There are three required and four recommended texts for this class. Brown & Duguid (2002), Norman (2002), and Suchman (1987) can be purchased at the Co-op (476.7211). As many of the required and recommended readings as possible will be on Reserve at PCL; many of the readings are available online.
The required texts are:
Brown, John Seely, & Duguid, Paul. (2002). The social life of information (2nd ed.). Boston:
Harvard Business School.
Norman, Donald A. (2002). The design of everyday things (with a new introduction). New York: Basic Books.
Suchman, Lucy. (1987). Plans and situated actions: The problem of human-machine communication. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University.
The recommended texts are:
Bishop, Ann Peterson, Van House, Nancy A., & Buttenfield, Barbara P. (Eds.). (2003). Digital library use: Social practice in design and evaluation. Cambridge, MA: MIT.
Fisher, Karen E., Erdelez, Sanda, & McKechnie, Lynne (E.F.). (Eds.). (2005). Theories of
information behavior. Medford, NJ: Information Today.
Nunberg, Geoffrey. (Ed.). (1996a). The future of the book. Berkeley, CA: University of California.
Sharp, Helen, Rogers, Yvonne, & Preece, Jenny. (2007). Interaction design: Beyond human-computer interaction (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
The course Blackboard site, as well as direct email messages, will be used to inform students of changes in the course schedule, discuss assignments, and so on. All course participants can use both means to communicate with each other, notify the class about interesting events and sources, and the like. The TA will post many, if not all, of the overheads used in class to the appropriate dates in the syllabus online.
While I always have reservations about readings that I assign, I want to mention some particular concerns I have with two of the three required texts for this semester's course, as well as with one of the recommended texts from which we will read several chapters.
Brown & Duguid's The Social Life of Information (2002) is a widely cited and influential book, but there are two concepts important to their argument and problematic in the context of this course:
- The "content/conduit" distinction - although the authors explicitly discuss this mistaken dualism's ill effects and how it misleads us, like all English speakers, they allow this metaphor to seep into their analysis. Be aware of its use and sensitive to how it tends to obscure important questions.
- On a related note, Brown & Duguid talk about information as if it were exclusively a "thing." They talk about how it is "transmitted," "acquired," and the like, and they do the same to knowledge. This way of speaking, as we know, is controversial and problematic, especially for those of us who do not limit the concept of information to the mathematical/message context and those who do not support the supposed distinction between information and knowledge. See Buckland (1991) for a contrasting view.
Remember, however, that I think that The Social Life of Information is an excellent book and well worth our attention.
Many people consider Donald Norman's The Design of Everyday Things (2002), originally published in 1988, as a classic in the study of people and their use of artifacts of all kinds, especially information systems. This book, too, has some important weaknesses that the informed reader, especially one in our discipline, needs to be aware of while still recognizing the book's strengths and ability to inform our study of people and their information behavior and practices. Among the most important limitations of the book are:
- As a cognitive psychologist, Norman, naturally enough, emphasizes cognition and the individual character of knowledge and behavior. As with Brown & Duguid (2002), this perspective is useful but limiting - our understanding of users must go well beyond the cognition, decision-making, and atomism that have characterized too much research into users.
- The book, like many others including The Social Life of Information, adopts the pernicious content/conduit distinction that too narrowly confines the concepts of information and knowledge, talking, for example, about knowledge "in the mind" and "in the world" and as if knowledge and information were reified. Recall the contested and limited nature of such a belief.
- His view of language, models, and "correspondence" are also deeply contested and a rather limited view of how human beings experience and create their worlds.
While I have many other concerns about this book, it is valuable to read closely and be familiar with.
Finally, I would like to mention a few of the reservations I have about Sharp, Rogers, & Preece (2007). The second edition of their book, Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction has a great deal to recommend it; that's why we're reading several chapters from it, especially to help you prepare for the final assignment of the course. At the same time, however, it has some consistent linguistic and conceptual difficulties, some of which I would like to point out to you:
- Like many works in English, especially those in technical and scientific fields (including our own), this book exhibits a systematic use of agglutination, stringing together many nouns, often at the expense of clarity or meaning. All Germanic languages have similar tendencies, but phrases like "user test index determination" and "system design methodology limitations" are not only ugly but are often indecipherable.
- They sometimes speak of requirements as if they were things in and of themselves. As they discuss, this perspective is highly contested even among software developers and other designers.
- They tend to use terms like "user research," "user habits," and "user experience." Besides being rather vapid marketing speech, these phrases might be more usefully expressed as "research about users," "users' habits," and "the experiences that users have." While the shorter phrases are just that (short), they tend to obscure that we are talking about people and what we observe empirically and theorize about them - not these things called "users." While some readers may not be concerned with what they regard as simple stylistic differences, other readers are not so sanguine about the use of words.
So be an engaged, but skeptical reader, a reader concerned with clarity and ease of expression, not a simple "consumer" of techno-speak and the worst of marketing blather. I will read your papers with a similarly critical eye.