The Evolution of Technology (TEC154 2004S)

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Final Paper and Presentation

Summary: Working in groups of three, write a seven-to-ten-page paper about a technology not discussed significantly in class. Present your findings.



You have now studied a number of technologies and, as importantly, a variety of perspectives on the role and purposes of technology. It is time to apply your knowledge to a new technology. You will apply this knowledge in two ways: You will write a paper about the technology and you will present the technology to your class.

Your paper will have at least three parts: A historical overview of the technology, a discussion of the positive aspects of the technology that draws upon the perspectives of at least two primary authors we have read this semester, and a discussion of the negative aspects of the technology that also draws upon the perspectives of at least two primary authors we have read this semester. Note that by primary authors, I mean Norman, Petroski, and anyone who appears in Teich.


Phase 1: Team and Topic Selection

You should begin by selecting a team of three (no more, no less) students to work together on the project. You may not work with people you worked with on subject stewardship. If you have trouble finding a team, let me know by Wednesday, 7 April 2004, and I will do my best to assign you to a team.

The team should then work together to identify a topic of interest. Your initial topics can be fairly broad. You might study recent technologies (e.g., the Internet, PCR), 50's technologies (e.g., silly putty), industrial-age technologies (e.g., the railroad), or even older technologies (e.g., the development of writing). If you found Petroski interesting, you might look at his other books for ideas (for example, he has written a whole book on the evolution of the Pencil).

If you are in Professor Case's Bridges, Towers, and Skyscrapers class, you may not write about topics from that class. If you are in Professor Robertson's Biotechnology class, you may not write about topics from that class. If you have a technology you use regularly with in your major (if you have a major), you may certainly write about that technology.

By Friday, 9 April 2004, you should inform me of the members of your team and the topic you have selected.

Phase 2: Annotated Bibliography

Once you have selected a topic, you should gather sources that will help you study the topic. I recommend that you make an appointment with a reference librarian for help identifying sources.

At least three of your sources should describe the history or evolution of the technology: What problem did the technology solve? What approaches did people take, etc. Think about Petroski's reflections on the paper clip as an example of the kind of information you might gather.

At least three of your sources should be more critical papers that reflect carefully on the benefits or drawbacks of the technology.

Compile your sources into an annotated bibliography. This bibliography is due Friday, 23 April 2004.

Phase 3: Thesis

As you read and reflect upon your sources, think carefully about claims you can make about the technology. Your claims will likely synthesize the positive and negative aspects of the technology. If you have trouble writing theses, you may want to reflect on Erik Simpson's Developing a Thesis, available on the Web at

Turn in a draft thesis to me by Friday, 23 April 2004. You need only turn in the thesis, but you may find it more helpful to situate the thesis in an introductory paragraph or section.

Phase 4: Smooth Draft

As you have probably heard many times at Grinnell, experience shows that papers are significantly better when they are written in multiple phases, with at least one draft before the final version. To remind you of the importance of drafting, I require a smooth draft for this paper.

By smooth draft, I mean a draft that has most of the problems worked out. Smooth drafts are spelled correctly and employ the rules of English grammar. Smooth drafts include most or all of the expected content of the paper, although perhaps not stated as perfectly as you might like. Smooth drafts can also include a few gaps (e.g., I need to fill in more detail here) or metacomments (e.g., I need to refine this argument). Except for a few gaps and metacomments, a smooth draft should be something you would hope to get at least a C on.

I will distribute copies of your drafts to the class.

Turn in your smooth draft by Friday, 30 April 2004.

Phase 5: Presentation

Your group will present its findings in class during the final week of the semester. I will assign the day and order of presentations. You should plan to present for ten minutes on your subject and allow five minutes for questions and answers. As we near the time of presentations, I will distribute suggestions on preparing presentations.

Phase 6: Final Papers

Finally, you will clean up your draft to create a final paper. Your final papers are due Friday, 14 May 2004.

Important Deadlines, Summarized



Friday, 2 April 2004 [Samuel A. Rebelsky]


Disclaimer: I usually create these pages on the fly, which means that I rarely proofread them and they may contain bad grammar and incorrect details. It also means that I tend to update them regularly (see the history for more details). Feel free to contact me with any suggestions for changes.

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