Computers & Society (SOC 2730), Summer 2013, Session III (7/8-8/3)

MTWRF: 10:30-12:45 – Instructor: Julia Schroeder

When we think about computers, why do we think about them the way we do? When did computers start looking like they do today? Why is your computer keyboard set up like that? Why are there so few female computer scientists in the US? Why do some think the Internet spreads democracy? Why are there so many horror movies about Artificial Intelligence? Does anonymity on the web make people behave badly? Why do some think smartphones make us lonely?


This class will introduce students to the idea that in order to understand the ways that we buy, use, and incorporate computers – including the ones in our pockets - in our every day lives, we must also understand the ways that society affects their design, production and use. We’ll look at the ways that computers have been interpreted throughout history, and the ways that history shapes how we see computers. We’ll examine the ways that users (and non-users) actively shape and are shaped by computing technologies, as well as the wider political and economic contexts of their use. Throughout the course, we’ll consider the consequences of what we’ve learned to debate current events in computing and newly emerging computing technologies, and examine how our own lives may change as a result.

By the end of this course, you will be able to…

·      Explain why different computing technologies throughout history have been received in different ways, and the ways that culture affects this process.

·      Evaluate claims made by others about how these technologies affect society.

·      Apply what you learn to be a smarter user and consumer of technology. 

Course requirements: See Assignments & Assessments document for more details

Reflective Essays & Final Portfolio – 40%

Midterm: You will write a reflective essay (3-5 pages) explaining 1 change (or reinforcement) in your thinking that has occurred as a result of the class so far. Due in-class Friday, 7/19.

Final: You will write a reflective essay explaining 3 changes (or reinforcements) in your thinking that have occurred as a result of the class. Due 8-2 to me in my office (Cab 217).

Final Portfolio: You will assemble a portfolio comprised of all of your finished writing products from the entire course. You will also include a page that describes changes in your reading and writing habits, and any other skills that you may take from this course into other courses or into your career. Due 8-2 to me in my office (Cab 217).

Group Research TED Talk – 10%

Throughout this course, with the help of your group members, you’ll do research on how computers are affecting a particular sphere of social life. This will involve secondary research, where you’ll have to search journals, books, newspapers, magazines, etc. If your group chooses to do so, it can also involve primary research, where you’ll gather your own data. At the end of the course, you’ll give a group “TED talk” (15 mins) to the rest of the class based on your research that summarizes current issues in the field with regards to computers, as well as the public policy issues.

Writing Assignments – 30%

Debate Brief  – Each student will produce 1 (4-5 pg) debate brief that will be based on the class debates or a case of the student’s choice (double-check with Julia before doing this). These briefs are due in class 2 days after the debate takes place or, if you choose your own topic, at a due date discussed with Julia.

Weekly reading reflection assignments– Once a week (you pick the day!), you will write a short (1-2 paragraph) reflection on the readings and suggest some discussion questions – post to Collab.

Participation – 20%

Absences – since our time together is so short, there are no excused absences for anything other than personal medical emergencies and death in your immediate family. If you know now that you have an unavoidable conflict, let Julia know immediately. If you don’t come to class and don’t let me know why, I will assume you were unprepared and it will negatively affect your participation grade.

Required Texts

Friedman, Ted. 2005. Electric Dreams: Computers in American Culture. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Bauerlein, Mark. 2011. The Digital Divide: Writings for and Against Facebook, YouTube, Texting, and the Age of Social Networking. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

These books will be available in the Bookstore, but not for the first day of class. Check out Amazon & for cheap used copies. Electric Dreams is on reserve in Brown Library – ask at the front desk about how to get it.

All other readings on Collab. If you would like to print the readings – it’s cheaper to print in bulk with the UVA printing services (.05 a page for double sided copies, located in the UVA bookstore) than in the library. 

Class Debates

Our class debates are important to your learning in this class because they exercise the intellectual muscles it takes to see all sides of the issues concerning computers in society that surround us today.  As we’ll learn together, the social consequences of these technologies are not clear-cut and as people living through these changes and anticipating the next ones, it’s our responsibility to be able to talk and think critically about them.

Our class debates will loosely follow the “Lincoln-Douglas Debate” format.  The day before each debate, I will split the class in half and assign you to the positive/negative sides of the debate. You will have time in class with your team to prepare for the debate.  As a team, you’ll be required to come up with a case or example from the social world that supports your side of the debate.

For example, if the debate was: Resolved: Do computers make our lives easier?, and your team was on the positive side (meaning you’ll be supporting the resolution) your case could explain how expanded access to information about our health has empowered patients. You would then need to support this case with evidence from current events, journalistic & academic sources.  You should also anticipate the other team’s arguments to come up with rebuttals, or a defense of your position. For the overall structure of the debate, see the table below. Your team will also receive 2-3 minutes between rounds to regroup after hearing the opposing side.

The debate will be judged by Julia and an invited guest to determine the winner. The winner of each debate will get different perks throughout the course. Some of these perks include, picking a debate topic, or creating a reading quiz for the rest of the class. Remember – you also need to choose a debate to write-up as an assignment, so take good notes!


Under the Honor System at this University, plagiarism warrants expulsion.  Obviously, you should never plagiarize. “Plagiarism is the use of the distinctive ideas or words belonging to another person without adequate acknowledgment of that person's contribution.” Taking responsibility for your own intellectual work and giving credit to others for their work go to the heart of what we do at a university. To repeat:  You should never, under any circumstances, plagiarize.

All written work submitted in a course, except for acknowledged quotations, is to be expressed in your own words.  It should also be constructed upon a plan of your devising.  Work copied from a book, from another student’s paper, or from any other source, is not acceptable, constitutes plagiarism, and violates the UVA honor code.  Writing in sociology is a process of synthesizing the ideas of others.  When you rely on a particular work for ideas, you must acknowledge that work.  Most of the time, you will be paraphrasing these ideas, which still requires you to cite the work.  All direct quotes must be placed within quotation marks or otherwise identified.  Earl Babbie has a good discussion of plagiarism here:

If I identify an instance of plagiarism in any assignment submitted by a student, that student will earn the grade of F on the assignment. 

How do you make sure you don’t plagiarize? Check out the following URLs:

This excellent site gives examples of proper citation and proper paraphrasing, and thus clarifies what constitutes plagiarism.  


Getting Behind, Feeling Overwhelmed?

1. Come and talk to Julia during her office hours

2. If it’s an emotional/personal problem – go see CAPS:

3. If it’s an academic problem– check out the Dean’s Office:

Drop & Withdraw Info

Drop deadline: 7/19

Withdraw deadline: 7/26

Any questions about summer session?

Contact the Office of Summer and Special Academic Programs
University of Virginia, Dell 1, (434) 924-3371