ATLS 4529-002 / 5529-002
Fall 2017, MW 9:00am – 10:15am
ENVD 234

Professor Laura Devendorf
ATLAS & Department of Information Science
Office Hours:
Monday 2:00pm – 3:00pm
Thursday 11:00am – 12:00pm.
ALTAS 207a, Unstable Design Lab

Course Website:
Course Resources & Readings:
Link to this Syllabus in PDF Form

Last Updated: Sept 30, 2017
This syllabus is a living document that will evolve slightly through the course as the needs of the students and their research emerge. Students are responsible for noting all changes to the syllabus as it evolves. The instructor is responsible for being attuned and responsive to the needs of the students and to the dynamic and often unpredictable nature of the research and learning process.

Course Description
This course offers a survey of theory and methods for students interested in questioning relationships between technology, culture, and the environment. The theory component focuses on how designed things (particularly technical things) influence and are influenced by cultural norms. It will also discuss how technology mediates our experiences in and of the world. The methods component focuses on how a design practice can be engaged as a means of re-thinking these norms.

While the course takes its name from the concept developed by Phil Agre in relation to Artificial Intelligence, it extends beyond Agre’s framework to include a broader set of “critical” design methods that have gained prominence within the last decade. As such, design will be engaged a means of provoking discussion, ideas, and questions about technology and culture as opposed to finding the ideal solution for a well defined problem. We will focus more deeply on the processes of toying with, manipulating, and questioning technology as opposed to producing specific technological objects.

While several disciplines in the humanities and engineering engage critical practices, this courses focuses mostly on “design research” as it has been taken up within the broader field of human-computer interaction. The course is intended for graduate students and welcoming to advanced undergraduates who are interested in exploring design and research. Those who have an existing practice (art, craft, design, performance, engineering, etc.) involving technology might find the content particularly valuable. No programming or coding experience required.

Course Objectives
The objective of the course is to equip students with an introductory set of theory and methods for thinking more critically, creativity, and perhaps radically, about possible future human-technology relationships.

After this class, you should be able to:

  • Make a convincing argument for how a particular value, idea, or assumption has shaped the design of a piece of technology.
  • Understand how the application of different theory and methods shapes design research processes and outcomes.
  • Ask better questions and think more radically/critically about what technology could be in the future

Please reference the schedule page the most up to date schedule:

All texts for the course will be provided by the instructor via a shared Google drive:

You will need access to view the contents of this drive. On the first day of class, the professor will collected a list of student emails and grant access based on those emails.

Assessment and Evaluation:
(35%) Exercises
(5%) Paper Presentation
(30%) Final Project
(30%) Participation

Numerical grades will be converted to letter grades based on the following scale:

A+ 97-100 B+ 87-89.99 C+ 77-79.99 D+ 67-69.99 F 0-59.99
A 93-96.99 B 83-86.99 C 73-76.99 D 63-66.99
A- 90-92.99 B- 80-82.99 C- 70-72.99 D- 60-62.99

All assignments are due by the date and time posted. There is no “late policy” in this class; there are deadlines. If you want to earn credit for your work, you should plan on meeting these deadlines. You may earn partial credit on assignments by submitting whatever you have finished at the time of the deadline.

In Class Exercises
Several exercises will be assigned in order to help students synthesize the readings into practice. Full descriptions of the exercises will be provided on the course website. While the exercises will be completed in class, most will require the students to prepare materials prior to the class meeting. Additionally, after completing the exercise in class, students will be asked to write a brief reflection on the exercise for the course blog. I will post specific questions to address in these blog posts to course webpage. Exercises will be graded on a scale of 0-3:

  • 0 will correspond to an exercise that was not turned in on time.
  • 1 will correspond to an exercise that is turned in but incomplete.
  • 2 will correspond to an exercise that is turned in on time and complete.
  • 3 will correspond to an exercise that is turned in on time, complete, and represents a thoughtful engagement with the exercise in relation to the course readings.

