Inquiry and Values

Connecting Inquiry and Values in Science Education: An Approach Based on John Dewey’s Philosophy

Eun Ah Lee and Matthew J. Brown

Science & Education, 2018/03


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Development of Earth Systems Education Program focused on Earth Appreciation


The purpose of this study is to develop the online activity for high school students and general public to appreciate Earth Systems. Based on Earth Systems Education (ESE) that focuses on Earth and its subsystems in holistic, interactive view, this activity will use stories to explore Earth Systems with interdisciplinary approach. When people observe natural phenomena, they try to describe or explain what they experience by making stories, so stories can be excellent resources for ESE activities. In this activity, students can explore stories in a storyteller’s perspective or in a scientist’s perspective. They can discover hidden scientific knowledge by exploring stories for cross cutting concepts such as patterns, cause and effect, structures and functions. Students can also understand how scientific knowledge can be embedded in stories by creating stories that contains hidden scientific knowledge. Most of all, students will experience a way of appreciating Earth systems through the process of exploring and creating Earth stories.

Keywords: ESE, Earth appreciation, Story-based activity



“Pale Blue Dot” is a photographic image of Earth taken by the spacecraft Voyager 1 at the farthest point of the solar system in 1990. In this image, Earth is shown as a very tiny dot in the dark, vast space, and it looks neither fancy nor important. This image, however, was received by the public with great enthusiasm, not because it gives important scientific information but because it inspires deep appreciation for our home planet, Earth. In science education, appreciation of Earth was brought into attention in mid-90s by an effort of k-12 curriculum reformation known as Earth Systems Education (ESE). ESE stated that Earth is unique, a planet of rare beauty and great value, and emphasized that the first thing that students should understand in science education is appreciating the beauty and value of Earth (Mayer et al., 1992/1995). Earth appreciation can also become the basis of achieving science literacy, because science is ultimately based on inhibitory interests and concerns (Foltz, 2000). In fact, the idea that appreciation becomes an important basis of scientific endeavor has persisted and it is now embedded into the new k-12 science education standards known as Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), declaring that all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science (National Research Council[NRC], 2012).

In the framework for Earth Systems Education, ESE explained that the beauty and value of Earth are expressed by and for people of all culture through literature and the arts (Mayer et al., 1992/1995). Human endeavors such as literature, arts, music, and even science include narratives, so the beauty and value of Earth must have been expressed through the narratives. Since narratives have been the backbones of all kinds of stories, there is no doubt that people have been expressing Earth appreciation through stories. Telling a story is human’s unique way to share information and to communicate with each other, because it requires human cognitive ability to represent events, and understand them as representations. Therefore, functions of stories include understanding, representing, and inventing events (Boyd, 2009). Stories are true to human experience, so they tend to support and confirm our perceptions of the world. Even the most fantastic story is formed from our common experience (Momaday, 1991). Often stories represent events in human world, but sometimes they also represent events in natural world. When people observe events in natural world, they create stories to share what they observe. So stories can be a good medium to express Earth appreciation.

In this study, a story-based online activity for high school students to appreciate Earth Systems was developed. Two different approaches were used in the development. First, there was an approach based on scientific perspective. The activity was built on stories of volcanoes such as folktales and myths. While these stories were created mostly based on human perceptions of natural events, some parts of them turned out to have a scientific basis. There, students can discover hidden scientific knowledge by exploring stories for cross cutting concepts such as patterns, cause and effect, structures and functions. The second approach was based on storytellers’ perspective. There, students can focus on narratives in the story, and while exploring narratives, they can also experience to play with embedded scientific knowledge. The outcomes from different approaches were designed to be shared to help students understand the different perspective. Overall, students are expected to experience Earth appreciation through the process of exploring and creating Earth stories.



An Earth Centered Curriculum

Earth Systems Education, also known as ESE, started in 1990s as one of the curriculum reformation efforts in science education, and the main focus of this effort was on Earth systems as its name indicated. ESE adopted basic ideas from Earth Systems Science, a new discipline in science, which views Earth as a whole system. “Earth is whole” means that all the planet’s physical features and living organisms are interconnected (Sussman, 2000). System and interconnection are important ideas which build Earth Systems Science. Earth is considered as a whole system that consists of many subsystems, and at the same time, Earth is also considered as a subsystem of bigger systems. The structure, function, and connection in the Earth system and among its subsystems are explored in terms of a system and their mutual interconnection.

ESE approached k-12 science curriculum in the perspective of system and interconnection and placed Earth systems on the center of the curriculum to connect various scientific knowledge. Although ESE was aiming to reform k-12 science curriculum in broad extent, it was applied to school earth science first,   for practical reasons. Traditionally, school earth science had been consisted of separate disciplines such as geology, meteorology, oceanography and astronomy. Students learn about one discipline and move to learn the next discipline, so it is like learning a few different science courses in serial order. Due to the lack of interconnection, students often failed to understand Earth as a whole and complex system.

The holistic view that ESE introduced to school earth science could improve students’ understanding of the Earth system and its subsystems such as geosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. Also, ESE provided the foundation to integrate different disciplines in k-12 school science, for example, earth science and biology could be integrated to explore biosphere in the perspective of Earth systems. ESE did not provide, however, a standard curriculum instead it provided a framework consists of basic ESE understandings. Educators, teachers, and researchers can construct their own science curriculum based on the ESE framework. Figure 1 shows the ESE framework consists of seven basic understandings. As seen in Figure 1, ESE emphasized appreciation of Earth systems (understanding 1), stewardship and responsibility toward Earth systems (understanding 2), understanding of deep time (understanding 4), systems in space (understanding 5 & 6), science and technology for inquiry (understanding 3), and science as a human endeavor (understanding 7).

  1. Earth is unique, a planet of rare beauty and great value
  2. Human activities, collective and individual, conscious and inadvertent, are seriously impacting plane Earth
  3. The development of scientific thinking and technology increase our ability to understand and utilize Earth and space
  4. The Earth system is composed of the interacting subsystems of water, land, ice, air, and life.
  5. Planet Earth is more than 4 billion years old and its subsystems are continually evolving
  6. Earth is a small subsystem of a solar systems within the vast and ancient universe
  7. There are many people with careers that involve study of Earth’s origin, processes, and evolution

Figure 1. Seven understandings in the ESE framework


Earth Appreciation

Among its seven basic understandings, ESE placed Earth appreciation as the first thing to understand. This is a unique approach comparing to other curriculum reformation efforts in 1990s, which primarily focused on scientific inquiry (Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1990; NRC, 1996). ESE suggested that studying science can be enriched by emotional experience. “One or more artistic explorations of the same phenomenon can excite our interest and involvement in the study. And sometimes the artistic representation can provide the intrinsic motivation for our study (Yasso, 1991)”. If students experience how to appreciate planet Earth and its surrounding systems, they will be better motivated to study Earth systems and will become more responsible toward Earth systems.

Emotional appeal has often been used in teaching science to invoke curiosity and interest from students, however, what ESE suggested in Earth appreciation is not only a teaching strategy to motivate students. As Mayer (1989/1995) pointed out, Earth appreciation is a valuing process to help students understand why they study science.

“They should encounter planet Earth through our courses as a thing of beauty; its processes developing spectacular vistas as they operate over eons of time. They must come to value the Earth, not just for the minerals it gives up to industry, or the oil it provides for our cars, but for sunsets from its atmosphere and the symmetry in a crystal. As teachers help their students achieve a rational understanding of the Earth and its processes through a study of science, they also can provide a firm foundation for the development of a system of values that honors the enduring spirit of human kind and that recognizes its dependence upon the esthetic qualities of planet Earth (Mayer, 1989/1995).”

Moreover, what ESE emphasized in 1990s is now emphasized in Next Generation Science Standards (NRC, 2012) where appreciating the beauty and wonder of science is recognized as an important basis for students’ science literacy. Scientific understanding is based upon an inhibitory interest and scientific endeavor is closely related to the well-being of surroundings (Foltz, 2000). Therefore appreciating the beauty and wonder of our Earth systems is the basis of our scientific understanding and scientific endeavor, and that is why Earth appreciation can be the gateway for students to achieve science literacy.

Figure 2 shows three explanatory statements about appreciating Earth’s beauty and value. According to ESE understanding 1, literature and arts are long-standing ways to express Earth appreciation. In fact, many of previous studies already showed how to weave literature and arts into science, or science teaching of Earth systems (Dambekalns, 2005; Livio, 2000; Mayer, 1989/1995; Pizzorusso, 2014; Vitaliano, 1973; Yasso, 1991). Following their footsteps, this study explores how to introduce Earth appreciation to high school students through stories. Creating stories is a part of literature and arts. Human appreciation for nature may have been expressed in creating stories, for example, in creating volcano folktales. In addition, better scientific understanding about the nature can contribute to enhance appreciation for the nature as ESE understanding 1 stated. Thus exploring stories and expressing the beauty and value of Earth through stories can be a good Earth appreciation experience for students.

1. Earth is unique, a planet of rare beauty and great value.

  •   The beauty and value of Earth are expressed by and for people through literature and the arts.
  •   Human appreciation of planet Earth is enhanced by a better understanding of its subsystems
  •   Human manifest their appreciation of Earth through their responsible behavior and stewardship of its subsystems.

Figure 2. ESE Understanding 1: Appreciating Earth’s beauty and value



Telling Stories and Appreciating Earth

Creating stories and telling stories are unique activities of human beings because these activities include cognitive function as well as social function. Narratives become the backbone of stories, but creating and telling stories require more than narratives (Boyd, 2009). First, stories are formed from experiencing events. “The basic story is one which center upon an event and the words proceed toward the formulation of meaning (Momaday, 1991).” Thus, social or natural events and human experience of such events are necessary for stories. Second, stories represent information because humans know that it is a representation of information. In other words, human cognitive functions are required for stories to represent information about human experience of events. Thus, we can understand or recall events through stories. Third, creating stories is a sort of counterproductive action in biological terms because being fictional is not something required for survival in nature. Thus, creating or inventing stories works as a social function such as communication. It also works as a cognitive function as a cognitive play.

From these three perspectives, creating and sharing stories can be effectively used for Earth appreciation. First, exploring stories is exploring events. If students explore stories which are based on natural events, they can explore what story inventors experienced and how they expressed it through their stories. Second, stories can represent information about Earth systems, so students can analyze stories to understand what information is embedded in it. Also students can use stories to share information. As ESE understanding 1 stated, if students understand Earth systems better, they may be able to express it better through their own stories. Third, stories include not only information but also meaning or messages from people who invented those stories. Thus, inventing stories can provide students opportunities to show and communicate their appreciation toward Earth systems.


Two Cultures: Story Tellers and Science Explorers

Exploring stories can be a good activity for students to experience Earth appreciation, however, it can be a different experience depending on how they explore stories. Even though the same story is being explored, different perspective, interest, or approach may result in different outcome. Yasso (1991) pointed out how the same natural event can bring different sort of wonder and appreciation to different people.

“For example, sometimes it is sufficient merely to appreciate the shape and roar of massive plunging breakers along a shore. For the surfer, this appreciation is acted out as a dizzy melding of water and human. For the graphic artist, the waves can become a representation on film, video, watercolor paper, or canvas. Words from the poet or words and music from the musician are other ways of capturing the phenomenon. For the scientist, the visual beauty of such symmetry and motion speaks of a cause and effect: both in the wind that generated the waves and in the underwater topography that forced the deep-water wave form to become a shallow-water breaker (Yasso, 1991).”

