Syllabus, LIS451, Fall 2016


Martin Wolske: (preferred contact method); 217-840-7434 (mobile)

Office Hours: TBD

Course Description:

Hands-on introduction to networked information systems for the LIS environment. The course steps students through choosing, installing, and managing computer hardware and operating systems, as well as networking hardware and software. The course also explores alternatives for administering IT and how to assess emerging technologies and their applicability to library settings. While students are expected to have basic computer competencies per the GSLIS admissions requirements, the goal of the course is to provide practical detailed knowledge of the technology for all levels of competency. The primary objective is to provide a conceptual understanding of the topics of the day through concrete hands-on examples of implementation. By learning the underlying concepts, students will be better prepared to help design networked systems that not only work well today, but also develop systems that can be easily adapted for the needs and technologies of tomorrow.

Learning Objectives:

The general learning outcome objectives for LIS451 are to help students:

  • Develop a clear hands-on working understanding of the physical and software layers of computers and networks. Over the course of the semester, students should develop a growing comfort and competency: working with the basic nuts and bolts of computers and networks; how integration of the components work together to serve as tools for computational and information processing; and how to do basic troubleshooting.
  • Evolve a more holistic and nuanced understanding of the sociotechnical artifacts we use as a daily part of our professional lives. The physical + software + human + social whole that is a digital artifact is greater than the sum of the parts – beyond developing technical competencies, we need to develop an awareness of, and skillsets to influence, the emergent properties that come from specific combinations of the different social and technical building blocks for information systems.
  •  Develop a critical approach to sociotechnical artifacts. Social systems are constructs of economy, politics, matters of race, class, and gender, social institutions, and other cultural dynamics. Design, diffusion, and implementation of technical innovations both reflect and shape these social systems. Critically examining networked information systems from multiple individual and societal perspectives opens up consideration of idealized expectations vs. actual positive and negative impacts within specific user communities.
  • Advance community agency in appropriating technology to achieve our individual and community development goals. Far from being just passive adopters of different digital technology artifacts, as LIS professionals we have opportunities to initiate and lead communities of inquiry, leveraging the plurality of our community’s social and technical insights to adapt socio-technical systems in ways that build a more just and inclusive community. 

Teaching Strategy:

To achieve the learning objectives, the course will use a “Demystifying Technology” approach in which student-defined, project-based, hands-on activities are combined with critical reflection and discussion to increasingly open both the black box that is the physical and software components of an artifact, and the black box that is the human and social components that shape, and are shaped by, the artifact. Former Microsoft researcher Kentaro Toyama speaks of the ways technology amplifies underlying human forces. This amplification can apply equally to unjust as well as more just human forces. Hands-on experience and classroom discussion surrounding the basic technical and social building blocks will be grounded through service learning and critical reflection to deepen our understanding of the mutual shaping of technology and society, and how LIS professionals can play a leadership role in selecting, adapting, and implementing community technologies for a more just world.

Service learning is a type of experiential learning that combines academic content with service to community. Brzozowski, Homenda, & Roy have provided evidence that service learning improves professional readiness and confidence, and provides a greater appreciation for the role of the practitioner in community. Teams comprised of 3-4 students will work with one of the community partners for the semester to identify community strengths, opportunities, and aspirations as a starting point for the design and implementation of a project executed in collaboration with the community partner. Past projects have included recycling of computers to create a computer lab, design and delivery of workshops, development and implementation of a custom server, and redesign of a computer-equipped learning space.

Required Computational Resources:

As a hands-on course, it is important that each student have an opportunity to build their own LIS-related networked information system. To assure a unified learning environment and instructor support, a lab fee will be used to purchase a Raspberry Pi and electronics to support class projects. Students will take home the equipment purchased using lab fees at the end of the semester. This is in addition to the GSLIS laptop requirements.

