Dublin to host to the world’s largest science education conference

18 Aug 2017572 Shares

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Dublin. Image: Leonid Andronov/Shutterstock

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The ESERA 2017 conference will take place from 21 to 25 August in Dublin City University, in partnership with the University of Limerick.

Almost 1,600 delegates from 75 countries are set to attend various talks, presentations, and workshops at the ESERA (European Science Education Research Association) 2017 conference in Dublin next week (21-25 August).

This is the first time the prestigious science event has been held in Ireland, and organisation was led by STEM education leaders Dr Eilish McLoughlin, Dr Odilla Finlayson, Prof Sibel Erduran and Prof Peter Childs through the Irish STEM education research centres CASTel (Dublin City University) and Epi-Stem (University of Limerick).

2017’s conference theme is “research, practice and collaboration in science education”, which is fitting considering Ireland’s landmark year in the area of STEM education, including the development of the first national STEM education policy building on November 2016’s STEM Education Review.

Student-centred learning for science subjects

McLoughlin, conference president and co-organiser, is enthusiastic about the benefits attendees will reap, as someone who has been an advocate for the improvement of STEM for many years in her role as director of the CASTel, the Centre for the Advancement of STEM Teaching and Learning. She explained the ethos of the developing new wave of STEM education.

‘We don’t want science to be an elitist subject. We want it to be open and accessible to all as an equal opportunity’
– DR EILISH MCLOUGHLIN

“The whole movement, in simple terms, is to make it student-centred learning. The teacher moves from a sage on stage to a guide by the side. The teacher facilitates the learning, and the student takes responsibility for their learning.

“The role of the teacher is not to stand in front of the classroom and tell students to read from chapter one of the book. It’s to give students authentic learning opportunities and challenge them to develop their own scientific skills and competencies.”

Delegates interested in the area of equity in STEM education should pay particular attention to the programme for Monday, 21 August. The theme of the day is ‘Equity in science education: Science as a tool rather than a destination’.

Speakers Emily Dawson and Angela Calabrese Barton will discuss how “large gaps in achievement and interest in science remain at the intersections of ethnicity, gender and class for people growing up in non-dominant communities. These gaps have lasting and exacerbated effects, not least limited access and opportunity for science-empowered futures.”

McLoughlin is passionate about this aspect of STEM education. “We don’t want science to be an elitist subject, we want it to be open and accessible to all as an equal opportunity.”

‘We want students to understand science to make informed and critical decisions based on evidence, data, and good scientific practices. They are lifelong skills that you can develop through scientific thinking’
– DR EILISH MCLOUGHLIN

The need, both globally and in Ireland, to implement unconscious bias training for educators, practitioners, students and parents alike is pressing, according to McLoughlin. The issue will be addressed at ESERA, and not just at a gender-specific level – biases around race and social class will also be tackled.

Irish STEM educators are well aware of the need for out-of-field teachers to upskill their knowledge of subjects like physics and mathematics. On Wednesday, keynote speaker Paul Conway, professor of teacher education at University of Limerick, will discuss his work with Epi-Stem, including an initiative for out-of-field maths educators.

The intersection of STEM teaching methods and digital technology will be the subject at hand on Thursday, where discussion and debate will be had about how to make STEM learning more accessible to students of all ages.

“We want students to understand science to make informed and critical decisions based on evidence, data, and good scientific practices. They are lifelong skills that you can develop through scientific thinking,” McLoughlin said.

Encouraging educators to stay informed

Educators and those with an interest in science will have plenty to gain from the conference, and McLoughlin hopes ESERA will encourage educators to continue their own learning processes, and keep informed of key research findings about how the subjects are best taught.

For her, the key is the communication between academic researchers, educators, and government policymakers on a local and global scale. “They should be informed about what’s happening around the world. Whether you’re in Zimbabwe or Ohio, it’s still science teaching.”

With subjects as diverse as health science, early years STEM education, and identity in science, there is something for all interested in attending. McLoughlin summed up what she wants to achieve during the conference: “I want to inspire and motivate teachers to think on a global scale.”

Ellen Tannam is a writer covering all manner of business and tech subjects

editorial@siliconrepublic.com