What is Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI)?

“Responsible research and innovation means that societal actors work together during the whole research and innovation process in order to better align both the process and its outcomes, with the values, needs and expectations of European society. RRI is an ambitious challenge for the creation of a research and innovation policy driven by the needs of society and engaging all societal actors via inclusive participatory approaches’ (European Commission, 2014).

How to introduce the RRI perspective in STEM education?

We propose 10 Ideas to practically achieve this goal. A full descriptive document can be downloaded here: https://zenodo.org/record/1303805#.W1H_03jdhF0

 

IDEA 1: RRI RESHAPES WHAT TO TEACH IN STEM

STEM contents and practices should be rethought to include the RRI perspective.

The RRI process requires new dimensions to be considered in STEM practices and new meanings of transversal skills that will reshape what to teach in STEM classrooms. For instance, the concept of energy by itself is not a content including an RRI perspective although it nevertheless entails several ethical (when for instance we introduce nuclear energy) and societal challenges (when we introduce renewal energies) that allow dealing with it from an RRI perspective if chosen to do so. In this regard, allowing students to work towards providing answers to questions such as ‘Whether and where should a new nuclear plant be located?’, bringing the content of energy resources and energy consumption to a plausible context for dealing with it from an RRI perspective.


IDEA 2: RRI CHALLENGES THE METHODOLOGIES TO BE USED IN STEM EDUCATION

The RRI perspective is neither a STEM educational methodology nor is it promoted per se by using innovative STEM educational methodologies.

Teaching and learning methodologies promoting students’ direct experience of the RRI process could allow addressing both the explicit reflection on the RRI aspects as well as the acquisition of the necessary competencies and skills for participating in an RRI process. Some methodological approaches for promoting students’ active participation and inclusion of the RRI perspective could be the introduction of citizen science at school, discussions about socio-scientific issues, service-learning and the use of genuine inquiry-based learning.


IDEA 3: LEARNING RRI ASKS FOR FIRST HAND EXPERIENCES

Learning on STEM processes and about STEM from an RRI perspective implies that these ideas and competences should be experienced first-hand in teaching and learning.

Teachers seeking to include RRI perspective in their STEM classroom should facilitate situations in which students can experience for themselves what a collaborative participation in a research process entails (either real or adapted to school context) and reflect metacognitively about such process (its similarities and differences with real research, for instance).


IDEA 4: RRI NEEDS EXPLICIT AND CRITICAL REFLECTION IN STEM CLASSES

It is necessary to give room to explicit reflection on the value and limitations of RRI in learning contents about and of STEM.

It is needed to explicitly reflect about the specific characteristics that have to do with the RRI perspective and how they link to real R&I activity (discussing with students, for one, the benefit of the gender approach for the process and outcomes of the project). Promoting this reflection among students from a critical point of view could also contribute to their own critical reasoning.


IDEA 5: MOTIVATION IS KEY FOR RRI PRACTICE IN STEM EDUCATION

Students’ motivation is a key educational element that is crucial for both RRI school practice and STEM learning. Inclusion of non-conventional learning environments, both in formal and informal education, could be used to boost initial motivation for STEM within an RRI perspective.

Non-conventional learning strategies and environments, such as those based on artification, gamification or the maker movement could be highly motivating for STEM students. These environments also provide the opportunity to other professionals apart from teachers to come in close contact with students and serve as role models. When these powerful and rich learning scenarios are embedded with RRI principles, they also provide for another layer of motivation, which increase is the first stone of meaningful learning. Motivation indeed positively affects cognitive processes, leads to increase effort and energy, strengthens persistence in challenges or problem solving activities and enhances performance.


IDEA 6: GENDER IS AN ISSUE IN STEM TEACHING

Introducing the gender perspective in the science classroom implies deep changes both in what to teach, in how to teach and in why to teach that are more profound than the mere balancing numbers or political-correctness policies.

