CS 492/692 - Spring 2020 - Message 1

Welcome to CS492 the Social Implications of Computing. In previous years I have said that you should walk away from this course believing that this is the best course you have ever taken at the University of Waterloo. It will be somewhat more challenging this term to hold to that claim with the constraints of the pandemic, perhaps. I will endeavour to provide opportunities for you to connect with classmates in person at times, for that social experience which face-to-face encounters enable. But I will also provide you with classes that are delivered online, so that those who are disadvantaged in attending class due to the pandemic also have the chance to draw value from the course. And while CS492 has always included some discussion about whether university courses require face-to-face instruction or can thrive online instead, this term we will have the chance to actually experience both modes within the lectures, leading to a more informed reflection on the topic. In some sense, we will be a small "living lab" examining the topic and our views may well be appropriate fodder for some subsequent publication. Some of the other value-addeds of this course which are fairly easily retained are: the opportunity to write several essays and to get detailed feedback on your writing, towards learning how to communicate effectively; the rather rare opportunity to learn about a topic which I would claim is really vital for students in computer science (you all have a responsibility to be part of the discussion on the implications of computerization, as a group of people who has the technical expertise to judge what can and cannot be done with the systems that we build); a chance to work together in small groups on a few brainstorming exercises (our group assignment this year is in fact on the fascinating topic of climate change and you will get to suggest what governments, organizations and individuals may all be able to do about this problem); and occasions as well to think on your feet, to react to what others have said on the spot (a skill that I am sure your future employers will be very happy to know that you have aquired).

What is unique about our handling of the topic of social implications of computers is the fact that students all have expertise in computer science: this enables us to engage in discussions where our understanding of how the technology works is at play. Some of the assignments invite you to propose recommendations and at times these too may be coloured by your knowledge of what is actually feasible.