CSE 275: Social Aspects of Technology and
A paper is due on the last day that this class meets. You must take a
position on a significant issue and support it with cogent arguments, or do a
case study. You must apply some of the significant concepts from this course.
There are no very rigid rules about the subject, which can be chosen to match
your own interests and talents. It would be a very good idea to look over the
course outline and course notes. DO NOT pick a topic that is too general. You must have
an outline of the paper approved by me before you begin writing. Here are
some specific suggestions, just to indicate the kind of topic that is
- Study the values in urban legends, using methods given in class based on
Labov's structural analysis of narrative, and focusing on values and/or
stories that especially relate to information technology. Use some of the
online urban legend archives as data.
- Study the role of technological determinism in arguments for using
computers in education. Do a careful analysis of at least three documents
that promote particular products or technologies, such as press releases,
newspaper articles, magazine articles, or websites. Here is one example, a
call for papers for a Conference on Educational
Technology, Curriculum and Assessment.
- Write an essay comparing the views of Marshall McLuhan and Jacques Ellul
on technological determinism, and contrasting them with the more holistic
views of technological evolution presented in class.
- Write an essay on social aspects of some technology, such as cloning,
cellphones, webTV, computer games, Linux, or genomics; make significant use of
actor-network theory, paradigm shifts, or other social theories emphasized in
- Write an essay on Newton as a case study in paradigm shifts. You might
want to consult Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer, by Michael White
(Addison-Wesley 1998). Or discuss some other paradigm shift (in detail). Try
to bring in some actor-network theory to explain the shift.
- Discuss some topic in the area of applications of information technology
to education; be sure to include some information on the history of this
area; make some use of actor-network theory, paradigm shifts, or other
significant social theories from this course. Three papers by David Noble on
the theme of "digital diploma mills" are available in archives of the Red Rock Eater Digest
(edited by Phil Agre).
- Discuss wireless telephony as a social phenomenon using actor-network
theory: who are the actors, how are they connected, what translations must be
done to get and keep them involved? Or apply a similar approach to some other
technology, such as electric cars, the Strategic Defense Initiative (also
called "Star Wars"), Java or Netscape.
- If you have the expertise, discuss economic aspects of some information
technology, such as ISPs, video games, web browsers, or email.
- Discuss the ethical aspects of some information technology, such as large
databases, encryption, or web browsers; some specific issues to consider
include privacy, crime, and political manipulation.
- Discuss the management of risky technology and the role of institutions,
using the case study of NASA by Diane Vaughan (Chicago 1996) as a source; she
brings in Kuhn, and actor-network theory in relevant and interesting ways.
Guidelines for Writing your Term Paper
- Make good use of significant material presented in this class; much of
your grade will depend on how well you do this.
- The paper should be about 10 to 30 pages long.
- Provide a good solid bibliography; use proper format for citations, with
full names of authors, full title, date, page numbers, and publisher, as
- Each reference should have a unique identifier, and you should use those
identifiers in the text whenever you use ideas from that reference.
- Avoid unsupported opinions and appeals to authority.
- Use as much concrete data as possible, such as quotes from original source
documents, interviews, etc.; be specific.
- Provide introduction and conclusion sections.
- Weak English is acceptable as long as it is clearly understandable.
- The pages of your paper should be numbered.
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Last modified: Thu Jul 8 17:02:32 PDT 2004