Linking Information Technology and Community Organization Information Practices

RUR SOC 375-002 / SOC 496-004

The web address for this syllabus is :

Professor: Randy Stoecker
Office:  Ag Hall 340d
Office Hours: W 3-5:00, and by appointment
Phone:  890-0764
Fax: 263 - 4999

Fall, 2006
Tuesdays 3:00-5:30
579 Van Hise


Facilitating a course that is designed to produce outcomes for both the community and the students is one of the most exciting things I do. It can be a bit unnerving at times, since the success of the entire project requires fitting so many pieces together in a tight timeline. But I have done it enough to know that it can work, and can have real impacts. So if you like learning by doing, are comfortable with a little unpredictability, and like to work in collaborative contexts, this course is for you.


I have two goals for this course:

1.  to understand how community organizations can make the best decisions regarding information and communication technologies (ICTs).

2.  to learn how to conduct community-based research by doing a CBR project start-to-finish, and to learn specific research methods and practices.

This course/project will focus on supporting nonprofit member organizations of Community Shares Wisconsin in their decision-making regarding their information practices and information technology needs.

Many nonprofit organizations struggle with questions like, "Does our organization really need that software?" "Do we really need a new computer?" "Do we really need a server?" "Is our cell phone plan the right one for us?" and so on. The existing assessment protocols available today don't help answer such questions because they are focused on assessing what the organization's technology is, rather than what its information practices are. Depending on how an organization uses various kinds of information, a five year old computer may be entirely adequate for one organization, and a brand new computer may be woefully underpowered for another organization.

This project will start by working with a group of nonprofit organizations to first assess how they communicate and use information. The prof, Randy Stoecker, students, and community organization representatives will meet together to outline how the initial assessment will proceed. The likely procedure will be some form of questionnaire. Students will administer the questionnaire for the organizations and write up a report for each organization identifying how the organization communicates and uses information, and how adequate the organization's information and communication technology is for accomplishing those goals. Each organization, then will have an understanding of its potential information and communication technology gaps. The prof and/or students (if they have a facilitation background) will then facilitate planning sessions for each organization to prioritize those gaps. A second semester project would then involve researching options to fill those gaps. Along the way we will also conduct popular education meetings where students and organizations can understand more about various information and communication technology options, based on topics chosen by the community organizations.


This course will provide you with the opportunity to learn about the growing field of community informatics. According to Michael Gurstein, the inventor of the term, "Community Informatics is the application of information and communications technologies to enable community processes and the achievement of community objectives."  Community informatics has both academic and applied aspects.  We will be combining those two aspects in this course.


Please inform me if you have special learning needs so I can adjust the course to meet those needs.


When teachers realize they still have things to learn and students realize they have things to teach, and when everyone is in an atmosphere where teachers are encouraged to learn and students are encouraged to teach, everyone benefits.

My job is to create and maintain a learning atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable taking intellectual and interpersonal risks, and to help you do your part in maintaining that atmosphere.  I welcome critiques ofideas, especially my own.  But please practice respect for each other as people while you question and criticize each others' ideas. 


Please consult with me whenever you have a question about course assignments, lectures, discussions, or readings. I will gladly discuss questions you have about the course material. You should also consult with me whenever you may find yourself interested in the issues raised in the course and you want to discuss further or get more information.


There may be times in this class when the phrase "course organization" will sound like an oxymoron. Project courses like this are somewhat like a line of dominoes--knock one down and the rest behind them also fall over. Thankfully, there aren't that many dominoes, and they are easy to set up again. The timeline of this project is not dependent on just you and me, but on the university bureaucracy (which has to approve our IRB application) and the community organizations we will be working with. For the most part, then, our class meetings will focus on troubleshooting where we are in the process.


In general, the workload for this class is average. The challenge is that it can be quite uneven unless you manage your time effectively.

You will see that the first few weeks are heavy with reading and activity. I have, for the most part, "front-loaded" the preparatory work of the course so we can move into the project as quickly as possible. The reading load reduces more and more the further we get into the semester.

You will also notice that we will not meet at some points in the semester. Instead you will be spending time scheduling appoints, conducting research, and drafting reports. It will not be crucial for us to meet as a class during those times and I want to give you as much time as possible for doing the project work.

The actual project work, to be finalized at an upcoming meeting with the participating community organizations, will likely involve conducting surveys or interviews with organization staff regarding their communication and information practices, doing an assessment of the organization's information and communication technology, writing up a report, and participating in a planning session with the organizations. 

The most time-intensive part of the course will be the research and report writing, which will likely occur during October and early November. The key to handling this phase is to spread the work out. Call to arrange research appointments early. You may have to play phone tag to schedule an interview, and you may need to schedule a week or two in advance, or reschedule when someone's schedule changes, so start calling as soon as the IRB gives us approval. When you finish an interview, write up the partial transcript right away--don't wait and let them pile up. You may want to go back and add things based on what you learn from a subsequent interview. If you have taken good notes during an interview, writing up a partial transcript will only take an hour to two hours max.


This class will be a group effort. My job is to be a project manager, trainer, and guide. You job is to tell me what you need to learn to carry out the tasks of the project, what you need to have clarified to keep the project on track, and what skills you can bring to help troubleshoot when things go wrong.


All readings are available on the Internet, though some may require that you be logged onto the UW network. I have taken every effort to post links that will work from on and off campus.  When you are off campus, clicking on a reading link will redirect you to a login page where you should be able to use either your NetID or your student ID to access the reading.  I apologize to anyone using screen readers who must contend with only barely accessible pdf files.  All links are verified as of January 10, 2006.  Please let me know if you find any bad ones.

I will also provide a list of recommended books, in addition to the readings here.

Please print out the readings or bring your pda/laptop to class with an electronic version.


This course will use contract grading. That means that you and I will agree in writing to the grading requirements. Because this project is being designed jointly with you and community organizations, it is impossible to say for sure right now what we will be doing. The course calendar below will show the tasks that need to be accomplished.

My main expectations for the course:

  1. do the readings each week. The readings are crucial because they will provide the intellectual basis for the interviews, and the foundation for the skills trainings.
  2. keep on schedule. Better yet, work ahead. I have built in a little flexibility if, for example, our IRB approval is delayed, but we as a class need to stay ahead or on schedule.
  3. tentatively: conduct surveys and technology assessments with up to 3 organizations, write up to 3 reports, participate in technology planning events.

**NOTE:  you must complete the university IRB tutorial before you begin working with any organization. (see Sept. 12 tasks in the Calendar below)


**Remember to print out the readings you choose or bring your pda/laptop to class with an electronic version.

**I may add readings as the semester progresses.  You can always find the most up-to-date list on the web version of the syllabus.

**If you receive permission errors for any reading link (except those listed as available through, go to, log in, and try again.

**This schedule is tentative and may change based on the results of meetings with community organizations.  The latest schedule will be available online.

September 5:  Introduction to community-university collaboration.


September 12:  Introduction to Community Informatics



Read one of:


September 19:  Assessing Community Organization Information/Communication Practices




September 26:  General Information on Nonprofits and ICTs

Read (two of the following):

October 3:  Assessing Community Organization Technology Practices



October 10:  no class


October 17 - December 12:  TBA