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Module BSX-3149:
Animal Ethics and Welfare

Module Facts

Run by School of Natural Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Mrs Rhea Burton-Roberts

Overall aims and purpose

The module aims to critically debate and discuss the ethics of the use of animals in science and captive environments, and evaluate methods to assess and improve animal welfare.

Course content

This module considers both moral and scientific arguments for how humans treat animals in a range of contexts (e.g. keeping of animals in captivity, use of animals in science).

The module begins by considering the field of welfare science, the problem of defining welfare and different methods for measuring an animals welfare.

Students are then introduced to key questions in ethics, such as whether death is a harm and whether any animals are due moral consideration. Utilitarian, contractarian, rights-based views and environmental and relational arguments are contrasted in a range of scenarios to consider how best to resolve ethical dilemmas such as whether animals are kept in captivity. Since these questions are embedded into societal views on animal ethics, students are asked to identify an ethical dilemma and write an engaging article aimed at a popular audience.

The final part of the module considers ethical review of scientific experiments (facilitated by practical sessions discussing captive animals and experimentation with scientists, zoo researchers or technicians, as appropriate). Using the frame-work of the 3R's and ethical theories presented previously, students will be asked to suggest improvements to experimental design and evaluate the study from several different ethical viewpoints.

Assessment Criteria


Awareness of the fundamentals underlying welfare science and ethics, based on lecture material and practical sessions, but with limited or absent analytical ability and communication skills.


A good grasp of the fundamentals and demonstration of critical thought with evidence of additional reading. An ability to present a coherent argument with clarity and engage a variety of audiences. A good appreciation of the main approaches employed in the study of animal welfare and ethics and the ability to critically assess their suitability in a given situation.


An excellent grasp of the fundamentals of the science and demonstration of the ability to analyse, critically assess, and present a coherent reasoned argument based on information from a variety of sources, with an excellent ability to engage a variety of audiences. Demonstration of original thinking and advanced problem solving when evaluating and implementing research methods and ethically reviewing studies.

Learning outcomes

  1. Collaborate with others, to develop interpersonal and teamwork skills

  2. Debate the key issues in the ethics of use of animals for human benefit

  3. Critically review scientific experiments involving the use of animals and apply understanding of the 3R’s (Replace, Reduce, Refine) to suggest improvements

  4. Communicate, using a variety of formats to a lay-person audience.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight

In the exam, you will be given TWO unseen case studies to ethically review. Past examples are available on blackboard. You will be asked a series of fixed questions (available in advance) that help guide your review, that will assess your understanding of the module content by applying it to new scenarios. You are allowed to bring in 1 A4 page of notes (with strict guidelines) as the exam aims to test application of knowledge rather than memory recall.

The exam has a generous time limit (3 hours) to enable students time to read the case studies at a relaxed pace and plan out their answers. The exam tests a similar amount of knowledge and understanding as shorter, essay based exams on other modules and the longer time limit should be interpreted as a difference in the style of exam (one that requires more reading and less writing) rather than workload.

COURSEWORK Article aimed at public audience

The popular science article has two main purposes. Firstly, to test your ability to communicate a scientific or ethical argument to a public audience (particularly important in the field of animal ethics and welfare, since it is ultimately society that influences and is affected by how we treat animals in science). Secondly, by keeping to a short article, written accessibly, it encourages you to focus on the “big questions” in welfare science.

It is hoped that writing the article will help your work in other modules and also be a skill that aids you later in life (for example, there are many jobs in teaching or charities that require complex ideas to be communicated simply and effectively).


The main aim of the commentary assessment is for you to appraise your group discussion, whilst reflecting on how your ethical views may have shifted as a result of a particular workshop. The exam at the end of the module focuses on reviewing two different case studies. These workshops are spread throughout the module and provide the opportunity to discuss different topics within small and whole class groups. This commentary has been designed for you to reflect on both your group discussions and your own ethical views, whilst simultaneously acting as a revision tool.


Teaching and Learning Strategy

Practical classes and workshops

1 day trip to discuss ethical review and free time to explore zoo, half-day discussing animal care with technicians.

Private study 170

Throughout the module workshops will be provided to facilitate assessment and encourage student-led learning. The aim of workshops is to aid independent study (some preparation is normally required in advance) and to build confidence with debating ethics and critically evaluating welfare science. Some workshops will be linked to reflective questions to ensure students consolidate their learning.

Typical preparation time for the workshops is 1-3 hours private study.


Lectures in this module are designed to be a distilled “rough guide” to the key concepts in the field, and provide a “theme” for the weeks study.


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Mentoring - Able to support, help, guide, inspire and/or coach others
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others
  • Leadership - Able to lead and manage, develop action plans and objectives, offer guidance and direction to others, and cope with the related pressures such authority can result in

Subject specific skills

  • Develop and identify research question(s) and/or hypotheses as the basis for investigation.
  • Conduct fieldwork and/or laboratory work competently with awareness of appropriate risk assessment and ethical considerations
  • Recognize and apply appropriate theories and concepts from a range of disciplines.
  • Consider issues from a range of interdisciplinary perspectives.
  • Apply subject knowledge to the understanding and addressing of problems.
  • Collect, analyse and interpret primary and/or secondary data using appropriate qualitative and/or quantitative techniques.
  • Engagement with current developments in the biosciences and their application.
  • Engage in debate and/or discussion with specialists and non-specialists using appropriate language.
  • Undertake field and/or laboratory studies of living systems.
  • Undertake practical work to ensure competence in basic experimental skills.
  • Recognize the moral, ethical and social issues relating to the subject.
  • Demonstrate awareness of the importance of risk assessment and relevant legislation

Pre- and Co-requisite Modules

Courses including this module