Ameet Doshi (Georgia Tech librarian and graduate student), David Risman (J.D. '14), Lindsey LaForge (J.D. '14)

Bioethics Course Links Law, Policy, Engineering and Science Students

Under the leadership of Roberta Berry, Georgia Institute of Technology associate professor of public policy, Georgia Tech graduate students and Georgia State University College of Law students engaged in intensive study of the ethical, legal and policy problems generated by rapid advances in neuroscience and neurotechnology and of problem-solving methods and skills for addressing these issues.

Berry, who is jointly appointed at Georgia State Law as a professor of science and technology law, policy and ethics, brought in experts to teach the law and graduate students how to facilitate problem-based learning.

“In problem-based learning, an ‘advanced learner,’ typically a graduate student or professor, facilitates student teams as they research and analyze complex problems presented to them for the first time in the classroom,” Berry says. “Rather than lecture or assign readings, the facilitator provides scaffolding to support active student learning, teamwork and problem solving.”

Students developed foundational knowledge of the problems as well as theoretical and applied problem-solving capacity.

“The course prepares future lawyers for their distinctive role as problem-solving professionals who are equipped both to master content and exercise problem-solving leadership,” Berry says. Beginning in week six, the course was enriched by an experiential component, as the law and graduate students applied their skills in a Georgia Tech undergraduate class with engineering and science students. The undergraduate students were divided into teams and presented with problems that were co-designed by law and graduate students, such as the incorporation of direct brain interventions in criminal sentencing.

Facilitated by graduate students in the course, the teams analyzed the problems and composed policy resolutions for presentation to interdisciplinary panels of experts, Berry says.

“This unique experience has led me to better realize how the general public interprets legal issues,” says Lindsey LaForge (J.D. ’14), who participated in the Special Topics in Bioethics course. “It is such an amazing experience to be able to contribute to the learning process of undergraduates as they begin to understand that their actions as professionals have policy and legal implications.”

Another law student, David Risman (J.D. ’14), and Georgia Tech librarian and graduate student Ameet Doshi, prepared a podcast exploring the problem-based learning approach and its value in the education of future professionals, available at http://hdl.handle.net/1853/50600. To date, the podcast has been accessed by listeners in seven countries.

This spring, LaForge and Risman returned to Georgia Tech as graduate research assistants, implementing the skills they learned the prior semester to co-design materials for another undergraduate course and to serve as facilitators for four of the undergraduate teams.

“The learning opportunities for law students are tremendous. They encounter legal issues in the context of challenging, real-world, policy problems,” Berry says. “They learn by engaging with different kinds of students with different perspectives on the problems and by studying and experiencing how diverse people can work together to solve complex problems.

“The insight they gain and skills they learn will serve them very well in every conceivable practice setting,” Berry says.

Berry will offer this course again this fall. Interested students are encouraged to contact her at robertaberry@gatech.edu for additional details.

Contact: Stacie Kershner, JD
Associate Director Center for Law, Health & Society