2020 Computers in Society

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Academic unit or major
Graduate major in Industrial Engineering and Economics
Seaborn Katie 
Class Format
Lecture / Exercise     
Media-enhanced courses
Day/Period(Room No.)
Mon5-6(Zoom)  Thr5-6(Zoom)  
Course number
Academic year
Offered quarter
Syllabus updated
Lecture notes updated
Language used
Access Index

Course description and aims

This course will introduce engineering students to fundamental theory and practice in the social, political, legal, and ethical implications of computer-based technologies. Through in-class activities, assignments, and reflection work, students will gain a basic understanding of essential concepts and theories, modern and historical cases, and guidelines for best practice. Key concepts include AI bias, privacy in the social media era, personal data and contact tracing, online behaviour, vectors of misinformation, stereotypes in design, digital inclusion, and more. The main objective is to inform and encourage critical thinking in students who will be playing key roles in deciding, creating, marketing, governing, and disseminating computer technologies.

Student learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

1) Describe the key concepts in society relevant to computing in the modern era.
2) Explain the roles of social, political, legal, and ethical factors in contemporary computing research and technology innovation practice.
3) Critically reflect on these factors in their own thinking, orientations, and practice within the contexts of their education, daily lives, workplaces, and future aspirations for the development of new technologies.
4) Communicate these reflections to others as well as collaborate with others to evaluate and debate praxis and case studies.
5) Extend this knowledge and practice to future coursework and beyond.

Course taught by instructors with work experience

Applicable How instructors' work experience benefits the course
An instructor with work experience in industry and research projects that interfaced with the public will provide education on the relationship between society and research practice.


Science and technology studies, computer ethics, design practice, critical thinking

Competencies that will be developed

Specialist skills Intercultural skills Communication skills Critical thinking skills Practical and/or problem-solving skills
Intercultural knowledge

Class flow

The first class each week will introduce the material for that week, incorporating interactive activities (e.g., hands-on demos, brainstorming, quick activities), individual reflection, and group discussion. Students will then be given a take-home assignment to be completed before the second class that week. That second class will start with a discussion of the take-home assignment and build on the material from the first class. Students will be expected to complete readings from the text and/or other sources before the next week of classes. Attendance is taken every class.

Course schedule/Required learning

  Course schedule Required learning
Class 1 Foundational Topics: Key Factors & Critical Frameworks Explain key concepts at a high level.
Class 2 Intellectual Property Explain what IP is and how it is managed, especially in the modern technosphere.
Class 3 Free Speech & Individual Rights Justify personal rights with respect to modern examples.
Class 4 Privacy & Security Describe common challenges and situations in cyberspace.
Class 5 Cyber Governance & Political Power Understand how power can operate through technology.
Class 6 Social Movements Online Understand how social movements use modern technologies.
Class 7 Digital Inclusion Explain the idea of inclusion with respect to modern technology, online and off.
Class 8 Ethical AI & Algorithmic Bias Describe ideas behind ethical AI and give examples of algorithmic bias.
Class 9 Information Liberation & Misinformation Discuss how misinformation occurs in technospaces in relation to the open information ecology.
Class 10 Cyberwarfare & Surveillance Explain how technology can be used to monitor citizens and attack nations.
Class 11 Education Describe how computers have transformed education, including hybrid models.
Class 12 Health & Medicine Describe how computers have transformed the medical world and health practice.
Class 13 Automation & Lifestyle Describe how computers have changed our everyday lives, especially with respect to automation.
Class 14 Individual Presentations Demonstrate communication and critical thinking skills as well as understanding of key course topics.

Out-of-Class Study Time (Preparation and Review)

To enhance effective learning, students are encouraged to spend approximately 100 minutes preparing for class and another 100 minutes reviewing class content afterwards (including assignments) for each class.
They should do so by referring to textbooks and other course material.


No textbook is required but the following is strongly recommended:

Baecker, Ronald M. (2019). Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives. Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK.

Reference books, course materials, etc.

Baecker, Ronald M. (2019). Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives. Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK.

Baase, Sara & Henry, Timothy M. (2017) A Gift of Fire: Social, Legal and Ethical Issues for Computing Technology (5th ed.). Pearson: Upper Saddle River, NJ.

Assessment criteria and methods

The main graded components are the weekly take-home assignments (35%), an individual presentation (31%), an individual report (20%), and attendance (14%).

Related courses

  • ESD.A402 : Design Thinking Fundamentals
  • ESD.B401 : Engineering Design Advanced

Prerequisites (i.e., required knowledge, skills, courses, etc.)

No firm requirements, but a high level of English is strongly recommended.

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