Translating STEM, Integrating Values
Translating across disciplines, which are often identified by their different styles of reasoning, is challenging, but responsible citizenship requires the use of multiple perspectives to solve problems. Our translation goal is to value what other disciplines already do and know, and find pathways to incorporate that knowledge both within and outside STEM. This team has considered these translational challenges from both a liberal arts perspective and an engineering/science perspective, and have connected both to the use of narrative and story. We present two credentials in STEM communications and in ethics that help students learn the skills of translation, while practicing integration. The examplars on this page include programmatic descriptions for both credentials and sample assignments.Back to Overview »
Part 1: What Would a STEM Communications Concentration Look Like at a Liberal Arts College?
The undergraduate concentration in STEM communication (CSC) aims to teach students how to convey STEM content clearly in both verbal and visual forms to a general audience. More importantly, however, the concentration aims to develop in students the judgement required to make appropriate choices about which information to convey, and when, where, and how to convey it, and the intellectual imagination required to connect that STEM information to larger ideas and themes that are important to the human community.
Interdisciplinary three-course core
The CSC welcomes students from both within and outside of the STEM fields. STEM majors can add the concentration with four CSC courses beyond their major and the one-credit-hour CSC capstone seminar. Non-STEM majors can add the concentration with six additional courses (the four CSC courses and then two courses beyond the college's diversification requirements in STEM) and the one-credit-hour capstone seminar.
The program requires all students to take a three-course core: an introductory survey, a topical seminar, and a one-credit senior capstone seminar. The core strengthens community among the students and affiliated faculty, while also giving students concentration-specific practical experience in producing the kind of STEM content valued by the concentration. Students begin with CSC 200, a gateway course in which they gain foundational knowledge through exposure to the many modes of STEM communication. Concentrators then move on to CSC 300, where they investigate one of those modes in depth with a visiting professor of practice. The core ends with CSC 400, the capstone seminar, in which students work closely with a faculty member on a project for publication.
- The first course, CSC 200: "Introduction to STEM Communication" offers a survey of the field in its maximal plurality and is team-taught by a pair of faculty members, one inside and one outside STEM. This course is offered once every academic year and is open to all students, regardless of whether they plan to pursue the concentration. In this course, students gain experience in producing STEM content in several different forms: magazine articles, poems, information graphics, and podcasts, for example. This course is as close as the concentration gets to offering a practicum.
- The second course: CSC 300: "Topics in STEM Communication," is taught by a single professor, from either inside or outside STEM, and focuses on a special topic from within the faculty member's area of expertise. Whenever possible, CSC 300 is taught by a visiting faculty member, a professor of practice, who works outside of academia in STEM communication, as an artist, poet, journalist, grant writer, etc. CSC 300 may be cross-listed in another department and is offered, minimally, once every two years. In this course, students explore a single topic in depth with a working professional. If there is no visiting professor of practice available, an affiliated professor can offer CSC 300 as cross-listed with a relevant special topics course that lives in that professor's home department.
- The third requirement, CSC 400: "Senior Capstone Seminar," is a one-credit course taken during the senior fall, to assist in the conception and development of the capstone project, which is due just after the spring break. This course meets once a week for an hour and exists to offer some structure and community to what is essentially an independent research project. CSC 400 is offered every fall, guided by a faculty member on the CSC steering committee who has some expertise in the development of undergraduate research, taught as an overload, and generates a course release for the faculty member once every three installments.
Two tracks and three distribution areas for electives
There are two paths through the concentration: a Translations track, for students with political, journalistic, or academic aspirations, which requires a significant investment in one particular STEM discipline, and an Expressions track, for students with creative aspirations, which requires a minimum of two STEM courses (in addition to the college's diversification requirement in STEM). Those two additional STEM courses can be a 100-level and a 200-level course in the same STEM department, or two 100-level courses in two different STEM departments. In both tracks, students must complete the above three-course core.
Both CSC tracks focus on the generation of ideas and on the development of good judgement through interdisciplinary study. Students are educated as mediators who have to make judicious decisions about which STEM content to convey and how to convey that content appropriately to different audiences.
Students on the Translations track must take two elective courses from two of the three thematic lists: either one literature course (I) and one STS course (II), or two STS courses (II). Though not explicitly required, it is highly recommended that students on the Translations track take a statistics, psychometrics, or data science course.
