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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×

Summary

BACKGROUND

A workshop at the Polish Academy of Sciences in November 2009 was the latest in a series of activities organized by national and international scientific organizations to address concerns that continuing advances in the life sciences, while offering great current and potential benefits, could also yield knowledge, tools, and techniques that could be misused for biological weapons or for bioterrorism. This workshop addressed the question of how education about these “dual use” issues might form part of a much broader response to the security risks that would also enable scientific progress to continue and its benefits to be available to all.

The workshop was the result of a request by the U.S. Department of State to the IAP, the Global Network of Science Academies. Funding was provided through the Department’s Biosecurity Engagement Program, which is committed to developing cooperative international programs that promote the safe, secure and responsible use of biological materials that are at risk of accidental release or intentional misuse. The IAP also provided funding for travel by participants from developing countries.

The IAP carries out its work through groups of member academies; in this case, its Biosecurity Working Group, which was created in 2004 and includes the academies of China, Cuba, the Netherlands (chair), Nigeria, the United Kingdom and the United States. The Polish Academy of Sciences served as the host for the workshop,1 and the National Research

1

The Polish Academy became a member and chair of the Working Group in early 2010.

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×

Council (NRC) of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences took responsibility for preparing the report. The two academies and IAP shared the organizing and arrangements, and were joined by two international scientific unions—the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the International Union of Microbiological Societies—as partners in the project.

The NRC followed its normal practices and appointed an ad hoc committee with a majority of international members to help organize the workshop with the partner organizations and to be responsible for the report. The complete statement of task for the project may be found in Box S-1; its basic goals were to:

  • survey strategies and resources available internationally for education on dual use issues and identify gaps;

  • consider ideas for filling the gaps, including development of new educational materials and implementation of effective teaching methods; and

  • discuss approaches for including education on dual use issues in the training of life scientists.

The two-and-a-half day workshop combined plenary sessions and small

BOX S-1

Statement of Task

Considerable work has been done in the past few years by the [U.S. National] Academies and other international organizations on dual use research in the life sciences, and particularly the need to educate the science community more effectively about the challenges and risks. Building on that body of work, at the request of the State Department, an ad hoc committee will develop recommendations for the most effective education internationally of life scientists on dual use issues. To inform its work the committee will convene a workshop to:

  • survey strategies and resources available internationally for education on dual use issues and identify gaps,

  • consider ideas for filling the gaps, including development of new educational materials and implementation of effective teaching methods, and

  • discuss approaches for including education on dual use issues in the training of life scientists.

Based on the workshop and additional data gathering, the committee will produce a consensus report, which will make recommendations on the topics addressed in the workshop.

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×

group discussions; two papers commissioned for the meeting and additional reports and studies provided further background. More than sixty participants from almost thirty countries took part and included practicing life scientists, bioethics and biosecurity practitioners, and experts in the design of educational programs. The participants’ backgrounds and experience reflected two basic themes for the workshop:

  • To engage the life sciences community, the particular security issues related to research with dual use potential would best be approached in the context of responsible conduct of research, the wider array of issues that the community addresses to fulfill its responsibilities to society.

  • Education about dual use issues would benefit from the insights of the “science of learning,” the growing body of research about how individuals learn at various stages of their lives and careers and the most effective methods for teaching them, which provides the foundation for efforts in many parts of the world to improve the teaching of science and technology at all levels of instruction.

The workshop and the committee’s report are intended to inform a number of audiences, including decision-makers at the national and international level and the community of experts about dual use issues and biosecurity in many sectors. One important audience is those carrying out education in the life sciences in colleges and universities, with an emphasis on graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. The findings and recommendations are also relevant for those charged with the education of technical and professional staff in settings such as research institutes or other laboratories, although they do not receive as much attention in the report. The report does not address education about dual use issues for students at the secondary level, although the resources and methods discussed may be relevant and the increasing availability of equipment and techniques to ever-younger students suggests that this is an audience to be considered in future efforts. One of the special features of the workshop was the inclusion of experts in the research about teaching and learning and the report contains a chapter that provides a brief primer on the insights from the research that can inform education about dual use issues.

The Current State of Education About Dual Use Issues

The committee sought to identify a baseline about (1) the extent to which dual use issues are currently being included in postsecondary education (undergraduate and postgraduate) in the life sciences; (2) in

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×

what contexts that education is occurring (e.g., in formal coursework, informal settings, as stand-alone subjects or part of more general training, and in what fields); and (3) what online educational materials addressing research in the life sciences with dual use potential already exist. Based on the commissioned papers, other background materials, and the discussions at the workshop, the committee arrived at several findings.

  • Available evidence suggests that, to date, there has been very limited introduction of education about dual use issues, either as stand-alone courses or as parts of other courses. Furthermore, few of the established courses appear to incorporate the best practices and lessons learned from research on the “science of learning.”

