Social Implications of Computing

CS 195, Fall 2015

Course description and policies

CS 195 is a discussion-intensive course about the social implications of computing. The purpose of this course is to help computer science students make informed and thoughtful choices about their careers, participation in society, and future development activities. Readings and lecture topics are drawn from a range of fields that together seek to describe our contemporary global society: sociology, philosophy, economics, public policy, etc.

Weekly Schedule

The week before each Wednesday class meeting will be used to prepare for the upcoming discussion-oriented class section.

  • Over the weekend, any student who is attending discussion sections and writing commentary for the upcoming topic should complete the readings.
  • Small-group discussions will be held on Monday develop commentary topics and assign students to commentaries.

    • Monday 4 PM discussions will be held in 299 Cory.
    • Monday 5 PM discussions will be held in 606 Soda.
  • Commentaries will be completed and shared with the class by Tuesday at 6PM.
  • On Wednesday, class will consist of lecture and discussion on the weekly topic. All students should complete the readings and weekly survey before class.


Each student will select one weekly topic that interests them the most and contribute commentary on a reading for that topic. You are required to attend a small-group discussion section during the week before the topic is discussed in lecture, in order to clarify your commentary ideas. A schedule of discussions will be published each week.

Discussion times will be announced after the first lecture.


For the topic of interest you select, you will collaboratively author a commentary document about the topic & chosen reading. A commentary is a short (~300 word) analysis or opinion statement related to a reading. Each commentary should begin with a thesis or topic sentence that clearly states which reading is being addressed. For example, a commentary related to the privacy reading "Addicted to Apps" could critique the article's statement that, "Inside tech companies, engineers would rather set aside pesky impediments like government regulations, social mores and people's fear of change."

Topics of commentaries will be chosen during small-group discussion, which you need to attend during the week that you choose to write a commentary. Each commentary will be edited collaboratively as a Google Doc by a subset of the students who have selected to attend discussion that week. In order to contribute to a commentary (and thereby fulfill your course requirement), you must improve the Google Doc in some way and add your name to the bottom.

The text of each commentary (without author names) will be posted to Piazza on Tuesday at 6PM before class, so that other students can read it and discuss it. Some commentaries may be selected for a short in-class presentation. The instructor will contact authors via email about these optional presentations.


Lecture topics will not be determined only by the wisdom of your instructor. Instead, you will collectively choose your own adventure through the material. A brief survey about each upcoming topic will be emailed to the class each week. Before class begins, please complete the survey, in which you can vote on the issues or questions most interesting to you. The results of these surveys will guide our discussions.


In addition, you will write three short essays (500-1000 words) that contain your original thoughts about issues from the class. All students will write about the same topics, and your work will be reviewed by your peers. Essay assignments will appear in the reading list and be announced in class.


The course is graded P/NP. The reason for that policy is to ensure that you can feel free to express opinions different from those of the instructors, both in class meetings and in written work.

In order to receive a passing grade in CS 195, you must earn at least 80 points, in addition to participation in a collaborative comments and small group discussion section.

The expected way to pass the course is as follows:

  • Complete at least 10 or more surveys (10 points).
  • Attend 10 or more lectures.
  • Submit 3 essays and receive a passing peer review (3/5) on all of them.
  • Provide peer reviews for 9 essays.
  • Participate in 1 collaborative commentary and attend its small-group discussion section.

However, to give you a small degree of flexibility, you may design your own way to reach 80 points according to the following point values:

  • Surveys, 1 point each, for a max of 10 points
  • Lecture attendance, 2 points each, for a max of 20 points
  • Writing essays, 10 points each, for a max of 30 points
  • Peer grading, 3 points each, for a max of 29 points