These different outcomes in Yasso (1991)‘s description, however, share an important core idea, the appreciation of Earth. As Sandage (2000) mentioned in the forward of Livio (2000)’s book, “Accelerating Universe”, if two authors, one an art and literature fanatic, and the other a theoretical physicist who is heavily involved in cosmology, write a book that bridge the two cultures, it can make a wonderful synthesis that would ring true to each culture, yet also true to the other’s quite different style. It is a wonderful possibility that two different culture share the same core idea and produce the variety of outcome which also share the same core idea, in this case, the idea of Earth appreciation.

In this study, an Earth appreciation activity, named as See Science through Story (SSTS) program, was developed from two different perspectives: a story teller’s perspective and a science explorer’s perspective. In the science explorer’s perspective, students approach the story to conduct a scientific inquiry. The story is the human’s creative product in which people’s observed information about the nature is encoded. Students will analyze the story to discover patterns, structures, cause and effect, and other concepts. They will form their hypothesis, explore for evidence, and revise their hypothesis. Then they will write a new story to share what they discovered. Meanwhile, students who approach from the story teller’s perspective see the story as a narrative. They will explore characters, a plot, background including scientific knowledge related to the event, and so on. Then they will write a new story to tell their own narratives. Table 1 shows the comparison of two different approaches. As seen in Table 1, in the story teller’s perspective, the mission is to create a new interesting story and the challenge is to include relevant scientific knowledge in the story. In the science explorer’s perspective, the mission is to discover embedded scientific knowledge and the challenge is to write a story to share the discovered knowledge. Using these different approaches, it is expected that students can experience more diverse ways to appreciate Earth systems and to express Earth appreciation.

Perspective A Story Teller’s A Science Explorer’s
Mission Create a story Make an inquiry
Challenge Include scientific knowledge in the story as an embedded message Create a story that represents scientific knowledge as an outcome of the inquiry

Table 1. A story teller’s perspective and a science explorer’s perspective



The Story of Pele, Hawaiian Fire Goddess as a Source

Hawaii is well known volcanic islands formed by hot spot under the Pacific Plate. The story of Pele, a Hawaiian Fire Goddess resembles the mechanism of forming these volcanic islands. As a folktale, there are various versions of Pele story, but the storyline that Pele moved from one island to the other to make a volcano fire is always included. This order of volcano formation in the folktale is exactly the same order as the plate tectonics theory explains.


Web-based Inquiry Science Environment (WISE) as a Platform

The SSTS program is an online activity and it is developed on the platform called Web-based Inquiry Science Environment [WISE] (TELS, 2015), using WISE authoring tool. WISE is an online environment that provides the library of instructional k-12 science activities based on inquiry to choose and use. Also it provides an authoring tool to develop activities or to modify activities from the library.


Instructional Framework

The SSTS program is loosely based on 5E model (BSCS, 2015). Table 2 shows the brief explanations of each stage in two approaches. As seen in Table 2, each stage in two different approaches was constructed separately from each other.

Perspective A Story Teller’s A Science Explorer’s
Engage Introduce resources Introduce resources
Explore Explore narratives Explore cross-cutting concepts
Explain Retell the story or create a new story (prequel, sequel, spin-off etc.) Discover embedded scientific knowledge
Elaborate Include scientific knowledge in the story Retell the story in scientific perspective or create a new story (science fiction etc.)
Evaluate Share and review Share and review

Table 2. Instructional framework in the SSTS program


Process of Development

Step 1: Selecting a source story and a platform. A source story and a platform for development were selected. A source story needs to be interesting, well-known and familiar, so students can have interest for more information and find it easily. Also a source story has to have clear relation to scientific knowledge. The story of Pele has these qualities. WISE platform was selected because it offers both authoring tool and archive and it is specialized for science education.

Step 2: Selecting an instructional model. 5E model (BSCS, 2015) has been used in science education for long, and it can be used for non-experimental inquiry. Although it aims to integrate stories and scientific knowledge, the SSTS program is basically a science education program and an inquiry based program, thus 5E model was a relevant choice for the basic instructional model.

Step 3: Building the instructional framework. Building the instructional framework was the core step to develop the SSTS program. There was a breakthrough in this step, because the SSTS program was going to be the single perspective program as a scientific inquiry using stories. Then two different perspectives, a story teller’s and a science explorer’s, were introduced in this step, because the single perspective may offer students only one-sided opportunity. Considering what ESE understanding 1 states, the single perspective was not a relevant approach and offering two different approaches may well serve what ESE aims.

Step 4: Writing a storyboard for each perspective. Once the instructional framework was constructed, a storyboard for each stage in 5E model was written for each perspective. Each storyboard was constructed separately, but it was compared to the other perspective, so the final outcome can share the core idea of Earth appreciation.

Step 5: Constructing an activity for story teller approach. Using WISE authoring tool, an activity in the story teller’s perspective was constructed. Steps in the activity were created and organized. Each step used a relevant type of activity provided by WISE tool, for example, brain-storming, idea bank, open-ended responses, and information display.

Step 6: Constructing an activity for science explorer approach. Using WISE authoring tool, an activity in the science explorer’s perspective was constructed, too.

Step 7: Activating a prototype program. After constructing activities from two different perspectives, the SSTS program was previewed, re-organized, and finally activated as a prototype program.


Figure 3. The introduction page in the SSTS program


It was an interesting journey to develop a story-based Earth appreciation program. There are three important basic ideas in developing this program. The first idea is Earth appreciation because appreciating our Earth systems is deeply related to understand Earth systems. The second idea is expressing Earth appreciation through stories because creating and telling stories are cognitively and socially effective. The third idea is approaches from two perspectives, a story teller’s and a science explorer’s. When the program was developed only from scientific perspective, the way of Earth appreciation was also limited as it primarily focused on scientific understanding. Perhaps the idea of adopting two perspectives including non-science perspective is what makes this SSTS program very much experimental.

The next step will be the improving the prototype based on the feedback. The prototype of the SSTS program was activated in WISE community, so teachers and students can find and try it. Feedback from actual usages will be an important resource to revise and improve the program. Also, students’ outcomes, which are stories written from two different perspectives need to be explored. It is expected that there will be a spectrum of stories created or retold by students, from strongly scientific to strongly fictional. There can be a synthesis of both scientific and fictional outcomes. How students express their Earth appreciation idea through stories in different point of views will be the important issue for further studies.



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  • Pizzorusso, A. C. (2014). Tweeting Da Vinci. New Work: Da Vinci Press.
  • Rutherford, F. J. & Ahlgren, A. (1990). Science for All Americans. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Sandage, A. (2000). Foreword. In M. Livio (Ed), The accelerating universe (pp. v-xi). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
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Hypertext System as a Socially Shaped Technology


Hypertexts or hypertext systems are information systems in which the contents are organized in networks consist of nodes and links. The nodes are texts such as paragraphs, pages and documents, and the links are relations between texts. The relations that the links represent can be definitions, explanations, examples, and any other kind of relation between two texts. As with interactive computer applications, the hypertext system can allow the user to navigate through text networks by selecting a node, reading it and moving to one of the linked nodes. Thus, reading in hypertext systems, in other words hypertext reading, becomes a combined function of navigating and reading, and it enables readers to control reading order. Readers are expected to choose the most relevant reading order that suits their background and interests, which will contribute to better understanding of the texts and eventually to better learning. Unfortunately, research in hypertexts have often failed to show any significant advantages for hypertext reading (Foltz, 1996).

Back in the 1980s, many educators were convinced that introducing hyperlinks into text displayed on computer screens would be a boon to learning. By the end of the decades, the enthusiasm had begun to subside. Evaluating links and navigating a path through them, it turned out, involves mentally demanding problem-solving tasks that are extraneous to the act of reading itself. Deciphering hypertext substantially increases readers’ cognitive load and hence weakens their ability to comprehend and retain what they’re reading (Carr, 2010).

As Carr (2010) pointed out, providing a choice in reading orders seems to add another kind of cognitive burden to readers. Hypertext reading is a combined function of navigating and reading, so navigating may demand additional cognitive load. Previous studies of hypertext reading showed inconsistent results in its effect. While some of them showed positive results, others showed null or negative effect (DeStefano & LeFevre, 2005; Salmeron, Canas, Kintsch & Fajardo, 2005), and the increased cognitive load that exceeds readers’ capabilities was suggested as a possible cause for null and negative effect (DeStefano & LeFevre, 2005). Other studies showed more complicated results in the effect of hypertext reading. The construction-integration (C-I) model is often used to explain how a reader understands the text. According to the C-I model, there are two mental representations that a reader forms from the text. One is the textbase model which is a hierarchical representation of the information in the text and the other is the situation model that is a representation of the contents integrated to a reader’s prior knowledge. So far, readers’ prior knowledge and text coherence are considered to be main factors for text comprehension. Studies about hypertext reading, however, showed inconsistent results in terms of prior knowledge and text coherence. Moreover, the results showed differences between the textbase model and the situation model (Salmeron, Canas, Kintsch & Fajardo, 2005).

This indicates that there are other factors that affect hypertext reading. Furthermore, it suggests that different approaches may be necessary to understand hypertext systems and hypertext reading. To understand the effect of hypertext reading, it is necessary to understand the relationship between the activity and the system, in other words, between reading and hypertext systems. There are two general perspectives on hypertext research: the system-centered perspective and the user-centered perspective. While the system-centered perspective concerns inventions and implementation of hypertext techniques, the user-centered perspective concerns interactions between the system and its users (Rouet, Levonen, Dillon & Spiro, 1996). Three research approaches based on the user-centered perspective are identified (Rouet, Levonen, Dillon & Spiro, 1996). The first approach is a cognitive science approach. It focuses on the cognitive process that occurs during hypertext comprehension. The second approach is an ergonomic approach, and it focuses on human factors related to individual difference. The third approach is the educational approach, focusing on learning through hypertexts. In this study, I would like to suggest the fourth approach to hypertext research, the social shaping of technology approach focusing on the relationship between the nature of the hypertext system and social influence on it.


Reading and Society

Reading is largely a social activity. Unlike human language, reading ability is not naturally developed. Human languages are found in any society or culture through the world, but not every society or culture has the means to read and write. Therefore reading ability is considered a biologically secondary ability, which means that it has to be learned (Geary, 1995). People in many societies are required to be literate because reading is an important way to acquire the information that is essential to live in the society. Text reading may not be the best way to obtain information because graphic images, audio-visual display, and other methods can also be used for gaining information, and in some cases they could work better than text reading. Although text reading may not be the best way for obtaining information, it is certainly the most used way in many societies. Therefore, reading is an activity required by society.

Its reading system is closely related to the society. From the beginning, it was invented by biological interaction with the environment.

Part of our visual system is not hardwired, but remains open to changes in the environment. Within an otherwise well-structured brain, visual plasticity gave the ancient scribes the opportunity to invent reading (Dhaene, 2009)

The brain’s architecture is similar in all human beings, and that is why the same brain regions activate to decode a written word in any language. But there is a fringe of plasticity, and this fringe of brain plasticity allowed the invention of reading in the first place, and it also allowed the diversity of reading systems in the world because different reading systems were developed through interaction with different societies (Dhaene, 2009).

