Tutorial Grinnell College Fall, 2006
Computing: Limitations, Developments, and Ethical Issues

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This tutorial provides a balanced perspective of computing, including discussions of several areas of contemporary computing research and considerations of both theoretical and practical applications of computers and technology. Issues of ethical behavior and responsible use also are considered.

While some details are expected to evolve through the semester, a tentative schedule for this course and statements of the various paper assignments are available via links from this page. Students should check these course pages regularly for updated information.


With the many successful applications of computers to solve a wide range of problems, it is natural to wonder what lies ahead for this technology. This tutorial will review ideas behind several active areas within the field of computing, including applications in artificial intelligence (e.g., expert systems and neural networks), approaches to Web-based database systems (e.g., record-keeping applications and e-commerce), and research in multi-processor computing (e.g., parallel algorithms and distributed systems). Each of these areas provides perspectives on problem-solving, and this tutorial will explore each of these perspectives in some detail. Artificial intelligence studies both how the human mind might function and approaches for solving problems often associated with intelligent decision making; Web-based applications often integrate efficient data storage with understandable and easy-to-use interfaces within the context of data security and personal privacy; parallel algorithms involve problem-solving approaches which take advantage of multiple processors; and distributed computing utilizes networks of machines for the storage and processing of data.

To complement the discussion of many successes of computing, the tutorial also will identify factors that limit how computers may be used. Results from the theory of computation show that some problems are inherently not solvable, while practical considerations restrict the nature of the solutions that may be found for other problems.

Finally, the widespread use of computers in today's society raises questions of ethical behaviors and responsible use. Thus, the tutorial will consider principles and practices related to cyberethics.


Study of each theme will include consideration of basic concepts and approaches, directions of current research, and, whenever possible, some first hand experiences. In addition, the following goals are common to all tutorials:


Henry M. Walker

Office: Science 2420
Telephone: extension 4208
E-mail: walker@cs.grinnell.edu
Office hours are posted weekly on the bulletin board outside my office.
Additional hours can be scheduled by appointment.
If you wish, you may reserve a half hour meeting by signing up on the weekly schedule.


Toby Fulwiler and Alan R. Hayakawa, The College Writer's Reference, Fourth Edition, Prentice Hall, 2004.

Henry M. Walker, The Tao of Computing: A Down-to-earth Approach to Computer Fluency, Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Boston MA, (expected) 2004.

In addition, several articles and references will be assigned. In most cases, these will be distributed in class, accessible through links from the on-line class schedule, or available at Burling Library's Reserve Desk.


The class meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from August 24 through October 18 and from October 30 through December 7. Most classes will begin at 8:00 am finish by 10:00 am.

While the schedule for this course may evolve somewhat, a Tentative Class Schedule is available online

Course Work

Course work will involve a combination of the following activities.

  1. Research Exercises: Scholarly inquiry regularly requires the investigation of topics. In today's society, this investigation sometimes may involve electronic sources, but other investigations may require a search of printed materials. This tutorial will contain several research exercises to help students become proficient in the location and analysis of materials.

  2. Academic Honesty Exercise: Since academic work consistently must include appropriate citation and referencing, all tutorials include work related to academic honesty and citation. An academic honesty exercise must be satisfactorily completed.

  3. Class Questions: To encourage preparation for class, the tentative class schedule specifies several class periods for which students are to prepare class questions. For such classes, students will be expected to submit (via blackboard) two questions on the readings by 5:00 pm on the day before class. While may types of questions are appropriate (e.g., open-ended, clarifying, connective and relational, involving value conflicts), simple factual questions should be avoided (unless the facts are in dispute).

  4. Class Participation: Some classes will begin with one or two students reviewing in a few sentences the main arguments of the author of a recent reading. Students also should be prepared to indicate what conclusions they have reached regarding recent reading. All students are expected to participate actively in discussions.

  5. Small Group Discussion: Several course activities will take place in the context of small groups. All students are expected to contribute to these discussions. Further, some class sessions will involve reporting from the small groups, and all students should present some of a group's conclusions.

  6. Oral Presentations: Several times during the semester, each student will be expected to make presentations to the class. At first, these presentations may give summaries of readings. Toward the end of the semester, these presentations may include ten-minute discussions of a student's research into a topic.

  7. Papers: Four papers will be due throughout the semester. In addition, assignments will include the rewriting and editing of papers and the reviewing of other papers.



If you have specific physical, psychiatric, or learning disabilities and require accommodations, please let me know early in the semester so that your learning needs may be appropriately met.  You will need to provide documentation of your disability to the Director of Academic Advising. Feel free to talk to me if you have questions or want more information.

Computer Accounts

In addition to general computer accounts which are assigned when they students register at the College, all students in this class will receive accounts on the departmental Linux computers. Some class activities will involve the use of these departmental machines.


The final grade in this course will be based on both the quality of the submitted papers and the student's participation in class activities.

Note: I would be very happy to discuss any part of the course with anyone at any mutually convenient time. Do not hesitate to ask questions or to make comments.

This document is available on the World Wide Web as


created 12 April 1997
last revised 19 August 2006
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For more information, please contact Henry M. Walker at (walker@cs.grinnell.edu)