Paper Presentation
Each student will be assigned one research paper to read and present to the class. Assignments will be made during the second week of class. Students should prepare a 10-minute presentation that provides a high-level summary of the paper, a detailed summary of key points, discuss how the paper relates it to the week’s readings, discusses three interesting aspects of the paper, and 3 questions based on the reading to discuss in the class. Paper presentations will be graded on a scale of 0-3:

  • 0 will correspond to a student who misses their assigned presentation or is not prepared
  • 1 will correspond to a paper presentation that is incomplete
  • 2 will correspond to a paper presentation that is complete
  • 3 will correspond to a paper presentation that is complete and thoughtfully engages the paper, readings, and offers thoughtful questions for group discussion.

Final Project
The final project will function like the game “telephone” for design research and will evolve over the last six weeks of class in three two-week phases.

Phase 1: weeks 10-12
Each student will do the following: Come up with a question about the relationship of technology, culture, and/or the environment. Apply a design method or idea presented in the course to investigate that question. Document your process and findings in the form of artifacts and a written workbook. The written workbook should present your question, and use the relevant readings form class to articulate why you have chosen a particular method or idea to understand that question and what unique insights that method will help you gain about your question. At the end, offer three new questions based on your experience. Bring your workbook and artifacts to class on the Phase 1 due date and we will discuss each project.

Phase 2: weeks 12-14
Phase 2 will begin with students swapping workbooks and artifacts with each other. Read the workbook you receive and study the questions presented at the end. Select one of these questions and apply a design method or idea presented in the course to investigate that question. Document your process and findings in the form of artifacts (either adding to the original artifact or creating a new one) and a written workbook (by, adding to the end of the original workbook). Again, the written workbook should present the question you chose to investigate, and use the relevant readings from class to articulate why you have chosen a particular method to understand that question and what unique insights that method will help you gain about your question. At the end of your workbook additions, offer three new questions based on your experience. Bring the workbook and artifact(s) to class on the Phase 2 due date and we will discuss each project.

Phase 3: weeks 14-16
Phase 3 will begin by giving the workbook back to the person who originally started it. Then that student (the original author) will repeat step 2.

At the end, each “project” will feature the work of two different students. Grades will be assigned based on the individual contributions of each student to each project with the following rubric:

  • (5%) did the student provide strong argument for their choice of methods or ideas to engage to explore their question?
  • (5%) did the student demonstrate their understandings of the strengths and limitations of their approach for investigating their question?
  • (5%) did they engage their approach in an appropriate and thoughtful way?
  • (5%) did the student demonstrate a deep engagement with the relevant reading in describing their process and reflections?
  • (5%) did the documentation effectively describe their process and findings?

Class Participation
Your participation in class is the primary way in which you will demonstrate your engagement with the readings and exercises and presentations. The majority of the course will be organized around class discussion. I expect each student to come to class having read the assigned text and with at least three questions prepared about the reading to discuss with the class. Participating in these discussions is very important so please be prepared to contribute to the discussion, have your notes on the reading ready, and be an active participant.

Class participation will be evaluated on the basis of student self-assessment according to the following rubric:

  • 0 points – corresponds to not being physically present OR behaving in ways that are a distraction to the learning environment
  • 1 point – corresponds to not being mentally present OR engaging in other activities not related to the discussion
  • 2 points – corresponds to consistently engaging in and listening to the discussion
  • 3 points – corresponds to contributing productively to the discussion one or two times
  • 4 points – corresponds to contributing productively to the discussion three or more times

In addition to teaching you and providing prompt feedback on assignments, my responsibilities include setting up a class environment where students feel comfortable expressing their ideas and opinions about the course readings and exercising. To this end, I will: provide short lectures to introduce new content or provide additional context for the readings; facilitate and seed questions for class discussions; structure class in a way where students are provided with multiple pathways for expressing their thoughts. If you have thoughts on the design of the course and what might help you learn or participate more effectively, please feel free to contact me in office hours or by email.

I will do my best to upload my lectures and links to related resources to the “resources” folder on the Google drive in a timely manner.