Furthermore, the reading system is socially shaped. As the society experiences cultural, historical, or technological changes, it also influences the reading system and facilitates the change in it. In history, how the innovation in printing contributed to the changes of European societies is well known. In some Asian societies, the reading system changed under Western influence, for example, the reading order that was right to left changed to the left to right order. Considering the relationship between reading and the society, it is evident that if there is a change in the society, the change in reading system will also likely happen.


Linked Society

One of the most dramatic changes identified in our society is the change in networking. The idea of network is not new, and the study of networks has been a classic topic in mathematics since 17th century (Baronchelli, Ferre-i-Cancho, Pastor-Satorras, Chater, and Christiansen, 2013). Networks refer the structure which consists of nodes and links, and it is known to be useful to represent complex interacting systems. But the concept of network has been applied beyond mathematics for long, and social scientists now describe our society and life as dominated by all kinds of networks.

Today we increasingly recognize that nothing happens in isolation. Most events and phenomena are connected, cause by, and interacting with a huge number of other pieces of a complex universal puzzle. We have come to see that we live in a small world, where everything is linked to everything else. We are witnessing a revolution in the making as scientists from all different disciplines discover that complexity has a strict architecture. We have come to grasp the importance of networks (Barabasi, 2014, 7p).

A few examples of powerful networks can easily be found in our society. The power of social networks is influencing every aspects of everyday life. With the advancement of digital technology and information technology, online social network services amplified the effect of social networks. The internet also totally changed the concept of information archives. In the internet, information is no longer passively archived but dynamically connected. Networks also play an important role in the business world by helping existing organizations adapt to rapidly changing market conditions (Barabasi, 2014). Societies in which we live now are all linked societies.

There are several characteristics generally identified in these complex networks (Barabasi & Albert, 1999; Baronchelli, Ferre-i-Cancho, Pastor-Satorras, Chater, and Christiansen, 2013). The first is that many large networks follow scale-free, power law distribution, which makes networks heterogeneous. Scale-free networks are very resilient to the removal of random nodes, while extremely sensitive to the removal of the most connected node. Second, networks expand by continuously adding new nodes and these nodes are preferentially attached to already well connected nodes. The third is small world effect, usually represented in six degree of separation. The result of the global social-search experiment also showed that successful social-search is conducted through intermediate to weak ties and does not require well connected hubs (Dodds, Muhamad & Watts, 2003). Fourth, there is usually high transitivity in the networks. Transitivity means the concept that any two nodes linked to the particular node are also linked to each other. Transitivity is measured by clustering coefficient, so in most of real networks, the clustering coefficient has a large value.

If our society is such a complex network, any system related to the society could be influenced by those characteristics of the network. Reading systems, information systems, and technological systems are all established and functioning in a manner closely related to the society. When there is a linked society, there can be a linked reading system, a linked information system, and technology linked to all of them. Hypertext systems may be one of the examples.


Hypertexts and Social Shaping of Technology

The reading system is closely related to the society. If there is a big change in the society, reading system will be reshaped in response to the change. Our world is interconnected more than ever in history, and our society is viewed as a complicated network. Everything is linked to form the network, and the information or knowledge is not the exception. The advancement of digital technology provides the effective platform for this networked society, and networking accelerates both online and offline. In digital platforms, information is presented in the form of networks, and people need an effective way to acquire it. Thus, as the most used way of information acquisition in many societies, the reading system seems to be reshaped to fit these evolutions. The hypertext system is a reshaped reading system to respond to changes in society. This is the starting point for the new approach to hypertexts research, which views hypertext systems from the perspective of social shaping of technology. There are a few more considerations as follows.

First, in this approach, the most important idea in the hypertext system is that it is a “linked” system. A lot of previous studies considered the reader’s control of reading order as the most important idea in the hypertext system. Reading order control is, however, not an idea newly invented in hypertext systems. The idea had been already tried in the printed materials. The structure of newspaper and some magazines are examples (Rouet & Levonen, 1996). A reader of the newspaper, for example, is expected to choose the interesting topic in the main page and supposed to follow the article that is mostly continued in the other page. In fact, the structure of many web pages actually resembles the format of these magazines. Also there was an attempt to give readers the control of reading order in book reading under the name of the dynamic book project (Britt, Rouet & Perfetti, 1996). Hypertext systems are designed to activate this old idea on the digital platform, so what they provide is the convenience and the effectiveness rather than the uniqueness. Unlike the idea of reading order control, the linked reading system that provides the network of information along with navigating function is the unique feature that reflects the networking society. Therefore the most important merit in hypertext system should be its linked system.

Second, hypertext reading can be viewed as a new form of activity to obtain information from the information network because a new representation of information requires a new way of acquisition (Khalifa & Shen, 2010). In hypertext systems, reading is no longer an isolated activity, but an activity that is connected to the network. Hypertext reading can be considered as a hybrid activity of reading and navigating, so it is not supposed to replace the traditional reading. Previous studies suggested that the navigating may require additional cognitive load that hinders the effectiveness of hypertext reading (DeStefano & LeFevre, 2005). But if hypertext reading is considered as a new form of hybrid reading to work in a new information system, comparing the effectiveness between hypertext reading and traditional reading is not much useful because they are different reading ways in different settings. Although hypertext reading may require additional cognitive load to readers, a fringe of brain plasticity may solve the problem by adapting to the new reading environment (Dhaene, 2009).

Third, the hypertext system can be considered as a technological system that is shaped by social demand and influence. There is a tendency to think that the development of technology will bring certain benefit to the society. In the case of hypertext systems, some may think that the digital technology along with computers and internet make hypertext systems possible, and this new high-tech system will enhance people’s reading efficiency. From the view of technological determinism, it could be possible. As the inconsistent results of previous studies showed (DeStefano & LeFevre, 2005; Salmeron, Canas, Kintsch & Fajardo, 2005), however, there have been a few supportive evidences for this expectation. The hypertext system is, in fact, not the product of technological development only, although it has been developed with the development of technology. The prototype of hypertext idea has been existed for more than 50 years. The main focus of this prototype was the interactions of information and information users (Rouet & Levonen, 1996). The idea was examined in the form of hierarchical overviews with the development of computers. The hierarchical overview form and the simple network form of index were used in many earlier hypertext systems (Britt, Rouet & Perfetti, 1996). The advent of internet contributed to the establishment of the hypertext system as a complex network with nodes and links as seen today (Carr, 2010), but it is not the only factor that contributed to the networked hypertext system. The digital networking technology was also influenced by the society and the highly networked society needed the networked form of information and knowledge. Thus the hypertext system, both as an information system and a technological system, was shaped to respond to what the society needed.



Hypertext systems are generally considered as digital information systems representing information chunk as a node and the relation between nodes as a link. Naturally how to read information presented in hypertext systems has been the focus in many previous studies that took the user-centered perspective. The possibility that readers are able to control reading order was viewed as the most promising merit in this system. There are three main approaches in this perspective; cognitive science approach, ergonomic approach, and educational approach. All these approaches studied hypertext systems focusing on individual aspects. They tried to find the effective way of hypertext reading and factors influencing the way of reading. Ideas explored in previous studies such as cognitive loads, prior knowledge, text coherence, reading strategies, reading goals, and the amount of information read are all related to individual difference of readers. Considering any system in relation to users, however, approaches beyond individual level need to be considered. I suggested the fourth approach for hypertexts research based on the theory of social shaping of technology.

Hypertext systems have been shaped by the society, for they have evolved along with the changes of the society. The idea of flexible reading order is not a new concept, but the hypertext system has transformed from the prototype of simple overview structure and index link to become complex networks as seen today. This transformation has happened under the influence of the society. In other words, the hypertext system has been developed to be the relevant information presenting system for the society of networks. So hypertext reading became a new form of reading for the hypertext system. It is a hybrid form including both navigating and reading functions. There may be additional cognitive load in hypertext reading, but fortunately our brains may be able to handle it with brain plasticity. Hypertext systems will be continuously used regardless of its relative effectiveness of comprehension to traditional reading, because hypertext systems have not been developed to provide more effective reading, but rather to present information in the socially suited form.

The advancement of technology is strongly embedded in hypertext systems. Without the development of digital technology and the online networking technology, hypertext systems as a complex network as seen today may not have formed. These technologies are not only the part of hypertext systems but also the nature of the system. If these technologies have been socially shaped, so have hypertext systems. Overall, hypertext systems can be identified as an information system for its contents, a reading system for its function, and a technological system for its environment. Whatever the nature of the hypertext system is, whether as an information system, a reading system, or a technological system, it is highly possible that the hypertext system has been socially shaped. Therefore it is time for another approach based on social shaping of technology to make novel contributions to hypertext research.



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Guiding Students’ STEAM Projects with the Integrated Approach Checklist

Eun Ah Lee and Roger F. Malina

The University of Texas at Dallas


STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) requires cross-disciplinary, integrated approach and there are different types of integrated approach such as multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary approach. When students are interested in STEAM and try to conduct STEAM projects, they often have a difficulty in finding or choosing a useful integrated approach. It is important for students to know about various integrated approaches because understanding of the integrated approach provides guidance to design, examine and modify their projects. To help students conduct STEAM projects, we developed the integrated approach checklist. The purpose of this checklist is for students to examine the method and design of their projects in terms of the integrated approach. The checklist consists of twelve items that describe attributes of various integrated approaches. Each item is a statement that students can answer “yes” or “no” in regard of their projects. The result can provide information about the integrated approach that students are currently using for their projects and students can rely on this information to revise and improve their projects



What STEAM means and how to do STEAM education can be varied. In general, STEAM movement often refers to integrate arts to STEM and STEAM education focuses on building integrated curriculum or facilitating interdisciplinary learning. STEAM education is also extendedly considered as integrating arts and design to STEM (Constantino, 2017), integrating arts, crafts, and design to science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medical education (ACD-STEMM) (Root-Bernstein & Pathak, 2016)  or  integrating history, arts, and culture to STEM (OP& A, 2010). STEAM is, by nature, based on cross-disciplinary and integrated thinking. Thus, various understandings in STEAM education are basically related to various types of the integrated approach used in STEAM education. The core idea of STEAM education is integrated/cross-disciplinary learning, and when combined with project-based learning, a STEAM project is one of the useful activities for STEAM learning. Students who wish to conduct STEAM projects understand that STEAM projects require integrated approaches however they often have a difficulty in applying useful integrated approaches to their projects. There are various types of integrated approaches such as multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary approach.  If students do not have knowledge and experience about them, it will not be easy to decide which approach they should use. It is important to use relevant integrated approach in conducting a STEAM project because this integrated approach is essential to construct the study design, choose the methodology, and plan the deliverable project outcome. To help students use a relevant integrated approach for their projects, we developed the integrated approach checklist.


