STS.004 | Fall 2013 | Undergraduate

Science, Technology, & World


Course Meeting Times

Seminars: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


This is a brand new class intended as an Introduction to STS Studies for undergraduates—something the STS Program has never offered before. You have the opportunity to take the class on its maiden voyage. This class was designed in detail by other MIT undergraduates who were enrolled in an upper-class STS seminar last fall. The team project throughout the term was to design an Intro to STS subject for undergraduates. In numerous ways the features of STS.004 reflect the collective wisdom of your fellow students, and you can add to that wisdom by giving the subject its first full workout.

Official Catalog Description: STS.004 introduces students to multidisciplinary studies in Science, Technology, and Society (STS), using four case studies to illustrate a broad range of approaches to basic principles of STS studies. Case studies vary from year to year, but always include a current MIT event. Other topics are drawn from legal and political conflicts, and arts and communication media. Teaching modes include guest presenters, discussion groups, field activities, visual media, and a practicum style of learning.





If you miss any class due to an unavoidable conflict (such as a job interview), you need to discuss make-up work with the instructor in advance.

Laptop Policy

Please bring copies of your written work and of any readings to class, whether on a computer or in hard copy. You are welcome to use a computer in class so long as it is for class-related work only.

Academic Honesty

We will discuss MIT’s principles and procedures as summarized in MIT’s Academic Integrity Handbook, especially the sections on Academic Writing.

Collaboration is encouraged in discussing the work of the class. The work itself (writing papers, preparation of oral reports, taking quizzes) must be done on your own.


Note that some short assignments are due the morning of the class day. This will allow time for the instructor to review them before class discussion in the afternoon.


Session 3: Current event as STS

Session 12: Op-ed on Swartz case [required revision due by session 24.]

Oral Presentations

Session 14: Further background / comment on Asilomar / Cambridge City Council

Written and Oral

Session 6: MIT 150th Exhibit examples (3 items)

Session 20: Photography project

Sessions 25, 26: Student final reports


Session 7: Key words and concepts

There is no final exam


All written work will be graded for content, organization, clarity, and correctness. If the work is careless, sloppy, or otherwise unacceptable, you will be required to revise it. One paper (the op-ed assignment) must be revised. All papers may be revised, with permission from and preliminary discussion with the instructor.

Op-ed (on Swartz case) 13
Op-ed revision 13
Photography project 13
Final reports 13
Quiz 13
Current Event As STS (paper) 5
Further background / comment on Asilomar / Cambridge City Council 5
MIT 150 Examples 5
Other assignments 5
Attendance and participation 15

Class Schedule

Unit 1: Introduction to Studies in Science, Technology, and Society
1 Introduction to Content and Format of the Class

Basic questions, terms, and approaches of STS studies

Student generation of examples

2 Introduction to Key Words and Concepts Further discussion of key words
3 Current Examples of STS Questions Writing due: Short paper (750–850 words) on a current event as an STS issue
4 Introduction to key words and concepts (cont.)  
5 STS at MIT Quiz preparation

STS at MIT (cont.)

Guest Speaker: Debbie Douglas, Director of Collections and Curator at the MIT Museum

Written and oral presentation: MIT 150th Exhibit examples (students choose three items and explain how each illustrates the intersection of science, technology, and the world)
7 Quiz

Quiz on key terms / concepts

Discussion of quiz

Unit 2. MIT and the Law: The Prosecution of Aaron Swartz
8 The Swartz Case and the Abelson Report Discussion (groups): What did you learn about this case? What questions do you have? Discussion of Swartz case as an STS issue. Mapping exercise: actor network, with attention to institutions and audiences
9 Public Responses Optional: Questions for Hal Abelson (in addition to class-generated questions)
10 Visit from Hal Abelson, MIT Professor and Writer of the Abelson Report  
11 Editing exercise Developing ideas / rough drafts for opinion piece (self-taught)
12 Science and Self-regulation

Paper due: Opinion pieces

Visit to MIT Archives

13 Legal Issues (cont.) Short presentations to class on opinion pieces.
14 Science and Self-regulation (cont.) Short presentations to class on further research into Asilomar Conference of 1975 or Cambridge City Council resolutions of 1976.
Unit 3: Photography as Information Delivery System
15 Photography as technological innovation  
16 Users, Consumers, and Producers

Discussion of technical means, audience, motivations, impact

Field trip to Stata Center


From Analog to Digital

Guest: Karin Rosenthal, Photographer


Photography as Time Travel

Visit to Kurtz Gallery: Stanley Greenberg: Time Machines exhibit


Photography and Science

Guest: Gary Van Zante, MIT Museum Curator of Architecture & Design, on works of Berenice Abbott

20 Student project due Presentation and writing due: Photograph and commentary
Unit 4: The Sense of an Ending
21 Where Are We Headed?

Finish up discussion of photography projects

Letter to Abelson: Class work

22 Where Are We Headed? (2) (cont.)

Letter to Abelson: Class work

Also discussion of final projects


A Deaf Utopia and Other Utopias

Guest: Sheila Xu, MIT Alum and Deaf Advocate

24 Back to the Beginning: What Is STS? Last date to turn in revision of opinion piece on Swartz case
25 Endings and beginnings Student final reports: What did you learn? Favorite topics? Last favorite? Why? How do you see yourself using information or skills from this class in the future?
26 Endings and beginnings (cont.)

Student final reports

Class evaluations (done in class)

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2013
Learning Resource Types
Presentation Assignments
Written Assignments
Instructor Insights