ICT, Society, and Democracy  (3 units)
Spring Quarter 2008-2009, Stanford University
Instructor:  Todd Davies
Meeting Time: Wednesdays 7:00-9:15 PM
Location: 240-110
Instructor's Office: 460-040C (Margaret Jacks Hall, lower level)
Phone: x3-4091; Fax: x3-5666
Email: tdavies at
Office Hours: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays 10:30 - 11:55 AM
Interactive website:

Updated May 21, 2009 [added link to Presentation Guidelines]

Prerequisite: Completion of Psych 50, Psych 55, Psych 70, or SymbSys 170/270; or consent of the instructor

Course Overview:
This advanced small seminar explores the impact of information and communication technologies on social and political life. Under the proposed syllabus,we will all read two recent and influential books on this topic.  In the final two sessions (weeks 9 and 10), each student will lead a discussion about one of several other books concerning ICT, society, and democracy.  The course is designed to be discussion-based, both in class and online. 

Course Plan (tentative):

I propose to organize the course around two books:

After an overview and introductions in week 1, the whole class will read Shirky's book over weeks 2 through 5, and Sunstein's book over weeks 6-8.  For the last two weeks of the course, students will present and lead discussions about other works they have read related to the themes of the course, and we will have a summation at the end. The exact schedule of the last two weeks will depend on the number of students enrolled and their interests.

The written component of the course will take place online, with weekly comments on the assigned readings graded in a mixed instructor/self/peer scheme (see below for details).  Comments must be made ahead of each class session by 5:30 pm so that everyone can read them before that week's discussion.  I will lead the discussions of Shirky's and Sunstein's books over the first phase of the course (weeks 1-8), turning it over to student presenters/discussion leaders in the latter phase (weeks 9-10).  A tentative schedule is given below.


Each student is required to (a) attend and participate regularly, (b) do the assigned reading and post at least one reaction comment on this website per week, by 5:30 pm on the day of class, and (c) select and present a focus topic in class, provide sample readings for the class at least one week ahead of their presentation, and lead a discussion on their focal topic during phase II of the course. There is no final paper or exam in the course.


Week 1 (April 1) -- Overview and Introductions

Week 2 (April 8) - Here Comes Everybody chapters 1, 2, & 3

Week 3 (April 15) -- Here Comes Everybody chapters 4, 5, & 6

Week 4 (April 22) -- Here Comes Everybody chapters 7, 8, & 9

Week 5 (April 29) - Here Comes Everybody chapters 10, 11, & Epilogue

Week 6 (May 6) -- Infotopia Introduction and chapters 1 & 2 Week 7 (May 13) -- Infotopia chapters 3 & 4

Week 8 (May 20) -- Infotopia chapters 5, 6 & Conclusion

Week 9 (May 27) -- Student-led Discussions I

Week 10 (June 3) -- Student-led Discussions II


The course grade will be based on the following breakdown:

Grades for the presentation/discussion leading and attendance/partifcipation will be assigned by me alone. Grades for comments, however, will be graded in the following way:

Each week, I will solicit from each student the following scores (out of 5 points possible), to be sent to me by email:

Before reading your self/peer scores, I will assign my own score (Ti) to each student's comments. I will not share any information about your scoring with anyone else in the class - only I will know how you scored yourselves and each other. Assuming you are student k and there are n students (indexed by i) in the class, your total score for the period being scored will be:

(1/3) Tk


(1/3) {Sk / [1 + ln(1 +| Sk -   [∑i≠k Pik / (n-1)] | )]}


(1/3) [∑i≠k Pik / (n-1)] / {1 + ln[1 +∑i≠k |Ti - Pki| / (n-1)]}

This formula combines my score for you with your own self-evaluation and your peers' evaluations of you weighted by a meta-evaluation (how well your scores agree with mine and with your peers). This is an incentivizing system, but it makes it very hard to get a perfect score. As you will see, though, that is okay once you understand that scores are bound to appear lower than they otherwise will be. Don't worry - it won't mean that everyone will get a low grade at the end. The main things to understand are that (a) your total score will depend on what you, I, and your peers each think, (b) your total score will benefit a lot if (i) you assign scores to yourself that you think will be close to the ones your peers will assign, and (ii) you assign scores to your peers that you think will be close to the ones I will assign .

The formula above is a modified version of one I have tried in two previous courses: Symbsys 205 (Spring 2006-2007) and Symbsys 209 (Autumn 2007-2008). In the previous formula, the modifying term for each of the three factors was based on the scores that I assigned. The above version applies the average peer score of your comment, instead, in the modifying term for your self-score.  We'll have a few iterations to test it out. Previous experience has shown that the class and I tend to converge in our evaluations, so that we all provide a check on each other. So while it may seem complicated at first, over time I think you will see that it is fairer than just having me assign the scores alone.

The scoring system is also designed to get you thinking seriously about the value of your own and others' contributions. And I will certainly welcome your feedback on the scoring system as we proceed, especially at the end of the course. I will also share with you statistical analyses of how well our my scores, self scores, and peer scores are correlating with each other, as well as averages and other statistical data.

Pool of Suggested Readings for Student-Led Discussions (Weeks 9-10):