Note regarding cost: I have worked to keep the lab fee as low as possible while assuring the student will have everything needed to fully participate in the hands-on activities. I have also worked to select components that can readily have a life beyond the class, and indeed may become a starting point for Maker programming or networked information systems development  you may lead as a professional in an LIS setting. However, it is also recognized that the cost may still present a hurdle for students interested in taking this class. Please do not let the cost of the required equipment keep you from registering and attending the class. Let me know if it is a hurdle and we will find resources to help you still fully participate.

Pre- and Co-requisites:

Junior or senior standing and consent of instructor for undergraduates; consent of instructor for non-LIS graduate students.

No technical pre-requisites are expected beyond the basic competencies per GSLIS admissions requirements. Strategies are used to advance learning independent of incoming technical competency.

Required Texts:

None. Beyond the in-class hands-on activities and discussion, a bibliography of readings, recorded lectures, and other resources will be provided to support each student’s personal learning goals.

Assignments and Methods of Assessment:

Students will be graded on a 90% (A), 80% (B), 70% (C), 60% (D) scale. Graded assignments and the overall percentage for each category of assignments are listed below.

Essentials Quizzes (20% of grade):

Five quizzes assigned over the course of the semester will cover the essential hardware, operating system, networks, coding & markup, and the cloud. Students will have three tries to complete the quizzes, with 10% deducted from the total for each question with wrong answers within a try. Students can also retake the quiz anytime before the close of the quiz period, with the highest grade counting towards a final grade. Students will need to refer to available resources such as class notes and readings to research answers while answering the quiz. The total for this category will be an average of the five scores.

Project Portfolio (50%):

Over the course of the semester, students will work in teams to complete three projects:

  1. An interactive story or game highlighting in some way the role of women, people of color, or other minorities in technology
  2. An Internet of Things device
  3. A community collaboration service-learning project

Students may choose to work with the same teams over the course of the semester, or switch teams for one or more of the projects. The team grade for each project will be based both on design thinking process and product. It is recognized that within the design thinking process, product is constantly being refined. Further, it is recognized this is an introductory course. Therefore, it is understood that the implementation of the first two projects will be more prototypes rather than production-ready products.

On the other hand, out of respect for our community partners, it is important that collaboration with the partner(s) begin early in the semester to allow sufficient time to fully develop and implement the project. Further, the scope of the project should be appropriate to assure that the service-learning project is completed in accordance with the expectations as agreed upon between the community partner and the student team.  The community partner(s) will be consulted to help determine the team grade for the service project.

Service Learning Report Back & Reflections (15%)

Students will be expected to provide three group report backs sharing progress, challenges, and problem-solving with regard to the community collaboration project. In addition, each student will individually write three reflections over the course of the semester and will be graded on a 0-4 scale based on the degree to which they bring experiences from the service learning fieldwork into dialog with readings, discussions, and personal insights in answer to the guided questions provided. Please use citations to indicate sources informing thinking where appropriate. The final score will be a sum of the three reflection grades.

Helpfulness Grade (5% of grade):

An underlying tenant of a radically reconsidered digital literacy is that group difference is an essential resource for democratic problem-solving directed towards building a more just society. I believe every student in this class brings forward a unique suite of skills and insights drawn from their histories, culture, values, etc. Communication and collaboration is foundational to what has come to be called “21st Century Skills”, but has long been understood as the heart of all movements for social justice. To this end, a survey will be taken at the end of each project allowing students to:

  • Give two points to their peers who provided essential support over the project period;
  • Give a point to their peers if the peer provided some meaningful help over the project period; and
  • Give a negative point in the rare circumstance that a student fell through on promised support in a way that had a significant negative impact.

Peers include anyone in the class, not just their team members. For team members, a 2 would indicate the peer was an active part of the team and should therefore be the norm unless the team member didn’t fully pull their share of the weight on the project. For others in class, a 2 would mean the peer put aside their own work in a significant way to collaborate and coach you (as opposed to taking over and doing it for you), or brought in a contribution that was beyond your purview (provided a unique guiding critical analysis only possible because of their history, culture, values, etc.) All forms of support, whether in person, on the support or project forums, via email or phone, etc. can be recognized.

