Home » INF 242 – Winter 2017

INF 242 – Winter 2017

INF 242: Ubiquitous Computing and Interaction Winter 2017 Syllabus

Professor Joshua Tanenbaum, Department of Informatics, Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences

Tuesday & Thursday, 2:00 – 3:20pm, MSTB 110 

EVOKE Lab (Calit2, room 2100)

E-Mail: joshua (dot) tanenbaum (at) uci (dot) edu

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. New theoretical understandings and new practical issues attend the design of ubiquitous applications, but also shed light on issues at play in traditional interaction models.

One of the defining features of ubicomp research has been its orientation toward The Future: ubicomp has consistently been concerned with “what’s next”.  In this course we will explore the relationship between the future as envisioned in Ubiquitous Computing and broader theories of futurity, futurism, design futures, speculative design, critical design, and science fiction.  This will provide us with an opportunity consider how the future is continuously being imagined and reimagined through technology and computing research. While all of Ubicomp is future oriented in some way, there are several additional themes that run through this class, including: (1) Values, perspectives, and ethics of design for ubiquitous computing systems; (2)  Privacy, surveillance, and sociality in distributed computing; and (3) Implications of ubiquitous computing for democratic participation, political action, and activism in a “post truth” world.

This class will survey classic and current research at the intersection of ubiquitous computing and interaction. The primary format of the class will be student led discussions of the readings, facilitated by the instructor and supplemented with a collection of video materials from the history of ubiquitous computing and science fiction.

Grading and Evaluations

Grades will be based on two factors.  60% of your grade will come from your participation in class discussions and your contributions to the online discussion board.  Everyone will have at least two opportunities to lead a class discussion, which will be primary basis for this mark.  The remaining 40% of your grade will come from a final deliverable – either a paper or a project – of your choosing, done either individually or in pairs.  For more details see below.

Collaborative Course Design, Discussion Presentations and Online Participation (60% of final grade)

Most of the quarter is structured around in-class discussions of readings, which we will collectively determine in the first week. You must do all of the readings if you want to successfully participate in this class! I recommend reading each of the papers we will discuss twice before coming to class.

For each class, two students will sign up to lead the discussion. We will divide up presentation responsibilities during the first week of class. The presenting students should assume that everyone has done all of the readings, and come prepared to lead a conversation that synthesizes and extends the ideas and concepts from the readings into current practices within ubiquitous computing, and the issues and themes that the class is grappling with. Students presenting should come to class with some subset (2 or more) of the following items prepared:

  • Any videos or other online examples that illustrate, expand, or critique the issues raised in the texts
  • A list of open ended questions or provocations intended to help structure class discussion
  • A list of possible additional readings that could extend the discussion or augment the issues raised in the assigned readings.
  • A diagram, sketch, or model of key concepts in the readings that helps summarize, synthesize, and illustrate the central points.
  • A critique, response, or opinion about the readings either arguing against or advocating for the ideas advanced by the author.
  • A brief historical analysis of the context in which the reading was created, and a consideration of how things have changed since it was produced.

Some sort of visual aid (handout, powerpoint slides, video, etc.) is strongly encouraged, but not required. A good resource for leading discussions can be found here.

We will also have an online message board a slack channel where we can post links to appropriate design fictions and continue the conversation out of class. Your participation in this will contribute to your overall participation grade.  The slack channel is also the first place to take any questions that you have about the course.  I much prefer answering one question on slack where everyone can benefit from the information over having to field the same question in multiple emails.

Final Project or Paper (40% of final grade)

You may choose any one of the following as your final deliverable for the class:

  • A term paper. You may write these individually or in pairs. Term papers are typically around 5000 words, on any topic related to the subject of the class. Abstracts/topics for term papers are due at the end of week 4; drafts or outlines of papers are due at the end of week 8 (these drafts are not graded, but are an opportunity to get early feedback.)
  • A “critical design” project (and 2500 word research statement connecting it to the course material). You may create this individually or in pairs. This might be a research prototype, meant to address an open question in the field, or a high-quality video or other form of design fiction exploring the issues and concepts covered by the course. Each project must demonstrate a clear connection to the course materials, and must be accompanied by a research statement that positions it within the context of the field.  If you choose to submit a project instead of a paper, a proposal including a work plan with milestones that scopes the project and clearly highlights the distribution of work (in the case of teams) is due at the end of week 4; a brief presentation/demo for the project, and a draft of the research statement are due at the end of week 8 (these materials are not graded, but are an opportunity to get early feedback).

