EAGER: Prototyping a Virtue Ethics Game

Project: Research project

Project Details


There is widespread agreement that scientists should receive training in ethics. But little is known about how to achieve and how to assess the desired outcome of helping scientists and engineers to make good ethical decisions. How is it possible to connect ethics education in science to ethical decision making by scientists? In this exploratory research, the PI will address that question. In particular, he will develop a prototype virtue ethics game with the goal of providing proof of concept for the idea that playing such a game will improve ethical decision making. If successful, this will represent a transformative approach to graduate ethics education in two respects. First, in terms of method, despite promising developments in the gamification of pedagogy more generally, few attempts have been made to teach ethics through games. Second, in terms of theory, the PI's approach emphasizes the cultivation of virtues and judgment rather than the delivery of content and rules. Given the limitations of the EAGER funding mechanism, the PI will narrow his focus in two ways. First, rather than attempt development of an electronic game, he will focus on an iterative process of developing and piloting the game concept, mechanics, rules, and pedagogical goals. Second, rather than attempt to demonstrate that game play produces more ethical scientists, he will aim to show that playing the virtue ethics game increases a player's confidence in his or her own ability to make ethical decisions and his or her reputation among fellow players as a trusted member of the scientific community. These preliminary steps will position the PI for submission of a later EESE proposal to validate, scale-up, and digitize the game.

The premise of the game will be to simulate the NSF research proposal review process. By adopting various roles (proposer, reviewer, and program officer), students will be immersed in situations that call for ethical decision making. Rather than instructing students in 'the right thing to do' and then testing whether they know 'the right thing to do,' this project will place students in situations in which they must decide what to do. Thus, the gaming environment will serve as a training ground for developing the practical skills necessary for sound ethical decision making. The PI argues that this environment is more true to the ambiguous, dynamic, and complex situations faced by scientists than any pre-packaged, static, and unidirectional content. The PI's team incorporates expertise from the Center for the Study of Interdisciplinarity (CSID), the Center for Learning Enhancement, Assessment, and Redesign (CLEAR), the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies, and the Toulouse Graduate School at the University of North Texas (UNT).

Broader Impacts: This project has great potential to contribute to a specific, desired societal outcome: the improvement of ethical decision making in scientists. The America COMPETES Act requires that students who receive funding from NSF receive instruction in Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR), and the National Academies have recommended that acquiring the skills necessary for ethical decision making is the most important aspect of RCR instruction. Project outcomes will be disseminated broadly, including contributions to the Ethics CORE (Collaborative Online Resource Environment) Digital Library and to Ethics of Science, Technology, and Engineering, the second edition of the widely acclaimed Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics.

Effective start/end date9/1/128/31/14


  • National Science Foundation: $49,774.00


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