Biotechnology Risks and Benefits: Science Instructor Perspectives and Practices


Developing scientifically literate students who understand the socially contextualized nature of science and technology is an important objective for science education at all levels. Understanding teachers’ views on this topic is of equal importance. This document focuses on the topic of risks and benefits posed by science and technology as an important topic for which the socially contextualized nature of science and technology readily emerges. Following introduction of a theoretical model and a review of the literature, two research studies are described that examined teachers’ perceptions of the risks posed by biotechnology and the role of risk topics in an undergraduate science course. The first research study examined four samples of science educators; pre-service science teachers, in-service science teachers, science graduate teaching assistants, and science professors (n = 91). The participants completed a survey and card sort task to determine their perceptions of the risks of biotechnology. The results showed that teacher perceptions were shaped by the risk severity, regulation processes, public acceptance, fear, reciprocal benefits, and whether the applications would impact humans or the environment. Factors determining risk perception included personal worldviews, trust in communicating institutions, and personal experiences with biotechnology. The different types of science teachers were compared and contrasted in light of these factors and the implications of instructor perceptions on science pedagogy are discussed. The second research manuscript describes a case study in which six biology graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) were observed teaching as lesson on the potential risks and benefits of biotechnology. The data sources included classroom observations and semistructured interviews. Qualitative analysis revealed that GTAs framed the instruction of risk in one of three ways: analytical, focus on perspectives and biases, and promotion of individual reflection. Interview results showed that GTAs had a much richer understanding of the importance of the teaching of social aspects of science and technology than emerged in their teaching. Results are discussed in the context of the disconnect between the GTA’s teaching practice and perspectives.



risk perception, preservice science teachers, inservice science teachers, graduate teaching assistants, university professors, emergent technology, biotechnology, risk, risk perception, science education





Science Education