About this seminar

Seminar Objectives

This course will provide students  with important conceptual and analytical tools for understanding the key concepts behind our current media and computational technologies from an interdisciplinary perspective.

This seminar will be a laboratory for students to explore complex concepts, make connections across sciences and disciplines, work out their own applications to issues and actual technologies, and develop their own syntheses of methods, concepts, and disciplinary approaches.

Our course mantra is technology is too important to be left to technologists (alone). The main objective is equipping students with the current methods for understanding the key concepts, functions, and design principles of contemporary technologies to enable better-informed, higher-level participation in any field or profession. Since our digital technologies are now embedded in everything we do, knowledge of the principles of technology is essential for leadership in any field: for participating in public debates about future developments, in decision making, and relevant policy. Using research and theory from multiple disciplines, we will focus on our cognitive, symbolic, and media technologies in their larger socio-technical contexts, and investigate methods for defining their underlying re-implementable design principles and mediating functions. Media, communication, and computational technologies are part of a historical continuum of cognitive-symbolic cultural technologies that extends from earlier uses of writing, mathematics, and image representations to the multiple combined systems of technical mediation since the development of electronics, modern communications and networks, computation, and digital media. We will create a framework for understanding major media forms in a social-historical continuum of technology functions.

Syllabus units will include: introductions to studying technologies through design principles and functions; cognitive science approaches to symbolic representation and computation; key concepts in software, code, and interface design; the principles of digital media and digitization; the design principles of the Internet and World Wide Web (with recent developments and why this architecture will continue to matter); and key concepts in artificial intelligence and ambient computing (embedded and extended intelligence in the lived environment). We will use methods for “de-blackboxing” technologies so that they reveal their networks of social-technical dependencies and major re-implementable functions and design concepts.


By the end of the course, students will have acquired an interdisciplinary knowledge base of key concepts, design principles, and analytical methods for understanding our key technologies and ways to participate in higher-level discussions and debates in their own fields and professions. By acquiring these conceptual and analytical tools, students will be able to advance beyond being merely consumers or users of technologies and will be prepared to become thought leaders on major issues in their own fields.

Grades and Expectations

Grades will be based on:

  • weekly short writing assignments (in the course WordPress site) and class discussion (25%)
  • presentations and projects developed for class (25%)
  • and a final research project written as a rich media essay on the course WordPress site (which will become a publicly accessible web publication with referenceable URL for use in resumes, job applications, or further graduate research). (50%)

See Syllabus Website for details.

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