ISEM 301: Information and Society

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Integrated Seminar Course

Total Credits: 1, Pass/Fail

Course Coordinator: Greg Donohoe

Textbook: James Gleick, The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood, Random House, 2011, ISBN 978-0-375-42372-7.

Class Web Page: Spring 2015

ISEM 301 Spring 2015 - Class web page for Spring 2015

Previous Semesters

ISEM 301 Fall 2014 - Class web page for Fall 2014


Each college is charged with developing and teaching a number of Great Issues courses geared to students of all majors. The first of these to come from the College of Engineering is ISEM 301: Information and Society, to be led by Prof. Greg Donohoe of Computer Science, with contributions from Profs. Terry Soule (CS) and Mike Anderson (ME). It will also feature guest speakers from the Department of Journalism and Mass Media, and around the university and the professional community. Here is a synopsis:

ISEM 301 Sections 12 & 13: “Information and Society” - Greg Donohoe (College of Engineering) In this seminar, students will explore the role of information in the shaping of society in the Information Age. As detailed in James Gleick’s The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood, the ability of our society to generate, store, and communicate information has mushroomed, and has changed almost every aspect of our lives, for better or for worse. This class will explore three aspects of this phenomenon.

1. The Science and Technology of Information. The history of information. Development of the technologies that made the Information Age possible. Where this is this technology headed, and the Information Age with it?

2. Democratization of Information. Throughout history, governments have used the control of information to control their populations. Conversely, the availability of information has been key to democratic movements, from Thomas Paine’s pamphlets, to the role of social media in the Arab Spring uprisings. The Khan Academy makes high-quality online education available free to millions. How has developing information technology influenced the course of human events, and what does the future hold?

3. Information Sharing and Privacy. Information sharing via social media (Facebook, Linked In), e-commerce, data search, and online services such as registering for classes and paying taxes, have enriched our lives in countless ways. We can get what we need immediately, anywhere, any time. But every transaction is quietly being logged by someone, and various entities are creating profiles of us, our activities, and our friends, to use for their own purposes. Should this access be controlled? What are the implications?

The first half of the course will feature lectures, readings, and guest speakers providing background in these three areas. Then we will group the students into teams, about three per team, to research a topic of choice. In the last few weeks of the semester, the teams will present their findings to the class.