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INF 241 – Introduction to Ubiquitous Computing

INF 241 (CompSci 248A): Introduction to Ubiquitous Computing

Professor Joshua Tanenbaum

Department of Informatics

Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences

Thursday 3:30pm-6:20pm

Location: ICS 180

Catalog Description

The “disappearing computer” paradigm. Differences to the desktop computing model: applications, interaction in augmented environments, security, alternate media, small operating systems, sensors, and embedded systems design. Evaluation by project work and class participation.

Course Overview

The emergence of the “ubiquitous computing” paradigm in the late 1980s introduced a series of significant challenges for research and practice in human-computer interaction, by moving the locus of interaction from the person sitting at a desk in front of a PC to the person moving through a world suffused with devices and information. This has supported an expansion of HCI’s topics to include questions of spatiality, tangibility and experience. The recent explosion in sensor networks, so-called “big data”, and the distributed collection of loosely-affiliated devices grouped under the heading of the “internet-of-things” has further stretched the concept of Ubiquitous Computing to the point where it is hard to define. Thus, we find ourselves in an introductory course to a topic that no longer properly exists. In this class we will explore the history of Ubicomp in a collaborative research context to better understand the central challenges and questions driving contemporary ubiquitous computing theory and practice.

BIG DISCLAIMER! Be prepared to read. Be prepared to think. Be prepared to research. Be prepared to write. Your work will be evaluated based on these four factors.

Course Resources


We will be using Slack as a discussion board and collective backchannel during class discussions. The URL for the Slack Channel is: http://inf241.slack.com


Everyone is required to use Zotero to manage their bibliographic references. We will also use a shared Zotero library to identify and claim readings to discuss in class. The URL for the Zotero Group is: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1757468/inf_241_-_intro_to_ubiquitous_computing

What you should bring:

Always make certain you have a laptop or tablet with you in class, a pencil or pen, and access to the readings.

Course Structure

We meet once a week for three hours. Classes will be a combination of lectures, small group discussion, and presentation to the class.

Readings, Lecture, + Discussion

Each week you will be responsible for reading two to four papers relevant to the field of Ubiquitous Computing.  The first papers are ones that I will assign ahead of time, related to that week’s theme.  I will lead a discussion of that paper during the first half of class. On three weeks that I will not specify ahead of time you will be given a reading response quiz in-class for a grade.

Small Group Discussion and Presentation of Readings

Each week, every student is responsible for locating and bringing a scholarly article to discuss with the class, related to that week’s topic. We will be using Zotero to claim articles, and to prevent duplicate selections. Once you have found an article, add it to the Shared Zotero Collection for that week, and add a note with your name to “claim” it. The longer you wait to find an article, the harder it will be for you to find something relevant to the topic at hand worth discussing. Be sure to check Zotero while searching for articles to see what has already been claimed.  Scholarly articles include research publications, trade and professional publications, and in rare cases mainstream news publications, however the latter must first be cleared by the instructor.

Once you have identified an article that is relevant to the topic, and of interest to you, be prepared to discuss it in class.  We will divide into small groups each week and every group member will have a chance to present their article of choice.  After a short period of discussion, the group will nominate one person to present an article to the class. Presenters can talk about what the article says, why it was chosen, why it’s important, and what was learned from it. Be aware that this is not etched in stone; there is significant flexibility in how you present, however these are general themes that should be touched on.

Presentations and participation in group discussion are part of your participation grade so try to bring something engaging and relevant.

