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Science, Technology and Society - Syllabus

  • CS-282, England Program, Spring 2011
  • Charlie Peck, charliep at cs dot earlham dot edu
  • Andrew Fitz Gibbon (teaching assistant), fitz at cs dot earlham dot edu


There is a long history of advances in science and technology shaping the development of human societies. The pace of change driven by technological and scientific advances continues to increase, to the point where those advances are now the defining feature of modern life. This course will examine some of the major milestones of science and discovery and their effects on human societies.

We'll consider the principle discoveries and developments in a wide range of natural science and allied disciplines over the past 300 years or so. As part of this we'll examine the changes those developments and discoveries engendered in society. With this historical context we'll then consider what scientific and technological developments the (relatively near) future may bring and what their effects on human society might be. We'll also look at how society drives science and scientific discovery through Citizen Science projects.

England was the location of many of the important scientific advances we'll examine, London is also one of the places with a concentration of people that think and write about the future of science, technology and society.

The bulk of the work for this course will be reading, discussion, labs, and writing assignments. There will be some lectures but not large quantities of them. This is a four credit course, we'll meet twice a week for 2 hours each plus about four field trips. Some of the other trips we'll take during the program will include small components of material related to this class as well. Science and technology are all around us, we'll leverage that during this class.

This course fulfills the non--lab Scientific Inquiry and Quantitative Reasoning general education requirements.


There are two texts for this course:

  • Robert Hazen and James Trefil, Science Matters , Anchor; Reprint edition (June 2, 2009), ISBN-13: 978-0307454584
  • Rudi Volti, Society and Technological Change , Worth Publishers; Sixth Edition edition (March 6, 2009), ISBN-13: 978-1429221214

I expect that you will have acquired these books before arriving in London in January. Both are readily available from e.g. Amazon. Be sure you have the correct editions of both texts.

We'll also read articles or chapters written by some of the following people:

  • Alvin Toffler
  • Richard Dawkins
  • Rachel Carson
  • Bill Bryson
  • Malcolm Gladwell
  • Ray Kurzweil
  • Howard Rheingold

I will provide you with copies of these at the appropriate times.

Field Trips

As part of this course we'll visit a number of places related to the history of science and technology in England. Darwin's home, the site of the first mashup, and the Royal Observatory in Greenwich among them. These trips will be done in the context of our readings and labs, e.g. when we visit Greenwich we'll work on a lab that incorporates the measurement of time and distance, building on Harrison's work to develop a method for determining longitude.


There will be four types of assignments for this class: readings, exercises, labs, and writing.


We'll have regular reading assignments from the texts and from the other sources listed above. We'll discuss those readings as part of our class meetings and during our field trips.


Periodically we will work on exercises related to the readings, most of these will require you to learn about particular scientific or technological concepts and demonstrate a basic understanding of them.


In order to learn how science is practiced and the strengths and weaknesses of the scientific method this course will incorporate a number of labs. Given that we'll have somewhat limited facilities and equipment these will typically involve using fairly basic tools, but as you will see it is possible to do a significant amount of science without sophisticated laboratories and instruments.


Each week I'll ask a question or two about the material we're covering and ask you to respond in an on--line journal. I'll provide you with a web--based mechanism for these journals so that it's easy for you to write them and for me to read them without the hassle of printing them on paper.

Term paper

During the second half of the semester each of you will choose a topic, either from a list I provide or of your own choosing (vetted by me), to research and write a 8--10 page paper about. I will give you a fair amount of latitude when choosing a topic as long as it's within the bounds of the material we are covering for the course. This will be a survey paper, which assumes a lay audience.


Your grade for this class will be determined using the following rubric:

  1. Exercises - 25%
  2. Labs - 25%
  3. Journal - 15%
  4. Term paper - 20%
  5. Class participation - 15%

My definition of class participation is showing-up, doing the work, and actively engaging your fellow students and myself in the enterprise of learning.


Please let me know as early in the semester as possible if there are any adaptations or accommodations you require, if there is any emergency medical information I should know about, or if you might need special arrangements in the case the building needs to be evacuated, etc . The Earlham policy is:

  • Any student with a documented disability (e.g., physical, learning, psychiatric, vision, hearing, etc.) who needs to arrange reasonable accommodations must contact Academic Support Services and the instructor at the beginning of each semester. Accommodation arrangements must be made during the first-two weeks of the semester.

It is important to follow this procedure.