CPSC 430 - Computers and Society
(Term 1, Session 101, 2012-13)

Overview Grading Scheme Weekly Reading, Writing & Peer Review 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, 2:00 PM - 3:30 PM

First Class: Thursday, September 6, 2013

Location: DMP 310

UBC Web Page: here

Instructor: Kevin Leyton-Brown

Instructor's Office Location: ICCS 565

Instructor's Office Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays 3:30 - 4:00 PM, or by appointment

TA Office Hour Location: ICCS X150, table 2

TA Office Hours: Mondays 3:00 - 4:00 PM; Tuesdays 10:00 - 11:00 AM; Wednesday 1:00 - 2:00 PM

Quick Links: Connect; Mechanical TA; 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. We will use TurnItIn (an online commercial service) to detect plagiarism including the resubmission of essays used in previous offerings of this course.

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
   In-Class Participation 20 %
   Weekly Essay Questions 25 %
   Weekly Peer Review 10 %
   Midterm Exam (80 minutes) 15 %
   Final Exam (2.5 hours) 30 %


Your credit for in-class participation will break down roughly 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, 3:30 PM and Tuesday, 1:30 PM (sharp)

Between Tuesday, 3:30 PM and Thursday, 1:30 PM (sharp)

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, which makes the quiz important to your grade. You'll be allowed three tries to complete the quiz. Be careful if you make it to the final try; failing to complete the quiz means missing out on a big chunk of your grade!


Calculating Your Essay Grade  Your essay will be evaluated by considering whether it:

In each of these dimensions, you'll be graded on a scale from 0 to 2, in increments of 0.5. A score of 2 means that the essay is excellent in the dimension, while a score of 1 means that the essay is passable, but could use more work. Some weeks we'll drop one of these dimensions, depending on the essay topic. (Thus, each assignment will be graded out of 6-8 points). 


Each week you'll receive 3 peer reviews of your work (and will perform 3 such reviews). These reviews will be double-blind: neither an essay's author nor its reviewer will know the other's identity. Reviews will explain the rationale for your grade in each dimension, suing at least 20 words per dimension. Initially, you will also receive a review by a TA, and only the TA evaluation will matter for your grade. In this case you will also see your peer reviews, along with the scores the TAs assigned to these reviews. When your essay is not graded by a TA, your essay grade will be the median of your peer review scores. If you were evaluated only by other students and disagree with their assessments, you can appeal, explaining in 100 words or more why you feel that the grade you were actually assigned was unfair. (Observe that a single unfair review will not affect the median--for your grade to go up, your lowest grade would have to increase above your middle grade, or your middle grade would have to increase.) If you do not provide a convincing argument, a TA may reject your appeal without regrading your essay; however, you can refine your argument and resubmit the appeal. If a TA regrades your assignment, you will receive the TA's grade regardless of whether it increases or decreases your score; furthermore, the TA will grade all of your reviewers.


Essays will contribute increasing amounts towards your final grade as the term progresses, as follows:

Calculating Your Peer Review Grade  You'll only be eligible to perform peer review when you have submitted an essay, which means you will need to have completed the quiz as well. Initially, TAs will evaluate each peer review you submit, assigning them grades between 0 and 10. Once you achieve consistently good grades in your reviews, you will start evaluating papers without being double-checked by a TA. Specifically, to review independently, you must meet the following thresholds:

Grading independently benefits you: at the end of the term, every review that was never graded by a TA will automatically be scored at your average on TA graded reviews plus 10%, with a maximum score of 10. (For example, if your average were 8.2, each ungraded review would receive 9.2.) However, independent reviews will still sometimes be graded by a TA. About half of these checks will be completely random; the other half will concentrate on cases where there is high variance among reviews (if reviewers disagree, we will take a look) and where essays receive unusually high scores (such essays are unlikely to be appealed, so we watch them closely). TAs performing these checks will override essay grades as appropriate, and may also go back and grade your previous independent reviews. If new review grades cause you to fall below any of the thresholds above, you will leave the pool of independent reviewers until you again meet the threshold. For calculating your grade, we'll scale your peer review grades according to the same proportions as essay grades:


Late and Missing Submissions  At the end of the course, we will drop your worst essay and peer review grades. (That is, 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. Each grade will be computed as the sum of the number of points assigned on your 10 best contributions, divided by the total number of points available for these contributions.) 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. No further allowance will be made for failure to submit essays or peer review, except in truly exceptional circumstances such as a prolonged and serious illness.


Text and Instructional Resources

Textbook  We will be using the textbook Ethics for the Information Age, 5th Edition, by Michael J. Quinn. It's important that you have a copy, because we'll be reading the whole thing.  If you can't get a physical copy, the publisher sells electronic copies as well. Copies of the book are also on reserve at the UBC CS Reading Room; however, these may only be the 4th edition (which is similar, but not identical; you're responsible for all material in the new edition).


WebCT  You will perform your weekly quizzes using WebCT Connect. 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 Mechanical TA site. This site requires you to have a UBC CS account. If you do not have one, you can sign up for one online.


Clickers  We will use i>Clickers in class to perform polls, track how opinions change, and measure attendence. Clicker use will be responsible for about 10% of your final grade. Your grade for this portion of the course will be calculated as the number of responses you submitted divided by the total number of questions asked. (Thus, some classes will count more than others.) Every class will begin with a "participation quiz" that counts towards your grade, so don't be late!


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.



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
   September 6 Introduction
   September 11 Introduction; History of Computing Chapter 1
   September 13 History of Computing: Group Presentations  
   September 18 History of Computing: Class Debate  
   September 20 Essay Writing Exercise
   September 25 Ethics: Introduction Secs. 2.1 - 2.5
   September 27 Ethics: Unworkable Ethical Theories  
   October 2 Ethics: Kantianism & Utilitarianism Secs. 2.6 - 2.11
   October 4 Ethics: Social Contract Theory
   October 9 Networked Communications Chapter 3
   October 11 Networked Communications  
   October 16 Intellectual Property Chapter 4
   October 18 Intellectual Property
   October 23 Intellectual Property  
   October 25 Midterm  
   October 30 Information Privacy Chapter 5
   November 1 Information Privacy
   November 6 Privacy and the Government Chapter 6
   November 8 Guest Lecture: Intellectual Property  
   November 13 Computer and Network Security Chapter 7
   November 15 Computer and Network Security
   November 20 Computer Reliability Chapters 8 & 9
   November 22 Professional Ethics  
   November 27 Work and Wealth Chapter 10
   November 29 Work and Wealth  
   December 11 Final Exam (8:30 AM)