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Narrative-Based Learning Activities for Science Ethics Education: an Affordance Perspective


Boasting a wide range of interactive and engaging features, narrative-based learning has become increasingly popular in educational settings. Narrative-based instructional approaches engage students in a novel set of engaging experiences for educational purposes. Although it is not a new concept, the implications of narrative-based learning for science ethics education are still understudied in the learning sciences. In this paper, we use the concept of educational affordances to describe how educators and learners could utilize narrative-based learning activities for science ethics education. We illustrate our educational framework through the example of Frankenstein200 — a learning experience inspired by Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein. Based on short essays describing students’ perceptions of the Frankenstein200 experience, we propose that narrative-based learning activities afford the development of two distinct mental models: doing responsible science and being a responsible scientist. These mental models can serve as important tools for learners to develop a more concrete and elaborated understanding of science ethics. The framework will help educators create narrative-based learning experiences, activities, and artifacts to support their students’ engagement with science ethics across diverse mediums.

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  1. This number only includes those students who returned their parental permission forms. Data from fifteen students was not included since their parental permission forms were not returned.


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This research was conducted as part of the Frankenstein Bicentennial Project at Arizona State University.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1516684.

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Correspondence to Peter Nagy.

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All procedures performed in this study adhere to the ethical guidelines of Arizona State University’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) under the identification code STUDY00008759.

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Appendix 1 Description of the Frankenstein200 online narrative game experience

Frankenstein200 game episode Description
Episode 1 Players meet Mya, who welcomes them to L.I.F.E. and shares her current research on DNA testing. She confides that she had her own DNA checked. But what she finds is strange and disturbing; she hurriedly signs off, clearly shaken by whatever she discovered
Episode 2 Players help the other researcher, Xavier, with his project on AI and chatbots. Xavier believes bots can take over lots of everyday tasks—soon they will be building things for us, driving our cars, and cooking our dinners
Episode 3 Mya tells students about chimeras—organisms that have DNA from more than one source—and wonders if she might be one too
Episode 4 Xavier finally gets the chatbot working. He shows off some fun interactions with her, and then tells players he has hooked her up to the website so they can interact with her too
Episode 5 Mya has the results of her extended DNA tests, and they show that her genome is riddled with strange entries that are not human
Episode 6 The AI chatbot begins to behave weirdly, and Xavier is convinced that he is responsible. Mya shares the DNA test results with him. Mya and Xavier enlist students’ help in searching for clues that might unravel the mystery
Episode 7 The AI chatbot has died and Xavier is heartbroken. He blames himself, and asks Mya to help discover why
Episode 8 Mya and Xavier discover that, before the chatbot died, she left them a clue. With students’ help, they discover the key to unlocking the mystery of Mya’s strange DNA—proof that the person responsible was Tori
Episode 9 Xavier apologizes to Mya, and together they confront Tori, demanding she fully reveal what is going on. Tori reveals the truth—Mya, herself, is an experiment
Episode 10 Mya reaches out to players for help. She doesn ot know what she should do—if she lets Tori continue experimenting on her, she could learn more about what she really is, but she doesn’t trust Tori. If she runs away, she will be leaving everything behind for an uncertain future, and Tori might try to pursue and recapture her. Students have the opportunity to choose how the game ends

Appendix 2 Hands-on activities used in the Frankenstein200 school research project

Hands-on activity Description
Scribbler The scribbler is a mini-robot that students create using an electric toothbrush motor, a foam pool-noodle piece, and markers that draw designs on paper. Participants in the activity are guided through the creation process and asked to reflect on questions such as, “Is your scribbler really alive?”; “Are its scribbles ‘art’? If so, who is the artist—you or your creature?”; and, “What if your scribbler turned on by itself and drew on something important? As its creator, would you be responsible?”
Dough Creature Dough Creature uses play dough to learn about electronics and circuits. Using two types of homemade play dough, a battery pack, and an LED light, students create simple circuits. After completing the activity, students are given a discussion card and encouraged to ask each other reflection questions (e.g., “Why did some of the circuits work and some not? What did you learn from this activity? What would your creature do if it was alive?”)
FrankenToy A FrankenToy is a stuffed animal created by recombining elements of existing stuffed animals. After creating their toys, students are given a conversation sheet and encouraged to talk in their small groups and ask questions like, “Could your creature be real? Why or why not? Would your creature have friends? Could it be dangerous?”
Handmade Hand Handmade Hands are simple robotic limbs made out of cardstocks, pieces of straws, tape, and strings. After creating their handmade hands, students are asked to reflect on questions such as
“What could you use your mechanical hand for? If you were designing a real robot, what would it do? How would it change your life—and other people’s lives? How would you make sure that your robot is not dangerous?”

Appendix 3 Registration page for the Frankenstein200 online narrative game experience

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Mawasi, A., Nagy, P., Finn, E. et al. Narrative-Based Learning Activities for Science Ethics Education: an Affordance Perspective. J Sci Educ Technol 31, 16–26 (2022).

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