in the exploration of understandings with other learners and a teacher, and in giving students opportunities to become more aware of their own levels of learning. Numerous studies have demonstrated the value of “metacognition” or self-monitoring in learning. Many effective teaching and learning strategies engage the learner in metacognitive practice. As discussed below, active learning, properly implemented, encourages metacognition. Given the complexities of the social and ethical dimensions of dual use and other issues in the responsible conduct of science, it would be important to include time throughout a course for various forms of reflection—ranging from deliberate breaks in lectures that
provide such opportunities to exercises both in and outside of class or laboratory that structure and guide reflection—in new curricula.
Understanding is constructed on a foundation of existing conceptual frameworks and experiences. Prior understanding can support further learning. In some cases, however, it can also lead to the development of pre- or misconceptions that may act as barriers to learning. Prior understandings also can be influenced by culture, which has implications for the development of dual use curricular materials for an international audience (NRC 2008). The importance of engaging learners’ prior understanding as they encounter new material is another key insight from the science of learning (summarized in NRC 2000) with direct implications for education about dual use and related issues.
Conceptual change often requires explicit instruction and takes time. In many current education systems, learners are often faced with too many disconnected ideas too quickly to be able to take meaning from them and change a previously held conception. And the literature on learning suggests that humans are not adept at making connections between disparate fields or types of knowledge unless they are specifically helped to do so through education (NRC 2000).
Curricula can be designed to engage students in key scientific practices: talk and argument, modeling and representation, and learning from investigations (NRC 2008). Designing a course or module in order to achieve specific learning goals and measurable outcomes is the first step in designing a curriculum with the techniques of active learning in mind. In contrast, the current system practiced by many faculty consists of first selecting a textbook, followed by compiling the course syllabus and assignments, constructing exams, and finally describing learning goals and outcomes based on the earlier steps. This “reverse design” process (i.e., first set the desired goals and outcomes of the educational module and then design a syllabus; Wiggins and McTighe 2005) is intended to ensure that learning outcomes inform instructional and also assessment strategies both by explicitly articulating and then integrating them into curriculum development at the outset. Assessment can be both formative and summative. Formative assessment is usually informal and low stakes (i.e., assessment exercises either do not count or comprise only a small percentage of students’ grades) and is offered regularly throughout the learning process, providing feedback for both the teacher and learner on progress achieved. In contrast, summative assessment, conducted at the end of a learning and teaching experience, provides information to students about their learning gains and to faculty and programs about the overall success of the effort. Both formative and summative assessments can be used to inform subsequent restructuring of the curriculum. Concept inventories, critical thinking rubrics, and curriculum-specific, pre- and posttests are examples of summative assessment tools. Without assessment that is closely aligned to learning outcomes, it is difficult to gather evidence about the effectiveness of curriculum.
In addition to considering ethical and intellectual development, attention to the learners’ culture and environment is also important for effective curriculum development. As discussed above, prior understandings will affect how an individual interacts with the materials, and learning is enhanced when the learner perceives its relevance to them. The need for relevance underscores the importance of making materials adaptable to local settings and individual circumstances, for example by providing instructors with a range of suggestions for adapting a common curriculum to their own settings.