Purdue University, Com 435: Communication and Emerging Technologies, Fall 2006, Tue - Th 1:30 PM - 2:45 PM


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Human history has been marked by dramatic social changes facilitated by communication technologies. Of these changes the most recent, known as the digital revolution, has significantly affected all our lives. The world you are living in is in great flux-- new ways of communicating between friends, relatives, or co-workers are being forged, more fortunes will be won and lost, the balance of social power may shift. Your generation will be responsible for codifying a completely new way of communicating and conducting business.

The purpose of this course is to help you understand the implications of the communication revolution taking shape around us. The class will be concerned not only with present or future technological developments. Our conversation will be broader than that, including social, legal, moral and intellectual concerns. In order to get you to think about the role of the professional communicator in the new digital world we will first familiarize ourselves with several basic technological principles. We will continue the semester with the socio-cultural ideas that inspire communication technologies and will end with the practical applications they enabled.


Online readings can be found on the course website, as detailed in the weekly schedule. Access to the readings requires a username and a password. The reading list and details about access can be found here. A shortcut link to the reading list is also provided above, in the main tool bar.

Course Objectives

Upon completion of this course, the student will possess a better understanding of:

  1. the technologies behind the digital/networking revolution
  2. the mechanisms and ideas that make this revolution possible
  3. some practical applications of digital and networked technologies
  4. how theory can inform our understanding of communication technology


Grades will be based on performance on the following:



Final Exam
Class project (Wiki)
Wikipedia Paper
Blog Entries 10 @ 25
Envision Center Activity and Quiz

Grading is on a straight scale: 890-1000=A; 790-890=B; 690-790=C; 590-690=D; 590 and below=F.

Course Policies

Academic Misconduct
As a student in this course, it is assumed that you have read and understood the official position of Purdue University on matters of academic misconduct (see the University Regulations booklet and other relevant on-line materials). If misconduct occurs in the context of this course, it will be handled according to the procedures specified in the University Regulations booklet.

Course Structure

Special Technologies for this Class

(1) The class readings will be distributed over the Internet, as html or pdf files. The access to the files will be facilitated by a webpage and will be password protected. The username and password procedures will be detailed in class. Due to copyright reasons, you should not use the articles for any other purposes than those specified by this class and you should not share the password or the materials distributed through this website with anyone outside this class.

(2) The class will rely on email communication. A class mailing list will be maintained by Mr. Bruno. Please make sure that you give him a current email address that you are using all the time. In case you joined the class late, please make sure that your name is on the list.

Assignment schedule is outlined below (this may be slightly modified). The exam material will come primarily from lectures and online readings. Study guides will be provided in advance of the exam.

Paper Assignment

The goal of this assignment is to expose you to a significant on-line collaborative environment and to help you critically understand its advantages and disadvantages. It will also prepare your for the final project, which will use a similar technology. Before starting the assignment make sure that you have read the materials assigned for September 21 and 26. Also, make sure that you do not skip the in class exercise on Wikipedia (September 26).

The assignment requires you to write a brief report on how knowledge is produced on Wikipedia. To focus your discussion, the report should discuss a single entry from among the “controversial topics” found on Wikipedia (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:List_of_controversial_issues). Choose an entry from this list that interests you and you have some knowledge about. Read it and then peruse its history and discussion area. Based on this information, try to answer the following questions:

  1. What are the main reasons the entry is considered to be “controversial”?
  2. How does this particlar controversy relate to Wikipedia's more general reputation as an "inaccurate" or "biased" site?
  3. How did the entry evolve over time (did it seem to have been through a lot of edit or revert wars)?
  4. Who initiated these wars and who won them?
  5. What kinds of arguments do the participants to the discussion use to defend their positions?
  6. Is there any sign that the controversy will end soon?
  7. At the end of the day, what do you think about the entry? Despite the controversy, is it informative? Complete? Credible?
  8. From all that you have learned, do you think that Wikipedia is a good source of information?
  9. Are there any ways in which you would improve Wikipedia?

Keep the paper to under 1500 words, but not shorter than 1200 words. Use a narrative format, starting with an introduction/thesis statement, a main argument and some conclusions. The questions listed above are for orientation purposes; while they need to be covered as comprehensively as possible, they should not be answered in a bullet point manner.

The paper should cite at least three academic sources (papers, book chapters, etc) and 5 non-academic sources (webpages, magazine or newspaper articles, blog entries, etc.). The two readings/lectures for October 12 and the papers (but not the blog entries) on the http://www.matei.org/ithink blog can be used as sources.

The assignment is due on October12 . It should be posted on the class blog Currants as a page, not as a regular posting, and it should be tagged (categorized) with the tag 435midterm06. It is worth 150 points or 15% of your final grade.

Final Exam

The final will be a combination of multiple-choice, true-false, short answer/essay format items. TBA. Each exam is worth 300 points, or 30% of the final grade.

Blog Entries

You will post at least 10 blog entries to the class blog Currants. The entries should refer to the class readings and should link to at least one blog entry form the blogs included in the BLOGROLL section of the CURRANTS site. A typical entry (posting) should be of paragraph length and should contain a coherent, free-standing idea. Credit can be denied for entries that only contain a link or only a simple opinion that is not backed up by supporting evidence in forms of details, links or data (What we are trying to avoid here are entries in the format: "This paper is totally nonsense." or "I do not agree with this article. It is biased against web gamers and mean spirited)")

Each posting is worth 25 points. Postings cannot be dumped all at once at the end of the semester. Although we would like to encourage traffic to the blog, credit will be granted only if the poster has posted 10 different entries on 10 different weeks. Extra postings could be used for extra-credit, but for no more than 50 extra points.

