Changing the Culture of Science Education

Changing the Culture of Science Education
Marco Vencato
Swiss Science and Technology Council (SSTC) (Switzerland)
[email protected]
Stimulated by the fact that the universities need a “revolution in science education”, Science, one of
the world’s leading journals of scientific research, announced in January 2011 the “Science prize for
Inquiry-Based Instruction” to highlight outstanding modules for teaching introductory college science
courses. This initiative is part of a major global effort, put forward by research universities in recent
years, to enhance the value and quality of teaching as a crucial factor for improving the performance
of their students and potential researchers. Rewarding and supporting excellence in teaching,
evaluating teaching effectiveness, creating small peer teaching groups: these are only a few of the
measures being considered to establish a new academic culture which encourages science faculty to
be equally committed to their teaching and research missions.
However, the reward system at universities still heavily weights research activities at the expense of
teaching. Yet, the traditional model of science instruction – a professor lecturing a large group of
students – continues to dominate and teaching is rarely judged from the outside, often only minimally
within the universities.
From a broader perspective, there can be no doubt that modern societies need skilled and rational
problem-solvers – both in the workplace and in their daily lives – who understand the nature of
science, its power and limitations, and value science as a way of knowing. In light of this, the Swiss
Science and Technology Council (SSTC) recently invited several experts from Germany, Austria and
Switzerland to discuss possible ways of implementing a new culture of science education which
promotes the development of transferable reasoning skills and research strategies. Reflecting the
outcomes of this discussion, the present paper will argue that excellence in research and teaching are
closely intertwined and can contribute to increase the effectiveness of both.