Background: Three Types of the Integrated Approach

We focused on three distinguished types of integrated approaches: multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary approach. Multidisciplinary approach is primarily based on disciplines, organizing various disciplines around the common theme, concept, or object. Multidisciplinary integration uses knowledge, skills, methods, and perspectives from different disciplines to resolve the single question or problem (Eigenbroade et al., 2007). Sometimes one or two disciplines take a primary role over other disciplinary influence. Interdisciplinary integration focuses on cross-cutting themes and concepts, and uses interdisciplinary skills and methods to address the questions or the problems across disciplines. In interdisciplinary approach, involved disciplines can still be identified but each disciplinary role is less distinguished than in multidisciplinary approach (Drake & Burns, 2004). Transdisciplinary approach is used to address the question or the problem that does not belong to the existing discipline. The question or the problem often comes from real-life contexts and it is uniquely formulated by researchers. To address this unique problem, transdisciplinary integration uses perspectives, frameworks or methods that are created or devised within the context that is specifically related to the problem (Eigenbroade et al., 2007; Drake & Burns, 2004).  Table 1 shows the attributes of these three integrated approaches and Figure 1 illustrates features of these approaches.

Table 1

Table 1 Attributes of multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches

Figure 1

Figure 1. Features of three integrated approaches


Developing the Integrated Approach Checklist

Initially, we constructed statements that describe attributes of these three integrated approaches. Then we developed a prototype of the integrated approach checklist that consists of twelve items (see Figure 2). Each item has a form of the statement that describes certain attribute of one or more integrated approaches. Item (1) to item (3) are about knowledge, skills, and methods used in the project. Item 1 describes the attribute of all three integrated approaches. Item (2) describes the attribute of multidisciplinary approach, while item (3) describes the attribute of both interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approach. Item (4) to item (7) are about the addressed research questions/problems and the organizing structure of the project. Item (4) describes the organizing structure of multidisciplinary approach, and item (5) describes interdisciplinary approach. Item (6) can describe both multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches, while item (7) describes the attribute of transdisciplinary approach. Next three items are about the role of disciplines. Item (8), item (9), and item (10) explain multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary approach, respectively. Item (11) and item (12) are about the role of disciplines and the organizing structure. Item 11 describes interdisciplinary approach and item (12) describes transdisciplinary approach. Students are expected to read each statement and check “yes” or “no” to the item in regard of their projects. The integrated approach checklist is for the guidance and not for the test. Thus there is no right or wrong answer, and students can answer each statement based on the best of their judgments. We pilot-tested our prototype checklist with students in our former STEAM project course, and revised it based on their feedback. For example, when we tested our prototype checklist, one student answered, “sometimes yes” to the statement “my project uses interdisciplinary methods at essential parts, and some of disciplinary methods are also used.” At the follow-up interview, he explained that his project “sometimes uses interdisciplinary method but not always,” and “it is confusing if this interdisciplinary method is primary method or not.” Considering this comment, we modified the statement to be “The method used in essential parts of my project is an interdisciplinary method.” Also we added optional instruction that students can freely make comments for each statement when necessary.


Figure 2. The integrated approach checklist


Implementing the Checklist to Students’ Projects

The integrated approach checklist is designed to be used in the undergraduate and graduate courses in which students conduct STEAM projects individually or in groups. The instructor should know about various integrated approaches and teach these approaches to students before using the checklist. Then the instructor can use the checklist in the classroom to guide students to examine their own projects in terms of the integrated approach. In project-based learning, the combined role of teachers’ guidance and students’ self-regulation changes through three phases (English & Kitsantas, 2003). Phase 1 is a phase of project launch in which students form the question, activate related knowledge, and state the goal (Mergendoller et al., 2006). In earlier phases like Phase 1, teachers’ guidance takes a primary role, while students’ self-regulation takes a primary role in later phases. Phase 2 in the project-based learning is usually spent for guided inquiry to create products or solutions to the questions built in phase 1. In phase 2, teachers’ guidance and students’ self-regulation are both required as combined efforts (English & Kitsantas, 2013). Iterative activities including data collection, experimentation, evidence checking, application of theories, and input from peers and the teacher happen during the phase 2. Phase 3 is a phase of project conclusion in which students are reflecting on the project outcome that they produced through Phase 2 (Mergendoller et al., 2006; English & Kitsantas, 2013). We suggest that the beginning of phase 2 will be an ideal time to use the checklist to guide students to examine their projects and to seek for the feedback. This is the time that both the instructor’s and the student’s roles are equally important. Also this is the time that students begin the process to solve the problem through the guided inquiry. Therefore, we recommend the instructors to use the checklist in the class when students enter Phase 2 of their semester-long or yearlong projects. After students answer each statement in the checklist, the instructor should organize group discussions for the structured peer feedback. In the case of individual project, each student presents own result and other students provide peer-feedback. In the case of group project, each group presents the result and other groups provide peer-feedback. To make structured feedback, there are three questions that students need to discuss.

1) What type of the integrated approach (multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary) am I using in my project?

2) What type of the integrated approach is useful for my project and am I using the useful approach?

3) What kinds of modification, revision, or enhancement need to be done for my project and how do I do it?

The instructor facilitates the discussion, so that students can discuss all three questions about each project. Each student or team needs to present the answers for these questions in regard of their project, and also needs to explain why. The checklist will help students answer the first question. Students may have used one of the three integrated approaches in their projects or they may have used an approach in-between. All these results should be presented and discussed with peers. Also the discussion may reveal that students use an approach that is different from what they intend to use. In that case, it gives students an opportunity to re-examine their projects to check whether they are conducting the project as they initially planned. Based on the peer-feedback, students have to answer the second question to decide whether the integrated approach they are using in their projects is really useful or not. The answer to the second question will lead to the answer to the third question. At the end of the discussion, students have to decide what type of the integrated approach to use in their projects and what to do next to complete the project.  Figure 3 shows the instruction procedure of how to use the checklist.



Figure 3. The procedure to use the integrated approach checklist


Pilot-Testing and the Result

Seven graduate students who are currently working on research projects pilot-tested the integrated approach checklist that we developed. The research project that each graduate student conducts is an interdisciplinary project, though the type and content of the project are very different from each other. We provided instruction about three types of integrated approach and asked students to answer the checklist. Figure 4 shows the result of students’ responses to the checklist items.


Figure 4. Responses to the checklist items in the pilot test

As expected, students answered “yes” to most of the items, and commented that checklist items described the characteristics of their projects. All seven projects could be identified as interdisciplinary projects, however, some of the projects have transdisciplinary attributes in method, knowledge, or skills used, and others have multidisciplinary attributes in organizing structure. For example, item (7) represents the most important attribute of transdisciplinary approach. Figure 4 indicates that students who answered “no” to item (7) recognized some other transdisciplinary attributes in their projects. Their projects are not exploring transdisciplinary questions, but transdisciplinary approach is used in some degree. These students may need to consider whether they proceed their project in a more transdisciplinary way or a more interdisciplinary way. Unfortunately, the peer feedback discussion was not much effective in the pilot-test. The three feedback questions were not fully discussed in the pilot-test due to the lack of time management. To effectively use the checklist, peer feedback discussion needs to be tightly structured. Nevertheless, students who participated in the pilot-testing acknowledged that they had an opportunity to examine the design and the method of their projects. Among the student projects, we could identify a few example projects that use one of three integrated approaches. For example, there is a project that aims to design the therapeutic game for autistic children. In this project, knowledge and skill from game design, educational psychology, child development and medicine are used to develop the design and the primary methodology comes from the game design area. This project is clearly using multidisciplinary approach. The project called “Micro Lux Chants” is an example of interdisciplinary approach. This project aims to make sound as a bioluminescence micro-organism illuminates and integrates sonic and visual features. Broad impacts of this project outcome include medical diagnosis and medical tracing technology. One of the projects aims to spread the knowledge of collaboration through public platforms, making various collaborating works with various people all over the world. This project is identified as using transdisciplinary approach. Sometimes the integrated approach checklist provides unexpected result. For example, there is a project to collect opinions of ubiquitous computing from various people in diverse disciplinary areas. It was initially considered as an interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary project, but the checklist indicated that this is using multidisciplinary approach, collecting interviews from different disciplines about the central theme, in this case ubiquitous computing.

Implication to Teaching and Learning of Science

Project-based learning is widely used to teach science. Naturally, STEAM education includes a lot of project-based programs and teaching modules. We developed the integrated approach checklist for the practical purpose of helping students stop and think about how they are doing in their STEAM projects. There are limitations in this study; the checklist largely depends on the users in other words, students and the result may be greatly different depending on the users’ judgment.  Also, we only applied the checklist to individual projects although we expect to use the checklist for both individual and group projects. Further testing and revising will be necessary. The development process is ongoing, therefore we hope that we can improve the integrated approach checklist and apply it to various courses which require course projects. Although this study is intended to help students who are interested in STEAM projects, the idea of this study may be useful to teachers and students who are interested in project-based learning or interdisciplinary learning.


  • Constantino, T. (2017). STEAM by another name: Transdisciplinary practice in art and design education, Arts Education Policy Review, DOI: 10.1080/10632913.2017.1292973
  • Drake, S. M. & Burns, R. C. (2004). Meeting standards through integrated curriculum. ASCD.
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  • English, M, & Kitsantas, A.  (2003). Supporting student self-regulated learning in problem- and project-based learning. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 7(2).  Available at:
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  • Leonard, W., Penick, J. & Douglas, R. (2002). What does it mean to be standards-based? The Science Teacher, 69 (4), 36-39.
  • Mergendoller, J. R., Maxwell, N. L., & Bellisimo, Y. (2006). The effectiveness of problem-based instruction: A comparative study of instructional methods and student characteristics. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 1(2), 49–69.
  • Office of Policy and Analysis (OP&A), Smithsonian Institution. (2010). Interplay of perspectives: History, art & culture + science. Interdisciplinary crossover and collaboration. Report prepared for the Office of the Secretary. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Root-Bernstein, R. & Pathak, A. (2016). A Review of Studies Demonstrating the Effectiveness of Integrating Arts, Music, Performing, Crafts and Design into Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medical Education: Part 1.
  • Wilhelm, J. (2014). Project-based instruction with future STEM educators: An interdisciplinary approach. Journal of College Science Teaching, 43(4), 80-90.
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EMAC Framework: Disseminating Research Findings through Blogs, Podcasts, and Online Videos

Eun Ah Lee  and  Matthew J. Brown

The University of Texas at Dallas



The citizen-expert relationship plays an important role in civic science literacy. Non-expert citizens should learn how to form communities capable of science-inflected civic debate, in other words, the informed public sphere, while experts should learn how to listen to the public. As new, emerging media take the place of the traditional media in public engagement, science education needs to pay attention to communication between citizens and experts through new emerging media platforms. In this study, we explored a way that experts can disseminate their research to a broad audience using experimental publishing on emerging media platforms. The case presented here is an engineering ethics education research with three groups of stakeholders: academic communities, engineering faculties and students, and the general public. Traditional publication of research findings only addressed academic communities, thus we tried online experimental publishing to access a broader audience including engineering community as well as the general public. We developed the EMAC (Emerging Media and Communication) framework and used it to present the research findings. The EMAC framework emphasizes narrative across media, so we used storytelling through text, image, sound, and moving images to disseminate these research findings in the form of blogs, podcasts, and online videos.