Grading and Evaluations

Grades will be based on the following factors:

  • Group Project/ Prototype 50% of Grade
  • Participation in Class and Online Discussions 30% of Grade
  • Reading Response Quizzes 15% of Grade
  • Index Cards/Attendance 5% of Grade

Group Project/Prototype (50% of Grade)

  • Recommended Number of People: 3-6
  • Deadlines:
    • 10/26 – Week 4 – Initial concept pitch (in class)
    • 11/23 – Week 8 – Paper drafts due (via email, before 3pm)
    • 12/14 – Finals Week – Final presentation of documentation and final papers due before class @ 3pm.
  • Project Formats:
    • Working Prototype or App: Working prototype of a new ubiquitous computing system or app that critically engages with the ideas and concepts discussed in class.
    • “Fully Elaborated” Design Fiction: A detailed “wizard of OZ” vision of a fictional technology, presented using film, animation, or illustrated prose that persuasively articulates a new sociotechnical future, or effectively critiques contemporary ubicomp practices.
    • “Critical Design” or Artwork: An artifact or system that embodies a critique of ubiquitous or pervasive computing technology by magnifying or countering an existing trend (taking it to a dystopian or utopian extreme) in technology and society.
  • Project Deliverables:
    • Documentation (40% of project grade): A video demonstrating the functionality of your system (prototypes/apps), or documenting the artifact that you created (critical designs/artworks). In the case of the design fictions, your documentation may be a video, or another expressive medium (animation, game, illustrated prose, etc.)
    • Reflection (60% of project grade): A paper in ACM SIGCHI format that follows the guidelines below. This paper can be no longer than 8 pages, not including references.
      • Introduction – What did you make? Why did you make it? What motivated the work? What does it contribute to the field?
      • Background/Prior Work – Who has done similar work in the field? Where are the gaps/opportunities to improve? What are the theories, concepts, or ideas that a reader needs to understand to make sense of your project?
      • Design Process – How did you approach the project? What ideas were discarded along the way and why? What did you initially envision, and how has it changed? What did you learn from the design process?
      • (OPTIONAL) Evaluation – How did people use/react to the thing you made? What did you learn from watching people use it, or asking them about it? If your thing is attempting to solve a problem that is quantifiable, what are the numbers underlying your system’s success or failure?
      • Discussion – How does the thing you made connect to the theory, background, prior work etc.? What are the ideas that it expresses or explores?
      • Conclusions & Future Work – How do you connect this work to the broader concerns of HCI and/or Ubiquitous Computing? What do you think the next steps for this project should be?
    • Documentation Grading Criteria:
      • Effective use of the medium: Did you choose the appropriate medium to best document and communicate your design? Have you used the vocabulary of your chosen medium effectively?
      • Engagement with ideas: Does your design engage with the ideas from the class? Does it extend or critique them?
      • Engagement with values and ethics: What are the moral and ethical implications of your design? Who benefits from your design? Who suffers? Who is included? Who is excluded?
      • Polish: Is your documentation pleasing to look at and listen to? Does it communicate clearly?
      • Documentation of sources: Have you clearly documented and properly credited the sources for any 3rd-party materials you may have used in your documentation including art assets, audio, code, etc.?
    • Reflection Grading Criteria:
      • Clarity of Communication: Is your writing clear? Do you use proper spelling and grammar throughout? Are your sentences concise and effective? Are your ideas accessible and understandable? Do you use figures, charts, and tables to effectively convey visual information? Are you writing using “active voice” wherever possible?
      • Structure and Organization: Is your paper well structured? Do you effectively use headings and other navigation markers to guide your reader through the paper? Do you use effective signposting techniques to help the reader know what is coming up next?
      • Depth of Research and References: Have you identified and accurately portrayed the related work in the field? Is your work drawing effectively on materials from the class? Is there evidence of additional research beyond the course materials? Are your references properly formatted with correct in-text citation practices? Are direct quotes properly marked (quotation marks, indentation, and page numbers), and is it clear when you are presenting your ideas vs. someone else’s?
      • Coherence of Argument: Do you clearly state your argument? Do you effectively support your argument with evidence? Does your paper provide enough information to make your point, without getting repetitive, pedantic, or obtuse? Do you anticipate and address possible critiques of your argument? Have you clearly identified your research questions? Does your paper effectively address those questions?

