From Comp 301 Fall '09

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Comp 301 Working Syllabus

We will study the process, trade-offs and peculiarities of policymaking regarding information technology. All readings are to be completed by the date assigned as they are an integral component to the classroom experience. This is a discussion-based course - be prepared.

Any student with a documented disability seeking academic adjustments or accommodations is requested to speak with either instructor during the first two weeks of class. All discussions will remain as confidential as possible. Students with disabilities will need to also contact Disability Support Services in the Ley Student Center.



Course Organization


Deborah Stone's Policy Paradox will be used to provide a framework on the crafting of public policy as applied to cyberlaw, government IT and other topics. It is also useful reading to frame arguments on all matters of public interest from taxation to trash pickup.

Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen and Harry Lewis's Blown to Bits serves as a politics of the information age primer, framing some of the course's major policy issues. It is well-written, but has a certain set of opinions conspicuously contained within.

Neal Stephenson's In the Beginning...was the Command Line explores the human computer interface at a philosophical level. It's a bit dated (like command lines), but is readable if you sub "MacOS" for "BeOS."

Each session there will be supplemental readings from news media, scholarly journals and other sources (maybe even the odd clip of video). Please view/read/digest before the assigned class. Pop quizzes may be given until this message is received.


There will be multiple homework assignments for the term. Three one-page writing assignments and three technical assignments will be completed by all students. Each will be graded on the check minus, check, check plus scale and each one will represent a maximum of ten points.

Team Exercise:

No exams will be given during the class, instead a group assignment involving the conduct of an in-class presentation regarding an issue in the IT policy domain. The accent in this exercise is on the employment of creativity in making a convincing and informative case on an issue (We've had everything from music videos to one-act plays - as in life there are big points to be scored for creativity). Equipment and facilities for creation of media for this assignment may be accessed at the Rice University Digital Media Center. Media presentations will be given in the final weeks of class and will feature a question and answer session. Each group will be given 25 minutes to present and 20 more for q & a.


Each student is required to produce a 12-15 page paper on their issue, explaining the technology involved, the policy matter and offering some prognostication or prescription regarding outcome. The paper shall be due on the first day of the exam period.


Although this is an unorthodox course, the attendance policy is extremely conventional. Roll will be taken in each meeting of the class and those students missing more than two sessions will place a strong grade in jeopardy, exceptional situations permitting.


While life is complex and subjective, the grading rubric is merely subjective.

The breakdown is as follows: Group Assignment (25%); Paper (25%); Homework (30%); Class Attendance and Participation (20%).

Note: Syllabus subject to change with regard to readings and homework assignments!


Week 1

August 25: Introduction to the class

  • Assignment - create wiki page

August 27: How the Internet works

Week 2

September 1: Policy Basics - Where the Internet came from

September 3: Constructing Cybersecurity: Protecting our Digital Infrastructure

  • Note: Class will not meet, however, students are requested to attend the Baker Institute's Cybersecurity event at 4 p.m. on the day of class.

Week 3

September 8: Building telephony - Ma Bell and the politics of universal service

September 10: Internet Governance a.k.a. Net Neutrality

Week 4

September 15: Internet Sovereignty – What does international regulation look like?

September 17: Guest Lecturer - Technical standards: the over/under line on regulation

  • Lecturer - Joel Thierstein, Associate Provost for Innovative Scholarly Communication, Rice University
  • Reading
    • Everett Rogers, "Diffusion of Innovations," The Free Press, 1995
    • Diffusion Theory Chart, Courtesy of Rogers 1995
    • Dr. Thierstein requests that you the student find readings on the topic of technical standards regarding information technology and come ready to discuss. Be prepared to reinforce your points drawing from the readings you've located. Suggestion - check out the ITU web page.

Week 5

September 22: Opting out of the Grid

September 24: e-government to

Week 6

September 29: Introduction to security

October 1: Identity Theft

Week 7

October 6: The Privacy/Security debate

October 8: Cyberwar

Week 8

October 13: Midterm Recess

October 15: Command Line

  • Reading
    • Neal Stephenson, In the beginning..., entire book
  • Homework 4 (Encryption) Assigned
  • Group Topics Due

Week 9

October 20: Wikipedia

October 22: Social Networks

Week 10

October 27: Intellectual Property

October 29: Guest Lecture – IP & Free Software

  • Lecturer - Professor Greg Vetter, University of Houston Legal Center
  • Reading

Week 11

November 3: P2P, DRM, the RIAA and Pirate Bay

November 5: What can a blogger do?

Week 12

November 10: Guest Lecture - How Green IT?

November 12: Guest Lecture - Serious Games

  • Lecturer - Anthony Elam, Houston Serious Games Consortia
  • Reading

Week 13

November 17: Digital diplomacy & deployment of the noösphere

November 19: Big “I” Little “t”

  • Reading


November 25: Student Presentations

November 27: Thanksgiving

Week 15

December 1: Student Presentations

December 3: Student Presentations

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