The Human Side of Technology
Foundation Seminar 095 53
Instructors: Dr. Mike Toole, P.E.
Office: Dana 302
Office Hours: 10:00-11:30 AM every day and W 2:00-4:00 PM and gladly at
other times if you email me a time you would like to stop by.
Class meets: Tuesdays and Thursdays 3:00-4:52 PM in Dana 311.
Course Overview and Objectives
We often think of technology as machines and systems that are based on the laws of science and
engineering. Yet the human dimension of technology is arguably even more important than the
hardware dimension. The pattern of technological change in society reflects the quirkiness,
selfishness, and serendipitous moments that make modern society so interesting. Technologies
make our jobs less physically demanding yet often leads to longer hours and increased stress.
Technologies enable active friendships across the globe but leave us with less time to spend with
friends across the street.
This course will explore the ways that technology influences every aspect of our lives, and,
conversely, how nearly every aspect of the human condition influences the development and
application of technology. We will learn about specific technologies, about ourselves, and about
perspectives and tools associated with disciplines such as sociology, psychology, political
science, organizational behavior, marketing, industrial relations, economics, engineering, and the
creative arts. The topics we will likely study include:
The commercialization process: big business versus the entrepreneur
The love-hate relationship between technology and labor: the Luddites
The love-hate relationship between technology and labor: building trades
Technology development and evolution: failures, quirks and chaos
Ethical issues in technology development
The relationships between technology and racism and sexism
Technology and medicine and politics
Technology in art and music
The promise and perils of technology for the environment
The course will emphasize critical thinking, intra-discipline and cross-discipline perspectives,
successful academic skills, effective communication and the need for life-long learning. The
class is designated as a W1 (writing) and as a Natural and Fabricated Worlds (Common Learning
Papers and other homework 50%
Midterm exam 10%
Final paper 20%
Class participation 20%
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1. Class attendance is very important. Unexcused absences will be reflected in the class
participation portion of your grade. Please email me ahead of time if you know you will miss
class. Students who repeatedly miss class due to illness will be asked to provide a note from
Health Services. Athletes and other students who miss class to attend university-sanctioned
events must may miss up to two classes before their absence will be considered unexcused
provided they email me the dates before the sixth class. Students with more than two
unexcused absences may be required to speak with Dean Garrett.
2. You will receive specific objectives for nearly all class sessions, generally in the form of
questions. These objectives should help to guide your preparation for the class. You are
expected to read the assigned text before class with these objectives in mind, and to come to
class prepared to discuss the questions.
3. You are required to check for announcements, reading, preparation questions and homework
assignments on Blackboard every day; however, I will generally send email for items that
require action within 24 hours.
4. Effective writing is a critical component of this class. Please review the writing guidelines
that will be distributed with the first writing assignment. All students will be encouraged or
required to review papers with tutors or staff at the Writing Center.
5. Please bring your assigned readings to class.
6. Handing in an assignment late is better than not handing it in at all; however, substantial
points may be assessed for lateness.
7. Talking with classmates while someone is addressing the entire class is distracting to the rest
of the class. If you have a thought on the topic, share it with the class. If you need
clarification on something, please ask me. If you are confused, your classmates are probably
confused also, so be brave and raise your hand!
Date Topic Tentative Assignment
8/26 Introduction to the course and Read the four Bucknell Faculty Essays on Creativity.
8/31 Technology and progress Take the Common Learning Agenda survey on
Read the Introduction in The Progress Paradox by
Greg Easterbrook, the Introduction in High Tech High
Touch by John Naisbitt, and Chapter 1 in
Technologies: the Shaping of People and Things by
9/2 Product development case Lego Tower reflection letter due.
study: the VCR Read “Technological pioneering and competitive
The Writing Process advantage: the birth of the VCR industry” in Readings
in the Management of Innovation.
9/7 Ethical issues in technology Draft Progress essay due.
development: “Fat Man and Read the NSPE Code of Ethics and “Do the Right
Little Boy” video Thing” by Prof. Aarne Vesilind.