You will note that in none of these criteria are you being evaluated on the specific idea or argument you are making.  This means that you are free to pursue designs and ideas that are bad, uninteresting, impractical, silly, absurd, impossible, unlikely, challenging, upsetting, depressing, inspiring, revolutionary, broad reaching, reductive, playful, subversive, and any other qualities you can imagine. But, no matter how bizarre or absurd your idea is, you need to research it deeply, connect it to the ideas and issues we discuss in class, and argue for it strongly and effectively. Bad/weird/unconventional ideas can be much harder to defend than good ideas, but a well defended idea that isn’t within the normal discourse of the field can be a significant contribution.

Participation in Class and Online Discussions (30% of grade)

This grade is a measure of how successfully I believe you have engaged with the class. This might take the form of participating in class discussions, posting on the Slack channel, being selected to present your paper within your groups, and any other indicators of engagement I might choose to designate.

Reading Response Quizzes (15% of Grade)

I will assign three reading response quizzes to be completed in class this quarter. Each one will be worth 5% of your grade. I will not announce when these will be assigned until we are in-class on the day they are due. These quizzes will be distributed on paper, and will be collected and graded by the reader. You may use any printed/handwritten notes you want, but may not refer to the original paper, or use a digital device to search the web for answers. The goal of these quizzes is to hold you accountable for doing the readings, and the content and format of them will reflect this goal.

Index Cards/Attendance (5% of Grade)

Class attendance will be determined by completing index cards. The index cards are also a means for me to get feedback about the course. The reader will distribute the cards at the beginning of the class and collect them at the end. For each class please write your name on a card, the date, your student ID and a comment about the course.

If you would like to submit an anonymous comment, take an extra card and don’t put your name on it.

Schedule and Materials

Week 0 – 9/28 – Introductions and Origin Stories

  • Introduction to the class
  • Zotero tutorial
  • Group formation
  • Read: Mark Weiser. 1991. The computer for the 21st century. Scientific American 265, 3: 94–104.

Week 1 – 10/05 – Bodies/Embodiment

  • Before Class:
    • Read Chapter 2 of Paul Dourish. 2001. Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction. The MIT Press, Cambridge.
    • Read Scott R. Klemmer, Björn Hartmann, and Leila Takayama. 2006. How Bodies Matter: Five Themes for Interaction Design. In Proceedings of the 6th Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (DIS ’06), 140–149. https://doi.org/10.1145/1142405.1142429
    • Find and claim a related paper and be prepared to discuss it in your groups. Relevant topics include: embodied interaction, gestural interface, camera vision, phenomenology, etc.
  • In Class:

Week 2 – 10/12 – Context Awareness and the IoT

Week 3 – 10/19 (Professor Tanenbaum @ CHI Play Conference) – Tangibility, Materiality, and Making Things

  • Before Class:
    • Read Hiroshi Ishii and Brygg Ullmer. 1997. Tangible Bits: Towards Seamless Interfaces Between People, Bits and Atoms. In Proceedings of the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’97), 234–241. https://doi.org/10.1145/258549.258715
    • Read Joshua G. Tanenbaum, Amanda M. Williams, Audrey Desjardins, and Karen Tanenbaum. 2013. Democratizing Technology: Pleasure, Utility and Expressiveness in DIY and Maker Practice. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’13), 2603–2612. https://doi.org/10.1145/2470654.2481360
    • Find and claim a related paper and be prepared to discuss it in your groups. Relevant topics include: Tangible User Interfaces, Wearable Technology, DIY & Maker Culture, Fabrication, 3D Printing, etc.
  • In Class:
    • Guest Lecture: Tangibles and DIY stuff (Dr. Karen Tanenbaum)
    • Watch:
    • Group Discussions
    • Paper Presentations

Week 4 – 10/26 –  Project Pitches

  • In Class: Project Pitches and Critiques

Week 5 – 11/02 – (Professor Tanenbaum @ HASTAC conference) – Design Fiction & the Future

