Linking Medical Ethics and Biology: integrating teaching and learning across multiple disciplines
(Carole Brown, Professor of Biology, and Ana Iltis, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Bioethics program, teamed up to teach a linked course this semester. Linked courses “encourage integration of learning across courses and involve students with “big questions” that matter beyond the classroom” (AAC&U LEAP initiative). This blog is describes their experience this fall semester. Wake Forest is proud of faculty like Ana and Carole who make the effort to teach them. -Jacque)
We had talked about team teaching a course that would introduce students to science and bioethics for several years. The logistics were complicated, and we were not sure how we could make it work. The Dean’s invitation to faculty to develop linked courses–courses that intentionally integrate curriculum in two diverse courses–was the perfect solution for us. Our proposal to link BIO 101 (Biology and the Human Condition) with PHI 161 (Introduction to Medical Ethics) was accepted. The courses were marketed to first year students, through mailings over the summer. Both courses fulfill divisional requirements, something we hoped would attract students and serve their interests. It was required that all students enroll in both courses so that we had the same group of students taking both classes during the same semester.
We worked together during the summer to develop the courses. We explored topics, and with the help of the Teaching and Learning Center, we established learning objectives and assessments. We carefully calibrated our syllabi to address the topics in a coordinated sequence. The first few weeks of the semester was discipline-specific, learning about the scientific method and basic research principles in BIO 101 and studying ethical theories and ethical reasoning in PHI 161. Then the real back-and-forth between science and ethics began. For example, we paired the study of genetics in BIO 101 with a study of numerous ethical issues raised by the application of genetic technologies in research, clinical settings, and forensics and the criminal justice system. Students learned about the nervous system in BIO 101, and explored a range of topics in neuroethics, from memory blunting to cognitive enhancement in PHI 161. And so it was for many other topics, from cell division and reproduction to developmental biology, aging and death.
We organized out of the classroom experiences as well. We gathered one evening at the President’s Garage to watch GATACA, and discussed the movie over dinner. Since this proved to a be a popular venue and activity, we repeated it with a different movie, Contagion. We took a tour of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM), where students saw the well-known 3-D printers along with many other regenerative medicine applications at different stages of research and clinical use. The students had dinner at the home of one of the faculty members.
Although we have not seen our course evaluations yet, we’ve had very positive feedback from the students. We saw among the students exactly what we hoped to see. A true learning community emerged. With 6 hours of class together each week, the students clearly got to know each other well and they relied on each other for feedback and for group study sessions. We saw them relate knowledge and skills from different disciplines on a regular basis. They were very engaged students in the classroom and beyond. Their ability to reason critically and think creatively grew stronger throughout the semester, and they learned to challenge each other to advance discussion. The sense of shared goals among the students and faculty, the cross-disciplinary give-and-take, and the sense of community among the students made this one of the most enjoyable and productive teaching experiences we’ve had.