Syllabus, Fall 2017 IS451: Introduction to Networked Information Systems


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

Office Hours: TBD

Course Description:

Hands-on introduction to social+technical information systems for use in information environments. 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 School of Information Sciences 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 IS451 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 social+technical 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 Information Science professionals we have opportunities to initiate and lead communities of inquiry, leveraging the plurality of our community’s social and technical insights to adapt sociotechnical systems in ways that build a more just and inclusive community. 

Teaching Strategy:

To achieve the learning objectives, the course will use a “Demystifying Technologyapproach 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 Information Science 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. Students should work as early as possible before or soon after the start of the semester with the instructor and potential community partners (list available on course Moodle page) to choose a specific project for the semester. Typically, engagement with a community partner will extend across the entire semester. Some community engagement assignments are for individual students, while others are for small teams of 2-3. Some require weekly in-person engagement, while others allow much greater latitude for online interactions. Students are encouraged to explore with other instructors opportunities for integrating different project components related to separate classes within one project site. In specific to IS451, community engagement is meant to facilitate insights from broader group difference than would typically occur just within the University environment. In so doing, it is hoped that greater  cognitive, socio-emotional, and critical and feminist understandings of social+technical information systems will advance democratic problem-solving directed towards building a more just society.

Required Computational Resources:

As a hands-on course, it is important that each student have an opportunity to build their own IS-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 associated components to support class projects. Students will take home the equipment purchased using lab fees at the end of the semester. These technologies to be used in the IS451 class are in addition to the School of Information Sciences 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 Information Sciences 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 School of Information Sciences Masters of Science in Library and Information Science 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 social+technical information system that maximizes benefit, minimizes harm

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. Therefore, it is understood that as an introductory course the implementation of the projects will be more prototypes rather than production-ready products. However, for cerain service-learning community engagement assignments, expectations for one or more of the projects may be negotiated in part or full between student(s) at that site, the community partner, and the instructor.

Service Learning Pre-reflection, Report Backs & Reflections (15%)

Students will be expected to write a pre-reflection after finalizing selection of a service-learning project site and before their first formal exercise of duties. Further, students (individually or as a team if working in small groups) will provide three group report backs sharing progress, challenges, and problem-solving with regard to the specific duties of the engagement. 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 pre-reflection, report backs, and reflection grades.

Helpfulness Grade (5% of grade):

An underlying tenent 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 Week 1” posting, the reply must be made before the start of class the following week), students will receive one point. A maximum of 10 extra points (10% of total grade) may be earned.

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.

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  If you are concerned you have a disability-related condition that is impacting your academic progress, there are academic screening appointments available on campus that can help diagnosis a previously undiagnosed disability by visiting the DRES website and selecting “Sign-Up for an Academic Screening” at the bottom of the page.

If you are interested in obtaining information to improve writing, study skills, time management or organization, the following campus resources are available to all students:

Writer’s Workshop
Undergrad Library

Also, most college offices and academic deans provide academic skills support and assistance for academically related and personal problems.  Links to the appropriate college contact can be found by going to this website and selecting your college or school:  

If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression or are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or in crisis, you can seek help through the following campus resources:

Counseling Center
206 Fred H. Turner Student Services Building
7:50 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday
Phone: 333-3704
McKinley Mental Health
313 McKinley Health Center
8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday
Phone: 333-2705

McKinley Health Education offers individual consultations for students interested in learning relaxation and other stress/time management skills, call 333-2714.

Content Warning

If you are a student with a disability (or would qualify as a student with a disability) who will be significantly affected by traumatic course content such as specific reading/video/blog or words (imagery/tone/situations) please 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, e-mail or go to the DRES website.

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.

Library Resources:;; 217-333-3804

Course Schedule and Specific Learning Objectives

The following provides a draft outline of the proposed activities to be conducted as in-fill learning supporting the project work. 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.

Related Articles and Blog Posts:

  1. A Growing Understanding of Digital Literacy
  2. A Growing Understanding of Digital Literacy, Part 2: Prioritizing Skills
  3. A Growing Understanding of Digital Literacy, Part 3: Advancing Agency
  4. A Growing Understanding of Digital Literacy, Part 4: Exercising Agency
  5. Critical Questions for Community Informatics in Practice
  6. A Radical Reconsideration of Digital Literacy

One thought on “Syllabus, Fall 2017 IS451: Introduction to Networked Information Systems

  1. Hands down, one of the best experiences I had at GSLIS and I wish something like this were taught here (not it!). Hope all is well, mwolske!

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