  • Before Class:
    • Read Ben Kirman, Conor Linehan, Shaun Lawson, and Dan O’Hara. 2013. CHI and the Future Robot Enslavement of Humankind: A Retrospective. In CHI ’13 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI EA ’13), 2199–2208. https://doi.org/10.1145/2468356.2468740
    • Read Joshua Tanenbaum. 2014. Design Fictional Interactions: Why HCI Should Care About Stories. interactions 21, 5: 22–23. https://doi.org/10.1145/2648414
    • Read Bruce Sterling. 2004. Subject: Viridian Note 00422: The Spime: “When Blobjects Rule the Earth.” Viridian Design. Retrieved September 20, 2016 from http://www.viridiandesign.org/notes/401-450/00422_the_spime.html
    • Find and claim a related paper and be prepared to discuss it in your groups. Relevant topics include: Design Fiction, Critical Design, Critical Making, Adversarial Design, Speculative Design, Envisioning, etc.
  • In Class:

Week 6 – 11/09 – Ubicomp as Narrative

  • Before Class:
    • Read Paul Dourish and Genevieve Bell. 2014. “Resistance is futile”: reading science fiction alongside ubiquitous computing. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing 18, 4: 769–778. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00779-013-0678-7
    • Read Mark Blythe. 2014. The hitchhiker’s guide to ubicomp: using techniques from literary and critical theory to reframe scientific agendas. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing 18, 4: 795–808. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00779-013-0679-6
    • Find and claim a related paper and be prepared to discuss it in your groups. Relevant topics include: Narratology, Science Fiction, Design Fiction, Anti-solutionist design, proximal futures, etc.
  • In Class:
    • Lecture: Science Fiction and Ubicomp
    • Watch: TBD
    • Group Discussions
    • Paper Presentations

Week 7 – 11/16 – Space and Place

  • Before Class:
    • Read Stephen D.N. Graham. 2005. Software-sorted geographies. Progress in Human Geography 29, 5: 562–580. https://doi.org/10.1191/0309132505ph568oa
    • Read Paul Dourish. 2006. Re-space-ing Place: “Place” and “Space” Ten Years on. In Proceedings of the 2006 20th Anniversary Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW ’06), 299–308. https://doi.org/10.1145/1180875.1180921
    • Find and claim a related paper and be prepared to discuss it in your groups. Relevant topics include: GIS & GPS, Locative Media, Location-based systems, Spatial computing, indoor positioning, navigation, etc.
  • In Class
    • Lecture: Space, Place, and Location
    • Watch: TBD
    • Group Discussions
    • Paper Presentations

Week 8 – 11/23 (Thanksgiving)

  • No class.
  • Paper Drafts Due by 3pm

Week 9 – 11/30 – Design & Values

  • Before Class:
    • Read Phoebe Sengers and Bill Gaver. 2006. Staying Open to Interpretation: Engaging Multiple Meanings in Design and Evaluation. In Proceedings of the 6th Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (DIS ’06), 99–108. https://doi.org/10.1145/1142405.1142422
    • Read P. Sengers, J. Kaye, K. Boehner, J. Fairbank, G. Gay, Y. Medynskiy, and S. Wyche. 2004. Culturally embedded computing. IEEE Pervasive Computing 3, 1: 14–21. https://doi.org/10.1109/MPRV.2004.1269124
    • Read Genevieve Bell, Mark Blythe, and Phoebe Sengers. 2005. Making by Making Strange: Defamiliarization and the Design of Domestic Technologies. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 12, 2: 149–173. https://doi.org/10.1145/1067860.1067862
    • Find and claim a related paper and be prepared to discuss it in your groups. Relevant topics include: Cultural design, values in design, design ethics, value sensitive design, reflective design, etc.
  • In Class:
    • Lecture: Values in Design
    • Watch: TBD
    • Group Discussions
    • Paper Presentations

