CPSC 430 - Computers and Society

Syllabus for 2016W1 Section 101

Last Updated: October 13, 2016


Quicklinks: Connect, News Blog, Piazza

Course Description: This course explores the interplay between information technology and society, with an emphasis on ethical issues. Students will come away from the course with greater understanding of the social and ethical implications of computer use and abuse, an improved ability to think critically and defend their decisions logically, and a greater appreciation for alternate points of view. The focus of the course is on reading, writing and discussion. Each week students will complete an assigned reading, and over the term you will write four responses to prompts on topics from class, self evaluate, and evaluate the written work of others.

Meeting Times: Tuesday, Thursday, 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM
First Class: Thursday, September 8, 2016
Location: DMP 110
Instructor: Jessica Dawson (jqdawson@cs.ubc.ca)
Instructor’s Office Location: ICCS 227
Instructor’s Office Hours: Thursdays 3:30 – 4:00 PM, or by appointment
TAs and Their Office Hours:
-David Johnson (Section A): Mondays 11am - 12pm in ICCSX 153 (davewj@cs.ubc.ca)
-Manvir Taunk (Section B): Fridays 12pm-1pm in ICCSX151 (manvirtaunk@alumni.ubc.ca)
-Anette Yanken (Section C): Fridays 2pm - 3pm in ICICX 153 (anette.yanken@alumni.ubc.ca)
-Sisi Guo (Section D): Fridays 11 - 12pm in ICICS X 153 (b7r8@ugrad.cs.ubc.ca.)

Course Topics: History of computing, networking, and information storage; Ethical theories (Kantianism, utilitarianism, social contract theory); Networked communications (spam, censorship, filtering); Intellectual property; Privacy; Security; Reliability; Professional Ethics; Automation, globalization, and other changes to the workplace.

Prerequisites: The course requires only third year standing and 3 credits of computer science. Beyond these formal requirements, an ability to speak, read and write fluently in English is essential for success in the class.

Communication: Questions about logistics or course content of possible relevance to the whole class should always be posted publicly to the course discussion board on Piazza. Other questions can be posted on Piazza privately to all of the course staff, and you can use private posts on Piazza to communicate with your TA as well. For personal issues talk to or email Jessica.

Tentative Grading Scheme

In order to pass the course, a student must receive a passing grade on the final exam. It’s possible I’ll make changes to the exact percentage breakdowns shown here:
Course Element Fraction of Grade
Clickers 5%
Participation 5%
Reading Quizzes 5%
Writing Assignments and Peer Review 45%
Midterm Exam (80 minutes) 15%
Final Exam (2.5 hours) 25%

Writing Assignments and Peer Review

This course emphasizes making and evaluating arguments about ethics and the social impact of technology. Over the course of the semester you will draft and revise four short argumentative mini-essays (500 words or less) in response to a question or case studies we discuss in class. You will write and submit a draft response, provide feedback to (3) peers and get feedback from (3) peers in the class online. Part of this process will involve short training assignments to practice applying the peer review grading scheme. Then you will revise your draft based on the feedback from your peers, and submit your final version. Your TA will then mark your essay according to the rubric provided in class.

Breakdown (revised September 15):

  • Assignment #1 - 5% (Peer review of draft: 1%, Final: 4%)
  • Assignment #2 - 9% (Peer review of draft: 2% Final: 7%)
  • Assignment #3 - 13%(Peer review of draft: 3%, Final: 10%)
  • Assignment #4 - 18%(Peer review of draft: 4%, Final: 14%)

Peer review of draft: If you don't submit a draft, you won't be able to complete your peer review - no exception. Your grade will consist of an combination of scores based on training quizzes, your reviews and your draft. The reviews that you recieve from your peers will not be used to grade you.

Readings and Reading Quizzes

There will be assigned reading every week, with an online reading quiz. Most weeks the reading will be due on Tuesday, but some weeks a portion of the reading will be pushed to Thursday. You will have a short online quiz due before class for every assigned reading. You'll have two attempts to complete the quiz - your score will be the average of your attempts.


