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The National Science Foundation’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers Program: Looking Back, Moving Forward D Further Information on Education and Outreach Activities BRINGING DISCUSSIONS ABOUT THE SOCIAL RAMIFICATIONS OF TECHNOLOGY INTO THE CLASSROOM The MRSEC at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, partnering with another center on campus, helped to create a new Science and Technology Studies course, “Nanotechnology and Society.”1 This course introduces undergraduate students to the necessity of thinking about how technology influences society through several broad objectives. These include introducing the nanoscale science field, considering the social ramifications of nanotechnology, and developing analytical and communication skills. Participation in class activities in the discussion-oriented class is essential. Activities include student-led group discussions, class presentations, and group tasks. Students also complete several essays, two exams, and an individual research project in which each student becomes a class expert on a selected topic and gives reports on progress as would a real-world research group. This Science and Technology Studies course does require some basic science education, which is covered early in the semester. During the semester, assessment surveys are completed to evaluate the students’ progress and to provide feedback. Survey results from the first semester show that as the course progressed, the students demonstrated a growing understanding of 1 See C. Tahan, R. Leung, G.M. Zenner, K.D. Ellison, W.C. Crone, and C.A. Miller, “Nanotechnology and Society: A Discussion-Based Undergraduate Course,” American Journal of Physics 74 (5): 4-11 (2006).
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The National Science Foundation’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers Program: Looking Back, Moving Forward how society will be affected by nanotechnologies, and how society can in turn affect the course of technological advancement and application. When the semester was over, the students were able to frame pertinent questions about the implications of nanoscale science and engineering. Most said they were very well prepared to explain the concepts of nanoscale science and engineering. Although the course did not encourage the students to follow a career in policy or science and technology studies, they all felt the course was worthwhile. Many in the class said that their perspective on science, technology, and societal implications had changed from a belief that all technological advances are a good thing to a more general acknowledgment and understanding of the social issues behind new advancements. The University of Wisconsin-Madison case is a clear example of how the MRSEC program has a positive impact on undergraduate learning. Scientists, technologists, and students need to consider the effects of technology on society, and it is imperative that educators join together to involve their undergraduate students. Through courses that introduce a new field like nanotechnology, students receive a foundation that is necessary for understanding the issues of technological change and development. Efforts such as this, made possible in part by the MRSEC program, are a true innovation in science education. MRSEC EDUCATION AND OUTREACH MEETINGS October 21-23, 1998, University of California, Santa Barbara: The “Making Connections” workshop had more than 75 participants, including MRSEC directors and outreach coordinators, university science faculty, high school and community college teachers, and students. Participants summarized current issues in science education, including presenting science to the wider community, engaging student interest in investigation, building partnerships with K-12 schools, creating resources for educational outreach and program evaluation. November 13-14, 2003, University of Virginia: One-day symposium for education and outreach (EO) directors to make short presentations of their work. Twenty-six EO coordinators and 27 center directors attended this meeting. The University of Virginia made a compilation of the programs and achievements of each MRSEC for 2003-2004 that offers a single-page synopsis highlighting examples of EO highlights.2 April 13-15, 2006, University of Chicago: A meeting of MRSEC and EO directors, with a topical focus on evaluation and assessment of educational programs. 2 See http://www.mrsec.virginia.edu/nugget5emed.htm.
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The National Science Foundation’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers Program: Looking Back, Moving Forward Other meetings: MRSEC EO coordinators have been involved in other meetings. The Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) network3 unites those who run and evaluate RET programs; many MRSECs are active in this group. RET conferences were held in 2002 and 2003. Sessions at meetings were sponsored in 2004 (American Chemical Society meeting) and 2006 (National Science Teachers Association regional meeting). In addition to conferences, the RET network Web site has a collection of assessment tools, including pre- and post-program survey forms. National Research Centers Educators Network: A group of EO coordinators from NSF centers, including MRSECs, Science and Technology Centers, and Engineering Research Centers has formed the National Research Centers Educators Network (NRCEN).4 The goals of the group are to identify and disseminate models, tools, resources, experiences; determine mechanisms or strategies to enhance centers’ efforts; and identify and address priority issues specific to centers. Meetings have been held in 2001 (Cornell University), 2002 (University of California at Santa Cruz), 2004 (University of Florida), 2005 (California Institute of Technology), and 2007 (University of Michigan). Fall 2004 Materials Research Society Meeting: A group of EO coordinators obtained NSF funding to bring RET teachers from MRSECs to the 2004 Fall Materials Research Society (MRS) meeting. The teachers attended the MRS education symposia and participated in hands-on workshops about MRSEC-related curricular materials. 3 See http://www.retnetwork.org/. 4 See http://www.nrcen.org/.
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