Week 10 – 12/07 – Ubicomp’s Future

  • Before Class:
    • Read: Gregory D. Abowd. 2012. What Next, Ubicomp?: Celebrating an Intellectual Disappearing Act. In Proceedings of the 2012 ACM Conference on Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp ’12), 31–40. https://doi.org/10.1145/2370216.2370222
    • Read: Paul Dourish and Scott D. Mainwaring. 2012. Ubicomp’s Colonial Impulse. In Proceedings of the 2012 ACM Conference on Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp ’12), 133–142. https://doi.org/10.1145/2370216.2370238
    • Find and claim a related paper and be prepared to discuss it in your groups. Relevant topics include: Anything from the last 2 years of the UBICOMP conference.
  • In Class:
    • Lecture: Ubicomp Past, Present, and Future
    • Watch: TBD
    • Group Discussions
    • Paper Presentations

Finals Week – 12/14

  • Present Final Projects, Final Materials Due by 3pm.

Important Class Policies

(Note:  Ignorance of these policies – especially those pertaining to academic honesty and plagiarism – is no excuse for failing to observe them.)


If you are a student with a disability (e.g., physical, learning, psychiatric, vision, hearing, etc.) and think that you might need special assistance or a special accommodation in this class or any other class, please check out the Disability Center online or visit them in person at

100 Disability Services Center, Building 313

Irvine, CA 92697-5130

Counseling Center

If you find that personal problems, career indecision, study and time management difficulties, etc. are adversely impacting your successful progress at UCI, please check out the Counseling Center or Graduate Student Services.


Email is BY FAR the most reliable way to get in touch with me; however, for most course related inquiries (anything that is not of a personal or individual nature) please post your question to our online discussion board FIRST (LINK FORTHCOMING).. Likewise, I will use your university email address for all communications. Please check this account on a regular basis. When you communicate with me please put Inf242 in the SUBJECT LINE.

Technology Requirements:

You need access to a personal computer (Mac or Windows) for major amounts of time for this course. You need Internet access for this course. You must be able to save word processing files in a .doc or .docx (Microsoft Word) or .pdf format for sharing and submitting files to the instructor. You are expected to have working knowledge and capability with your computer before entering this class.

Please submit all papers and materials (unless otherwise noted in the course schedule) through EEE or TurnItIn.com as noted in class. NO ASSIGNMENTS WILL BE ACCEPTED BY EMAIL. NO EXCEPTIONS.

Class information and announcements will be communicated through EEE and through your UCI email address. To access EEE, you will need your UCI Net ID and password. If you do not know these, please contact OIT.

Plagiarism & Cheating:

Please read and heed the following information regarding academic dishonesty. The instructor cannot and will not tolerate academic dishonesty. Here is a direct quote from the UCI Office of Academic Integrity & Student Conduct:

Learning, research, and scholarship depend upon an environment of academic integrity and honesty. This environment can be maintained only when all participants recognize the importance of upholding the highest ethical standards. All student work, including quizzes, exams, reports, and papers must be the work of the individual receiving credit. Academic dishonesty includes, for example, cheating on examinations or any assignment, plagiarism of any kind (including improper citation of sources), having someone else take an examination or complete an assignment for you (or doing this for someone else), or any activity in which you represent someone else’s work as your own. Violations of academic integrity will be referred to the Office of Academic Integrity and Student Conduct. The impact on your grade will be determined by the individual instructor’s policies. Please familiarize yourself with UCI’s Academic Integrity Policy (https://aisc.uci.edu/policies/academic-integrity/index.php) and speak to your instructor if you have any questions about what is and is not allowed in this course.” (quote source: https://aisc.uci.edu/faculty-staff/academic-integrity.php)

When writing your final papers, all group members will be held EQUALLY responsible for any plagiarism, regardless of who actually wrote what in the paper. Your drafts and final papers WILL BE CHECKED FOR PLAGIARISM.