Students on the Expressions track also must take two distribution courses from two of the three thematic lists: either one literature course (I) and one creative arts course (III), or two creative arts courses (III). Though not explicitly required, it is highly recommended that students on the Expressions track take additional courses in the creative arts.
Many of the courses that count toward the completion of the CSC will count toward students' primary majors as well.
(I) Fundamental themes: literature and science electives. The English literature courses in this distribution area ask students to analyze culturally significant texts that engage fundamental STEM-related themes in the humanities. Here are some sample courses in this distribution area. Exact offerings will vary by institution.
(II) The social context of science: history, philosophy, and sociology of science (science and technology studies/STS) electives. The courses in this distribution area ask students to critically assess the presuppositions of the scientific method and the historical and philosophical reasons why we extend so much epistemic and, thus, social power to the STEM disciplines. Here are some sample courses in this distribution area. Exact offerings will vary by institution.
(III) Personal expression: creative arts electives. The courses in this distribution area teach students how to produce their own, original STEM-related content. Here are some sample courses in this distribution area. Exact offerings will vary by institution.
The senior capstone
In the senior year, concentrators work closely with two faculty advisors, one from a STEM field and one from outside of STEM, to produce for publication a work of original STEM communication--a magazine article, fiction or non-fiction book, art exhibit, video, podcast, series of infographics, grant, press release, documentary, website, etc. If possible, the faculty advisors of the senior capstone will be the instructors of the cohort's CSC 200.
Throughout the fall of the senior year, students work as a community in the one-credit CSC 400 seminar with a single faculty member from the CSC steering committee to define their projects. Each project must be ready to present in symposium to the campus CSC community by the end of the spring break.
Graduates of the CSC pursue advanced degrees in creative writing, journalism, technical communication, communication studies, radio tv and film, public relations, and marketing. Graduates also pursue professional careers in science journalism, fiction and non-fiction creative writing, public relations for STEM foundations and corporations, academic grant writing, political and legal briefing, consulting, and textbook publishing.
Sample progression through the concentration for an English major on the "Expressions" track
CSC 200: Introduction to STEM Communication
BIOL 1xx: Energy and Information in Living Systems (This course is in addition to the college's diversification requirements in STEM.)
BIOL 2xx: Evolution (This course also is in addition to the college's diversification requirements in STEM.)
ENGL 3xx: Science Fiction and Fantasy
CSC 3xx: Topics in Science Communication
ENGL 2xx: Creative Writing
CSC 400: Science Writing Capstone Seminar
Sample progression through the concentration for a biology major on the "Translations" track
STEM majors typically come with AP credits in their introductory sciences, so they can enroll in 200-level STEM courses during their first year. They often discover their interests in non-STEM disciplines only later on in their college careers.
CSC 200: Introduction to STEM Communication
CSC 300: Topics in Science Communication
PHIL 2xx: Philosophy of Science
POSC 3xx: Global Environmental Politics
CSC 400: Science Writing Capstone Seminar
Part 2: Ethics Credential for Undergraduate STEM Majors
Program Design & Assessment
A series of seminars and experiences in ethical learning that translates humanistic foundational knowledge into the STEM realm related to 1) conducting research responsibly, 2) the historical underpinnings of science and engineering in society, and 3) personal decision making for people with STEM careers will formally complement the experiences of STEM majors. Seminars will take advantage of existing resources and can be embedded in individual courses, in programs across years, or in a year or semester across disciplines. Experiences can be tailored for local resources. Credentialling activities and assessment guidelines are [will be] made publicly available through the Online Ethics Center.
The program was developed to provide a clear training and learning option in ethics for STEM majors, that incorporates national resources with guidelines for local activities that can be provided by faculty with either extensive experience or little experience in the field. A goal is development of ethical thinking alongside STEM content knowledge. The credential could be offered within a gateway course, alongside senior project/research experiences, or as a 1-credit, interdisciplinary seminar course. Because one of the learning outcomes encourages students to address the gray areas within the fields, it may be a richer experience for more senior students. However, it could also be used to help lower-division students explore the challenges of working within a fields that are unlikely to always have one, single answer.
Assessing Program Outcomes
The outcomes and experiences try to address students knowing, acting and valuing of the content as well as identifying the challenging aspects of learning in this space. There is not always one right answer. Assessment of foundational knowledge (LO 1, LO 2) will be primarily based on completion of modules and knowledge/recognition quizzes, which could be done automatically. Most aspects of meta and humanistic knowledge incorporated in this context are better addressed through experiences, reflections, writing, observation of interactions/discussions, and presentations, all of which would need to be assessed by a human with the support of rubrics. Rubrics related to student work would gauge knowledge of and comfort with the material as well as depth of questioning and connections beyond basic knowledge.
