Background and Contexta. Course History (how was it developed and implemented)
I learned of SENCER in 2004 when I attended a SENCER summer institute as an "advanced team leader" for my interdisciplinary science department. To prepare for this institute I had reviewed many of the model courses, SLAG, and other resources on the SENCER website. I came back to my campus determined to infuse a social justice and civic engagement component into some of my biology courses and did this for a number of years until I became a SENCER Leadership Fellow in 2008. At that time, I decided to revamp a unit in an introductory cell biology course into a full-blown semester length course that would attract non-majors from across the university using the SENCER model approach. I chosestem cells because our institution is in New York, and New York was one of the first states to exercise states rights and appropriated state money toward embryonic stem cell research in 2007, and because I felt that students interested in social justice believed that biology was not relevant to their work. In 2009, I launched the first iteration of this course and was supported by internal university funds designed to promote civic engagement. The course was a success, in that it attracted a wide range of majors, 50% of which were freshman. Students learned the biology, were truly engaged using their own vantage points, and four of the seven freshman in this course went on to major in Interdisciplinary Science specifically because of the way in which this course presented biology in context. The course was designed to involve students in a series of service learning activities that included: assisting the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF) postdoctoral fellows in communicating their work for the wider public; developing a newsletter for campus; contributing essays for the NYSCF newsletter; developing post-cards that highlight the work and the policies of stem cell research distributed in NYC; organizing a panel session on stem cell research and oocyte donation for the wider public; developing animations and materials for the NYSCF website; hosting a Facebook NYSCF site; and developing a proposal to open a campus chapter of the Student Society for Stem Cell. Students gained a great deal from the public events planning experience, as we sent two students to present the work on the curriculum and outreach to the SENCER DC Symposium at Capital Hill in April 2009. This experience was life changing for these students in terms of their academic trajectories; from that point forward these two students integrated the natural sciences with the arts and design.
However, the overarching goals for service learning were a real challenge and the course had a very heavy biology focus and so, I regrouped. Learning from this experience, I successfully secured external funding from the NY State Department of Health and pulled together a team of faculty from health psychology, gender studies, disability rights, literature, religious studies, health policy and advocacy, learning sciences research, and information design to collaborate on a revision of this course such that there would be a more balanced representation of the multiple perspectives, visual as well as textual learning resources to help students struggling to make meaning of the biology, and appropriate assessments to gauge interdisciplinary learning. We also decided that the course curriculum should be modular so that each faculty member on the curriculum development team could pilot portions in their social science courses and that we might disseminate this curriculum through venues in which a range of faculty from the liberal arts could adapt modules for their own use.
Given my past experience in designing stem cell curricula for majors and developing case study modules that integrate biology and social justice, I decided to use very streamlined versions of case studies for this introductory interdisciplinary course . We also agreed as a team that the case studies must encourage students to rethink positions based on changing evidence and help students progress through William Perry's Model of Intellectual and Ethical Development; to move from dualistic ways of thinking about controversy to contextualized relativism and the knowledge that personal choices will be informed by analytical analyses and personal values. (http://spirit.lib.uconn.edu/~mboyer/burcha2.html AND http://fod.msu.edu/oir/Learners/cognitive-moral-emotional.asp
b. Institutional Context (how does it fit into the curriculum)
Presently the course satisfies the elective for students who are Gender Studies Minors. It does not presently satisfy the elective for other majors, but students across the university can receive academic credit for the course as part of their total 120 credits. The course is a four-credit twice a week seminar course and will be offered again in spring 2012 for the second time in this format. After this pilot run we will assess how the course is achieving its goals and consider whether we would want to scale up to a University Lecture Model, in which the course is 3 credits, meets once a week in lecture and once a week in recitation. Converting the course into a University Lecture would make it more accessible to students in the Parsons School of Design, and perhaps other students in the New School for Public Engagement.
Stem cell research is a topic that continues to be covered in our standard cell biology course using a SENCER approach but only one unit of many, and we feel that the level of biology in that course is more appropriate for our majors in the Interdisciplinary Science Program.