Office: SIRLS 14

Phone: 621-3565

Email: fallis at email dot arizona dot edu

Office Hours: TBA and by appointment

Date and Time: Tuesdays, 2:00pm-3:15pm

Location: Harvill 303

Important Note: This course will be taught in a hybrid format.  The class will meet face-to-face for 1 hour and 15 minutes on Tuesdays.  The remaining contact hours for the week will take place online and will be asynchronous.  This virtual component of the course will be hosted on D2L and will involve video lectures, posted lecture notes, and online discussions.  In addition, all assignments and exams will be posted and turned in using D2L.

Academic Year: 


Course ID and Name: 

Section Number: 

Course Syllabus

Course Prerequisites: 


IRLS419 is co-convened with IRLS519.

IRLS419 is a core course in the eSociety undergraduate major.  It is central to the mission of the eSociety major which focuses on how “innovations in communication and computational technology are fundamentally changing the ways we create, process, share, manage, and shape knowledge.”

IRLS519 is an elective for the SIRLS Masters degree.  It addresses several of the SIRLS Student Competencies (especially A1, B4, C8, and C9).

Course Description: 

We do all sorts of things with information technology: we play games, we listen to music, we watch movies, and we communicate with other people.  But one of the main things that we use information technology for is to learn things.  Toward this end, we visit WikipediaAsk.comThe New York Times, and other such sites.  Or we just Google stuff that we want to know about.

This course is about how information technology is affecting the ability of individuals and institutions to acquire and share knowledge.  We will look at the following sorts of questions:

  • What impact are Google, iPhones, and iPads having on how we know things?
  • Should we trust the information that we find on social networking sites like Wikipedia and
  • How do people try to deceive us on the web?
  • Do intellectual property laws, such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, promote or impede our ability to acquire knowledge?
  • Can we really be informed citizens if the blogosphere completely replaces traditional journalism?
  • In a digital world, what things do we have a right to know and what things do we have an obligation to know?

Technical Prerequisites:

Students taking this course will need to satisfy the standard SIRLS technical requirements. In addition, several assignments in this course require students to create web pages. Furthermore, at least one assignment requires students to create a web page and post it on the web. Tips for doing this will be posted in D2L. Please contact the instructor if you have questions about these prerequisites.

Course Format:

As noted above, the virtual component of this course will be hosted on D2L.  Enrolled students will be given accounts in D2L by the start of the semester.  Information about using D2L is available at If you have trouble with D2L, you can contact the D2L Support Staff ( Send the D2L staff an email message explaining exactly what is happening.

I will set up a discussion forum for each week's topic. Online discussions of the content of the course will take place in these forums. You should have something thoughtful to say (a question, a comment, a reply, etc.) every week or so. But in order to stay up-to-date on discussions and announcements, you should check into D2L every day or so.

Be aware that the last day of classes this semester is December 11th. This will be the last official day for participation. However, D2L should still be accessible for at least a couple of weeks after that point. I will still be checking in on the discussions and you are free to continue posting to the discussion forums.

Be aware that I do not always post announcements on the D2L Course Home page. I often post announcements in the Main discussion forum. That way, people can reply to the announcement if they have questions or need clarification. So, please be sure to check any postings to the "Main" discussion forum (or the other Administrative discussion forums, for that matter).

I have a couple of small requests with regard to the discussion forums. These forums will be our main mode of communication in this course. In order to keep this communication more or less organized, I will set up different forums for different purposes. For example, in addition to a forum for each lecture, I will also set up a "Greetings" forum for you to describe who you are and why you are taking this particular course. So, my first request is that you try to direct your comments to the appropriate forum. My second request is that you use email, instead of the forums, for any personal correspondence.

Course Objective: 

By the end of this course, students will:

  • understand basic epistemology and epistemic value theory.
  • understand the various ways in which information technology can affect knowledge acquisition, knowledge discovery, and knowledge sharing.
  • be able to use epistemological theories to evaluate information practices, policies, technologies, and institutions.

Here is a tentative schedule of topics:

  • Week 1. Introduction
  • Week 2. What is Knowledge?
  • Week 3. What are Epistemic Values?
  • Week 4. Filtering for Quality
  • Week 5. Crowdsourcing and Knowledge Acquisition
  • Week 6. Deception in a Digital World
  • Week 7. Belief Polarization
  • Week 8. Ubiquitous Computing and Knowledge Acquisition
  • Week 9. Midterm
  • Week 10. Big Data and Knowledge Acquisition
  • Week 11. Intellectual Property and Knowledge Acquisition
  • Week 12. Unfiltered Sources and Knowledge Acquisition
  • Week 13. Our Rights to Know and our Obligations to Know in a Digital World
  • Weeks 14-16. Presentations

Required Course Materials: 

Required textbook:

  • Coady, David. 2012. What to Believe Now: Applying Epistemology to Contemporary Issues. Malden, Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell.

The other required readings for this course (which are subject to modification) will all be available electronically. Some readings are on the web. Other readings will be available as PDFs within D2L.

Course Requirements: 

The five components that go into the final course grade are described below. The percentage of the final grade is in parentheses next to each.

A few Short Assignments (20% for 419, 15% for 519) will be assigned during the course of the semester.

