Syllabi

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City Use of Technology

This is a course surveying the efforts of city officials around the world to work with technology and community partners to address challenging civic problems. The course emphasizes creativity and collaboration with the goal of providing students with tools they will need to grapple with real-life urban and civic challenges post-graduation. Students will work on, examine, and report on ongoing civic projects.

Faculty Member(s): Susan Crawford

Design Of Information-Rich Environments

This seminar course based on lectures, collaborative class workshops, discussions and design exercises introduces students to an array of critical themes and concepts for the creative work at the intersection of digital systems data and physical objects and space – the emerging domain of what can be referred to as urban computing or ambient informatics. Over the past years, much of our environment has been pervaded by networks and systems that generate digital bits as part of their operations (think of public transport electronic ticketing systems, telecommunication services, the electricity grid, logistic operations, etc.). Massive amounts of data are being generated by these systems at every instance and they are closely related to human activity, both informing human actions as well as reflecting their effects (for example, the digitization of the public transport system has enabled to inform passengers of the real-time location and arrival of busses as well as informing network operators and cities in real-time of the origin-destination patterns of all passengers at every instant).

Faculty Member(s): Kristian Kloeckl

Native American Histories And Presence

Native American Histories & Presence is an introduction to the Indigenous peoples of North America and to the academic field of Native American and Indigenous studies. Drawing from Indigenous studies, history, anthropology, cultural geography, settler colonial studies, and critical ethnic studies, this interdisciplinary course focuses on the resilience of Indian nations in New England and beyond. With an awareness of history’s bearing on the present and future, Native American Histories & Presence explores how treaties and the legacy of historical policies such as allotment, relocation, termination, boarding schools, and natural resource extraction impact tribal nations today. Regarding colonization and decolonization as ongoing processes, this course highlights concepts such as sovereignty, self-determination, and environmental justice within the context of enduring and evolving relationships to land and place. Native American Histories & Presence is structured around four intersecting themes: identity, land, law, and culture. The course culminates in a collaborative project that combines public history and public art in order to activate the landscape, engage new audiences, and propose new modes of just and peaceful coexistence in the colonial present.

Faculty Member(s): Nicholas Brown

#Trending Insights: Social Data Analysis And Visualization

This course familiarizes students with social-scientific methods for large-scale data analysis and visualization, including the application of relevant user and concept networks, time and spatial models, and sentiment analysis. In addition, the use of germane software in emerging and digital media research is developed. More importantly, however, this course has a dual structure where students learn to not only carry out advanced analyses of large datasets, they also engage with how to visually represent and effectively communicate those results to a lay audience. As such, students leave equipped with a wide-ranging skillset to scrape data, mine data, and present data in fields of specific areas of inquiry.

Faculty Member(s): Jacob Groshek

Connecting Humans: Networks, History And Social Media

This course offers a critical survey of the cultural, social, and political impacts of emerging communication technologies, as those have advanced over time to contemporarily include online, mobile and social media. Special attention will be paid to networks and their relationship to the ways individuals, groups and organizations communicate within society. Our work here situates the changing nature of networks in media from broadcast network models to social network ones. As such, it is both historically informed and theoretically inclusive. An important component of study also incorporates an immersive social network experiences as part of this class, which is to say that the class becomes its own online social network and students are peer collaborators.

Faculty Member(s): Jacob Groshek

Data Visualization

This course introduces concepts, methods and practices of data visualization and data storytelling for journalism majors. Data journalism is an emerging field of practice that ranges from the dazzling interactive graphics of the New York Times to the consistent, watchful reporting of sites like Homicide Watch. In this course, students learn to adopt a “data-mindset” and reflect on how telling stories with data can help advance (and occasionally obscure) public understanding. Students will learn how to find and create data sets for their stories, how to analyze data (including some basic scripting and coding) and how to present data in a variety of ways. We will also discuss privacy, verification, ethics and some of the other thorny issues that arise with data reporting. Some experience in HTML and coding is helpful but not required.