Research studies have identified diverse forms of gender-bias in schools (for instance, in teachers’ actions), which reflect the social gender-bias elsewhere. Examples such as allowing male students to dominate the discourse in STEM classrooms; giving feedback of different significance to boys (mostly on the content) and girls (mostly on the format) or attributing academic success to talent (for boys) or effort (to girls), among others. Other educational strategies, however, can be used in the STEM field to introduce the gender perspective in a more comprehensive and profound manner. The different orientations of these projects range from those that want to introduce a gender perspective within the STEM curriculum itself (for instance, discussing the historical discrimination of women in STEM fields or making visible those areas and knowledge in which women have largely but silently contributed - such as obstetrics in medicine or dyeing in chemistry etc.) to those working on the professional orientation on women towards STEM.


IDEA 7: INCLUSION IS A DRIVING FORCE FOR STEM LEARNING

RRI perspective asks for social inclusion and inclusion turns out to be a powerful driving force for motivating STEM learning since it better addresses shared societal challenges.

Discrepancies between youths’ own identity and STEM careers’ stereotyped identity (male, white and brainy), family “science capital and students’ self-efficacy in STEM (their believes on their own capacity and competence in the field) are three major causes of students’ disinterest in STEM subjects. This situation triggers off serious inequalities because it generates a homogeneous profile of those who go on to study STEM subjects and silencing the voice of diverse actors, like working-class groups and other under-represented collectives not only into STEM fields but also as full-pledged citizens. In this regard, STEM education can play a major role by allowing students, whichever race, gender or socio-economic background, to feel empowered enough to participate in STEM enterprises and, more specifically, in RRI processes.


IDEA 8: RRI PERSPECTIVE NEEDS A SYSTEMIC APPROACH THAT OVERCOMES STEM DISCIPLINES

STEM and STEAM interdisciplinary/multidisciplinarity (merging STEM disciplines among themselves and with the arts and humanities) are particularly rich scenarios to introduce the RRI perspective with an emphasis on its systemic nature.

The inclusion of arts in an integrated manner with STEM serves various objectives. Firstly, it increases the levels of motivation towards STEM learning in students who highly enjoy the arts. Secondly, it is helpful in promoting creativity and capacity to interrelate disciplines and views - a well sought-after skill in particular scientific-technological profiles. Thirdly, these rich scenarios help students to realise that STEM and the artistic and humanistic world are not isolated tanks and that you do not have to position yourself in one of those only and thereafter neglect the other (the “two cultures” approach).


IDEA 9: TRANSPARENCY AND OPENNESS SHOULD BE THE NEW CULTURES IN STEM EDUCATION

Reflecting with students on the importance of Open Access of our research production to promote a culture of knowledge sharing and co-construction.

Promoting knowledge sharing and co-construction processes (opening research to other researchers and people in general) is a key pillar in RRI. These values need to be included in STEM education so that future citizen could be “prosumers” (not only consumers but also producers) of research. Additionally, facilitating access to knowledge and data should be done within the limits and recommendations of an ethical approach to research. It is also important to stress that a wish to share ideas and results is compatible with the need to give credit to others for their ideas and results. Openness and transparency are relevant for RRI because they allow the research community to replicate what has been done based on the shared data as well as being accountable for the work done and allowing all stakeholders to participate in the R&I process.


IDEA 10: RRI STEM EDUCATION MUST DEAL WITH UNCERTAINTY AS PART OF OUR FUTURE

STEM education should prepare students to face changing circumstances, new insights and diverse values when promoting their responsiveness and capacity for adaptive changes required in RRI processes.

One of the main concerns of education is to help students face the challenges posed by our complex and rapidly changing world. In fact, one of such challenges is to prepare them to actively participate in RRI processes, whether as citizens or researchers, in order to provide answer to the needs of a certain society. In this regard, placing students in front of ideal problems, pre-designed to be tackled at schools, does not help them to develop the responsive and adaptive skills needed for change. Students need to be taught in environments inspired and emulated in real situations, in which they need to reflect upon and to act according RRI process requirements such as anticipation, inclusion and, naturally, responsiveness and adaptive change.