by Franz Radits, Elisabeth Inschlag, & Christine Heidinger (University of Vienna, Austria)
In the second round of our PARRISE teacher professional development (TPD) course on “Conflicts over use at rivers near Vienna” at the Pedagogical University of Lower Austria in Baden we organized an expert lecture so that the pre-service teachers (PSTs) in our course learn about river conservation and negotiations concerning conflicts of use of rivers in Austria and from all over the world from an expert in the field. In this contribution to the newsletter we would like to point out our rationale for inviting an expert to our SSIBL-TPD course and show how we staged this lecture.
Why should you invite an expert to a SSIBL-TPD course?
Our TPD course on “Conflicts over use at rivers near Vienna” orients itself on pedagogical goals derived from an education for democracy: Students as laypersons should learn how to expand their critical capability towards experts’ scientific knowledge in order to strengthen their decision-making capability in the course of socio-scientific controversies (“Entscheidungsfähige Laien”, Fischer 2001; Radits 2012). This educational goal is based on the assumption that a democratic society needs citizens who are able to discern scientific claims from doctrines, who know how scientific claims are produced and who also know about the limits of the scientific approach to interpret the world (Driver et al., 1996). It is also based on the knowledge that many societal decisions are made with recourse to scientific expertise. Expert judgement is per se in some parts a technocratic tyranny. But during a societal negotiation process between citizens, stakeholders, legal authorities, etc. scientific expertise is integrated into democratic decision-making.
The goal of “entscheidungsfähige Laien” calls for a specific design of the learning environments for students in class as well as for PSTs in a TPD course. In our TPD course we, therefore, work on teachers’ competence to enter into a discourse with experts regarding a complex socio-scientific issue. We piloted two different learning environments:
In round 1 (summer semester 2016) we piloted expert interviews: The PSTs were requested to choose an expert in the field of the controversy they did research on, and to conduct an interview with him or her. The PSTs were supported in
developing interview questions which aimed at getting a better understanding of the nature of the controversy and of the ways conflicts are settled in this area.
In round 2 (summer semester 2017) we invited Willi Vogel (Head of the water department of the Austrian Environment Agency), an expert in the field of “conflicts over the use of rivers”, to give a lecture in the 3rd unit of our TPD course and discuss open questions with our PSTs. Willi Vogel is an expert regarding the scientific matter (limnologic, hydro biological and hydro chemical methods and findings) and the environmental policy.
How to set the stage for an expert lecture
Invitation and instructions to the expert Willi Vogel, head of the surface water department of the Austrian Environment Agency was invited to our course. The Austrian Environmental Agency is Austria’s largest organisation of experts on all environmental issues and is in charge of the environmental control of all surface water, the groundwater as well as the drinking water in Austria, as well as the related national and international agreements and guidelines. The expert was asked to talk about specific problem areas around waters from the perspective of environmental ecology and to arrange his talk in thematic blocks. He should describe how the quality control of waters/rivers is carried out and he should also tell about past national and international negotiation processes around conflicts over use at rivers. He also was requested to inform the PSTs about national and international regulations and guidelines. After each thematic block the PSTs had the possibility to pose clarifying questions.
Instructions to the PSTs. The PSTs were informed how the expert was instructed and also the rationalε of setting the stage of an expert lecture in an educational setting was presented to them. The PSTs were requested to take an analytical stance towards the talk. They should listen to the talk through two different lenses: On the one hand, they should focus on the content knowledge and on the nature of scientific aspects of the talk (“How does the expert generate his expertise?”). On the other hand, they should focus on the educational value of the talk regarding their professional development (“How can an expert lecture be staged so that it becomes a meaningful learning experience?”).
Questions during & discussion after the talk After each thematic block, the PSTs got the chance to collect open questions which needed to be clarified (so called “murmur groups”) in small groups. Afterwards, the PSTs posed their questions and the expert commented on them. After the talk the PSTs got the chance to enter in a discussion with the expert. Besides content-related questions, they were invited to comment on the issues the expert raised in his talk in order to change the monologue of the expert into a multi-perspective dialogue.
Reflection on the expert lecture
Following the expert lecture we asked the PSTs to write a short reflection on the expert lecture. The guiding question was: “How did you enjoy the expert lecture? What was of special significance for you?” In their reflections the PSTs point out many advantages of an expert lecture like giving a vivid impression of the work in this field, arousing interest for the topic, giving concrete and authentic examples andproviding valuable background information.
Overview of the content of the talk
Willi Vogel first talked about the meaning of water in general. Afterwards he pointed out specific fields of tension around waters (rivers, lakes): habitat for animals and plants vs. recreation area for humans, water for the industry vs. water for the agriculture, drinking water vs. water as waste storage of the industry, energy production, etc. All these conflicts are carried out very emotionally, even warlike in some cases. He gave some examples of such conflicts: One example regarding the corporate town Gleisdorf in Styria (Austria) and a conflict between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan regarding the Aral Sea. This led the expert to pointing out the current legal regulations regarding water management: international law, conventions and guidelines. He also introduced the PSTs to political instruments which help to settle conflicts.
In the next part of his talk Willi Vogel stressed the importance of good scientific data provided by the scientists in an open conflict. Good data create trust and are crucial to find the right solutions to problems. He gave some examples where decisions were made based on poor data and how this led to misjudgements which had detrimental effects for the environment. In the last thematic block the expert introduced the PSTs to the Water Framework Directive of the Danube region and the legal basis of the Austrian Water Management.
Examples of PSTs’ questions during the discussion with the expert
In which ways is public participation possible in these conflicts?
What happens if changes are made to waters in one country which affect waters in another country?
If one wants to compare the water quality across national borders the guidelines regarding data collection and interpretation have to be the same. Are there binding international guidelines for this?
Where can I get as a layperson measurement results on the water quality of a specific river or lake in Austria?
Excerpts of the PSTs’ written reflection after the event
“The talk was informative and exciting”.
“It was possible to ask questions and the questions were answered in detail.”
“I gained another perspective on the topic. Especially the international perspective was new and exciting for me.”
“I wish he had presented more examples.”
“The topic became comprehensible for me because of the talk.”
“I appreciated his personal experiences in the field which allowed him to give good examples which helped to understand the theoretical contents.”
“I got a lot of background information on the topic. I also know now where I can get this information myself.”
“The expert gave a good overview over water problems – nationally and global.”