Vaccination in discourse: How students in Bonn, Germany, learn to deal with this controversial issue

After years of coping with a global pandemic, the topic of vaccination could not be more urgent to society and is at the centre of the first MULTIPLIERS thematic project in Germany.

Since the establishment of local Open Science Communities (OSCs) began in November 2021, the group quickly grew into a network of schools and experts from different disciplines. Among others, two secondary schools in Bonn – Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Gymnasium and Liebfrauenschule – as well as experts from ImmunoSensation, the student association “Get vaccinated” (“Initiative Impfaufklärung in Deutschland e.V.”), and the University of Bonn’s new Center for Life Ethics are involved. By meeting all these experts during authentic educational activities, the students will receive professional support in building their arguments for fact-based discussions on socio-scientific issues around the topic of vaccination.

Together with teachers and experts, concrete planning began in November 2022. At the planning meeting organised by the MULTIPLIERS team at the University of Bonn, the upcoming project phase at the two schools was discussed, first ideas were exchanged, and argumentative methods were introduced.

In December 2022, our first plans finally turned into practice! 21 students of the 9th grade (14 years old) of the Liebfrauenschule had the chance to meet Dr. Damien Bertheloot, Immunologist and Postdoctoral Researcher at ImmunoSensation, during the first MULTIPLIERS event.

In their previous lessons, the students had worked on comics related to the immune system, and Damien provided feedback on their work by explaining more about the cells involved in immune response and answering the students’ questions. He started his lecture with an overview of the different cell types of the human immune system and included the students’ comics in his presentation.

Using microscope video footage, he illustrated how individual cells work, sparking enthusiasm across the group. At the end of his talk, Damien also chose the three best comics, whose illustrators each received a small prize.

Through the incorporation of the students’ own comics, Damien’s talk became personally relevant to the students, who burst into excited chatter once a new comic was shown on the slides. Moreover, the students valued the peek into the “real” world of research through the videos of the immune cells in motion, which provided an unfamiliar perspective they do not usually encounter in school. In the Q&A session that followed, students showed interest not only in the content of the lecture but also in Damien’s professional career.

In January 2023, students from Liebfrauenschule will meet and work with the “Get vaccinated” group. As the final project activity, Prof. Dr. Christiane Woopen and Peter Bröckerhoff from the Centre of Life Ethics will invite the students to discuss the moral aspects of vaccination. Further activities on the topic of vaccination with upper secondary students (age 16) from the Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Gymnasium will start in January.

More on our OSC in Germany

ImmunoSensation is a cluster of excellence at the University of Bonn funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) which is dedicated to the study of innate immunity. The scientists‘ expertise lie in various disciplines including immunology, neurobiology, systems biology, and mathematics.

The student association “Get vaccinated”, founded in Bonn, is a network of medical students and students from related courses like biology, neuroscience or pharmacy. The voluntary initiative has set itself the goal of providing vaccination education, especially for young people at secondary schools all around Germany.

The interdisciplinary research at the University of Bonn’s Center for Life Ethics, which opened in October 2022, focuses primarily on the topics of technologisation, economisation, ecologisation, and globalisation.

The MULTIPLIERS OSC in Germany is convened by the University of Bonn, one of MULTIPLIERS’ core partners.

Students as Agents of Social Change/MULTIPLIERS & OStogether Inspiration Session

What does the school of the future look like? The times when students were considered mere recipients of information are over. Still, schools haven’t fully transitioned yet into a model that strongly encourages student participation, agency and self-efficacy, preparing pupils to tackle real-world challenges. With a focus on science education and sustainability dilemmas, the MULTIPLIERS Horizon 2020 project is addressing that gap. Through its Open Science Communities in six EU countries, MULTIPLIERS is connecting school science to real life, empowering pupils to act as knowledge multipliers across society, and developing students’ scientific argumentation and critical thinking skills.

Join our first dissemination event, organised in partnership with the Open Schooling Together initiative, to:

  • learn more about our approach and meet our consortium partners;
  • be inspired by a key lecture with Prof. Shirley Simon, Institute of Education, University College London, on argumentation in science education; and
  • engage in an interactive session on practical Open Schooling tools and methods around key socio-scientific challenges!

Register for the webinar!

