In spring 2015, over twenty new online courses launched at Mason, including PHIL 309: Bioethics. As the course explores major ethical decisions and issues in medical and health care fields, the face-to-face sections often have a waiting list as nursing, biology, neuroscience, and other majors who may potentially face significant bioethical decisions pursue the course.

“Online sections are a way to give more students access to the course. Also, many students are pinched for time, so just to have one class where they don’t have to go to campus can really make a difference,” explains the professor, Dr. Derek Boyd. “This is one of the best philosophy classes to have online because there is not so much theory. Students seem to like the focus on real world topics.”

Issues covered in the course include many of the prominent moral and ethical concerns in the medical and health care field, including abortion, euthanasia, organ procurement, cloning, and human genetic engineering. The relevance of the topics covered in this course is able to capture student attention, as Dr. Boyd notes, “Right off the bat, it’s interesting.”

In Dr. Derek Boyd’s online section of PHIL 309, students explore current issues and controversial topics surrounding bioethics, such as human genetic engineering. Video courtesy of Dr. Derek Boyd.

The online format is also useful in serving as a hub for external resources that speak directly to the subject matter of the course, including videos from National Institutes of Health (NIH) and readings and lectures by leading authors in the field. In the online format, Dr. Boyd is also able to leverage the function of discussion boards to help students explore the depths of these issues.

In fact, as spring 2015 was the course’s pilot online semester, Dr. Boyd has viewed the initial semester as a great learning experience for teaching online and is already planning updates for upcoming semesters, including the addition of more debate-style discussion questions.

“Discussions and dialogue are critical for philosophy instruction, and Dr. Boyd has designed his PHIL 309 course with regular discussions and has created an environment of open communication and discussion for his students,” explains Dr. Darlene Smucny, Assistant Director for Quality in Online Instruction at Mason. “The asynchronous online format provides all students with opportunities to participate in the class discussions and allows more thoughtful reflection and interaction with course content, with the instructor, and with each other.”