Hoffman’s ‘Scientific Ethics’ Benefits From Global Perspective, Leadership

By Purnell T. Cropper | June 8, 2012

Each semester Arcadia University offers numerous online courses in a variety of different subject areas, giving students added flexibility in their scheduling. This past spring, Dr. John R. Hoffman led an online course in Scientific Ethics that received rave reviews from students.

The course, focusing on different ethical systems, examines how diversity in perspective affects the making of legal, ethical and moral decisions. Catering to a wide variety of student backgrounds, Hoffman was encouraged by the richness of discussions and representation of Arcadia’s trademark global perspective within the online course.

“We had several discussions where it was essential for students to consider a global perspective,” said Hoffman. “We had a vibrant discussion on the purchase of human organs in impoverished regions of the world, medical tourism to get access to stem cells treatments that are not FDA approved, and the international regulatory process that limits the use of genetically modified crops to supplement food supplies in regions of extensive malnutrition.”

Though marked as a Biology course, Scientific Ethics is an interdisciplinary experience. Kelly Thomas 12 was impressed by its diversity and the wide range of expertise displayed by classmates. “I’m a Criminal Justice major and I knew a lot about using DNA to solve crimes, whereas others in my group didn’t have as much information. In other discussions I felt I didn’t know too much about the topic at all because I had never really discussed it before, so it was nice to have others take the lead in those discussions…. It was interesting to read others’ opinions, especially if they personally knew a lot of information about a certain topic.”

Hoffman’s syllabus for the course delves into the role that science plays in an increasingly global world. Ethics in science is a topic of particular discussion due to the fact that certain advances could be promoted in one culture, yet shunned in another.

Ashley Wierman ’13, a Criminal Justice major, elaborates: “Some cultures might believe that something is ethical (for example, sex-discriminated abortions in China), but another country (like the United States) might see these customs as Egoism or Moral Absolutist and always wrong. The culture, history, traditions, etc., of each different country or religious/culture group may feel and act differently based off of their ethical beliefs.”

Hoffman’s course leadership proved to be a strong resource for students who might otherwise shy away from science-related courses. Wierman says Hoffman’s “lectures and readings helped to expand my knowledge on these subjects and to not only form a knowledgeable opinion on the matters at hand, but it also allowed me to see how different ethical perspectives would view each issue.”

Thomas was impressed by her professor’s willingness to put in extra effort towards the class’ understanding. In an online course, there can be gap between professor and student that’s difficult to bridge. “Not only was the content of the course interesting and challenging to me, but as an online teacher Dr. Hoffman was active, always willing to answer questions and made sure to upload video lectures for us to help us understand the material. Online classes are tough, but when you have an excellent teacher it makes it so much easier.”