STS-STEPWISE

STEPWISE Uses of Research from Science & Technology Studies (STS)

Introduction

To complement teaching about knowledge (e.g., laws, theories & technologies) developed by fields of science & technology (or ‘STEM‘), people & groups relating to such fields have long used research claims from fields of Science & Technology Studies (STS); that is, scholars who mostly work at universities studying work of professionals in myriad fields relating to science & technology (and, often, engineering & mathematics). STS research claims have, for instance, informed Skills Education, NoST Education & STSE Education. The STEPWISE project, although supporting uses of much STS research, prioritizes educating students about STSE Harms and RiNA projects undertaken by community members to prepare students for critical & active civic engagement – hopefully, to increase social justice & environmental sustainability outcomes. On this page, after a brief review of historical uses of STS research in science & technology education, suggestions & resources are provided for STS-informed STEPWISE-based education.

Refer, for example, to STS Research at UCL.

Historical Uses of STS Research in Science Education

STS research has long provided evidence & theory to debunk common (mis-)conceptions of science like that depicted at right/below (Ziman, 1984). Although Robert Merton was aware of difficulties scientists often had in adhering to his institutional ‘norms,’ he recommended they be followed – mainly to protect independence of science from outside interference. In his analyses, however, Ziman (2000) claimed that – particularly with private funding – scientists frequently contravene Merton’s norms. At the same time, analysts like Paul Feyerabend (1975) concluded that scientists often use ‘unorthodox’ approaches, including not following the proverbial ‘scientific method‘ (e.g., Losee, 2001). Meanwhile, Latour & Woolgar (1987) suggested that – as in studies of Mendel’s preferences for theory over data – that scientists’ claims often are ‘constructed.’ Aligned with studies of analysts like Kuhn (1970) and Lakatos (1970), scientists often are more influenced by colleagues and dominant theories than by available data. More broadly, much STS research suggests science often is highly influenced by sociological factors.

Refer, also, to my summary of four NoS positions.

STEPWISE Foci on Problematic Power

In the STEPWISE project, we encourage teaching of STS research about problematic influences of powerful people (e.g., financiers) and groups (e.g., corporations) on fields of science & technology (e.g., A; B; C; D; E; F; G). As illustrated in the graphic at right/below, for instance, capitalist influences on ‘science’ may lead to ‘muzzled’ science (World –> Sign) about for-profit commodities (e.g., see UCS). Similarly, to limit rectifying actions to overcome harms, capitalists often influence media reports to cast doubts on investigative science (e.g., Merchants of Doubt). In terms of ‘technology’ (Sign –> World), meanwhile, many products & services – such as inadequately-tested household chemical products (e.g., Story of Stuff) – appear greatly-linked, often with government legal supports, to many STSE Harms. STS fields have, however, studied social movements that may address relevant harms (e.g., Undone Science).

Teaching About Power via ANT

Much about STSE relationships can be taught in terms of actor-network theory (ANT), an ontological conception assuming all natural & engineered living, nonliving & symbolic (semiotic) entities (actants) are reciprocally integrated into a vast network. Particularly important are dispositifs; i.e., groups of actants that generally co-support common causes. Of great concern are pro-capitalist dispositifs, with cooperation among actants – as illustrated here – like: corporations, STEM fields, banks, currencies, etc. Often, such dispositifs are punctualized; i.e., made to appear less complex (even ‘singular’). Like a Trojan horse, objects – like genetically-engineered salmonpersonal care products & cell phones in the video at right – can appear positive on the ‘surface,’ often in normalized ways, which can distract consumers from awareness of problematic network connections.

Our Multi-Actant Commodity Arrays and Multi-Actant Documentaries can help introduce students to ANT, dispositifs & punctualization.

Sample ANT Teaching & Learning

The first 4 videos here highlight teaching of ANT by Mirjan Krstovic in an ‘academic’ (university-qualifying) 10th grade science course, followed by a discussion with students about this work.

STS-informed Teaching & Learning Resources
Based on our STS literature reviews, we have developed teaching & learning resources that we suggest should be used for the Teacher Teaches phase of the STEPWISE pedagogy. To help with this, our resources typically start with an overview for the teacher – but, then, we have provided resources for teacher ‘input’ (direct instruction) accompanied by student ‘application’ activities that should encourage students to apply just-taught ideas, attitudes, etc. These resources have been developed in consultation with secondary school teachers, but we urge educators using them to provide us with feedback helping us to improve them. To give us feedback and/or collaborate with us in development of STS-based resources, write to larry.bencze@utoronto.ca.

