Creating STS Spaces and Disciplinary Dialogue Through Teaching


We have found that, for us, successfully doing STS in STEM spaces requires developing the capacity for disciplinary dialogue and creative translation—honoring the intent and values of different disciplinary practices and languages while finding ways for these to travel across boundaries. At the same time, we operate within institutional and market-based power dynamics that privilege STEM. After all, we are not talking about doing STEM in STS spaces. We want STS ways of thinking, doing, and making to travel into STEM spaces and be recognized, valued, and taken up. At least, this is one way that STS can make a difference. One of the places that STS often has some entry point for doing this is in the classroom. This can be particularly effective if STS isn’t relegated to the proverbial single required ethics course taught by an outsider, but is rather an integrated part of the curriculum. 

We are thrilled to have this opportunity for integration within the School of Integrated Sciences at James Madison University, where we teach in an ABET-accredited applied science program that has a social contexts team. The program has faculty with degrees in the social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering, and our offices on campus are all together. Faculty on the social contexts team teach two required foundations-level courses (Technology, Science, and Society; and Governance of Sociotechnical Systems). Additionally, we have opportunities to co-teach with our STEM colleagues in upper division courses as well as the freedom to offer upper division courses. For example, York co-teaches a yearlong 300-level sequence on holistic problem solving focused on the topic of “privacy in a connected world” with a colleague, Ahmad Salman, whose disciplinary background is computer engineering. Conley co-teaches a bioethics course with colleagues who have disciplinary backgrounds in law and biotechnology, as well as a 400-level capstone preparation sequence with a colleague whose disciplinary background is mechanical engineering. 

Nevertheless, we felt that establishing an STS lab would further validate the social contexts part of the curriculum, provide opportunities for students to further engage STS and conduct independent research with us, and facilitate our work developing multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary collaborations and developing innovative STS pedagogies. To this end, after piloting our lab for over a year, we submitted a space proposal asking for a dedicated space. This request was accommodated, and we now have a dedicated space.

We also recognize that many STS faculty are teaching in spaces that may not be STS programs but are also not STEM programs. While the power dynamics might vary, we think that STS as an inherently interdisciplinary field is at its best when it is engaged in dialogue across disciplinary boundaries, and that one space to do this is in the classroom. We also think STS has the capacity to create unique and highly relevant pedagogical innovations that could be effective in many different teaching contexts. To further develop STS pedagogies, we hope to forge a strong community across geographic and disciplinary boundaries that is invested in developing STS pedagogies.


Creative Commons Licence


Contributed date

August 28, 2019 - 9:38am

Critical Commentary

This artifact describes some of the infrastructures that enable and constrain STS pedagogies. We hope to develop a strong community of STS teacher scholars invested in STS pedagogies, and we have found in our own situation creating STS spaces while also embracing multidisciplinary dialogue have supported our work.



Group Audience

Cite as

Emily York and Shannon N. Conley, "Creating STS Spaces and Disciplinary Dialogue Through Teaching", contributed by Emily York, STS Infrastructures, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 28 August 2019, accessed 23 July 2024.