ECS 188 - Course Information - Fall 2007

Basic Information

There are two sections.
Section 1 meets TR 10:30 - 11:50 in 1342 Storer.
Section 2 meets TR 4:40 - 6:00 in 80 Soc Sci.
Please attend the section to which your were assigned. For students thinking to move around, note that Section 1 is currently smaller (15 verses 20 people).

The instructor is Phil Rogaway, See my homepage for office hours.

The course web page contains important information: it is where your assignments are posted, as well as all announcements. It is a click away from my homepage. You need to check page frequently.

All writing assignments done outside of class must be typeset. I encourage use of LaTeX and discourage use of Word. A free LaTeX implementation for PCs is MiKTeX, and there are others. If you do use Word, please do not use Arial font on anything you turn in, nor on your presentation. No handwritten or raw ASCII text, either.

The are really no prerequisites for this class. But you should be willing to read a lot; to write reasonably well; and you need to be able to prepare a reasonable lecture. An open mind will also serve you well.


The course material will be broad, open-ended, and possibly controversial. Most of the class time will be spent with you guys talking. We'll also read a lot. You might not be used to all this; it's definitely not a typical ECS class. At the end of the term, your evaluation will state the following: My main goal is to get you to think about the ethical implications of your personal and professional choices, and our collective work as technologists. In addition, I'd like you to think in a different way from what you are used to; to read a lot; to write a fair amount; and to become more comfortable participating in oral discussions and giving an oral presentation.

We will be using a reader by Winston and Edelbach, Society, Ethics, and Technology (third edition, 2005). This is the first time I am trying out this book, and we will use it more or less depending on how much we're liking its content. We will also use a variety of supplemental readings, either given out in class or available on the web. If you miss a handout that was distributed in class, extra copies will be outside my office (3063 Kemper).


The grading criteria this term is: Attendance is very important. I will keep track of it, and the mapping from the number of times you attended class to the "points" you get for attendance will not linear. Quizzes will not be announced. For them, you are welcome to consult any notes that you yourself have prepared (but you may not consult the readings themselves). You may also bring such notes to the final. The final paper and oral presentation will be on a topic of your choice. Most people will will work in pairs on it. The final exam slot (Dec 13: 8-10 for section 1 and 3:30-5:30 for section 2) will be used both for student presentations (assuming some students want this time slot) and a small exam.

All that said, the grades I assign for this class are high relative to other classes I teach. If you simply do the readings and assigned work, come to class every day, and don't "blow off" the assignments, you will do well.

As a course in ethics, it would be particularly ironic if people are dishonest. But let me say some things in this connection anyway. All writing you do must be your own (you can ask a friend to proofread your work, but it shouldn't go beyond that). The talk you prepare must be all your own work. Please acknowledge all ideas and quotations. Obviously you may not purchase papers, or your presentation, from any service. What you certainly can (and even should) do is talk to people about what you're reading and thinking about.

Final Comments

The students need to accept significant responsibility for making this class succeed. If everyone comes to class having done the reading and feeling ready to talk about it, the class works well. If you show up without having done the reading and just wanting to put your mark on the attendance sheet and pass the time, the class will be boring and pointless. As with any seminar-format class, you share responsibility with me for making this class succeed. Please take this responsibility seriously. The class is an opportunity that should not be lost. Where, at least in our department, are you actually invited to stop, think, and explore the very serious ethical issues that we face as technologists and as human beings? With an instructor who is not only a serious scientist, but who actually cares about these things?

I don't see the topic of this course as an entirely "academic" undertaking. I have no patience for moral philosophy as an academic discipline stripped of any imperative about what one really must do, and little interest in narrow, minor, or make-believe issues that "computer ethics" courses sometimes treat. I, for one, would like to come out of this class, each term, not only more knowledgeable about the subject matter, but in some way a wiser or better person. That's a lot to hope for from a class, for any of us. Let's see if it's possible to do anything in that direction.

Phil Rogaway's homepage