This chapter explores the challenges associated with teaching the principles of socio-technical systems in the dynamic climate that characterizes work in today’s—and tomorrow’s—world. Avoiding a “socio-technical gap” involves preparing the designers of tomorrow in such a way that they can anticipate society’s future needs and technology’s future potential and prospective peril. By way of a narrative that draws on the author’s own experiences teaching social informatics (SI) as part of an information studies degree program, this chapter discuss how her own research perspective in relation to socio-technical and social networking systems coevolves with the classroom experience. The case study offers examples of tutorial activities and assessments to illustrate how the suggested approach to teaching and learning can be applied in an STS classroom.
Habits are useful but they can also be deadly. They are useful when the conditions in which they work are predictable and stable. But what happens if and when the bottom falls out of the stable social world in and for which we learn? Is it possible that learning itself—learning as we have come to enact it habitually—may no longer be particularly useful? Could it be that the very habits that have served us so well in stable times might actually become impediments to social success, even to social survival?
—McWilliam, 2005, pp 2Top
Challenges Facing Teachers Of Socio-Technical Courses
Teaching practices associated with the education of students in the area of socio-technical design and social networking systems challenge both the teachers and the learners to move beyond conventional analytical/creative dichotomies. The pace of change is such that whatever we are teaching about design and socio-technical systems today is likely to be overrun by outcomes in research and practice by the time our students enter the workforce. With the rapidity of change in digital environments, graduates are increasingly called upon to devise imaginative solutions to organisational and social challenges.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Fabulation: Gough (2004) describes fabulations as bringing the unthinkable into representation; they are fictions that offer a world clearly and radically discontinuous from the one we know. He cites Scholes (1976) who adds that: “in works of structural fabulation the tradition of speculative fiction is modified by an awareness of the nature of the universe as a system of systems, a structure of structures, and the insights of the past century of science are accepted as fictional points of departure … It is a fictional exploration of human situations made perceptible by the implications of recent science.” (Scholes, 1976, pp 54-55 as cited by Gough, 2004, pp256).
Social Informatics (SI): “the interdisciplinary study of the design, uses and consequences of information technologies that takes into account their interaction with institutional and cultural contexts.”(Kling, 1999)
Collaboratory: a form of online collaboration; sometimes referred to as a “centre without walls” a collaboratory is an environment to support teams in communication and collaboration, using digital collections for access and dissemination of information and knowledge. Schleyer (2001, pp 1508) describes it as: “An information technology infrastructure that supports cooperation among individuals, groups or organizations in pursuit of a shared goal by facilitating interaction, communication, and knowledge-sharing.”
Speculative Fiction: can be related to a range of narrative forms that invite speculation about future possibilities and prospective responses to current situations. Writers and theorists like Donna Haraway, Ursula Le Guin and Noel Gough, for example, draw connections between a number of SF phrases: speculative fiction, science fiction, science fantasy, speculative futures, speculative fabulation. Gough uses the term in association with the notion of the fabulation.
Serious Play: “…that special kind of intense learning experience in which both adults and children voluntarily devote enormous amounts of time, energy and commitment and at the same time derive great enjoyment from experience.” (Rieber et al, 1998, pp29).