The Secret of Life: DNA, Property Rights, and Human Identity

Before you get started, please read our Welcome Letter!

I. Course Info

II. Student Writing Assignment

III. Course Calendar

IV. Feedback

V. Recording Audio Feedback

Course Information

Because of both its usefulness and its mystique, DNA has become something of a Rorschach inkblot for our society: The United Nations says it is humanity’s common heritage. Genetic diagnostic companies say it is theirs to patent. Universities and even whole nations claim ownership of DNA samples for various biobank and other research initiatives. Law enforcement has become increasingly bold in its DNA collection efforts, sometimes in the absence of criminal charges and to the alarm of civil libertarians. Artists recognize its aesthetic and symbolic potential. And now, with the advent of personal genomes and ancestry testing, we find ourselves in a position to stake claims to our own DNA and perhaps that of our loved ones. But what is the nature of these claims? What are their scientific, legal, philosophical, moral and emotional bases? With the help of scholarship from disparate fields, we will attempt to find out.

Student Writing Assignment

Here is information about the kind of writing students will be doing in this course and the expected context for that writing. This should help both students and their readers understand the aims of this particular writing task.

Context for student writing assignment

What are students writing? scholarly article
For whom? Readers with an interest in science
Where would such writing typically be found?
Nature or Science, Scientific American
Why would someone usually read it?
Varies with genre, but basically to become informed about some current ethical, legal or social science issue related to genetics.

Course Calendar

Oct 5: Student-reader matches announced.

By Oct 9: Students and readers schedule their Introductory Meeting.

By Oct 17: Introductory Meeting completed.

By Nov 12: Student sends rough but coherent draft to reader; reader gives feedback ASAP but within one week.  (Please see note on Feedback  below.)

By Dec 2: Students and readers to meet (via webcam, skype, phone…) to discuss revisions and feedback.

Dec 8:  Paper due to professor and reader.

Note to Students: The earlier you submit the drafts the more time you will have to make use of reader feedback before turning in your work to your professor! You can also ask whether your reader will be available to give you less formal input at other points in the process, such as when you are considering options or developing particular ideas or wording.

Note to Readers: While you should provide feedback at the stages outlined above, you may also offer to give feedback  or chat informally with the student about the work in progess at other moments during the student’s work on this paper. At some point, feedback should be given either in person, webcam or phone to allow for discussion.


Giving feedback for students in the Reader Project requires special considerations.

READERS: Here is what we suggest you do before you look at a draft:

  1. Read our guide to giving feedback
  2. Let the student know what form of feedback you plan to use.
  3. If you choose to use our recommended form, think-aloud response, please see How to Do a Think Aloud Response before you begin. An instructional video on how to record this response is also available.
  4. If you choose not to record a Think Aloud Response, email the student and the Project Manager ( a copy of your written feedback.


  1. Find out whether your reader is planning on doing a “think-aloud response” for you. If so, please read “How to Use a Think-Aloud Response: A Guide for Students.”
  2. Regardless of the type of feedback your reader provides, it is crucial that you maintain ownership of the document. This means that you should take the reader’s comments seriously, but that you should decide on (and take responsibility for) all changes to your document. When in doubt, ask you instructor.

Recording Audio Feedback

To record or listen to audio feedback for this course, click the link below. Then enter your name in the upper box marked SCREEN NAME and click SUBMIT.

Enter voice recorder >

If the recorder page does not open, or if it does not work properly, contact the project manager immediately (see the CONTACT US tab).

If you want to practice using the recorder, click here.