published August 22, 2013

Expanding Partnerships and Pushing the Envelope: Themes from the SENCER Summer Institute, 2013

From August 1-5, Santa Clara University hosted 240 SENCER Summer Institute 2013 participants from 112 colleges, universities, informal science education institutions, non-profit organizations, government agencies, school systems, and foundations. Representatives included 114 new participants and 126 alumni from past SENCER symposia. We welcomed 25 teams, 40 individual representatives, 7 SCEWest nodes, and 6 SENCER-ISE partnerships.

Alumni and newcomers experienced some new features at SSI 2013 designed to explore new opportunities for inter- and multi-disciplinary work, new partnerships, new powers and responsibilities for student learners, new vistas in goal-setting and assessment, and new connections between scientific knowledge and the formation of public policy.

A special Pre-Institute Symposium on Science and Public Policy, held prior to the formal opening of SSI 2013, kicked off with what David Burns described as "an aerobic presentation" by Dan Kahan. Kahan, a professor of law and psychology at Yale, helped the participants consider the vexing question of why more knowledge of science can lead to greater polarization on issues that have been somehow "freighted" with other meanings. Dan used the case of the public reception of HPV vs. Hepatitis B vaccines to illustrate the role that "cultural cognition" plays in this phenomenon.

The Symposium also included discussions on the policy implications of the right to the benefits of scientific advancement led by Jessica Wyndham of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Janice Ballou, a retired senior vice president at Mathematica and now an external evaluator for the SENCER project, discussed the role of polling in representing (and shaping) public opinion. Joe Karlesky, acting provost and professor of government at Franklin and Marshall, described the radically changed federal legislative landscape against which debates on science and public policy get played out. Eliza Reilly, senior scholar for NCSCE, framed discussions led by Wynham, Ballou, and Karleskly, and facilitated spirited participant exchanges on the topics.

The Symposium was organized by a committee (Ballou, Karlesky, and Kraus Tarka) and was offered this year as an experiment. Twenty-four participants were selected following an application process. While there was no charge for attending the 1.5 day program on July 31 and August 1, symposium members were required to arrive at SSI early and pay the costs of their accommodations. More information on the Symposium and selected participants may be found here.

A special Pre-Institute Symposium on Science and Public Policy, held prior to the formal opening of SSI 2013, kicked off with what David Burns described as "an aerobic presentation" by Dan Kahan. Kahan, a professor of law and psychology at Yale, helped the participants consider the vexing question of why more knowledge of science can lead to greater polarization on issues that have been somehow "freighted" with other meanings. Dan used the case of the public reception of HPV vs. Hepatitis B vaccines to illustrate the role that "cultural cognition" plays in this phenomenon.

The Symposium also included discussions on the policy implications of the right to the benefits of scientific advancement led by Jessica Wyndham of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Janice Ballou, a retired senior vice president at Mathematica and now an external evaluator for the SENCER project, discussed the role of polling in representing (and shaping) public opinion. Joe Karlesky, acting provost and professor of government at Franklin and Marshall, described the radically changed federal legislative landscape against which debates on science and public policy get played out. Eliza Reilly, senior scholar for NCSCE, framed discussions led by Wynham, Ballou, and Karleskly, and facilitated spirited participant exchanges on the topics.

The Symposium was organized by a committee (Ballou, Karlesky, and Kraus Tarka) and was offered this year as an experiment. Twenty-four participants were selected following an application process. While there was no charge for attending the 1.5 day program on July 31 and August 1, symposium members were required to arrive at SSI early and pay the costs of their accommodations. More information on the Symposium and selected participants may be found here.

The Symposium also included discussions on the policy implications of the right to the benefits of scientific advancement led by Jessica Wyndham of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Janice Ballou, a retired senior vice president at Mathematica and now an external evaluator for the SENCER project, discussed the role of polling in representing (and shaping) public opinion. Joe Karlesky, acting provost and professor of government at Franklin and Marshall, described the radically changed federal legislative landscape against which debates on science and public policy get played out. Eliza Reilly, senior scholar for NCSCE, framed discussions led by Wynham, Ballou, and Karleskly, and facilitated spirited participant exchanges on the topics.

The Symposium was organized by a committee (Ballou, Karlesky, and Kraus Tarka) and was offered this year as an experiment. Twenty-four participants were selected following an application process. While there was no charge for attending the 1.5 day program on July 31 and August 1, symposium members were required to arrive at SSI early and pay the costs of their accommodations. More information on the Symposium and selected participants may be found here.

Each successive day of the Institute began with an all-Institute convocation and plenary presentation. On Friday, August 2, Dr. Cathy Middlecamp of the University of Wisconsin Madison illustrated the potential of the SENCER approach to empower students and then to enable and encourage them to function as "responsible action heroes" equipped to see the invisible, among other things. Lest this sound too far out, consider John Dewey's bread making at the University of Chicago's Lab School as an intellectual inspiration for the kind of investigations and discoveries Cathy's students were able to make in a course on sustainability. Since this latest course is Cathy's third SENCER course, her lecture also provided the opportunity for her to describe her own creative and pedagogical journey, one that our new and alumni participants also find themselves on, as well.

