CS 480: Computers and Society
Catalog description : Computer and network security measures;
encryption protocols. Ethical theory and applications in
computing. Seminar discussion on value systems, social impact, and
human factors, and about use and misuse of computers. Four hours
Translation: This course is about the ways in which computers
and information technology affect our lives and society. It's about
the moral and ethical choices we are faced with as producers and
consumers of computing technology. It's also about the political
dimentions of information technology, and the ways in which these
areas influence each other.
What's the class like? The class is scheduled to meet
MWF. Monday and Wednesday are classroom days, and Friday is an on-site
day, where you will be performing Service Learning in conjunction with
a community partner. (More on that below). Classroom days will be a
mix of lecture, student-led and guided discussion, and guest
speakers. This will definitely be an 'active learning' class; rather
than sitting and listening, learning will come through discussion and
debate. I hope to also learn a lot from you!
What's this service thing about? CS 480 is a Service-Learning
course, and has the SL core designation. During this course, you will
be working with a San Francisco-based agency that provides computer
access, training, and support to local communities. This experience
will allow you to apply your knowledge to directly help others, and
also give you first-hand experience about the ways in which technology
(and the lack thereof) can affect the lives of the disenfranchised.
You will also be working on some specific projects with a more
political dimension, which will provide a better understanding of how
political infrastructure can be used to address the digital divide,
and also how computers and the Internet are reshaping political discourse.
Service learning is an educational methodology that provides students
with experiental education that is grounded in a project with a
community partner. It is important to note that this is different from
volunteering; you are not working in the community just to be nice, or
solely to help out the underprivileged (although that's a part of
it). It's also meant to be an educational experience for you; you'll
be learning from the commuity partner as well as providing them with a
service. By working with a community partner, you will learn about the
way in which the issues we discuss in class are actually manifested
in real-world community settings.
Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:
- Distinguish the needs of the different parties having a stake in
the privacy/security of a computer system.
- Relate privacy and security considerations to real and
constructed ethics cases.
- Characterize the issues and controversies surrounding free
speech, intellectual property, and fair use with respect to
computers and the Internet.
- Describe the issues and controversies surrounding file sharing,
and distribution and ownership of digital content from a
technical, legal, and ethical point of view.
- Explain the issues and problems involved with placing trust in
- Discuss the growth and development of online communities and
their potential benefits and dangers.
- Develop a greater understanding of the ways in which a student's
skill set and career can influence and impact the larger
- Write about and reflect on the ways in which they are able to
apply their skills and knowledge toward the USF mission.
- Understand and evaluate the way that their skills and careers
impact the larger world.
- Think and write critically about contemporary moral and ethical
issues relating to computers and technology.
- Understand and write about the relationship between politics and
The course will consist of the following graded components with the
percent contribution to the grade listed. Grades (including +/-) are
assigned as follows: A 92% and above; A- 90-92%; B+ 89-90%; B 82-88%;
B- 80-81%; C+ 78-79%; C 72-78%; C-70-71%; D 60-69%; F 59% and
below. For CS majors, C = 72% is the lowest passing grade.
- Midterm (20%): This will be a take-home essay exam.
- Final (20%): This will also be a take-home essay exam.
- Attendance and participation. (10%): Students are expected to
attend all classes and participate in class discussion. If you
must miss class for a valid reason, you should notify the
instructor in advance.
- Assessment project (10%): The class will be responsible for
preparing a policy statement for the Mayor's office detailing the
current state of San Francisco technolgy centers and their
- Toolkit (10%): Each student will develop a toolkit that
demonstrates how some Web technology can be used to encourage
social change and political engagement.
- Blog (10%): Each student must keep a blog devoted solely to this
class. Each student is expected to post at least two entries per
week. Some weeks I will give you specific topics to write about (such as
"tell us about your community partner") and other weeks you
may write about whatever you wish. Your entry may link to external
sources, such as newspaper articles, Slashdot threads, other
students' blogs, or web pages. (In fact, this is encouraged!)
However, you should be sure to add your own commentary: just
saying 'check this out!' is not sufficient. As always, you are
expected to post and conduct discussions with respect for all
participants. Flaming, name-calling, or insults will not be tolerated.
- Service Learning component (20%, pass or fail the
course). Fridays provide scheduled time for service learning, to be
performed at a local nonprofit organization. The organizations we
will work with this semester include Network Ministries,
St. Anthony's Foundation, and the Boys and Girls' Club. Students are
expected to spend at least 4 hours every two weeks onsite at this
organization, assisting them with their computer-related and IT
problems. Potential tasks will depend on your skills and the
partner's needs, but may include working with users, providing
tutoring, upgrading of machines, software installation and
maintenance, troubleshooting and repair of system problems,
database installation and maintenance, Web page design, and
documentation of existing systems. This activity will satisfy
students' Service Learning Core requirement.
Student performance on this aspect of the class will be
evaluated by both the instructor(s) and the onsite liason at the end
of the semester. Students who do not satisfactorily complete this
portion of the course will not receive a passing grade in the
One thing to be aware of is that many of the assignments for this
course involve a written component or a presentation. This requires a
more subjective grading assessment than, for example, a computer
I will grade your written and presentational work as follows:
- 50% quantitative: Did you satisfy the parameters of the
assignment? For example, is your essay the correct length? Did you
discuss all required topics?
- 50% qualitative: This is where I judge the depth or quality of
your answers. This is necessarily subjective, but I will be
interested in thoughtful, introspective reflections, well-argued or
well-supported presentations, discussions that draw together points
from different aspects of the class, and show depth and clarity of
The required texts are:
We will also have supplementary reading (provided as handouts or
online) from time to time.
- Gift of Fire, 3rd Edition. Sara Baase.
- Learning Through Serving. Christine Cress, et al.