Computers and Social Decisions (3 units)
Spring Quarter 2003-2004, Stanford University
Instructor:  Todd Davies
Meeting Time: Wednesdays 6:30-9:00 PM
Location:  460-127B
Instructor's Office: 460-040C (Margaret Jacks Hall, lower level)
Phone: x3-4091; Fax: x3-5666
Email: t-d-a-v-i-e-s-@-c-s-l-i-.-s-t-a-n-f-o-r-d-.-e-d-u
Course website:
Office Hours: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays 10:30 AM - 12:00 Noon

This is an evolving syllabus.  Check back for updates each week. [Updated 5/5/2004]


This course represents an interdisciplinary approach to questions like the following: How can computers and computer networks be used to democratize decision making in both society and smaller groupings of people?  What are the motivations for trying to do so?  What are the barriers?  What have people tried to do  in this area, and what has happened as a result?  The idea is to review theories and empirical findings, and attempt to apply these to the real-world challenges of democracy.  This is a service learning course, so in addition to readings, informal lectures, and written work, each student will be expected to be involved in a  project to benefit an outside community client   A goal of the project component is to make at least some of the issues in the design of social decision systems more apparent, and to help students to see how research questions can both inform and be informed by practical interventions.

Based on the first class discussion (3/31), I propose the following tentative schedule and format for the course.


Week 1 (3/31) - Paticipatory Course Design
Introduction to the overall course goals.  Group discussion and input into the design of the course syllabus.

Weeks 2 & 3(4/7,14) -  Political Consciousness and Media
The contemporary political context, u.s. exceptionalism, longstanding political attitudes, the current political polarization, and the standard progressive critique of mass media.
Notes: Background on Political Consciousness and Media (4/7)
Notes: Background on Political Consciousness and Media, continued (4/14)



Weeks 3 & 4 (4/14,21) -  Digital Divides
Inequity in access, control, and use of the Internet, recent data and trends, cultural differences, and practical interventions.
Guest speaker: Rolando Zeledon, Plugged In and the East Palo Alto Community Network (4/21)
Group Project Description

Weeks 4 & 5 (4/21,28) - Markets and Games
Game theory, market approaches to resource allocation, market failure, and voluntary approaches (e.g. philanthropy and social entrepreneurship).
Notes: Utility Theory and Game Theory (4/28)
Notes: Market Failure and the Internet (4/28)

Weeks 5 & 6 (4/28,5/5) - Voting and Social Choices
Social choice theory, political economy and electoral systems.

Weeks 6 & 7 (5/5,12) - Organizations and Communities
Flows of information and opinion in social networks and online communities.
Guest speaker: Goro Mitchell, Community Development Institute (5/5)

Weeks 7 & 8 (5/12,19) - Online Deliberation I: Theory and Philosophy
Distributive and procedural ethics, Habermas and the public sphere.

Weeks 8 & 9 (5/19,26) - Online Deliberation II: Evidence and Design
Studies of deliberation, on- and offline, design of online deliberation environments.

Weeks 9 & 10 (5/26,2) - Internet Law and Policy
Internet protocols and their effects, censorship, privacy, and copyright issues.

Week 10 (6/2) - Group Project Presentations


Each session is 150 minutes, of which I propose to spend approximately  45-60 minutes presenting and discussing what is in the reading for that week, followed by 45-60 minutes presenting and discussing material that is not in or is preparatory for the readings, with 30-60 minutes left over for extra discussion, review of project work, and/or a guest lecturer. 

GRADING BASIS (see also below)

1. Posted online comments (50%)
2. Project (30%)
3. Participation and attendance (20%, assessed subjectively)


At the class's suggestion, 50% of the grade will be based on posted comments to an online forum.  Details regarding how to post will be discussed at the second meeting.


This is a service learning course, and each student is expected to participate in a project designed to serve some greater community interest.  Details regarding the project/s will be worked out during the second and third class meetings.  Grading for the project will be based 40% on individual presentations and 60% on the group write-up.