 Contacting Prof. Devendorf
I would prefer that students utilize my office hours with questions or comments about the class. Please send all email inquiries to I will do my best to respond to emails within one “business” day. For instance, if you message is sent during a regular school day (weekday/non-holiday), I will do my best to get back to you by the next regular school day. Due to my parenting duties, I check my email infrequently in the evenings and weekends. If you email me the night before an assignment is due, I am unlikely to be able to respond in time.


In-Class Confidentiality
The success of this class depends on participants feeling comfortable sharing questions, ideas, concerns, and confusions about weekly assignments, research, or entrepreneurial work-in-progress, and their personal experiences. These assignments and discussions should be considered confidential and generally should not be discussed outside of class. You may read, comment, and run on classmates’ writing, code, and other class-related content for the sole purpose of use within this class. However, you may not use, run, copy, perform, display, distribute, modify, translate, or create derivative works of other students’ work outside of this class without their expressed written consent or formal license. Furthermore, you may not create any audio or video records during class time nor may you publicly share comments made in class attributable to another person’s identity without that person’s permission.

Accommodation for Disabilities
If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability, please submit your accommodation letter from Disability Services to your faculty member in a timely manner so that your needs can be addressed.  Disability Services determines accommodations based on documented disabilities in the academic environment.  Information on requesting accommodations is located on the Disability Services website (  Contact Disability Services at 303-492-8671 or for further assistance.  If you have a temporary medical condition or injury, see Temporary Medical Conditions under the Students tab on the Disability Services website and discuss your needs with your professor.

Religious Holidays
Campus policy regarding religious observances requires that faculty make every effort to deal reasonably and fairly with all students who, because of religious obligations, have conflicts with scheduled exams, assignments or required attendance.  Please contact me via email or office hours by the end of the second week of the course with specific dates that present conflicts so that I have an opportunity make systemic adjustments to the course requirements that will benefit all students. See the campus policy regarding religious observances for full details.

Classroom Behavior
Students and faculty each have responsibility for maintaining an appropriate learning environment. Those who fail to adhere to such behavioral standards may be subject to discipline. Professional courtesy and sensitivity are especially important with respect to individuals and topics dealing with race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, veteran status, political affiliation or political philosophy.  Class rosters are provided to the instructor with the student’s legal name. I will gladly honor your request to address you by an alternate name or gender pronoun. Please advise me of this preference early in the semester so that I may make appropriate changes to my records.  For more information, see the policies on classroom behavior and the Student Code of Conduct.

Sexual Misconduct, Discrimination, Harassment and/or Related Retaliation
The University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) is committed to maintaining a positive learning, working, and living environment. CU Boulder will not tolerate acts of sexual misconduct, discrimination, harassment or related retaliation against or by any employee or student.  CU’s Sexual Misconduct Policy prohibits sexual assault, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, intimate partner abuse (dating or domestic violence), stalking or related retaliation. CU Boulder’s Discrimination and Harassment Policy prohibits discrimination, harassment or related retaliation based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, veteran status, political affiliation or political philosophy. Individuals who believe they have been subject to misconduct under either policy should contact the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC) at 303-492-2127. Information about the OIEC, the above referenced policies, and the campus resources available to assist individuals regarding sexual misconduct, discrimination, harassment or related retaliation can be found at the OIEC website.

Honor Code
All students enrolled in a University of Colorado Boulder course are responsible for knowing and adhering to the academic integrity policy. Violations of the policy may include: plagiarism, cheating, fabrication, lying, bribery, threat, unauthorized access to academic materials, clicker fraud, resubmission, and aiding academic dishonesty. All incidents of academic misconduct will be reported to the Honor Code Council (; 303-735-2273). Students who are found responsible for violating the academic integrity policy will be subject to nonacademic sanctions from the Honor Code Council as well as academic sanctions from the faculty member. Additional information regarding the academic integrity policy can be found at the Honor Code Office website.

The policies, some grading rubrics, and some of the language outlined in this syllabus are drawn from Dr. Amy Voida’s Introduction to Doctoral Studies in Information Science syllabus. Thank you Amy!