Faculty Member(s): Catherine D'Ignazio

Media Ethics

Claims of the democratizing power of media are ubiquitous: from the Arab Spring to the Occupy movement, media (and in particular the internet) have been credited with the rebirth of democracy. Simultaneously, the relaxation of media ownership rules in the U.S., the degradation of journalism and newspapers, the increased pressures on profitability over high quality content pose questions about whether media’s impact has been entirely positive. These competing perspectives force us to ask, specifically: is media creating a thriving democracy or failing “idiocracy”? The goal of this course will be to consider what the ethical obligations of the media are in a democratic society and whether the media have met these obligations.

Faculty Member(s): Lizzie Falvey

Digital Culture And Composition

This course centers on the changing relationships among digital texts and different domains of life–including personal, work, education, and public spheres. First, course readings and discussions focus on historical and theoretical aspects of digital culture: how do digital texts change the way we read, analyze, interpret, and compose? To address this question, students will study previous and current perspectives on the connections between literacy and technology. Second, coursework will require students to explore and develop their ability to analyze and compose digital texts; at the same time, students will practice thinking and writing critically about those texts. In all aspects of the course, students will explore how textuality is related to changes in media, and what those changes mean for personal, professional, and community life.

Faculty Member(s): Matthew Davis

Perspectives On Literacy

This course will examine the theories, practices, materials, and importance of literacy in two ways. First, we’ll read a number of texts from the field of literacy studies. We’ll read theories of how humans began to connect language and tools; we’ll read studies of the African Vai people, of school children, and of digital communities; we’ll look at how those studies understand the political, social, and ideological dimensions of different forms of meaning-making. Second, you’ll engage literacy by participating in a service-learning program that provides an opportunity to promote literate practice outside the classroom. As part of the course, you will choose a literacy program in the Boston area, volunteer as a writing tutor, coach, or teacher, and put into practice your developing understanding of what literacy means.

Faculty Member(s): Matthew Davis

Collaborative Video And Community Engagement

This course explores the process of collaborative video making with a focus on civic engagement and community media. A series of interactive hands-on labs that build analytical and technical skills will guide the development of micro-documentaries and short documentaries. Students will have the chance to work with local artists and community to produce videos that matter. The partnerships are coordinated through the award-winning center for Service-Learning at Northeastern University. The course examines different forms of authorship, video genres and tools for collaborating ranging from crowdsourcing to remix platforms. While discussing pressing issues like poverty, racism and the environment, we will experiment with a variety of methods for effective collaboration and ethical participatory projects, and learn to pitch and promote video art projects in collaboration with organizations. The final projects will be presented during a public event for the wider Northeastern community and beyond.

Tuning In- Reading And Listening To Public Spaces

Space is not a container, but a product of human experience and practices. In this course, we will investigate how to read and represent public space, especially from a hearing perspective. Using the complex transitory spaces in and around South Station and Ruggles Station — their structures and flows, social practices, sensory and auditory qualities — the project is based on a thick mapping approach: an approach to cartographic representation that is not limited to the representation of a given data set, but also reflecting on the process of collecting these data. This joint studio between Architecture and Information Design and Visualization investigates different approaches to read and represent a complex informational environment, through observation, listening, and critical cartography. The studio incorporates methods from environment-behavior research, human geography, design research and sound studies.

Faculty Member(s): Sam Auinger, Dietmar Offenhuber, Chris Ryan

Crowd Sourced City: Social Media, Technology, And Planning Procceses

Social media networks, crowd sourcing, cell phone applications all allow us to see and understand cities and our role within them using a new lens. This workshop class will investigate the use of social media and digital technologies for planning and advocacy by working with actual planning and advocacy organizations to develop, implement, and evaluate prototype digital tools. Students will use the development of their digital tools as a way to investigate how new media technologies can be used for planning. Student groups are paired with non-profit clients to develop a strategy for using social media and mobile technologies. Students are required to implement part of their strategy before the end of the class. They are also required to develop a method for how their “client” might incorporate these strategies into their own work processes. Students work with non-profits and learn how these two groups approach problems differently. The implementation phase teaches the students what works and what does not. This allows them to analyze how well their goals aligned with their strategies. Students learn the most from implementing their strategies as they discover how their theories apply to real world situations. The course will allow students to develop their own strategies for CROWD SOURCING THE CITY.

