justine cassell - instructor // email

david huffaker - t.a. // email
francisco iacobelli - t.a. // email

Spring Quarter, 2007 Northwestern University

Click here to fill out end-of-quarter CTECs

Course Number: Comm_ St 378; EECS 395; EECS 495
Term: Spring 2007
Class: Tuesday 2pm - 4:50pm
Room: Searle 2-370

In the 21st century the Internet has become a central focus for communication --- business meetings that rely on collaborative software, distance learning applications, and personal exchanges that involve email, instant messenger, MySpace, Friendster, Facebook, chat rooms, online communities - or a combination of all of the above!  In this course we will examine many different types of on-line communication, including those that target business, education, and recreation, that engage different kinds of communities -- young and old people, monolingual and multilingual, mononational and international, laypeople and hard-core gamers.  In doing so, we will analyze very closely the types of computer-mediated interactions and collaborations that occur among people who share common (or perhaps uncommon) interests, and the language that they use to express themselves.


This course will involve readings, analysis of primary on-line behavior data, and simple implementations of on-line projects. No programming experience is necessary. 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 community on- and off-line, behavior on- and off-line, and language use on- and off-line. In terms of technical and design learning, by the end of the class you should have the ability to analyze, design and implement effective online communities. This is a hands-on class, and we think you'll find it fun, as well as challenging and interesting.


  • All readings will be made available online or on Blackboard.

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 Monday.

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 Tuesday.

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.

Social Network Analysis
You will analyze an online community by making a visualization of the communication patterns of that community.

Second Life
You will spend some time playing in Second Life, reporting on your observations and implementing some macros to enhance the environment.

Proposed Design of an Online Community
You will submit a proposal for the design of a new online community (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).

Online Community Prototype
Your team will present a soft or hard prototype of your online comunity for peer and instructor feedback.

Implement an Online Community
Carry out your proposal. You will show the community to the class, so try to convince some people to use it!

Final Paper
Apply one of the topics discussed in class, or some other topic, to some particular online community (slashdot, ActiveWorlds, Friendster, etc.).

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 (10%)
  3. Class presentation of assigned readings and application to an existing online community (10%)
  4. Social network analysis (15%)
  5. Second Life (10%)
  6. Proposed design of an online community (5%)
  7. Prototype of online community (10%)
  8. Successful implementation of an online community (15%)
  9. Final paper (15%)

Interpretive questions and class participation will be graded with a check mark 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.  This year we have also instituted 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 both the teacher and the TAs study these 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!

The critical essay will be graded on both content and form. Content means the originality and interest of the research question, nature of the methodology used to investigate the question, plausibility of your interpretations. Form means the organization, clarity and quality of the writing, and the scholarly use of conventions such as citations and footnotes. An 'A' quality term paper finds an interesting research question, makes use of primary and secondary sources to address the question, and adds interesting and original interpretations of the author's own. It is well-organized and clearly and professionally written.

You will be encouraged to carry out the social network analysis and design assignments in groups. However, if you write a paper together, you must include a paragraph stating which part of the work was done by each member of the team. In order to make sure that your collaboration falls within the Northwestern guidelines of academic integrity, you must read : and