Tutorial: Technology and Place

Transportation, Communication, Computation

Grinnell College
Fall 2008
Meeting times: TTh 8:00 - 9:50
Meeting place: SCI 3817 (Computer Science Commons)
Instructor: Janet Davis (office hours as posted; contact me)


About this course

Our relationships to the physical world are mediated by the work of human hands and minds: roads both connect and divide; cell phones let us talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime; "smart homes" anticipate our needs and desires. In this tutorial, we'll consider how three major technologies intertwine with a sense of place. First, how have transportation technologies influenced the development of American cities and towns? Second, how have communication technologies changed our sense of distance and our interactions with others near and far? Third, how would our interactions with everyday places change if computers were embedded invisibly throughout our environment? For each of these technologies, we'll consider how these technologies change our everyday lives and our society.  Is change desirable? Is it inevitable? What can we do?

As the only required course in the Grinnell curriculum, First-Year Tutorial is unique. Like other Tutorials, this course will explore a topic of interest to all of us, but it has also been designed to help you adjust quickly and successfully to college-level academic work. By drawing on sources from multiple disciplines, the course introduces you to a wide range of methods of academic inquiry, the ways in which scholars in various disciplines have sourght to enlarge our knowledge. At the same time, the course will help you to polish skills that are crucial to success in college: finding and evaluating source materials, reading carefully and critically, exploring ideas through discussion, and presenting your ideas clearly and persuasively through writing and speaking. And finally, because your tutor is also your academic advisor, we will work together in this course to make a plan for future courses that will meet your individual needs while providing for a liberal education.

By design, Tutorial is a special course. Smaller than most introductory courses, it provides a particularly good opportunity for you to participate actively and really get to know your classmates.  With only first-years in the class, it eliminates the pressure of having to compete with older students. By focusing on things you need to know for success at Grinnell, it can help you do well in other courses. Thus, the course is designed to be useful, low-pressure, and enjoyable.


  1. To understand the social influences and effects of some important technologies related to place and distance: transportation technologies, communication technologies, and ubiquitous computing.
  2. To enter Grinnell's academic culture and develop your ability to learn through discussion.
  3. To improve crucial academic skills, such as reading, writing, and oral presentation.
  4. To appreciate standards of honesty in academic work and to know the proper procedures for avoiding plagarism.
  5. To become comfortable with using the College's library and computer facilities for academic research.
  6. To develop supportive advising and peer relationships.
  7. To envision for oneself a four-year plan for a liberal education.


All of our textbooks are available through the Grinnell College Bookstore.


Janet Davis (davisjan@cs.grinnell.edu)

Created July 15, 2008
Last revised August 22, 2008
With thanks to Kent McClelland