WWW Site for John Lawrence Bencze, Associate Professor, Science Education, OISE/University of Toronto
Research-informed & negotiated action projects to address harms in STSE relationships

A major goal of the STEPWISE project is to learn - through action research - about the nature and extent of students' self-directed 'RiNA' (research-informed & negotiated action) projects that they design and conduct to address harms they perceive in STSE relationships.

A depiction of such a project is shown at right.

This page provides descriptions and rationale for some aspects of such projects.

Model for RiNA Projects
Among ways to think of RiNA projects, the schema below appears to be very helpful. This model has been adapted by me from an article by Roth (2001), in which he used a similar schema to depict relationships between science and technology (engineering). After a brief overview here, elaboration - with examples - is later given regarding students' RiNA projects.

Briefly, the above schema involves two very general 'translations' - such as in translating from one language to another. Roth (2001) suggested that translations from World --> Sign were common to 'science,' while 'technology' (engineering) generally involved Sign --> World translations. In adapting this schema for RiNA projects, two broad translations would be:
  • Research: World --> Sign translations, in which investigators develop representations (e.g., drawings, graphs, etc.) to depict phenomena (e.g., trees);
  • Actions: Sign --> World translations, which people/groups negotiate research findings, available theories, knowledge, etc. and develop (via negotiations) actions (e.g., posters, petitions, etc. calling for less petroleum use) that they then insert into the world of phenomena - with the hope of new situations (e.g., people using less fossil fuel energy sources);
  • Ontological Gaps: These are inefficiencies in translations between World and Sign. Ontological gaps occur because the content (studied via ontology) of entities of the World and Sign are different and, so, translation is not perfect. Similar to language translations, something gets lost in the process. A drawing of a tree can be similar to a tree, but will inevitably miss some aspects of the actual tree. Given that such translation inefficiencies always occur, we would have to accept that all claims (representations, such as laws) cannot be absolutely true);
  • Ideological Gaps: These are, I suggest, intentional inefficiencies in translations between World and Sign. Although ontological gaps may be unavoidable, ideological ones may occur because some person and/group desires some sort of alterations to translations between World and Sign. It seems common, for instance, for capitalists to influence these translations in ways that maximize profit. For example, regarding climate change, they may influence scientists to not show temperature increases (World --> Sign) in ways that might alarm citizens. They may, in turn, influence engineers and others to develop petroleum-based technologies (Sign --> World), despite evidence from climate scientists that, indeed, temperatures appear to be rising as human-generated 'greenhouse gas' (e.g., CO2) emissions increase.
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Students' RiNA Projects
Elaboration of the above general schema for RiNA projects is provided below based on the following report of students' project dealing with climate change:

This report exhibits many features of students' RiNA projects in terms of the schema above. Some notes, with examples and resources, about such features are provided below in terms of possible progress of such projects:
  • Topic Choice: In CASE, topics for RiNA projects should involve some analyses of possible harms to wellbeing of individuals, societies and environments associated with some relationships among fields of science and technology and societies and environments (STSE). Regarding the above schema for RiNA, such decisions are Signs - such as photographs showing a polar bear traversing melting sea ice, as here. The source(s) of such signs are quite varied;
  • World --> Sign Translations: Signs about climate change would, indeed, have numerous sources. Although students may have some first-hand experiences (World) leading them to draw conclusions (Signs) about changing climate, they are most likely to acquire such Signs through teaching and through their own research. Evidence suggests that, while gaining essential attitudes, skills & knowledge ('ASK') from teachers is crucial (especially for disadvantaged students), the more students control aspects of the model above, the deeper will be their learning. Moreover, to help ensure actions are not based on relatively invalid information and, perhaps, not so much on emotions and group identification (see; DHMO Hoax), it is likely best that they be based on more systematic forms of research. Broadly, learners may conduct secondary and primary research. Detailed suggestions about these are provided below:
    • Secondary Research: This involves learning about World --> Sign translations ('research') by others. Very often, students in many parts of the world do this through Internet searches. Students who developed the above report may, for instance, have found out that 'greenhouse gases' are emitted in farming and in transporting farming products to market (often over long distances). Related to this, their claim (Sign) that manufacting of pesticides for farming uses considerable energy that can release gases, too, likely arose from web searches. Although it seems impossible for students to avoid ontological gaps in translations (refer above), they should have taken some steps to minimize (perhaps inevitable) ideological gaps. The teacher whose students produced this report informed us many times that, indeed, he advises them to double and check websites to determine levels of agreement and, especially, to avoid those that appear to have commercial connections.
    • Primary Research: Although information from secondary research may have considerable validity, as compared to that World --> Sign translations (primary research) developed by students, the latter can be highly motivating for students (because of personal 'ownership' of findings) and, as well, help them direct their later actions. Primary research appears to occur in at least two forms; that is, as experiments and studies. It is apparent that many or most students are familiar with experiments; i.e., with manipulating an independent variable (e.g., decreasing pH levels [re: acid rain] to determine effects on buildings). When investigations deal with living things, however, which is so common in STSE research, studies may be more appropriate - in that that they involve observations of naturally-changing variables. We particularly recommend correlational studies, in that learning about influences of independent variables can inform actions. Students in the above report, for instance, claimed to determine that boys tend to have more meat in their diet - a finding that could lead them to target boys in their actions (Twitter messages). Although these students mainly conducted quantitative studies, it would also have been possible to learn much from qualitative inquiries - such as through interviews.
  • Sign --> World Translations: With available data, experiences, knowledge, theories, etc., students can negotiate claims (Signs) about the World (e.g., food consumption, transportation and climate change). In doing so, they also can negotiate actions (Signs) they might take, such as the Twitter programme involving recommendations like "Support local farmers by buying local produce and meats" and "Cut down on meat consumption" as ways of combating climate change. Although such actions seemed appropriate, students could have extended them to include other action approaches (e.g., Facebook) and approaches (letters to newspaper editors, posters aimed at boys, etc.).

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