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Future-oriented Science EDucation to enhance Responsibility and engagement in the society of Acceleration and uncertainty

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FEDORA (Future-oriented Science EDucation to enhance Responsibility and engagement in the society of Acceleration and uncertainty)

Reporting period: 2020-09-01 to 2022-02-28

In “the society of acceleration” (Hartmut Rosa), our educational systems tend to remain rigid and do not appear able to keep the pace of change. FEDORA partnership has identified three forms of dissonances/misalignments that became the focus of its research.

Firstly, a clash between, on the one hand, the vertical and hyper-specialised organisation of teaching in disciplines and, on the other hand, the inter-multi-transdisciplinary character of innovation and the efforts to make research and science an open and collaborative space. Secondly, a mismatch between the formalised and exclusive languages used in schools and the need for new languages to enhance imagination and the capacity to talk about contemporary challenges. And thirdly, a discrepancy between the a-temporal and history-oriented teaching approaches and the need to support the young to construct visions of the future that empower actions in the present.
In dealing with these three forms of misalignments, FEDORA is developing a future-oriented science education model to enable creative thinking, foresight and active hope as skills needed to embrace the complexity and the uncertainty of our fast-changing society. The research is based on qualitative and quantitative methods such as interviews, surveys, literature analysis, focus groups, a Delphi study, and corpora of texts and visuals produced by students, teachers, education policymakers, and managers. While involving experts from diverse fields in our working groups, the outcoming results of FEDORA studies will tailor recommendations for open-schooling networks, instruction designers, policymakers and policy institutions in a way that they can implement changes step-by-step.
The first form of misalignment between the vertical organisation of teaching in disciplines and, on the other hand, the inter-multi-transdisciplinary character of knowledge has been analysed through interviews, qualitative and quantitative surveys and study groups. They have produced a detailed description of the potential and limits of organising knowledge in disciplines and the institutional, epistemological, cultural and emotional barriers induced by the disciplinary organisation. Comparing different examples of forms of inter-multi-trans-disciplinarity led us to identify the competencies and skills needed to inhabit a boundary zone and the conditions for creating a safe interdisciplinary context. The actual results show an emotional barrier and identity blockade at the basis of the acceptance of interdisciplinarity. Disciplines are crucial for students to make and consolidate “structured” educational experiences and give them the solid ground to develop “sense-making” skills and, from there, take up the process of crossing the boundaries and going out of a comfort zone. Paradoxes created by institutional structures and processes in RPOs should also be dealt with to enact interdisciplinarity in universities.

The second form of misalignment between the formalised and exclusive languages used in schools and the need for new languages to enhance imagination has been addressed through two approaches. Thorough research and categorisation of an extensive range of case studies, examples and experiences of the use of innovative languages and formats have been done by looking into the publishing sector, the multimedia one, the creative industry and the informal education as well as science communication one. The research has been integrated and complemented by two co-creation activities. The main results concern the identification of artistic or creative prototypes from which teachers, communicators and educators can take inspiration to elicit the epistemic emotions that can enhance critical thinking, feeling a “sense of directionality”, and getting oriented in the fast-changing society of uncertainty. Metaphors such as taking down the walls, crossover, going over a binary vision of the world, and embracing ambiguity have been cited.

As for the third form of misalignment, new studies have been constructed and a framework has been implemented for researching young people’s future perceptions. Extensive datasets have been analysed from these perspectives, and new datasets have been collected from young people in Finland, Italy and Lithuania. An analysis of the potential of Finnish, Italian, English, Lithuanian and Dutch curricula for futurising science education has been carried out. The part-studies converged on producing research-based recommendations for science education and “the future-oriented science education manifesto”. They express, among other results, the need to take care of ‘two-track thinking’ manifestations, as the tendency in which personal futures may be seen as positive and in one’s own hands, whereas the national and especially the global futures as gloomy and out of one’s influence. This way of thinking manifests itself in several types of polarisation and can create “safe bubbles” where the young feel a stronger sense of control. ‘Two-track thinking’ can be addressed in science education by fostering the five dimensions of Futures Consciousness in a balanced way and promoting students’ sense of agency.

The research along the three misalignments converged into an unexpected result representing the core of the first version of the “Science education model for the society of acceleration and uncertainty” that we are developing. All the three themes of FEDORA imply overcoming polarisations, managing tensions, and finding an equilibrium between nonreducible poles: the need to search for a comfort zone – a safe, solid, identity-forming place – and the need to take down the walls and take the risks of embracing novelty, ambiguity and uncertainty. The Model frames the design and implementation of teaching modules in three different countries: Finland, Italy and the UK.

Finally, the current iterations of the Delphi study illustrate policymakers’ views of and attitudes toward future-oriented science education. Subsequent iterations will build on consensus.
FEDORA has the ambition to make significant research advancements along each of the themes related to the forms of misalignment and foster a substantial change in the view on schooling and the role of science education in addressing the societal challenges and the science-society gap. The approach we chose to address the three dissonances led us to focus on research issues that are still fresh with science education research: (i) analyses of the barriers represented by the current organisation of formal education in disciplines and the relationship between learning in the disciplines and identity formation (ii) the collaboration with writers, artists, science communicators and journalists to elaborate new languages to enhance imagination and the capacity to talk about the contemporary challenges, (iii) the integration of the future-studies approach in science education and the exploitation of the future as an intrinsic dimension of science. The engagement methods with policymakers and the richness of the methodologies that have been used represent a novel research approach.