Howard Besser
School of Library & Information Studies
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720

This paper reports on experimental methods used to teach a course on the social implications of new information technologies at the University of California. In the first method examined, the class uses a variety of avenues to discuss the impact of new information resources: outside speakers, topic-oriented discussion groups, and an Internet-based electronic bulletin board. The bulletin board permits the focused group discussions to be observed and joined by members of other discussion groups, the instructor, and the outside speakers. In the course of discussing various social implications of information technologies, students actually experience some of those implications as part of their interaction with the bulletin board. On a weekly basis they are confronted with both direct (fact-to-face) discussions and mediated (electronic) discussions on the same topic. This forces the students to compare the various methods, and gives them a chance to ground their abstract discussions with actual experience.

A second method examined employs the daily newspaper to focus discussions around the impact of new information technologies. Each session more than a dozen articles are clipped from that week's news and presented for class discussion. Current events are used to examine the underlying issues raised by legislation, court cases, mergers and acquisitions, technological announcements, etc. The role of the press in shaping and contextualizing public opinion on these matters is also examined.

Other methods examined include role-playing on electronic networks to explore gender issues, giving students experience as information providers to augment their experience as information consumers, and providing student papers from prior terms as electronic resources for the class.