Information and Communication Technologies Across Sectors of Society

COMM/INFO 4940 (Spring 2013)

This course examines the ubiquity of information and communication technologies (ICTs) across sectors of society, including the public (governmental) sector, the private (business) sector, the voluntary (nonprofit) sector, and the household and community sector (including domestic, educational, and religious contexts). In addition to providing a high-level overview of ICT use in each sector, the course explores the following two themes:

  • The relationship between the unique role that each sector plays in society and the ways that ICTs are and are not used in that sector, and
  • The challenges implicated in the design and use of ICTs that span multiple sectors.


Required Texts

Texts for this course will be drawn from a variety of sources including academic conference and journal articles, selected chapters from books, articles in the popular press, popular fiction, and video lectures.

Students will be required to read the following novel:
Card, O.S. (2002). Ender’s Game. New York: Starscape.

Most other texts are available for free through Cornell’s site licenses. You will either need to be on campus or logged in through a VPN to access these articles. All other texts will be provided by the instructor.



22  January:
Course Overview

OVERVIEW OF THEMES: In which students will develop a working language for discussing ICTs across sectors.

24 January:
Text: Thinking about the Relationships Among Sectors

  • Til, J.V. (1994). Nonprofit organizations and social institutions. In Herman, R.D, Ed. The Jossey-Bass handbook of nonprofit leadership and management. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, pp. 44-64.

29 January:
IRB Certification Due
Text: Thinking about Boundaries (And the Lack Thereof)

  • Nippert-Eng, C.E. (1995). Negotiating home and work: From integration to segmentation. Home and work. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 1-33.

31 January:
Text: Thinking about How Technologies Bridge (or Fail to Bridge) Boundaries

5 February:
Topic Proposal & Presentation Due

TRACING A TECHNOLOGY ACROSS SECTORS: In which students will be able to discuss concrete examples of the ways in which context matters in sociotechnical systems.

7 February:
Texts: Gaming Case Studies (Gaming in the Household and Community Sector)

Examlet I

12 February
Texts: Gaming Case Studies (Gaming in Education/Governmental Sector)

  • Card, O.S. (2002). Ender’s Game. New York: Starscape. (Read chapters 1-10)

14 February:
Annotated Bibliography Due
Texts: Gaming Case Studies (Gaming in Education/Governmental Sector)

  • Card, O.S. (2002). Ender’s Game. New York: Starscape. (Read chapters 11-15)

19 February:
Texts: Gaming Case Studies (Gamification/Serious Games)

  • TBA

21 February:
Interview Protocol Due
Text: Orientation to interviewing

  • Seidman, I. (1998). Technique isn’t everything but is is a lot. Interviewing as qualitative research. New York: Teacher’s College Press, pp. 63-78.
  • Weiss, R.S. (1994). Interviewing. Learning from Strangers. New York: Free Press, p.61-119. Interview Protocol Discussion and Planning

26 February:
No Class Meeting — Time Blocked off for Scheduling Interviews During Business Hours

28 February:
No Class Meeting — Time Blocked off for Scheduling Interviews During Business Hours

5 March:
Interview Transcripts Due
Texts: Orientation to grounded theory

  • Corbin, J. & Strauss, A. (2008). Basics of qualitative research. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, p. 159-245.
  • Banks, S.P., Louie, E., & Einerson M. (2000). Constructing personal identities in holiday letters. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 17(3): 299-327.

SOCIOTECHNICAL PRACTICES SPANNING SECTORS: In which students will engage with the breadth of ways that technologies do and do not support communication or collaboration across sectors as well as the challenges implicated in designing systems that bridge sectors.

7 March:
Texts: Spanning between work, home and religion

12 March:
Texts: Spanning between home and work (mobile communication)

14 March:
Data Analysis Due
Texts: Spanning between work and home (social media)

19 March:
No Class — Spring Break

21 March:
No Class — Spring Break

26 March:
Midpoint Presentations (Tuesday Group)

28 March:
Midpoint Presentations (Thursday Group)

2 April:
Texts: Spanning between the government and the public/business (eGovernment)

  • Selections from Fountain, J.E. (2001). Building the Virtual State: Information Technology and Institutional Change. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.

