Responsible Research and Innovation and education processes

by  María Heras – Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals (ICTA)
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB)

What does it really mean to incorporate the RRI values on education processes? How do we disentangle the concept and put it into practice? This short article approaches these questions by framing the concept of RRI in science education and providing insights for its practical implementation.

Perform’s project participatory processes expect to be shaped by and transmit the values of the Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) approach. But, what does it really mean to incorporate the RRI values on education processes? How do we disentangle the concept and put it into practice?
Indeed, much has been said in the last years about the importance of RRI in the shaping of science education so as to enhance critical scientific literacy among young Europeans (see for instance the report from the European Commission Science Education for Responsible Citizenship). According to this report, under the lenses of RRI, science education should foster critical thinking and reflexivity and embed social and ethical principles in the educational process, contributing to equip students with knowledge, resources and skills to participate as active citizens in democratic societies and to better face current complex societal challenges.  Such perspective claims for a shift of the focus of science education from learning discrete  scientific  facts  to  also understanding  how  to  apply  science learning to different and new situations, and to stimulate curiosity, scientific thinking and the understanding  of  the  nature  of  science.
Rather than re-inventing the wheel, RRI represents an umbrella term that both agglutinates and extends aspects from different educational trends and approaches that gained momentum in science education in the last decades, such as those based on student-centred, active pedagogies. Inquiry-based learning, 21st century skills or life-long learning are among these emerging approaches fitting within the RRI paradigm, due to their emphasis on developing students’ critical thinking, creativity, cooperative skills, learning autonomy and other key competences (as defined by the EC here) .
In practice, this implies taking into account a diversity of process requirements and learning outcomes while designing and implementing science education activities. In this sense, an educational process under the lenses of RRI should try its best to be:

  1. Diverse and inclusive, engaging the diversity of students’ profiles in an inclusive process and covering a wide range of disciplines. Being sensitive to gender differences is especially relevant for inclusivity and science education should also critically approach and manage gender aspects of science and research.
  2. Anticipative and reflective, embedding critical thinking and reflexivity both about the scientific issues approached and their potential impacts, as well as about the learning process itself.
  3. Open and transparent, reflecting about ethical aspects of science and research, including values, interests and conflicting perspectives, as well as issues of uncertainty in science and the limitations of scientific knowledge and practice.
  4. Responsive and adaptive to change, focusing on real-life challenges and responding to students’ perspectives, values and concerns and to different implementation contexts.

All in all, these process requirements are expected to contribute to foster students’ engagement with science, not only in cognitive terms (like fostering critical and creative thinking), but also in emotional ones, enhancing students’ motivation and interest to learn. Crucial for such engagement is formative evaluation (that is, the monitoring of learning as it occurs actively involving the students), so as to foster students’ responsibility for their own learning and their empowerment through the educational process.
The PERFORM project wants to contribute to the RRI educational challenge by exploring ways in which these RRI-related process requirements and learning outcomes can be developed in practice through performance-based science education activities, and by assessing their impact, through participatory formative evaluation approaches.