The penalty for plagiarism is at a minimum to receive a 0 on the assignment and have the case reported to the Associate Dean’s office. Particularly flagrant cases may receive more severe punishment (notably failing the course).

What is cheating?
❑ Supplying or using work or answers that are not your own.
❑ Providing or accepting assistance with completing assignments or examinations.
❑ Faking data or results.
❑ Interfering in any way with someone else’s work.
❑ Stealing an examination or solution from the teacher.

What is plagiarism?
❑ Copying a paper from a source text without proper acknowledgment.
❑ Buying a paper from a research service or term paper mill.
❑ Turning in another student’s work with or without that student’s knowledge.
❑ Copying a paper from a source text without proper acknowledgment.
❑ Copying materials from a source text, supplying proper documentation, but leaving out quotation marks.
❑ Paraphrasing materials from a source text without appropriate documentation.
❑ Turning in a paper from a term paper website.

You should be on guard against plagiarism at all times.  At any time that you read anything in preparation for a paper or consciously recall anything that you have read or heard, you must be prepared to provide documentation.

Here is an excellent resource to help you determine if you have plagiarized or not?

Generally, when you use someone else’s ideas and/or words, you will either quote that person directly or you will paraphrase or summarize that person’s words. You must let the reader know which you are doing.

  1. If you quote the source directly, you must
    1. put quotation marks before and after that person’s words;
    2. let the reader know the source by (1) putting a footnote or endnote number at the end of the quotation, or (2) putting at least the source’s name in parentheses after the quotation marks (such as when being taken from fieldwork).
  2. If you paraphrase (a paraphrase is about the same length as the original, but in different words) or if you summarize (a summary is a severely shortened version of the original), you must
    1. introduce the source in some manner at the beginning of the passage being paraphrased (or summarized) so that the reader can tell where your idea stops and the other person’s begins;
    2. state the ideas taken from the source in your own words and your own arrangement. It is possible to plagiarize sentence patterns as well as exact words. A handy rule: if, in a paraphrase or summary, you use a stretch of more than three words in their exact order from a source, you should put those words into quotation marks;
    3. provide an exact source citation for those ideas paraphrased or summarized. This may be done either by footnote/endnote number at the end of the passages or by parenthetical references to the work and page(s). This citation provides credit to the author being used and allows the reader access to the material for further study.
  3. You must also provide a footnote for any chart, graph, figure, table, summary, or other data taken directly from another source or any information derived from such materials. You should also be sure to check copyright as to whether you are allowed to use this figure.

For example, the text here on plagiarism was initially written Gillian Hayes for the Winter 2013 version of her INF 242 class, although some modifications and additions of my own have been integrated into it. The original can be found here: http://www.gillianhayes.com/Inf242w13/, along with Professor Hayes’ own disclaimer that the material has been “generously borrowed and slightly modified from the UTC Center for Advisement and Student Success.”

Oftentimes plagiarism isn’t intentional – it happens because the writer either isn’t in the habit of citation, or because the overhead of citing sources turns the process into a burden. I strenuously advise you to adopt the use of a reference management system if you do not already use one.  This is one of the single best investments of your time you can undertake as a graduate student, and it will reward you a thousand times over once you have integrated it into your workflow.  There are many great options out there at this point.  I used EndNote for a long time, before it got crufty and slow.  The university library officially supports Mendeley but I am not particularly familiar with it.  I’ve moved all of my bibliographic management tasks over to Zotero in the last year, and I am extremely happy with it: it’s free, it works as both a stand-alone program, and as a browser plug-in, it integrates very smoothly with Word, it has great collaboration support, it has AMAZING citation scrapers for the major online repositories (ACM DL, JSTOR, Springer, etc.), and it has a very complete database of reference formats that are easy to install.  Did I mention that it’s FREE?  It is! For more information about the options out there, the UCI Library has a good resource here: http://libguides.lib.uci.edu/content.php?pid=19606&sid=583269.