TRAINING ETHICAL RESPONSIBILITY AS A TRANSFERABLE SKILL IN UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS OF BIOTECHNOLOGY

J. Cebolla-Cornejo, M. Leiva-Brondo, R.M. Peiró, A.M. Pérez-de-Castro

Universidad Politecnica de Valencia (SPAIN)
Undergraduate studies have been usually focused on the basic knowledge need to gain specific skills required for a certain career, rather than on the development of transferable skills, which are highly valued by employers. During the last decade, though, a higher emphasis has been placed in training and evaluating these transferable skills. Among them, those skills related to ethics are frequently taken for granted in the students and are not directly trained. An important part of the students of Biotechnology will work as researchers in the public or private sectors. The high competitiveness in the research area may lead to professional misconducts, especially when the focus is placed in advancing the researcher’s own career at any cost, rather than contributing to the advance of science. Although undergraduate students are still far from being researchers, we found the opportunity to train ethical responsibility at an early stage, in order to prepare them for their future career. We have tried to train this skill in 4th year students of Biotechnology, at Universitat Politècnica de València (Spain). In order to do so, the students were asked to prepare in groups of four to five students a ten-point set of general principles for ethical conduct of research. Previously, in order to base these principles, they had to analyze ethical issues that they may face as researchers in the future, to review published literature and to include examples of wrong ethical behavior. Then they were asked to present their work as a 15’-20’ documentary, providing a screencast, which would be self- and peer-evaluated. This methodology enables that, apart from those skills related to ethics, the students also train searching, contrasting and synthesizing information, team working, oral communication, providing constructive criticism, overseeing other’s work and at the same time analyzing real problems regarding their future career. The fact of producing a screencast documentary represented an attractive challenge, as they seemed to be especially interested by the digital environment. So far, most screencast were highly original and the graphical appearance was carefully addressed. The task proved not to be time-consuming, as the students dedicated in average 9.25 hours to produce it. Peers were asked to give a mark for the contents (information provided by the screencast), formal appearance of the screencast and oral expression, as well as a global mark for the task. The global mark was highly and significantly correlated with the three partial evaluations, but especially with the contents of the screencast (0.89). The use of a scoring rubric enabled low values of % coefficient of variation for the marks of the same work evaluated by different students (mean value 8.8%). The average number of hours dedicated by the members of each group significantly correlated with the peer evaluation of the contents (0.49), oral expression (0.48) and global work (0.52). Mean self-evaluation showed moderate correlations with the evaluation by peers (0.40) and the teacher’s evaluation (0.48), but a higher correlation was found between this last mark and the mark given by peers (0.76). In fact, students tended to give higher marks to their own work than to the peers. Considering all the limitations, a topic oriented screencast represents a good tool to train at the same time ethical responsibility and other important transferable skills.