This text is taken directly from NRC. 2011c. Challenges and Opportunities for Education about Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington: National Academies Press, pp. 8-10.
Educational Materials and Methods
The discussions during the workshop made clear that, beyond the available online resources, additional educational materials and resources are needed if discussions of research with dual use potential are to be incorporated more widely and effectively into education programs for life scientists around the world. Participants at the workshop addressed questions on the suggested content of these materials, the types of teaching methods that would be effective in presenting them, and the opportunities for developing materials more collaboratively and disseminating them more widely. One of the recurring themes in the discussion was that “no one size fits all,” given the diversity of fields, interests, and experiences across the life sciences. The key is making the issue relevant to students and this requires a tailored approach. At the same time, participants also stressed the importance of finding ways to share successful practices and lessons learned as the scope and scale of education about dual use issues expands. The committee’s conclusions with regard to these issues are:
• Additional materials are needed that will be relevant to diverse audiences in many parts of the world, as well as those to at different educational stages, in different fields within the life sciences, and in related research communities. A number of good resources have been developed, but there is a need for more that are relevant to research related, for example, to plants or animals and to fields that are not as obviously security-related.
• More materials are needed in languages other than English. This will be particularly important in undergraduate settings or when used as part of technical training (i.e., biosafety).
• In addition to online resources, materials such as CDs or DVDs that can provide comparable opportunities for engaged learning are needed for areas that lack the sustained access or
capacity to take full advantage of webbased materials.
• Providing widespread access to materials that could be adapted for specific contexts or applications through open access repositories or resource centers would be important to implementing and sustaining education about dual use issues.
• Given current technology, it would be feasible to create the capacity to develop materials through online collaborations, as part of or in partnership with repositories or resource centers. Online collaborative tools can be a key mechanism to facilitate global participation in the development of materials, although again issues of access to the Internet will need to be considered in designing any arrangements.
• Developing methods and capacity for the life sciences and educational communities to comment on and vet education materials, such as an appropriately monitored Wikipedia model, would be important. Another important capacity would be the ability to share lessons learned and best practices about materials and teaching strategies as experience with education about dual use issues expands. If appropriate resources are available, both this and the previous conclusion should be well within the capacity of current online technologies.
• Teaching strategies need to focus on active learning and clear learning objectives, while allowing for local adaptation and application.
Implementing Education about Dual Use Issues: Practical Considerations
A recurring theme during the workshop was the variety of settings in which content about dual use issues could be introduced. This reflected the diversity of the participants and the conditions in which education about dual use issues is currently taking place. It also led to discussions of a range of needs and challenges that are reflected in the committee’s conclusions.
• Incorporating education about dual use issues into the channels through which life scientists already receive their exposure to issues of responsible conduct—biosafety, bioethics and research ethics, and RCR—offers the greatest opportunity to reach the largest and most diverse range of students and professionals. Biosafety training reaches those with the most capabilities, knowledge, and motivation relevant to dual use. In addition, biosafety may be of particular interest for developing countries that are attempting to raise their overall standards of laboratory practices. Ethics and RCR are more general and may reach more people. The available evidence suggests that the use of multiple channels is already the most common approach.
• If the approach above is taken, then growing interest in expanding education about dual use issues, such as a proposal under consideration with the U.S. government to require such education for all federally funded life scientists, might also be an
opportunity to expand more general education about responsible conduct.
• It will be important to reach out to other disciplines that are increasingly part of life sciences research—physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering—as part of education about dual use issues. There may also be useful ideas and lessons from how these fields provide education about ethical issues and the potential for misuse of scientific results.
• Training opportunities to help faculty develop the skills, abilities and knowledge needed to teach dual use issues effectively are essential if education about dual use issues is to expand successfully.
• There are several promising models for “train-the-trainer” programs on which to draw, but a common characteristic is the use of the experience to create a network among faculty to support and sustain each other and to encourage expanded education.
• It is important to consider appropriate approaches to assessment and evaluation of education about dual use issues early in the process of developing and implementing new courses and modules.
• In addition to a lack of awareness of and engagement in dual use issues among life scientists, there are a number of obstacles to any effort to implement new content or teaching methods, such as competition for space in crowded curricula, pressures on students to focus on their research, and in some cases a general lack of support for teaching.
An introduction to dual use issues should be part of the education of every life scientist.
• Except in specialized cases (particular research or policy interests), this education should be incorporated within broader coursework and training rather than via stand-alone courses. Appropriate channels include biosafety, bioethics and research ethics, and professional standards (i.e., RCR), as well as inclusion of examples of research with dual use potential in general life sciences courses.
• Insights from research on learning and effective teaching should inform development of materials, and approaches to teaching students and preparing faculty.
Achieving the broad goal of making dual use issues part of broader education will require a number of specific actions. They may be undertaken separately by different organizations but there will be substantial benefit if there is an effort to coordinate across the initiatives and share successful practices and lessons learned. Resources will be needed to ensure that the initiatives are carried out at an appropriate scale and scope.
The workshop participants and the committee did not explore the implementation of any specific recommendations in sufficient depth to prescribe a particular mechanism or path forward. Instead, reflecting the diversity and variety of situations in which education about dual use issues will be carried out, the final chapter lays out a number of options that could be used to implement each of the recommendations below.
• Develop an international open access repository of materials that can be tailored to and adapted for the local context, perhaps as a network of national or regional repositories.
The repository should be under the auspices of the scientific community rather than governments, although support and resources from governments will be needed to implement the education locally.
Materials should be available in a range of languages.
Materials should interface with existing databases and repositories of educational materials dedicated to science education.
Additional case studies to address broader segments of the life sciences community should be developed, with a focus on making the case studies relevant to the student/researcher.
• Design methods for commenting and vetting of materials by the community (such as an appropriately monitored Wikipedia model) so they can be improved by faculty, instructors and experts in science education.
• Build networks of faculty and instructors through train-the-trainer programs, undertaking this effort if possible in cooperation with scientific unions and professional societies and associations.
• Develop a range of methods to assess outcomes and, where possible, impact. These should include qualitative approaches as well as quantitative measures, for example, of learning outcomes.