The Winter 2016 issue of Science Education and Civic Engagement: An International Journal is the first published by the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement through its new institutional affiliation with Stony Brook University. We are pleased by the range and diversity of the civic issues addressed by articles, and in particular, by the strong representation of interdisciplinary and trans-departmental collaborations, including several that integrate content from STEM disciplines with material drawn from the humanities and visual arts.
The connection and relevance of science to the fine arts, and of both to our civic and social well-being, to is foregrounded in two project reports. “The Link between Science and the Humanities” by Paula Bobrowski and Ann Knipschild, of Auburn University, describes an innovative course where students learn and conduct research on music and the science behind its effects on the human body and brain—effects with important therapeutic implications for physical and emotional ailments. Physicist Antonino Cosentino reports on the low-cost technology and investigative methods he has developed for students of archaeology, art history and art conservation in “Scientific Examination of Cultural Heritage Raises Awareness in Local Communities.” Cosentino argues that the preservation and conservation of cultural heritage material is a matter of increasing civic importance, particularly in communities where public resources are scarce, Addressing this challenge will demand multi-disciplinary competence in science, technology, history, and art, as well as the creative application of low-cost and accessible technology.
Debby R. Walser-Kuntz and Cassandra Bryce Iroz have integrated visual literacy goals into a multi-disciplinary and experiential learning course on public health by incorporating curatorial and exhibit design strategies. Following a period of community-based work with public-health providers, students partnered with a professional curator and developed a public exhibition, undertaking many tasks required of museum professionals, including brainstorming, identifying key themes and audiences, designing visual presentation strategies, and refining the core content.
Sally Wasileski, Karin Peterson, Leah Green Mathews, Amy Joy Lanou, David Clarke, Ellen Bailey and Jason Wingert from the University of North Carolina-Asheville argue for the significant gains that interdisciplinary collaborations around important civic questions can offer both students and faculty in “Why We Should Not ‘Go It Alone’: Strategies for Realizing Interdisciplinarity in SENCER Curricula.” Reporting on a coordinated curriculum design initiative on the theme of “Food for Thought,” which shared learning outcomes across multiple courses and departments, the Asheville team reviews the challenges, methods, and findings of this ambitious project.
Habiba Boumlik, Reem Jaafar, and Ian Alberts chose the interdisciplinary implications of STEM learning itself as their pressing civic question in “Women in STEM: A Civic Issue with an Interdisciplinary Approach.” They describe a trans-departmental collaboration (Mathematics, Natural Sciences, and Liberal Arts) in a community college that used the question of women’s lack of representation in STEM fields as the basis of a course that advanced quantitative literacy, expository writing, and research skills, while increasing student awareness of this important issue.
Environmental issues, and climate change in particular, continue to generate creative curricular responses that reveal the power of students to contribute to public knowledge. “Storm Impacts Research: Using SENCER-Modeled Courses to Address Policy,” by Michelle Ritchie and James F. Tait details how the coastal impact of hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy offered a unique opportunity for organizing undergraduate research. Students from “Science and the Connecticut Coast” (a 2007 SENCER model) joined with students from other courses that teach environmental science “through” issues of civic consequence. Their combined research on coastal vulnerability and produced policy recommendations to increase the state’s coastal resilience in the face of future storms.
Alison Olcott Marshall and Kelsey Bitting at the University of Kansas describe their revision of an existing paleontology course for non-majors, which covered 3.5 billion years of earth’s history, by relating the content to complex, controversial and current issues of immediate concern to students. “Teaching Through Human-Driven Extinctions and Climate Change: Adding Civic Engagement to an Introductory Geology Course for Non-Majors” contextualized the pre-historic geologic record, including extinctions, by showing interweaving it with, and showing its relevance to, the understanding of contemporary climate change and the looming prospect of new human-caused mass extinctions.
As we face yet another unanticipated epidemic in the Zika virus, Abour H. Cherif, Jasper M. Bondoc, Ryan Patwell, Matthew Bruder and Farahnaz Movahedzadeh developed a learning activity that helps students understand epidemics and the immensely complex and unsolved scientific and policy challenges they present to human life and society on a global scale. “The Use of Untested Drugs to Treat the Ebola Virus Epidemic: A Learning Activity to Engage Learners” describes a course that included basic biology and epidemiology content, library research, literature review, and collaborative group work. Students were charged with developing an informed and well-supported position, which they debated with peers, on the use of untested drugs on infected patients during a global health crisis.
We hope you will find this collection of reports from the field informative, and as confirmation of the enduring and generative educational experiences that result from teaching science through real and relevant issues of significance for us all.