The Midterm (25% for 419, 20% for 519) will consist of a few essay questions and a few short answer questions that cover the lectures, readings, and discussions. The midterm will be posted in D2L and will be due one week after it is assigned.

Important Note: Further details about these assignments (including due dates) will be provided in D2L.  All assignments must be submitted as HTML or PDF files.  In addition, all assignments in this course (including the midterm) will be due at 10:00pm Tucson time. I don't plan to start grading them at 10pm; I just want to be sure that I have them in my hands when I get up the following morning. By the way, Tucson is always on Mountain Standard Time (MST).

The Group Presentation (5% for 419, 25% for 519) requires those taking the graduate course (IRLS 519) to participate in creating an online presentation on a topic within the scope of knowledge in the digital world. (Those taking the undergraduate course (IRLS 419) are simply required to participate in the discussion of these presentations.) These presentations will take place during the last few weeks of the semester. Each group will sign up for a specific date to put their presentation online. We will treat the presentations like any other virtual lecture. For instance, I will set up a forum for each presentation, presentations will be required reading, etc.  (I do understand that group presentations, especially in a virtual course, present certain difficulties.  Please let me know if you are having any problems.)

The Individual Project (30% for 419, 25% for 519) requires you to give a detailed epistemic evaluation of some aspect of the digital world.  You can evaluate an information technology (such as the iPhone), an information policy (such as the DMCA), an information institution (such as Wikipedia), or an information practice.

Participation (20% for 419, 15% for 519) is discussed under Course Format and Attendance Policies.

Course Grading: 

Each assignment will be graded on a point system. For example, you might receive 17 out of a possible 20 points on your Individual Project. At the end of the course, the points received on each of the five components will be aggregated (using the percentages given above under Course Requirements) to yield an overall percentage score. Students with scores of 90% and above will receive an A, those with scores between 80% and 89% will receive a B, those with scores between 70% and 79% will receive a C, etc. Further details about the grading of assignments will be posted in D2L.

Assignments that are turned in after the due date will lose points (depending on how long after the due date they are turned in).  I do grant extensions in the case of emergencies.  But I must be notified by the student before the official due date for the assignment is due, and the student and I must agree to a new due date.

Course Policies: 

Attendance Policies:

All students (in both 419 and 519) are required to attend the face-to-face meetings, to actively participate in the face-to-face discussions and the online discussions, and to do the assigned readings for each week prior to the face-to-face meeting for that week.

All holidays or special events observed by organized religions will be honored for those students who show affiliation with that particular religion.

Absences pre-approved by the UA Dean of Students (or Dean’s designee) will be honored.

Classroom Policies:

Arriving late and leaving early is extremely disruptive to others in the class. Please avoid this kind of disruption.

Cellular telephones can be distracting.  Please turn them off and put them away.  Laptops may be utilized in the classroom, but only for note-taking purposes.  Please follow classroom rules regarding food and beverages in the classroom.

Given that this is a safe environment for sharing and generating unique ideas, please try to be “open” to diverse perspectives and learn from others who may pose views that differ from your own. When sharing your own ideas, do not subject others to inappropriate language or problematic assumptions about social groups.

Academic Code of Integrity:

Students are expected to abide by the University of Arizona’s Code of Academic Integrity.  See:  

The guiding principle of academic integrity is that a student’s submitted work must be the student’s own.  Do not copy another student’s work, pull text from online sources, or turn in the same work for this class that you have used in another class.  All work turned in must be original and specific to this course.  Students who violate the UA Code of Academic Integrity are subject to disciplinary penalties (e.g., failing grade or removal from the University).  Students are encouraged to share intellectual views and discuss freely the principles and applications of course materials.  However, graded work must be the product of independent effort, unless otherwise instructed (as in the case of the Group Presentation).  If you have any questions regarding what is acceptable practice under the UA Code of Academic Integrity, please ask me (the instructor).

Accommodating Disabilities:

Arrangements can be made if you have a physical challenge or condition that could impair your participation and/or performance in this course.  If you anticipate the need for reasonable accommodations to meet the requirements of this course, you must register with the Disability Resource Center and request that the DRC send me (the instructor), official notification of your accommodation needs as soon as possible.  See:

Please plan to meet with me by appointment or during office hours to discuss accommodations and how my course requirements and activities may impact your ability to fully participate.  The need for accommodations must be documented by the DRC.

Incomplete Policy:

The grade of I may be awarded only at the end of a semester, when all but a minor portion of the course work has been satisfactorily completed.  The grade of I is not to be awarded when the student is expected to repeat the course; in such a case the grade of E must be assigned.  Students should make arrangements with me (the instructor) to receive an incomplete grade before the end of the semester.  If the incomplete is not removed within one year, the I grade will revert to a failing grade.  See

Additional Policies:

The Arizona Board of Regents’ Student Code of Conduct, ABOR Policy 5-308, prohibits threats of physical harm to any member of the University community, including to one’s self.  See:

All student records will be managed and held confidentially.  See:

Information contained in this course syllabus, other than the grade and absence policy, may be subject to change with advance notice, as deemed appropriate by the instructor.

College of Social and Behavioral Sciences