CHARLIE LOWE/THE HOYA KIE Director Maggie Little presented a series of six TED-style talks on bioethics in Gaston Hall last week.
KIE Director Maggie Little presented a series of six TED-style talks on bioethics in Gaston Hall last week.

The Kennedy Institute of Ethics will launch a massive open online course on bioethics April 15. As part of the creation of the course, the KIE hosted and filmed six TED-style talks featuring KIE Director Maggie Little in Gaston Hall on March 17, 19 and 24.

A MOOC is a free, online course open to anyone with an internet connection. More than 25,000 people from across the globe have signed up for the six -week bioethics course, the second MOOC Georgetown has offered as part of its edX partnership. The course, which has been in development since April 2013, will feature lessons from seven Georgetown faculty members. Little’s talks aim to provide MOOC students with an understanding of bioethical concerns in health.

The first talk on March 17 focused on medical and disability ethics, as well as bioethical concerns in hospitals and doctors’ offices. According to Little, an increased focus on bioethics came about during the civil rights movement.

“It’s a field that started in the time of the civil rights movement, the time of the women’s movement, when groups of people came forward with new voices to assert that they had rights that weren’t being respected,” Little said. “At just that time, another group came along that said ‘we’re patients or we’re clinical research participants and we have certain fundamental rights of autonomy that are not being respected.’”

Little also spoke about the modern-day erosion of the paternalistic idea that doctors know best.

The subsequent talks March 19 focused on bioethics with regard to beginning and end-of-life treatment, including abortion and physician assisted suicide. The talks on March 24 centralized on environmental bioethical concerns and global health systems.

After each talk, Little invited students to ask questions. Student questions were filmed for inclusion in the MOOC. According to KIE Head of Communications & Project Development Kelly Heuer, the question-and-answer section was created to help MOOC students get a better sense of the dynamics of an in-person classroom experience.

“As scholars and especially as educators, it’s our students who keep us on our toes, who push us to learn and experiment and explore more about topics that might already feel very familiar,” Heuer wrote in an email. “By including Georgetown student voices in the MOOC … we hope that a broader audience will be able to experience the dynamism of a typical Georgetown classroom — to learn from the questions as well as the answers themselves.”

According to Heuer, this section is an attempt to remedy a few of the setbacks and challenges associated with MOOCs.

“MOOCs are a tremendous challenge even for very experienced teachers and scholarsbecause so much of the traditional classroom experience is missing from the massive, open, online context,” Heuer wrote.

According to KIE senior research scholar Karen Stohr, despite their challenges, MOOCs align with Georgetown’s goals and Jesuit values.

“The Jesuits were explorers, educational innovators,” Stohr said in a video. “Nearly 500 years later, Georgetown’s mission continues to direct us to respond generously and creatively to the needs of a changing world.”

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