Overview and course requirements

There are primarily two course themes that use A Gift of Fire as the text. One is designed primarily for Computer Science majors, and one is a General Education course (Computers and Society).

The course required of all Computer Science majors at San Diego State. I have taught only the course for CS majors. However, most of the material I developed and most of the supplementary material on Pearson's Companion Site for the book is suitable for a general education course. You may choose to structure your course differently from ours, of course, but I'll provide a description of mine so you can select whatever aspects are useful to you.

We spend a lot of class time in discussion directed by the instructor in a more-or-less Socratic style. Topics vary somewhat each semester depending on current issues. 

Almost all of the text and a variety of supplementary readings are assigned. Because the discussion format means that a lot of reading material is not explicitly covered in the class, I give 10 weekly 5-minute quizzes on the reading assignments (in our 15-week semester) to encourage students to do the reading regularly.

Student presentation assignments, are an effective tool for getting students involved and generating valuable class discussions. I require that each student do at least one presentation. (Or they may satisfy this requirement by presenting a talk on their book report or term paper.)

I require a book report and a term paper. I believe that, especially now when people read snippets while hopping around on the Web, reading a full book on one topic provides a valuable experience of deep study and thinking about a subject. Similarly, writing a term paper is a valuable experience, especially for students in technical majors who do not get a lot of writing practice. I sometimes give other homework assignments, usually a few exercises from the text. 

In addition to the short weekly quizzes, there is one midterm exam, and a final exam. 

Updates for lectures

Before beginning each chapter in class, you might want to check the updates for that chapter.

Guest speakers

Occasionally, I have guest speakers from the local area in the class. Our speakers have included: the head of a privacy rights organization based in San Diego, an information and mailing list broker, a cryptographer who was a party to a suit against U.S. encryption policy, the founder of an anonymity service, various system administrators from our campus (one who was involved in a case about email privacy). Other ideas: the privacy officer from a large business in your area, a librarian who has dealt with Internet censorship issues, someone who writes smartphone apps (to discuss privacy and security features), a member of a hacker group and someone from the local prosecutor's office who handles hacking cases, a computer security professional, a police officer.

Grading (approximate)

The course grade is made up as follows: project/term paper: 20%; book report: 5%; other homework: 10%; oral presentation: 5%; quizes on readings: 10%; midterm: 25%; final exam: 25%.

Teaching large classes

The discussion format might not work well in large classes. (Our classes are limited to 30 students.) Power Point slides to accompany the text are available at Pearson's Companion Site.

I sometimes receive requests for multiple choice exams, etc. that would be particularly appropriate for use in large classes. I have not developed such material; most of my exam questions are essay style. However, multiple choice questions are available at Pearson's Companion Site.