Science Education and Civic Engagement: The SENCER Approach
An Introduction and Orientation
Wm. David Burns
SENCER stands for “Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities”—a multidimensional faculty development and curriculum reform program established in 2001 and supported with funds from the US National Science Foundation. SENCER works to improve STEM learning by teaching “through” complex, capacious unsolved matters of civic consequence “to” the canonical STEM disciplinary material deemed essential to a student’s education and life-long participation in a democracy. In this chapter, the director and co-founder of the SENCER project provides background and history of the project, articulates project aims and the SENCER ideals, describes SENCER’s programs, activities, and the community of practice that SENCER nurtures to bring these ideals to life, and situates the project in the context of emerging challenges for STEM education and democratic practice.
Eliza Jane Reilly
This essay traces the evolution of the SENCER Model series from the beginning of the project in 2001 to the present. It describes the criteria used to identify model courses and programs, changes in format and presentation, and the role the models have played in both supporting and shaping this national dissemination project. It concludes by suggesting that emerging trends in SENCER model courses and programs and programs over the last decade point to encouraging new directions in STEM education.
Richard D. Sheardy
Richard C. Jones
Since the summer of 2007, the faculty at Texas Woman’s University has embraced the ideals of SENCER and has worked diligently to incorporate those ideals in the classes they teach. Further, new courses which contain civic engagement components have been developed or are in the planning stages. This chapter demonstrates the facility of incorporating SENCER into courses and programs of study. In addition, efforts to get the good word about SENCER out to other science educators are discussed. Finally, plans for keeping the momentum going are presented and include a new, innovative certificate program titled Science and Civic Engagement.
Jennifer da Rosa
We describe the development and implementation of two SENCER courses at Texas Woman’s University. The first, Introduction to Environmental Chemistry, links important environmental issues to basic chemical principles. The second course, Climate Change, will demonstrate to students the complex interrelationships between climate and the human endeavor. Both courses have a civic engagement component as mandated by SENCER ideals. These course are ideally suited for non-science majors.
Mark B. Masthay
Following a frustrating experience teaching a non-majors chemistry course at the University of Dayton, I attended the 2008 SENCER (Science Education for New Civic Engagement and Responsibilities) meeting. As a result of this meeting, I implemented two important pedagogical changes in the fall of 2007. First, at the end of the lecture periods I distributed comment cards on which the students were asked to describe something in the class period which was (a) surprising, (b) interesting or useful, and (c) confusing. I used these comments as a springboard for discussion in subsequent lectures. Second, I made the learning objectives more specific and relevant to current social concerns; in short, I “SENCERized” the course. In this paper I detail the impact of these changes on student (and instructor!) attitudes and on student learning outcomes in non-majors chemistry courses, as well as the potential impact of SENCER strategies in courses for chemistry majors.
Kristen J. Leckrone
This paper describes implementation and evaluation of a majors level Quantitative Analysis cours taught for five years in a civic engagement format at Roosevelt University. Assessment of the civic engagement approach was made through standardized exams, grade distributions, retention data, and student surveys. Standardized exam scores indicate satisfactory understanding of core majors chemistry content relative to national norms. On a five unit scale, SALG results indicate gains of at least one unit in self-reported learning on lecture objectives (1.0 ± 0.8), laboratory objectives (1.1± 0.7), and integration of knowledge (1.4 ± 0.5). Smaller gains were observed on general science objectives (0.5 ± 0.5), civic engagement (0.6± 0.3), and interest in science (0.3 ± 0.6). Due to lack of control sections, it is not possible to say whether the civic engagement format is more effective than a traditional course format.
Jack F. Eichler*
In an effort to implement a SENCER module into a first semester general chemistry course, a long-term air quality study has been initiated at Oxford College. This study, conducted in introductory chemistry courses for both science majors and non-science majors, is focused on the measurement of ground level ozone. As part of this project, students have created ozone detectors, helped design a long-term study that monitors local ground-level ozone, collected ground-level ozone concentration data at Oxford College, and created written reports that summarize both the general background information related to ground level ozone, as well as the data collected in class. This work, as well as preliminary assessment of the impact of this project on student attitudes and learning gains is described.
Steven J. Bachofer
A new general education science course on the redevelopment of Superfund sites integrated environmental risk assessment and basic chemical concepts. The infusion of civic engagement allowed the curriculum to be explicit in contributing to the College’s outreach mission and benefits the students who clearly observe the relevance of the chemical concepts. Using a learning community approach, chemistry and sociology faculty contributed to this curriculum, initially. The field sampling laboratory experiments were central to the course content and civic engagement. The innovative curriculum gained external support yielding newer instrumentation for the Chemistry Department and facilitated further development of civic engagement in other chemistry major courses. The civic engagement requires diligent extra efforts by the faculty, yet yielded numerous benefits for the students, faculty, the community, and College.
An Experiential Learning Model
Deborah L. Illman
Preparing science students to communicate more effectively with broader audiences throughout their careers is a critical need that has drawn national attention, particularly in the field of chemistry. Results of a recent Discovery Corps Senior Fellowship from the NSF Chemistry Division have emphasized the importance of public communication of chemistry. This chapter describes an experiential learning program at the University of Washington that engages science students in real reporting and writing experiences. Graduates have successfully applied the experience working at national publications and in Congressional fellowships.
Stephen B. Carroll
Standard student course evalutions (SCEs) disengage faculty from teaching and its assessment because (1) SCEs cannot help faculty assess their teaching or improve student learning, (2) they cannot be adapted to specific course or departmental learning objectives, (3) they inhibit innovation in teaching and assessment of teaching, and (4) they encourage abuse of the data they provide. The Student Assessement of their Learning Gains (SALG) instrument was designed specifically to overcome these deficiencies. Over a decade of research shows that the SALG is a valid, reliable instrument that offers faculty useful, detailed information about how particular aspects of their courses affect student learning. It provides a compelling alternative to traditional SCEs, one that has the capacity to make course assessment rational, effective and valuable to faculty. It thereby opens a path to re-engage faculty with teaching and with assessment of teaching and learning.