INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACHES

By its very nature, the social science study of space is an interdisciplinary endeavor, drawing on technical material, traditional humanities disciplines, and the variety of social science disciplines that evolved during the 19th and 20th centuries. Consequently, a single course or activity incorporating many social science disciplines requires careful structuring. Maintaining coherence is a genuine challenge in the face of the centrifugal forces inherent in any discussion of space topics.

Generally, instructors develop coherence by selecting a theme or analytical tool to serve as an "integrator." For example, future studies or intercollegiate debate (both discussed subsequently in this chapter) can act as such a theme (as well as serve as an interdisciplinary analytical tool). The Space Transportation System represents a technological integrator; in general, primary space technological systems are useful foundations for building an interdisciplinary approach to space into a single course or activity without succumbing to overly narrow issues. Additionally, a particular type of space activity, such as exploration or economic utilization of space, can provide course focus.

Any integrating theme must be carefully defined beforehand. Such care is vital because college students‹usually approaching space for the first time in a systematic, academic way‹tend to have broad-brush images and impressions of the space program, merging disparate space projects and technologies that should be clearly differentiated. For instance, a space-based, high-energy astronomical observatory and a communication satellite represent significantly different technologies arrd purposes despite the fact that both employ the space environment. Activities such as scientific exploration and economic utilization of space serve fundamentally different roles in society; however, these activities often are grouped together in the mind of a student new to space studies.

The utility of an integrating theme is illustrated in Appendix Three through a case study of a course taught at Georgetown University. Moreover, the genesis of the case study suggests that careful planning must precede a course which successfully interweaves complex technologies and a variety of social science disciplines.

This chapter also can provide insights useful to instructors whose courses have a predominant focus in one discipline but of necessity must incorporate interdisciplinary analyses for full understanding.

The analytical tools described by Joels (future studies) and Snider (debate) encompass several interesting approaches to teaching interdisciplinary topics (exclusively or as a subsection of a course). Moreover, both future studies and debate tools can be adapted successfully for classroom use and can be used to focus discussions of the social science implications of Shuttle, Shuttle-related, and longer-term technology. Appendix Three provides more specific materials: several scenario topics, a brief reading list, and several course descriptions supplement the Joels paper; instructors' observations and guidelines for in-class use of debate complement the Snider paper.

Appendix Three

Interdisciplinary Approaches

Interdisciplinary Courses

Case Study: The Teaching of an Interdisciplinary Course in the Social Science Aspects of Space and the Course Syllabus


T. Stephen Cheston
Graduate School
Georgetown University

I. The Course

In Spring 1978, Georgetown University offered an undergraduate interdisciplinary social science course on space, "The High Frontier: Technology, Diplomacy, and Human Values." A year prior to the course, Georgetown established a faculty coordinating committee comprising professors in physics, history, philosophy, political science, business administration, and theology. Following careful deliberation, the group chose as an integrating theme a space technological system with major economic implications, specifically, an Earth-Moon industrial operation drawing raw materials from the Moon or asteroids parked in Earth orbit and generating energy from solar arrays in space. With the technological integrator in place, the committee decided to provide further focus by emphasizing the impact of the technological system on international relations and fundamental human values (e.g., social justice, freedom).

The committee then devised a specific teaching plan, dividing the course into five major units:
(1) Technological potential and limitations;
(2) Economic constraints and business opportunities;
(3) Literary, historical, and religious analogies and insights;
(4) Diplomatic and political constraints; and
(5) Social organization and experimentation.

Committee members then proposed topics for each lecture, noting two or three issues that the lecture should either address directly or encompass by providing relevant information or analytical techniques to students. Each unit concluded with a discussion session to clarify the lecture materials, stimulate student activity and reflection, and apprise the faculty coordinating committee of student views on issues raised by the course. This built-in feedback system helped the faculty assess the need to modify materials in the latter part of the course and provided general guidance relevant to offering the course in the future.

The committee then considered the question of course staffing. By committee appointment, one of the members assumed the responsibilities of course coordinator and incorporated the course into his regular teaching schedule. The committee members scheduled themselves for many of the lectures. However, the committee felt that certain lecture topics were within the specialties of either Georgetown faculty not on the coordinating committee or, in some cases, professionals not affiliated with the University. The commit:ee decided that guest speakers should be strictly limited‹despite the wealth of qualified professionals in the Washington area‹beause guest speakers would be unfamiliar with the structure and aims of the course and, consequently, would lecture largely on their own terms. After a careful review of available professionals, the committee invited three guest speakers: a physics instructor from Princeton University, a NASA official specializing in advanced technological planning, and a State Department official familiar with international space policy issues. The course coordinator familiarized the professionals about the course beforehand, and the resulting lectures were well synchronized with the material presented by the Georgetown faculty.