4 April:
Texts: Spanning between the government, nonprofits and the public (eGovernment)

Examlet II

9 April:
Texts: Spanning between the government and the public (eRulemaking)

11 April:
Full Paper Drafts Due
Texts: Spanning between the government and the public (eRulemaking)

  • TBA

16 April:
Feedback Meetings for Individual Projects
Texts: Spanning between science/education and the public (citizen science)

18 April:
Feedback Meetings for Individual Projects
Texts: Spanning between science/education and the public (citizen science)

23 April:
Texts Spanning nonprofits and the public (crisis informatics)

25 April
Texts: Spanning between nonprofits and the public (campaigns/political organizations)

30 April:
Wrap Up & Synthesis

2 May:
Final Paper Due
Wrap Up & Synthesis

Finals Week:
Examlet III


Assessment & Evaluation

Seminar Grade (40%)
10%   Discussion Questions
15%    Class Preparedness Quizzes
15%    Class Participation Role Rotation

Research Grade (45%)
0%    IRB Certification (Required in order to earn any research points)
5%    Topic Proposal
5%    Annotated Bibliography
5%    Interview Protocol
5%    Interview Transcripts
5%    Collaborative Data Analysis
5%    Midpoint Presentations
5%    Full Paper Draft
15%   Final Paper

Synthesis Grade (15%)
15%    Essay Examlets

Numerical grades will be converted to letter grades based on the following scale:
A+   97% – 100%
A     93% – 96.99%
A-    90% – 92.99%
B+    87% – 89.99%
B     83% – 86.99%
B-    80% – 82.99%
C+    77% – 79.99%
C     73% – 76.99%
C-    70% – 72.99%
D+    67% – 69.99%
D     63% – 66.99%
D-    60% – 62.99%
F      Less than 60%


Seminar Grade (40%)
This is a seminar-style class in which you will become part of a community of scholars responsible for constructing new knowledge. Your thoughtful preparation and active participation is key to you getting the most out of this course.

Discussion Questions (10%)
By 12:00 midnight, the night before each class for which there is an assigned text, students will be required to submit a list of at least 3 questions they would like to discuss in class. Good discussion questions do not have a right or wrong answer; they draw on material from outside resources or other readings and require synthesis-level thinking. These questions will be used by the discussion lead to structure class discussion.

Class Preparedness Quizzes (15%)
At the beginning of each class for which there is an assigned text, I will give a very short quiz to evaluate whether or not you have engaged with the material sufficiently to contribute to a class discussion. These quizzes will be designed to assess reading comprehension, not analysis or synthesis; anyone who has read the material in an engaged manner should expect to receive full points on these quizzes. Note that I expect any student reading any paper to know basic information about the author (e.g., where they work, what their disciplinary background is, what other themes and topics they engage with in their research). Understanding where the author is coming from is essential to understanding any text and this information may be assessed on reading quizzes as if it were part of the reading, itself.

You may either opt out of up to four quizzes or drop your lowest four quiz scores over the course of the semester to accommodate travel, illness, or workloads in other classes.

Although designed to be relatively low-key, these quizzes represent a substantial portion of your grade since not being prepared for class diminishes the learning experience for everyone.

Class Participation Role Rotation (15%)
Your participation in class is the primary way in which you will contribute to the production of knowledge in an area that, to the best of my knowledge, has never been brought together in a class like this before.

At the beginning of the semester, students will sign up to take on several different roles that will help to ensure engagement and structure class participation. For each class discussion of texts, one student will be responsible for adopting each of the following roles:

  • Discussion Lead: This student will prepare and present a summary of the day’s texts and will craft a semi-structured discussion protocol for class. He or she is encouraged to use peer questions as input but should spend time thinking in advance about which questions will build on prior class discussions, how the questions can be structured to build on each other and about how to create a coherent arc of discussion. We will treat the protocol as a working starting point that can evolve if and when the discussion moves in interesting new directions. The protocol should also be used to reign in and refocus discussion that moves too far afield of the content of this course.
  • Primary Notetaker: This student will be responsible for producing the first draft of our collaborative class notes. This student should plan on typing almost continuously for the duration of the class and producing a roughly structured document in Google Docs that captures as much of the content in the discussion as possible.
  • Secondary Notetaker: This student will follow behind the primary notetaker in real time during class. His or her key responsibility will be elaborating on the work of the primary notetaker to provide additional context or framing that will help clarify the existing set of notes. The secondary notetaker should be working closely enough on the heels of the primary notetaker to add additional content in instances where the primary notetaker didn’t capture everything.
  • Tertiary Notetaker: This student will follow behind the secondary notetaker (either in real time during class and/or after class — we’ll experiment to see what works best). His or her key responsibility will be cleaning up the text (e.g., grammar, type-os) and providing structure to the notes (e.g., headings, anchors) to help ensure its usefulness as an archive of ideas after the class session is over.

All students are expected to be active participants in contributing to both the discussion and collaborative notes during every class.

Each student will be required to take on each role at least twice during the first part of the semester, after which the distribution of responsibilities can be socially negotiated to take advantage of individual preferences and skills.

