Teaching STS in an age of post-truth. Sharing challenges, approaches and experiences (Workshop)
Location FASS Building Meeting Room 1
Date and Start Time 27 Jul, 2018 at 14:00
Sessions 2


  • Jessica Mesman (Maastricht University) email
  • Geert Somsen (Maastricht University) email
  • Pablo Schyfter (The University of Edinburgh) email
  • Maximilian Fochler (University of Vienna) email
  • Sofia Bento (University of Lisbon) email

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Chair Jessica Mesman

Short abstract

First, a panel of papers and second, an open roundtable in which those engaged in STS-teaching share their experiences on how to address the challenges posed by an age of post-truth. Contributions can reflect educational challenges, be on applicable teaching or on intervention-oriented teaching.

Long abstract

"Post-truth" has become a shorthand denoting changes in the perception and authority of both scientific knowledge and techno-science as institution in contemporary public debates. The last year has seen debates how STS relates to this shift, and what it means for its normative and epistemic agenda.

Teaching STS has not been a topic in these debates yet. However, there is hardly any context in which STSers are confronted with new societal sensibilities about techno-science as directly as in students' questions and concerns. Moreover, which differences STS-knowledge and STS-professionals' work can make in the world is a crucial question in designing STS-pedagogy.

We aim at creating a space in which those engaged in STS-teaching can share their experiences to how to productively address the challenges posed by an age of post-truth. It combines two elements: a panel of papers and a special workshop.

In the first session, the presentations reflect the challenges and opportunities of post-truth for STS-teaching. The presentations are are based on actual teaching formats and address intervention-oriented teaching engaging with real-world problems and actors. Experimental formats are welcome.

In the following session, the special workshop will build on the presentations and feature the STS-audience responsible for teaching programs as discussants in an open roundtable. We will discuss challenges and opportunities of post-truth dynamics for building STS-teaching. Depending on the number of colleagues in the room, we will have multiple tables, with no distinction between presenters and audience. No pre-registration needed.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Beyond moral judgement: enhancing technology awareness of students in the social sciences and humanities

Authors: Elke Hemminger (Protestant University of Applied Sciences Bochum) email
Michael Waltemathe (Ruhr-University Bochum) email
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Short abstract

Lack of knowledge and a tendency towards moral judgement impairs students in the humanities and social sciences in their participation in the societal discourse about science and technology. A novel university teaching program based on empirical data is designed to address this issue.

Long abstract

In a preliminary study on social science and humanities students enrolled in teacher training programs at two German universities, the authors found disparaging attitudes about science and innovative technology. Whereas the students' average knowledge about these topics is limited, their moral and ethical judgement is strong. These data can be interpreted as a reflection of the 'post-truth' debate, questioning the authority of science and technological progress.

Addressing technology and science in university courses in the humanities and social sciences can be a challenge. An analytical approach is often hampered by tendencies towards ethical and moral judgement. The students ability to participate in a societal and academic discourse concerning technology and science is seriously impaired. Regarding the dynamics of the post-truth discussion, however, it is fundamentally important to enable the students to take part in this debate and in the inherent process of shaping future societal scenarios.

The authors are currently conducting an empirical study on the 'technology awareness' of students, focussing on humanities and social science students in comparison to other fields of study. The data are providing the empirical basis for the design of a novel university teaching programme. Based on the preliminary results, university courses have already been conceptualised and tested. The paper will introduce the actual teaching program in its current form and discuss it relating to the empirical data that are so far at hand. Potential future developments in accordance to the final results of the study will also be presented.

Teaching genetics with STS: an innovative program to make students fit for post-truth debates

Authors: Imme Petersen (Technical University Braunschweig) email
Corinna Bath (Technische Universität Braunschweig) email
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Short abstract

German students in biology often feel overwhelmed with debates on post-truth, as mechanisms of the knowledge production are usually not embedded in the curricula yet. This paper presents an undergraduate teaching concept to integrate STS in genetics including the evaluation of students' reactions.

Long abstract

German students in biology follow up with the contemporary debates on fake news and post-truth raising questions regarding meaning, responsibility and applicability of science and technology. However, at least in the German context, they often feel overwhelmed or left alone with this pressing issue, as mechanisms of the knowledge production are usually not embedded in the curricula yet. To face this development, we started an innovative program in undergraduate teaching at the biology department of the Technical University Braunschweig in SS 2018. In the compulsory course 'basics of genetics' (lecture with tutorial), we systematically integrate STS in terms of content and didactics. The aim is to enhance students' capacity for recognizing that factual knowledge is not only made within science but is also the result of societal, political, cultural and other processes. In other words, students are supposed to be sensitized to perceive science in context. To achieve this, scientific investigations, experiments and findings are explained by illuminating the preconditions, forms and consequences of the knowledge generation. In this way, the students acquire reflective competences to identify and critically assess historical and cultural preconditions, interests and interactions of persons and institutions involved as well as societal consequences of scientific investigations while they learn fundamental knowledge in genetics. This paper presents our teaching concept, students' reactions to STS integration in genetics as well as the evaluation of students' reflexive competence regarding post-truth debates after class participation.

The Science in Society Laboratories: training students to analyse contemporary techno-scientific controversies and develop normative recommendations

Authors: Maximilian Fochler (University of Vienna) email
Andrea Schikowitz (University of Vienna) email
Ulrike Felt (University of Vienna) email
Susanne Oechsner (University of Vienna) email
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Short abstract

In this paper, we present a teaching format in which students learn to map a current real-world controversy, to grasp the complexity of the production and regulation of contemporary techno-science, to use this knowledge to recommend actions, and to communicate to different audiences.

Long abstract

From glyphosate to gene-drive mosquitoes, controversies at the interface of techno-science and society abound, and pose challenges to act under uncertainty, for policy makers and citizens alike. Changes in the public authority of scientific expertise, "post-truth" dynamics, have affected the dynamics of these controversies. At the same time, in discourses such as Responsible Research and Innovation, researchers are called to take responsibility, which includes the ability to take a stance in public controversies close to their field.

This poses challenges and opportunities to STS pedagogy. It creates an opportunity in the growing demand for STS expertise in training students across different scientific fields. The ability to analyse controversies is sought after, both as a general capacity to gain orientation when normative stakes are intermingled with uncertain, ambiguous and incomplete knowledge claims, but also as a skill in job markets. However, this challenges STS to offer more than a critical de-construction of the dynamics of controversies. STS pedagogy needs to equip students with tools that enable them to take a normative stance, building on an appropriate analysis of the dynamics of a controversy.

In this paper, we will present the "Science in Society Laboratories", a one-semester teaching format developed for master students in the social and natural sciences. In this class, students learn to map a current real-world controversy and to grasp the complexity of the production and regulation of contemporary techno-science. They use this knowledge to identify crucial questions and recommend actions, and learn to communicate this to different audiences.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.