Schedule for CSC 199/299:
Social Implications of Computing
This schedule will evolve over the course of the semester.
Check back frequently!
NB: Readings and assignments are listed on the date by which
they must be completed, not the date they are assigned.
Unless otherwise noted, assignments are due before the beginning of
class on the listed day.
- Thur. Jan. 17: Introduction and
Brainstorming of Topics
- Tues. Jan. 22: Changes Brought on by
Computing and the Internet
Reading: Textbook Chapter 1
Find an article in the “reputable” media (an outlet that
researches its stories, and is quick to acknowledge and correct any
factual errors) that appeared in the last month and that addresses
social implications of computing. Write a one-page summary
of/reaction to the article, and post to the class discussion board on Blackboard. Articles
already appearing on my resources page don’t count.
- Thur. Jan. 24: Privacy
Reading: Textbook Sections 2.1–2.2
- Tues. Jan. 29
Reading: Textbook Sections 2.3–2.4
Pick one of the following topics and address it in an essay of at least
three pages (1500 words).*
Discuss arguments for both sides.
Are there useful non-cyber analogies? Identify the negative and
positive rights involved. Which side do you think is
(a) [exercise 1.23 in the book]
Advocacy groups have sued certain companies because blind people cannot
use their websites. The suits argue that the Americans With
Disabilities Act requires that the sites be accessible. Should a
law require all business and government websites to provide full access
for disabled people?
(b) Kim Dotcom (the founder of the now-defunct megaupload.com, currently
fighting extradition from New Zealand to the US) has just this week
launched a new site, mega.co.nz, that promises to provide secure,
encrypted, anonymous cloud storage. Is Dotcom a hero or a
criminal, or something in-between? To what extent should
governments (in the US or elsewhere) hold people responsible for
(merely?) facilitating illegal activity?
*In hindsight, that’s a bad correspondence
between words and pages—my apologies.
- Thur. Jan. 31
Reading: Textbook Sections 2.5–2.6
- Tues. Feb. 5
- Thur. Feb. 7: Free Speech
Reading: Textbook Sections 3.1–3.3
in its entirety. If you are a member of Facebook, examine your
settings. Update them if they seem inappropriate.
Be sure to read the “Details page.”
Explain the principles you use to decide what should be visible
to whom—both by default and on an item-by-item basis. If you are
not a member of Facebook, and prefer not to join, describe the settings
you would choose if you were a member, or would recommend to a
friend. (You may need to look over a friend's shoulder to see what
the options are.) Again, explain the principles behind your
choice. Finally, do an Internet search to find information on one
or more of the public controversies regarding changes to Facebook's
your position on it, and explain how it was resolved.
- Tues. Feb. 12
Reading: Textbook Sections 3.4–3.6
- Thur. Feb. 14: Work
Reading: Textbook Sections 6.1–6.2
- Tues. Feb. 19: Computer Crime
Reading: Textbook Sections 5.1–5.2
- Thur. Feb. 21
Reading: Textbook Sections 5.3–5.4
- Tues. Feb. 26: Online Education
Guest lecture by
Robert Clark, Dean of the Hajim School of Engineering &
Applied Sciences, and interim Senior Vice President for Research
(Prof. Scott out of town)
White Paper on Online Education;
Readings from Dean Clark (these are short—please read them all:
5 Ways That edX Could Change Education - Online Learning - The Chronicle of Higher Education.pdf
“Whistleblowing” has a long tradition prior to the Internet,
but modern technology has substantially increased both its feasibility
and its potential impact.
Clearly it can be a powerful force for good.
It also has the power for substantial collateral damage.
American Council on Education Recommends 5 MOOCs for Credit - Technology - The Chronicle of Higher Education.pdf
Come the Revolution - NYTimes.com.pdf
Competing MOOC Providers Expand Into New Territory -- and Each Others - Wired Campus - The Chronicle of Higher Education.pdf
Free education: Learning new lessons - The Economist.pdf
Measuring the Success of Online Education - NYTimes.com.pdf
Multimedia: Why Do Students Flock to MOOCs - Technology - The Chronicle of Higher Education.pdf
Online Learning, Only Better - Online Learning - The Chronicle of Higher Education.pdf
Professors Say Technology Helps in Logistics, Not Learning - Wired Campus - The Chronicle of Higher Education.pdf
Technology Is Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say - NYTimes.com.pdf
The Trouble With Online College - NYTimes.com.pdf
As an example of whistleblowing in the digital age, read up on the
history of Wikileaks, and the scope of its activities since its founding
Drawing examples from this history (but
without necessarily passing judgement on any specific case(s)),
discuss the underlying ethical issues in an essay of at
least 1200 words. As usual, bolster your
arguments with facts from reputable sources, and cite them
Questions you may wish to consider include:
Is the public disclosure of private information, without permission,
ever ethically acceptable? Ethically obligatory?
What ethical obligations, if any, does a whistleblowing site have to
verify the accuracy of the information it posts?
What ethical obligations, if any, does it have to redact or delay the
disclosure of information to minimize any potential harm that may
What obligations does a government have to take action if a
whistleblowing site breaks its laws? What should be the response of the
international community when the laws of different nations conflict?
