A blog from the Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics (CRB)

Learning ethics online

Stefan ErikssonAs you read this, PhD students, researchers and professionals from Egypt, Singapore, Germany, Italy and Sweden are busy discussing publication ethics online. Next week the topic is situations where research results can be used to harm. They are trying a new kind of online research ethics training. The idea is to give them hands-on knowledge and a sense of responsibility. But can you do that online?

The hope is of course that the feeling of responsibility stays with you after you have completed the training and can be mobilised if and when you run into an ethical dilemma. The goal of any ethics training, whether online or in a classroom, should be to help the participants to become better at reflecting on their own pre-conceptions and values. And learn to put those in relation to research ethical dilemmas. In the long run, we believe this is how you can help the scientific community to uphold research integrity.

There is increasingJosepine Fernow demand on research ethics training from funding agencies and universities. At the Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics we decided to challenge ourselves to make good training available to everyone who needs it, regardless of where they are in the world. As we write this, both of us, Stefan Eriksson and Josepine Fernow, are part of an exciting journey as teacher and student. Right now the first pilot version of the course is running and we are able to see for ourselves if it is possible to meet that goal online.

For Stefan, as developer and teacher, the aim has been to create a course that is both fun and interactive, and where everything you need is available in one place. The main driving force behind our decision to create this course came from the funding agencies. The US National Institutes of Health has raised a demand for formal training from everyone who applies for funding for research on humans. But most of the online courses available are not interactive enough and doesn’t meet their demands on content. We decided to rise to the challenge and it turns out an online course can be much more interactive than you might think at first glance.

What are the upsides to online training? For Josepine, as a student, of course there is the practical side to being able to work at your own pace. And it is convenient to have everything you need to read, watch and do available freely on the Internet. With this course it turns out it was possible to get the advantages of an online course without losing out on interaction with other participants. The discussion format to some extent also forces you to formulate and express your opinion. That isn’t always the case in a classroom full of other students.

The course is made to fit everyone from graduate student to senior researcher. It works for professionals and officials from funding agencies and research ethics committees and everyone else who needs to be aware of and handle research ethics in one form or the other. In the pilot training we are running now it has become clear that there are only advantages to having a broad range of students. The fact that the people in the course have different backgrounds and nationalities adds a bonus: Discussing with people with different roles in different organizations, from different countries, with different cultures, and different regulatory systems serves to show that at the end of the day, we are all just people. And as people, we need to be able to mobilise our sense of responsibility when faced with research ethical dilemmas.

Stefan Eriksson, Associate Professor of Research Ethics

Josepine Fernow, Co-ordinator


  1. Mirko Ancillotti

    I am attending this course and I am rather a “newbie” of online learning (in the past I just had a few unsatisfying language courses), but I have attended many typical courses, with teacher, board, desk, and a number of more or less involved students.
    By comparing this pilot on research ethics to my previous courses, I can rate it among my best learning experiences. The material (articles, videos, websites etc.) is always interesting and engaging. The structure of the course, through the forum and the e-meetings, encourages each student to feel that his/her points of view, original ideas or even prejudices really contribute to the educational process.
    Foremost, I would say that the strength of this course are the quality and variety of the material and the dynamic structure of the learning process as opposed to the static structure of many online courses and, often, of typical lessons in a room. It is 2.0!

  2. Pär Segerdahl

    Good luck with the course! I’m glad to hear that it works so well and that it makes teachers and students present to each other as conversational partners, which probably is extra important in ethics.

  3. Julia

    I am also a student in this course and enjoy it a lot! There are a lot of innovative methods to get us engaged in critical ethical thinking that are very motivating.

  4. Stefan Eriksson

    That is great! I think the quality of teaching materials available will only go up so it might be even better in the future. In our present week – with a focus on dual use issues – there is a recorded lecture from the Centre, but there is also one from NIH that really shows what one can do with a budget… 🙂

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