Education Meeting Report

Developing Resources for Teaching Ethics in Geoscience

Teaching Geoethics Across the Geoscience Curriculum;
Chico Hot Springs, Montana, 10–13 June 2014

By and John W. Geissman

Ethics education is an increasingly important component of the ­pre-​­professional training of geoscientists. Geoethics encompasses the values and professional standards required of geoscientists to work responsibly in any geoscience profession and in service to society. Funding agencies (e.g., the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health) require training of graduate students in the responsible conduct of research; employers are increasingly expecting their workers to have basic training in ethics; and the public demands the highest standards of ethical conduct by scientists. However, there is currently no formal course of instruction in ethics in the geoscience curriculum, and few faculty members have the experience, resources, and sometimes willingness required to teach ethics as a component of their geoscience courses.

To address this need, a group of about 25 participants gathered at a workshop in Chico Hot Springs, Mont., in mid-June to initiate action. The workshop, funded by the National Science Foundation’s Ethics Education in Science and Engineering program, drew individuals with a broad range of backgrounds and interests, including those outside of the geosciences (e.g., biology, engineering, history, and philosophy). The workshop program was organized around four themes: geoethics and self, geoethics and the geoscience profession, geoethics and society, and geoethics and stewardship of Earth.

The goals of the workshop were to identify, aggregate, organize, and disseminate the instructional resources currently available for teaching geoethics; develop a collection of case studies that could be used in geoscience classes across the curriculum; begin to develop a community of scholars and expand the network of colleagues interested in teaching geoethics; and consider ways that geoethics can contribute to public science literacy.

Products of this workshop include a toolkit of best practices and strategies for teaching and assessing student understanding of geoethics. Working groups made recommendations on how to introduce geoethics topics in introductory courses, identified geoethics topics that could be integrated into existing “core” courses required in the geoscience curriculum, and developed guidelines for creation of a new, dedicated course of study on geoethics for majors. Participants contributed to a growing compilation of online instructional resources to support teaching geoethics (e.g., journal articles, reports, books, Web resources). Many participants presented case studies that focused on ethical issues confronting the geosciences, in general, and geoscientists in specific professions, in particular. These case studies were discussed and refined over the course of the meeting and are available for use in a wide array of classes and instructional settings.

The workshop was intended to be a catalytic event to promote greater awareness of the need for formal instruction in geoethics in the undergraduate geoscience curriculum. A ­follow-​on theme session on teaching geoethics across the curriculum and a town hall meeting on geoethics is scheduled for the 2014 AGU Fall Meeting. We encourage the geoscience community to become informed about initiatives to promote geoethics education and to contribute to the collections of case studies and online resources. More information about teaching geoethics can be found at http://serc.carleton.edu/geoethics/index.html.

—David W. Mogk, Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University, Bozeman, Mont.; email: [email protected]; and John W. Geissman, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of New Mexico, and Department of Geosciences, University of Texas, Dallas

© 2014. American Geophysical Union. All rights reserved.