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Analysis and Design of Online Interaction Environments

Winter 2005

[NOTE: This page is copied from a private wiki site for the class. Many links go that site, which is accessible only if you know the password. You can follow the link to the course schedule only.]

SI 684 (shadow course 884 for Ph.D. students)

Professor PaulResnick
Office hours winter 2005
3210 SI North
Monday 4-5pm
Tuesday 2-3pm

GSI DerekHansen (for 884)
Office hours winter 2005
B138 in Shapiro Library Basement
Wednesday 12:30-2:30pm

Course blog site

Course Overview

This course is intended to help students to analyze online interaction environments with an eye toward design. For the purpose of this course, a community is defined as a group of people who sustain interaction over time. The group may be held together by a common identity, a collective purpose, or merely by the individual utility gained from the interactions. An online interaction environment is an electronic forum, accessed through computers or other electronic devices, in which community members can conduct some or all of their interactions. We will use the term eCommunity as shorthand, both for communities that conduct all of their interactions online and for communities that use on-line interaction to supplement face-to-face interactions.

Two main threads will weave through the course. One thread will be concerned with the practical issues of design and use of online tools to support communities, and how choices that must be made in design can impact the function and style of the resulting community. The second thread will focus on psychological and economic theories that provide a frame to better understand communities in general. These theoretical pieces will provide a lens for better understanding the implications of choices made on the more practical level. The topics, readings, and technologies for each week can be found at the CourseSchedule.

Course Objectives

(684) At the end of this course, a student should be able to:

(884) At the end of this course, a student should:


SI 501 and SI 504. 502 is a co-requisite, meaning that it can be taken at the same time as this course.

In particular, students need:

Students who convince themselves and the instructor that they have equivalent preparation on these dimensions can waive the formal pre-requisites.

In addition, students need to know what kinds of tools are available to supported distributed, synchronous and asynchronous communication (e.g., chat, instant messaging, message boards, audio and video conferencing, live application sharing). Students who are unfamiliar with these but are comfortable learning new technologies on their own will have the opportunity to explore these at their own pace. This course will spend very little time explicitly teaching about technology, but will frequently assume it as background.


The required texts, which we’ll be reading from over the semester, are:

We’ll be reading excerpts from the following books, but the excerpts will be available on-line.

Other Readings

We are arranging for all the required readings, except those from Powazek2001 and Wenger1998, to be available on-line.

Some optional readings listed in the syllabus are not available online-- you'll have to track those down yourself.

Class Activities

Most of the class discussion of course texts and readings will occur on-line, using a combination of this group Wiki, a ClassEmailList ( with a "best-of" nomination process, and personal blogs that you'll be setting up. Each week there will be assigned readings and many weeks there will be an assigned technology for you to familiarize yourself with. For each reading or technology, the discussion will follow the following process:

The 684 class meets on Wednesday mornings, usually only from 9-10:30 or 9-11, though occasionally we may go until noon. The 884 class will usually continue on after 684 finishes, until noon.

In class, we will clarify any unresolved issues from the ClassEmailList discussion. I expect that this will typically take 10 minutes or less.

Most of the time in class will be spent discussing one or two of the communities that members of the class have chosen to study for the semester. Based on the blog posts from Phase III, I will pick one or two students each week to be the focus of the in-class discussion. Note that the in-class discussion is expected to range over the entire set of concepts covered up to that point in the semester, but focused on how they apply to the particular online community that the student is studying. However, I will try to pick students for whom the current week's topic seems especially pertinent.

The 884-only class time will follow a similar format, but with a focus on issues related to the selected student's research project, and a special emphasis on the topic of the week.

This is a 3-credit course, so you should expect to spend, on average, 12 hours per week on the course, over the course of the 14 week semester. Here's my approximate estimate of how that time would be split up:
Note in particular that I am expecting you to spend an hour and a half each week dedicated to the on-line discussion, the amount of time that I've cut out of the in-class discussion. Please take this seriously.

Assignments and Grading

All students will be asked early in the semester to pick an existing on-line community to study. You will try to connect the readings throughout the semester to what you observe in that community. All students must also...

From there, the assignments diverge for students in 684 and 884.

In 684, students will have two papers due at the end of the semester.

In 884, students will have two required papers due throughout the semester:

In addition, students interested in learning how to write an article review are encouraged to look at the ArticleReviewAssignment which is no longer required.

See CourseSchedule for weekly readings, technologies, and assignment deadlines

Some additional useful pages: FormattingRules, OrphanedPages, WantedPages, TextSearch.

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