CSE 481p: Social Computing Capstone

What is social computing?

Social and collaborative computing (social computing for short) is the study of technology-mediated human social interaction, encompassing all social activity from interpersonal relationships, teams, communities, institutions, to society at large. It examines:

  • how technology shapes human social interaction,
  • how humans repurpose and shape technology for social interaction,
  • emergent effects and coevolution from the combination of the two, and
  • the design of new technology that mediates human social interaction.

Why is social computing important?

Our interactions with other humans today are increasingly becoming mediated through technology, a trend that this pandemic has only exacerbated. Meanwhile, a plethora of computational systems have been introduced in the last several decades that have us interacting with each other in different ways. Sometimes the outcome is good for people and society, leading to serendipitous exchange, collaborative learning, civic engagement, large-scale open and public projects, creative cultural production, and the strengthening of social bonds and support networks. However, we are now more and more attuned to the negative ramifications of these systems, including rampant harassment, polarization and strife, surveillance and loss of rights, trolling and grifting, information overload, misinformation, and the spread of hate.

As designers and builders of social computing systems, can we imagine a better future? How do we know whether our imagined designs will encourage pro-social outcomes, and how do we guard against harmful negative consequences? How do we know whether a system will be effective or even adopted in the first place?

About this class

In this capstone course, students will work in groups to apply software engineering and system design skills they have learned over their four years in computer science towards building a novel social computing system to address a social challenge. We will follow a human-centered design process for groups to ideate, prototype, test, implement, and showcase their novel system. Along the way, students will gain a broad understanding of the current major pressing issues and state of the art of knowledge in social computing, while taking a critical lens toward social computing systems they use every day. Along with the capstone project, we will have readings, group discussions, reflections, and guest speakers working in social computing.