It is worth noting that this course will be teaching the history, theory, and concepts discussed above, and will not specifically include lessons on technical implementations or media production skills that might be necessary for the implementation of the critical design project.  Students lacking pre-existing implementation or production skills take responsibility for their own learning should they desire to do a project instead of a paper.

Schedule and Materials

The main textbook for the course should be in the bookstore.  It is:

Other recommended reading:

The remaining readings will be shared via a password protected Google Drive folder that you will each be invited to join.

I’m trying something new this year: rather than setting the reading list ahead of time, I’ll be providing you a list of potential readings in various topics, inspired by how Tom Boellstorff teaches Digital Technologies, Culture, & Media. We will finalize the syllabus collectively during the first week of the course. I have shared a loosely “themed” document to Google Drive that lists possible readings for the class. In the first week of the course, we will draw from this list and our own additional bibliographic research to decide which texts to read. Specifically, we will populate the syllabus with about 6 articles (depending on length) for each of weeks 2-10. We may choose to leave some of the readings for the final few weeks of the course undecided at the outset, or modify the syllabus during the quarter. Your active participation in this process of course design will be part of your grade for the course.

By deciding on readings we will also be choosing course themes. The list of possible themes is large and due to inevitable limits of time, we will be able to address only a subset of them. Possible themes include (but in are no way limited to):

  • Origins & foundations of ubiquitous computing
  • Embodied interaction & tangible computing
  • Futures, design fiction, and envisioning in ubicomp
  • Location-based systems, space, place, and context
  • What to do with the “Internet of Things”
  • Ethics, values, and cultural Issues in the design of pervasive computing systems
  • Infrastructures, domesticity, and messiness
  • Methodologies and practices of ubiquitous computing research

During week 1 we will collectively assemble a syllabus from these readings, and determine who will be presenting each week. These readings will be a mixture of canonical work in ubicomp, and more recent writing on important issues in the field.

The document where we will be collectively building the schedule is here.

Important Class Policies


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.   If you are having difficulty with the class for any of these reasons please let me know so that I can work with you to meet your learning needs. If for any reason you are uncomfortable discussing the details surrounding a given situation you need not disclose anything, but at least let me know that something is going on so that arrangements can be made to adjust things for you before you fall too far behind.

Counseling Center

Likewise, 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. Graduate school can often have adverse effects on one’s physical and mental health, and it is better to seek help early than allow the trials of pursing and advanced degree to cause serious harm.


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 to our slack channel first. Likewise, I will use your university email address for all one-on-one communications and our slack channel for all broadcast announcements. Please check this account on a regular basis. When you communicate with me please put INF 242 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.

Class information and announcements will be communicated through your UCI email address and/or our  slack channel.

Plagiarism & Cheating:

Please read and heed the following information regarding academic dishonesty. cannot and will not tolerate academic dishonesty. For more information, refer to the UCI Student Handbook. The UCI campus policy on plagiarism can also be found on the Registrar’s website, under “Academic Honesty Policy.” If you choose to work with a partner on your term paper or final project, you will BOTH be held EQUALLY responsible for any plagiarism, regardless of who actually wrote what in the paper. Your reading reflections WILL BE CHECKED FOR PLAGIARISM. However, if you are leading discussion that week, you SHOULD use information posted by other students as part of their reflections in your discussion. You must in those cases note whose comment(s) you are using.

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.

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 INF 242, 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.” The course plan and syllabus also borrow heavily from a graduate course that I took from Jim Bizzocchi at SFU in 2006, although it has been highly modified to fit into a 10 week period, and to reflect my own preferences and ideas around this material.

Reference Management Software:

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. For this class I am requiring 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.  Unless you are already heavily invested in a different platform, I would like you to use Zotero: 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.