Introduction

Yang Wu

Purpose of the Book

Without warning, Coronavirus, or COVID-19 struck the world, affecting the lives of undergraduate students at Clemson and across the globe. For many first and second year students, who are still in the process of adjusting to the intricacies of college life and learning in a new environment, life was turned upside down. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 led to sudden lockdowns that had a ripple effect on economies, societies and families everywhere, disrupting education, work, and travel, bringing economic hardship to many and leading to reduced job opportunities and financial support for students. Students who began college or returned for their second year in the fall of 2020 faced a strange and unfamiliar landscape of online and socially distanced learning, as well as many restrictions on their everyday activities and social lives. They became heavily dependent on various forms of online technology, as well as public health guidelines. Students also experienced the challenge of studying in a climate of financial uncertainty, family tragedy and with a deadly and invisible enemy lurking around every corner.

Here in the United States, the pandemic raged at a time of hyper political partisanship, a heavily contested election that has shaken many democratic norms and an environment where disinformation is easily spread through social media and other technologies, exacerbating many tensions in society. While the solution to COVID-19 lies in science, many basic scientific facts are in dispute as a result of partisan tensions, public frustration with the inability of public figures and health experts to bring COVID-19 under control and unpredictable turns the pandemic has taken. College students, whose minds are still impressionable, must understand and make sense of the changes happening in their lives, and to develop a self identity and view of the world in this larger political backdrop.

The unfortunate events of 2020 have made STS 1010: Science, Technology and Society, a course at Clemson University ever more relevant. The course challenges students to explore the connections between scientific, technological and social developments, conduct research on topics related to the subjects and to develop a sense of information literacy and critical understanding of the world through the process. This book is a product of the course, written by a group of freshman and sophomore students in one online session of STS 1010 during the Fall 2020 semester. Created through the application of open pedagogy, an innovative approach to teaching that encourages students to produce web publications of their work, the book is an example of new educational strategies designed to stimulate students in the learning environment created by COVID-19. A collection of research essays written by students, this book is a critical reflection by them on the many changes brought by COVID-19 and an attempt to provide interpretations on how these changes have altered their personal lives and society as a whole. The book is also an information literacy exercise, with students gathering sources to support their interpretations and evaluating the authority of these sources at a time of rampant disinformation. It, overall, serves as a historical artifact, capturing the experiences and thoughts of students at both a pivotal moment in the 21st century and special time in their lives.

Book Structure

This book is organized into 9 parts, each based on a larger topic that students have chosen to study and write research papers on. Each part contains several short student papers, around 2,000 words each, exploring a different aspect of COVID-19 that relates to science, technology and society. Students were asked to examine their topics through research, gathering primary and secondary sources, both peer reviewed and non-peer reviewed to support their arguments. They were also encouraged to apply several theories often used in studies of Science, Technology and Society, including Actor-Network Theory, Path Dependence, Social Construction and Tragedy of the Commons to their topics. Students were given an introduction to these theories in the course, and they were asked to discuss how one or more of the theories applies and helps to better understand their paper topics. Some students also engaged in additional research on these theories to explore their applicability. Taking advantage of the e-book format, student also used Creative Commons and public domain images, which are not restricted by copyright limitations to help illustrate their points.

In addition to their individual chapters, students also worked together to write introductions for different parts of the book. These part introductions contain a brief summary by the students on why they chose to write on a specific larger topic and how their individual chapters relate to the topic. They also give students an opportunity to reflect on how COVID-19 and its impact on the larger topic they are writing about has affected their personal lives.

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