Information Studies 270 -- Introduction to Information Technology

Phil Agre
Office: 229 GSE&IS Building
Phone: +1 (310) 825-7154

Fall 2003
Wednesday 9:00am - 12:30pm, GSE&IS room 121

This is a course about information technology, both its basic structures and its organizational context. It presupposes that students have met the MLIS program's programming requirement, that they have completed IS 260 (Information Structures), and that they are actively involved in learning about the information technology issues that face people in their profession in daily practice. The class will not involve technical work in the lab. Rather, it teaches students to apply fundamental concepts of computing to the analysis of applications of computing in real professional life. On the technical side, the central concepts include networked information services, layering, modularity, data modeling, and direct-manipulation interfaces. On the organizational side, major concepts include knowledge management, standardization, and the ways that systems evolve through interaction between developers and users.

A central goal of the course is to plug each student into a network of resources for following the rapidly unfolding field of information technology, both in general and in its application to their profession. The assigned readings are, of course, one means to this end. In addition, however, students will be expected, week by week, to discover and use additional resources of concrete information on the applications of computing that are most relevant to their own professional concerns. These additional resources will fall into roughly four categories: personal experience (e.g., at a job or internship), professional networks (i.e., people whom the student knows professionally and whose own experiences of computing the student can ask about), conference proceedings (for both basic research and current professional practice), and the trade press (i.e., magazines about information technology and its applications, whether paper or online, that are published for the use of professionals in the computing industry and its organizational customers).

Students will draw on all of these information resources in doing their course work. The main requirement for the course is an extended paper, perhaps 25 pages. This paper should apply a large number of concepts from the course to analyze real-world materials that derive from personal experience, professional networks, conferences, and the trade press. Much of the course will be organized around the process of designing and writing this paper. For example, each class meeting will use the same format: a structured class discussion in which we apply concepts from the previous week's lecture and readings to individual students' materials, followed by a lecture on the topic corresponding to the next week's readings. A draft of the paper is due in week 8, and I will provide all students with written comments on their draft papers by the class meeting in week 9. Finished papers are due during finals week.

Students will post their draft and final papers on the Web using a standard format. Draft papers will be available only to members of the class, but final papers will be public. If your paper receives an A, I am likely to show it to other people and include it in next year's class reader. You can keep your paper out of subsequent years' class readers if you want by informing me in writing after the class is over.

The final paper will be 75% of the course grade. The other 25% will be based on six weekly one-paragraph writing exercises, due in weeks 2 through 7, that will provide a check on the student's understanding, as well as gathering material to use in the paper. These weekly writing exercises will be graded from 1 to 5, and the lowest of the six grades will be dropped. The course will have no exams or quizzes.

The two required textbooks are available from the LuValle Commons Bookstore (as well as through online booksellers):

Janet Abbate, Inventing the Internet, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999.

David G. Messerschmitt, Networked Applications: A Guide to the New Computing Infrastructure, Morgan Kaufman, 1999.

In addition, the following textbook is recommended for those students who, despite having met the department's programming requirement, are still unclear on basic concepts of how a computer works:

W. Daniel Hillis, The Pattern on the Stone, Basic Books, 1998.

A required reading packet is available from Academic Publishing; it will also be for sale at LuValle Commons. Further readings are online; links are provided below.

Lecture topics and readings

Week 1 -- October 1st -- computer supported cooperative work

Messerschmitt, Chapters 1 and 2

Week 2 -- October 8th -- IT and organizations

Messerschmitt, Chapter 3

Wanda J. Orlikowski, Improvising organizational transformation over time, in Joanne Yates and John Van Maanen, eds, Information Technology and Organizational Transformation: History, Rhetoric, and Practice, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2001.

Daniel G. Bobrow and Jack Whalen, Community knowledge sharing in practice: The Eureka story, online at <>.


Elizabeth Davenport and Hazel Hall, Organizational knowledge and communities of practice, in Blaise Cronin, ed, Annual Review of Information Science and Technology 36, 2002, pages 171-227.

Week 3 -- October 15th -- data

Graeme Simsion, Data Modeling Essentials, second edition, Scottsdale, AZ: Coriolis Group, 2001. Chapters 1 and 3.

Week 4 -- October 22nd -- representing activities

Philip E. Agre, Surveillance and capture: Two models of privacy, The Information Society 10(2), 1994, pages 101-127.

Week 5 -- October 29th -- computing structures

Messerschmitt, Chapters 4 and 6

Week 6 -- November 5th -- standards

Martin Libicki, James Schneider, Dave R. Frelinger, and Anna Slomovic, Scaffolding the New Web: Standards and Standards Policy for the Digital Economy, available online at <>.

Carl Shapiro and Hal R. Varian, Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy, Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1999. Chapter 7: Networks and Positive Feedback.

Week 7 -- November 12th -- middleware

Messerschmitt, Chapters 7 and 9

Tim Berners-Lee, Web architecture from 50,000 feet, available online at <>.

W3C, Web services activity statement, available online at <>.

Ian Foster, Carl Kesselman, and Steven Tuecke, The anatomy of the grid: Enabling scalable virtual organizations, International Journal of Supercomputer Applications 15(3), 2001. Available on the Web at <>.

Week 8 -- November 19th -- the Internet

Messerschmitt, Chapters 10 and 11


Week 9 -- November 26th -- human-computer interaction

Edwin L. Hutchins, James D. Hollan, and Donald A. Norman, Direct manipulation interfaces, in Donald A. Norman and Stephen W. Draper, eds, User Centered System Design: New Perspectives on Human-Computer Interaction, Erlbaum, 1986.

Week 10 -- December 3rd -- workshop on papers