Revised 3/1/2014
Assignments and Due Dates | bookmarks icon Bookmarks | Cache | Contact Information | Glossary | rss icon RSS feed for unsorted news items | twitter icon Twitter | youtube icon Youtube |
Readings and topics by date: January: 6 | 8 | 9 | 13 | 15 | 16 | 22 | 23 | 27 | 29 | 30 | February: 3 | 5 | 6 | 10 | 12 | 13 | 19 | 20 | 24 | 26 | 27 | March: 10 | 12 | 13 | 17 | 19 | 20 | 24 | 26 | 27 | 31 | April: 2 | 3 | 7 | 9 | 10 | 14

SOCL 4528 Computers and Society Syllabus

Northeastern University, Spring 2014, CRN 30547
Professor: Judith A. Perrolle (
Office: 530 Holmes
Office Hours: M 3:00-4:00 and by appointment after class

Teaching Assistant: Kevin Geyer (geyer.k@husky)
Office: 532 Holmes
Office Hours: To be arranged.

Class meets sequence 5: M, W, Th 4:35-5:40 in room 320 Shillman

Course Description

Assignments and Due Dates

Essay 1 - Power in Computer-Mediated Social Interaction due M Jan 27 15% of grade
Essay 2 - Web Accessibility Standards due M Feb 24 20% of grade
Essay 3 (or in-class quiz) - Intellectual Property due M Mar 17 20% of grade
Essay 4 - Computer Applications for the Social Good due by email at or before the time of the scheduled final. (There will not be a final exam.) 20% of grade
Group Assignment 1 - Privacy and Surveillance in Computer-Mediated Communication Presentations W Jan 29 - M Feb 3. Group writeup due M Feb 3.
10% of grade
Group Assignment 2 - Computer Applications for the Social Good Presentations Th Mar 27 - M Apr 7. Slides and references due in electronic form by M Mar 31. There is no group paper. 15% of grade

Essays are based on the assigned readings and class discussions. They will also require additional online sources found through the class bookmarks or by searching. You must cite your sources (including the urls and date retrieved for information found online). Grades will also be based on your ability to write a logically organized essay supporting your own ideas with facts and analysis. The ability to recognize the positions of major stakeholders, present multiple points of view and show that you understand the key points of arguments other than your own are also necessary for a good grade. Each essay should be between four and eight double spaced pages. Students are expected to exercise some judgment about the probable accuracy of sources on the web. If in doubt, ask. Some recommended sources have been bookmarked. When using slashdot, Wikipedia, blogs, or other online sources try to find out where the original information came from. When giving the definitions of sociological terms try the class glossary, not an online dictionary of English. Northeastern University expects students to abide by the NU Academic Integrity Policy and to participate in the TRACE course evaluation survey at the end of the semester.

Topics and Readings

Assigned readings are available online. Temporary backup copies (often at lower resolutions or missing images and other parts) will be available in the class cache in case the webserver for the reading becomes unavailable. These files are viewable only by members of the class and require your myNEU username and password. The Communications of the ACM and other online journals are available to the Northeastern University community through the Library's portal.

You can subscribe to the RSS news feed for the class bookmarks. Bookmarks will generally refer to information on topics that will be used in lectures. You can access subsets of bookmarks with specific tags to use as sources for essays and group presentations. The twitter link is for cancellations and other class spam. It is rarely used.

Part 1. Introduction: Computer Ethics

W M Jan 6 Topic: Ethics and Professional Ethics (bookmarks icon ethics bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe)

Professional codes of ethics are more specific than moral philosophies. They contain statements of responsibilities to clients and the public. Besides being an expression of the moral views of their members, professional codes of ethics serve as a statement about a profession's responsibility to avoid doing harm in the wider society. This contributes to building the trust that leads society to allow professional groups to regulate themselves. Codes of ethics are based on the moral values shared by a group.

W Jan 8 Topic: Morality and Design (RSS feed icondesign bookmarks) (bookmarks icon subscribe)

Professional ethics can be put into practice by individuals in their work and through the policies designed by governments, business organizations, and NGOs (non-governmental organizations).

Part 2. Computer Mediated Social Structure

Th Jan 9 Topic: Computer-Mediated Social Structure (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)

The basic unit of social structure is the social interaction. Repeated patterns of social interaction build larger elements of social structure: roles, groups, organizations, communities, and social institutions.
Computer-mediated social interactions occur between people using computers and communications networks.

M Jan 13 Topic: Social Networks (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)
Concepts: Although some people believe that people were isolated from one another before the internet, the human species is linked into a dense social interaction network that spans our planet in a way that makes each of us no more that 6 social interactions away from any other person. Social networks are characterized by weak ties and strong ties. They are able to mobilize social capital, the collective resources of their members.

W Jan 15 Topic: Gender in Virtual Spaces (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)

Th Jan 16 Topic: Power (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)
Concepts: The social theorist Max Weber defined power as the ability to get someone else to do what you want them to, even against their will. Legitimate power refers to situations in which the exercise of power is accepted as right. Power is exercised in society through social interaction. When that interaction is mediated by technology, the way in which power is exercised may change as well. Weber distinguished among normative, economic, coercive forms of power, based on control over different kinds of valued resources.

