110: Assignments
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Examinations: There are two examinations, a midterm and a final examination. Both will be based on the course readings and lectured material, and will consist of a mixture of short answer and multi-part questions. Most of the questions will be closely related to topics covered in the discussion questions for each week, so preparing carefully for each class and taking notes during discussion will be vital for success in the examinations.

New: description of midterm format and hints on how to answer the questions are now available here.

Two Papers: You will be required to write two papers, one for each half of the course. Assignments should be submitted via email as an attachment in Microsoft Word format. Topics for each paper will be posted at least three weeks before the due date. Papers should be around five pages long, double-spaced.

First Paper:

Answer one of the following three questions. The idea here is to show that you have engaged with the issues of the course. View these papers as a chance to show that you

  •  Did the readings thoroughly
  •  Thought about the issues raised in the discussion questions
  •  Made good notes during class
  •  Have your own ideas about these issues

For full credit, you will need to put forward your own opinions while closely supporting them with reference to the material in the readings and the textbook. This will definitely include citations to readings and will often include short quotations. Make sure that you are referencing all of the readings most appropriate to the question. Each question will require material from several weeks to answer well. Better papers will usually present evidence from additional sources not assigned as required reading -- given the course's focus on information this is particularly appropriate.

Here are the two assigned questions. Other topics may be chosen with my prior permission.

  1. How have electronic technologies changed about the way people interact with information? In answering this question, consider both information retrieval issues and electronic publishing and DRM issues. Try to make a coherent and interesting argument about one or two important changes that applies across these different areas. Arguing that certain aspects of people's interaction with information haven't really changed is also acceptable. The textbook likes to take an historical perspective, and will be an important source here.
  2. Compare and contrast the following kinds of information electronic system: a digital library, a database management system, and an internet search engine. You will want to consider a number of different aspects of these systems. Choose those you consider most appropriate. Among the more important are: how information is structured, how it gets into the system, who is responsible for verifying its accuracy, what kind of information the system holds and how it is updated.

Hints and detailed formatting requirements for the papers are now available online.

Also, I have some grading guidelines that will help you see what is required to get a good grade on this assignment.

Feedback on draft papers is available if you bring them for me to read during office hours.

Second Paper

Follow the same general guidelines as the first paper. Make it clear which question you are answering -- many people forgot to last time. Remember the need to formally cite readings. Also make your thesis clear and unambiguous. I will judge your paper according to how well it presents and supports an answer to the question. Other questions may be chosen only with my advance consent. Review your paper with reference to the grading guidelines before submitting.  As before, try to show familiarity with a number of the course readings and for full credit find some other sources relevant to your argument.

Choose one of the following two questions:

1: Can an online computer network be considered a place distinct from any particular physical space (often called “cyberspace)”?

2: Is life online just a mirror of offline society, with all its problems and prejudices, or can the Internet contribute to a new and better world?

These questions were chosen to allow you to refer to a range of the assigned readings in answering them, and to give you plenty of scope to develop your own thesis and argument. For the first one, you would definitely want to talk about the idea of a “cyberspace” (Lessig) and “virtual community” (Rheingold and others), and would probably want to discuss the difficulty in regulating internet activities that cross legal boundaries (gambling, etc). For the second one, you would obviously start with the “digital divide” ideas, but should include ideas from at least one other week. Most of the readings would fit with either question – for example the discussion of spammers could be thought of as evidence that on-line spaces have their own customs and economics for Q1 or as a sign that life online includes all the bad elements of offline life Q2.

Page copyright Thomas Haigh -- email thaigh@acm.org.    Home: www.tomandmaria.com/tom. Updated 10/27/2004.