Stem cells

SENCER Model Course Stem Cells and Social Justice Goes Modular

By Katayoun Chamany, Associate Professor of Biology, Chair of Interdisciplinary Science; Project Shepherd and Director of University Science Labs, The New School

In 2011, SENCER identified Stem Cells and Social Justice as an emerging SENCER model course and this spring, the model went “modular” and was launched as Stem Cells Across the Curriculum (SCAC).

SCAC is an open access modular curriculum that integrates the biological, ethical, legal, and social dimensions of stem cell research using infographic thinking and social justice case studies. Katayoun Chamany, cell biology educator and principal investigator of the SCAC project, presented a poster about the development and implementation of SCAC in the Ethics, Policy, Communication, and Education Section at the annual International Society for Stem Cell Research Meeting in San Francisco on Wednesday June 22, and at a Bioethics Workshop for students participating in Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program on June 28 at UC Berkeley.

Funding provided by The New School and New York State Stem Cell Science (NYSTEM) allowed for the collaboration of faculty and students in the natural sciences, design, and social sciences to update and expand the project, which was launched this past March. The revised model course uses a modular format that allows instructors to mix and match resources that are mapped to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Development and Perry’s Model for the Development of Ethical Reasoning.

A short YouTube video illustrates how two pedagogies, infographic thinking (which highlights temporal-spatial relationships), and case studies (which capitalize on the power of narrative) help learners organize information and build mental schemas that allow for later retrieval to solve complex problems.

Case Study Modules are mapped to an interactive radial infographic depicting the provenance, manipulation, and use of various stem cell types, providing real world context through storytelling that supports empathetic learning. To help learners think critically about distributive and procedural justice issues associated with this field of research, learning activities present multiple perspectives. Using visual narrative construction, language analysis, and role-play, students identify areas of conflict among stakeholders who hold different values and use ethical reasoning to propose policies that promote scientific innovation and socially responsible practices. “HeLa Cells & HPV Genes: Immortality & Cancer” reviews basic cell biology, tissue culture, and human subjects research in the context of privacy, rights, and compensation. “Eggs & Blood: Gifts & Commodities'” reviews reproductive biology, cell differentiation, and embryogenesis and addresses the value placed on some bodily tissues/cells and not on others. “Disease, Disability, & Immortality: Hope & Hype” introduces cellular reprogramming, immunology, and cell death, explores the natural physical and cognitive variability in the human population, and questions the goal of a “cure” in biomedical research. “Stem Cells & Policy: Values & Religion” reviews the process of cloning and stem cell biology, and analyzes how policy is shaped in pluralistic societies that require tolerance of different points of view.

Remarkably, SCAC resources easily acclimate to existing institutions and programs. The curriculum has been used in a variety of courses at The New School, including the summer bridge program offered by the Higher Education Opportunity Program. Nancy Pokrywka, cell biologist and Chair of the Science, Technology, and Society Program at Vassar College adapted the Eggs & Blood: Gifts & Commodities Case Module in her course Bioethics and Human Reproduction. She comments that her students “did not seem as concerned about grades as they were about providing an accurate and informed role-play performance and essay.” Tatiana Russo-Tait, Coordinator of Metro Academy and Lecturer in the Biology Department in the College of Science and Engineering at San Francisco State University, adapted the HeLa Cells & HPV Genes: Immortality and Cancer Module and portions of the SENCER model course Stem Cells and Social Justice offered at Eugene Lang College. Her course, The Science and Politics of Stem Cell Biology, was approved for meeting the Life Science, American Ethnic and Racial Minorities, and the Social Justice general education requirements. Russo-Tait comments that some of the most useful parts of the project “are the extensive teaching notes and primers that support the instructor.”

SCAC has been used in a variety of courses and presented at conferences as varied as the World Stem Cell Summit, the Consuming Intimacies symposium hosted by the Social Justice Institute at Brock University at Saint Catherines, the Advancing Social Justice from Classroom to Community hosted by the Faculty Resource Network, and the annual American Society for Cell Biology Meeting.

Institutions and instructors interested in learning more should contact Katayoun Chamany, and subscribe to her Youtube channel to learn about upcoming workshops and presentations.

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