Office: SIRLS 14

Phone: 621-3565

Email: fallis at email dot arizona dot edu

Office Hours: Tuesdays, 3:30pm-5:00pm and by appointment

Date and Time: Tuesdays, 2:00pm-3:15pm (except for the first week of classes when we will meet on Thursday, January 16th at 2:00pm-3:15pm)

Location: Biol Sci West, Rm 237

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, quizzes, 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.) pretty much every week. 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 May 7th. 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:

  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. What is Knowledge?
  • 3. What are Epistemic Values?
  • 4. The Epistemology of Testimony
  • 5. Crowdsourcing and Knowledge Acquisition
  • 6. Unfiltered Sources and Knowledge Acquisition
  • 7. Belief Polarization and Information Cascades
  • 8. Deception in a Digital World
  • 9. Big Data and Knowledge Acquisition
  • 10. Ubiquitous Computing and Knowledge Acquisition
  • 11. Intellectual Property and Knowledge Acquisition
  • 12. Our Rights to Know and our Obligations to Know in a Digital World

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 four components that go into the final course grade are described below.  The percentage of the final grade for each component is listed.


(1) Active Participation, both in class and online, is a critical component of this course.  This is because understanding and applying philosophical concepts requires dialog.  (Think Socrates!)  So, you are expected to make weekly contributions to the discussion.  (The participation requirement is discussed further under Course Format and Attendance Policies.)  Participation will be 20% of the course grade.


(2) There will be a Quiz or (or Short Assignment) pretty much every week.  It will typically be posted in D2L by Friday afternoon, and will be due by noon on Tuesday prior to our discussion of the topic.  The quizzes will collectively be 30% of the course grade.


(3) There will be a course blog that is private to the members of the class.  You will be required to sign up to write a Blog Post on one of the topics for the semester.  Ideally, your blog post should bring to the class materials and/or ideas that go beyond the assigned readings and videos.  It should be crafted so as to be interesting and accessible to the general reader.  You should also actively participate in the discussion of your blog post.  The blog post assignment will be 20% of the course grade.


(4) The Individual Project 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.  The individual project will be 30% of the course grade.


Important Note for Students taking IRLS 519: During the last few weeks of the semester, students enrolled in the graduate course (IRLS 519) will be required to present their individual projects to the class on the class blog.  Your blog post should summarize your individual project in a way that will make it interesting and accessible to the general reader.  Your blog post may include links to additional materials including your individual project itself.  As with the blog post assignment, you should actively participate in the discussion.


Important Note for Everyone: Further details about all of these assignments (including due dates) will be provided in D2L.  All written assignments must be submitted as HTML or PDF files.  In addition, all assignments in this course will be due at 10:00pm Tucson time. I don't plan to start grading them at midnight; 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).

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: 

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