Participation is a critical part of the course. This includes participating in in-lecture activities and worksheets, and contributing verbally in class.

In-class worksheets: You'll regularly be asked to submit worksheet evidence online shortly after class, which will make up a large chunk of your participation grade. Each worksheet will be worth up to 1 point, marked on a 0-0.5-1 scale in terms of the level of effort.

Verbal Contributions in class: We will have a lot of class-wide discussions, and everyone is expeced to participate. Often you'll be asked to work in groups first, and then asked to share the highlights of your discussion with the class.

Ten participation points will be allocated for verbal contributions in class-wide discussions, with a max of 5 available before the midterm and 5 available after the midterm - that works out to little less than one per week. Participating one or more times during a lecture will be worth one participation point for that lecture.

News Blog: Your course instructor really appreciates it when students send her articles relevant to the course topics to keep her up to date on current events! Thus, two participation points will be available for contributing articles - to get the points, all you need to do is email Jessica (jqdawson@cs.ubc.ca) two articles - one before the midterm, and one after the midterm. As announced in class on October 13th - rather than being worth stand alone points (as originally described in the syllabus), you will be able to use these points to make up some in-class points (verbal or worksheet). It will also be possible to get greater than 100% on class participation via bonus points.

To qualify for a point, submissions must meet the following criteria (or you may be asked to try again):

  • Your email must include a 2-3 sentence description that explains why the article is interesting, and how it relates to the topics we are discussing in class.
  • The article should be current (generally 2016 or later).
  • The article cannot already be on the blog.
  • If the article is on the same topic or news event as another article on the blog, then it must offer something new or different.
  • The article must include relevant discussion of ethical or legal viewpoints, considerations, tradeoffs, etc. Here are some good examples that qualify. Purely descriptive articles, such as a listicle or a simple news report about an event, won't qualify. Here are some examples that don't qualify.
  • You haven't already submitted your 2 articles for the semester (although if it's a really great find, you should still submit for the thanks and appreciation ... you just won't get a point)

You will recieve a response confirming your submission (or asking you to resubmit) within ~1 week. Each week course staff will go through the articles and post the most relevant and/or thought provoking and/or well written 1-2 articles on the news blog - if your article is posted, you'll get a bonus participation point! (and it will be possible to get more than full participation marks via bonuses). This means that if you and everyone else waits until the last week for submissions, your likelihood of getting that bonus point will be a LOT lower. In order words, we really really want to avoid a flood of articles all at once - that won't be fun or interesting at all.

Course Policies

Writing Assignments and Peer Reviews Late assignments or peer reviews will receive no credit. Contact the instructor or your TA promptly (i.e., as soon as you are aware of the problem) if a medical or family reason prevents you from handing in any component of your writing assignments or peer reviews on time.

In extraordinary circumstances, we may allow late turn-in of some assignments if you contact course staff (post a private pessage on Piazza) with a clear explanation of the problem well in advance of the deadline (i.e., at least 48 hours). Poor planning or procrastination do not constitute extraodinary circumstances. It will not be possible to participate in the peer review process late.

Quizzes, Clickers and Participation: At the end of the course, we will drop your worst quiz, as well as a lecture worth of clicker questions and worksheet participation points. Consider this permission, given in advance, to not submit a quiz or to miss a class because of illness, travel, starting the course late, conflicts with other courses, etc. No further allowance will be made for failure to submit quizzes or attend class except in truly exceptional circumstances such as a prolonged and serious illness.

Exams: There will be no makeup for the midterm. The final exam will absorb the midterm's component of the grade, should the midterm be missed.

A student must pass the final exam in order to pass the course.

Text and Instructional Resources

Textbook: Ethics for the Information Age, 7th Edition, by Michael J. Quinn. Required! We will read the entire thing!

