Helping students become responsible researchers

Teacher with students

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The Jekyll and Hyde nature of science, in that it can be equally effective as a force for good or evil, presents society with challenges. While the current practice of science is perceived by many as being ethically sound, concerns persist regarding its negative impacts, and some remain sceptical about the aims of modern science. As such, it is crucial that educators provide students with opportunities to explore the evidence for themselves. A framework for this is provided by an EU initiative to embed the concept of responsible research and innovation (RRI) in teaching, helping to ensure the next generation of researchers is aware of its responsibility for the environment and society at large. Ron Blonder and colleagues at Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, have explored the impact of a lesson on ‘The story of lead’ and accompanying professional development for teachers on the attitudes of teachers and pupils towards RRI.

42 Israeli teachers participated over three years, with many teaching the topic according to the pre-prepared lesson plans. These featured a range of activities allowing students to explore the six dimensions of RRI (engagement, gender equality, science education, open access, ethics and governance). The researchers used an online questionnaire and semi-structured interviews to probe the views of teachers, with analysis of the minutes of meetings of teachers providing further insight regarding their evolving views.

Some of the teachers noted students were fascinated by the ‘story’, with RRI providing context to engage them in the task at hand. The engagement of teachers in the lesson as participants in the first instance encouraged them to critically analyse other issues through the application of RRI, thus facilitating the integration of RRI into other areas of their teaching.

There was strong evidence the approach was welcomed by students, with one able individual noting consideration of RRI was more difficult than studying chemistry, since the answers to questions in the former are more open and complex. This illustrates the value of the approach in providing challenge for students across the ability range. The article will be thought-provoking for those wishing to incorporate this kind of science for society in their teaching, and the activities used may prove to be of value in classrooms everywhere.