CPSC 430 - Computers and Society
(Term 2, Session 202, 2011-12)

Overview Grading Scheme Weekly Reading, Writing & Peer Review Final Project Text and Online Resources Schedule



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, write a mini-essay in response, and evaluate the written work of others.

      Meeting Times: Tuesday, Thursday, 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM

       First Class: Thursday, January 5, 2012

       Location: MCLD 202

      UBC Web Page: here

      Instructor: Kevin Leyton-Brown

      Instructor's Office Location: CICSR 185

      Instructor's Office Hours: Tuesday 12:30 - 1:00 PM, or by appointment

       TA's Office Hours:  Baharak Rastegari, CICSR 191, Monday 11:00 - 12:00.

       Quick Links: WebCT; Peer Review Website; Google+ Blog


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.


Academic Honesty: Plagiarism is a serious offence and will be dealt with harshly.  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. The seriousness of the offence depends on the extent to which the student relied upon the external source.  You must cite all external sources that you use, 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.

Grading Scheme

In-Class Participation 10 %
Weekly Essay Questions 20 %
Weekly Peer Review 10 %
Final Essay 15 %
Midterm Exam 15 %
Final Exam 30 %


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.


Your credit for in-class participation breaks down as follows:

Weekly Reading, Writing and Peer Review

This course emphasizes making and evaluating arguments about ethics and the social impact of technology. Each week, we'll follow the same format.


Between Thursday, 12:30 PM and Tuesday, 10:30 AM

Between Tuesday, 12:30 PM and Thursday, 10:30 AM

Essay Grades  Your essay questions will be evaluated in 3-4 different ways. (Some weeks we'll drop one of these, depending on the week's topic.) We'll consider whether your essay:

In each of these dimensions, you'll be graded "good", "satisfactory", or "unsatisfactory".  You'll get 2 points for a "good" and 1 point for a "satisfactory" (meaning that each assignment is graded out of 6-8 points). You'll also receive written reviews of at least 20 words for each dimension explaining the rationale for your grade. All essay questions will contribute equally towards your total grade, regardless of the number of points available that week.


Late and Missing Submissions  At the end of the course, your worst essay and peer review grades will be dropped from consideration (i.e., your grade will be calculated based on your best 10 essays and best 10 peer review weeks, even though you will be required to submit 11). Think of this as permission, given in advance, to not submit one week because of illness, travel, starting the course late, conflicts with other courses, etc. However, there's an exception: we won't give you a break for not performing peer review in the last three weeks of the course. No further allowance will be made for failure to submit essays or peer review, except in truly exceptional circumstances.


Quizzes  You won't receive any grades directly for completing the multiple choice quiz each week. However, you'll only be eligible to perform a given week's essay and peer review if you get a perfect grade on the quiz. You're allowed three tries to complete the quiz.


Peer Reviews  You'll receive 2 student peer reviews of your work, each week (and will perform 2 reviews). You're only eligible to perform peer review if you've submitted an essay. These reviews will be double-blind: neither you nor your reviewer will know the other's identity. Initially, you will also receive a review by a TA, and only the TA evaluation will matter for your grade. The TAs will also evaluate each peer review, as "good", "satisfactory", or "unsatisfactory". Once a reviewer has received two "good" ratings, they will become eligible to evaluate other students without a TA. (Thus, eventually we'll shift to peer review without TAs.)


Appeals  If you were evaluated only by other students and disagree with their assessment, you can appeal, and a TA will grade your essay. If your grade goes up, you will receive the TA's grade rather than your peer reviewer's, and the peer reviewer will leave the pool of independent reviewers until s/he obtains 2 more "good" ratings from a TA. If the TA concludes that the peer review was performed satisfactorily (your grade stays the same or goes down), you will get the new grade and also lose 1 point for having made an unsuccessful appeal. If your two peer reviewers disagree by two or more, we'll appeal on your behalf automatically, and you won't face the possibility of a penalty.


Spot Checks  TAs will also spot check the reviews (mostly to make sure they're not unreasonably positive). If a TA spot-checks a review and finds it to be unsatisfactory, we will follow the same process as in a successful appeal. At our discretion, if we believe that a peer reviewer performed a low quality review, we may remove that student from the pool of independent reviewers even if their numerical score is close to the score we would assign.


Peer Review Grades  Your peer review grade will be calculated as follows. First, you'll receive 1 point for every peer review handed in. Then you'll get 2 points for every review evaluated as "good", 1 point for "satisfactory", and 0 for "unsatisfactory". A review that is not spot checked by a TA and not appealed will receive a grade of "good" (2 points).


Final Project

At the end of the course, you'll pick one of your essay questions from throughout the term, and develop it into a longer (up to 1200 word) essay, taking into account the feedback you received.  This project will be graded only by the TAs.


Text and Instructional Resources

Textbook  We will be using the textbook Ethics for the Information Age, 4th Edition, by Michael J. Quinn. It's important that you have a copy, because we'll be reading the whole thing.  Two copies of the book are on reserve at the UBC CS Reading Room.


WebCT  You will perform your weekly quizzes using WebCT Vista. These quizzes determine whether you'll be eligible for performing peer review that week, and thus for getting that week's peer review grades. If you're registered or waitlisted for the course, you should already be registered in WebCT. If you have any problems, or if you need to be added because you're not yet registered, please email Tim Li at timkl@cs.ubc.ca.


Peer Review  You will submit your weekly essays, and perform peer review of others' essays, using our custom-made Peer Review Website. This site requires you to have a UBC CS account. The first time you use the site, you'll need to follow these instructions:

Clickers  We will use i>Clickers in class to perform polls, track how opinions change, and measure attendence. Clicker use will be responsible for 60% of your participation grade. If you don't already have one, you can buy an i>Clicker from the bookstore. You need to register your clicker on WebCT. If you do this by January 9, 6 PM, you'll get 5% participation credit. 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.



Slides from each lecture may be accessed by clicking on the links under "topic"; applicable chapter numbers from the textbook are also given. Slides will not typically be available in advance. 


   Date Topic Reading Due
   January 5 Introduction
   January 10 History of Computing Chapter 1
   January 12 History of Networking & Information Storage  
   January 17 Ethics: Subjective and Cultural Relativism 2.1 - 2.5
   January 19 Ethics: Divine Command Theory; Ethical Egoism
   January 24 class cancelled 2.6 - 2.7
   January 26 Ethics: Kantianism  
   January 31 Ethics: Utilitarianism 2.8 - 2.11
   February 2 Ethics: Social Contract Theory
   February 7 Networked Communications Chapter 3
   February 9 Networked Communications  
   February 14 Intellectual Property Chapter 4
   February 16 Intellectual Property
   February 21 Break  
   February 23 Break  
   February 28 Midterm
   March 1 Artificial Intelligence
   March 6 Intellectual Property Chapter 5
   March 8 Privacy  
   March 13 Privacy  
   March 15 Privacy
   March 20 Security Chapter 6
   March 22 Security  
   March 27 Computer Reliability Chapters 7&8
   March 29 Professional Ethics Final projects due, 11:59 PM
   April 3 Work and Wealth Chapter 9
   April 5 Work and Wealth