Teaching STS: Where iPhones come from…


Anyone teaching STS or related areas knows that a good reading is sometimes hard to find, especially if you’re not teaching graduate classes. Let’s face it, while you or I might love to discuss Law’s Portuguese ships or Akrich’s photovoltaic cells, students probably would rather hear about cell phones or electric cars (although, probably not Callon’s 1987 paper about them).

One solution I’ve come to is the “listening assignment” and here is why: readings in STS are geared almost entirely to advanced students, hence, we need more introductory materials that are direct, dynamic, and, per my preference, not second-hand regurgitation of more complex materials (even thought that is valuable for other reasons), and so I’ve started to incorporate “listening assignments” in place of a few reading assignments. Surely, students do read in my courses, but I’ve been trying this out for the last few semesters, and it has been sort of neat.

In listening assignments, students listen to a radio show or a pod cast, and that becomes the “baseline” for the day’s lesson and discussion.

I just found this about where iPhones come from, which will make a great listening assignment given that its well done and that students have an almost unending curiosity about (and attention span for) phones. This opens the door for discussion about the ethics of consumption, multinational corporations, conflict minerals, etc.

If you use it or try out a listening assignment, let me know, I’d love to discuss it over e-mail: njr12@psu.edu

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