Development of the course was funded by a U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, “Adapting SENCER to the Arctic—Improving Polar Science Education as a Legacy” (NSF 632397), to Principal Investigator and UAF professor Lawrence K. Duffy.
SENCER (Science Education for New Civic Engagement and Responsibilities) is a national movement in U.S. education to reform the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics by increasing the interdisciplinary or holistic approach to the presentation of science facts and theories. SENCER courses connect science, policy and civic engagement by teaching “through” complex, contested, current and unresolved public issues to the underlying scientific principles. According to the developers of the UAF course, their goal was to expose the students to the connections between nuclear science, the people of Alaska, and future policy decisions affecting them, and, by making such connections transparent, to encourage students to engage in the complex social issues of energy production and usage, environmental injustice and governmental accountability that face Alaska and the circumpolar north today.
Course content was centered around the impact of nuclear weapons development on Alaska Natives, and the future development of nuclear power in the Arctic. Students learned state-of-the-art nuclear chemistry and health concepts, and they discovered where nuclear development intersects with people and the land. Course structure included interactive class activities, a service learning project, book report, topic report, exams, and self-assessments.
Because the class was being offered for the first time, extensive evaluation of both student and instructor effort and course effectiveness was emphasized. Preliminary feedback and evaluation from students indicate that the course did increase their ability to successfully integrate science concepts and the issues surrounding them. Classroom discussion generated by student presentations served to expand the viewpoints presented and illustrated the complexity of issues being covered, while the assigned readings and projects successfully increased student interest in the course topics.
“Environmental Radioactivity, Stewardship, and People of the North” is being offered again Spring semester 2008 as a special topics course at UAF and may become a regular course offering. A broader impact of this IPY project is its use as a model to adapt other courses, which will focus on use of northern natural resources and energy—topics known to engage the interest of arctic indigenous people and students.
For more information on the course, contact Professor Duffy.