IHSS 86849-86854 / 1210.01-1210.06 ITEC 86822-86827 / 1210.01-1210.06
FALL 1999, Monday-Wednesday 2:00-3:50

For class reserve readings click here

For course notes click here

Mapping exercise


Kim Fortun: 1210.01 Monday: Darrin 337 Wednesday: Lally 104

email: phone: x2199 office: Sage 5408 office hours:

Todd Cherkasky 1201.02 Monday: Darrin 337 Wednesday: Eaton 215

email: phone: office: office hours:

Ron Eglash 1201.03 Monday: Sage 3303 Wednesday:Lally 102

email: phone: office: office hours:

Torin Monahan 1201.04 Monday: Sage 3303 Wednesday: Sage 3101

email: phone: x8503 office: Sage 5704 office hours:

Atsushi Akera 1201.05 Monday: Darrin 330 Wednesday: Lally 02

email: phone: office: office hours:

Virginia Eubanks 1201.06 Monday: Darrin 330 Wednesday: LOW 4034

email: phone: x8503 office: Sage 5704 office hours:

What’s IT take??? In other words: how is IT innovated? And what do IT students today need to learn to become innovators themselves? These questions orient this course. We will explore how innovation of IT has happened so far, and techniques that will fuel creative development of IT in the future.

The course can be thought of as a "Grand Exploration" of IT -- from alphabets, the printing press and the first world maps to GIS and GPS; from telephones and radio to cybernetics, the gene chip and bioinformatics; and – of course -- from the first computer to the Internet. One goal is for you to acquire the investigative skills necessary to assess how technological innovation happens, and affects the world. Another goal is for you to learn about the history of IT, so that you can use the past to "think the future."

You will experiment with different research techniques, including library and web research, interviewing and data analysis. One important assignment will involve an interview with an IT researcher at Rensselaer. Another important assignment will be to "profile" an information technology, mapping the context of its emergence and its wide-reaching impact. Together, students’ profile projects will provide a complex map that links any given information technology to other technologies, and to broad social, cultural and political-economic trends. Peer-reviews of both the interview and the profile project will help you learn to constructively critique other people’s work, and to take advantage of feedback you receive to improve your own work. Group presentations of your interview material and profile projects will provide experience working in teams. Your two exams will provide the opportunity to demonstrate how the research skills you have learned can help you analyze any information technology -- preparing you for a world in which new information technologies will constantly emerge and deserve rigorous analysis.


All readings for the course are available electronically – through either the Internet or Folsom Library’s electronic reserve system. Note that we did not choose the assigned readings because they contain uncontested truths. They are important interpretations of history, shaped by each author’s particular perspective. Thus, ALL the articles should be read critically, and comparatively. Important questions you should ask as you read include the following: What is the basic chronology outlined in the article? What does the chronology emphasize? The role of certain social actors? Political forces? Social or economic effects? What does the chronology leave out?

Some weeks, your homework includes a film. Films will be screened on Thursday evenings, and then will be put on reserve in the library. We strongly recommend trying to see the films on Thursdays. It will be much easier than trying to get the film over the weekend, and it will give you the opportunity to jump-start your work for the next week – with your classmates. In week 5, your homework will include the playing of the computer game SimEarth, which you can purchase through the bookstore.

All readings, films and other assignments for each week should be completed prior to the class meeting for which they are listed.

The class will meet in a number of different venues: Most Mondays you will meet with your particular class for a lecture and discussion. Most Wednesdays you will meet with a smaller group of students and your section leader for discussion and interactive exercises. Most weeks your section will also meet electronically, in discussions on WebCT. And many weeks there will a film screened on Thursday evenings – you can either attend the screening, or check out the film over the weekend from the library. On occasion, all three classes of the course will meet together. You’ll be notified in class, and by email when the joint-meetings will occur. All joint-meetings will be held in Sage 3303.

In Monday sessions of the course our goal will be to profile a particular IT innovation. You need to come to class prepared to participate in this. First we’ll do a "synchronic analysis" that suggests the particular social and culture tenor of the time in which the innovation being profiled emerged, or became widely used. We’ll ask what else was going on, and what would have gone into a time capsule of the period. Then we’ll map at least 10 things that came together to make the emergence of this IT innovation possible: social forces, economic factors, culture, technology, etc. Then we’ll map at least 10 after-effects, asking how this IT innovation entered and changed the world.

On most Wednesday’s, we’ll turn the "after-effects" into "catalysts," so that we can explore opportunities and needs for IT innovation in the future.

