Principal Investigators

  • Michael C. Loui
  • C. K. Gunsalus

Current and Former Graduate Research Assistants

  • Bradley J. Brummel
  • Kyoung Jin Kim
  • Kerri L. Kristich
  • Stephanie N. Seiler
  • Serena Wee

Current Status of the Project

We have developed nine role-play scenarios on central topics in responsible conduct of research (RCR): authorship, conflict of interest, peer review, interpersonal conflicts in mentoring, data management and whistle-blowing, professional relationships and whistle-blowing, and compliance with regulations on human participants, animal subjects, and hazardous materials. Each scenario has a professor role and a graduate student role. The instructions for the two roles provide divergent perspectives on the same problem. A complete RCR program would include most of these role-plays to give students repeated practice in solving ethical problems.

Because few previous studies have carefully assessed the effectiveness of role-play in teaching ethics, we are conducting systematic assessments of our scenarios, using multiple methods, in multiple departments at Illinois and at Howard University. We believe that role-play can be more effective than traditional methods for teaching RCR because role-plays engage all participants actively in a realistic, difficult situation.

In the formative assessments of the role-play sessions, most participants said that the sessions were worthwhile because they were engaged in the scenarios, and they valued a realistic learning experience. The participants stated clearly that the role-plays captured their attention better than lectures. Furthermore, the role-plays required greater personal investment than conventional discussions of case studies.

For the summative assessments, we interviewed participants about six months after their RCR sessions. In the interviews, we asked participants what they would do in two cases that raise RCR questions, one similar to the role-play scenario, and one different. We compared the responses of the 17 role-play participants with the responses of 13 participants who had experienced a conventional RCR training session. Two researchers rated each response on three criteria: identify ethical issues, understand multiple perspectives, and negotiate practical solutions. For each criterion, we constructed a five-point behaviorally-anchored rating scale. The case analysis ratings were reliable: 40 percent of the ratings of the two researchers were the same, and 51 percent differed by only one point. Overall, the role-play participants performed as well as the conventional session participants on the case analyses. The role-play participants made qualitatively different statements about RCR instruction, however. The role-play participants valued listening to others’ perspectives, and they stressed the importance of knowing all relevant information before acting. The conventional session participants seemed interested in merely learning the “rules” of RCR, and they expressed doubt about the relevance of the session to their current research roles.

We are developing a paper-based situational judgment test that could be used to assess what students learned in any RCR sessions. The draft test comprises six cases, each with a range of responses based on participants’ responses to the interview cases. Using a Delphi process, we have obtained consensus ratings of the responses from about 20 experts.

This project is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant EEC-0628814. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Illinois or the National Science Foundation.

Press release