2007 Teaching and Learning Symposium

2:30-4:30 p.m., April 24, 2007
HUB West Ballroom

Session Description


Teaching science students and humanities students in the same classroom

Vladimir Chaloupka - Physics; Adjunct Professor, School of Music & Jackson School of International Studies


The difficult problems our society faces can only be solved by a wide participation of informed and educated citizens. This is a report on a highly interdisciplinary course on "Science and Society" offered jointly by the Physics Department and the Jackson School as PHYS216/SIS216. The enrollment is not limited to the two sponsoring units - the goal is to achieve a truly transdisciplinary mix of students with diverse backgrounds. The idea is that students will learn not just from the Instructor, but from each other as well, and that the course will represent a microcosm of the wide participation mentioned above.

The diversity in the enrollment pattern was achieved already in the first test offering of the course in Spring 2006, and the student response to the Spring 2007 offering is very encouraging, ranging from Freshmen to Seniors, and from Physics majors to English majors. The premise of the course is that an informed, educated citizen ought to know enough about science to be able to appreciate the enormous potential benefits as well as the possible dangers which science represents. The course explores the current status and developments in Physics, Nanotechnology, Biotechnology and Computer Science, and we discuss the implications for society at the local, national and international (global) level. Nuclear physics and molecular biology serve as concrete examples of fields with significant impact on society. There is both exuberance and humility in our treatment of the issues, and both feelings are often illustrated using the playground of Music.

The experience in teaching science to non-science students while motivating the science students to think about the social impact of science will be described, with emphasis on the difficult parts, such as dealing with the extreme diversity in the students' backgrounds, and dealing with sensitive issues such as the interplay of science with politics or religion.



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