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    University of Oklahoma
    Analysis of Graduate Students’ Understanding of Ethical Issues: Think Aloud and Interview Supplements to Current Projects

    With the support of the Vice President for Research, and the Center for Applied Social Research, the University of Oklahoma has developed a new RCR training program to be made available to all doctoral students. The university would like to see how doctoral students and faculty work through ethical issues. Current research initiated by the National Institutes of Health and the Office of Research Integrity examined influences on ethical decision-making in the biological, health, and social sciences. The Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA) study, which was developed by the National Science Foundation, will provide the context in which the proposed study will be conducted, where sense making strategies employed by computer scientists and meteorologists will be examined.


    In the proposed study, eight general ethical problems encountered in Science and Engineering will be developed based on the anthropological study currently being conducted on meteorologists and engineers. These problems will cover four key aspects of ethical decision-making:


    1. Data management
    2. Study conduct
    3. Professional practices
    4. Business practices.


    Two problems will be written to cover each of the four areas. These problem scenarios will be written and describe the context, event, and potential outcomes of the ethical problem embedded in a scenario. Then, 20 doctoral students, half drawn from Meteorology, and half drawn from Engineering, will be asked to work through four of these problems, one drawn from each area, using a think aloud protocol. Once each of the problems is identified, a content analysis will be conducted to determine the best course of action according to RCR principles.


    The analysis will address two important issues: it will permit identification of the strategies contributing to ethical problem-solving in two fields in the Sciences and Engineering and it will provide evidence indicating that a social sense making approach to RCR instruction results in gains in the application of ethical strategies and decreases in the strategies associated with unethical decisions.


    The project hopes to yield several outcomes, with a heavy emphasis focused on demonstrating the relevance of sense making strategies to RCR education. In addition, practical outcomes of the project will provide a basis for revision of an RCR training course being offered to all doctoral students at university, specifically in their ethical decision-making. The project will also will provide model instructional interventions for developing strategies that will help doctoral students address ethical issues arising in the course of their day-to-day work.


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