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 STEPWISE is to  encourage & enable students' to eventually self-direct (SD/OE) 'RiNA' (research-informed & negotiated action) projects (like at right) that are meant to overcome harms they perceive in STSE relationships.

Based on theory and our research, however, the quality of students' self-led projects are likely to be quite limited without careful pre-project teacher-led lessons & activities, as summarized here.

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

Rationale for RiNA Projects

Because private sector entities, largely with government supports (as at left), have orchestrated myriad entities - including fields of science & technology (S&T) - in ways that concentrate wealth, often at expense of wellbeing of most other individuals, societies & environments, it is imperative that school science and technology encourage and enable learners to critique approaches and products of S&T and act to overcome associated harms. For most effectiveness, actions should be informed by SD/OE research, peer negotiation, and teachers' earlier teaching, etc.

Model for RiNA Projects
After teachers have provided students with appropriate lessions and student activities, as elaborated here, students may have sufficient expertise, attitudes and motivation for conducting student-directed and open-ended RiNA projects. To help to prepare students for effective RiNA projects and to evaluate them appropriately, it seems necessary for educators to have deep conceptions of such 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. Mathematics is often involved in both kinds of translations. So, the above schema may also, essentially, represent STEM fields. 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 try to translate into phenomena - with the hope of new situations (e.g., people using less fossil fuel energy sources).

Within translations in both directions, though, there may be inconsistencies/inefficiencies:

  • Ontological Gaps. These occur because the composition (which is 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, all claims (representations, such as laws) cannot be considered 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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Some 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:

Some notes, with examples and resources, about features of the above RiNA schema are provided below in terms of possible progress of such projects:
  • Topic Choice. In STEPWISE, topics for RiNA projects should involve some analyses of possible harms to wellbeing of individuals, societies and environments (e.g., claims about devastation from climagte change) 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. Sources 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 and more personally-meaningful 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. Research suggests, for instance, that information related to science and technology may be 'cleansed' in ways that serve interests of private sector members. The teacher whose students produced this report informed us many times that, accordingly, he advises them to double-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 some validity, as compared to that World --> Sign translations (primary research) developed by students, primary research 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 or 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 livverying things, however, which is very common in STSE research, studies may be more appropriate - because 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). Afterwards, 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 several other action types.

Several other examples of students' RiNA projects are highlighted here.

Note, again, it cannot be stressed enough that students' self-led RiNA projects are likely to be greatly limited unless they are preceded by careful teacher-led and faciliated lessons and activities meant to help them to develop expertise, confidence and motivation for eventually self-directing such unpredictable projects. This point is elaborated in the attached information sheet and on the STEPWISE pedagogy page.

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