Science 195 (Special Topic): The Internet and Society

Spring 1999

Instructor: Nathaniel S. Borenstein
Robert Noyce Visiting Professor


A willingness to work hard independently

Click here to see homework assignments

Course Time & Place

I will be on campus on the following dates:

January 25-27, March 1-5, and April 25-May 14.

The course is officially scheduled for Tuesday/Thursday 12:45-2:05. However, since I'm out of town much of the semester, we will generally start the class early (12 noon) and "brown bag" our lunches. Thus you should think of the class as running from noon to 2:05 on the days we actually meet.

During the other parts of the semester, the course will be conducted by independent study and email discussion.

The course meets in SCIE 1023.

Course Description

This course is intended to provide a structured environment for students wishing to pursue independent or group projects analyzing the current and future effects of the Internet on some aspect of society. Students will be expected to:

  • read a set of articles that will survey the broad set of relevant topics.
  • choose a specific research topic based on their own interests.
  • research the topic independently over the course of the term.
  • write an analytical paper describing the results of their research.
  • present that paper to the class for discussion.

    Although I expect to show considerable flexibility, the basic expectation is that the students will perform high-quality research, with an eye to producing final papers of publication quality. Examples of possible topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Relations between the Internet and sovereign nations
    (The Internet in government, the govenance of the Internet)
  • Censorship, Free Speech, and Content Filtering on the Internet
  • The future of copyright on the Internet
  • Control of the Domain Name System
  • Cryptographic technology and public policy
  • How the Internet will change education
  • Commerce on the Internet
  • Crime and the Internet
  • The Internet in the developing world,


    Textbooks should be available at the college bookstore.


  • Where Wizards Stay Up Late
  • The Transparent Society
  • Borders in Cyberspace
  • Civilizing Cyberspace


  • A Fire Upon the Deep

    General Course Plan/Schedule

    Because I will not be here on a continuous basis, the timing of the work will be a bit different from most other classes. In particular, since I will be on campus during the first week of the semester and then gone for several weeks, there will be a reading assignment over winter break. (I'm really sorry, that's a scummy thing to do, and I will make up for it by bringing refreshments to class.) In particular, I want us to all get up to speed on the history of the Internet before the first day of class.

    During the month of February, students will be expected to correspond with me by email, and to participate in discussions via a class mailing list. Again, you can click here to see specific homework assignments and due dates.

    I will return to the campus for a week on March first. During that time the class as a whole will meet for a few sessions. I will also hold an "open house" several evenings that week, when I will invite anyone interested -- whether they are taking the course or not -- to "hang out" with me and discuss course-related topics. Each student who is enrolled in the course should show up for at least an hour of this time -- be prepared to give a short answer to the question "what's your research paper about?" to anyone who asks you! [If you're too shy to speak up during the open house, you should schedule an individual meeting with me to discuss your project.] The class will then resume a "virtual" existence until late April, with each student producing weekly status reports and participating in the class mailing list. Additional milestones will include:

  • March 15: Revised outline of research paper, explanation of changes in plans
  • March 29: Draft annotated bibliography
  • April 19: Completed first draft of paper

    I will return to Grinnell on April 25, and will remain for the rest of the semester (3 weeks). During that time, students will present their papers to the class for discussion, and will produce final versions of their papers after receiving feedback from me and the class.

    Course Grading

    The course grade will be based entirely on the final project. Roughly speaking, a final paper that would be acceptable for publication in a referreed journal would receive an "A+" grade. Thus, content is most important, but clear writing and presentation are also essential. At each stage along the way (outlines, draft, bibliography, etc.) my feedback to each student will include a letter grade on the project so far, from which the student may, with at least confidence, extrapolate the final grade if the work continues at the same level of quality.

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