SENCER applies the science of learning to the learning of science, all to expand civic capacity. SENCER courses and programs connect science, technology, engineering, and mathematics content to critical local, national, and global challenges. Students and faculty report that the SENCER approach makes science more real, accessible, "useful" and civically important.
SENCER improves science education by focusing on real world problems and, by so doing, extends the impact of this learning across the curriculum to the broader community and society. We do this by developing faculty expertise in teaching "to" basic, canonical science and mathematics "through" complex, capacious, often unsolved problems of civic consequence. Using materials, assessment instruments, and research developed in the SENCER project, faculty design curricular projects that connect science learning to real world challenges.
In designing SENCER we used methods and strategies derived from existing knowledge concerning undergraduate STEM education so that both the STEM learning and the curricular reforms would be durable. John Bransford, a member of the Board on Science Education of the National Academies and Mifflin Professor of Education at the University of Washington, claims that SENCER is "bringing to life the recommendations we made in How People Learn."
What We Offer
SENCER promotes work that increases the STEM knowledge base and broadens the impact of campus work. We support a community of practice by offering faculty development programs through regional symposia and our annual Summer Institutes, and supplement those interactions with a collection of resources, including field-tested featured and emerging course models, backgrounder papers, and bi-weekly eNews updates. We also encourage and participate in the development of assessment strategies and tools that help educators better evaluate and promote student learning and engagement. We also support advanced research in these areas.
Our Background and Intellectual Traditions
Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER) was initiated in 2001 under the National Science Foundation’s CCLI national dissemination track. Since then, SENCER has established and supported an ever-growing community of faculty, students, academic leaders, and others to improve undergraduate STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education by connecting learning to critical civic questions.
SENCER is the signature program of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement (NCSCE). NCSCE was established in affiliation with Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, a comprehensive, STEM-focused institution that links learning and research to practical outcomes.
SENCER's particular origins can be found in a course developed at Rutgers University that focused curricular resources on the HIV epidemic. Using the HIV epidemic to teach biological concepts increased student learning. Other faculty members using similar approaches to teaching reported similar results in learning. Discussions of the "genealogy" and the philosophy of SENCER can be found in "Knowledge to Make Our Democracy" and "Reflections on the Premises, Purposes, Lessons Learned, and Ethos of SENCER."
While SENCER's approach to science education has been called unique, it builds on longstanding traditions from those now denominated as Aristotelian to the Enlightenment linkage of the liberal arts and the natural sciences. In the more modern era, we find roots in the "extension service" model of practical education and American pragmatism. Our understanding of learning acknowledges a debt to the philosopher, William James, who, in his "Talks to Teachers" wrote:
Any object not interesting in itself may become interesting through becoming associated with an object in which an interest already exists. The two associated objects grow, as it were, together: the interesting portion sheds its quality over the whole; and thus things not interesting in their own right borrow an interest which becomes as real and as strong as that of any natively interesting thing. The odd circumstance is that the borrowing does not impoverish the source, the objects taken together being more interesting, perhaps, than the originally interesting portion was by itself.
This is one of the most striking proofs of the range of application of the principle of association of ideas in psychology. An idea will infect another with its own emotional interest when they have become both associated together into any sort of a mental total. As there is no limit to the various associations into which an interesting idea may enter, one sees in how many ways an interest may be derived.
Still more contemporaneously, SENCER's work is informed by the National Academies' commissioned reports on learning, notably How People Learn and Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Educational Assessment. Since the original pilot project to link biology education to an emerging disease, the SENCER ideals have been applied to develop field-tested courses for many disciplines on a broad range of topics from brownfield reclamation to natural catastrophes, and from nanotechnology, the mathematics of secrecy, water quality, to tuberculosis, diabetes and obesity, to name just a few.
The SENCER Viewbook
Click here to view the online SENCER viewbook. For a printed copy, please contact us.
Our goals are to: (1) get more students interested and engaged in learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses, (2) help students connect STEM learning to their other studies, and (3) strengthen students' understanding of science and their capacity for responsible work and citizenship.
SENCER has established formal projects designed to develop and implement SENCER courses with teams that have included more than 2,000 educators, administrators, and students from more than 430 two and four-year colleges and universities, non-governmental organizations, government agencies, educational associations, and community-based organizations. Since its inception, the SENCER ideals, programs, and materials have been shared with thousands more STEM faculty and academic leaders at symposia, poster sessions, disciplinary society meetings and other workshop venues in the US and countries around the world.
Support for Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER) is provided by the National Science Foundation's Course, Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement program under grant DUE-0717401.
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.