Does a private organization have any recourse if its private information
is posted online?
- Thur. Feb. 28: Law Enforcement
Guest lecture by Barry Couch, Special Agent in Charge, Rochester
Division, FBI Cybercrime Task Force
(Prof. Scott out of town)
- Tues. Mar. 5: Intellectual Property
Reading: Textbook Sections 4.1–4.2
- Thur. Mar. 7
Reading: Textbook Sections 4.3–4.5
- Tues. Mar. 12 (spring break)
- Thur. Mar. 14 (spring break)
- Tues. Mar. 19
Guest lecture by Patrick Emmerling, Technology Licensing Manager, UR
Office of Technology Transfer; and
Alfonzo Cutaia, Senior Associate, and Ranjana Kadle, Partner, Hodgson
(Prof. Scott out of town)
Choose a topic for your end-of-semester major project and post a
one-to-two paragraph description of it to the discussion group on
Blackboard. A list of possible topics can be found HERE.
Note that you are not limited to topics on this list; anything that
addresses the impact on society of computing and the Internet will
You will have the option
for your project of writing a paper of approximately 15 pages (4000
words) or making a 25-minute formal presentation to the class.
(Students taking the course for upper-level writing credit must write a
paper even if they make a presentation—sorry. It can be
shorter, though—say 3000 words.)
If you would like to make a presentation, please mail me as soon
as possible to reserve a time slot. We will use the last two
class periods (April 25 and 30) for this purpose.
I’ll fill the slots first-come, first-served.
- Thur. Mar. 21: Project Presentations
Come prepared to discuss your plans.
- Tues. Mar. 26: Sustainability—toxins
Reading: Please read the following in full. You
are encouraged to explore additional sources and come to class
prepared to discuss.
Tackling High-Tech Trash: The e-Waste Explosion & What We Can Do About It by Elisabeth Grossman
Following Electronic Waste from Recyclers to Dumps in China by Terrence Henry of NPR’s StateImpact project
Clean Energy’s Dirty Little Secret by Lisa Margonelli of The Atlantic
Rare Elements Earth—Critical Resources for High Technology, U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 087-02
- Thur. Mar. 28: Sustainability—energy
Reading: (the following are available only from UR IP addresses)
Some Computer Science Issues in Creating a Sustainable World, by Jennifer Mankoff, Robin Kravets, and Eli Blevis, IEEE Computer, 2008
for Efficiency: Principles of Power-Aware Computing, by
Parthasarathy Ranganathan, Communications of the ACM, 2010
(some of this is a little on the technical side; don’t worry if you
don’t understand it all)
Enabling the low carbon economy in the information age, A report
by The Climate Group on behalf of the Global eSustainability
Initiative (GeSI), 2010 (read pages 9–27)
- Tues. Apr. 2: Civil Liberties
Guest lecture by Candice Baker Leit, Attorney,
Chapter, New York Civil Liberties Union.
Outline for talk (UR access only)
Slides (UR access only)
- Thur. Apr. 4: Sustainability
Enabling the low carbon economy in the information age
and Project Highlights, Institute for Computational Sustainability,
- Fri. Apr. 5:
Special talk by Prof. Scott on Computers and Sustainability,
Dewey Hall 2-110D, 2:00 pm.
- Tues. Apr. 9: Open Access
Guest lecture by
Dr. Mary Ann Mavrinac, Neilly Dean of River Campus Libraries.
What is Open Access?
Open Access Overview—Peter Suber
Open Access: Whom would you back?—Richard Poynder (March 10, 2009)
Is the academic publishing model on the verge of disruption?—Simon Owens (US News, July 12, 2012)
Right to Research Coalition (browse site)
Serial pricing comparisons—Rice University Library
Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research—Executive Office of the President.
European Commission Backs OA
- Thur. Apr. 11: Errors, Failures, and Risks
Reading: Textbook Sections 8.1–8.2
- Tues. Apr. 16
Reading: Textbook Sections 8.3–8.4
- Thur. Apr. 18: The Psychology of Video Games
Guest lecture by Prof. Richard
Ryan, UR Dept. of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology
Reading: Rethinking Carrots: A New Method For Measuring What Players Find Most Rewarding and Motivating About Your Game
- Tues. Apr. 23: Ethics
Reading: Textbook chapter 9
- Thur. Apr. 25: Student presentations
Bring laptops for course evaluations
- Tues. Apr. 30
- Fri. May 3
Discuss, in a paper of approx. 15 pages (4000 words) or a formal presentation
of 20–30 minutes, a topic of your choice related to class
material. (If you are taking the class for upper-level writing credit,
you must write a paper even if you make a presentation. It can be
slightly shorter though—3000 words.)
Keep in mind that the focus should be on social implications of technology
more than on the technology itself. At the very least, your paper or
presentation should comprise an insightful overview of the topic; ideally, it
should state and defend a position or point of view. Be sure to cite
sources for nonobvious facts, expert opinions, or verbatim material.
(Your bibliographic entries should provide sufficient information, when
printed on paper, for a library user to find the original source easily.
Note that Wikipedia and similar sites are not original sources.)
One last request: to make it easier for me to add annotations, please
use a line spacing of at least 1.5.