The citizen-expert relationship plays an important role in civic science literacy. Today, we face a lot of civic issues that require scientific understanding. Citizens need to make a relevant decision for each of such issues and a lot of citizens are not experts in science. Therefore, non-expert citizens should learn how to form communities capable of science-inflected civic debate, in other words, the informed public sphere. The scientifically literate citizens can form the informed public sphere and engage the communication with experts about science-inflected civic issues. On the other hand, experts such as scientists and engineers should learn how to listen and talk to the public, responding to the debate ignited in the informed public sphere (Dewey, 1927; Feinstein, 2015). Thus, it is necessary for science education to accept some responsibility to support these types of informed collective actions and to facilitate communication between citizens and experts (Feinstein, 2015). As new, emerging media take the place of the traditional media in public engagement, science education needs to pay attention to communication between citizens and experts through new, emerging media platforms. Meanwhile, experts usually disseminate their research outcomes through traditional publications such as professional journals and conference presentations. Traditional publications, however, mostly address academic communities only. Often these traditional publications aim for academic audience in specific areas of disciplines, readers outside of those disciplines cannot fully comprehend the contents even though they have a chance to read it. Sharing the knowledge is an important part of communication. To facilitate communication between citizens and experts, more accessible modes of dissemination for a broad range of stakeholders are necessary. In the perspective of experts, sharing their research with a broad audience is not an easy task because finding relevant modes of dissemination beyond professional publication is a challenge. We explored a more accessible, user-friendly, and influential way of disseminating research findings using online experimental publishing. The goal of this study is to develop the alternative framework of research dissemination for a broad range of stakeholders, and to disseminate our research findings using the new framework. In the next section, we will briefly explain our engineering ethics education research that is our recent research to disseminate. In the following sections, we will explain how we developed the new framework of dissemination, and how we disseminated our research in experimental publishing forms.


Engineering Ethics as an Expert-guided and Socially-situated Activity

“Engineering ethics as an expert-guided and socially-situated activity” is a research project to study students’ understanding of engineering ethics. This project began in September, 2013 and will be continued until August, 2017. Based on several emphases in current engineering education such as socially responsible engineering, team-based projects, situated learning, and integration of technical knowledge with real-world concerns (Harris Jr., 2008; Lave, 1988; Zandvoort, Borsen, Deneke, & Bird, 2013), this project explores engineering students’ understanding of engineering ethics as a socially situated and distributed feature of project teams. Focusing on teams rather than on individuals, we have observed student teams’ discussions of ethical issues in engineering design project settings in order to see how student teams understand engineering ethics issues and how teams make ethical decisions. This project has also introduced ethics advisors to a few engineering teams to determine whether the presence of an ethics expert can help structure teams’ understanding of ethics issues in their engineering design project. The research relies on cognitive ethnography methods to observe and analyze student teams’ ethics discussions. Cognitive ethnography is a type of ethnography to study cognitive processes. While traditional ethnography describes knowledge itself, cognitive ethnography describes how that knowledge is constructed and used (Williams, 2006). Thus, cognitive ethnographic research combines traditional ethnographic methods, such as participant observation, interviewing, and artifacts analysis, with micro-analysis of specific occurrences of events and practices, to conduct micro-scale analysis of cognitive processes, usually using digital tools (Alac & Hutchins 2004). We analyzed the video-data and field notes collected through observations based on cognitive ethnography (Hutchins 1995; Kelly & Crawford 1997). The findings from this research project are as follows (Lee, Grohman, Gans, Tacca, & Brown, 2015;2016). First, there was a multi-layered understanding in student teams’ understanding of engineering ethics. Student teams often explicitly stated narrow and rigid understanding of engineering ethics. At the same time, student teams showed various implicit understandings. Sometimes, a team’s explicit understanding and implicit understanding were very different. Second, student teams’ implicit understanding of engineering ethics played an important role such as intuitive ethics and ethical insight to influence their ethics discussion. Third, the presence of ethics advisors could help student teams’ ethics discussions, but it heavily relied on collaborative environments. In addition to these research outcomes, we obtained a few clues for further exploration. For example, student teams’ implicit understanding of engineering ethics seemed closely related to the micro-culture of engineering students such as a micro-culture of women engineers. We are currently planning the next step of the study based on these clues.


The EMAC Framework of Dissemination

There are three groups of stakeholders in “Engineering ethics as an expert-guided and socially-situated activity” project: academic communities, engineering faculty and students, and the general public. The research findings were disseminated through publications and conference presentations, but these professional publications and conference presentations only addressed academic communities of STEM education, history and philosophy of science and technology, educational psychology, cognitive science, and a few other related disciplines. Some of the engineering faculty who has particular interests in this topic may have attended these conferences or read our published articles, but the majority of the engineering faculty and students were out of our reach. Ironically, engineering students who participated in our study had no opportunity to know about the research findings. This limited dissemination of research findings indicated that, though we discovered something about students’ understanding of engineering ethics, what we discovered was not shared with students who might be directly impacted by it. Furthermore, the general public also has very limited access to what we found in this research. It is obvious that we need to share our research findings with a broader audience. Therefore we developed the framework called the “EMAC (Emerging Media and Communication)” framework of dissemination. The EMAC framework is a framework to try an alternative way of dissemination in experimental publishing forms.


First, we identified what to share with a broad audience among the research findings. We hoped to share the core findings of our research such as engineering students’ complicated, multi-layered understanding and the impact of ethics advisors. We also hoped to share how we conducted this research including the basic information about the research, cognitive ethnography as a primary method, data collection and analysis. Not every detail is relevant for a wider audience, so we simplified the contents. We chose narrative as a primary form to share the contents. Storytelling is one of the powerful narratives so that humans have used stories to recall, represent and invent events (Boyd, 2009). Thus we used storytelling to explain our important research findings. We focused on how to craft the narrative from the research findings, and selected contents that can provide narrative experience to the audience. The selected contents included the explanation of how we analyzed and interpreted the data to obtain results, the introduction of the research, and the explanation of important research findings. We also chose to explore stories of women engineers to develop a theme suggested by our studies.


Second, we selected the forms of the medium to present selected contents. According to Ryan (2004), how the intrinsic properties of the medium shape the form of narrative and how they affect the narrative experience are two essential questions when we select the forms of the medium to present the narrative. Therefore we should consider both the particular semiotic substance and the technological mode of transmission when we select the medium for the narrative because the medium’s semiotic substance and technological transmission mode will influence the effectiveness of the narrative. If the effective narrative form for the content is selected, the audience’s understanding of that content will be enhanced.  Also, Spence (2014) explained that there are many applications in data presentation. What we see as data is the presented version of represented information. A human user makes an interpretation of that presentation of represented data through a particular application. That particular application can be viewed as a communication channel from a dataset to the cognitive processing center of the human observer, thus, according to Spence (2014), there are many data presenting applications which work as communication channels. Selecting effective data presenting applications will help audience’s understanding of represented information. Considering these narrative-media relationships, we selected four media forms which work from sensory perception to cognitive processing: text, image, sound, and moving image.


Finally, we designed three online experimental publishing forms of blogs, podcasts, and videos. Blogs, podcasts, and videos are non-traditional forms for research dissemination, and each publishing form consists of relevant media to effectively present the selected contents. We crafted the narrative for the selected contents, and then chose the publishing form to present that narrative. Figure 1 shows the EMAC framework of dissemination. Once our framework was developed, we created a blog, online videos, and podcasts to disseminate our research (  Table 1 shows our dissemination results based on the EMAC framework.

The EMAC Framework

 Figure 1. The EMAC framework of dissemination


2017 NARST Table 1

Table 1. The Dissemination Result by the EMAC Framework



Blog: We created a blog that serves as an entry point for other experimental publishing forms. The blog title, “EESEUTD,” stands for “Engineering Ethics as Socially-situated and Expert-guided study at the University of Texas at Dallas.” This blog consists of a main page and five sub-pages. Five sub-pages have labels such as “About,” “Cognitive Ethnography,” “Podcast,” “Findings,” and “Publications.” Figure 2 shows the main page of EESEUTD blog and Figure 3 shows the connected structure of the blog, podcasts, and online videos. Unlike many traditional research websites, the main page contains narrative explanations about how we analyzed data using cognitive ethnographic methods and how we obtained our results. Four cases of team discussions are presented and each case has its own unique point to study. The “Cognitive Ethnography” page presents narrative explanation about the primary methodology used in the engineering ethics research project with an example (See Figure 4). The “Findings” page contains links to three online videos. The “Podcast” page contains a link to the podcast entitled “Femgineers.” The “Publications” page contains information about the academic publications produced from the engineering ethics research.

2017 NARST Figure3

Figure 2.  The blog home that shows entries to other experimental publishing forms


Figure 3. The Connected Structure of Online Blog, Podcast, and Videos

Online Videos: Three online videos were created to explain important points in the research findings. The videos are tutorial in nature, but we used neither voice instruction nor text-based instruction. Instead we used animation, simple text, and background music. The goal of these videos was sharing our findings with a broad audience, rather than teaching knowledge, thus we tried to make videos easy to understand and entertaining. There are three episodes: The Beginning, The Mystery, and The Heroes. All episodes keep a continuing story line. The first episode is about introducing our research project and about concepts of engineering ethics, the second episode is about multi-layered understanding of engineering ethics, and the third episode is about ethics advisors and their roles. Figure 4 shows a few scenes in the episodes.

2017 NARST Figure5

Figure 4. Scenes in the online videos

Podcast: While we were conducting the engineering ethics education research, we have noticed that a team of women engineering students seemed to have unique characteristics such as a more socially empathetic implicit understanding. There seemed to be a micro-culture that makes these characteristics prevalent in teams with women members. This was a clue for further exploration, and we tried to explore this micro-culture through stories of women engineers. Thus we opened a podcast channel called “Femgineers” at the Creative Disturbance (, an international podcast platform that supports collaboration among arts, science, and new technology communities. Each episode of “Femgineers” invites a woman engineer to share her story with her own voice. Figure 5 shows the “Femgineers” logo and the podcast list.

2017 NARST podcast figure

Figure 5. The logo and the podcast list of “Femgineers


Discussion and Implications

In this study, we tried to disseminate the engineering ethics education research outcomes to a broader audience beyond academic communities based on the EMAC framework of dissemination. We suggest that disseminating research outcomes using this framework can contribute to STEM education as follows. First, it can contribute to STEM education by enhancing experts-public communication. Feinstein (2015) argued, based on Dewey’s vision of the relationship between experts and the public (Dewey, 1927), that the public must learn to communicate their collective will with STEM experts, while STEM experts must learn to listen to the public to understand their collective will. According to Feinstein (2015), STEM education needs to take responsibility to facilitate this communication between STEM experts and the general public. One of the important parts in communication is fare sharing of information. In STEM experts’ part, it is a challenge to share their research with the general public. The EMAC framework can provide a user-friendly framework of dissemination. The general public can easily obtain the knowledge of STEM research through this user-friendly dissemination. STEM researchers can provide the public positive user experiences of obtaining the upfront knowledge by using this approach. Thus, disseminating research via the EMAC framework can contribute to informal STEM education by facilitating communication between STEM experts and the public.

