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THINGS THAT MAKE US SMART

Chris Holden, cholden@unm.edu                    

COURSE DESCRIPTION
We take for granted that technology is an increasingly large part of life on this planet. At times this is expressed as how we make progress to a better world. Other times the focus seems to be the ways new technologies can distance us from each other and what is important in life. But this flame war—arguing between pro and con—is a limiting way to look at technology and its role in our world. In this class, we will learn to dig deeper into just what technology is and how we make us of it to change our lives. We will dispense with false dichotomies as we we develop more nuanced understandings. 


The first part of our new perspective will be to recognize technology as a universal part of human culture, not something that started with personal computers. Human history and prehistory are written as stories of the development and use of technologies. Humans have in fact always been cyborgs. Strangely enough, the development and use of technologies is a good definition of what makes humans different as animals. 

Part of this is recognizing that not all technologies are physical things. The written word is a technology. So is algebra. Ideas are a kind of technology that change us and our world. 

Second, we will see that technologies both change us and are changed by us, the users. Third, we will learn to see technologies for their affordances and constraints, and how these are not absolute but inflected by the social situations in which these technologies find their uses. 

This class will not be mere criticism. We will actively explore many new technologies together. We will reflect on the roles and realities of the technologies we use on a daily basis and will be relevant in the near future.

 

READINGS AND TEXTS
**Main Readings** 


* *The Social Construction of Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology* by Bijker, Hughes, and Pinch 
* *Things that Make Us Smart* by Donald Norman 
* *Orality and Literacy* by Walter Ong 
* *Users as Agents of Technological Change* by Kline and Pinch 
* Other articles, videos and excerpts available online. 

**Example Sources for Topics** 

* *Science as Seen Through the Development of Scientific Instruments* by Thomas Crump 
* *Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science* by Michael Nielsen 
* *The Pencil* by Henry Petrosky 
* *Longitude* by Dava Sobel

STUDENT REQUIREMENTS
You will need to try out and acclimate to many new technologies. Everyone will get up to speed using Slack, Google Docs, Markdown, and a blogging platform of your choice. Depending on your choice, this may also include domain management and further software installation and use. 

*There is no prerequisite. This course is intended for everyone who is willing to try out something new. No familiarity with any specific tool will be assumed.* 

### Weekly Assignments### 

There are many small assignments along the way this semester. You will have appropriate warning on due dates, etc. They are all designed to help prepare you and the other students for your game projects. Our weeky work—"readings", follow ups, and small design activities—will help you to begin to build background in the thinking about technology, apply that thinking to your creative exploration of a technologically mediated space (below), and will help bring us together as a group of people pursuing a common goal...at least if these assignments are done in good faith. 

Each assignment is made up of two pieces, one *experiential*, one *reflective*. For example, you may be asked to read a chapter in a book. You then typically have a responsibility to do something with that writing besides run your eyes over the print. Often you will be asked to summarize the writing and draw out some important ideas for further research and reflection. These short writing assignments will be shared with the whole class so that we can together cover more ground than would be possible otherwise. Even if it is not explicitly scheduled, there will be both online and in class mechanisms for discussing what we are becoming interested in. You are responsible for playing an active role in these activities. 

It is also assumed that your curiosity extends beyond the assigned activities. What we have scheduled is enough to get everyone a bit interested and on the same page. To allow you to develop and pursue your own deep interests, the "readings" and other small assignments are kept to a minimum with the expectation that you will invent for yourself additional opportunities and share reflections on your independent experiences in similar ways to the assignments. 

If the only reading and writing you do is what is directly assigned, you cannot receive an A in this course. The readings I have selected should be a jumping off point for further inquiry and be combined with what you develop in your action and research projects independently. 

### Major Assignments ### 

**Action Project (first person)** 

**Adopt a *new* technology/practice**. In addition to the technologies we all will use together, each student will choose a new technology to adopt and/or a practice that is heavily mediated through new technology. This adoption will not be for its own sake, but with the intent of reaching a new goal(s). These other goals may be motivated by other academic work, personal interests, or community engagement. Some examples: 

* Learning *RPG Maker VX Ace* so that you can make a role playing videogame with it. 
* Learning to ride a bicycle to begin commuting with it. 
* Picking up the language *R* as a way to think and express ideas using statistics. 
* Learning GIS to map health security within a community. 

You will *reflect* on and *produce* work around this experience: write about your use and learning of this technology, what you are using it to do/learn/make, research its development and use by others, and produce other reflective/tutorial work around it. This may be done in small groups (2-4) if desired. 

Your action project, a cumulative portfolio of these reflections and products, will be due at the end of the semester. We will have a rather involved proposal process around week 4 to decide what reasonable goals are for learning the new technology and for the work to be produced surrounding it. Around week 12, drafts of all materials will be due. You will receive feedback on these and have a chance to revise and complete them by the end of the semester. 

**Research Project (third person)** 

**Investigate a technology.** This is a smaller project than adopting a technology, and you are encouraged to consider technologies throughout history. You will write a research report (~5000 words) on this technology's development, use, and the changes in the world mediated through it. 

**OR** 

**Investigate an activity.** This too is a smaller project than adopting a technology, and you are encouraged to consider how an activity has changed over time due to changes in the technologies used to mediate or enable it. You will again write a research report. 

### In-Class (communal)### 

**One or more Short Presentations** 
In addition to the written work that is produced, once people find their topics (about week 5), we will schedule short (5-10 minute) presentations, one for each class session, where you introduce the rest of us to these new technologies. Each person will need to present at least once, but depending on how the schedule works out, may be able to present several times. 

**One or more Guided Discussions** 
We will also schedule 3-6 sessions to directly discuss together the technologies you have chosen to investigate and what you think about them in terms of our themes. The main purpose of this is to spend some class time helping you to develop your thinking for your major projects. The class will apply our theories to these case studies, and when it is your case study that is up for discussion, you will be responsible for two things: 

* Preparing the other students to intelligently discuss your area of research in terms of the applicable themes. 
* Facilitating the discussion. The general idea is to both be a fire starter and referee, and the goal is to make us all feel like we've learned something from speaking with others.

 

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR
Chris Holden is an Assistant Professor at the Honors College of the University of New Mexico. His PhD is in number theory, but his current research focuses on place based game design for learning. He makes games and helps others to make games for a wide variety of learning contexts, from language learning to community action. He also helps produce ARIS an easy-to-use, open source, augmented reality game platform. Chris teaches classes involving mobile game design, and directs the Local Games Lab ABQ, a fancy name for supporting unfunded faculty, students, and community members to make games and other interactive experiences to develop new forms of meaning within their local natural, cultural, and educational environments.