Environment, Technology, and Society
Exercise: Beginning to Think about Technology and Life
- To think about technology in several different ways.
- To think about how technology affects our lives.
- To acquaint yourself with members of the class.
- To learn what many of our sessions this semester will be like.
- Make a list of at least three different appliances, tools, or systems
that use on a regular basis to do some job. This can include at most
one computer program. Make sure that the systems on your list are as
different from one another as possible. Then, rank them along two
dimensions: ease of use and cost.
- Organize yourselves into groups of three people. Make sure that
your group contains two people you don't already know. Introduce
everyone in the group. Make a master list of the appliances, tools,
and systems on your individual lists.
- Discuss the dimensions that you used in Step 1 to rank your systems.
In what ways do ease of use and cost correlate positively with one
another? In what what ways are they opposed?
- As a group, identify two dimensions different from the ones from Step 1.
Try to make them as different in perspective as possible. Rank the
systems on your master list along each of the new dimensions.
- Select a spokesperson. If your group is asked, the spokesperson will
present informally the results of your group's work to the class.
At the End
- Turn in a write-up showing your master list of tools, a summary of your
discussion of the dimensions you used to rank the systems, and your
group's rankings along each of the dimensions.
Summary from Exercise
What is a tool? Some of you listed cell phones, microwaves, Internet
Explorer, computers, cars, refrigerators, ... I mentioned a really
simple tool, the common wood pencil.
Tools are diverse in nature. This semester, we will consider systems
that have been created for human use or consumption as broadly as we
can. Because I am a computer science professor, we will sometimes favor
computing-related technologies--but they are so common and affect all of
our lives in so many ways that this should be of interest to us all.
Comparing systems across categories (e.g., household appliances versus
computer systems versus technical devices versus buildings) can be like
comparing apples to oranges. So, understanding tools and their interfaces
may require a lot of task- and domain-specific knowledge.
One can view software systems in many different dimensions: ease of use,
age, reliability, aesthetic value, complexity, robustness, learning curve,
time to complete a (typical) task, portability, cost, maintenance, user
support, hardware requirements, availability.
A couple of great points from class today:
- "Cost" is not specific enough as a criterion/ Do we mean cost to
buy, cost to operate, cost, to maintain, or what? We could compute
an expected total cost that includes the cost to buy and the present
value of the cost to mainrtain and operate the system in the future.
That may be our best cost criterion. (But how often do we all
forget one or more of the elements of this calculation when we are
considering a purchase??)
- "Ease of use" is similarly unclear. Consider computer software.
What counts as easy to use for *you* may be quite beyond *your mom*.
Who the user is -- the demographics of the user population -- is
quite important in assessing any tool's usability!
People do not always agree with one another when assessing the world.
A Quick Course Introduction
I am Eugene Wallingford, and I'll be your instructor for Capstone.
Please call me "Eugene". This course will probably differ from any
other course you have had, and it will certainly differ from other
sections of capstone in several ways.
Some of the guiding ideas of this course will be:
- I will do little or no lecturing. I will sometimes introduce a
topic; I will always try to answer any questions you have during
an exercise; I will always participate in the discussion we have
after you do an exercise; I will often summarize the results of
an activity at the end of class; and I will comment on issues that
you think are germane to the course. But I do not plan to lecture.
- We will do a diverse mix of exercises in class.
- We will integrate the various themes of the course -- indeed the
many disciplines and modes of thought found at in a university --
throughout the semester. Knowledge and experience do not reside
in easily-labeled compartments, no matter what your school experience
Today is representative of what our class sessions will be like this
semester. Our primary goal is that you learn to think about the
interrelationships among environment, technology, and society from
different perspectives. A secondary goal is that you become more
independent as learners.
- It turns out that this second goal is really part of achieving the
first! Each individual is responsible for his or her own learning.
You don't learn what the professor lectures; you learn what you do
and what you integrate into your existing knowledge.
- As mentioned earlier, we will do a diverse mix of exercises in class.
These exercises will require you to do something, often in
conjunction with a group of classmates, and then reflect on
the result and the process that led to it. We'll try to do different
things. If there is something that you'd like to see us try, please
let me know!
- This approach may seem uncomfortable at first. What is different is
often threatening. When doing problems in the absence of a preceding
lecture, you will occasionally feel lost. Be assured that lecture is
usually a worse alternative. You can usually learn the same material
as well by reading it and studying it. But then you are stuck doing
homework problems at home, in isolation -- and you'll sometimes feel
lost. It is sometimes more comfortable to be lost all alone, but it
is rarely more productive than being lost together.
- This approach places different burdens on you and me than the more
- You must read -- really read -- assigned material. You
must wrestle with it. You must come prepared to discuss what you
do and don't understand about it. You must ask questions, of me
and your classmates. You must participate actively in class
exercises, in the spirit of trying to learn something and not in
the spirit of "just getting it done".
- I must read -- really read -- assigned material. I must
wrestle with it, trying to tease out key points and processes.
I must prepare insightful exercises that give you enough guidance
to be educational but also enough flexibility to be useful to
you, in your current state of knowledge, and everyone else, in
theirs. I must be prepared to answer many questions of fact and
opinion. I must be able to help you find answers to questions
of fact when I do not know the answer. I must be able to help
you find a way to experience issues for which their are no pat
answers. I must serve as a consultant in class and pay attention
to your work without trying to "give away" answers.
The course is different, but it should be interesting and more productive
-- if you let it!
The course syllabus is on-line in this web
space. Read it. Re-visit it occasionally if I announce changes. The
course web page and the course
e-mail discussion list will be
our primary means of communication outside of class time.
I e-mailed you the URL for the course web page right after class.
Quick Comments from the Syllabus
Check out the grading criteria. You can read about all the parts of
your grade on the course web. A couple of details:
- The papers will be short (2-4 pages) and either reaction pieces or
analysis pieces, so they won't require library research.
- The presentations will be fifteen minutes long and will address
one of the topics we consider in weeks 4-15 of the semester.
Come prepared to commit to presentation topic next session.
- The project gives you the latitude to explore some topic of
interest to you in greater detail, including topics that may
lie outside the narrow bounds of what we do in class. Begin
thinking about your project topic now, so that you'll be ready
to propose something in a couple of weeks.
Our textbook is on usability -- and cognitive psychology, and
epistemology, and design, and people. I think you'll enjoy it.
Eugene Wallingford ====
August 26, 2003