Second, using the EMAC framework for dissemination can contribute to learning in terms of user experience. User experience is the totality of the effect felt by a user as a result of interaction with a system, device, or product (Hartson & Pyla, 2012). It consists of usability, usefulness, and emotional impact during an interaction. The use of narratives in the EMAC framework can be a good stimulus to engage a user in emotional learning (Smith & Kosslyn, 2007). Usability is the pragmatic component that includes effectiveness, learnability, and ease-of-use. Usefulness is the component to which functionality gives the ability to use the system to accomplish the goal (Hartson & Pyla, 2012). The EMAC framework uses digital multimedia and online experimental publishing forms which learners can easily access. It also operates on various forms of sensory perceptions providing multiple routes to obtain information. In this way, the EMAC framework can enhance both usability and usefulness. In result, the learner will have a better user experience that facilitates better learning experience.

Third, it can contribute to bridge research and practice. In STEM education research, for example, the outcomes often circulate within professional research communities through professional journals and conference presentations. Students who usually become subjects of the research do not have many opportunities to know about the research findings. Dissemination through experimental publishing may give students accessibility to the outcomes of educational research, which can help them be active learners. Moreover, as technology advances, more opportunities will be available for experimental publishing; therefore, the EMAC framework of dissemination may become applicable for a broader range of research areas.



Alac, M. & Hutchins, E. (2004). I see what you are saying: Action as cognition in fMRI brain mapping practice. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 4, 629-661.

Boyd, B. (2009). On the origin of stories. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Dewey, J. (1927). The public and its problems. New York: Holt.

Feinstein, N. (2015). Education, communication, and science in the public sphere. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 52, 145-163.

Harris Jr., C. E. (2008). The good engineer: Giving virtue tis due in engineering ethics. Science and Engineering Ethics, 14, 153-164.

Hartson, R. & Pyla, P. (2012). The UX book. Waltham, MA: Elsevier, Inc.

Hutchins, E. (1995). Cognition in the Wild. Cambridge, MA: MIT press.

Kelly, G. J. & Crawford, T. (1997). An ethnographic investigation of the discourse processes of school science. Science Education, 81, 533-559

Lave, J. (1988). Cognition in practice. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Lee, E. A., Grohman, M. G., Gans, N., Tacca, M., and Brown, M. J. (2015). Exploring implicit understanding of engineering ethics in student teams. Proceedings of ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition. Seattle, WA.

Lee, E. A., Grohman, M. G., Gans, N., Tacca, and Brown, M. J. (2016) “The Roles of Implicit Understanding of Engineering Ethics in Student Teams’ Discussion.” Science and Engineering Ethics (2016). doi:10.1007/s11948-016-9856-0

Ryan, M.-R. (2004). Narrative across media. University of Nebraska Press.

Smith E. & Kosslyn S. (2007). Cognitive psychology: Mind and brain. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

Spence, R. (2014). Information visualization: An introduction. 3rd edition. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.

Willams, R. F. (2006). Using cognitive ethnography to study instruction. Proceedings of the 7th  Interntaional Conference of the Learning Science, Mahwah. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Zandvoort, H., Borsen, T., Deneke, M., & Bird, S. J. (2013). Perspectives on teaching social responsibility to students in science and engineering. Science and Engineering Ethics, 19, 1413-1438.



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Situated and Expert-Guided Discussion of Engineering Ethics in Student Teams

Eun Ah Lee, Nicholas Gans, Magdalena G. Grohman, Marco Tacca, & Matthew J. Brown

The University of Texas at Dallas


The focus of engineering ethics education has been shifted from merely preventing harm to ensuring social responsibility of engineering, however, students’ understanding of engineering ethics remained narrow and rigid despite the shift in college engineering education. To explore engineering students’ understanding of engineering ethics, particularly focusing on social implications of engineering ethics, we studied socially situated and expert-guided ethics discussion among student teams. We selected three teams’ discussion segments to study the outcome of student teams’ discussion in different types of ethics advising environment; no advisor, ethics advisor present, and ethics advisors in collaboration. Micro-scale discourse analysis based on cognitive ethnography was conducted to find cultural models of each team’s understanding of engineering ethics. We also conducted cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) analysis to see what influenced different cultural models. We found that the team with ethics advisors in the collaborative environment achieved broader understanding in social implications of engineering ethics during the discussion than other teams. The result of CHAT analysis also showed that there was a difference in rule, community, and division of labor during the discussion activity among three teams, and that these differences may have influenced the difference in cultural models.



Recent studies showed that students often understood professional ethics such as scientific ethics and engineering ethics to a narrow extent (Culver, Puri, Wokutch, & Lohani, 2013). Furthermore, students’ narrow and rigid understanding of engineering ethics did not seem to improve through college education (Cech, 2014), despite efforts to shift the focus of engineering ethics education from merely preventing harm to ensuring social responsibility of engineering (Zandvoort, Borsen, Deneke, & Bird, 2013). To explore engineering students’ understanding of engineering ethics, particularly focusing on social implications of engineering ethics, we studied socially situated and expert-guided ethics discussion among students. Learning is situational and shaped by a culture of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991), and engineering education emphasizes team-based projects and multidisciplinary collaboration (Volkwein et al., 2004).  Therefore, engineering ethics also needs to be learned through team-based projects and multidisciplinary collaboration, which will facilitate situational learning. We organized situated and expert-guided team discussions in which student teams discussed ethics issues in their ongoing engineering design projects with ethics experts’ help.

Our previous study reported two results for further studies. First, student teams’ understanding of engineering ethics was complex and multi-layered (Lee, Grohman, Gans, Tacca, & Brown, 2015). Second, the influence of ethics experts’ advising was not always positive. Based on these findings, we carefully redesigned our study to improve ethics advising environment of the team discussion. In this study, we focused on two research questions. First, we studied whether an engineering student team could understand broad social implications of engineering ethics with ethics advisors’ help. Second, we studied how ethics advising help an engineering student team understand broad social implications of engineering ethics. We selected three engineering student teams’ discussion episodes with the same discussion topic but in different ethic advising conditions, to explore the outcome of the discussion in different types of expert guidance, and what made the difference in those outcomes.



Cognitive Ethnography

Cognitive ethnography is a type of ethnography to study cognitive process of the people. Cognitive ethnography is developed from traditional ethnography, but instead of focusing on the meanings that the observed cultural group create, cognitive ethnography focuses on how members of the observed cultural group create those meanings (Williams, 2006). Thus, cognitive ethnographic research combines traditional ethnographic methods, such as participant observing, interviewing, and artifacts analysis, with micro-analysis of specific occurrences of events and practices to conduct process analysis (Alac & Hutchins, 2004).

Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT)

CHAT is a theoretical framework to understand the relationship between human mind and human activity by cultural-historical approach (Cole, 1996; Engeström, 1999). CHAT is well suited to capture the relationship between interconnected elements within activity system (Roth & Lee, 2007). The model of activity system in CHAT is often represented by triangular diagram composed of seven elements; subjects, objects, mediating artifacts, rules, community, division of labor, and outcomes (Engeström, 1999). In this mediational triangle, the upper part of the triangle shows the basic subject-mediator-object relationship in the action, while the bottom part shows how this action happens in relation to the components such as social rules, members of community, and object-oriented actions (Cole, 1996).

 Study Design

Senior Design Project (SDP) is a required course for senior engineering students at the University of Texas at Dallas. This course requires students to complete a team-based project over a period of two semesters. We recruited four SDP teams for the first year pilot study and sixteen SDP teams for the second year study. Participation was voluntary and the study was conducted under IRB approval. The team, not an individual, was the unit of analysis in this study. We asked participating SDP teams to have meetings to discuss ethical issues related to their design project. Teams were randomly assigned to two conditions. In the control condition (CC), teams discussed ethical considerations of their project on their own, while teams in the intervention condition (IC) were joined by ethics advisors. Ethics advisors were student volunteers who were taking a course in philosophy of science and technology.

After the pilot study in the first year, we noticed that some SDP teams demonstrated defensive or uncomfortable attitudes toward the ethics advisor during the discussions. Therefore, we made a few changes to improve the ethics advising environment in the second year. Table 1 shows the changes made in the second year to improve ethics advising environment for SDP teams. Instead of single ethics advisor, ethics advising teams were formed and assigned to each SDP team to participate in the discussion. To make a collaborative environment, the role of ethics advising team was defined as a partner in discussion to improve ethical aspect of the engineering design. Ethical advising teams received instruction about the nature of SDP projects and the protocol to engage a team discussion. Also ethical advising teams were joined from the beginning of the SDP project to the end.


Table 1. Ethics advising environment in the first and the second year

Data Collection

We observed and video-recorded ten teams. We annotated and transcribed video data, and selected several segments that contain issues of interest. In this study, we focused on social implications of engineering ethics, particularly, on the relationship between safety concerns and the users. We selected three video segments from three SDP teams’ discussions, each in a different ethics advising environment. Table 2 shows the selected video segments.

table2_selected video

Table 2. Selected video segments


Data Analysis

We analyzed discourses from the selected segments through qualitative, micro-scale discourse analysis based on cognitive ethnography to find cultural models (Hutchins 1995; Kelly & Crawford, 1997; Williams 2006). Cultural models represent culturally derived understanding, ideas, or practices shared within the observed cultural group (Fryberg & Markus, 2007). We analyzed each segment focusing on key-words, verbal and nonverbal cues, and connectives, highlighting each component. Figure 1 shows an example of the analyzed transcription. From the analyzed results, we found a cultural model that represented a team’s understanding of the relationship between safety concerns and the users.

discourse analysis_SSE

Figure 1. An example of analyzed transcription of the selected video segment

After we found a cultural model in each team, we analyzed the discussion activity based on the CHAT framework. We analyzed each SDP team’s discussion based on the model of activity system in CHAT, determining seven elements in the discussion activity. Then we drew CHAT triangle for each discussion activity to see the interconnectedness.



Cultural Models

There were three SDP teams examined in this study. The Saber Sound Effects (SSE) team was designing sound effects for an electric toy saber. This team participated in the second year, and discussed ethics issues without ethics advisors. In the selected segment, the SSE team discussed the possible danger of their design product when used by young children, and concluded that charging a high price would reduce risk because young children cannot afford it.

 C: It’s…who do you give that responsibility to? You don’t give that responsibility to somebody that’s five.

A: Mhmm.

B: And with that, do you think it’s better that they’re charging a high price with it, because, like, with ours…it’s – it’s about to hurt people.

 This conversation indicated that the team approached to the safety issue in the perspective of the providers. “If a safe product is provided to the qualified users, the possible safety issue could be resolved.” In this perspective, the users are recipients, and engineers and other manufacturing or marketing parties are providers who control the safety issues. Figure 2 represents the cultural model of the SSE team about the relationship between safety concerns and the users.


Figure 2. Cultural model of the SSE team’ understanding about the safety and the users

Meanwhile, the Helmet Display (HD) team was designing an information heads up display system for the motorcycle helmet. This team participated in our first year pilot study and a student ethics advisor joined in their second discussion. In the selected segment, this team showed very defensive attitude toward the ethics advisor. When the ethics advisor suggested the possibility of some users’ over-dependence for this new device and possible safety concerns, the HD team saw it as a challenge to stop their design, and immediately tried to defend their design.

Advisor: So.. as parents or grandparents may want them to be as safe as possible, get them  this helmet ah… hoping that increases the safety….,but then, as a consequence, he just wears it all the time, he hasn’t develop.. those motorcycle skills .. perhaps..  

