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LIS 451: Introduction to Networked Information Systems

Course Syllabus, Fall 2010

Course Overview

This course is a hands-on introduction to technology systems for use in information environments. The course will cover four main topics:

For each topic, we will review the terminology, discuss the advantages/disadvantages of different options, and gain hands-on experience with the technology. The course includes both a lecture component that provides hands-on learning of general topics and a lab component that covers domain-specific topics, although typically these are interspersed throughout the morning and afternoon sessions. The course also includes a service learning component that provides students the opportunity to put into practice lessons learned throughout the semester while helping within an underserved population. At the end of the semester, students will be better prepared to both perform day-to-day hands-on administration of a networked information system and to manage those who are performing such day-to-day administration.

While students are expected to have basic computer competencies per the GSLIS admissions requirements, the goal of the course to provide practical detailed knowledge of the technology for all levels of competency.

Course Objectives
The overall objective of the course is to both provide a clear conceptual understanding of the computer hardware, operating systems, and networks that make up networked information systems and also to prepare students to take a lead as information technology managers. Upon completion of the course, students should walk away with:
  1. insights into the strengths and weaknesses of computers and networks as tools used to meet the needs of "the community" in which they find themselves;
  2. a basic working knowledge, especially directed towards LIS professions, of computer hardware, operating systems, and networks through hands-on training;
  3. skills that will not only serve today's needs but setup an understanding for tomorrow's technologies.

It is important to note that while this course contains a considerable amount of practical, hands-on learning, it is not a "trade" course on the topic. An underlying assumption on the part of the instructor is that while technology is constantly changing, the underlying concepts of it's implementation and use are fairly constant. By learning the underlying concepts, students will be better prepared to help design networked systems that not only work well today, but also develop systems that can be easily adapted for the needs and technologies of tomorrow. The primary objective is to provide a conceptual understanding of the topics of the day through concrete hands-on examples of implementation.

Daily Course Structure:

During both the morning and afternoon class sessions, there will be a continual flow between more formal presentations and semi-structured active-learning activities. Weeks are divided into specific topics that will be highlighted. However, the skills and concepts learned are cumulative overall, with each week's lessons leading into the lessons for the next week.

As mentioned above, the goal of the course is to develop a conceptual knowledge of the various topics. To this end, step-by-step instructions are not typically provided during lab exercises. Instead, the instructor will step students through the exercises while pointing out various conceptual issues when appropriate.

At the end of each week's afternoon session, time will be set aside to review the lessons for the day. These will provide students with a starting point for answering that week's concept paper questions. The goal of the concept paper is two-fold:

  1. Provide quick feedback to the instructor regarding progress in the course and to spot places where certain concepts need to be better emphasized; and
  2. Provide a means to direct students in consideration of key concepts and take home lessons after a busy day of learning.

Formal workshops and informal open lab time will be available from 2:30 to 5:00PM following the afternoon session to cover class topics in greater depth and for students to have additional time for hands-on experimenting.

Readings are divided into those that are considered required for the student to achieve the core objectives of the course, and optional readings that students may find valuable to gain further information in areas of special interest to them. Readings may include both chapters from the primary texts listed below, and also from various online sources. Students are strongly encouraged to complete the required readings prior to the day they are listed as the material is not necessarily covered in lectures but may be needed during hands-on exercises.

Primary texts for the course are:

  • Repairing and Upgrading Your PC By Robert Bruce Thompson, Barbara Fritchman Thompson March 2006, ISBN 10: 0-596-00866-X | ISBN 13: 9780596008666
  • Home Networking: The Missing Manual By Scott Lowe July 2005, ISBN 10: 0-596-00558-X | ISBN 13: 9780596005580
Final Projects
Service Learning Project Overview

Around week 5 of the semester, students will be divided into working groups of around 3-6 students. Each working group will be partnered with a community organization working within communities around Illinois, including organizations in East St. Louis, Champaign/Urbana, Rantoul, and Monticello. Students are tasked with equipping collaborative spaces at their partner organization to facilitate community development goals, and with providing initial technical and documentation support to the organizations. Work is done in collaboration with other campus units, such as Prairienet and the East St. Louis Action Research Project (ESLARP), as well as with neighborhood groups within the community.

Regardless of location, the work performed by students represents both action research and service learning directed towards meeting the immediate and long-term needs of some of the area's most marginalized communities/neighborhoods/populations. Students are available as a resource to serve those in the community who working on the front lines to address the needs of the community.

Required Trips

Students will visit their assigned site at least twice during the semester. Travel details will be coordinated with the instructor. Students will need to plan their schedules for the semester accordingly, including:

  • Contacting instructors of courses with instruction times coinciding with travel times to make alternate arrangements;
  • Adjusting professional/personal obligations to free up these times;
  • Work on major assignments of other courses in advance to avoid deadline conflicts.

Final project trips are a required part of 451 AL1. Students who have unavoidable scheduling conflicts for these trips might consider taking 451 at a later time. It is important that students meet with the instructors of conflicting courses prior to, or at the latest, the beginning of the semester if any scheduling conflicts are foreseen during the semester.

Trip Agendas

During the first visit students will have an opportunity to meet with members from each of the organizations to learn more about their programs, their collaborative spaces, and their existing technical resources. This information will serve as a basis for a more detailed design process to occur between the first and second visit. During the second visit, students will have the opportunity to speak in greater depth about plans and, where needed, to also help begin preparing the physical spaces for the final delivery of computers, which will be delivered during the third trip. While these three formal trips will be scheduled in advance, students are encouraged to work on their own to travel to sites to further collaborate with their organizations as scheduling allows and need requires.

