Thinking, Learning and Computers CCT670 Fall 1998
Instructor: Peter Taylor, Critical and Creative Thinking Program
Email:; Phone: 617-287-7636
Office: Wheatley 2nd flr 143-09 (near Counseling & School Psychology)
Class Time: Th 4-6.30; Office Hours: Tu, Th 2.30-3.30 & 6.45-7.45; by sign-up.
Course Website:

What are the consequences of using computers to aid our thinking, learning, communication and action in classrooms, organizations, and social interactions? Class activities acquaint you with a number of specific computer-based tools, as well as themes for critical thinking about these tools. You also examine interpretations of and debates about social and educational transformations that involve computers.
Assignments and projects are designed to help you, as a teacher or other professional, overcome deficiencies in your prior education about computers and develop skills for on-going learning. The course as a whole aims for you to better fulfill the needs of your community/organization, address the information explosion, adapt to social changes, and collaborate with others to these ends.


Texts and Materials
Schedule of classes and assignments
Teacher-Student-Subject interactions (a schema)
Research Briefings, by current and former students
Tasks in preparation for class, elaborating on or in addition to those printed in the syllabus
Notes on writing and revising, including
Freewriting suggestions
Student presentations, schedule (TBA)
Chat room, for internet dialogue between classes (password needed)

The classes involve three overlapping angles:
I. Tools and Critical Themes. We become acquainted with specific tools and critically examine their effectiveness with respect to different tasks;
II. Interpretations and Debates about computers and social discourse from WWII onwards;
III. "Heterogeneous re/construction" of educational, scientific and other social activities, in which computers provide some of the technical and discursive resources.
Angle I is emphasized earlier in the course; II and III later.

Requirements 1. Project: Building on one or more tools, activities, or themes from the course, design an activity for a class, organization, or your own personal development. This project should concern the current or future consequences of using computers to aid your thinking, learning, communication and action in classrooms, organizations, and social interactions. During the semester you develop and revise these projects in relation to the three stages of the course, and the particular classes, themes, debates, etc.
2. Weekly One Page(plus) Responses (6 times during weeks 2-10). Either a) in preparation for class write a commentary on readings, or b) after class review the readings and the class activities. In either case explore, when appropriate, the relationship between your project/ interests and the readings/activities.
3. Research Briefing(s): As one or perhaps two assignments, you (individually or with another student) select a topic on which to prepare a research briefing, i.e., a summary (2-4 pages) in written form that gives other students in this and future classes a quick start when they face that research issue. These briefings should provide or point to key resources, i.e., key concepts, issues and debates, references, quotes or paraphrases from those references, faculty on campus, relevant courses.

Expectations 1. Work on your project outside class steadily, i.e., every week, throughout semester. Preferably, set aside clear block(s) of time each week.
2. Be responsible about course involvement (pre-reading, attendance, discussion, contact about non-attendance, and contact about late work).
3. Submit wordprocessed assignments (so you can revise and update them) on due dates.
4. Resubmit assignments when requested, responding to comments from me and sometimes from other students.
5. Bring workbooks to every class, because you will sometimes do in-class assignments making a carbon copy for me to comment on. Bring a ball point pen to make a clear copy.
6. Make suggestions about changes and additions to the course activities and materials. Support me as I experiment in developing this course.

Assessment There is no P/F option for this course. The overall grade is divided into two parts:
Written assignments and presentations, 2/3; Participation and contribution to the class process, 1/3.

For each part, satisfactory completion of "basic work" gives you a B+. If you do not complete the basic work, the grade is pro-rated downwards, so that a D corresponds to half of the basic work requirement. Completing assignments cannot compensate for below-basic-level participation, and in that situation the overall grade is capped so that it is no higher than the participation grade.
To have a chance--but not a guarantee--of getting a higher grade, "additional work" is taken into account. (On the third last class I will let you know whether your basic work looks like being satisfactory, borderline, or less than satisfactory.)

Written assignments and presentations: Basic work = 80% of assignments submitted and revised and resubmitted until OK/RNR. (Final report counts for two assignments and requires responding to comments on the draft, which may entail more research.)
Additional work = Final research report will be graded.

Participation and contribution to the class process: Basic work = Attendance (at least 10 sessions unless proper medical excuses are provided) and Prepared participation.
(Active participation can make up for some absences, but if you haven't picked up the handouts you missed, you aren't likely to be well prepared to participate actively when you do come to class.)
Additional work = Active participation and End-of-semester Portfolio.

Texts and Materials
Required: Edwards, P. N. (1996). The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Xeroxed required readings will be available at an estimated total cost of $15.
Xeroxes of additional articles will be placed on reserve in Healey library.
A binder of clippings (additions welcome) and folders of additional materials for many classes will also be placed on reserve in Healey library.