HD Team: Really, I just think it’s ridiculous not designing this product because of possibility that someone forgets how to look at the dash , then you should say why….you know it’s ridiculous…

Their response, both verbal and nonverbal, revealed that the team thought that there is little possibility for this potential safety problem to occur. Even though this problem might happen, it  was a matter of users because only unqualified users such as inexperienced drivers would make this kind of problem. Therefore it was not a valid reason to stop their design project. Thus, they seemed to think in the way that “engineers are providers, users are recipients.” If they design the product as safe as possible, and provide it to the qualified users, the safety issue will be resolved. In this way, their cultural model seemed to be similar to the SSE team’s model. Figure 3 shows the cultural model of the HD team about the relationship between safety concerns and the users.


Figure 3. Cultural model of the HD team’s understanding about the safety and the users

The T-shirts Accelerating Robot (TAR) team was designing a robot that can launch T-shirts to spectators in the stadium at the sports event. This team participated in the second year, and discussed ethics issues with the ethics advising team in the improved advising environment. In the selected segment, the team discussed the concern of emergency shut-down of the robot. At the ethics advising team’s suggestion, the TAR team agreed to design a physical shut-down device, so the operator or anyone nearby can stop it at the emergency. The team also mentioned that their initial solution would be installing the emergency shut-down software.

Advisor: Ummm and besides the operator, I know there are only two operators, but will there be anyone actually physically able to like stop it if something does go wrong with it?

TAR Team: What we might do also, is you know, if we talked about the emergency stop earlier, and I think you know, good practice is,… what you usually do is, you have, a… software…but then also you have a physical switch all over the robot which you can run up and you know, pull the lever and it’ll shut off, so we’ll make sure to have one of those on there too.

 Although the TAR team thought of the software-based solution, they accepted the ethics advising team’s suggestion and revised their design by adding a physical back-up plan. It indicated that the TAR team had a different cultural model from the other two teams in regard of the relationship between the safety concerns and the users. If the TAR team only used the software-based design, it would not have been much different from the other teams, offering a safe product to the passive users. Unlike the other two teams, the TAR team included a user’s role in the emergency stop process. As shown in Figure 4, the TAR team’s cultural model indicates that a safe design includes not only a design product but also an active role of the users.


Figure 4. Cultural model of the TAR team’s understanding about the safety and the users


CHAT Analysis

We found different cultural models in TAR team’s and the other two teams’ discussions. To see what may have made such a difference, we analyzed each team’s discussion activity based on CHAT. Figure 5, 6, and 7 show the SSE team’s, the HD team’s and the TAR team’s discussion activity in CHAT triangle, respectively.


Figure 5. CHAT analysis of the SSE team’s discussion activity



Figure 6. CHAT analysis of the HD team’s discussion activity


Figure 7. CHAT analysis of the TAR team’s discussion activity

Through the CHAT analysis of three participating teams’ discussions, we noticed that basic activity represented in subject-mediating artifacts (means)-object relationship was similar among three teams. There was a difference, however, in the bottom part of the triangle. Table 3 shows the difference among three teams in rule, community, and division of labor in CHAT analysis.

table3_CHAT difference

Table 3. Difference in rule, community, and division of labor among SDP teams


Three SDP teams in this study were in different discussion environments. The SSE team did not have ethics advisors. The HD team had an ethics advisor, but the interaction between the team and the advisor did not help the team understand social implications of ethics issues (Lee et al., 2015). Based on the unexpected result of ethics advising in the first year study, we changed the ethics advising environment. The TAR team made a discussion with the ethics advising team under this changed environment. In this environment, the ethics advising team was not simply consulting the SDP team, but they were also conducting their course project of practical advising in engineering design. Therefore, both the SDP team and the ethics advising team were helping each other in their projects as partners in collaboration.

Comparing to the SSE team’s discussion, the TAR team seemed to acquire socially broad understanding of engineering ethics issues through the discussion. As engineers, they sought to make a technically safe design as much as the SSE team, but they also accepted the possibility of users’ involvement that may affect the safety. It was revealed when they admitted that their original solution would have been an emergency shut-down software, but they would also consider physical device for anyone nearby to do the emergency shut-down. This modification was done by the ethics advising team’s suggestion and by the TAR team’s willingness to considerate it. The SSE team also considered the users’ safety and tried to find a way to prevent the possible danger. The solution that they found was, however, to make their product expensive because they thought that young users who may cause trouble in handling electric toys cannot purchase expensive toys. Pricing is not usually an engineers’ task, so the solution that SSE team found was not something they could do. Without outside input, however, the team members did not consider other options, and continued the discussion within this option.

We did CHAT analysis to study what made a difference between these two teams’ safety solutions during their discussions. According to CHAT analysis, the difference between these two teams seemed to be related to their different cultural context of the discussion activity as seen in Table 3. In the TAR team’s discussion, the community consisted of both the SDP team and the ethics advising team, and the rule of activity was to collaborate. On the contrary, the SSE team alone formed the community and the rule was to discuss within team. This difference closely related to the different division of labor, one was to revise their idea through the discussion, while the other was to stick to their idea. Although the SSE team and the TAR team had similar elements of subject, means, and object, they had different elements of rule, community, and division of labor. These interconnected elements may have created different cultural context in each team’s discussion activity, and resulted in producing different cultural models.

Ethics advisors’ influence, however, may not always be positive in social understanding of engineering ethics, unless it is carefully prepared. The HD team, though they had an ethics advisor, showed the similar cultural model to the SSE team. It indicated that the ethics advising did not influence to acquire broad understanding of social implications in engineering ethics. In CHAT analysis, we noticed that, although the community for the discussion activity consisted of the SDP team and the ethics advisor, they were taking contradictory positions. The HD team considered the ethics advisor as an outsider who tried to raise a question against their design, so the rule of the discussion turned out to be “the ethics advisor questions, the SDP team answers.” It resulted in defending the design as a division of labor in the discussion. Comparing the HD team to the TAR team, the change that we made in ethics advising environment seemed to positively influence to create effective expert-guided cultural context for engineering ethics discussion.



In this study, we examined three engineering student teams’ discussions with the same topic, but in different discussion environments. We expected that situated and expert-guided discussion may help students understand engineering ethics better, particularly about social implications of engineering ethics issues. As a result, we found different cultural models of the safety and the users in these three engineering student teams. According to these cultural models, the team that made a discussion in the collaborative ethics advising environment showed more advanced understanding in social implications of engineering ethics. We also found that expert-guided engineering ethics discussion was not always fruitful, but needed to be supported by collaborative environment between ethics expert teams and the engineering design teams.

Understanding professional ethics is essential for future scientists and engineers. Situational and expert-guided approach in engineering ethics education can help understanding professional ethics. Thus, findings in this study may provide some ideas in designing and practicing the collaborative ethics education program relying on both engineering expertise and ethics expertise. Nevertheless, it is too early to make any conclusion about the general effectiveness of ethics advising in engineering student projects, because we only focused on three cases. We will continue further studies on more cases and exploring different approaches to enhance our understanding.




  • Alac, M. & Hutchins, E. (2004). I see what you are saying: Action as cognition in fMRI brain mapping practice. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 4, 629-661.
  • Cech, E. A. (2014). Culture of disengagement in engineering education? Science, Technology & Human Values39(1), 42-72.
  • Cole, M. (1996). Cultural psychology. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
  • Culver, S.  M., Puri, I. K., Wokutch, R. E., & Lohani, V. (2013). Comparison of engagement with ethics between an engineering and a business program. Science and Engineering Ethics, 19, 585-597.
  • Engeström, Y. (1999). Activity theory and individual and social transformation. In Y.  Engeström, R. Miettinen, & R.-L. Punamaki (Eds.), Perspectives on activity theory. Cambridge, England. Cambridge University Press.
  • Fryberg, S. A., & Markus, H. R. (2007).Cultural models of education in American Indian, Asian American, and European American contexts. Social Psychology of Education, 10, 1381-2890.
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  • Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
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Epic, Wikipedia, and Evolution of Collective Minds


Human minds are no longer considered to be born as a blank slate. Instead of a biological processing machine, waiting for the input of cultural contents, human minds are now considered as a diversely reconstructed outcome from a universally shared genetic basis (Cosmides and Tooby, 1992, 117-121). Human minds are adaptive minds. Just as biological evolution occurs through continuous adaptation, psychological evolution also occurs through continuous adaptation in minds. The adaptive minds have three noticeable characteristics. First, there are both universality and diversity in them because they are diversely reconstructed from a universally shared basis (117-121). Second, the reconstructing process is not homogeneous. As Cosmides and Tooby (1992) argued, human minds have a complex set of domain-specific mechanisms, so different mechanisms would be selected to work on different contexts in different procedures (121). Such heterogeneity can also be a powerful tool for a collective problem-solving. Third, reconstruction in human minds is an ongoing process, and the biological basis and its cultural reconstruction are shaping each other. Considering these characteristics, it is likely that human minds are evolving. In the evolutionary process, the outcome and the evidence of evolution appear on the collective level rather than on the individual level. Thus, adaptive minds can be redefined as adaptive “collective” minds. If human collective minds have evolved through continuous adaptation, there would have been marks or traces left somewhere among the works of humans. Then, the question is where we can find that trace of evolving collective minds.

Epic is one of human works in which we can find the trace of evolving collective minds because epic is basically a story of how the human species became humans. “Epic is basically about human evolution, that is, epic is the traditional way we have explained to ourselves as a species our emergence from nature and the stresses within our own nature that result from that emergence and our look back at it” (Turner, 2012). Epics in the world have both universality and diversity. The curiosity about the origin of humans and the origin of the universe are represented in epics from different cultures. We can see them in the Book of Genesis, the Popol Vuh, and the Mahabharata to name a few. The paradoxical nature of heroes and the importance of the quest are included in many epics such as the Odyssey, Monkey, and Gilgamesh. These are a few examples of universality represented in epics. In addition to universality, cultural diversity is also represented in epics, and often it is related to history as seen in the Heike and Njal’s Saga. Epic is also heterogeneous in its plot and its scale. Such heterogeneity can sometimes be misunderstood as weakness in plot or inconsistency in scale, but heterogeneity works well to represent evolving human minds because the human minds are reconstructing through a heterogeneous process. For example, there are many characters in Mahabharata, and often a lot of sub-stories have formed around one of the characters. Therefore, Mahabharata seems like an aggregation of numerous small stories. It could be considered to weaken the main plot, but it actually gives us many options to think about the story. Epic also has a procedural characteristic because flexibility in composing, performing, and understanding of epics make epic an ongoing process through time. For example, each oral performance of the Mwindo epic can create a diverse version.

If “epic is the traditional way to explain human evolution to ourselves” (Turner, 2012), there can be other works of humans to serve the similar purpose. In this study, I would like to suggest Wikipedia as a modern counterpart of epic to represent the evolution of collective human minds. For a start, Wikipedia has a similar function to epic. The function of epic can be an archive of collective human minds through storytelling. Epic contains knowledge, information, memories, and any other intellectual achievement of human minds, which have been accumulated for long time. Wikipedia is also an archive of collective human minds. Wikipedia is often considered as only an accumulation of collective knowledge, but it also contains cultural and historical collective memories (Ferron and Massa, 2011). Therefore, epic and Wikipedia seem to share the same function of an archive for evolving human minds. In terms of format, however, epic and Wikipedia seem to have different formats because epic’s format is a story, and Wikipedia’s format is a digital network. In this study, I will explore epic and Wikipedia in terms of the format and of the function. How they function in similar ways and how they take their unique formats will be examined. By comparing them, I will try to show how epic and Wikipedia are both representing the evolution of collective minds.


