torsdag 14 juli 2016

At Odds with a Worldview

This is blog post #3 in my "summer spillover series" (here is #2). I'm currently on vacation but this blog post is about something I "should" have written about when it happened (two weeks ago) - before I went on vacation.

My ex-UCI colleagues Bonnie Nardi, Bill Tomlinson and Don Patterson were in contact with the editors of the journal Interactions (Ron Wakkary and Erik Stolterman) some two and a half months ago and got a go-ahead for putting together a special issue focusing on "teaching sustainability". The special issue will consist of a brief introduction by Bill, Bonnie and Don ("The Troika") and three featured articles of about 2750 words each. The Troika will write one article, Me and Elina Eriksson have been invited to write another article and the final article will be written by Samuel Mann and Lesley Smith (from NZ).

Me and Elina thought this was a great idea and we submitted a draft of our article a few week ago. The draft title of the article is "At Odds with a Worldview - Teaching Limits at a technical university" and if everything works out for the best, it will be published in the October-November issue of Interactions Magazine. Here is some boilerplate info about Interactions from their homepage:

"ACM Interactions magazine is a mirror on the human-computer interaction and interaction design communities and beyond. It is a multiplicity of conversations, collaborations, relationships, and new discoveries focusing on how and why we interact with the designed world of technologies. Interactions has a special voice that lies between practice and research with an emphasis on making engaging human-computer interaction research accessible to practitioners and on making practitioners' voices heard by researchers.

The magazine is published bi-monthly by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the largest educational and scientific computing society in the world. Interactions is the flagship magazine for the ACM's Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI), with a global circulation that includes all SIGCHI members."

It is the case that that The Troika got the idea of putting together a special issue on teaching sustainability as an effect of writing the paper that they presented at Limits'16, "A Report from an Online Course on Global Disruption and Information Technology".

At my request, Bill wrote a 250 words long introduction to frame what The Troika wants/imagines the special issue to be about. I then took Bill's formulations and massaged them a little so that mine and Elina's proposed "specification" for our piece became as follows:

"The prevailing model [in education] is one of “vanilla sustainability” in which sustainability goals are pursued within a conventional industrialized model, but it may not be a viable path. Models of sustainability that much more vigorously challenge students’ previously uninterrogated assumptions about the world are needed."

The result is our proposed article "At Odds with a Worldview - Teaching Limits at a technical university"

The article doesn't really have an abstract but here are some selected quotes that will give you a feeling for what it's about:

"In this paper, we will first elaborate on two different approaches to addressing and teaching engineering (computing) students about the environmental and other challenges presented above. We have here chosen to call these two approaches “vanilla” and “strong” sustainability.
many cases, especially in engineering educations, the foremost stance is to present problems in such a way that they become possible to solve through picking low-hanging fruit in the form of energy efficiency, incremental technological innovations and by applying “human ingenuity”.
We have previously defined this stance in terms of “vanilla sustainability” (Pargman and Eriksson 2013), a perspective where mitigation strategies are employed to avoid calamity and where the problems might be severe, but where they will somehow still always be manageable. It could be that this perspective is especially attractive to students (and professionals) in the information and computing sciences since it both defines the problem of sustainability as 1) manageable and relatively easy to solve and 2) as a problem that someone else will solve (someone working with transportation, energy, pollution, planning, policy etc.).
Strong sustainability ... challenges the sustainability (or indeed the possibility) of everyone striving to take on Western lifestyles, or, even for us Westerners to maintain current lifestyles.
Ultimately, the goal for us is to teach students a perspective that they will not only practice in their own lives but that they will also act as change agents and affect and convince others to work towards the endeavor of building a more sustainable society both in their private as well as their professional lives. ... In the best of possible worlds, we would like them to act as “tempered radicals” (Meyerson and Scully 1995), both maintaining a technologist identity while simultaneously identifying as change agents on behalf of strong sustainability."

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