17-290 / 19-211 Computers and Society

Computation, Organizations and Society

Spring 2007: Porter Hall A22, Tuesdays and Thursdays 10:30 - 11:50 am
Class web site: http://cups.cs.cmu.edu/courses/compsoc-sp07/
Class mailing list: http://cups.cs.cmu.edu/mailman/listinfo/compsoc

Professor: Lorrie Cranor

Professor: Rahul Tongia

Teaching Assistant: Janice Tsai

Course Description

In this course, students will discuss the social impacts of computing technology. The course will provide a brief introduction to ethics and to the history of computing and the Internet. It will focus on a number of areas in which computers and information technology are having an impact on society including privacy, freedom of speech, intellectual property, work, distribution of wealth, and the environment. Current issues that will be discussed include electronic voting, spyware, spam, and intellectual property issues associated with digital content distribution. This course is intended for freshmen and sophomore students from across the university.

Required Texts

Readings will be assigned from the following texts. Additional readings will be assigned from papers available online or handed out in class.

Students are also encouraged to obtain a copy of A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations by Kate L. Turabian. This book will assist you in properly citing references and preparing your research paper. Used copies are usually available online for under $10.

Course Schedule

Note, this is subject to change. The class web site will have the most up-to-date version of this calendar.

Week 1 (January 16, 18): Course Overview

Week 2 (January 23, 25): Ethics

Week 3 (January 30, February 1): Regulating online speech

Week 4 (February 6, 8): Spam, Phishing, and Spyware / Privacy

Week 5 (February 13, 15): Privacy

Week 6 (February 20, 22): Privacy

Week 7 (February 27, March 1): Intellectual Property

Week 8 (March 6, 8): Intellectual Property

Spring Break

Week 9 (March 20, 22): Connectivity

Week 10 (March 27, 29): Access to Information and Digital Divide / ICT and Development

Week 11 (April 3, 5): e-Governance and e-Voting

Week 12 (April 10, 12): History and Design of the Internet / Economics

Week 13 (April 17): Economics / Cost-benefit analysis

Week 14 (April 24, 26): Environmental Issues and Presentations

  • Week 14 slides
  • Week 15 (May 1, 3): Environmental Issues and Wrap-up

    This class will have no final exam. Final papers will be due May 11 at 4pm

    Course Requirements and Grading

    Your final grade in this course will be based on:

    Class participation: Students are expected to do reading assignments prior to class so that they can participate fully in class discussions. The class participation grade will take into account class attendance and participation in class and online discussions.

    A class mailing list has been setup for announcements, questions, and further discussion of topics discussed in class. Students will be expected to contribute to mailing list discussions. Students should post (non-personal) course-related questions to this mailing list rather than sending them to the professors or TA directly. Students are encouraged to post course-related news items to this mailing list.

    Quizzes: Five short unannounced quizzes will be given throughout the semester. The quizzes will generally be given at the beginning of class and cover material from the reading assignment. Except for the first quiz of the semester, no opportunities will be provided for making up missed quizzes. Each student's lowest quiz grade will be dropped automatically when computing final grades.

    Class debates: Each homework assignment will include an essay question that will also be used as the topic for a class debate. Several students will be assigned specific roles in each debate. Those students will present their arguments in front of the class. Then we will have an open class discussion. Each student will present oral arguments during one debate during the semester. The class debate grade will be based on the oral arguments a student presents during their assigned debate. Participation in the open class discussion will be factored into the class participation grade.

    Homework: Seven homework assignments will be given throughout the semester. All homework assignments must be typed and submitted electronically in Microsoft Word or PDF to compsoc-homework AT cups DOT cs DOT cmu DOT edu. (Use this address only for submitting homework, not for asking questions about the homework.) Please place the homework number and your andrew id in the subject line (for example, "hw1 lorrie"). Every homework submission after hw1 must include a properly formatted bibliography that includes all works you referred to as you prepared your homework. These works should be cited as appropriate in the text of your answers.

    All homework is due at 10:20am on the due date. We will often discuss homework in class, so you should bring an electronic or hard copy of your homework with you to all classes. You will lose 10% for turning in homework after class on the day it is due. You will lose an additional 10% for each late day after that. We reserve the right to take off additional points or refuse to accept late homework submitted after the answers have been discussed extensively in class. Reasonable extensions will be granted to students with excused absences or extenuating circumstances. Please contact us as soon as possible to arrange for an extension.

    Cheating and plagiarism will not be tolerated. Students caught cheating or plagiarizing will receive no credit for the assignment on which the cheating occurred. Additional actions -- including assigning the student a failing grade in the class or referring the case for disciplinary action -- may be taken at the discretion of the instructors.


    All students in this course will be required to complete an individual or group project that involves writing a paper. Students may choose whether to work individually or in a group with one other student. The project gives students an opportunity to explore one topic in depth. Students may select as their paper topic any social or policy issue related to computing. The paper should discuss multiple view points related to the issue and include an overview of how decision makers might approach an evaluation of the various arguments and factors to reach a policy decision.

    Throughout the semester we will be discussing skills related to writing a research paper. These research skills are shown in italics in the course schedule. Hopefully, you have already been introduced to most of these skills. However, if some of these skills are new for you, please don't hesitate to ask the professors or TA for further assistance.

    Students should think about paper topics during the first half of the semester. They should discuss their paper ideas with the professors or TA in person or via email. By March 1, all students must submit a one-paragraph description of their selected topic (2% of course grade).

    By April 5, all students must submit an outline of their paper (with at least two levels of headings) and a preliminary bibliography that includes at least eight sources (5% of course grade).

    On April 26 we will hold a poster fair in class in which students will present their (hopefully almost complete) projects (8% of course grade). This will be a good opportunity for students to give each other feedback and to get feedback from the professors that will help improve the final papers. The poster session will be open to all members of the CMU community.

    Final papers are due Friday, May 11 at 4 pm, submitted both electronically and in hard copy (double-sided printing preferred, but not required). They should be 5-8 single-spaced pages. The paper title, author name(s) and email address(es), and date should appear at the top of the first page, followed by a short abstract. Do not include a separate cover page. Please staple papers; do not submit papers with clips, binders, or report covers. Please number all pages.

    Papers must include a bibliography and proper citations, with a minimum of 10 references cited including at least two conference or journal publications. While Wikipedia and similar sources might be used for background information, it is expected that students will find more authoritative sources for information and cite these sources rather than citing Wikipedia. The Chicago/Turabian reference list style or the ACM journal reference style should be used for the bibliography and citations (students may use an alternative style only with permission of the instructors).

    Papers should be well structured with appropriate headings throughout, and include conclusions that are well supported by the rest of the paper. Remember this is a research paper, not an opinion essay. All assertions need to be supported with citations to relevant literature. You should cite ideas, not just direct quotes. Headings should be used to structure the paper. A "roadmap" at the end of the introduction is highly recommended.

    Papers should be spell checked and proof read. Make sure you properly punctuate quotations and citations. (Punctuation goes inside quotation marks. Citations go outside quotation marks, but before the period at the end of the sentence.) Avoid opinionated language and phrases like "obviously" and "it is obvious." Try to use "which" and "that" correctly.

    Students are welcome to submit rough drafts of their papers (or sections of their papers) for feedback prior to the final paper deadline. Students are also encouraged to form small groups and exchange draft papers among group members for additional feedback.