Date and time: 18 November 2022, 9:30 AM CET

Agenda:

9:30 – 10:00 Introduction to the MULTIPLIERS project: students as knowledge multipliers  
10:00 – 11:00 Key lecture: The role of argumentation in open-school science learning projects. Prof. Shirley Simon, Institute of Education, University College London  
11:00 – 13:00 Interactive session on practical Open Schooling methods and tools 3 breakout rooms on 6 socio-scientific issues: Forest use vs. forest protection & Biodiversity and ecosystem services; Vaccination & Anti-microbial resistance; and Air pollution & Water and sanitation  

What is Open Schooling? The MULTIPLIERS approach to build inclusive and long-lasting learning communities

Modern societies are facing a wide range of complex challenges, such as fighting climate change, protecting the environment, promoting healthy living and fighting pandemics such as COVID-19, among others. To successfully prepare for and address such challenges, citizens must actively engage in public dialogue on scientific issues and participate responsibly in science-informed decision making. Still, this is easier said than done. Trust in scientific findings is diminishing in Europe and other parts of the world, which is an acute challenge of our time.

MULTIPLIERS has the ambitious goal to counter this trend by addressing the problem at its base. Guided by the concept of Open Schooling, the project will trigger a process to transform schools across six countries into innovative and open collectors of new ideas, practices and scientific approaches to address societal and environmental challenges. It will also offer students a space to engage their families, local communities, decision makers and the media in open, inclusive, and inquiry-based learning on science issues that have an impact on citizens’ lives.

But what is exactly Open Schooling and how can it be implemented in practice? As many different understandings of the term exist, one of the first steps of the project since its kick-off in November 2021 was to agree on a common and operational definition among project partners. As a result, the University of Cyprus and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona compiled the MULTIPLIERS “Report on Identified Good Practices and Needs Analysis”, which explores the definition of Open Schooling in detail.

“Open schooling initiates in the classroom but exceeds the school borders when students engage the local community in science practices, taking on the role of ‘knowledge multipliers’ to confront societal challenges”

Irene Drymiotou, Learning in Science Group of the University of Cyprus

In the Q&A below, you can find more about our Open Schooling approach, along with a short history of the term in Europe. For more information, explore the report here.

What is Open Schooling? And what is MULTIPLIERS’ approach to the concept?

In MULTIPLIERS, we propose an approach to Open Schooling that combines three main objectives – community impact, pedagogical impact, and scientific impact – while also explicitly emphasising important societal values.

We see Open Schooling as an educational perspective in which schools become open to society by bidirectionally collaborating with different institutions with the aim to:

  • Improve community well-being by raising awareness and co-creating solutions to both personal and socially relevant problems that have a direct impact at a local level.
  • Enrich the curricula and pedagogical repertoire of schools, by sharing different views and expertise from both educational and non-educational agents and institutions with the aim to promote students’ meaningful learning and competence development.
  • Give epistemic authority to all agents from within and outside the school, specifically to the students and their families, by engaging them in sustained inquiry, knowledge creation, creative action, and dissemination on issues of relevance to the local community and beyond.

To do so, projects and initiatives on Open Schooling such as MULTIPLIERS take advantage of the knowledge, practices, visions, attitudes, resources, and values of all involved agents, empowering them to collectively transform society from a reflective and critical standpoint that focuses on sustainability, equity, social justice, and inclusion.

How did the concept of Open Schooling come about in European Science Education?

To analyse the appearance of the Open Schooling concept in the EU, specifically in Science Education, one has to undertake a journey through the different EU reports and work programmes and their evolution from an STS (Science, Technology and Society) view within the Science in Society frameworks to the recent views of Science with and for Society. These latter frameworks are increasingly permeated with democratic and ethical concerns on citizens’ participation in Science identified through the Responsible Research and Innovation approach and culminating in a particular version regarding science education.

As such, Open Schooling emerges as a new term first in the report Science Education for Responsible Citizenship and in EU’s Work Programme 2016-2017 and continues to be a priority in the Work Programme 2018-2020. However, despite the term not being explicitly there, we can identify the Open Schooling idea already in the Work Programme 2014-2015.

The EU WPs from 2016 to 2020 followed up on the report Science Education for Responsible Citizenship to explicitly promote the concept of Open Schooling in their strategy of Science with and for Society, which revolves around the concept of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) and its pillar on Science Education.

How will the Open Schooling approach be implemented within MULTIPLIERS?

Open-school science learning projects will be developed collaboratively in our so-called Open Science Communities (OSCs). Science professionals will be actively involved in bringing real-life case studies to students regarding contemporary challenges and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including nature conservation, clean water and air, climate change, waste, energy, food, and public health.

Rather than seeking a single correct answer, students will interpret and represent the problem, collect information and evidence, identify possible solutions, evaluate options, and present conclusions supported with arguments. They will recognise that there is often no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ decision, and a constructive approach involves weighing each option against different needs and demands. Students will work with researchers gathering and analysing data, thereby developing a better understanding of the initial problem/case and acquiring familiarity with science practices and scientific research processes.

