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Jinnie Garrett: Education and the new human biotechnologies - Tarrytown 2011

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Published on May 3, 2012

Jinnie Garrett, Professor of Biology at Hamilton University, comments on how to broaden and deepen education on the social aspects of the new human biotechnologies at the 2011 Tarrytown Meeting.

The Tarrytown Meetings bring together people working to ensure that human biotechnologies and related emerging technologies support rather than undermine social justice, equality, human rights, ecological integrity and the common good.

Find out more about the Tarrytown Meetings here:
http://www.geneticsandsociety.org/art...

To find more videos, check out the Tarrytown Youtube channel:
http://www.youtube.com/user/Tarrytown...

Presentation Abstract:
In my comments, I focused on undergraduate education. There is certainly a strong case to be made for the importance of every potential consumer (citizen) understanding the consequences of advances in human biotechnology. However, I believe it is even more vital that the future practitioners, regulators, teachers and communicators of bioscience, all of whom would take an undergraduate degree, understand these issues. I discussed the different types of courses in which students could encounter this material and the effectiveness of the current structure in reaching the most important audience; those who will ultimately have a professional responsibility for administering or regulating advances in bioscience.

Presentation Notes:

My focus is on undergraduate education -- while we want everyone to be informed on these topics -- location for education of future professionals, regulators, communicators is very important. Where is the undergrad curriculum and can we/ should we have students engage these issues?

Beyond courses for bioethics majors, 3 most likely curricular locations:
1. Non major 'general education' courses. Could be first year seminars, elective non major science courses. Taken by the widest range of students -- but elective.
2. Specialist studies courses that bring a particular analytical perspective to the topic of human biotechnologies. E.g. Womens Studies Gender & reproductive rights, a law course on developments in forensic science. Generally taken by students already interested in pursuing that career or that study area.
3. Within in 'mainstream' science classes. When science faculty include ELSI in order to present a broader perspective. These usually comprise of Friday sessions where instructors introduce 'science in the news' articles & generate class discussion. These are really great & important in many ways, much better than nothing & I think significantly contribute to retention of students (esp traditionally under represented groups) BUT the format intrinsically devalues the content in comparison to the 'really important stuff'. The ELSI topics are presented with no theoretical background, students are rarely graded on that material & learn that this is interesting but not of central importance.

So, all three are very important and effective mechanisms of engaging students in questions of the emerging human biotechnologies but there is little coordination.
So, realistically how many students, future medical professionals, lawyers, regulators, journalists ..parents, do we reach? The general education courses are usually amazing but are completely subject to the whims of an individual professor in a supportive department -- there is rarely institutional commitment to the genetic content (although there certainly may be to the diversity content). The 'studies-based' courses provide scholarship in the area but reach very students -- high number of the 'choir.' Science faculty tend to view ELSI material as peripheral and 'not their problem.'

I doubt anyone in this audience finds the current situation adequate. However, there are so many issues & directives being raised in education that it is very hard to get attention. Initiatives like Tarrytown can bring the importance of these topics and emphasize how human biotechnologies can be a perfect vehicle for exploring issues of race, gender, class, ability. It can be used for teaching quantitative literacy, and critical thinking big time. I see this as the most likely avenue for us to make progress into broad expansion into general education however there are so many critical needs in education it is hard to make a case for any one as most important.

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