Faculty Member(s): Sarah Williams

Data Storytelling Studio

We are swimming in data – “Big” and small, global and personal. And we are also facing complicated problems like Climate Change and inequality whose stories can only be told with data. The need for public understanding of data-driven issues is higher than ever before. But raw data doesn’t make a good story and that’s where you come in. This class is focused on how to tell stories with data to create social change. We will learn through case studies, examples and hands-on experimentation with tools and technologies. We will teach basic methods for research, cleaning and analysis of datasets as well as introduce creative methods of data presentation and storytelling. We will consider the emotional, aesthetic and practical effects of different presentation methods as well as how to develop metrics for assessing impact. For the final project, students will create a piece that tells a data-driven story. The course is open to all technical levels and backgrounds. We will prioritize students with a strong background in one or more of the following areas: journalism, software development, data analysis, documentary, visual and performing arts. This semester the course will have a special focus of Food Security. Most examples will use data related to this topic, homeworks will be related to it, and final projects must be connected to it as well.

Faculty Member(s): Rahul Bhargava

Solving Public Problems Using Technology

Inside and outside government, technology has changed the way governance is perceived and delivered. Traditional good government advocates are pressing for more effective release and availability of government data so as to forward accountability and transparency. That same data can be used by entrepreneurs to launch private businesses that may or may not support public missions. Innovators within government are trying to find more efficient ways of both running government agencies and getting access to good ideas from outside the ranks of civil servants. Citizens increasingly want better, clearer access to government services. At the same time, core policy-makers are often uncomfortable with using technology to reveal and change how decisions are actually made within government. All of this is happening at local, national, and international levels, along with an explosion in the use of mobile communications and social media. But not everywhere: digital divides persist around the word. Technology is no longer something over which the IT department has unquestioned dominion (not that the IT department is going away). It is now part of every communications, operations, advocacy, and service-delivery strategy from both inside and outside government. However, strategic, directed, data-driven, outcomes-driven use of technology in governance is still very early in its development. Many governmental and NGO actors do not have the skills to use technology effectively, and talk about technology’s democracy-enhancing possibilities is often met with concern that technology will squelch public values rather than support them. This course will combine an overview of practical skills for using technology with analytical discussion, expert guest speakers, and an introduction to user-centered design. The course is designed to be at once an entry-level survey of the govtech landscape and a course on working with community partners to solve civic problems.

Faculty Member(s): Susan Crawford

Community Innovation Lab

This is a course on working with community partners to solve challenging civic problems. Through our combined efforts as the Community Innovation Lab, we will partner with the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics and three dynamic community organizations in the Dudley and Upham’s Corner neighborhoods of Boston. Our goal is to find innovative ways to enhance work that is already being done by our community partners in the area and/or propose creative and locally-appropriate means of supporting initiatives that the community identifies as important. Dudley Square is our focal point, but the proposals we make and the prototypes we imagine should be scalable beyond its borders. The course emphasizes creativity and collaboration with the goal of providing students with the tools they need to grapple with real-life urban and civic challenges postgraduation. The lab emphasizes user-centered design and the application of technology to civic problems. The lab defines technology expansively to mean the application of science, craft and art to the improvement of life. This naturally includes digital technology but also includes other areas of engagement, ranging from physical design to art practice. Furthermore, what constitutes technology is constantly being redefined based on its applicability to human needs.

Faculty Member(s): Susan Crawford, Michael Hooper

Reinventing (And Reimagining) Boston: The Changing American City

This multi-disciplinary course uses Boston to help student better appreciate, understand and participate in contemporary urban life. In particular, we will explore three central questions at the heart of any conversation about any city. Who is Boston for? Who should it be for? And how will those decisions get made? The course will examine these questions via a unique combination of readings, lectures, presentations by notable local practitioners, visits to different parts of Boston, and writing assignments. In that work, we take seriously that studying a city – and teaching a Gen Ed course – is an exercise in dissonance, plurality, and negotiation. To that end, this course draws on a wide number of sources and disciplines to help answer three fundamental questions, which are always making demands of each other.