The final score will be calculated using the following rubric and will be averaged across the three surveys:

  • 5 = A score of 2 from all project team members, two or more 1’s or 2’s from other classmates, and no negative points;
  • 4 = A score of 2 from all project team members but no 1’s or 2’s from other classmates, or less than a 2 from a project team member, and no negative points;
  • 3 = Less than a 2 from a project team member and no 1’s or 2’s from other classmates, or a negative point from a peer;
  • 2 = Less than a 2 from multiple project team members and/or multiple negative points from peers;
  • 1 = A negative point from a team member;
  • 0 = Multiple negative points from team members.

Academic integrity is paramount in completing each survey.

Instructor Evaluation (10% of grade):

The instructor will evaluate student attendance, active participation, and overall progress throughout the course of the semester. The following rubric will be used to assign a score mid-semester and again at the end of the semester. These will be averaged together to create the final score.

  • 10 = Student has been an active participant in class discussions, bringing to the class insights from their interpretations of readings and lived experiences and is demonstrating an increasing grasp of the key concepts covered in class.
  • 8 = Student has been an active participant in some of the class discussions and is demonstrating some gains in grasping key concepts covered in class.
  • 6 = Student is occasionally active in class and is demonstrating some learning, but it is clear they are not performing to their full capabilities
  • 4 = Student has missed several classes and/or is not always active when attending class
  • 0 = Student has consistently missed class during the rated period

Reflections on the News (Maximum 10% Extra Credit):

Each week students are encouraged to post a three to five paragraph reply to the weekly “Reflections on the News” discussion thread for the week. Reflections should identify a recently read news item and describe how it was seen in a new light as a result of lessons learned through hands-on exercises, class discussion, fieldwork, or class readings. If done within a week of the date of the class (e.g., for the “Reflections for August 25” posting, the reply must be made before September 1st), students will receive one point. A maximum of 10 extra points (10% of total grade) may be earned.

Library Resources:;; 217-333-3804

Attendance, Participation, and Statement of Inclusion:

Students are expected to attend all class sessions except in case of emergency. If you have an emergency, communicate with the instructor as early as possible to prevent negatively impacting your grade.

The instructor stands in full agreement with the Chancellor’s Commitment Statement (

As the state’s premier public university, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s core mission is to serve the interests of the diverse people of the state of Illinois and beyond. The institution thus values inclusion and a pluralistic learning and research environment, one which we respect the varied perspectives and lived experiences of a diverse community and global workforce. We support diversity of worldviews, histories, and cultural knowledge across a range of social groups including race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, abilities, economic class, religion, and their intersections.

As such, active participation is therefore expected not only to satisfy requirement to earn course credit, but as a professional courtesy to the class as a communities of practice. Our community of practice is vitally enriched when each participant contributes to fieldwork and class discussion by bringing into dialogue their unique perspectives and lived experiences. On the other hand, failure to fully prepare each week for participation in fieldwork and class discussion weakens the community of practice by less-than-fully bringing into dialogue your diverse worldview, history, and cultural knowledge.

Academic Integrity:

Students should review and follow the University policy on academic integrity, available online at: . When you submit an assignment, you are certifying that the work is your own, or that of your project group, and that all use of other people’s material is used in accordance to fair use and copyright policies and is properly referenced.

Accessibility Statement:

To obtain accessibility-related academic adjustments and/or auxiliary aids, students with disabilities must contact the course instructor and the Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) as soon as possible. To contact DRES you may visit 1207 S. Oak St., Champaign, call 333-4603 (V/TTY), or e-mail a message to

Course Schedule and Specific Learning Objectives

The Project Learning Outcomes PDF provides a draft of the learning objectives for each of the three projects. The Weekly Topics PDF displays a draft of the weekly class flow and learning objectives for each topic provided as infill in support of the projects. The instructor and students will work together to refine the activities to better align with projects as needed. The specific learning objectives reflect a more comprehensive understanding of digital literacy and computional thinking within a critical sociotechnical perspective. By the end of each project, students should both have a clearer understanding of what is meant by a given objective, and confidence that they have achieved it.

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