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

Knowledge-building Strategies
in Science & Technology
e.g., Techniques scientists & engineers may use to solve problems.

Welcome! This page provides some perspectives regarding goals of science and technology and strategies that scientists and engineers may use for achieving their goals. It must be stressed, however, that the goals and strategies described here - like those in many other resources - are highly stereotypical. Actual goals and practices in science and technology are highly personal and contextual - dependent on myriad, often interacting and unpredictable, situational variables. It is, therefore, problematic to suggest that they ever can be accurately defined, described and modelled. Nevertheless, it has been my experience that keeping many of the goals and strategies below in mind can be helpful. Individuals can choose from amongst them and others in ways unique to who they are as inquirers and developers and according to the aforementioned situational variables affecting knowledge building in science and technology. If you have comments, questions, suggestions, resource ideas, etc. about anything here, please write to me about them. Thanks.

Sci. vs. Tech.
SciTech Strategies.

Science vs. Technology
There is some controversy regarding distinctions between goals and purposes of 'science' and 'technology.' Many people claim that 'science' is responsible for what others consider to be products of technology, such as various medications. People talk about 'medical science' giving rise to many 'wonder drugs,' for example. Underlying this idea, perhaps, is an assumption technology cannot develop products (such as medications) without products of science (e.g., conceptions of chemical structures). This is an issue regarding relationships between science and technology, about which some ideas and resources are provided through STSE Ed. The question remains, however, as to how to distinguish 'science' from 'technology.' Many people feel that they are quite different.
Often, investigators with a 'scientific' goal aim to document and explain existing cause-effect (result) relationships that exist naturally. Using the relationships modelled in figure 1, a 'scientific' goal regarding mushrooms, for example, could be to explain (using hypotheses at first) how different soil types (a 'cause variable') affect mushroom weight gain (a 'result variable'). Those with a 'technological' goal, however, want to change causes & effects in order to create desired (and unnatural) results. A 'technological' goal  regarding mushrooms might be to create conditions ('cause variables') that get them to grow as big (or small, depending on how much people like mushrooms) as possible (a 'result variable')!
Figure 1: Cause-Result Relationships in S&T.
There is the view, however, that science and technology are quite similar. At a very general level, both fields aim to develop conceptions (ideas) that may be useful. The Particle Theory, which is a typical product of science, can be useful for making predictions about effects of air pressure on balloon size, for example. That is not unlike a pair of sunglasses (for example), which is a typical product of technology, which has its obvious uses. Related to that, both fields also perform various empirical tests (e.g., experiments) in order to gain evidence for claims about their products. Indeed, as suggested below, many of the strategies scientists and technologists employ are not that different. Nevertheless, the controversy remains and, consequently, people have to judge for themselves how science and technology compare. This may or may not be a crucial issue; but, it is a subject of debate amongst many who study these fields.

  Scientific & Technological Strategies
As suggested above, many people believe that goals and purposes of science & technology are similar. This also appears to be true for strategies that scientists and engineers use to achieve their goals as suggested by the model in figure 2 (below) and in my downloadable glossary and set of skills objectives. Admittedly, this model is a stereotypical representation of strategies that scientists and engineers may use. Their strategies tend not to be, for instance, nearly so step-wise as the model in figure 2 suggests. Also, the model in figure 2 is, necessarily, highly incomplete. Much of what scientists and engineers do is, for example, tacit and, therefore, something that cannot be included in a diagram or set of educational objectives. Related to this is the idea that strategies that each scientist or engineer chooses is highly personal or 'idiosyncratic.' Scientists and engineers are not obviously robotic. Strategies they choose may depend, for example, on their psychological make-up, particular genetically-determined or experientially-acquired talents, particular social and cultural pressures, etc. These sorts of factors pertain the nature of science and technology (NoST) and relationships amongst sciences, technologies, societies and environments ideas and resources for which are provided threough: NoST Ed and STSE Ed. Given the idiosyncratic and contextual nature of knowledge building, it also must be noted that the framework in figure 2 is a product of my particular idiosyncracies and environmental influences. Educators should, therefore, consider many other such frameworks when planning and evaluating students' procedural education. Some of these are available at Curriculum.
Despite important limitations of the model in figure 2 below, I suggest that it is useful as a starting point for considering the nature of knowledge building in science & technology. It could be used, for example, to stimulate discussions surrounding strategies that scientists and engineers may sometimes use. From the top to the bottom of the model, for example, actions (also called 'strategies,' 'skills' and 'processes') on the 'Science' side (left) may be similar to those on the 'Technology' (right) side. Questions that 'scientists' ask, for example, are comparable to problems that 'Technologists' note in that both may involve cause - result relationships. A typical cause-result 'science' question about mushrooms, for example, would be: 'How do changes in soil type affect mushroom growth?' Similarly, a typical 'technology'/'engineering' cause-result problem would be, 'What can we do to soil to prevent mushrooms from growing?' Similarly, predictions that 'scientists' make are similar to solutions 'technologists' generate. A 'scientist' could, for instance, predict that mushroom growth in different soil types would vary according to the organic content of soils. A 'technologist,' meanwhile, could predict that increased amounts of a certain chemical (e.g., a herbicide) should repress growth of mushrooms. Empirical tests to which 'scientists' and 'engineers' subject their ideas often are quite similar, both employing experiments and studies, for example.

Figure 2: Stereotypical Model of Strategies Used in Science & Technology/Engineering.
Although there may be these sorts of similarities between science & technology, it also must be acknowledged that there are significant differences between them, as well. For example, interactions with societies and environments may be more significant for 'technology' than for 'science' (assuming the two fields are unique and separate which I happen to doubt). Along similar lines, ways in which fields of science & technology interact with each other also may vary. For further discussions and resources related to these issues, refer to NoST Ed and STSE Ed.
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