Research Grade (45%)
In this emergent research area, there is much yet to be understood. In this course, you will conduct research to contribute to the intellectual dialogue. Working either by yourself or in a small group, you will identify a specific context in which technology is being used to communicate or coordinate activity across the boundaries of sectors. You may choose one of the contexts discussed in class and build off of existing research or you may forge new territory and carry out a study in a new context. Over the course of the semester, students will design, conduct, analyze, and write-up qualitative research in a format that will be ready to submit to one of the primary conferences in this domain (e.g., CHI or CSCW).  Additionally, if there are synergies among the results of the different studies carried out in class, students will have the option of collaborating with the instructor and other students over the summer to synthesize the results of multiple student projects in the form of a journal article.

IRB Certification (0%)
Although your IRB certification is not worth a percentage of your grade, you will be required to complete the CITI training in order to earn any points in your research grade for this course. If you have already completed the CITI training, please do not attempt to do it again. You should provide a hardcopy of your certification as proof that you have completed this requirement.

Topic Proposal and Presentation (5%)
The goal of the topic proposal is to practice articulating proposed research–to ensure that your ideas cohere, that the motivation of the research is compelling, and that the proposed work is appropriately grounded and sanity-checked against existing research.

In your written proposal, you should address the following in no more than two typewritten pages:
What sociotechnical, boundary-spanning context do you want to study?
What does existing research tell us about the practices at this boundary? What is the rhetoric surrounding these practices (e.g., grand opportunities or stubborn challenges)?
What open questions do you have about the work that is happening here? What new knowledge do you think you can contribute by interviewing people associated with this context?
Why are these questions interesting or important? Who will care about the answers to these questions?
Who do you propose to contact about participating in interviews? What (if any) connections do you have with these people? What (if any) evidence do you have that they might be willing to participate? Do you have a backup plan for who you will contact if not?
A list of references that you have read about your topic (a superset of those cited). This will be the start of your annotated bibliography.

In your verbal presentation, you will have 5 minutes to convey the above information to the class. You may use any presentation techniques or supplementary materials in order to do so. We will spend the rest of your presentation time providing feedback and helping you hone your proposal. You should be prepared to make course corrections to your research plan following your presentation. Being agile and open to change in research is a good thing.

Annotated Bibliography (5%)
Your annotated bibliography will contain a full list of references that you have read about your topic. It will include a superset of the papers that you actually site in your paper. Each entry in your annotated bibliography should include a full reference to the paper (in whatever format your prefer), a link to its source online (where relevant), and a paragraph-long discussion about each article (including several sentences of summary in your own words about the contributions of the article and several sentences about how the contributions of the article relate to the topic of your research).

Interview Protocol (5%)
You will draft an interview protocol to explore the research topic that evolved from your presentation. You should draft your protocol following the guidelines in the Weiss and Seidman articles. We will review, critique, and revise these interview protocols together in class.

Interview Transcripts (5%)
All interviews will need to be audio-recorded and transcribed. Your transcriptions should reflect verbatim what was said by interviewers and participants. Each transcript should be pseudonymized. Note that good transcription will take longer than you think. Plan ahead and give yourself 4-5 hours of transcription time for each hour of audio.

Data Analysis (5%)
You will conduct a grounded theory analysis of your data. You should be prepared to submit both a portfolio of artifacts from your analytic process as well as a written summary of your results.

Midpoint Presentation (5%)
Your midpoint presentations will serve two goals: (1) to give you practice articulating the results of your data analysis, particularly so that you can understand where people have questions (so you can add appropriate clarification in your written paper) and (2) to ground a class discussion about the larger issues and implications surrounding your results. This latter discussion should directly inform the discussion section of your paper.

Full Paper Draft (5%)
You will prepare a full draft of your research paper in a format appropriate to the scope of your research. I will provide guidance to each research team about the most appropriate format to follow as the work unfolds. This early deadline will be an opportunity for you to receive feedback on your work before the final version is due.

Final Paper (15%)
Your final paper should be a polished artifact, ready for submission to an appropriate publication venue. Your final submission should be refined and revised to reflect all the feedback you have received over the course of the semester.

Synthesis Grade (15%)
At three points during the semester, you will be asked to respond to a short essay question in class. The question will be designed to enable you to demonstrate your independent capacity to synthesize ideas across the various readings in the seminar portion of this course as well as across the research and seminar portions of this course. These short essays will be designed to take to more than ~45 minutes and you will be allowed to use any of the collaborative notes from Google Docs in crafting your response.




Creative Commons License
This ICTs Across Sectors of Society syllabus by Dr. Amy Voida is licensed under a
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If you re-use and/or adapt this syllabus for use at your institution, in addition to providing attribution please consider dropping me an email and letting me know. This information is extraordinarily useful for tracking the broader impact of my curriculum development. Thanks!