The publisher sells and rents electronic copies as well - the electronic rental is quite affordable! Copies of the book are also on reserve at the UBC CS Reading Room;There are also copies of the 5th and 6th edition (which is similar, but not identical; you’re responsible for all material in the new edition).

Connect: Course lectures, weekly schedule, quizzes will all be on Connect.

Piazza: Course discussion board.

Peer Review: Online system sign-up instructions coming soon!

Clickers: We will use i>Clickers in class to perform polls, track how opinions change, and measure attendance.

If you don’t already have a clicker, you can buy an i>Clicker from the bookstore. You need to register your clicker on Connect to start earning your weekly clicker participation scores; if you register late, you’ll miss out on some marks. If the ID on your clicker is worn off, don’t despair. You can drop by the help desk at Chapman Learning Commons to get it retrieved. This is found on the 3rd floor of the Irving K Barber Learning Centre.

Additional Resources: The Computer Science Reading Room has prepared a list of resources related to technology and society, which you can access here.

Academic Honesty and Plagarism: Plagiarism is a serious offence, and you will not be able to feign ignorance and ask for forgiveness later! I consider plagiarism to be the unattributed use of an external source (e.g., another student, a web site, a book) in work for which a student takes credit, or the inappropriate use of an external source whether or not attribution is made. All offences will be dealt with harshly. The seriousness of the offence and the consequences will depend the extent to which the student relied upon the external source. You must cite all external sources that you use, including the course textbook, and write in your own words. Any text that you take verbatim from another source must be in quotation marks and followed by a citation. We will use TurnItIn (an online commercial service) to detect plagiarism including the resubmission of essays used in previous offerings of this course.

I expect students to be aware of and adhere to the UBC policy on academic integrity and plagiarism in all their work in this course. Academic misconduct of any kind, including cheating on quizzes, assignments or exams, will not be tolerated. The consequences for academic misconduct will include a grade of zero, and you could also face possible explusion from the course or suspension.

Tutoring: If you need additional help with writing, tutoring services are available from the UBC Writing Centre, located in the Irving K Barber Learning Centre, or you can use the WriteAway service. Your TA may also be able to help you with your writing.

Tentative Schedule

The schedule is tentative. The topic chapters from the textbook for each week are listed in the readings column - the reading assignment for the week may specify specific sections from the chapter, and occasionally supplemental articles or readings will be included.

In 2016 the final exam period goes until Dec 21. Do not book any holiday break flights home in this period until the final exam date has been announced!

Date Topic Reading/Quiz Due Assignment Due
September 6 No class - Imagine Day
September 8 Introduction
September 13 History of Computing Chapter 1, Connect
September 15 Essay writing and peer review exercise Readings on Connect
September 20 Ethics Introduction Secs 2.1 - 2.5 #1 Draft
September 22 Ethics: Unworkable Ethical Theories Peer Review
September 27 Ethics: Kantianism & Utilitarianism Secs. 2.6 – 2.12 #1 Revised
September 29 Ethics: Utilitarianism, SC Theory, Virtue Ethics
October 4 Networked Communications Chapter 3 #2 Draft
October 6 Networked Communications Peer Review
October 11 Intellectual Property Chapter 4 #2 Revised
October 13 Intellectual Property
October 18 Intellectual Property
October 20 Midterm
October 25 Information Privacy Chapter 5
October 27 Information Privacy
November 1 Privacy and the Government Chapter 6 #3 Draft
November 3 Privacy and the Government Peer Review
November 8 Computer and Network Security Chapter 7 #3 Revised
November 10 Computer and Network Security
November 15 Computer Reliability Chapters 8
November 17 Computer Reliability
November 22 Professional Ethics Chapter 9 #4 Draft
November 24 Professional Ethics Peer Review
November 29 Work and Wealth Chapter 10 #4 Revised
December 1 Work and Wealth
TBA Final Exam