Science Education as Civic Education: The Future of STEM Learning
Spurred by twin crises of COVID-19 and climate change, and an uncertain employment horizon, the goals for STEM education have shifted from developing a STEM capable workforce to broader and more durable undergraduate learning outcomes, such as evidence-based and informed civic engagement, life-long learning, and systems thinking. At the same time, our polarized and weakened democracy has generated new demands for greater attention to civic education. This confluence represents an unparalleled opportunity for curricular reform.
For over 20 years Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER) has supported curricular and institutional change to improve civic capacity and STEM learning through context and problem-based teaching. Designated a "community of faculty transformation" and a "lever for change" in literature on STEM reform, SENCER's programs help faculty re-frame traditional course content by teaching disciplinary concepts through real-world, relevant, civic challenges. Gen Bio becomes "Biomedical Issues of HIV-AIDS," or "COVID-19" Environmental Sci 100 becomes "The Future of Natural Resources," Gen Chem becomes "Assessing Exposure to Toxic Chemicals," Cellular and Molecular Biology becomes "Cancer," Math 102 is "Statistical Analysis of Community Challenges." Learning research confirms the effectiveness of SENCER's problem-based, inquiry driven pedagogies, as well as the importance of social and community relevance to retention and persistence of traditionally underserved students. But significantly, because our most pressing public challenges all demand STEM knowledge, SENCER offers an integrative model of STEM learning that is situated in the complex civic contexts of policy, legislation, politics, economics, culture, history, ethics, and public opinion. This session will argue that truly transformative civic education will not involve the abstract study of governance and political theory, but will be integrated into the civically relevant, problem-based STEM learning needed for the future.