COMMUNICATIONS 225

SOCIAL AND CULTURAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE INTERNET 
Wells College, Spring 1998


Instructors | Brief Description | Typical Schedule for Weekly Seminar | Grading System | Weekly Discussion Questions | Assignments | Details of Written and Oral Assignments | Working Bibliography

Instructors

Professor Spencer Hildahl
Macmillan 328B, 364-3293
shildahl@wells.edu
Office hours by appointment:
Please sign up on the sheet outside my office door.

Professor Kenneth Larson
Cleveland 210, 364-3305
Macmillan 109, 364-3305
klarson@wells.edu
Office Hours Wed. 1:30-4:30 and by appointment.
Please sign up on the sheet outside Mac. 109 door.


Brief Description

This is an interdisciplinary, liberal arts-oriented course which examines the current and possible future social and cultural consequences of the Internet.

We are enthusiastic to be sharing this new course with you. It is intellectually exciting to examine the social and cultural consequences of the Internet. This is somewhat uncharted territory and we welcome you as together we embark on a semester of discovery and discussion of what it all may mean.

In this course we shall ask what the relevant questions are about the implications of the Internet which can be answered or about which scholars are engaging in informed speculation. We will examine issues of social class, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and age, and the possible consequences of the Internet for these portions of society. Finally, we shall see how the overall nature and patterns of our culture may change as a result of the ways people use the Internet.


Typical Schedule for Weekly Seminar

1:30-3:00
Discussion based on student-submitted questions covering the assigned reading for the week. May sometimes include examining some Web sites using computer and projector. May sometimes include selected video clips on Internet issues.
Tea
3:30-4:20
Student Oral Report illustrated with computer and projector in the classroom of Internet research on selected topics. On some weeks, we will have an oral report of a book review.

Grading System

Active class participation, including the
quality of discussion questions 25%

Oral Report and demonstration in class 25%

Book Review 25%

Final Examination (take-home)
or Final Internet Project. 25%


Weekly Discussion Questions

Each week all students will submit five discussion questions on the assigned readings via email to both professors by 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, to be used for Monday's class. These questions will help organize the discussion in the seminar, and will be counted significantly in the class participation portion of the grade. (Please see an example of a discussion question below, in "Details of Written and Oral Assignments.")


Assignments

In general we will follow the schedule below. However, we will need to remain flexible. Some changes in dates may have to be made to enable us to take advantage of opportunities to hear an outside speaker.

Seminar attendance and active participation at every seminar is mandatory.

Please note: students may not use appointments with college Deans, faculty advisors, or any college official as an excuse for late arrival or for early departure from class.

Dates: Topics and Assignments:

January 26 Distribution and discussion of syllabus; Field trip to see a Web server and other Internet technology

February 2 Cyberspace and virtuality.Is the Internet a means to an end or an end in itself? Communication in cyberspace.
Whittle: Chapters 1 and 2

February 9 Cyberspace culture, ethics and law.
Whittle: Chapter 3

February 16 The Internet: Cyber-anarchy of individuals or an environment where individuals experience liberty in the context of self-discipline and mutual respect. Can the "Golden Rule" apply to cyberspace? Should it?
Whittle: Chapter 4

February 23 Does the Internet inherently foster or weaken a sense of community nationally and for ethnic groups, special interest groups and social causes, environmentalism, etc.?
Whittle: Chapter 5

March 2 Regular class from 1:30-2:30; Panel Discussion at 4:30-6:00 in the AER today or on an alternate date to be announced. Three knowledgeable people discuss current and future issues relating to the Internet. Prepare to ask good questions and to participate in a fascinating discussion. Assignment to be announced.

March 9 Discussion of issues raised by the panel last week and Oral Reports

March 16 SPRING BREAK

March 23 Women, Girls, and the Internet. Sexism on the Net. Can women compete in the world of work today and in the 21st century if they don't have a working knowledge of the Internet? Is the number of Net women users increasing or remaining static? How can the Net encourage girls with an aptitude and interest in math, science, and technology?

Readings:

  1. Karen Coyle. 'How Hard Can It Be?' pp. 42-55.
  2. L. Jean Camp. "We are Geeks, and We Are Not Guys: The Systems Mailing List," pp. 114-125.
  3. Michele Evard. "So Please Stop, Thank You: Girls On-line," pp. 188-204. The three articles above are from Lynn Cherny and Elizabeth Reba Weise, editors, 1996. Wired Women: Gender and New Realities in Cyberspace. Seattle: Seal Press.
  4. Pages 99-117 in Girl Tech, 1997. Tech Girl's Internet Adventures. Foster City, CA: IDG Books.
Also, please explore the six women's sites on the "Internet Resources" page of the Wells College Web Site.