9/9 ISR workshop on web page Meet at the Multimedia Lab on Lower Level One of the
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Watch remainder of “Fat Man Lisa Veloz, ISR.
and Little Boy”
9/14 Discussion of video
Macro- and micro economic Read Chapters 1-3 in The Economics of Technological
perspectives on technology Change by Edwin Mansfield.
9/16 Writing peer review Sabrina Kirby, Writing Center.
(meet in Writing Center) Draft paper on the web page creation process due.
9/21 The commercialization Read Chapters 5-7 in Technologies: the Shaping of
process: big business versus People and Things by Ron Westrum.
9/23 Technology development and Final Progress essay due.
evolution: failures, quirks and Read “The Panda’s Thumb of Technology” by Stephen
chaos Jay Gould, “Edison versus Westinghouse” in Great
Feuds in Technology by Hal Hellman, and
“Technological Trajectories in Construction
Innovation” by Mike Toole.
9/28 Technology in art Meet in the Samek Art Gallery, LC 3rd Floor.
Dan Mills, Director, Samek Gallery.
9/30 Case study in politics and Video while Prof. Toole is on a required field trip with
technology: Brooklyn Bridge Civil & Env. Engineering seniors
10/5 The substance and hype of Marketing assignment due.
10/7 Research sources Barbara Stockland, ISR
10/12 Unintended consequences of Read Chapters 1 and 10 in Why Things Bite Back by
technology in sports Edward Tenner.
10/14 Technology in music Term project proposal due.
Prof. Louis Svard, Music
10/19 Mid-term Exam
10/21 The next industrial revolution: Video while Prof. Toole is presenting at a conference.
the sustainable economy
10/26 Fall Break
10/28 The love-hate relationship Read “Ned Ludd versus the Industrial Revolution” in
between technology and Great Feuds in Technology by Hal Hellman.
labor: the Luddites Skim the Unabomber's Manifesto.
11/2 The promise and perils of Prof. Peter Wilshusen, Environmental Science
technology for the Read Chapters 7 and 8 from the Technological Fix.
environment Term project outline due.
11/9 The love-hate relationship Field trip to Silvertip Inc.
between technology and
labor: building trades
11/11 Attend session on technology Term project draft due.
11/16 Term paper presentations 1
11/18 Term paper presentations 2
11/23 Term paper presentations 3
11/30 Citing sources. Read pages 115-184 in High Tech High Touch by John
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12/2 Discuss Create-An- Term project final paper due.
12/7 Course summary and course
1. Survey. Due 8/31.
Take the CLA survey on the course Blackboard site.
2. Lego Tower Reflection. Due 9/2.
After participating in the legos tower competition, write a letter to a friend or family member
about your experience. Your letter should address at least the following questions. In what ways
did the tower exercise involve technology? Were individual non-technical skills more important
than individual technical skills? Was teamwork more important than the collective technical
The purpose of this assignment is to demonstrate your ability to develop 1-4 key ideas relating
your experience to the course objectives. Paragraph structure and sentence structure will also be
evaluated. The letter should be 300-500 words long, typed, single space. The tone and language
can be informal, but please minimize the use of sentence fragments.
This first writing assignment will be different from future writing assignments in that no outline
or draft need be submitted and the grading will be limited to a check minus, check or check plus.
3. Progress Letter. Draft due 9/7. Final due 9/23.
After reading the three readings assigned for 8/31, write a 400-700 word essay regarding how
you feel about the statement:
“Life today is so much better than it was for Americans 50 years ago and it is all due to
The purpose of the letter is to demonstrate your ability to clearly communicate your thoughts on
a complex issue (or two). Discuss several examples supporting both clauses in this statement.
Also mention several examples of progress that are not related to technology. Make sure the
reader understands your definitions of technology and progress. You need not do any reading
other than the three assigned readings.
4. Web Page Creation Reflection. Draft due 9/16. Final due 9/30.
First, create a personal homepage that includes at least the following components: your name
and photo, a link to your email, a link to some document (such as your resume, class schedule or
a cool poem), and additional text, graphics or photos that tells the viewer something about you.
Second, write a 500 word essay on the experience of creating the page. Address at least the
following questions. Was the experience enjoyable? Frustrating? What was rewarding about
the experience? How did the underlying technologies affect your experience and end product?