  • Because a significant amount of information and training about responsible conduct and biosafety is provided informally, either through dedicated modules outside regular coursework or in-laboratory mentoring by senior researchers, currently available evidence may understate the amount of education on these general issues that is actually available to students. It remains unclear whether discussions of dual use may be more widespread than the background surveys indicated.

  • A number of online resources for education about dual use issues are available, both for use by individuals and as the basis for or as supplements to courses. Only a few of the resources are explicitly designed to support active and engaged learning.

The committee also identified two other findings that add further context to an understanding of the current conditions.

  • There is some evidence of an increase in the introduction of dual use issues into education in the life sciences. These examples come from all over the world and seem to result primarily from the work of an interested, committed individual or a specific project, often by a nongovernmental organization.

  • At present, most of the examples of education about dual use issues occur as part of more general education about responsible conduct of research, in basic life sciences courses, as part of biosafety training, or within bioethics. In the United States, this extends to the specific education on responsible conduct of research (RCR) and research ethics that is mandated by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×

GAPS, NEEDS, AND POTENTIAL REMEDIES

The remainder of the committee’s charge was to identify gaps and needs based on its review of currently available courses and materials and suggest ways in which those gaps might be filled and the needs met. The committee divided its task among three broad headings, each of which includes conclusions about the gaps and needs that exist and some of the promising ways in which these might be addressed.

Educational Materials and Methods

The discussions during the workshop made clear that, beyond the available online resources, additional educational materials and resources are needed if discussions of research with dual use potential are to be incorporated more widely and effectively into education programs for life scientists around the world. Participants at the workshop addressed questions on the suggested content of these materials, the types of teaching methods that would be effective in presenting them, and the opportunities for developing materials more collaboratively and disseminating them more widely. One of the recurring themes in the discussion was that “no one size fits all,” given the diversity of fields, interests, and experiences across the life sciences. The key is making the issue relevant to students and this requires a tailored approach. At the same time, participants also stressed the importance of finding ways to share successful practices and lessons learned as the scope and scale of education about dual use issues expands. The committee’s conclusions with regard to these issues are:

  • Additional materials are needed that will be relevant to diverse audiences in many parts of the world, as well as those at different educational stages, in different fields within the life sciences, and in related research communities. A number of good resources have been developed, but there is a need for more that are relevant to research related, for example, to plants or animals and to fields that are not as obviously security-related.

  • More materials are needed in languages other than English. This will be particularly important in undergraduate settings or when used as part of technical training (i.e., biosafety).

  • In addition to online resources, materials such as CDs or DVDs that can provide comparable opportunities for engaged learning are needed for areas that lack the sustained access or capacity to take full advantage of web-based materials.

  • Providing widespread access to materials that could be adapted for specific contexts or applications through open access reposi-

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×

tories or resource centers would be important to implementing and sustaining education about dual use issues.

  • Given current technology, it would be feasible to create the capacity to develop materials through online collaborations, as part of or in partnership with repositories or resource centers. Online collaborative tools can be a key mechanism to facilitate global participation in the development of materials, although again issues of access to the Internet will need to be considered in designing any arrangements.

  • Developing methods and capacity for the life sciences and educational communities to comment on and vet education materials, such as an appropriately monitored Wikipedia model, would be important. Another important capacity would be the ability to share lessons learned and best practices about materials and teaching strategies as experience with education about dual use issues expands. If appropriate resources are available, both this and the previous conclusion should be well within the capacity of current online technologies.

  • Teaching strategies need to focus on active learning and clear learning objectives, while allowing for local adaptation and application.

Implementing Education About Dual Use Issues: Practical Considerations

A recurring theme during the workshop was the variety of settings in which content about dual use issues could be introduced. This reflected the diversity of the participants and the conditions in which education about dual use issues is currently taking place. It also led to discussions of a range of needs and challenges that are reflected in the committee’s conclusions.

  • Incorporating education about dual use issues into the channels through which life scientists already receive their exposure to issues of responsible conduct—biosafety, bioethics and research ethics, and RCR—offers the greatest opportunity to reach the largest and most diverse range of students and professionals. Biosafety training reaches those with the most capabilities, knowledge, and motivation relevant to dual use. In addition, biosafety may be of particular interest for developing countries that are attempting to raise their overall standards of laboratory practices. Ethics and RCR are more general and may reach more

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×

people. The available evidence suggests that the use of multiple channels is already the most common approach.

  • If the approach above is taken, then growing interest in expanding education about dual use issues, such as a proposal under consideration with the U.S. government to require such education for all federally funded life scientists, might also be an opportunity to expand more general education about responsible conduct.

  • It will be important to reach out to other disciplines that are increasingly part of life sciences research—physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering—as part of education about dual use issues. There may also be useful ideas and lessons from how these fields provide education about ethical issues and the potential for misuse of scientific results.

