LTSN Projects: Ethics Teaching Highlighted in Contextualised Scenarios



The ETHICS project brings together six subject centres, serving at least 56 seperate disciplines. The project will produce a body of inter-disciplinary ethics teaching and learning resources based round a database of contextualised scenarios - working examples of ethical problems encountered and used in teaching to highlight relevant principles.

Here Susan Illingworth first sets out the arguments for applied ethics being multi- disciplinary, and describes the basic objectives of the project. Mark Brennan then looks at models for sharing best practice in ethics across disciplines.

Why interdisciplinary?

Ethics is fundamentally concerned with human actions and agency, and as such, it has relevance to all areas of human endeavour. The concepts, principles and theories that over two thousand years of scholarly and systematic investigation into ethics have produced suggest that our moral intuitions are not essentially subject-specific.

An agricultural scientist working in an environmentally sensitive location might have different moral concerns from those of a doctor specialising in children's cancers, but this does not mean that they must appeal to distinct or incommensurable sets of values.

The supradisciplinary nature of ethics is the main reason for supposing that an interdisciplinary approach to ethics teaching might be of mutual benefit. The ETHICS Project's inclusion of six subject centres (Medicine, Dentistry & Veterinary Medicine, Health Sciences & Practice, Philosophy & Religious Studies, Psychology, Law and Bioscience) between them serving the needs of at least 56 separate disciplines, give it a wide base from which to review the effectiveness of existing practice.

What are the project's aims?

Drawing on the extensive combined knowledge and experience of its subject communities, the Project will work to produce a number of ethics learning and teaching resources by the end of 2003. The primary material resource will be a database of Contextualised Scenarios or case studies.

These are working examples of applied ethical problems used in teaching to highlight relevant ethical principles. The Project aims to offer scenarios which are:

  • Defined in relation to stated learning and teaching objectives.
  • Of proven effectiveness in meeting those learning and teaching objectives.
  • Drawn from a wide range of disciplines but presented so as to facilitate translation into other subject areas.

It is hoped that the database will provide a useful resource not only for new teachers of ethics looking for ideas on course development, but also for experienced ethicists for whom it will provide a snapshot of current teaching and learning priorities.

We are now inviting teachers who use contextualised scenarios to contribute an item for this database.

If you are interested, please check out the ETHICS website for furthern information:

The Project's objectives with regard to the development of human resources are potentially the more significant in the long term.

Despite the supradisciplinarity of ethics, ethics communities remain largely subject-specific. It is therefore a key aim of the Project to promote a network of ethicists drawn from all participating disciplines, by providing a forum for the exchange of ideas on their shared subject.

Multiprofessional Frameworks

Many graduates will work within teams drawn from a range of different professions when they leave university. Accordingly, they will need to be able to discuss moral issues competently and constructively with a diverse range of people. In some cases they will be asked to address the concerns not only of fellow professionals but of members of the public. One of the primary motives behind the drive towards a greater ethical awareness among graduates is an appreciation of the consequences for any profession of a loss of public confidence. It will therefore be increasingly important for teachers of ethics to produce learning and teaching outcomes on three levels:

  • Subject-specific: students will need to understand:
  • The moral issues that arise most frequently within their subject area.
  • The perspectives of students and professionals within this subject area.
  • The perspectives of key stakeholders/service users in the professions served by that subject area.
  • Interprofessional: students will need to understand the perspectives of people from professionally related subject areas on issues of shared moral significance.
  • Public: students will need to understand the perspectives of private individuals and relevant social groups on moral issues arising within their subject area.

The key to public confidence

Conflicting professional values can only serve to undermine public faith in professional standards, so an effective learning and teaching strategy must seek to present moral issues in a way that anticipates and fosters dialogue between different professions and between professions and the public. The ETHICS Project exists to help teachers meet this difficult but vital challenge.

For more information:

Images, diagrams and attachments

Caption:The ETHICS Project team led by Susan Illingworth (second from left).
License:Used with permission

MEDEV, School of Medical Sciences Education Development,
Faculty of Medical Sciences, Newcastle University, NE2 4HH