For further information, view:
M Jan 20 Martin Luther King Day

W Jan 22 Topic: Social Control (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)
Social control works best when the application of power is seen as legitimate. Although "illegal operations" are not really against the law, the embedding of rules, regulations, norms, values, and laws into software tends to blur the distinctions among them.

For Further Reading:

Th Jan 23 Topic: Privacy (bookmarks bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)
Concepts: privacy

M Jan 27 Topic: Negotiating Identity in Computer Mediated Communications (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)
Essay 1 due
Concepts: identity, frontstage, backstage

Suggested Viewing:
W Jan 29 - M Feb 3 Topic: Privacy and Surveillance in Computer-Mediated Communication

This week groups will present the results of Group Assignment 1.

W Jan 29 presentations by groups 1, 2, and 3.
Th Jan 30 presentations by groups 4, 5, and 6.
M Feb 3 Group writeups due and presentations by groups 7, 8, and 9.
link to image of disappearing civil liberties mug

W Feb 5 Topic: The Social Construction of Information (bookmarks iconinformation bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic) (bookmarks icon social construction bookmarks)
Concepts: information, social construction, and the Thomas Theorem.


Th Feb 6 Topic: Formal and Informal Knowledge (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)
Concepts: Formal written procedures, like software algorithms, can be applied to many human activities. But it is difficult to write a formal procedure for riding a bicycle or find a good search algorithm for pictures of a blue guitar. Informal knowledge is based on physical experience and non-written communications.
Read: For Further Reading:
M Feb 10 Topic: Information in Bureaucratic Organizations (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)
Concepts: bureaucracy, organization, rationalization

For Further Reading:

W Feb 12 Topic: Information in Informal Organizations (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)
Concepts: open source, emergent social structure

Th Feb 13 Topic: Standards (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)
Concepts: standard, vendor lock-in ( bookmarks icon vendor-lockin bookmarks)

M Feb 17 Presidents Day

Part 3. The Digital Dilemma: Intellectual Property in the Information Age

W Feb 19 Topic: The Social Construction of Property
Concepts: property, public domain

  • in Judith Perrolle, Computers and Social Change:

  • Th Feb 20 Topic: Balancing Intellectual Property Rights and the Public Interest (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)

    For Further Reading About organizations building the information commons:
    M Feb 24 Topic: Contracts, (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe), (rss icon subscribe) and Licenses (bookmarksicon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe)
    Concepts: contract, license, work for hire, EULA
    Essay 2 due

    W Feb 26 Topic: Trademarks (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe) and Trade Secrets (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe)
    Concepts: trademark, trade secret, censorship

    Th Feb 27 Topic: Problems with Patents - Business Methods, Innovation, Trolls, and Vendor Lock-In (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe)
    Concepts: patent, prior art

    M Mar 2 - F Mar 7 Spring Break
    M Mar 10Topic: Copyrights (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe)
    Concepts: copyright, derivative work, circumvention.
    Read or View:
    W Mar 12Topic: Digital Rights Management by Law, Treaty, and Design (rss icon subscribe) (rss icon subscribe)
    Concepts: vendor lockin
    Read or View:
    For Further Reading:

    Th Mar 13 Topic: Fair Use (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe)
    Concept: fair use

    M Mar 17 Topic: Intellectual Property Quiz for those who do not want to write essay 3.
    Essay 3 due

    Part 4. Ethical Issues in Computer and Communications Design

    Computerized stock markets, automobiles, airplanes, and medical equipment malfunction and are vulnerable to hacking. The development of adaptive technologies to permit disabled individuals (and people with slow internet connections) to use the web has not kept pace with the development of high bandwidth multimedia applications. A "Digital Divide" has developed in the access to online information and services. In the United States rural people, ethnic and racial minorities, women, the disabled, and lower income people are at a disadvantage. Internationally there is a great discrepancy among regions, especially among rural and non-English speaking people.

    W Mar 19 Topic: Designing for Democracy (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe)
    Recommended Reading:
    link to movie of chimp hacking a voting machine

    Th Mar 20 Topic: Designing for Safety (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe)

    Recommended Reading:

    M Mar 24 Topic: Designing for Sustainability (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe)
    Recommended Reading: to be added
    W Mar 26 Topic: Bridging the Digital Divide (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe)
    Recommended Reading: to be added

    Th Mar 27 - M Apr 7 Topic: Computer Applications for the Social Good

    Slides and references are due M Mar 31 in electronic form (not Prezi, please).

    Th Mar 27 Groups 1 and 2 present their work.
    M Mar 31 Groups 3 and 4 present their work.
    W Apr 2 Groups 5 and 6 present their work.
    Th Apr 3 Groups 7 and 8 present their work.
    M Apr 7 Groups 9 and 10 present their work.

    W Apr 9Topic: Review of final essay topics

    Th Apr 10 Topic: Future of Computers and Communications
    Recommended Reading:
    To be supplied.

    M Apr 14 Topic: Restoring Trust (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe)
    Recommended Reading: