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Orange Unit: A Person-Centered Launch

1A: Information Systems

Background Knowledge Probe

  • What is the first thing that comes to mind when someone brings up the term “information system” in a conversation?
  • What components, if any, do you consider to be part of that information system?

What is an Information System?

Information System: An integrated set of components for collecting, storing, and processing data and for providing information, knowledge, and digital products.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

As we work through the Orange Unit, we’ll explore the basic parts of our everyday information systems. Over the millennia of human existence, strategies for collecting, processing, storing, and disseminating data, and uses of data to advance information, knowledge, and power have influenced the shaping of individuals, communities, societies, organizations, and governing bodies.

For much of our history, humans have worked with mechanical devices to create information systems. Consider for instance Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press or Herman Hollerith’s census calculator as but two examples of Euro-American inventions. But you can go back much further, to devices like the abacus, and even earlier still — to find innovations of mechanical technologies from around the world that have facilitated advancement of the “data to information to knowledge to power” cycle. Carolyn de la Peña provides a very useful lens in her article “Slow and Low Progress”:

Defined here as the material or systemic result of human attempts to extend the limits of power over the body and its surroundings, technology has been an essential tool in our ability to feed, clothe, house, and protect our bodies. It has unified individuals across expanses of time and space in a manner that has extended pleasure and prevented pain.[1]

Rapid growth of the human population in the 20th century, combined with growing organizational and governance structures shaped via the industrial revolution and the impact of two major world wars, led to the rapid advancement of electronic computing systems. Key electronic systems were developed during World War II. After the war, new searches began for innovative uses of these systems and the components from which they were created. Business, academic, governmental, and other research institutions began a dedicated effort to consider what to do with the machineries of war, things like large tractors and poisonous gases. During World War I, there were posters proclaiming that Uncle Sam wants you to have two chickens per person. In World War II, Victory Gardens were seen as a civic duty to support the war effort. Entering the 1950s, the call was made by president after president, asking that we do our duty and buy from grocery stores in support of the modern farm that made use of those former war machineries to create innovative new agricultural systems.

Take a moment to consider again what comes to mind when someone brings up the term “information system” in conversation — in particular, in relation to these key transitions in information systems described above. What are the most beneficial outcomes that come to mind with the inventions of these information systems? What are the most problematic outcomes? Why do these come to mind? How do these come to mind?

Mechanical and electronic information systems are tightly interrelated social and technical systems. The mutual shaping of social and technical components is highly complex and has seen, unseen, and unforeseen positive and negative impacts on individuals and the things that they value being and doing. We shape them and we are shaped by them. Others shape them and are shaped by them. And yet, too often we miss seeing inside the black box that we are an active part of, even if we don’t know we are.

And so we launch the Orange Unit by discovering the building blocks that make up basic electronic circuits. It’s time to meet that often deeply hidden essential component of electronic systems face-to-face. We will use some instrumental approaches to apply deductive reasoning to discover relationships between individual components within an electronic circuit. We will begin to learn the key terms, concepts, and practices underlying the creation and use of these components to build electronic tools and larger systems.

But at the same time, we start Session 1 also beginning to test out some practical approaches to knowledge by exploring the context and experiences of others’ lifeworlds through inquiry using inductive reasoning. And, on occasion we will also find ourselves using abductive reasoning, seeking creative leaps to reveal hidden forces and structures underlying the mutual shaping of the information systems around us.

Lesson Plan

Essential Resources:

Professional Journal Reflections:

  1. Ivette Bayo Urban notes that we are our stories. She also asks, is technology rewriting our values? After reading the text and context of the above essential resources, and before diving into the “Introduction to Electronic Circuits” chapter of Session 1, take some time to reflect on one or two of your own stories, and:
    • Ways these stories have shaped your selection and use of your everyday electronics?
    • Ways you have shaped these electronics, if any?
  2. After learning more about the basics of electronics, revisit and reflect again on your own stories and the mutual shaping of you by these and your/others’ shaping of these.
  3. What key takeaways did you discover through these essential resources and the hands-on exercises of “Introduction to Electronic Circuits”?

  1. Carolyn de la Peña. “‘Slow and Low Progress,’ or Why American Studies Should Do Technology.” American Quarterly 58, no. 3 (2006): 915–41.

  2. TED Talks are licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0.


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A Person-Centered Guide to Demystifying Technology Copyright © 2020 by Copyright © 2020 Martin Wolske. Copyright “Ideating and Iterating Code: Scratch Example” © 2020 Betty Bayer and Stephanie Shallcross. Copyright “Introducing the Unix Command Line” © 2020 Martin Wolske, Dinesh Rathi, Henry Grob, and Vandana Singh. Copyright “Security and Privacy” © 2020 Sara Rasmussen. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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