Additional information about classes, assignments, and other tasks will be provided in regular handouts, and be posted on the course website.
Subject to revision in light of student interests. Suggested changes welcome.

Class 1 (9/10)
Introduction to course angles and process
Activity: Analyzing rectangles
Computers as calculating and informational retrieval tools, enforcing rules and ignoring context, reinforcing rule-bound activity in society
The course as a teaching/learning community
Activities: Freewriting and sharing on possible individual projects; Cardstorming on Computers in social and educational discourse and transformations

Class 2 (9/17)
Group Interactive Software (for "teachers who love to teach")
Reading: Snyder, T. (1994). "Blinded by science." The Executive Educator(March): 1-5.
Activity: Using a critical heuristic to elicit topics for Research Briefings
Class 3 (9/24)
Virtual Communities, Identities, and Inequalities
Turkle, S. (1988). "Computational Reticence: Why women fear the intimate machine," in C. Kramarae (Ed.), Technology and Women's Voices. New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Turkle, S. (1995). Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Simon and Schuster, 9-26.
Sclove, R. and J. Scheuer (1996). "On the road again? If information highways are anything like interstate highways--watch out!," in R. Kling (Ed.), Computerization and Controversy, 606-612.
Activity: Using and constructing Websites, or a guide to web use.
*A* Asmt due: Title and paragraph description of proposed project

Class 4 (10/1)
System Dynamics
?? (1997). "Five learning processes: The role of systems thinking and the STELLA software in building world citizens for tomorrow"
Activity: Economic management game.

Class 5(10/8)
From Artificial Intelligence (AI) to dynamical systems theory
Hofstadter, D. R. (1979). Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. New York: Basic Books, 33-41, 559-584, 594-632.
Hendriks-Jansen, H. (1997). "The epistemology of autism: Making a case for embodied, dynamic and historical explanation." Cybernetics and Systems 28: 359-415, excerpts.
Activity: MIU game and discussion
*A* Asmt due: Research Briefing I (from class 2).

Class 6 (10/15)
Problem-posing, problem-solving, and persuasion in biology (guest: Prof. B. White, Biology)
Peterson, N. S. and J. R. Jungck (1988). "Problem-posing, problem-solving, and persuasion in biology." Academic Computing 2(6): 14-17, 48-50.
Activity: TBA.

Class 7 (10/22)
Interpreting the history of computing I
Reading: Edwards, chaps. 1, 9, 10 and epilogue (begin)
Activity: Metaphor, discourse, and social agency
*A* Asmt due: Annotated bibliography of reading completed or planned for your project.

Class 8 (10/29)
Interpreting the history of computing II
Reading: Edwards, chaps. 1, 9, 10 and epilogue (complete)
Activity: Interpreting SciFi films.

Class 9 (11/5)
Computer models of Global Change
Reading: Taylor, P. J. (1997ms). "How do we know we have global environmental problems? Undifferentiated science-politics and its potential reconstruction"
On reserve: Meadows, D., D. L. Meadows, J. Randers and W. W. Behrens (1972). "The State of Global Equilibrium," in The Limits to Growth. New York, NY: Universe Books, 157-197.
Glantz, M. H. (1989). "Societal Responses to Regional Climatic Change," in M. H. Glantz (Ed.), Societal Responses to Regional Climatic Change: Forecasting by analogy. Boulder and London: Westview Press, Inc., 1-7, 407-428.
Activities: The two islands game. Identifying moral-technocratic language in texts.Class 10 (11/12)
Heterogeneous Re/construction of Social Simulations
Reading: Taylor, P. J. (ms.) "Constructing Heterogeneous Webs in Socio-Environmental Research"
Activity: Mapping heterogeneous resources.

Class 11 (11/19)
Presentations on student projects I
*A* Asmt due: Narrative outline.

--Thanksgiving break--

Class 12 (12/3)
Presentations on student projects II

Class 13 (12/10)
Taking Stock of Course: Where do we go from here?
*A* Asmt due: First draft of research report (two copies; returned with comments by PT and a student by 12/15)

*A* Portfolio, for those doing this: 12/15
*A* Final project reports: 12/21

Other possible classes
Simple Tools--Significant Changes? (Spreadsheets, Bibliographic Data Bases)
Active analogizing to adapt computer games to teaching (the game of life)
Virtual visit to the Math Forum
Visit to the MIT media lab
Robotics at MIT
Multimedia education
Complexity theory and Santa Fe Institute
Fractals and ethnomathematics
Systems ecology and metaphor after WW II
Sociology of Scientific Knowledge meets AI
+ suggestions welcome