WWW Site for John Lawrence Bencze, Associate Professor, Science Education, OISE/University of Toronto
STEPWISE Action Research:
Critical & Activist STS Scholarship in Science Education

Through action research (AR), our research and publication team develops (and gathers) and evaluates teaching and learning resources that may help students to critically evaluate relationships among fields of science and technology and societies and environments (STSE) and to develop and implement sociopolitical actions to overcome harms they determine in such relationships. In this part of our project, funded by SSHRC (2019-2023), we are evaluating uses in science and technology education of claims from Science & Technology Studies (STS) that associate personal, social and/or environmental harms with influences of powerful people (e.g., financiers) and groups (e.g., corporations, transnational trade organizations, think tanks, etc.) on fields of science and technology and most other societal entities.
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STS-SE Project Overview
Science & Technology Studies (STS) is, generally, a field of scholarly study in which inquirers learn about (and, possibly, recommend changes to) many different contexts that relate to science and technology. Bruno Latour, for example, a prominent early researcher in this field, noted in his book Laboratory Life that, depending on how a graph was constructed, certain subliminal messages (re: semiotics) could be communicated about significance (exaggerated or de-emphasized) of scientists' findings. More recently, in Surveillance Capitalism, Dr. Shoshana Zuboff elaborates numerous ways that capitalist entities mine data from human activities (e.g., social media uses) for reasons of increasing private profit at expense of privacy and security of many citizens. Given importance of such claims from STS that involve adverse influences of powerful people and groups on fields of science and technology (and much more), citizens need to be made aware of them for deep engagement in democratic societies. Accordingly, in this project, we are studying the nature of and extent to which claims from STS research may help students to critically evaluate possibly-problematic STSE relationships and to develop and implement actions to address personal, social and/or environmental harms they determine in such relationships.

Science & Technology Studies <--> Science Education
The schema below may help explain the nature of this project.

The model above depicts reciprocal relationships - which may be, to varying extents, incomplete/inaccurate (due to, for example, ontological gaps) - among S&T/STEM, STS and Science Education (SciEd). Although there may be such two-way relationships (and, of course, more that cannot be clearly depicted here), this project may - at least initially - focus on uses of findings/conclusions from STS (S&T/STEM --> STS) to inform development and field-testing in classrooms of teaching & learning approaches that may help achieve main goals of STEPWISE; i.e., increase in students' expertise, confidence and motivation for developing and taking personal and social actions to overcome harms linked to fields of S&T. As we proceed with this line of action research, we may find that we learn much about, for example, science educators' direct 2-way interactions with scientists and/or engineers (S&T/STEM) and influences of S&T/STEM educators on STS scholars. We also hope that this work will lead to deep collaborations among STS scholars, teachers, educational researchers and others.

Fields of STS are very broad, addressing myriad relationships among science and technology, societies and environments (STSE). STEPWISE, however, focuses on relatively narrow aspects of STS research; that is, on - as summarized here - influences of powerful people (e.g., financiers) and groups (e.g., transnational trade organizations and corporations) on fields of science and technology (and much more!) that appear to be causing (or, at least, influencing development of) harms to wellbeing of individuals, societies and environments; and, as well, examples of social actions that people and groups have developed and enacted to overcome such harms.

A graphical depiction of the above schema, with a few notes, is available here.

For more information about this project, review the attached poster.

Literature Reviews

We have begun this project by studying STS literature ("Representations," above) to gain some initial conceptions about findings from STS scholarship that may and/or should be learned by school students. We have, for example, found the concept of sociotechnical imaginaries (STIs) to be quite interesting. For example, according to Ulrike Felt and Susanne Öchsner (2019), radio frequency identification (RFID) tags are being used to, for example, efficiently match consumers' purchases of commodities like clothing to companies' inventory; but, in doing so, perhaps augment STIs prioritizing efficiency, compartmentalization and technological dependence. Related reading, as summarized here, suggests - moreover - that RFID tags are just one of many surveillance technologies that, ultimately, work to control populations (and myriad other entities) in ways prioritizing private profit over wellbeing of most other individuals, societies and environments.

STS Scholar Consultations/Collaborations

Sometime afterward our literature reviews, we will be seeking participants (e.g., STS scholars, teachers) to work with us to achieve common research and publication goals. If you would like to become involved in this STS-SE project, please write to me: larry.bencze@utoronto.ca.

Invitation to Join STEPWISE
To broaden the scope of STEPWISE implementation and research, we feel we must work with a great variety of people and groups, at least including
(in no particular order): teachers, students, consultants, principals, government officials, school district officials, community activists, etc. Broadly, our goals include learning about education from participants, but also helping them to learn and to publish their work - which we have done in numerous ways, as indicated on my online CV.
If you are interested in working with us (usually graduate students and me) in various ways, please write to me at: larry.bencze@utoronto.ca. To help decide about joining us, you might read the   flyer linked at left and/or the project summary and/or foldable brochure.
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