Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

Biology, PhD

Committee Chair

Fuselier, Linda

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Yoder-Himes, Deborah

Committee Member

Yoder-Himes, Deborah

Committee Member

Perlin, Michael

Committee Member

McFadden, Justin

Committee Member

Balgopal, Meena

Author's Keywords

Moral reasoning; belief in genetic determinism; socioscientific issue; CRISPR/Cas9


This dissertation explores how students reason about genetic engineering socioscientific issues (SSIs) related to a recently developed, powerful genome editing technology called CRISPR/Cas9. It is divided into three chapters. Chapter One describes an exploratory study that characterized students’ moral reasoning using a sociocultural theoretical framework. I used content analysis and logistic regression to investigate how academic and social factors influenced moral reasoning. Students generally opposed the use of CRISPR/Cas9 technology for non-medical enhancements, and the moral considerations used were influenced by genetics knowledge level and demographic variables such as gender and socio-economic status. Further investigation of moral perspectives for students from traditionally marginalized groups should be considered so they can be integrated into curricula to foster diverse classroom environments. Chapter Two describes how I investigated belief in genetic determinism, a dimension of genetic essentialism that is inconsistent with the current multifactorial model of genetics because it overestimates the impact genes have on character expression, while underestimating environmental impacts. Quantitative measures of belief in genetic determinism from questionnaires indicated students held an accurate understanding of genetics and low-to-medium BGD, but BGD was widespread in students’ writing. Although biology students were more likely to express BGD, non-major students were more likely to display one-gene-one-trait misconceptions. These results underscore the need to alter genetics instruction so that it reflects the ongoing paradigm shift of genetics understanding. Chapter Three describes a practitioner study that used a jigsaw activity to engage students in a recent, real-life CRISPR/Cas9 research study as an SSI. The purpose was to teach students about bioethics without promoting the use of BGD. After the lesson, students demonstrated an appreciation for bioethics related to the case study they evaluated and acknowledged environmental influences on complex characteristics. The developed lesson is an ideal method for integrating SSIs and bioethics into undergraduate biology curricula.