Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sample GM - Stem Cell Research

Here's another sample Global Module:

Stem Cell Research Debate

In this global module, students from different cultures would get to examine together the science and ethics of stem cell research and use. To help students better understand the issues involved, they will be asked to read and respond to several articles selected for that purpose. The first is Selecting the Perfect Baby: The Ethics of Embryo Design by Julia Omarzu.

The second is Stem Cells: Promises to Keep by Lauren Yaich

The third is Saving Superman (Part I: A-C)

Though the discussion will involve some exposure to scientific concepts and terminology, the principle objective of the discussion will be to try and highlight and discuss cultural differences in the way participants may see the role of science and the meaning of life. Many questions may arise in that conversation. Are there ethical issues of vital concern to students when they think about in-vitro fertilization and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis? Should decisions about the beginning of human life be made by governments? Scientists? Potential parents? Religious authorities? Or some other institution responsible for the ethical application of science? Do students see different ethical issues related to use of totipotent, pluripotent or multipotent stemcells? Do they see the use of adult stem cells (for example in therapeutic cloning) as controversial as use of embryonic stem cells in reproductive cloning?

Ultimately, there will be significant global ramification if some countries gain access to medical and genetic capabilities that others do not have or cannot use. Can students predict any of these possibilities?

Naturally, this description just begins to touch the surface of what the possibilities for a discussion like this are.


Week One: Introductions

During the first week, students will introduce themselves to one another. Just to make the conversation interesting, along with the introduction it might be engaging to here each students share a movie they have seen or book they have read or a cartoon they have seen that relates to the conversation about stem cells, genetic engineering, or cloning. Are their own perceptions about these issues being shaped by literature and theater more or less than by scientists?

Week Two: Discussions

During week two, students will be reading the assigned texts found in the Suggested Description above. A number of questions have been supplied and students might wish to select one or more to respond to. Ideally, students will include with their opinions about these complicated issues a paragraph or two about what experiences or assumptions best explain why they have arrived their present stances. The objective of the module is not only to become better acquainted with the issues of stem cell research but more importantly, to get a better understanding of how our different experiences and national histories may be shaping the way we frame the issues.

Week Three: Group Work

A few years ago, the United States Congress debated the funding of stem cell research and the following exchange was recorded in the course of that debate:

"The embryos to be used here are discarded. If not used for the research, they will not be used at all,'' Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., who co-authored the legislation, explained Wednesday. Thus, "no human life is to be taken.''

"This sounds ... like what happened in World War II,'' Senator Brownback countered, comparing embryo destruction for science to Nazi contentions that "these people are going to be killed, why not experiment on them.''

Yet the embryos in question are no bigger than the period at the end of a sentence.

"To equate that with individuals Nazis experimented on is stretching the meaning of humanness,'' said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who co-authored Specter's legislation.

Because embryonic stem cells could save lives, `"our position is just as moral as your position,'' Harkin added."

Students will be divided into smaller groups to engage in similar though hopefully more productive discussions about the issue. Students should do some background research on what, if any, research is being done in their own countries and what, if any, part their own governments are playing in funding or limiting that research. Students should also discuss what historical antecedents may or may not be helpful in coming to mutually satisfactory conclusions in this debate. Are there historical precedents that are helping people in their country think more clearly about the issue? Are there precedents that are clouding it? As a final product, students should examine the hypothetical differences that will exist between their two countries or regions if present policies are pursued for the next hundred years.

Week Four: Debriefing

In the final week, students will share the results to their group work. Groups may wish to supply three or four questions that the Global Module has inspired.


Discussion Work: 25 pts.

Each student will be evaluated on one thoughtful response to a week one and week two question. A score of 25 will be awarded to posts that demonstrate a thorough reading of the assigned text, that demonstrates critical thought and reflection upon the text, and that shares a personal experience, insight, or question that comes from outside the assigned text.

Group Work: 25 pts.

Each student will be assigned to a small group and will receive a grade on the report submitted by that group in week four. Lack of participation in group-work by an individual student will result in appropriate deductions.

Reflection Essay: 25 pts

Each Champlain student will be asked to write a critical reflection after the GM. This assignment will require the student to cite three “moments” in the conversation that they feel best highlights for them the ways that students involved shared either a commonality or a difference about some fundamental issue.

Survey: 25 pts

A final survey of the involved students will be created from the questions students verbalize in week three and four. Data from this survey will be collected by the instructors and distributed to the participating classes.


At least one faculty member will be responsible for:

1. Logging in at least every other day to read posts
2. Responding as appropriate
3. Organizing and overseeing group work
4. Evaluating final essays
5. Assembling surveys and survey results

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