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Online training and assessment modules on subjects such as plagiarism and moral responsibilities are being developed by members of the Old Dominion University Ethics and Responsible Conduct Steering Committee.

The modules are being designed to be broad in scope and helpful to students and faculty, said Philip Langlais, vice provost for graduate studies and research, who is heading the project. No timetable has been set for the introduction of the modules, although a half dozen or more should go up on the ODU Web site during 2007.

The project is part of a Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) initiative funded by the National Science Foundation and the Office of Research Integrity to improve ethics training at colleges and universities in the United States. ODU is one of a handful of institutions that have had continuous funding under the initiative since it started in 2004.

"Our goal is to provide a basic set of educational and assessment modules that covers broad areas of ethics, moral responsibility and professional standards," said Langlais. "We want the modules to be meaningful to undergraduates, as well as to graduate students and faculty."

In addition to plagiarism and moral responsibility, the modules will delve into the areas of mentoring and advising, ethics, data management, authorship, copyright and intellectual property, conflicts of interest and legal and professional standards.

Each module-they will vary in time from about 30 to 45 minutes-will begin with a brief test of knowledge and skills. Following the training section, another test will evaluate what has been learned. Training sections will include case studies and vignettes taken from a wide variety of professions and disciplines. "These are not just for biomedical scientists and are intended to help raise the level of awareness among students and faculty of all disciplines," Langlais stressed.

Also, the modules will list resources, such as the names of books and links to videos and other educational modules on related ethical and professional conduct topics.

Participation, at least initially, will be voluntary, and participants will get feedback about their test performances.

A senior ODU faculty member and subject matter expert will help script, narrate and appear in video portions of each module. The module lineup so far is:
· Series introduction-Langlais.
· Mentoring and advising-Resit Unal, chair of the engineering management and systems engineering department.
· Plagiarism-Barbara Winstead, professor of psychology.
· Data management and storage-Cynthia Jones, eminent scholar and professor of ocean, earth and atmospheric sciences.
· Ethics and moral responsibility-Robert Holden, professor of history.
· Legal, professional and ethical compliance-Adam Rubenstein, ODU research compliance coordinator.

During the first year the modules are online, Langlais and his steering committee colleagues will assess the effectiveness of each. "Some may be tweaked at that point to make them better suit our purposes," he said. Once the committee is satisfied with the modules, the members may recommend that in certain courses students be required to use the modules and to get a passing score on the module tests. Langlais also said he envisions the modules being required training for research and teaching assistants (RAs and TAs).

ODU was part of the CGS pilot program that began in 2004 to develop best practices for comprehensive ethics and Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) education in graduate programs. In 2006, ODU successfully applied for support in the second wave of the CGS program, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and will expand upon the original work. Langlais has led ODU's participation from the beginning.

The task force has done research at ODU to gauge student and faculty perceptions and skills regarding ethical decision-making and to frame a general plan for the ethics training that is needed.

Langlais has been invited to several major conferences to present this recent ethics research. In addition, he wrote a commentary advocating ethics training for graduate students, which appeared early in 2006 in The Chronicle of Higher Education. In a recent article in Quest, the ODU research magazine, Langlais described differences between faculty and students' perceptions of the need for RCR training and the adequacy of current training. Other data suggest important effects of cultural background and gender in self-assessed knowledge and decision-making skills in RCR, ethics and professional standards.

Another article about research ethics in The Chronicle of Higher Education on Nov. 10 noted ODU's role in the CGS initiative. Participation in the CGS initiative "is another recognition of ODU's leadership in this important area," Langlais said.

This article was posted on: December 19, 2006

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