A third venue for this class will be within the bulletin board option of WebCT, where we can have an on-line discussion. To do this, you need to create an account in WebCT for this course. Please record your password so that you don’t’ forget it. To participate in a bulletin board discussion, you first click on the "bulletin board" option on the Welcome Page. Then click on "forums" on the left tool bar. This should bring up an index that lists each week, and each section. Go to your section, in the appropriate week. There you will find a list of questions related to that week’s reading. You need to contribute a response to at least one of the questions, building on the responses by other students already posted. Each response should be at least 200 words long and should make at least one direct reference to the assigned reading. Your contribution to WebCT discussion needs to be posted by Monday mornings at 8:00.


academic honesty

Throughout the course, you are encouraged to work collaboratively with your peers. Discussion of course material, both in and outside class, is appropriate throughout the term – except during the in-class exams. Note that all parties to cheating are accountable. If you allow another student to borrow your exam answers you, too, are guilty of academic dishonesty. If you allow your written assignments to be copied and submitted by other students, you, too, will be held responsible.

In all written work, citations must be included for both indirect and direct quotation, providing clear documentation of sources. Note that we may request submission of all your sources so that we can check the accuracy of your citations.

It is not acceptable to resubmit work done for another course unless you have received explicit permission from your section leader. Representation of work done by another person as your own work is also unacceptable.

Please see the Rensselaer Student Handbook for complete guidelines on academic honesty. Note that penalties for plagiarism can be very harsh. Specifically: if we able to confirm plagiarism or cheating on any written assignment in the course you are likely to fail the entire course.

electronic citizenship

In this course, as in all activities at Rensselaer, you are expected to abide by the Institute’s "Policy on Electronic Citizenship," which articulates how "the ethical principles that apply to everyday academic community life also apply to the use of information and computing resources." Please familiarize yourself with the details of this policy, available at <>.

gender-neutral language

Contemporary standards of language use encourage gender-neutral language. Male-gender pronouns or words like "man" to refer to everyone are not empirically accurate. Thus, in this course please use gender-neutral language. For help, please see the tips provided by the Writing Center at <>.

team work

Your course projects will be developed and presented in teams. You are expected to participate in the development of ideas for the presentation, to attend scheduled group meetings to plan the presentation, to complete your share of the preparation on schedule, and to produce high quality material for the class presentation itself. Failure to do your share of the team’s work will be judged very harshly. Evaluation of team collaboration will be carried out by each team member, and will affect your final course grade.

grade appeals

You may appeal a grade through a written statement describing the grounds on which a change of grade is considered appropriate. The written statement should reference one of the three criteria identified in the Student Handbook as grounds for appeal. According to the Handbook, the "allegation must be based upon a violation of the course syllabus, a violation of Institute policy, or a violation of the student's rights under the Student Bill of Rights."


Grade evaluation for the course will be based on the following percentages:






(A=85-100%; B=70-85%; C=55-70%; D=40-55%)


Class attendance is required. Three unexcused absences will lead to failure of the course. Absences will be considered excused if make-up work is completed, and the absence was due to illness, a family emergency, or other similar situations. Heavy workloads in other class do not constitute grounds for an excused absence. To receive an excused absence, you must complete all regular assignments due the day of your absence. – within one week of the absence. You also must submit a 400 word essay that uses assigned readings to describe some aspect of the "profile" focused on that week. The extra essay also must be submitted within one week of your absence. Valid reasons for extending this deadline for submitting materials related to an excused absence may be discussed with your section leader.

participation in class and WebCT discussion

Your participation in class and WebCT discussions will be graded and count as 25% of your grade. Each of ten WebCT posts will count as 1 point (1%). You will receive either 1 point, or none at all, without the opportunity to resubmit. Your section leader will inform you via email to your WebCT mailbox if you did not receive credit. If you did not receive credit, you need to take greater care in preparing your next post – making sure it responds to the questions being discussed, and is substantiated with references to assigned readings. You can build a total of 10 points toward your final grade for your WebCT posts.

Your section leader will be responsible for giving you a grade for participation in class discussions and exercises. Failure to submit benchmarking materials – like your choice of an IT researcher to interview, or a topic for your profile project – will affect your class participation grade. You can build a total of 15 points toward your final grade for your class participation.


You will have two exams, each of which will count as 15% of your final course grade. The first exam will be on Wednesday, October 13. The second exam will be on Monday, November 15. Make-up exams will not be given except in cases involving extreme illness or family emergencies.

Both exams will include multiple choice questions, short answer questions and essay questions. In the multiple choice and short answer components of the exam, you will be asked to demonstrate that you have done the reading for the course, and listened well to lectures and class discussion. In the essay component, you will be ask to demonstrate that you have learned theories and methods for understanding the innovation and affects of IT: You may be asked to provide a complex analysis of one of the technologies profiled in class. You also may be asked to demonstrate how the course has prepared you to analyze any IT innovation. In other words, the essay component of the exam will ask you to show that you have learned to use the theories and methods focused on in the course well enough to be able to use them in the future – in other class assignments, and in your endeavors beyond the classroom –

interview with IT researcher at Rensselaer

This assignment involves choosing an IT researcher at Rensselaer whom you would like to interview so that you can learn more about what she or he does as a researcher, what resources are necessary to conduct the research, and what results the research is expected to produce. To choose your interviewee, visit the IT web page, where IT researchers are listed according to the topic of their research; often there are links to researcher’s own web pages.

