15-290 / 19-211 Computers and Society

Computation, Organizations and Society

Spring 2005: Wean Hall 5403, Tuesdays and Thursdays 10:30 - 11:50 am
Class web site: http://lorrie.cranor.org/courses/sp05/
Class mailing list: http://cups.cs.cmu.edu/mailman/listinfo/compsoc

Professor: Lorrie Cranor

Professor: David Farber

Teaching Assistant: Alison Alvarez

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 text. Additional readings will be assigned from papers available online or handed out in class.

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 11, 13): Course Overview

Week 1 slides

Week 2 (January 18, 20): History of Computing and the Internet

Week 2 slides

Week 3 (January 25, 27): Ethics

Week 3 slides

Week 4 (February 1, 3): Spam / Regulating online speech

Week 4 slides / Spam slides

Week 5 (February 8, 10): Regulating online speech / Intellectual property

Week 6 (February 15, 17): Intellectual property

Week 7 (February 22, 24): Intellectual property / Privacy

Week 8 (March 1, 3): Privacy

Spring Break

Week 9 (March 15, 17): Privacy

Week 9 slides / Writing slides

Week 10 (March 22, 24): Computer and network security

CERT slides / Barry Steinhardt's slides

Week 11 (March 29, 31): Electronic voting

Week 11 slides

Week 12 (April 5, 7): Work and wealth

Rahul Tongia's slides

Week 13 (April 12): Computers and the environment

Scott Matthews' slides

Week 14 (April 19, 21): Computer reliability

Week 14 slides

Week 15 (April 26, 28): Wrap-up

This class will have no final exam. Final papers will be due April 29 at 4pm

Course Requirements and Grading

Your final grade in this course will be based on:

Students are expected to do reading assignments prior to class so that they can participate fully in class discussions.

All homework assignments must be typed and submitted in hard copy form, printed in an easy-to-read font.

All homework is due in class on the due date. If you will not be in class you may submit your homework by email prior to class. 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.

A class mailing list will be 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 items of interest to this mailing list.


All students in this course will be required to complete an individual project that involves writing a paper. In this course students will be exposed to a wide variety of topics. 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.

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. By March 3, all students must submit a one-paragraph description of their selected topic (5% of project grade). By April 7, all students must submit an outline of their paper (with at least two levels of headings) and a preliminary bibliography that includes at least six sources (10% of project grade). Final papers are due Friday, April 29 at 4 pm. They should be 8-12 pages, typed double spaced. Papers should be well structured with appropriate headings throughout, include a bibliography and proper citations, and include conclusions that are well supported by the rest of the paper. Papers should be spell checked and proof read. Please staple papers; do not submit papers with clips, binders, or report covers. Students are welcome to submit rough drafts of their papers (or sections of their papers) for feedback prior to the final paper deadline.