WWW Site for John Lawrence Bencze, Associate Professor (Emeritus), Science Education, OISE/University of Toronto

S&T Education Resources
Procedural Education

STSE Education
Learning About Relationships Among Fields of Science & Technology and Societies & Environments

Welcome! This page provides ideas, resources and links to relevant websites for STSE Education - which is aimed at helping students to develop realistic conceptions about relationships among fields of science & technology and societies & environments. If you have comments, questions, suggestions, resources ideas, etc. about anything here, please write to me about them.
Web Links.
Assessment & Evaluation.

Meaning of STSE Education
'STSE' is the acronym for relationships among: Science, Technology, Society & Environment. An STSE schematic is shown at right, although the 4 items are more overlapping than depicted there. People have different opinions on such relationships, including : i) positive &/or negative, or neutral and ii) conscious (planned) or sub-conscious (unplanned). In order to determine relationships among these four elements, it also is important to have realistic conceptions of each element. We must, for instance, have realistic conceptions of the nature of science and technology - which is addressed at: NoST Education. We must also understand the nature of societies (e.g., sociology) and environments (e.g., ecology and environmental sciences), but these are only addressed here in terms of STSE education.
Given the STSE model above is, likely, somewhat misleading - in that it suggests separation of the four elements in it - perhaps the model below is somewhat more realistic, recognizing societal and environmental embeddedness of science and technology; and, recognizing possibilities for overlapping of goals, procedures and outcomes of science and technology. It also stresses the need for a focus on Sociopolitical ('WISE') Activism to address Socioscientific (STSE) Problems.

STEM in Relationships with Societies & Environments
With advent of 'STEM' education initiatives, one might add engineering & mathematics to the STSE mix. Although the model below may do this reasonably-well, we have to keep in mind that - at least based on actor network theory - that STEM fields are dynamically and, to a great extent, unpredictably, interrelated with many or most other 'entities,' including living, non-living and symbolic entities. Such a view makes it extremely difficult to depict science and technology (or STEM) in any kind of static, two-dimensional, way. Nevertheless, such a 'STEM-SE' schema may be important to emphasize, given that many STEM Education initiatives appear to limit considerations of many societal and environmental relationships - particularly regarding adverse effects of powerful people and groups on STEM fields and, in turn, wellbeing of individuals, societies & environments.

Rationale for STSE Education
There are, undoubtedly, many positive STSE relationships. Various medical and surgical treatments, such as heart surgery and antibiotic treatments have saved and/or prolonged human lives. Our various communication tools, such as open-source aspects of the internet, have helped people share ideas and cultural perspectives, etc. Such relationships need to be celebrated. However, where there are problems (or hints of problems), they likely should be addressed. There appear to be many STSE problems - what I have called 'WISE Problems.' Some of these are related to:
  • Fats, sugars, salts, etc. in manufactured ‘foods’;
  • Medications that are not adequately tested;
  • Automobile pollution; e.g., toxins as 'smog';
  • Poor labour conditions in electronics' manufacturing;
  • ‘Screen time’ (e.g., TV-viewing) and obesity;
  • Data-mining to tailor advertizing;
  • Carcinogens and nicotine in cigarettes;
  • Deforestation for cattle and hamburgers;
  • Patenting of life forms;
  • Climate change due to fossil fuel burning;
  • Death etc. from the military-industrial complex; etc.
This is a relatively short list of such potential problems. Ideas about problems can come from this list of STSE issues.
Although there is considerable controversy to causes of problems in STSE relationships, there is much support for the notion that excessive human orientation towards for-profit production and consumption of goods and services is largely at fault. John McMurtry (1999), a prominent philosopher and social commentator, says that we are in the 'cancer stage of capitalism.' Briefly, like cancer, parts (extreme capitalists) of our 'body' (Earth and its beings) have mutated in ways that - while they still may resemble us - their actions are causing massive degradation of our "life world." It seems clear that many products of science and technology, supported by companies and financiers, appear to be leading to considerable social and environmental degradation. Perhaps because of the seriousness of problems like those mentioned at left, STSE Education is part of school science and technology curricula. This is, however, a neglected aspect of students' education in many educational situations. It is common, for example, for STSE to be addressed in terms of pointing out to students many of the positive products - such as medical devices, etc. - that may be attributed to science and technology. Possible negative STSE relationships are seldom mentioned, particularly as they may relate to influences of powerful individuals (e.g., financiers) and groups  (e.g., corporations). Without attention to such potential power-related problems, humanity's proablems are, clearly, likely to persist and/or get worse. As indicated by the STSE framework above, humans are intimately connected to all other living things and their non-living environments. We can either choose to influence these in positive or negative ways.
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STSE Curriculum
As mentioned above, STSE is part of some official curricula - such as for Ontario schools. It is apparent, however, that many of the educational learning expectations in this domain tend to be oriented towards positive 'applications' of science and technology - a tack tending to suggest that science and technology are 'good,' 'successful' and 'beneficial.' While that is not untrue in many cases, there are a number areas of STSE relationships about which we should be concerned (refer to WISE Problems). A useful way of analyzing and planning for STSE Education along these lines has been developed by Derek Hodson (2003). He suggests that there are four 'levels' of commitment to STSE education; that is,
  • Appreciating the societal impact of scientific and technological change, and recognizing that science and technology are, to some extent, culturally determined.
  • Recognizing that decisions about scientific and technological development are taken in pursuit of particular interests, and that benefits accruing to some may be at the expense of others. Recognizing that scientific and technological development are inextricably linked with the distribution of wealth and power.
  • Developing one’s own views and establishing one’s own underlying value positions.
  • Preparing for and taking action (p. 655).
Noting, as Hodson (2003) has done, that learning in one domain (e.g., STSE) can affect and be affected by learning in another domain (e.g., Skills), and acknowledging his call for actions to address socio-political issues, I created the STEPWISE framework above in 2006. In this schema, all teaching and learning is oriented towards 'WISE Activism'; that is, action(s) students might take to use their literacy (i.e., the elements around the periphery of the framework above) to try to improve wellbeing of individuals, societies and/or environments (WISE). For example, to address poor eating habits in school cafeterias, students could use their knowledge of Canada's Food Guide (Products Education), awareness that food companies may sacrifice nutritional value for profit (NoST-STSE Education), and findings from their own studies of students' eating habits (Students' Research) to lobby school administrators to organize more nutritional food choices in the cafeteria (WISE Activism). For students to be comfortable and motivated to conduct such projects, we have found that the more linear version of STEPWSE can help and, for them to address problems in terms of influences of powerful people (e.g., financiers) and groups (e.g., corporations) on fields of science and technology (and much more ...), our research strongly suggests that teachers need to directly teach about such relationships.
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STSE Education Pedagogy
Teaching students about relationships among fields of science and technology and societies and environments (STSE) is, in many ways, not unlike teaching for other learning expectations (e.g., Products of S&T). Based on constructivist learning principles, students often have pre-conceived notions about topics teachers intend to teach. Students' pre-conceived notions can influence how they interpret ideas, perspectives, experiences that teachers provide. With this in mind, teachers might consider using my constructivism-informed pedagogical framework for their STSE Education. Some specific STSE Education examples of activities based on this framework are provided at right.
  • Expressing Ideas: Teachers might, for example, ask students to list several inventions (e.g., cell phones, nuclear weapons, heart surgery) and brainstorm and then debate benefits and hazards associated with each one.
  • Learning Ideas: Teachers could use, for example, various case methods; that is, activities ('methods') that get students to interact with case studies (also called documentaries) about some STSE issue. Several of these are provided at: Action BioScience.
  • Judging Ideas: Students can make judgements about which STSE perspectives to believe in various ways. 'Town-hall Debates,' in which students role-play different positions on STSE/WISE issues are excellent. They also can form opinions as they attempt to take action on such issues; e.g., WISE Activism.
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STSE Education Resources
As indicated above, there are different teaching approaches for STSE Education. There are, accordingly, many possible resources in support of many of these approaches. Many of these are located at: STSE web links. A very popular STSE Education approach is the 'case method'; that is, activities ('methods') that get students to interact with case studies (also called documentaries) about some STSE issue. Several of these are provided at: Action BioScience. Some case methods are available for field-testing by writing to me.

