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As with all effective teaching, a key element in any unit designed to teach research ethics is assessment of student learning, whether the “unit” is a whole course, a brown bag lunch seminar, or a few sessions or segments of sections within a course. How can we know what our students learned, and whether they learned what we intended them to learn? How can we tell whether our instructional goals were met?

I am reminded of the Saturday Night Live skit in which a reporter asks President Carter, “Why are you building the B-1 Bomber?” To which Carter replies, “I’m going to take that question in two parts. First, ‘Why?’ This is a question that has baffled philosophers and religious leaders for millennia, and it’s hardly fair to expect me to answer it during a press conference. Second, ‘Are you building the B-1 Bomber?’ Yes. Next question.”

I am addressing a different question: “How can we assess student learning in research ethics?” To take it in two parts: “How?” This is obviously a tremendous question that scientists and philosophers have invested countless hours in studying and I can’t possibly begin to address it in one short paper. Second: “Can we evaluate educational programs or assess student learning in research ethics.” Yes.

That isn’t all that helpful, no matter how true. So let me divide the question a different way.

Part I: “How can we assess student learning (full stop)?” This time I am not joking when I say that this is a huge question that educators have addressed for centuries, and it would be impossible to go over even a fraction of it here. A great deal is known about assessing student learning, and many techniques that can be used to assess student learning in any field can be used here as well, when suitably adapted. For example, if one of your goals is to teach objective information, such as your institution’s regulations and policies on animal use, you can use any number of methods to test whether students have acquired that knowledge, including all of the methods you normally use when you assign grades.

But then we get to the second part of the question, “How do you assess student learning in research ethics?” We have to accept that some of the goals of teaching responsible research are different from many other kinds of teaching. But we also have to understand that teaching research ethics is not utterly unique; it has many points of similarity with other kinds of teaching.

Material Type

Working Paper

Research Area

Engineering | Life Sciences | Medicine and Health Sciences | Physical Sciences and Mathematics | Social and Behavioral Sciences

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Copyright 2008, Kenneth D. Pimple, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

For information about this work, please contact Kenneth D. Pimple, Ph.D., Director of Teaching Research Ethics Programs, Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions, Indiana University, Bloomington IN 47405-3602; (812) 855-0261; FAX 855-3315;;;

Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute copies of this work for nonprofit educational purposes, provided that copies are distributed at or below cost, and that the author, source, and copyright notice are included on each copy. This permission is in addition to rights of reproduction granted under Sections 107, 108, and other provisions of the U.S. Copyright Act. Before making any distribution of this work, please ascertain whether you have the current version by contacting the author or the Poynter Center or checking; follow the link to “Resources for teaching research ethics,” and then to “Providing professional training….”

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