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Simulated discussions in Animal Bioethics Teaching


simulation type discrete simulation based on a branching network
domain Animal Bioethics Teaching  (University)
model de Cock Buning (1990)
publisher Van Hall Larenstein Training and Consultancy, Dept. of Simulations
year 1995  (second, revised, version)
platform Windows 3.1
design system/ engine the package consists of: the Socrates editor, the Socrates generic system, the Socrates Evaluator and three cases
my connection educational advice and supervision

One of the main goals of Animal Bioethics teaching is to teach students to derive a set of general rules and principles about ethical issues and to use this set to solve specific ethical problems. Literature is offered in the classroom and disputes about ethical issues are started in order to invoke the students to raise valuable arguments from which these sets of rules and principles can be deducted. However, during this process, the following didactical problems often occur:

  • When literature is under discussion, students do not get beyond the stage of explaining the meaning of the text, the ethical contents is not disputed
  • Students do not get beyond the stage of ethical relativism. Students raise personal opinions, but do not put forward valuable arguments for or against these opinions
  • Participation of most students in group discussions is poor. A few students with high verbal skills dominate the discussion, while the others remain silent. An intended group discussion may even result in a monologue of the teacher

Furthermore, it is often hard to teach the critical attitude needed to solve ethical problems. Many students fail to realize that ethical questions should be addressed by themselves, since they are the experts in their own field by means of well considered arguments and should not be left to the ethical experts.

Teaching and learning objectives

The educational computer simulation program SOCRATES is used in order to create an environment in which simplified ethical discussions are trained in a very interactive way. Students are trained to select arguments, to derive rules and principles in a systematic way, to make mental steps, to deal with critical reactions and to make decisions. This approach offers the following advantages:

  • The problems with the participation of students in group discussions mentioned above are overcome. Individual students interact in a discussion with a simulated opponent. All students participate very actively in this process
  • Students are able to repeat the simulation several times, each time selecting different arguments. Following this approach the effects of different lines of thinking  towards the same problem can be explored
  • Students can work at their own pace.
  • Students focus on the main problem and are not distracted by irrelevant details. The simulation focuses towards a structured dispute of the ethical concepts addressed, by means of a Socratic dialogue.

Educational materials

So far three simulated cases have been developed. In each case an ethical problem is discussed, with a simulated opponent (presented by means of pictures showing several facial expression, text, and speech). Each case addresses a problem from a different field. The following fields have been addressed:

  • Education (a discussion about an experiment with a primary cell culture to be conducted by students)
  • Fundamental Research (the use of Primates for research to the effects of alcohol consumption)
  • Government Policy (a discussion about animal rights)
SOCRATES, simulated discussions in Animal Bioethics Teaching