For posting to the blog you need to become a blog member. You should sign up by September 1st. Instructions regarding the posting and the sign-up process will be provided in class on August 24. For further help contact Mr. Bruno.

Envision Center Activity

On 17 and 19 October we will visit the Envision Center for a hands-on activity in a fully immersive 3D, virtual reality environment. This is an early version of the holodeck we will all be spending our spare time in the 24th Century, so you really want to be here for a preview! The environment will illustrate a number of concepts we talked about in class, such as location awareness, virtual reality, etc. In addition to the lecture and the discussions, you will be randomly assigned to three groups to experience a number of information experiences and provide feedback on them. At the end of each experience you will take a brief quizz. Participating in the class activities and the quizz are a "package". Completing them both will secure you 100 points, which wil count toward 10% of your final grade.

Class Project

The class includes a practical project. This will consist of creating through the collective efforts of the entire class a new concept for the Purdue website. The concept will be created via a wiki platform at http://purdue.isours.org/mindmeld (UPDATE NOV 26: The server was changed from purdue.isours..net to purdue.isours.org. If you registered with the site on Nov 21, you should redo the registration since the move did not preserve the accounts previously created).


THE GIST OF THIS ASSIGNMENT: Using the knowledge gained in this class and your own experience with emerging communication technologies, such as websites, video or pc games, personal communication tools, etc. propose one main service, feature, or communication experience for a future Purdue University website. Your proposal should refer to either improving existing features (e.g., the search engine, library catalogue, class schedule) or to totally new features (customizable webspaces MySpace style, information exchanges, game-like learning experiences, textbook auction sites, etc.).

PROJECT RATIONALE: How happy are you with the Purdue website? How would you improve it? What features, services or types of experiences would you like the Purdue site to offer its undergraduate population?

This project invites you to participate in a process of collective design by which a new concept for the Purdue website will be produced.

The project is not sponsored by the university administration or by ITAP, so don’t feel limited in any way by the present website.

We will work on this project wiki-style. That is, we will populate this wiki site with ideas, diagrams, screenshots, etc. We will propose new methods for connecting students to faculty, staff, other students, or to learning opportunities, ideas, and products. The wiki articles will be written by you and wi ll be edited by the entire class, collaboratively.

Your assignment is divided into two different activities: writing a wiki entry (article) and participating in collaborative work on the same wiki.

TASK ONE: Writing a wiki entry (article)

You should write and post on the wiki site, according to the instructions you will receive in class on November 21, a 600-800 word article describing your ideas for improving the Purdue website. All articles (entries) should follow the following format.

1. Summary: Explain the nature and the utility of your proposed idea. Give it a simple title that shows up at the top of the entry (1 paragraph or about 75-100 words).

2. Importance and theoretical justification: Explain why your idea is particularly important and why do you think it would be widely adopted. This section should be theoretical and should provide some evidence for your assumptions. (150--200 words).

3. Real life example: Explain what similar ideas, services or features (not currently used by the Purdue website) your proposed feature, service, etc. might resemble (50-100 words). If this is a totally new concept explain in what other context do you see it applicable.

4. Use scenario: Describe in as much detail as allowed by the space given a typical use scenario for your technology. Detail all the things this technology/service/utility etc. will or should do via a narration that explains how Jane or John Doe might use it. Specify any particular refinements or extensions a designer might add to it in the future. Make sure that you indicate where the feature will fit in the great scheme of things of a larger Purdue website (visibility, utility, etc). Include any necessary visual aids (charts, screenshots, diagrams, tables, etc). Your entry should have at least 2 images of this kind. (350- 400 words).

5. Links: Your entry should include at least 5 links to external websites. The external links can be to papers or documents you cite in section 2.

The entry should be submitted to the wiki by December 2, 24:00 Hrs. You can edit your entry as you go, but only the latest version (closest and prior to December 2, 24:00 Hrs) will be taken into account. A tutorial on how to post your entry will be offered in class on November 21.

TASK TWO: editing at least three other wiki entries (articles)

After finishing the entry you are invited to edit the site. You can start doing it on December 3, at 18:00 Hrs (Editing will be disabled on December 3 between 00:00 Hrs and 18:00 Hrs to make sure that everyone has posted their materials).

Starting December 3, 18:00 Hrs you should edit at least three other different entries on the wiki site. You should significantly change or add five sentences to each entry. In case you add five sentences, you should delete five existing sentences.

The work for this part of the project will last until December 8, 24:00 Hrs, when the site will be closed for further editing.

This exercise is worth 200 points. 150 points will be awarded for the quality of your own entry, as it looked on December 2, at 24:00 Hrs. The other 50 points will be awarded for the editing work.

A special training session will be offered on November 21 in which you will be taught how to create wiki entries, how to format them, and so on. The last two weeks of class will be dedicated to practical work on the project (editing). A lab will be available for clinical help, where either me or Robert will be able to help you with the technical aspects of the project.

A tutorial on using the site will be offered in the ENAD 240 LAB on November 21. The last two weeks or classes are dedicated to practical work on the project. We will meet in ENAD 240.

The final project is worth 200 points, or 20% of the grade.