Prosumption

A major concept that has been studied by STS scholars is prosumption; that is, different kinds of ‘production’ associated with consumption of for-profit items. The video at right/below is meant to provide teachers with an overview of this concept. Teachers may or may not choose to show it to students. This video is accompanied by a 1-page summary of prosumption, here. The sets of videos below are meant to teach students about prosumption – through Input, followed by student Application, in two cases.

Prosumption – Teacher Input & Student Application Activities #1

The teacher input video explains prosumption, using examples from everyday life, some possible types of problematic prosumption and apparent harms to individuals, societies and environments. Using wearable tracking devices, as an example, the students’ application video includes resources and activities that will allow students to apply, test and expand what they have learned about nature and problems of prosumption.

Glassview Advert. (video); Worksheets (PPT); Worksheets (MS-Word); Future of Wearables (video).

Prosumption – Teacher Input & Student Application Activities #2

This second teacher input video focuses on prosumption-related STSE relationships (including different types of stakeholders), importance of research, and possible types of personal and social actions to address prosumption-related problems. It also shows examples of sustainable prosumption. The students’ application video continues to focus on uses of wearable tracking devices and digital surveillance to engage students in activities to apply their learning.

Sociotechnical Imaginaries

As discussed in the video at right (below on phones), we often take for granted (think it is ‘normal’) certain thoughts & actions – such assuming it is OK for many or most people to communicate with others via ‘smart’ phones. Reasons for this are complex, but a popular idea is that living & non-living things – including people & technologies – are connected to each other, linked by common values like: being independent; always seeking something new; not worrying about less fortunate people. These connections among things & values, etc. are called sociotechnical imaginaries – because they limit and/or enable what we can imagine for now and for future living.

Teaching About Sociotechnical Imaginaries

The videos below can be used by teachers to teach students about sociotechnical imaginaries (SIs). We present three pathways to do so; that is, through: i) technologies and their hidden values, ii) emotive actants in technologies; and, iii) future thinking. In each case, for the Teacher Teaches phase of the STEPWISE pedagogy, we suggest that teachers combine teacher Input (direct instruction to overcome problems of discovery) and student Application activities (to deepen student learning). Teacher Input should mainly be teacher-directed & closed-ended, while students’ Application activities may be somewhat more student-directed & open-ended (see Learning Control) – encouraging more higher-order thinking.

Technologies & Their Hidden Values

One way to teach about sociotechnical imaginaries is to talk about how technology (in this case, the brain training program, Lumosity) foreground and foreclose particular visions of the productive citizen &/or employer and ideas of ‘wellbeing’. Students, then, get to apply what they have learned using the example of self-tracking devices and the quantified self movement.

Emotive Actants & Sociotechnical Imaginaries

Another way to teach about sociotechnical imaginaries is to address how emotions can be manipulated and managed to support particular visions (e.g. fear from other things) through, for instance, surveillance applications (as a digital technology) and cosmetics (as a non-digital technology). Students can then apply what they have learned using the example of emotional technology that champion particular visions of economic productivity, intimacy, self-knowledge that reproduce White, middle-class, priorities and neoliberalism.

Future Visions & Sociotechnical Imaginaries

A third way to teach about sociotechnical imaginaries is to get students to think about preferred and desirable futures, by asking whose future matters. This is addressed through the case of ‘modern’ agricultural practices in India and related social and environmental problems brought forward by introduction of ‘miracle’ seeds and chemicals. Students can then apply what they have learned using the example of palm oil production, how it supports some futures at the expense of other futures (e.g. those of dispossessed and Indigenous communities).

Regulatory Capture

A key aspect of neoliberal capitalism is for governments (and transnational entities, like the WTO) to set laws, rules, regulations, etc. to benefit private sector entities (e.g., financiers & corporations) – often at expense of wellbeing of individuals, societies and/or environments. When governing agencies (e.g., FDA) that are meant to regulate – or minimize harmful effects of – businesses instead rule in their favour, they are said to be captured. Such regulatory capture can contribute to many STSE Harms. After reviewing the video about this at right/below, along with this summary, teachers may then use video-based resources below to help students to develop useful conceptions of regulatory capture that they may use in their RiNA projects.

Teacher Input

The two videos at right/below are meant to introduce students to attitudes, skills & knowledge around roles of government regulation of businesses and phenomena relating to regulatory capture. The Descriptions below each video provide additional useful information.

Student Application Activity

To help deepen students’ understanding of regulatory capture through Teacher Input lessons suggested above, they should be asked to complete activities in which they may apply attitudes, skills & knowledge about regulatory capture that were just taught. For such activities, students should be invited to also read contents of the Description below the video.