Fall 2015


Jonathan Banda
Office: 234 Lane Hall (Bay 3, 2nd floor)
Hours: 1:00-3:00 W and by appointment.

James Collier
Office: 215 Lane Hall (Bay 1, 2nd floor)
Hours: 11:00-12:00 M,W and by appointment. I am happy to hold online meetings through your preferred chat program.

Kuan-Hung Lo
Office: 224 Lane Hall (Bay 2, 2nd floor)
Hours: 1:00-2:00 M and by appointment.

Anita Mbogoni
Office: 324 Lane Hall (Bay 2, 3nd floor)
Hours: 1:00-3:00 W and by appointment.

Course Description

Examines the nature and causes of environmental challenges. Focuses especially on the role of science and technology in the causation of environmental problems and provision of solutions. Investigates ethical debates and religious perspectives in the relationship between humanity and natural world. Explores visions of alternative futures.

Course Goals

• To analyze—through readings, discussions and written arguments—the complex and fascinating dynamic among humans, science and the environment;

• To question received notions and definitions of the environment, of science, of technology and of being human;

• To devise and practice conceptual approaches and strategies to the issues raised among humans, science and the environment.

Course Environment

We live and participate in ecosystems. And, for the purposes of coordinating our learning goals, we can understand ourselves as acting together not only in a natural ecosystem, but also in a digital ecosystem. These ecosystems, and others, help sustain our course.

Our course is, relatively speaking, large and complex. Given this complexity, we seek your insight and help in managing our resources and dynamics. A few observations and principles, then:

    • You will succeed in this class. You will succeed by attending regularly (much research draws a positive correlation between attendance and success) and participating in class. Class participation amplifies your presence. Attending and participating in Friday sessions, in particular, will lead to your success.

    • Please attend to your well-being. If you have any questions, or needs, related to the class, do not hesitate to contact any of the instructors.

    • Please attend to the well-being of others. We must work together to maintain a healthy balance in our ecosystem—a balance, in this instance, among humans and machines. By having all our readings available online, we invite you to use computers, tablets and like in the classroom. But the digital ecosystem requires our keen awareness. We respectfully request, then, that you use digital devices—avoiding the use of smart phones—to access only class-related material during our class meetings. We want to foster, and protect, a shared experience.

As the instructors of this course, we will work hard to make the class environment intellectually stimulating, meaningful and, hopefully, fun. We too often forget the true joy of exploring ideas. Together, our class will address some of most significant issues of our time. The outcome of these issues will determine, at least in part, our common human future.

Online Design

Well before the age of content management systems—like Canvas and Scholar—a few well-intentioned, often foolhardy and bewildered, educators made course websites. I (Collier) was among them. If you ask me during an unguarded moment of nostalgia and pride, I might argue that the first generation online course designers (we even had a MUD supporting online office hours), given their dedication to free, online experimentation, helped make Canvas and Scholar possible. Once in the habit of designing course websites, I continued to do so, despite (or perhaps because of) content management systems, both to organize classes to provide a public presence.

I find the romantic idea of an open democratic society on the Web hard to shake. Consequently, making a public website conveys a willingness to allow the use of our pedagogical materials and to encourage meaningful participation by an interested pubic.

While the digital execution of my pedagogical motives seems quite clear (and least to me), the practical execution of my intentions in our site's layout may not be as "crystalline" to the user. What follows, then, is a peek into my thinking (a bit scary, that) regarding how you might best access and use this site. So, allow me to make hash out of another common metaphor!

    The Course Website is our home.

    The Home Page is the front door through which one can, and perhaps should, enter the course. Please bookmark the home page and to access our course materials directly and not through Scholar (it being an entrance found through the garage, perhaps)—unless you so choose.

    The Course Calendar is the central room of our house. All of our activities run through the course calendar. Each time you come to our website, please consult the calendar first.

    Our Scholar site acts like a finished, well-appointed garage—a space for storage, the Resources folder and Dropbox for example, and to hang out and talk, the Messages and Wiki functions for example. Many neat tools inhabit the garage, but we may well prefer the comforts of our tiny house.

    Each assignment occupies their own room (see above the central drop-down menu). Still, if you will forgive the repetition, the course calendar guides us through our online resources.

    Our Twitter account—perhaps a chalkboard in the kitchen. We will use Twitter for at least two purposes: 1) To keep you informed of class activities; 2) To share information and stories from other media on matters related to the course.

Absent my more or less colorful description, please fully acquaint yourself with all the elements of the course website and Scholar and determine how you might best take advantage of the course resources and your learning goals through our online presence.

Story of the Course

This course resides in the Department of Science and Technology in Society (STS). STS (or Science Studies) offers a unique interdisciplinary approach, synthesized from resources in diverse academic disciplines, to issues involving science and technology. While the primary contributors to STS are history, philosophy and sociology, the field draws from disciplines such as anthropology, political science and psychology. The course was designed with an STS orientation in mind. A guiding premise of the field recognizes that science, technology and society do not possess sharp boundaries as we once thought; rather, science, technology and society develop in an intricate, long-standing and inseparable relation to one another. Understanding and, so, shaping this relation animates much STS research. A broader assumption supporting interdisciplinary inquiry is that the resources of any one discipline, philosophy say, are insufficient to account for what we want to know about science, technology and society—or the environment.

As you can see from the course title and description, we view the "nature and causes of environmental challenges" as the subject of interdisciplinary inquiry. Such inquiry, in the framework of STS, places emphasis on posing, and then reimagining, the questions we should ask in order to determine the resources necessary to pose answers. Our course, then, emphasizes analyzing rapidly changing perspectives on issues involving humanities, science and environment and coming to initial, well-formulated, judgments that will enable proper, revisable, knowledge and action.




We will develop and use rubrics, based on the subjects and strategies covered in a given course unit, to assess the exams. Please note that the first exam counts less than the second and third exams.

Conceptual Exercises

Our Friday meetings will be activity centered. These activities will result in an outcome at the end of class&mdashsuch as images, questions, definitions—posted on Scholar. Those outcomes will serve as the basis for our Monday discussions and will be figure in the questions on the exams.

    • 9 exercises: A
    • 8 exercises: B
    • 7 exercises: C
    • 6 or fewer exercises: F


All required readings will be provided through the course website.


If you require any adaptations or accommodations with respect to the conduct of the course, please contact Jim Collier at any time.

Honor System

This course follows university policies pertaining to academic honesty and plagiarism. If you any have questions please ask us, or consult the Undergraduate Honor System web site.

Principles of Community

This course affirms and adheres to Virginia Tech's Principles of Community. If you have any questions, please ask us or consult the Principles of Community web site.

Introduction to Humanities, Science and Technology