Most Australian school science curriculum documents I see today seem to be about teaching students how different science is from the rest of society, and how scientists are different from ordinary people.
This approach gives a false impression of separation between science and society, and disregards an accumulation of studies from the history, philosophy and sociology of science that shows how interlinked science and society are.
Learning science this way will allow intending scientists to develop a sense of how science is intertwined with society. It may show them how to become insiders to a broader, more complex, more interesting and more authentic science.
By taking a systems perspective towards a learning environment, this study aims to map a configuration of interrelated enablers that can help to cultivate SoL of students in a university course focused on bridging science and society. This aim is pursued by investigating the experiences and views of students, university staff and societal stakeholders in a sustainability-oriented transdisciplinary Master of Science course offered at Wageningen University and Research (WUR), a life sciences university in the Netherlands.
When taking the course, the students are expected to achieve a number of SoL goals including:being able to collaboratively design and execute an academic consultancy project, bridging science and society, to respond to real-life sustainability challenges;
In short, the transdisciplinary context, aim and learning goals of the ACT course are intended to foster a SoL that is relational, responsible and responsive. It is relational because of the underlying interpersonal, intersectoral and overall transdisciplinary character of the learning taking place at the interface of science and society; it is responsible because it generates critical and ethical reflections with respect to the sustainability challenge at hand and to the vantage points of those involved in the challenge or affected by it; it is responsive because it entails the creation of integrative consultancy advice for responding to a given sustainability challenge in society.
Such difficulties faced by ACT staff and stakeholders could be tackled through capacity building activities, which would enable these people to sharpen their abilities and properly support students. Respondents suggested that this could entail, for example, periodic workshops led by university staff or a guest expert that focussed on a relevant coaching/teaching/advisory topic. Other possibilities mentioned were a buddy system and learning circles fostering the sharing of knowledge and experiences.
Emancipatory pedagogy was identified as another important interrelated enabler, focussed on empowering students to be in charge amid the challenges which can arise in complex learning environments. The capacities of university and societal stakeholders and their engagement as critical friends contributed to the embedding of such pedagogy. For example, a coach made this remark about the emancipatory approach adopted with the students that were facing some challenges:
The authors acknowledge that this study has not considered possible other influences (e.g. social, institutional and personal life) that can also play a role in student learning (Jackson, 2020). Furthermore, findings are based on specific methods (focus groups and questionnaires) and do not consider the possible relative importance of the identified enablers. Additionally, although findings were considered relevant by interviewed educators external to the case study and by the ACT community consulted, those findings were nonetheless related to one specific university academic consultancy transdisciplinary course. Future studies can help to confirm or enrich the findings of this study by investigating the potential role of additional influences, using a richer variety of data collection methods (e.g. observations), engaging in more detailed analysis (e.g. further qualifying or even quantifying the interrelationships about the enablers) and investigating other course contexts.
Valentina C. Tassone is an Assistant Professor at Wageningen University. Her research focuses on sustainability-oriented education and deep learning. Her studies take place in the context of (higher) education, community setting or society at large and often at their crossroads.
Science and society is an interdepartmental teaching program that offers students throughout the campus the opportunity to discover the connections that link the social, biological and physical sciences with societal issues and cultural discourses. Coursework examines discovery processes in relation to societal values, public policy and ethics, including issues associated with cultural diversity. Whenever possible, opportunities outside the classroom are included as part of the learning experience.
The minor for the program includes, in addition to science and society courses, upper division courses in the areas of history and philosophy of science, policy and decision making, communication of science, and culture, ethics and applications.
However, there is another application of science that has been largely ignored, but that has enormous potential to address the challenges facing humanity in the present day education. It is time to seriously consider how science and research can contribute to education at all levels of society; not just to engage more people in research and teach them about scientific knowledge, but crucially to provide them with a basic understanding of how science has shaped the world and human civilisation. Education could become the most important application of science in the next decades.
For these reasons, formal education from primary school to high school should therefore place a much larger emphasis on teaching young people how science has shaped and advanced human culture and well-being, but also that science flourishes best when scientists are left free to apply human reason to understand the world. This also means that we need to educate the educators and consequently to adopt adequate science curricula at university education departments. Scientists themselves must get more involved both in schools and universities.
Science, technology, society and environment (STSE) education, originates from the science technology and society (STS) movement in science education. This is an outlook on science education that emphasizes the teaching of scientific and technological developments in their cultural, economic, social and political contexts. In this view of science education, students are encouraged to engage in issues pertaining to the impact of science on everyday life and make responsible decisions about how to address such issues (Solomon, 1993 and Aikenhead, 1994)
The STS movement has a long history in science education reform, and embraces a wide range of theories about the intersection between science, technology and society (Solomon and Aikenhead, 1994; Pedretti 1997). Over the last twenty years, the work of Peter Fensham, the noted Australian science educator, is considered to have heavily contributed to reforms in science education. Fensham's efforts included giving greater prominence to STS in the school science curriculum (Aikenhead, 2003). The key aim behind these efforts was to ensure the development of a broad-based science curriculum, embedded in the socio-political and cultural contexts in which it was formulated. From Fensham's point of view, this meant that students would engage with different viewpoints on issues concerning the impact of science and technology on everyday life. They would also understand the relevance of scientific discoveries, rather than just concentrate on learning scientific facts and theories that seemed distant from their realities (Fensham, 1985 & 1988).
At best, STSE education can be loosely defined as a movement that attempts to bring about an understanding of the interface between science, society, technology and the environment. A key goal of STSE is to help students realize the significance of scientific developments in their daily lives and foster a voice of active citizenship (Pedretti & Forbes, 2000).
Over the last two decades, STSE education has taken a prominent position in the science curricula of different parts of the world, such as Australia, Europe, the UK and USA (Kumar & Chubin, 2000). In Canada, the inclusion of STSE perspectives in science education has largely come about as a consequence of the Common Framework of science learning outcomes, Pan Canadian Protocol for collaboration on School Curriculum (1997). This document highlights a need to develop scientific literacy in conjunction with understanding the interrelationships between science, technology, and environment. According to Osborne (2000) & Hodson (2003), scientific literacy can be perceived in four different ways:
In the context of STSE education, the goals of teaching and learning are largely directed towards engendering cultural and democratic notions of scientific literacy. Here, advocates of STSE education argue that in order to broaden students' understanding of science, and better prepare them for active and responsible citizenship in the future, the scope of science education needs to go beyond learning about scientific theories, facts and technical skills. Therefore, the fundamental aim of STSE education is to equip students to understand and situate scientific and technological developments in their cultural, environmental, economic, political and social contexts (Solomon & Aikenhead, 1994; Bingle & Gaskell, 1994; Pedretti 1997 & 2005). For example, rather than learning about the facts and theories of weather patterns, students can explore them in the context of issues such as global warming. They can also debate the environmental, social, economic and political consequences of relevant legislation, such as the Kyoto Protocol. This is thought to provide a richer, more meaningful and relevant canvas against which scientific theories and phenomena relating to weather patterns can be explored (Pedretti et al. 2005). 153554b96e