The three areas of content knowledge can be addressed through existing materials (typically recorded webinars or podcasts or written materials) or through locally developed lectures.
- Conducting Research Ethically: Professional Conduct & Responsibility: Sample materials/training can come from the NSF's RECR training: https://www.nsf.gov/od/recr.jsp, the home institution's IRB, the Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science, https://www.onlineethics.org/, and CITI training modules.
- The Philosophy, History, and Sociology of STEM: Content should address the proper role of scientific expertise within a democracy, ethical problem cases from the history of STEM, peer review and disagreement, scientific objectivity, external influences on scientific research, paradigm shifts, engineering design, modeling in STEM, observation, confirmation, explanation and prediction, etc. Local expertise can come from humanities and/or social science departments.
- Living Ethically as a Scientist: Content should address personal decision-making and processes that can be used for personal decision making related to life, work, and citizenship. Local expertise can come from faculty and a wide range of community members.
The three areas of foundational content knowledge will be addressed through webinars and readings.
Students will gain meta knowledge through discourse, community observations, and/or volunteer activity, such as participation on an IRB, shadowing a hospital chaplain, or interviewing a practicing engineer.
Students will gain humanistic knowledge through story sharing, both fiction and non-fiction. This learning may influence person decisions such as whether to pursue an industrial, academic, or government career, how to balance life and work. Stories may come from individuals such as program alums, faculty and administrators, Career Services or counseling center staff, and practicing health professionals, scientists, or engineers, or they could come from literary works of fiction and non-fiction.
Content Knowledge Details
Conducting Research Ethically: Professional Conduct & Responsibility
Sample materials/training can come from the NSF's RECR training: https://www.nsf.gov/od/recr.jsp, the home institution's IRB, the Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science, https://www.onlineethics.org/, and CITI training modules.
The Philosophy, History, and Sociology of STEM
Content should address the proper role of scientific expertise within a democracy, ethical problem cases from the history of STEM, peer review and disagreement, scientific objectivity, external influences on scientific research, paradigm shifts, engineering design, modeling in STEM, observation, confirmation, explanation and prediction, etc.
Living Ethically as a Scientist
Content should address personal decision-making and processes that can be used for personal decision making related to life, work, and citizenship.
- Webinars, documentaries, thought-provoking films (e.g., Dear Scientists...), videos of scientists and engineers discussing why and how they are a scientist/engineer.
- Lectures, e.g., bioethics and the distribution of health care costs; scientists studying social phenomena (e.g., https://mappingprejudice.umn.edu/)
- Readings, e.g., brief readings that define ethical frameworks or readings that support a specific topic (see A. Bradner's module on incorporating bioethics into a STEM course QALY module for STEM Futures.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 74kB Oct23 20).)
All components are recommended. Modify for local context.
- Conversations (online or face-to-face): Topics from the webinars, lectures and readings can be discussed in a variety of ways. Some examples include processing of case studies; following an ethical framework to make low-stakes or high-stakes personal decisions; discussion of a work of fiction with similar analysis of decision-making; reviewing redacted IRB applications, particularly for student-led research (would the group approve this project?).
- Setting up observations: Institutional Review Board participation, shadowing of practitioners, interviewing of practitioners. Need guided questions for observations and for interviews. Incorporate perspectives and awareness of populations (whose voices are included?)
- Setting up volunteer activity: Consider how to serve as a volunteer acknowledging expertise of both volunteer and members of the community being served. (Avoid pitfalls of setting up volunteers as "saviors".) Pull materials from local service learning resources (e.g., https://serc.carleton.edu/introgeo/service/index.html).
- Bringing in story tellers: Invited speakers from a range of perspectives (support connections to equity, social justice and inclusion). Address issues of both personal and professional decisions.
- Assign readings/movies/ that focus on story or narrative and weave together personal and professional decisions (include links to work highlighting others' use in these areas). (Suggested stories and discussion prompts can be found in these (and other) papers: https://peer.asee.org/35180, https://peer.asee.org/34586 and https://peer.asee.org/17433.)
- Create an interview process: Modeled on pre-created interviews with scientists and engineers, have a class consider what questions they would ask to define a set of questions, have students interview practitioners, return to discuss a variety of answers, and then reflect (written) on how they would want to answer these questions in five years.