Ultimately, having gained first-hand experiences and inquiry skills in an authentic context, students will become knowledge multipliers; they will present, share, and deepen their knowledge and experiences in activities by actively involving their families and the wider community, firstly through dedicated local events (including open school/local action days or citizen science activities), and then through designing and exploiting science communication media (e.g., exhibitions, social media channels, and video clips).

All OSC partners will be jointly committed to teaching and learning processes in formal, non-formal, and informal settings to ensure relevant, meaningful, and sustainable engagement with science and associated ethical and societal priorities. Students will learn in the real world, with authentic problems fostering individual reflection and empowerment. Science experts, families, and local communities will be involved as part of sustainable learning communities.

Enabling the enablers – when pupils become knowledge MULTIPLIERS

“Base decision on facts, not on beliefs” – Kick-off Meeting of MULTIPLIERS project

by Gesche Schifferdecker and Rosa Castañeda

In schools, science is often presented in an abstract way and without a context – but if we want to get young people interested, topics need to be relevant to their everyday life. This is the idea behind the H2020 project MULTIPLIERS – short for MULTIplayers Partnerships to ensure meaningful engagement wIth ScieEnce and ReSearch. In the project, scientists will bring real-life cases to students (from elementary to secondary schools) to look at specific “dilemma situations” from various perspectives.

These dilemma situations are explored in six different themes. The German theme is very up to date – it will explore the topic of “Pro–Con Vaccination” and is managed by MULTIPLIERS project coordinator University of Bonn. The University of Cyprus will focus on “Anti-microbial Resistance”, while the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona is investigating the theme “Air Pollution”. IREN SpA, an Italian company providing public services like energy, water, and heating, will handle the topic of “Energy Efficiency”.

MULTIPLIERS also tackles forest-related topics. Umeå University and the European Forest Institute (EFI) are going to explore the dilemma of “Forest Use versus Forest Protection”. This topic is quite controversially discussed in Sweden and beyond. The debate is – like the ones around vaccination or air pollution – more emotional than based on evidence and thorough analysis.

To understand the controversy, students have to be enabled to both collect knowledge and find the pain points by asking critical questions, and consider potential trade-offs. A very good environment to discuss the “Forest Use versus Forest Protection” dilemma is a marteloscope, an “outdoor forest classroom”, where all trees are mapped and measured to consider both the ecological and the economic value of each tree. In the framework of MULTIPLIERS, EFI plans to establish a marteloscope in Sweden, and potentially also in Slovenia, where MULTIPLIERS’ sixth theme is centered. The University of Ljubljana will engage with students there to critically analyse the discussions around “Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services”.

However, these themes are not set in stone – at a later stage of the project, other partners might also pick up other themes they consider relevant for the students, or explore themes investigated by others within their own community. For instance, the University of Bonn is interested in working on the topic of forest use versus forest protection together with local partners in the forest surrounding the city.

Kids exploring science (photo by patricialacolla via Pixabay)

By addressing current and future societal and environmental challenges and taking students to authentic workplaces like the forest or a medical lab, MULTIPLIERS aims to awaken students’ interest in science. Discussions with researchers on all themes will be based on scientific knowledge, but they should also consider potential ethical and societal implications of decision-making. To introduce different perspectives on the issues to the students, MULTIPLIERS is aiming at building so-called “Open Science Communities” (OSCs). Each OSC will involve all of the diverse stakeholders from education, research, enterprises, civil society, and policy, to innovatively engage different societal actors in the science learning process. During the project implementation and after its completion, the consortium will support the creation of new OSCs in the partner countries, as well as in other EU countries.

One of the main project objectives is to develop analytical and critical thinking competences for and with the students, to ultimately make them knowledge MULTIPLIERS. After engaging with the OSCs, in a second step, families and wider communities will be involved in problem-solving processes, which are called open-school science learning. The students will share and discuss what they have learned with their peers, families and beyond. To approach broader audiences and engage with students from all over Europe, students involved in MULTIPLIERS will post stories on the project’s social media channels, supported by EFI’s Communication experts. The idea is to encourage the students to prepare their own communication outputs, in a way that allows them to experience and learn from the process of communicating science while also creating ownership of the content.

MULTIPLIERS partners

The project Kick-off meeting took place virtually on November 18-19, with the participation of the partners and project advisors. One of the highlights was a discussion on how to develop a research methodology that will allow an analysis of the needs of all the different countries, the enlargement of open science networks and the sustainability of the project. The coordinations have just begun, soon we will be sharing more news on the exciting MULTIPLIERS project!