Student Assessment & Evaluation
Assessment and evaluation (A&E) of students' expertise regarding STSE issues is complex. It should be carried out differently, depending on the phase of the instructional model being used. When getting students to express (demonstrate) their pre-instructional ideas about issues, for example, it is important to encourage them to freely express their ideas - knowing there are no 'right' answers. Accordingly, A&E at this stage should emphasize effort. During the 'Learning Ideas' phase of the instructional model, on the other hand, teachers can use more traditional A&E techniques - since the purpose in that phase of learning is to teach particular ideas, concepts, etc. However, because there is much controversy about whether or not STSE relationships are positive or negative (often due to a person's political stance), all A&E in STSE Education must be flexible - allowing for different perspectives, as long as they appear logical. Indeed, room must be reserved for students to decide what STSE relationships make most sense to them. This represents the Judging Ideas phase of the constructivism-informed instructional framework. This is a crucial part of STSE education, since decisions about STSE relationships and action(s) stemming from them can - philosophically - only be made in the context of 'real-life' situations, involving many, often simultaneously changing and interacting, variables. For example, decisions about production and use of such manufactured foods as potato chips are controversial and can only be made through negotiation among various 'stakeholders'; such as among company representatives, consumers, government officials, scientists, lawyers, etc.

Specific suggestions for A&E in the area of STSE Education are provided at right.
Assessment/Evaluation Suggestions/Resources
  • Check curriculum guidelines for instructions about which STSE relationships to emphasize, noting that many or most of these are controversial and, therefore, students may need to learn opposing views and, then, make decisions for themselves about which relationships make most sense to them in particular situations. Note that, in Ontario, teachers are only required to A&E 'Overall Expectations.' 'Specific Expectations' are provided by the government as examples; not as requirements.
  • Refer to general principles of assessment & evaluation.
  • When helping students to develop expertise based on the model above, consider these guidelines:
    • Expressing Ideas: Since this phase encourages students to freely express their ideas, evaluation should be based mainly on effort and, if it's been taught, the degree of argumentation.
    • Learning Ideas: Although many STSE relationships are controversial, it is reasonable for teachers to A&E students' understanding of various positions; including through quizzes/tests, assignments, etc.
    • Judging Ideas: To ensure students are free to evaluate different STSE perspectives, A&E needs to be very flexible and based mainly on students' effort and degree of argumentation.
    • Procedural Education: Students may or may not have expertise necessary for Expressing, Learning and Judging Ideas. They may, therefore, need a procedural education - such as that addressed through Inquiry-Design Education. Principles of S&E for this kind of education are similar to those outlined above.

  • Bencze, L., Di Giuseppe, M., Hodson, D., Pedretti, E., Serebrin, L. & Decoito, I. (2003). Paradigmic road blocks in elementary school science ‘reform’: Reconsidering nature-of-science teaching within a rational-realist milieu. Systemic Practice and Action Research, 16(5), 285-308.
  • Hodson, D. (2003). Time for action: Science education for an alternative future. International Journal of Science Education, 25(6), 645–670.
  • McMurtry, J. (1999). The cancer stage of capitalism. London: Pluto.
© All rights reserved, J. L. Bencze, 2011.
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