Ecologies and Materiality

Group Members: Sammy, Noel, Chumou, & Alexis

Theme: Ecologies & Materiality

What was your lesson about? Were there specific questions, interests or themes driving the lesson?

Our lesson targeted questions like, “are you more likely to do something about a problem when it surrounds you”, “what will you do now that you’ve been exposed to this information?”

We wanted to provoke people with visuals that made people question how they spend their money and time on technology. We covered topics such as e-waste, rare earth materials, how technology and humans affect the environment, and the dependency we have on smart technology. 

How did you do it? How was the lesson structured? Were there any activities you designed?


To exchange ideas and create our lesson plan, we met 4 different times for about an hour on zoom. Each meeting, we came prepared with more information and references.

Trolley Dilemma

To find a sense of balance, we decided to divide lecturing and discussion with activities and visuals. We began by introducing the trolley dilemma to set the mindset of the class, so that we could then circle back and pose the scenario again as a “modern trolley dilemma’, making us choose digital tools or people.

Multiple Choice Group Activity

After giving the class this context of having detrimental choices, we sent out a link for everyone to answer multiple choice questions. The questions were formatted so that choice (a) would be more technologically inclined and choice (b) was the opposite. 

Example questions:

When preparing a new recipe I prefer to use:

  1. A video to help navigate me through the recipe
  2. A cookbook

In order to have prior knowledge about natural disasters or bad weather:

  1. I prefer to receive a bad weather alert
  2. i’ll read a newspaper OR I’ll react when it happens 

We read the questions outloud to keep us all at the same pace to allow for fun commentary from the students. At the end, we revealed that the higher their score was, the more inclined they are to depend on technology. The average score was pretty obvious, considering the context of the class. We wanted for this moment to emphasize our dependency and establish this before seeing some disturbing photos that are the consequences of this.

Breakout Rooms with Photos

We then broke out into 2 rooms for 12 minutes so that there could be more space for the students to guess the context of each photo. Following guesses or awkward silence, the two group members in each room would reveal the context of the image, forcing us all to confront there horrifying circumstances that we may be unaware of. 

Class Discussion

We continued the discussion that these photos sparked in the main room, and found our way back to the ‘modern trolley dilemma.’ This caused lots of discomfort and guilt. As a group there was a feeling of helplessness, as we didn’t know what the solution was considering the field of study that we are in. After some back and forth, we interjected to take us on a more positive route so that we could leave the class feeling empowered instead.

Future Solutions

We began our positive conclusion by showing the efforts of big companies such as Google are making to try and reduce e-waste. We dissected the ways that these companies may be promoting their products with environmental intentions but may be just saving money and making more profit. It’s difficult to understand the true intentions of these companies. A great example given by Vince during class was that Apple Airpods alone make an equal profit to Netflix’s whole company – crazy!

We then gave a fantasy-solution-scenario of ‘thrifting technology.’ We proposed that technology could one day be thrifted by most users to reduce waste, the way thrifted clothing has been made trendy. Trendsetters tricked the market into shopping sustainably, once the overflow of clothing became widely known. Why isn’t it likely that the new trend in 2080 will be to thrift a flip phone, get the battery replaced, and have that be your new phone? 

The question that we addressed was ‘are people more likely to do something about a problem when it surrounds them?’ The devastating photos we saw in the breakout rooms for example, would people be more likely to be more concerned about e-waste if it was next to their home?

Connection to Covid-19

To really bring it home in our conclusion, we discussed the positive effects technology has had on the pandemic. We shared the ways that technology helped us get to where we are today – vaccinations and getting closer to normal life. We wanted this to uplift the class so we could leave our conversation feeling empowered.

Contributions of each group member:

Noel: Trolley dilemma idea with an introduction and visuals, assigning pre work assignment, photos and google map example with information for breakout rooms, helping out with multiple choice questions, and adding links in reference document

Alexis: Photos with information for breakout rooms, helping out with multiple choice questions, research on how big companies are finding ways to fix the large-scale e-waste problem, ⅓ positive solutions conclusion, and adding links in reference document

Sammy: Facilitating the group for flow of topics, photos with information for breakout rooms, helping out with multiple choice, ⅓ of positive solutions conclusion (thrifting technology scenario) with video visual, adding links and organizing the reference document, blog post

Chumou: Assigning pre work video, creation of multiple choice questions, responsible for the logistics of the multiple choice website, photos with information for breakout rooms, Covid-19 related visuals and information for ⅓ of conclusion with Noel

We worked so well together! Our exchange of ideas flowed smoothly, and it was such a lovely experience.

Why did you choose to do this? 

We were inspired by the readings from the previous week, Anatomy of an AI by Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler and Re-thingifying the Internet of Things by Jennifer Gabrys. While reading those works, we were all really struck by how much society’s need for technology was harming the Earth. This was something that we recognized wasn’t talked about as much as it should and we wanted to bring to light these issues while also talking about some of the more positive things technology has done for us and some of the ways that other companies are trying to do their part to fix the system. We thought our discussion and activities would bring out a powerful discussion about something that people won’t feel comfortable talking about, but also give them hope for the future in ways that they might be able to contribute to the solution and have them think more about the ways that they are using their technology.

What were the goals of the lesson?

The purpose of this session is to rethink our responsibility as designers or users of technology by discussing the negative and positive effects that technology products have on people and the environment. Think about what changes we can make in the creation, purchase, use and recycling of technology products.

How do you think it went? Did everything go as planned? Were there any surprises? If you ran this lesson again, would you do anything different?

The class went great! Our flow of topics went as planned, and we got the class rattled up in the subject matter. People responded passionately, kept the conversation going, and felt genuinely concerned about the problems we put forth. This responsiveness and engagement was a relief since lots of our lesson was discussion based.

If we could do anything differently, we’d probably put more thought into what went after the multiple choice activity, since the outcome was pretty similar for everyone. Maybe we could have had a 2nd engaging activity as a group to respond to the multiple choice results.

Document with Links and Resources:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s