Epic and Wikipedia as Archives for Collective Minds

As archives, epic and Wikipedia have at least three functions: to preserve what was achieved by collective human minds, to share what was preserved, and to explore what is not yet achieved. The first function is preserving human achievements including knowledge, information, memories, and others. Many epics describe human intellectual achievements and the process of achieving them. The Book of Genesis tells a story of how morals, rules, and values were developed in human society. The story of Enkidu in Gilgamesh and the story of Monkey tell us how humans were developed from a natural being to a cultural being. Gilgamesh and Popol Vuh describe the effort to understand death. In addition to the psychological and philosophical achievement, epics also describe cultural, social, economic, political, and technological achievement as seen in Gilgamesh, Odyssey, Mahabharata, and Njal’s Saga. These preserved contents are often flexible and dynamic because they are reconstructed in stories, and sometimes new knowledge or memories emerge in stories. In contrast, Wikipedia is often mistaken for the online version of an encyclopedia because Wikipedia can preserve huge amounts of data. Wikipedia is, however, a user-generated content network and a social network rather than the online version of encyclopedia. As a user-generated content network, how collective minds work to create Wikipedia is essential because, if the topology of Wikipedia is a network, the mechanism of Wikipedia is collaboration. As a social network, Wikipedia’s function is closely related to the nature of the society. Today’s society is a linked society dominated by all kinds of networks, so what Wikipedia preserves is an outcome of dynamic interaction between society and technology. Stahl (2012)’s description is well matched to the archival function of Wikipedia.

Biological human evolution has long since transformed itself into cultural evolution, proceeding at an exponential pace. Along the way, thought overcame the limits of individual minds to expand with the power of discourses, inscriptions, digital memories, computational devices, technological infrastructures, computer-supported group cognition, and virtual communities. Both human cognition and its mediation by technological artifacts morph from fixed nouns into process verbs, like “cognizing mediating”—where human cognition and technological media shape each other in ways we are just beginning to conceptualize. (187)

 Sharing what was preserved is an important function of epic and Wikipedia. There are a few similarities between epic and Wikipedia in terms of sharing. First, the contents to be shared are made by many contributors through collaboration. Second, the contents are shared by much larger population than the contributors. Third, the role of authors in epic, and the role of editors in Wikipedia are similar, and that is implicit in the coordination of collaboration. The mechanism of Wikipedia is collaboration, so Wikipedia is often called the work of collective intelligence. Although the accuracy and validity are still in debate, the contents in Wikipedia are now shared by anyone in the globe who can access the internet. The power-law distribution in the social network is also applied to Wikipedia, thus, compared to the number of users, the number of active contributors are much smaller. Many epics are also formed by collaborative efforts. Although there are a few epics which the author is well known such as Odyssey and Monkey, a lot of epics have unknown authors or legendary authors as in Heike, Njal’s Saga, Mwindo, Popol Vuh, and Mahabharata. Perhaps these epics have been formed by many contributors, modified through time and time. If there were authors, the role of authors may have been in implicit coordination rather than writing an entire story. Implicit coordination means that a subset of editors structures the article by doing the most of the work, while explicit coordination means that editors plan the article through communication with collaborating contributors. According to Kittur and Kraut (2008), when many contributors collaborate in Wikipedia, explicit coordination was not effective, but implicit coordination was helpful. Considering this, it is possible that a lot of epics have been formed by many contributors through collaboration, and a small number of people helped to structure them by implicit coordination.

Unlike preserving and sharing what was achieved, exploring what is not yet achieved is not general function of any archive but a unique function in epic and Wikipedia. Both epic and Wikipedia have been developed based on well-known territory and they have also been exploring unknown territory. In epics, heroes always stand at the edge between the known and the unknown world, venture into the unknown, and come back to the known world to close the story. The edge that the hero stands on is an important place in terms of time and space. According to Turner (2012), the edge is the only place to cut the blaze, open up a new space-time.

There is only one place to cut the blaze and that is at the exact edge of the circle, just when the explorer crosses into terra incognita. A new space opens up within eyeshot of the blaze. This space is a temporal space. Within this specious present, one can go back and forth at will in one’s mental and imaginative time machine. That space is the space of art, of new scientific hypothesis, of grace, of moral discovery. Epic heroes cut the blaze at the border between the known world and the unknown world.

If Wikipedia is a modern counterpart of epic, we can wonder how exploring occurs in Wikipedia compared to epic. Whether there is an edge between the known territory and the unknown territory and whether exploring occurs in a similar way as in epic need to be examined. I suggest that there are nodes in Wikipedia which play a similar role as heroes in epic to explore the unknown territory. Wikipedia is both a user-generated content network and a social network. Therefore each node or each link can be considered as both an object and an agent, because it is determined both by technological tools and managerial dynamics (Niederer and Dijck, 2010). As a scale-free network, Wikipedia is a heterogeneous network, and there are both highly connected nodes and poorly connected nodes. The scale-free network is very sensitive to the removal of highly connected nodes which often have a position of the hub in the cluster, but it is relatively resilient to the removal of the random nodes, especially when the node is poorly connected. Among the low-connected nodes, however, there are nodes which play a role of the bridge between clusters. These nodes are not highly connected and the links from them are mostly weak ties, but they are important because they are often the only link between two clusters. I suggest that these nodes which work as bridges are in the similar position as heroes at the edge. Considering the node as both the object and the agent, whoever contributes to this bridge-like node is cutting the blaze because any new link from this node would open up new territory. In Wikipedia, highly connected clusters are the known world and the bridge node is a border between the known and the unknown territories. According to the preferential attachment rule, new links in the network are mostly attached to the highly connected nodes. Thus, creating a new link from the bridge node is not an expected act inside the known world, but an exploration beyond the known world, just like the ones that heroes undertake in epic.


Epic, Wikipedia and an Available Socio-Technological System

As archives for collective minds, epic and Wikipedia seem to have similar functions. In terms of the format, however, they look so different that it is hard to see any resemblance at first glance. Epic’s format is a story. Storytelling is a unique ability of human minds and also a powerful tool for them. From the ancient time, humans have used stories to understand the world around them. It is no wonder that many stories in folktales, myths, and legends describe how the world was created and how humans came to the world. Epics are no exception. The Book of Genesis is basically an outcome of human efforts to understand creation of world and humans. In Popol Vuh, a more detailed and plausible procedure, a trial, is described in creating humans. Humans also used stories to recall important events (Boyd, 2009, 152-153). Iliad and Odyssey are stories to recall a famous event that is the Trojan War. Heike is a story to describe an important event in Japanese history, a transition from the aristocratic Heian era to the era of Samurais. Boyd (2009) explained that humans not only used stories to understand and recall events (132, 152-153), but also to represent and invent events (176, 186-187). Epic is a story to represent events. In epic, events are reconstructed under cultural, historical, and social influence, and such a reconstruction particularly represents the evolving human minds as a collective. That is why epic is not the same as historical record. For example, although Heike describes historical events, it is not a history book. Therefore Heike can be considered as a eulogy for the fallen kingdom, nostalgia for the past era, or a lesson for the next generation, but it cannot be considered as a historical record. Sometimes events are invented in epic as they are invented in fiction. A lot of quests and adventures in epics are mostly invented, though they are partly related to the historical events. The Trojan War was a historical event, but the adventures in the Odyssey are mostly author’s inventions.

Although stories are used to recall, represent, and invent events, not every story represents the evolution of collective human minds as epic does. That is because epic has been adapting as the human world has changed. How to tell a story depends on both social environment and technological tool. According to Turner (2012), at each time that a certain technological tool was developed, epic was also developed adapting that tool as a new communication medium. The technological tools of communication have been changed from biological speaking ability to reading and writing, to printing, and to digital publishing. Epics adapted to use these tools and survived. Some epics have both oral form and written form. Mwindo is still performed in oral form, though it has been already recorded in written form (The Mwindo Epic, 1996, 15-19). Gilgamesh survived until today because it was written on tablets (Gilgamesh, 2004, 3-5). Popol Vuh survived by adapting to the new form of western writing when the original Mayan writing was destroyed (Popol Vuh, 1996). The Book of Genesis took great advantage of the development of printing. Today’s epic writers may be taking digital publishing. Meanwhile, the development of technology is closely related to the change of social environment. In fact, society and technology shape each other (Williams and Edge, 1996). Then, adaptiveness of epic is not only useful for technological change, but also for social change. So, epic has been developed with the change of social environment, and that is how epics represent the cultural, historical, social and intellectual change of humans. In this perspective, I suggest that the strength of epic’s format does not come from a story as narrative, but a story as a socio-technological system. The socio-technological system is a technological structure that functions to produce social communication. The narrative is used to represent what has happened. What has been represented in epic is much more than what has happened. If epic has been representing the evolution of collective human minds, it needs a format to represent a complex achievement of collective minds. I argue that epic takes an available socio-technological system of the time, and that is why many epics have taken diverse forms of storytelling through time.

In contrast, Wikipedia is certainly not a story and its format is a network. Wikipedia is, however, a socio-technological system, too. As a network, Wikipedia shows characteristics of network system such as scale-free network, power-law distribution, preferential attachment, small-world effect, and high transitivity (Masucci, Kalampokis, Eguiluz, and Hernandez-Garcia, 2011). But these characteristics are only physical or topological characteristics of Wikipedia. As Niederer and Dijck (2010) pointed out, “Wikipedia’s advance is not only enabled by its human resources, but is equally defined by technological tools and managerial dynamics that structure and maintain its content.” The advancement of technology that provides an able platform to be a user-generated content network, and the collaborating mechanism to be a social network should be considered together to understand the format of Wikipedia. Wikipedia’s technological structure is online digital network, but the network also functions as a user-generated content network and a social network. Thus, the format of Wikipedia is a network, but that network can also be considered as an available socio-technological system of today.



It is not easy to see the resemblance in epic and Wikipedia at the first glance. There are, however, a few similarities that can be found between epic and Wikipedia in their function. First, both epic and Wikipedia can be considered as archives for collective human minds because they have been representing the evolution of collective minds. Second, epic and Wikipedia preserve and share the achievement of collective minds. Third, epic and Wikipedia are flexible, dynamic and emerging in nature. Fourth, in epic and Wikipedia, the exploration of human minds between the known and the unknown territories happens.

In terms of the format, there is a difference between epic and Wikipedia. Epic’s format is a story, while Wikipedia’s format is a network. How a certain format is selected, however, is similar because both epic and Wikipedia seem to select the available socio-technological system of the time. Considering that both epic and Wikipedia represent the evolution of collective human minds, it seems that human minds as a collective have always taken the available socio-technological system of the time to be effectively adaptive. Therefore, epic may be considered as an ancient counterpart of Wikipedia, and Wikipedia as a modern counterpart of epic in the perspective of evolving human minds.



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