Connections Topic 2: Problems with Computational Technologies

Overview

In our first connections topic back at the start of the class (PS02), we discussed some of the applications of computational technologies (CT), focusing primarely on their positive aspects. As your presentations highlighted, CTs are used widely for a variety of purposes. But as future creators of computational technologies, we need to be especially aware of their pitfalls. A few questions can help us focus on issues with the computational technologies of today:

  1. Who is benefiting the most from the use of CT? In what ways?
  2. Who is left behind? In what ways?
  3. Who is being harmed by this technology? In what ways?
  4. Who decides what new CT will be created? Who decides how it will be used?
  5. What alternatives are there to CT? Why is CT being used instead, or why not?

In this task, working as part of a group, you will create a joint presentation to illustrate problems with computational technologies related to one of the following areas:

  1. Surveillance and privacy.
  2. Social media & algorithm-mediated interactions.
  3. Military applications of CT.
  4. Environmental impacts of CT.
  5. CT in courts and prisons.
  6. Large CT corporations, markets, and labor.
  7. Access & exclusion in CT development.

Presentations will happen during lecture meetings on Monday, November 15 and Tuesday, November 16.

Instructions

In each lecture section, students will be randomly assigned to teams of 5 students each. In section 1, some teams of 4 students are necessary, given that this section has 31 students. Depending on your section, you can access the team assignments in these links:

  1. Section 01 (Prof. Davis)
  2. Section 02 (Prof. Anderson)
  3. Section 03 (Prof. Mustafaraj)
  4. Section 04 (Prof. Turbak)

Each team (within a section) has been assigned one of the above-listed areas to research. Each student within a team will research one of the five questions posed above as it relates to their team's area.

Each team will also choose a team captain (or a team captain may put themself forward), who has the same tasks as last time:

  1. Coordinate among team members about the question each of them will research (e.g. who benefits?)
  2. Give them feedback on their draft (in order to get information on what each team member is doing before the submission deadline)
  3. Be in charge of summarizing the individual contributions into a single three-minute presentation, and give that presentation in class.

A student who was a team captain during the first project in PS02, may not be a team captain again in this assignment.

The team captain should be someone who can work well under time constraints, since there is a short time between the deadline for submitting the individual contributions (the same as the problem set deadline) and the day for submitting the presentation (that Friday).

The remaining team members will each independently research a different question from the list above (e.g., who benefits, or who is harmed?), relating to their team's application area. By researching answers to the different questions listed above, the team members will avoid duplicating each others' work, and ensure that at the end the team has sufficient material to create a cohesive presentation. Depending on the team size, one or two questions may not be focused on.

Note that the team captain does not also have to do this research: their job is to coordinate between team members, provide feedback on members' reports, and synthesize the final presentation from those reports.

Also note that this is a mini research project. We expect each team member to consult at least two sources. The process of consulting sources, summarizing them, and creating a one-page report should take you 2-4 hours in total.

The team captain may spend a bit more time because they have to coordinate for their team and provide feedback on each report, but likewise, time spent coordinating the team, reading the reports, providing feedback on the reports, creating a presentation, and practicing that presentation should take 3-5 hours (spread over a longer period of time, from Nov 4/5 to Nov 15/16).

We encourage students who have experience with team projects from their other Wellesley courses (or extra-curricular activities) to put themselves forward as team captains by emailing the members of their team and starting a group chat to coordinate the distribution of questions. The success of each team depends on some students taking a leadership role.

The team captain must make sure that the information on which team member is working on which question, as well as who the team captain is, is entered into the group assignment document, as soon as it is settled, so that we can give team captains extensions on the Gradescope deadline for submitting their deliverables.

What to Submit

Students will submit their PDF documents via Gradescope (either a research report, or presentation slides). At the same place where quizzes are posted, a new link for submitting PS07 Task 3 will appear.

Each student except the team captain will submit the individual research work they did for their team. The content need be no more than a one-page PDF containing text and images. You may use a second page for attributing your sources using a citation style you're familiar with. Each report should link at least two sources.

Each team captain will share a Google presentation that contains a slide with names/photos of all team members, and the slides for the presentation (which must take no more than 3 minutes). Slide presentations must be uploaded in this shared Google Drive directory (in the appropriate subfolder) and also submitted via Gradescope. The deadlines for submitting the presentation files are listed in the submission instructions.

With such a short presentation time, we recommend condensing the group's results into a few slides (relying on images and bullet points), and explaining them at a shallow level. The team captain alone will give the presentation, since there is no time to have every group member participate. We encourage students who are interested in learning more about a topic based on the presentation to reach out directly to members of that team.

Resources

Students who have not had experience doing research in science and technology domains are encouraged to contact our Science and Technology Librarian, Jillian Amaral (ja102@wellesley.edu). You can send her an email to book an appointment and meet either individually or with your peers.

You can also drop by Clapp library in person and ask for help finding sources at the reference desk.

Grading

This will work similarly to the initial connections topic did:

Students except the team captain will be graded individually on their submitted research reports. These are graded on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis, where an unsatisfactory report is one that falls significantly short of our expectations. Key aspects of the report are:

You might find the feedback you received for PS02 Task 3 with respect to individual reports useful in this task as well.

Examples of unsatisfactory reports include:

For this research report, Wikipedia, blog posts, and other informal knowledge sources are permitted. Your sources do not have to be in a textual format. We expect that news articles from reputable news organizations will form the bulk of your sources, although this is not required. Most major news organizations have very extensive coverage of technology and the shortcomings of technology.


For the team captain, a satisfactory/unsatisfactory grade will be assigned based on the in-class presentation. You will not be penalized for failure on the part of group members to complete their work, since we will be able to see the material that you had available to work from. Key aspects of the presentation are:

Examples of unsatisfactory presentations would include:

If you are facing a logistical challenge with your presentation, please reach out to an instructor as soon as possible so that we can help you figure things out and make alternate arrangements if these prove necessary.