The lecture schedule and discussion topics included the following elements.
(A) Technological potential and limitations
A Georgetown physicist, a Princeton physics instructor, and the NASA expert discussed:
(1) the current state of space technologies and projected development schedules.
(2) space industrial facilities, including precise descriptions of manufacturing, energy production, and service activities.
(B) Economic constraints and business opportunities
Members of the departments of economics, philosophy, and theology and of the School of Business Administration presented lectures, including analyses of issues such as:
(1) probable costs of the proposed industrial system and possible economic benefits.
(2) implications of the proposed system for national energy policy and general economic policy.
(3) the role of public and private institutions and corporations in the development of the proposed system.
(4) ethical norms relevant to investment decisions and public policy questions, including: What should be done? How should the industrial system be structured to avoid demeaning important societal values? Who should make the policy? Who should implement policy? Who should benefit?
(C) Literary, historical, and religious analogies and insights. A physicist with expertise in science fiction and members of the departments of history, political science, philosophy, andtheology analyzed:
(1) the image of the frontier and the relation of the proposed technological system to American history and culture.
(2) the role of science fiction in stimulating the collective imagination and molding attitudes toward technology.
(3) the effects of the proposed system on human self-awareness, especially with regard to the problems of human autonomy, creativity, and manipulation.
(4) the moral limits to technology and their likely effectiveness.
(5) the images of technological humans in contemporary society in literature, sociology, and philosophy.
(D) Diplomatic and political constraints Lectures were delivered by a history department member specializing in the impact of technology on international relations and the State Department expert in space affairs. The speakers addressed the relationship of the proposed system to:
(1) East-West problems, such as: possible military uses, destabilizing effects, and impacts on Soviet-American cooperation.
(2) North-South problems, such as: use of scarce resources and participation by newly developed countries.
(E) Social organization and experimentation Faculty from the departments of psychology, history, and political science discussed:
(1) Human behavior in closed environments.
(2) The proposed system's long-term relationship to experimental societies, including: comparisons of utopian models in colonial experience with communities envisioned in contemporary science fiction; and the impact on social processes in a colonial society, including dependence on and autonomy from a parent society and freedom and authority within a colonial society.
(3) Colonial societies as a mirror of and metaphor for a parent society and as learning tools to understand contemporary social organization and policy.

The principal course requirement for students was preparation of a term paper, developed in consultation with the lecturer having the greatest expertise in relevant subject matters. The course coordinator reviewed all papers to maintain consistency in grading standards. Following completion of the course, a University administrator met privately with students to obtain their frank assessments of the course. Students were uniformly favorable in their appraisals, noting the importance of ensuring that each speaker was fully aware of the preceding lectures to avoid redundancy or unwarranted assumptions that the students have knowledge prerequisite to the lecture.

An interdisciplinary course is a labor-intensive activity, requiring a great deal of advance planning, especially if a number of speakers are scheduled. Inadequate advance planning can severely jeopardize the quality of the course. Additionally, one individual should be charged with the principal responsibility for course coordination, even if an activist coordinating committee exists. Basic course logistics, continuity, and standards require such an approach.

On balance, the Georgetown course seemed very worthwhile. A number of students indicated that the course had provided fresh insights into other University course work.

II. Syllabus


Georgetown University
Course: The High Frontier: Technology, Diplomacy, and Human Values
Instructor: T. Stephen Cheston

This interdisciplinary course is intended to explore the relevance of considerations drawn from the social sciences and the humanities to the development of technology, specifically, the industrial utilization of space. The course will consist of a series of lectures on different questions raised by the prospect of industrialization and colonization in space. These lectures will be given by specialists (see below) in physics, business, economics, philosophy, theology, history, government, and social psychology.

The issues to be covered include:
(1) an introduction to physical and technological possibilities and limitations for projected industrial activities in space;
(2) economic assessment of the project and business opportunities;
(3) the project as seen in relation to the American social and intellectual traditions and in relation to religious and political imagination;
(4) political constraints and international demands on the project; and
(5) problems of colonial society in space.

Other topics to be considered will be: the history of the U.S. space program, space law, and parallel experiences of colonization. While the course deals with possibilities presented by current technology, the methods of reflection used in the course will be mainly those characteristic of the humanities and the social sciences. After each section of the course, there will be a session for discussion of issues.

Lectures to be given by:
Dr. O'Leary, Physics Department, Princeton University
Dr. Matthews and Dr. Morelli, Physics Department, G.U.
Dr. Cheston, associate dean, G.U. Graduate School
Dr. Sieber, the Kennedy Institute
Dr. Tesar, School of Business Administration, G.U.
Dr. Ferkiss, Government Department, G.U.
Rev. Curran, S.J., History Department, G.U.
Rev. Murphy, S.J., German Department, G.U.
Rev. Langan, S.J., Woodstock Theological Center
Mr. von Puttkamer, Office of Space Flight, NASA
Mr. Michaud, State Department
Dr. Pinkard, Department of Philosophy, G.U.
Dr. Davids, History Department, G.U.

Course coordinator: Rev. John Langan, S.J. Woodstock Theological Center


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