STS in the Liberal Arts, A Workshop

In April I am participating in “Science and Technology Studies (STS) in the Liberal Arts,” a conference on the role, if any, of STS in an undergraduate liberal arts curriculum. While some of the themes are pragmatic, the goal of the conference is to bring together faculty from liberal arts colleges across the country to articulate how and why STS should be part of the undergraduate experience.

Some of the questions that will frame our discussion include:

  • Are there emerging methods for teaching in programs that bridge the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences?
  • How might we make connections with small and large businesses, government agencies, and NGOs, who could possibly employ our STS graduates?
  • How can the core competencies of an STS graduate be articulated on the open job market? How can we be sure we’re addressing these at small liberal arts colleges?
  • Are there strategic ways of building relationships to other multidisciplinary fields, such as Media Studies and the Digital Humanities?
  • How might collaborations between small liberal arts colleges foster fundable undergraduate opportunities across or between institutions?
  • What modes of curricular organization already exist for undergraduate STS programs?
  • How could we align general education, major, and minor courses to enhance the educational experience for students in STS programs and to highlight the contributions that STS makes to campus-wide discussions?
  • How could we tailor the content of STS classes for our diverse students, who generally have greater or lesser interest in science or engineering as subjects and as careers?
  • How could we integrate cutting-edge issues into the curriculum, especially since our seniors seem so interested in what’s new? Could we do so through a junior seminar on current STEM, maybe a class that incorporates interviews with leading scientists and policy makers?
  • How can we use relevant technologies to enhance our teaching?
  • How should we understand the relation between the STS curriculum and the sciences, and what role should science courses and science faculty play in STS within the liberal arts colleges?
  • How might wider recognition of STS contribute to ongoing reflection on the character and role of the “liberal arts & sciences” for the 21st Century?

What are other ways to think about the relationship between the undergraduate curriculum and STS? How else can we teach STS? Are there other issues that spring to mind? And most broadly, how do we justify committing precious student time and effort to STS or history of science in a curriculum and society that increasingly privileges science and pre-professional subjects over more humanistic ones?

2 replies on “STS in the Liberal Arts, A Workshop”

Hi Darin,

This appears to be a fascinating meeting and it looks like you’re primed for a lively discussion.

One thing I would point out is that many of your questions are, loosely speaking, outward focused. They take the character and merit of STS as a baseline and interrogate how to communicate them, connect them to other fields, or enhance them with additional resources. Having recently had the opportunity to discuss with some STS students at a liberal arts college just what it is they thing STS has done for them, I think it would be useful to propose an inward line of inquiry as well.

For instance, on the rudimentary level, what are the core competencies of an STS graduate? How do they differ from those of other liberal arts/interdisciplinary majors? How can STS strive to confer the type of disciplinary competence that traditional liberal arts majors offer? Given the diverse and fuzzy-bordered nature of STS as a field, I suspect that answers to questions like these will be highly local and it might be worthwhile to expose and map those differences.

Hope that helps!