March 30 Is it inevitable that business will shape the nature of the Internet?
Whittle: Chapter 6

April 6 Regular class from 1:30-2:30; Panel discussion at 4:30-6:00 in AER today or on an alternate date to be announced. Three people in business discuss the Internet and what impact it has had to date and what they anticipate for the near future.

April 13 Discussion of issues raised by the panel last week and Oral Reports

New Topic: Will the Internet inevitably enlarge the gulf between "the information haves and the have nots"? Will the information rich and the information poor result in an even greater divide between the wealthy and the poor? What measures or policies might be adopted to address this issue?

Reading: Chapter 12 "The Digital Divide" in Don Tapscott, Growing up Digital. 1998. New York: McGraw Hill.

April 20 Politics and the Internet.
Whittle: Chapter 7

April 27 The Internet and the future - How creatively can we think and how humanely can we act?
Whittle: Chapter 8

May 4 Summary and course evaluation.


Details of Written and Oral Assignments

Example of a discussion question

On p. 53 concerning e-mail vs. telephone conversations, Whittle writes:
"Perhaps more important is that the ring of a telephone can be intrusive - 'pushed' communication - whereas e-mail can be 'pulled' at your convenience."
Does e-mail put participants in greater control than phone conversations? Is this likely to be a preferred way of communicating for just a few, many or most of the people who can do e-mail? What are the disadvantages of email compared to phone conversations?

Examples of Internet Research and Oral Report Topics

Sample Topic #1 Researching the Internet for information and Web sites especially oriented to Latino people and to African-Americans.

You have been asked by the school board of a high school if it is true that proportionally fewer Latino and African-American teenagers than white teens use the Internet. If this is true, as they have read, some people have suggested that one reason may be that the Web may have few sites of special interest to either ethnic group. As the board consultant, you have been asked to get all the statistical information available about Internet use by African-Americans and Latino people in general and high school-age young people if possible.

You have also been asked to find twenty Web sites of special interest to African-Americans and twenty Web sites with content appealing especially to Latino people. The school board wants you to list them in the order of highest general quality and / or of educational value. Further, the school board wants you to write a brief annotation (2-3 sentence description) of each site. Your research is so important that the school board wants you to give them a 30-minute illustrated demonstration of your results at the board meeting following the completion of your research. A computer and a projector will be available so board members can see the most outstanding sites for each of the ethnic groups. They will undoubtedly want to ask you some questions, so be prepared to discuss what you have found.

Sample Topic #2 Researching the net for information about support services for family and friends who are survivors of adolescent suicide.

You have a close friend whose 17-year-old brother committed suicide one month ago. Your friend and her parents have been in shock and seem unable to begin to take even tiny steps to start to work through their grief. The family trusts you, but you are very uninformed about adolescent suicide and even more ignorant about how you might aid the family to help themselves.

You decide to try to find out what information and support services there is available on the Internet that can 1) help you inform yourself and 2) discover mutual support services for parents and for siblings of an adolescent who has taken his life. Be as exhaustive as possible and use several search engines, databases, and other Internet resources such as email discussion lists.

  1. Prepare for an oral report of 20-30 minutes showing us in class with a computer and projector (which will be available in the classroom when a report is scheduled) the most promising sites which you have discovered and show us a sampling of the information and the support services for survivors which are available on the Internet.
  2. Identify as many on-line support groups for survivors as you can find for parents and siblings in the case of suicide.
  3. Identify on-line support groups for survivors of a 17-year-old young woman or young man who has been killed by a drunk driver. Show us some sites so we can understand how they seek, as survivors, to share their grief with one another and to extend and receive emotional support from one another as they work through the grieving process.
  4. Are these sites of support all groups which are nonreligious in nature? Or, are there separate support groups on-line for nonreligious, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and other religions?
  5. Hand in a typed short paper (3-5 pages) summary complete with URLs and search sources you used. What did you learn about the Internet and how to use it that went beyond the expectations you had before you did this research and presented it to the seminar?

Book Reviews

Please see the guidelines "How to Write a Book Review" by Joan Ferrante.


Go to Working Bibliography


This page belongs to Professors Spencer H. Hildahl (shildahl@wells.edu) and Kenneth E. Larson (klarson@wells.edu), who are solely responsible for its content. Please see our statement of responsibility.

Last updated: January 23, 1998