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Course: EECS 395, Comm.Studies 395, EECS 495, and Comm. Studies 525
Term: Spring 2008Credit: 3
When: Wed 2:00 - 4:50 PM
Where: Searle 2-115
Professor Justine Cassell


Current statistics estimate that Autism Spectrum Disorder affects 1 in 150 people.  Despite the impact that this disorder has on our society, autism is still relatively misunderstood, and both research and practice are in their infancy.  In particular, although it is known that many people with autism feel a special affinity for and comfort with new media technology, little has been done to develop technologies to diagnose, treat, support, or unite those with autism.

In this new course, therefore, students will gain an introduction to both the theory and practice of autism research, and of developing technologies for autism.  That is, students will spend time becoming familiar with the relevant theory behind the diagnosis, treatment, description and personal experience of those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as with relevant readings in human-computer interaction, human-centered computing, affective computing, and computer-mediated communication.  Throughout, students will complete increasingly sophisticated and novel design exercises, culminating in team final projects.


This course will involve readings in theory of autism, personal experience of autism, and the development of technologies for autism. It will also involve prototyping and presenting actual technologies. No programming experience is necessary, as you will work in teams. There will be occasional labs to explain technical content. In terms of conceptual learning, by the end of the class you should have an good understanding of autism spectrum disorder - what is known about it, how it is diagnosed, how it is treated, what kinds of technologies exist in the domain, and how people with autism describe their experiences. This is a hands-on class, and we think you'll find it fun, as well as challenging and interesting.


  • All readings will be linked to the website, or on Blackboard, or in class.

Course Requirements

Click here for details on all assignments.

Class participation
This is not a lecture class and so your participation is expected. But note the definition of class participation: being willing and able to speak intelligently in class about the topics under discussion. Clearly, in order to be able to speak intelligently about a topic, you will need to have done the readings for that topic. You will also need to be physically present and alert and concentrating on the class (and not on other people on your buddy list, your plans for dinner, or other multi-tasking activities)...

Weekly Blog
Before each class meeting students are required to post at least one interpretive and motivated question for the readings assigned for that class. This assignment is due at noon on Tuesday.

Blog Comments
Blogs are most interesting when each post launches a conversation. Just to make sure you get to experience that phenomenon, you are required to comment on two of your classmate's posts each week. This assignment is due at noon on Wednesday.

Class Presentation of Assigned Reading
Each student is required to present 1 assigned reading during the course of the quarter, and to work with the other students presenting readings for that class to make a coherent presentation (please note that you will get points off for going through the reading (summarizing)! Assume that everybody has read it, and go beyond to tell them something they didn't know) .

Proposed Design of an Innovative Technology for Autism
You will submit a proposal for the design of a new technology (it can be as simple or complex as you like. You will be working in teams with at least one tech-savvy person on each team).

Innovative Technology Prototype
Your team will present a soft or hard prototype of your technology for peer and instructor feedback.

Implement an Innovative Technology for Autism
Carry out your proposal!

Grading Policy

Your grade is based on completion of the following responsibilities:

  1. Class participation (10%)
  2. Interpretive questions & responses to other people's posts (20%)
  3. Class presentation of assigned readings (10%)
  4. Proposed design of a technology (15%)
  5. Mid-development presentation of technology (15%)
  6. Final prototype of technology (15%)
  7. Final presentation about project(15%)

Interpretive questions and class participation will be graded with a minus, a check mark, or a plus for each class meeting, to indicate that the requirement was met. Late interpretive questions will be accepted once during the semester, no questions asked, provided they are turned in before the following class meeting.

This class depends vitally on participation, and really suffers from absences and lateness.  And, because we only meet once per week, and the quarter is so so short, every absence or late arrival really makes a difference in how much you will each take away from the class.  However, we understand that sometimes things happen that are beyond your control.  That is why we have instituted the following attendance policy: If you are late to two classes, I won't bat an eye.  However, starting with the third time, each late arrival lowers your grade by one half grade. Likewise, for absences, you may be absent twice without consequences.  However, starting with the third absence (regardless of the reason), your grade will be lowered by one half grade for each absence.  Of course, there is also a reward for full participation: if you have no absences and no late arrivals, then we will bump up the grade of your lowest assignment by one half grade.

In addition, please note that you are not permitted to instant message, send email, chat, carry on phone conversations, or in any other way interact with people outside the class during class time -it disturbs your concentration on the topics and hand and is really disruptive to your peers. And in case you think that the teacher can't tell, just remember that we are experts in these kinds of behaviors! Engaging in these behaviors will lower your class participation grade.

Other than this, please note that all work must be turned in on time, no late work will be accepted. Do not even think of asking for an extension in the following cases: 1) you have a lot of tests or papers in other classes that week; 2) you will be away on the day the assignment is due, 3) a last-minute emergency. Assignments are given well in advance, and just because you planned to write the paper the night before but got food poisoning is not an excuse for not turning in your paper on time!

Make sure to read the Northwestern guidelines of academic integrity : http://www.northwestern.edu/uacc/ and http://www.northwestern.edu/uacc/plagiar.html .