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Socioscientific Issues via Controversy Mapping: Bringing Actor-Network Theory into the Science Classroom with Digital Technology

Conference contribution
Authors Mark Elam
Anne Solli
Åsa Mäkitalo
Published in Paper prepared for the Third Nordic Science and Technology Studies Conference, University of Gothenburg, May 31st – June 2nd 2017
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Education, Communication and Learning
Department of Sociology and Work Science
Language en
Subject categories Technology and social change, Learning


The use of technoscientific controversies in school science education is relatively commonplace today and not particularly controversial. This reflects how an educational concern with exploring the interconnections between science, technology and society dating from the 1970s has gradually mutated since the late 1990s into an enlarged programme of ‘functional’ scientific literacy enacting science education as ‘citizenship education’. With a growing impact on national curricula, this programme acknowledges the close entanglement of science and engineering with politics and society and aims to draw on controversies in teaching to help prepare students for active participation in technoscientific debates and decision-making. In this paper we describe and reflect over a teaching experiment we have carried out at a Swedish upper secondary school where student engagement with controversies is both elaborated upon and partially redefined. Controversy mapping has emerged as a research-based model of student inquiry within higher education (an educational version of actor-network theory) dedicated to mobilizing digital tools and methods to visualize complex technoscientific issues contributing both to their further articulation and public legibility. By pioneering the introduction of this educational technology into a school context we have moved classroom engagement with controversies ‘upstream’ while also rendering it more practical and ‘hands-on’. Rather than confronting students with controversies already framed, or perhaps even simulated, in pre-prepared teaching modules, controversy mapping equips students with the means to observe and chart the basic contours of an on-going issue for themselves. Thus, rather than citizenship education, classroom engagement with controversy comes to more closely resemble citizen science training and an introduction to digital inquiry as a means to help clarify and appropriately simplify contentious issues for self and others. Reflecting on our modest intervention into school science education we compare and contrast the alternative kinds of ‘citizens’ and generic competences or ‘literacies’ that classroom engagement with controversy envisions and enacts and assess the possibilities of productively combining these different forms of learning activity in educational practice.

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