How would you have created a similar end product (that is, a self-identifying document) with a
different technology or with no technology at all? Was your experience or insights gained from
the task similar to your experiences with completely different technologies? What would have
made this assignment more enjoyable or valuable?
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5. Marketing Technology. Due 9/30.
Come to class prepared to make a five minute presentation on a technology or technology-based
product that you feel has been “hyped up.” Present web-pages or other graphical media to help
classmates understand why you feel the technology is more about “spin” than real technological
6. Debate. To occur on 10/28.
You and your partner shall debate an issue assigned to you. You will argue one side of the
debate and your partner will argue the opposing view. You are encouraged to script both sides of
the debate ahead of time to ensure key points come out. In other words, rather than having one
person out-debate the other, you will collaborate with your partner before the debate to ensure
key points come out and to facilitate polished presentations. The debate will consist of each
person making a three-minute opening statement, followed by one set of one-minute rebuttals.
Submit the texts of your opening statement and rebuttal and copies of the sources you used to
prepare for the debate.
7. Term Project.
The proposal is due 10/14. The outline is due 11/2. The draft is due 11/11. The final paper is
due 12/2. You must make a 10-minute presentation in class around November 18.
The purpose of this assignment is to let you explore a topic related to the course foci in
substantial depth. Suggested ideas are summarized below, but feel free to propose alternative
Pick a company, product or service (CPS). How has or does technology pervade the
CPS? How has the CPS evolved? How have users influenced the evolution of the CPS?
How have the company’s vision, resources and culture influenced the CPS’ evolution?
Choose a technology or product. Discuss the good and bad consequences of the
technology on individuals and groups.
Choose a group of people and discuss how technology has influenced them and how they
have uniquely influenced the development or application of the technology.
The proposal should be approximately 150 words long and identify the topic of your paper and
specific aspects of the topic that you will address. For example, will you address how
individuals or organizations manage the technology, the effects (including unintended
consequences) of the technology on individuals, groups and societies, the ethical issues
associated with the technology, etc.?
The outline should be several pages long, should clearly indicate the main ideas (i.e., thesis) of
the paper, how the paper is structured, and the sources of information that you have used.
Ideally, each item in the outline is the topic or topic sentence of a paragraph. One purpose of this
outline is to force you to start the writing process sufficiently early to produce a reasonable draft
by the due date. Another purpose is to allow me evaluate whether you are heading towards
submitting a successful paper.
The paper should be 3500-5000 words long. It is critical that it include all of the required paper
components: an introduction that contains an overview of the paper, headings that make it easy
for the reader to follow the flow of the paper, an explicit closing, and a list of references. Be
sure to include citations to support key statement and ideas that are not your own. You must
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review and cite at least five non-web page sources of information. (Articles that are in print but
accessed through the internet are not considered web pages.) If possible, use divergent sources
and discuss how the sources disagree and how they agree.
8. Create-an-Assignment. Due 11/30.
The purpose is to create an assignment for this class that would have helped students either learn
a topic that is related to the course foci but not included in the syllabus or to learn one of the
topics we discussed through a creative and fun activity. (Remember how we played charades the
first class?) If you choose a new topic, you should identify 2-4 readings and 3-5 preparation
questions. Discuss in a 250-500 word essay how your topic, activity or readings relate to the
1. Process. Effective writing can rarely be produced in one session. The academic and
professional writing of most people will be more effective if they follow a structured
process that includes outlining, drafting, obtaining feedback, and re-writing.
http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/general/index.html provides some helpful ideas for
2. Components. Effective writing requires explicit consideration of three components:
audience, context and goals. If an assignment does not clearly indicate any of these
components, please seek clarification.
3. Structure. With an exception or two at the beginning of the semester, your writing in this
course must be clearly structured to allow the reader to effectively skim the paper and to
quickly locate specific sections of interest. As such, it is essential that your writing include
an introduction that provides an overview of the paper, section headings, and a closing.
Also, each paragraph, section and the paper as a whole must flow logically from beginning
to end. Effective sentence structure and proper grammar are also important.
4. References. Appropriately citing the work of others is difficult for many first year students
but is essential. The pamphlet “Academic responsibility at Bucknell” provides helpful
advice on appropriate practices.
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