Scientific and Political Change

PPol 749, CrCrTh 649, Spring 2018


Catalog description

Prior to WW II, the US government played a relatively small role in the support of science, especially outside of its own institutions. That situation changed dramatically with the war and the Cold War that followed. We explore how these events transformed the role of science in United States life, vastly enhancing the prestige of scientists, and shaping the extent and the nature of federal involvement in science. These and later developments in the USA and internationally, including the proliferation of new forms of citizen participation and the commercialization of academic research, raise important questions about the appropriate role of science and scientists in shaping political change and the changing meanings of democratic control of science.

Course Overview

After an initial session in which students are introduced to the "Project- (or problem-) based learning" (PBL) format, the course consists of 4 three-session units based on cases concerning scientific and political change. The PBL approach allows students to shape their own directions of inquiry and develop their skills as investigators and prospective teachers. Students' inquiries are guided by individualized bibliographies co-constructed with the instructor and informed by the projects of the other students. Students are asked to keep three broad goals in view:
  1. To learn about analyses of the political influences on the development of science and technology, and, reciprocally, of influences of such developments on political processes and possibilities;
  2. To re-engage with yourselves as avid learners and inquirers; and
  3. To organize resources that prepare you to teach and engage students and members of the relevant communities to participate in questioning and shaping the direction of scientific and social changes.
What makes the re-engagement in #2 possible is a combination of:

The broad topics covered by the PBL units are below. Each case has been revised in 2018 so that students address a larger question: What theory and research can inform what is to be done in this emerging era in which people can no longer rely on assuming that the arc of history bends towards progress in science, in institutions that provide for the welfare of the populace, and in citizen engagement to bring the other two arcs together?

Syllabus (in development)

Evaluation statements from 2010 course
Student A. The Scientific and Political Change class provided a unique learning environment amplified by a PBL framework. The freedom to explore my own lines of inquiry while still linking them to the work of others provided a rich knowledge-building experience. The diverse experiences of the other participants was a key contribution to the class as were the insights and feedback provide by outside experts. The only downside was my own lack of time to delve deeper into the individual cases and limited feedback from others as well as time for reflection. I found new and nuanced understandings of the context and interactions that take place in the creation and implementation of policy. Even more so, I found that types of tools, processes, and exercises modeled during the class provided templates for future work. I definitely have a stronger visualization of how constructive and effective change environments might be designed and constructed.

B. This is a comprehensive course in the analysis of science and democracy and of its civic engagement possibilities. This course encourages participation of all members by creating an environment of inclusion, equality, respect and reflection. In this course, all members are important and matter. We are seen as intelligent human beings were we all can and have something to share. I really appreciate that no one says or makes you feel as dumb or as not belonging. On the contrary, we are always encouraged to participate and criticize each other critically. This course creates a true sense of academic community. This course encourages the development of collective knowledge and allows for the use of alternative methods of learning. This enables group member to explore more topics and learn more than in traditional courses were you simply memorize, repeat and say what you expect the professor wants you to say. This is a great course creating a true sense of inclusion and of knowledge building.

C. The application of PBL to this topic is a match made in heaven. Feedback from external panelists (often authors of the resources we relied on!) was invaluable and empowering. Support for student-to-student learning would make it even better.

D. It could possibly be one of the most important classes a person could take given the times and state of the world. No matter what a student's background is, the self directive independent nature of the class allows the student pursues topics of personal interest relevant to the course. The tools of PBL, the guidance of the instructor and the team learning give the student a solid foundation o which to become an engaged member in society or educator in specific settings related to scientific and political. Once a student has taken this course they will better understand the importance of their having taken the class and will hopefully start to carve out some new role for themselves within society as a conduit for change and a supporter of the public voice.
Evaluations from 2016, 2014, 2012 course