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Teaching Bioethics as a Stand-alone Subject in a New Zealand State Secondary School

This study is based on the contention that there is a lack of theoretical values education, that is, ethical thinking, ethical consideration and understanding of ethical theory, within New Zealand’s schools and communities at a time when societies globally are facing significant ethical, legal, social, environmental, economic and political challenges resulting from rapid technological advances. This project’s principal aim is to explore the cognitive and affective outcomes for students interacting with a specially designed bioethics curriculum presented as a stand-alone subject within the timetable at their urban, decile six, co-educational, state secondary school. It explores the proposal that if the teaching and learning of bioethics is conducted in a student-centred context and includes the teaching of ethical theory, in addition to exploring applied bioethical situations in which learners are encouraged to generate and test their opinions, then it can engage many learners and provide them with a successful way to critique their personal value systems; develop an understanding of values systems that differ from their own; and develop the key academic and social competencies of critical thinking skills, relating to others, managing self, participating and contributing, and understanding language, symbols and text required by the New Zealand curriculum. The study proposes a constructivist view of learning as a multifaceted and continuously evolving developmental process in which new ideas are generated or assimilated based on an individual’s personal values, which have cultural, ethical and spiritual dimensions. Specifically, this investigation examines and describes the teaching and learning of bioethics through two case studies conducted in a state school environment across 78 students aged between 15 and 18 years, with a wide range of interests, backgrounds and academic abilities. This research has adopted a triangulated mixed-methods design in which both qualitative and quantitative data were generated and merged to develop a deep understanding of affective and cognitive outcomes for students participating in the full-year, stand-alone bioethics course. Participating students demonstrated high levels of engagement with the bioethics curriculum and the narrative, discussion-based pedagogy integral to the study. Results show that all participating students, regardless of their academic histories, had a positive affective and cognitive response to the bioethics curriculum. The stand-alone bioethics curriculum taught within the two bounded case study groups proved an effective vehicle for explicit and comprehensive values teaching and learning, incorporating both theoretical–cognitive and character–behavioural aspects. Students’ values appreciation, critical thinking skills, skills of argument, attitudes and behaviour towards others, and philosophical and scientific conceptual understanding, improved through their participation in the full-year, stand-alone bioethics trial. Data and experience acquired through this study will be of relevance to teachers from a wide variety of disciplines including the physical sciences and humanities, and to curriculum managers at individual and national policy levels.
Type of thesis
Stevens, D. A. E. (2013). Teaching Bioethics as a Stand-alone Subject in a New Zealand State Secondary School (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/7746
University of Waikato
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