1. Problem #1 (due February 17)

Choose a sociotechnical system, and analyze what is happening there (either a specific activity or part, or the system generally) via either activity theory or actor-network theory. Also reflect on whether and how this is useful. Did the framework help you think about something in a new way? Does it illuminate some aspect of the system particularly well? Does it help you explain what’s happening in a more understandable way?

Also discuss how someone else has used one of these frameworks in their work (from one of the “choose one” readings on the list). Do you think it was effective? Helpful?

Then, for EITHER the sociotechnical system you chose or the reading you chose, consider how you might look at it using the OTHER theory. Does one of the frameworks seem to make more sense than the other? Do they seem to give you new information or more of the same?

Finally, consider how you might use one of these for your own work or a research area or problem that interests you. Briefly write about whether you think either of these theories would be relevant and/or helpful.

This assignment replaces your reading reflection for 2/17. Your write-up should be at least 800 words.

  1. Problem #2 (due March 17)

Imagine you have been asked to design a new social computing site for the members of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), a professional society for people in the computing field. It will be used both to support interactions at face-to-face ACM conferences, and also to build and sustain such connections between conferences. There are many things to be careful about in this design. What lessons can we draw to aid the design from the work of each of these theorists: Goffman, Hutchins, and Winner?

Feel free to pull in other relevant issues from the class as well, though at least cover those three. Answers should be at least 1,000 words. Include citations!


Your primary deliverable in this class will be a research project proposal. Think of this as half of a paper: the introduction to the problem, the literature review, and the proposed method. It does not have to be formal HCI research, though it can be. For example, you could be introducing a systematic literature review of prior work looking for patterns, or an art project that explores some larger issue. Though the most straight-forward proposal would be proposing a research project that stems from or explores one of the theories or concepts from this class. You can make this as related to your current research or ideas as you like, though it doesn’t have to be. Though as PhD students, you should always think of your class assignments as contributing towards your research agenda. You can also use this to explore new ideas and areas! But take this seriously, because if it turns out well, then this could be something you can actually do!

Some ideas for brainstorming:  Does legitimate peripheral participation take place in X community of practice?  What are the components of activity theory in X practice and what does that suggest for how we design for it?  How could we better support distributed cognition in X sociotechnical system? How have changes in technology shaped X over time, or how has social practice changed the technology of X? (You can also look forward to topics in the class we haven’t gotten to yet.)

  1. Milestone: Proposal (10%)

March 3 –  Send an email to me with your idea. The more information you send me, the more I can help you pin it down. I suggest having a research question in mind. Also make clear the theory/theories/concepts from the class you’re exploring. Since you won’t actually be doing the research as part of this deliverable, the literature review and theoretical exploration of the space is the important part. So make sure that your idea is firmly rooted in a conceptual foundation from the start, rather than relying too much on whatever the results might be.

  1. Milestone: Outline (20%)
  2. Final Paper (60%)
  3. Presentation (10%)