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Are you a cyborg?

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The activity described in this case study was delivered through the School-University Partnerships Initiative (SUPI). Funded by Research Councils UK, SUPI involves 12 universities working in partnership with local schools, with coordination support from the NCCPE. SUPI projects aim to develop more effective engagements between researchers and school pupils, and to inspire a broader range of pupils to develop inquiring minds by engaging them in a diversity of exciting hands-on research related activities.

This case study explores one of the activities run for A-Level Psychology pupils by the University of Exeter hosted SUPI project.

  • Lead organisations
    • University of Exeter and Torquay Girls’ Grammar School
  • Project summary
    • In this activity, Dr Adam Toon (Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology and Egenis, the Centre for the Study of Life Sciences) worked together with Mrs Helen Brooke (Head of Psychology at Torquay Girls’ Grammar School) to deliver a class to students taking A-Level Psychology, entitled ‘Are you a cyborg?’. The topic for the class stemmed from Dr Toon’s current EU-funded research project, ‘Science as extended cognition: The role of material culture in scientific reasoning’, which aims to explore ways in which scientists’ reasoning depends upon external representations, tools and the laboratory environment.
  • Project aims
    • The aim of the class was to introduce the pupils to cutting-edge empirical work in psychology and cognitive science, as well as providing them with an opportunity to engage with contemporary philosophical discussion over the significance of this empirical work for our understanding of the nature of mind and cognition.
  • Project outputs
    • In the first part of the class, Dr Toon presented a range of recent empirical studies exploring the role of tools and the environment in many different cognitive tasks, from playing Tetris to fixing a bike. In the second part, students discussed a recent and highly controversial thesis in philosophy of mind, which claims that these empirical studies should lead us to conclude that our minds extend outside our heads, and even our bodies.
  • Project outcomes
    • Pupil comments revealed that the session had succeeded in engaging them with complex ideas, with feedback including ‘very interesting - makes you question the understanding of the mind’ and ‘good opportunities to give opinions and ask questions’.

    • Along with an accompanying class on the philosophy of science, this activity achieved a number of key project goals. By establishing a new relationship with the school, the project ensured a mutually beneficial partnership between the researcher and teacher, in which they were able to work together to provide stimulating activities for students, which brought cutting-edge research into the classroom at the same time as demonstrating its relevance to the students’ A-Level curriculum.

    • Dr Toon has since developed this workshop into a 2-hour event at the University of Exeter, organised as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science 2014. It was attended by around 45 sixth form students from Paignton Academy and Torquay Girls’ Grammar School. The event was well received by the students and received some excellent feedback, as well as some very useful suggestions for how to improve such an event in the future.
  • Keys to making it work
    • - Pitching material at the right level and creating a space for two-way dialogue.
    • - Not being afraid to tackle complex and challenging ideas with pupils.
    • - A good fit between researcher interests and the needs of schools.