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Dilemma stories as a way of addressing ethical issues in the context of science education: An evaluationElisabeth Settelmaier
Science and Mathematics Education Centre (SMEC)
Curtin University of Technology
Traditionally, many science educators have taught science without addressing ethical questions. The inclusion of moral discourse in science teaching helps educators to bring to the fore problematic issues in relation to science, and offers an opportunity for students to practice their future engagement in the public discourse about science. This paper presents the results of a qualitative evaluative case study using an ethnographic lens. The focus of the study was on the appropriateness of dilemma stories as a standard tool to initiate moral discourse within the theoretical framework of constructivism, as well as on the multiple perspectives of the students, teachers, and the researcher. The context of the study was a project conducted in a public senior high school in Austria with one biology teacher and one mathematics/physics teacher and their classes. The results indicate that teaching using dilemmas can promote multiple intelligences and can lead to self-examination, to critical assessment of assumptions, and to perspective transformation, all of which form part of transformative learning. On the teachers' side, this type of teaching challenges a teacher's skills with regard to facilitation, moderation, and self-restraint in order not to impose one's opinion on the students.
When the new curriculum framework was about to be implemented, many Austrian teachers voiced concerns about how they were facing the dilemma of teaching moral issues without appropriate methodologies and pedagogical competency. Given this background, the Austrian Youth Red Cross initiated a study addressing how to improve moral and value education in Austrian classrooms (Gschweitl, Mattner-Begusch, Neumayr, & Schwetz, 1998). As a member of the research team, I was directly involved in the initial planning, implementation and evaluation stage of the project. The result of the project was a teaching approach adapted to meet the requirements of a constructivist learning environment, using dilemma stories. The dilemma approach, using dilemma stories, was based on the works of Lawrence Kohlberg (1984, 1996). Drawing on my experiences during the Red Cross Project, and taking into account insights gained through the study of additional literature on moral education, I subsequently focused my doctoral thesis on the evaluation of dilemma approach based teaching within the context of science education. According to Allchin (2001; p.193), many science teachers shy away from addressing values because of fear that values are outside of the domain of science or, in the worst case, that values betray the very core of science. This is also mirrored in the rather small number of publications within science education addressing issues of moral and ethical education.
Many students reported that they enjoyed the dilemma approach because it gave them an opportunity to hear other people's opinions, as well as to learn more about their colleagues. All interviewees except for one indicated that they regarded this type of teaching as very useful for the purpose of exploring controversial issues, and expressed the wish to experience similar learning also in other subjects. Asked, how often they would like to be offered a dilemma unit, all students except for one, suggested a fortnightly to once-a-month schedule. However, because values are usually a "private issue", some students felt intimidated about being required to report their opinions publicly. Others expressed concerns about the authenticity of the comments of some of their colleagues during the discussion. Problems with regard to the dilemma approach included: finding it hard to identify with the character in the story, or with the dilemma itself, and maintaining a voice during the discussion phases. Some students found it very difficult to accept others' opinions. Students much preferred the dilemma stories to be told freely rather than being required to read the text, handouts or overhead transparencies. Students reported that the dilemma situations caused them to reflect critically on their own values. The exchange of opinions led to the practice of interpersonal communication skills and to "getting to know new qualities" of their colleagues . Some students experienced strong emotional reactions to the dilemma situations as well as to some interactions with others.
For me, as the researcher, several issues emerged. The limiting factor with regard to implementing dilemma units was time. How long students took for a task varied from class to class - often much longer than I had anticipated. I have learned that the most difficult issue for consideration is to find a dilemma that can potentially be experienced as a dilemma by everyone (or most students) in the class. I have also found that, despite enthusiasm and willingness, not every teacher makes a good moderator/facilitator and storyteller. Last but not least, with this type of teaching, perhaps even more than with content based teaching, some students, for various reasons, can refuse to engage in the reflection process. But I have also learned that some students who appear to be quite unengaged during the reflection phase can become some of the best discussants in plenary discussions.
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|Author: Elisabeth Settelmaier, Science and Mathematics Education Centre (SMEC), Curtin University, Perth WA, Australia. Email: E.Settelmaier@cc.curtin.edu.au
Please cite as: Settelmaier, E. (2002). Dilemma stories as a way of addressing ethical issues in the context of science education: An evaluation. Proceedings Western Australian Institute for Educational Research Forum 2002. http://www.waier.org.au/forums/2002/settelmaier.html