Faculty Member(s): Matthew Kaliner, david Luberoff

Mixed­Reality City: Transit Symphony

The contemporary city is constituted by multiple overlapping, intermixing realities articulated across built form and imagined space, individual experience and collective memory, embodied sensation and digital mediation. Often, these multiple realities are invisible or illegible, with certain narratives dominating particular environments. However, realities always leave traces, to be excavated and reconstructed. The Mixed­Reality City is an exploratory research seminar and workshop in which students pursue studies of urbanism­in­the­making through means and methods emerging in the digital arts and humanities, including: data narrative, digital ethnography, adversarial design, and critical technical practice. The course focuses in equal parts on unpacking discourses and developing interpretative digital artifacts. For Spring 2015, Mixed­Reality City takes on transit as a heuristic for understanding and experiencing the city, and travel as a means of performing urban space. We’ll proceed through five modules, touring dominant modes of moving through urban spaces, surveying their alternative and corollary modalities along the way.

Faculty Member(s): Matthew Battles, Kyle Parry, Jeffrey Schnapp, Joe Steele, Jessica Yurkofsky

Civic Media

This class will not only explore the various goals campaigns are using digital tools to meet, but will also focus on what type of citizen these tools are enabling and encouraging people to become. We will look at academic research surrounding citizenship and engagement in a digital era and cover research into many genres of civic media, from citizen journalism to hackathons. Additionally, it will focus on questions of design: how best can we, as media creators, encourage certain behaviors? What type of citizens are we building when we make design choices?

Faculty Member(s): Russell Newman

Communication, Media, And Society

Communication, Media, and Society is designed to help students develop an informed and critical understanding of how media shape and influence society and communication. The course will develop a critical understanding of ideas around media effects, audience and reception analysis, and theories of cultivation, agenda setting, framing, and uses & gratifications. The course will look at the evolution of communication and media industries over time to explore how models for information distribution and reception have facilitated communication in modern society. Finally, the course will explore the future of media systems in a digital age, with a look at the future of marketing communication through the lens of convergence culture and participatory technology.

Faculty Member(s): Paul Mihailidis

Games For Social Change

The video game industry is one of the largest sectors of the entertainment industry. But the importance of games goes well beyond industrial silos. Games and game mechanics are factoring into the experience of television, film and the web, and increasingly, into other institutions, including education, democracy and health. What’s more, games are being deployed in these contexts to produce real world social change. This class provides students with an introduction to games and game design and gives them the opportunity to partner with an organization in designing games for real people to solve real problems. Students will work in groups, each with a specific geographic and content focus, to design board (or otherwise analog) games and digital prototypes that will be tested and deployed.

Faculty Member(s): Eric Gordon

Civic Art & Design Studio

Civic Art and Design are practices that leverage culture to generate social change, to serve the public good and/or to imagine alternate collective futures. In this class we address the shifting role of the artist, designer and storyteller in a world beset by crises, inequities and global concerns. This course covers theories of Civic Art and Design as well as methods for including communities and audiences at various stages in the creation of a project. We conduct experiments in performance art, storytelling, data visualization, community art, interactive documentary and networked art in order to interrogate where, when, how and why a Civic Artist takes action in the world. Throughout the class, we will model a design research process that culminates in the completion of a public art installation about the future of transportation in the City of Boston.

Faculty Member(s): Catherine D'Ignazio, Cindy Vincent

​Technology, Policy, and Public Service Innovation ‐ an Introduction

Intended for those interested in public policy and service delivery this course provides a broad overview of emerging opportunities, challenges and risks created by information technology in the public sector. The course will be particularly concerned with how information technology increases the feedback loop ‐ and thus the speed ‐ at which bureaucracies can learn and adapt. Topics covered will include the use of data analytics, security and privacy concerns, agile and iterative policy and program development, design thinking, as well as the impact of information technology on the election cycle.

Faculty Member(s): David Eaves