Can and should assessment nurture an orientation to society and social justice?

Jan McArthur, Lancaster University
Margaret Blackie, Stellenbosch University
Nicole Pitterson, Virginia Tech
Kayleigh Rosewell, Lancaster University

This seminar explores the connections that can, or should, be made between how we assess students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) disciplines and nurturing an orientation to wider society, by which we mean a sense of interconnectedness between oneself and others. From a critical theory perspective, education should facilitate movement from a conception of the individual as autonomous towards the individual as a member of a larger society. We describe a longitudinal study among chemistry and chemical engineering undergraduate students at universities in the UK, South Africa and the USA. Only a very small number of students display any orientation to society through their responses to assessment tasks. This result is surprising, and somewhat distressing, because there are a number of socially-related assessment tasks within the curricula of most programmes researched. Thus it becomes evident that more may be required to achieve higher education oriented to society and social justice than simply the deliberate inclusion of socially-related activities in the curriculum or as assessment tasks.