Mental models: An alternative evaluation of a sensemaking approach to ethics instruction

Science and Engineering Ethics 14 (3):449-472 (2008)

Abstract

In spite of the wide variety of approaches to ethics training it is still debatable which approach has the highest potential to enhance professionals’ integrity. The current effort assesses a novel curriculum that focuses on metacognitive reasoning strategies researchers use when making sense of day-to-day professional practices that have ethical implications. The evaluated trainings effectiveness was assessed by examining five key sensemaking processes, such as framing, emotion regulation, forecasting, self-reflection, and information integration that experts and novices apply in ethical decision-making. Mental models of trained and untrained graduate students, as well as faculty, working in the field of physical sciences were compared using a think-aloud protocol 6 months following the ethics training. Evaluation and comparison of the mental models of participants provided further validation evidence for sensemaking training. Specifically, it was found that trained students applied metacognitive reasoning strategies learned during training in their ethical decision-making that resulted in complex mental models focused on the objective assessment of the situation. Mental models of faculty and untrained students were externally-driven with a heavy focus on autobiographical processes. The study shows that sensemaking training has a potential to induce shifts in researchers’ mental models by making them more cognitively complex via the use of metacognitive reasoning strategies. Furthermore, field experts may benefit from sensemaking training to improve their ethical decision-making framework in highly complex, novel, and ambiguous situations.

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