  • Training opportunities to help faculty develop the skills, abilities and knowledge needed to teach dual use issues effectively are essential if education about dual use issues is to expand successfully.

  • There are several promising models for “train-the-trainer” programs on which to draw, but a common characteristic is the use of the experience to create a network among faculty to support and sustain each other and to encourage expanded education.

  • It is important to consider appropriate approaches to assessment and evaluation of education about dual use issues early in the process of developing and implementing new courses and modules.

  • In addition to a lack of awareness of and engagement in dual use issues among life scientists, there are a number of obstacles to any effort to implement new content or teaching methods, such as competition for space in crowded curricula, pressures on students to focus on their research, and in some cases a general lack of support for teaching.

Broader Implementation Issues

Questions related to education about dual use issues can be considered part of the larger discussions and activities that have been taking place in the international scientific community about biosecurity. For example, an examination of the roles of academies, scientific unions, and professional associations, or the roles of governments and international organizations cuts across many specific issues. The workshop and the committee also considered the perennial question of resources, both what is needed and how some of these organizations could contribute.

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×
  • Scientific organizations as well as professional associations are playing leading roles in developing international support for education about dual use issues. There are significant opportunities to build on this work to carry out more systematic and coordinated efforts.

  • To enable dual use issues to become a regular part of the curriculum across the life sciences, significant sustained funding will be required to fill the gaps, such as the need for new materials in multiple languages, identified in the workshop and other reports.

  • Private sources such as foundations have played and can continue to play an important role in supporting the development and implementation of education about dual use issues. Beyond any private resources, the sustained support of governments will be necessary.

  • Governments can also play a number of other roles besides providing funds to encourage the expansion of education about dual use issues.

  • Two international organizations have particularly important roles in encouraging education about dual use issues. The World Health Organization has a particular role in biosafety, while the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization could make significant contributions through its work in bioethics and general science ethics. In addition, the upcoming Seventh Review Conference of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in 2011 will provide an obvious opportunity for member states to build on prior work and take affirmative steps in support of education about dual use issues.

THE COMMITTEE’S RECOMMENDATIONS

Although its findings led to conclusions, not all of the conclusions led to recommendations because the committee wanted to focus attention on those it felt were the most important to achieving the larger goal.

General Approach

An introduction to dual use issues should be part of the education of every life scientist.

  • Except in specialized cases (particular research or policy interests), this education should be incorporated within broader coursework and training rather than via stand-alone courses.

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×

Appropriate channels include biosafety, bioethics and research ethics, and professional standards (i.e., RCR), as well as inclusion of examples of research with dual use potential in general life sciences courses.

  • Insights from research on learning and effective teaching should inform development of materials, and approaches to teaching students and preparing faculty.

Specific Actions

Achieving the broad goal of making dual use issues part of broader education will require a number of specific actions. They may be undertaken separately by different organizations but there will be substantial benefit if there is an effort to coordinate across the initiatives and share successful practices and lessons learned. Resources will be needed to ensure that the initiatives are carried out at an appropriate scale and scope.

The workshop participants and the committee did not explore the implementation of any specific recommendations in sufficient depth to prescribe a particular mechanism or path forward. Instead, reflecting the diversity and variety of situations in which education about dual use issues will be carried out, the final chapter lays out a number of options that could be used to implement each of the recommendations below.

  • Develop an international open access repository of materials that can be tailored to and adapted for the local context, perhaps as a network of national or regional repositories.

    • The repository should be under the auspices of the scientific community rather than governments, although support and resources from governments will be needed to implement the education locally.

    • Materials should be available in a range of languages.

    • Materials should interface with existing databases and repositories of educational materials dedicated to science education.

    • Additional case studies to address broader segments of the life sciences community should be developed, with a focus on making the case studies relevant to the student/researcher.

  • Design methods for commenting and vetting of materials by the community (such as an appropriately monitored Wikipedia model) so they can be improved by faculty, instructors and experts in science education.

  • Build networks of faculty and instructors through train-the-trainer programs, undertaking this effort if possible in coop-

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×

eration with scientific unions and professional societies and associations.

  • Develop a range of methods to assess outcomes and, where possible, impact. These should include qualitative approaches as well as quantitative measures, for example, of learning outcomes.

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
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The Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences workshop was held to engage the life sciences community on the particular security issues related to research with dual use potential. More than 60 participants from almost 30 countries took part and included practicing life scientists, bioethics and biosecurity practitioners, and experts in the design of educational programs.

The workshop sought to identify a baseline about (1) the extent to which dual use issues are currently being included in postsecondary education (undergraduate and postgraduate) in the life sciences; (2) in what contexts that education is occurring (e.g., in formal coursework, informal settings, as stand-alone subjects or part of more general training, and in what fields); and (3) what online educational materials addressing research in the life sciences with dual use potential already exist.

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