This assignment is an opportunity for you to explore possible second disciplines – and to help others understand the different domains of work within IT. It will also help you develop important research skills. Throughout your career you will need to learn about what others do and how it relates to what you are interested in. Good interviewing skills are crucial.

Two students should not interview the same researcher. There will be a section in the bulletin board section of WebCT where you can post who you plan to interview. Whoever posts first has priority. If there are more students in the class than IT researchers on campus, we will discuss alternative guidelines in class.

You should have selected an interviewee by September 29. You should have conducted the interview by October 27. The complete write-up of the interview is due November 17. When you turn in the complete write-up of the interview you also must turn in email confirmation that your interviewee has checked her or his quotes for accuracy. You also must turn in two "peer reviews," confirming that at least two of your classmates have read your write-up for clarity and comprehensiveness. The write-up should be approximately five double-spaced pages.

Your interview material will be presented in class November 29 & December 1. in groups organized around possible second disciplines or other thematic foci. It is you responsibility to make sure you are in a group.

The written component of the interview assignment is worth 10 points and the class presentation is worth 5 points. In all, you can build 15 points toward your final course grade through this assignment. Further details on the interview assignment will be posted in WebCT.

profile projects

The most extensive assignment in this course is to "profile" an information technology, following the protocol provided in class. The challenge is to map out the world in which an information technology emerged, what led up to it, and what came after. Each of the twenty categories on the profile protocol should be responded to in approximately 300 words. If some categories require more than 300 words, others may be less. In all, you should compose an essay of approximately 7000 words (20-25 pages), including an introduction.

Two students should not profile the same technology. There will be a section in the bulletin board section of WebCT where you can post your preference. Whoever posts first has priority. Be creative. Last year, students chose technologies ranging from the Julian calendar to the Pony Express, FedEx, cell phones, satellites – and even the basketball shot clock. .

Your profile is due in increments. The first step is to submit a synchronic analysis of the time at which the technology you are studying was invented or became popularly used – due October 6. Then you will begin submitting sections of the profile. Five sections are due October 20; another five sections are due October 27; anther five sections are due November 3; the last five sections are due November 10. Each time you submit a set of five sections you must turn in "peer reviews" to confirm that at least two of your classmates have edited your work for clarity and comprehensiveness. Each set of five sections also must include two bibliographic references, properly cited. Whenever you turn in a set of section, please include a profile schema that highlights which sections are included in a given set.

The final paper -- including twenty sections, and introduction and a profile schema – is due November 29.

The projects will be presented in groups of five on December 6 & 8. Each group will have fifteen minutes to present. We will take time in class to organize groups for presentations, but you must work together outside of class to put the presentations together.

The profile project contributes 30 points (30%) to your final grade. The sections submitted October 20-November 10 are each worth 1 point – for a possible total of 20 points. Another five points can be built through the final presentation of the paper. Another five points can be built through the class presentations.

You can raise the grade you receive on the first draft of your sections if you go to the Writing Center and receive a stamp indicating that they have reviewed the revisions made for the final version of the paper. Thus, the final version of the paper can involve substantial re-writing, with substantial improvements of your grade.

Further details on the profile projects will be posted in WebCT.



Monday, August 30:

Wednesday, September 1: biosketch


Wednesday, September 8: WebCT post


Monday, September 13: WebCT post

selection of topic for profile project

Wednesday, September 15:


Monday, September 20: WebCT post [combined class meeting]

Wednesday, September 22:


Monday, September27: WebCT post

Wednesday, September 29: selection of IT researcher to interview


Monday, October 4: WebCT post

Wednesday, October 6: synchronic analysis for profile project


Wednesday, October 13: exam


Monday, October 18: WebCT post

Wednesday, October 20: first quarter of profile project with two peer reviews


Monday, October 25: WebCT post

Wednesday, October 27: second quarter of profile project with two peer reviews

confirmation that interview has been done


Monday, November 1: WebCT post [combined class meeting]

Wednesday, November 3: third quarter of profile project with two peer reviews


Monday, November 8: WebCT post

Wednesday, November 10: fourth quarter of profile project with two peer reviews


Monday, November 15: WebCT post [combined class meeting]

Wednesday, November 17: interview write-up with 2 peer reviews


Monday, November 22: exam


Monday, November 29: profile project

group presentations of interviews

Wednesday, December 1: group presentations of interviews [course evaluations?}


Monday, December 6: group presentations of profile projects

Wednesday, December 8: group presentations of profile projects