Projects are assigned by Prairienet and ESLARP staff. Assignments are made by working group. All students are expected to participate in these additional service projects. Besides helping the community, the work in the community is an aid in understanding the lab setup within the broader context of the community.

Teams will be provided with in-class time during the second half of the semester to work on projects. However, it is also critical that teams work during open lab hours on projects to successfully and fully complete projects. Expect to spend upwards of 10 hours/week outside of class on project work. A common comment made by past 451'ers is that the project always takes more time than expected!

Additional Trip Logistics (Trips to East St. Louis only)

Travel: all students travel in University vehicles to and from their assigned area unless other arrangements are made with the instructor.

Food and Lodging: when travel includes an overnight stay, lodging is included as part of the travel. Some meals may also be included when overnight travel is included, although this varies from semester to semester.

Final Project Summary

The design, development, and implementation of public computing centers in the disadvantaged areas of Illinois represents an important community service as well as a unique learning opportunity. The focus of the early part of the semester is geared towards development of the skills necessary to carry out the final project. The underlying assumption is that development and implementation of a public computing center is a representative project of the general skill set required to setup a small to medium sized networked information system such as that found in a library.

Because the final project is an actual implementation that will be immediately used to address important social needs, a wide range of GSLIS, Prairienet, ESLARP, and University resources are directed towards facilitating students to accomplish the task at hand. However, it remains for the students to actually carry out the design and implementation within a working team. Course evaluations have indicated that this requires a greater than normal commitment of time and energies by the students. However, it is hoped that the resulting rewards, not only to the community served but also to the students who are serving and learning, will justify this increased commitment.

Overall, feedback regarding the final project has been extremely favorable. Students have found it a very useful tool that provides practical experience in the implementation of a computer lab whose target usership is community members. In addition, students have found the experience of serving those in need rewarding. My goal as an instructor is to do whatever it takes to assure that each student taking the class this semester will also find the final project a highlight of their academic career at GSLIS.

Course Fee:
A course fee is used to recover the costs for final project travel that is part of the course. This fee is charged directly to the student as part of the overall tuition and fee schedule.
Students will be graded on a 90% (A), 80% (B), 70% (C), 60% (D) scale. Graded assignments and the total percent of the grade for each are listed below:
Concept Papers (40% of total grade):

There will be individual concept papers due following most weekly class periods for a total of 11 concept papers. The lowest score will be dropped when calculating final grades. The concept papers will include one or more guided questions that will review the topics of the day. Time will be set aside at the end of each lecture period to review the questions. As such, the concept questions should not be answered until after the end of the lecture period. Students should expect to spend a few hours each week answering the concept questions following each lecture period. The lowest score for the semester will be dropped prior to final grade calculation.

Each paper should be uploaded to the assignment page as a Word file. The commenting function of Word will be used by the instructor to provide feedback to the students. Unless otherwise noted, exercises will be due 11:55PM on the Sunday following lecture. One point will be deducted for each week the papers are turned in late. The instructor reserves the right to modify the exercises during the semester to better meet the interests of the students.

Papers will be graded using the following rubric:

  • 10 = exceptionally thoughtful and detailed
  • 9 = all questions were answered thoroughly and accurately
  • 8 = all questions were answered, although some points were left off or were inaccurate
  • 6 = all questions were answered, but significant errors were made in some answers
  • 1-5 = questions were left unanswered and significant errors were made in those questions that were answered
  • 0 = assignment was not turned in
Final Project Evaluation (40% of total grade):

Each project team will be required to provide a written report providing a summary of their project work. A wiki space will be provided for each project team with a customized template detailing the information to be provided by the group. Essentially, the final project report will provide a summary of the site, the project, the process of completing the project, the results, and a review of the successes and failures of the project work. In addition, the group and each individual within the group will provide a reflection on the lessons learned during the course of the project work. The project report will be due at the time of the final presentation for the course.

At the end of the semester, there will be a time set aside for a debriefing as a class. Each group should be ready to provide a review of the project to the class to enable the others to benefit from the lessons they learned over the course of working on their final projects. There is no need for a formal presentation, but it is important that each group be able to provide a sufficient description of their projects to allow a context for others to understand the lessons that were learned. In addition, there will be a time for the class to have an open discussion about how the work went, what went well, and what could go better, as well as what was learned by all throughout the process.

Student Evaluations (10% of total grade):

Each student should participate actively in both the final project execution and the final debriefing and paper. Students will be given a chance to anonymously rate the involvement of fellow final project group members on a 0-10 scale (10 being the top score assigned to those who provided significant help on all phases of the group work; 0 being the bottom score reserved for those who had no involvement at all in any phase of the group work). This is not a rating of a students technical ability, but a rating of their overall contribution to the project Scores from each student will be averaged for the final point value.

Instructor Evaluation (10% of total grade):

The students participation and overall progress throughout the course of the semester will be evaluated by the teaching assistant and the instructor. The following rubric will be used to assign a score mid-semester. Class activity is based on lecture and lab. team work in total.

  • 10 = Student has been an active participant in class discussions and hands-on activities and is demonstrating an increasing grasp of the key concepts and skills covered in class.
  • 8 = Student has been an active participant some of the class discussions and hands-on activities and is demonstrating some gains in grasping key concepts and skills covered in class.
  • 6 = Student is occasionally active in class and is demonstrating some learning, but it is clear they are not performing to their full capabilities
  • 4 = Student has missed several classes and/or is not always active when attending class
  • 2 = Student has been absent frequently and/or rarely is active in class
  • 0 = Student has consistently missed class during the rated period

Disclaimer: The instructor reserves the right to make modifications to any part of the class syllabus or schedule to better accommodate the needs of the students within the course. Students will be given advance notice of relevant changes in class or via email.

Copyright 2010 by Martin B. Wolske.