Dr. Barbara Tewksbury of Hamilton College graciously agreed to appear "virtually" due to a family urgency that kept her on the East coast. Barb's talk focused on the precise issue of "taking it with you," that is how to ensure that knowledge gained in a single course can be applied and used ("practiced" in Barb's watchword) in other courses and in life itself. This was an intensely practical plenary with opportunities for all participants to think about design questions they can apply in their own settings, be they informal or formal educators.

Dr. Stephen Carroll of Santa Clara University and Mr. Christopher Lazzaro of the College Board helped those gathered on Sunday morning, August 4, to think about learning and how it can be assessed. After considering what we know about how the brain and body work and the relationship of that knowledge to how learning happens, Stephen and Chris described both a series of strategies one can employ to enhance learning and to determine if the learning is available for any task other than "remembering" long enough to pass (or fail) a test. A description of the new AP exams—modified to test more than memory but capacity to apply knowledge in new situations (that "practice" word again)—provoked some lively discussions following the presentation.

Plenary speakers in attendance followed up their discussions with work sessions enabling participants to pursue topics raised in the all-Institute sessions.

The formal Institute program began on the afternoon of August 1 with a provocative opening address by Professor Kahan on the role of cultural cognition and science education. Amy Shachter welcomed the participants to Santa Clara and David Burns outlined the aims for the gathering and the ethos of the SENCER project. David proposed that the theme for this year's meeting was "pushing the envelope"—that is, using the SENCER approach to advance not just goals in STEM learning, but to achieve the larger, "corporate" goals that institutions seek to advance in so-called "21st century" and related skills. These are goals that are consistent with the larger aim of strengthening our democracy and improving the human condition.

Concurrent and work sessions provided opportunities to describe implementations of SENCER programs on campus and within newly forming partnerships. These opportunities included three sessions led by representatives from KQED in San Francisco on integrating new media into the classroom and informal learning environments, sessions on the implications of the new science standards for pre-service teacher education, and sessions on how to use the SENCER-SALG assessment tool. Administrators were particularly interested in sessions on implementing interdisciplinary programs and changing the culture on campus. New challenges, like synthetic biology, and perennial issues, like improving health literacy, were considered, along with an overview of the progress being made in reforming undergraduate biology. Our two SENCER PULSE fellows, Alix Fink and Ellen Goldey, briefed participants on the new rubric and other activities of this "movement" for bio education reform. Participants were also invited and encouraged to joining the Brownfield Action user network at Barnard College and Columbia University. Students from Butler University (and faculty members who have worked closely with students in developing their programs and courses) helped participants think about the influence the SENCER rubric can have in curricular reform and the roles students can play in course development, marketing, and assessment.

Several work sessions focused on gathering input on the future directions of SENCER and the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement. The next issue of the eNews will feature a more complete description of our planning efforts and a summary of the remarks made by Jonathan Bucki about strategic planning at the closing panel. We will be inviting you to contribute your perspectives and experience to this endeavor.

Workshops, held on August 5, provided time for small groups to explore particular topics intensively during the morning. The workshops addressed:

  • Civic Engagement, Science, and the Arts (with Eliza Reilly and Dennis Lehman)
  • Portfolios for Many Applications (with Monica Devanas)
  • The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (with Matt Fisher)
  • Crossing the Chasm to Achieve the Tipping Point – Departmentally, Institutionally, Regionally (with Amy Shachter)
  • Designing a SENCER Mathematics Course (with David Ferguson)
  • Engaging First-Year Students in Building Targeted Learning Outcomes Through Issues of Malaria and Antibiotic Resistance (with Ellen Goldey)
  • Writing Good Proposals to Support Scaling Up Your SENCER Work (with David Burns, substituting for Dr. Myles Boylan)
  • From Models to Materials: Harvesting Pearls of Practice from the SENCER Community (with Cathy Middlecamp and Glenn Odenbrett)

Abstracts for all Institute sessions are accessible through the SSI 2013 agenda page at http://www.sencer.net/Symposia/ssi2013agenda.cfm. SENCER staff will be adding PDF resources from sessions over the next few weeks.

In addition to attending concurrent and work sessions, many groups took advantage of team consultations, an option provided on the team application to meet with a SENCER leader to discuss goals and activities for the upcoming academic year and plan strategies for program success. Team time, scheduled throughout the Institute, provided all teams, SCEWestNet nodes, and SENCER-ISE partnerships with focused time to collaborate on new ideas, share information, and plan for the upcoming year.

Invited poster presenters shared campus endeavors including introducing SENCER work in the social sciences, the challenges and benefits of the online learning environment, the integration of physics and nutrition in a general education two-course sequence, synthetic biology, and more. Please click here to access abstracts from invited posters, and check back at the site in the coming weeks as PDF versions of the posters will be added to the site continuously as we receive them.

We invite you to view pictures of Institute activities here. We will also soon be adding links to audio and video of all plenary talks, and PDFs from plenaries, workshops, work sessions, concurrent sessions, and posters. Our next issue of e-News will include information on Post-Institute Implementation Award opportunities for teams, as well as an announcement about SSI 2014.