Capstone Seminar

I hadn’t planned to teach the Capstone Seminar for the Masters in Informatics degree this year, but it kind of fell to me. Now I am excited to get started: our first meeting is tomorrow evening.

As in earlier classes, I will be blogging for the class from my “home” blog here. I will also be aggregating my own posts and other posts — assuming everything works out — to an aggregator blog here

Click below for the (brief) syllabus. As you can see, I’m less teaching than sitting in on this seminar.

Capstone Seminar
Baldy 101, Monday & Wednesday, 6:00 – 9:10
Alex Halavais: [AIM] DrHalavais, [Skype] halavais, [Email]
Office hours: Monday & Wednesday: 4:30 – 5:30, Baldy 325


The capstone seminar is intended, in large part, to be an opportunity to engage the cutting edge of informatics, and for graduating MI students to demonstrate their breadth of expertise. It is organized as a seminar. Many of the courses in your Masters programs have been labeled seminars, but few adhered to this ideal. The American Heritage dictionary defines a seminar thusly:

sem•i•nar, n., [German, from Latin s min rium, seed plot.]
a) A small group of advanced students in a college or graduate school engaged in original research or intensive study under the guidance of a professor who meets regularly with them to discuss their reports and findings.
b) A course of study so pursued.
c) A scheduled meeting of such a group.
2. A meeting for an exchange of ideas; a conference.

In other words, unlike a didactic lecture course, I will largely play an organizing role, and you will be teaching this course. The organizing principle for the course is that we will be learning about the current trends and the cutting edge of our field. This may — and I suspect in many cases it will — be tied in some way to what you are doing in your capstone project. But generally, you should leave this seminar with a better understanding of a wide range of topics, with discussions led by experts in these topics: you.


We will be meeting for only six weeks, for six hours each week; in total we will have 33 “segments” of 45 minutes each. In the first week we will “bootstrapping” the seminar, covering some introductory material, and planning for the remaining weeks. For each of the remaining segments, there will be at least one presenter and at least one discussant. Because there are far less than 33 of us, each person should plan on presenting at least twice, and at least once on their own. They should also plan on being a designated discussant a minimum of four times.

The leader (or leaders) for a segment should plan to provide some sort of presentation, as well as lead a discussion, and they are generally responsible for making the segment a successful learning experience. At least seven days before they present, they should post an introductory explanation, or “teaser” post on the course weblog, and link to readings or websites that they expect their fellow participants to read for the class. Since we will be having three segments each class, and because you should be doing work toward your capstone project at the same time, these readings should not exceed about 20 pages for any one segment. Forego readings at your own peril; I suspect that having nothing (or near nothing) to read will lead to a rather ineffective segment.

As a ritual of progress, we will also be doing 2 minute updates on progress toward the capstone at the end each class, in which you tell us what you have done since last time we met.

Course Blog

I will be leading the discussion during the first week, and just as you will be talking about your areas of research, I will be talking about some of the things I am interested in studying. In particular, I have been working with technologies that allow for social organization online, sometimes called “social computing.” To that end, during the semester I hope to share with you the role of blogging, wikis, and other social technologies.

Central to this process is updating, throughout the semester, the public blog for the course at We will be collectively responsible for keeping the site up with news, information, and related items. Each person in the class will have a different weekly deadline. While you may post more than once each week, at the minimum, you are expected to post a single item, and in total, you should be posting a minimum of a few hundred words each week. More substantial posts are expected for the weeks when you will be leading a segment.


Your grade for the semester is made up of three items:

Leading segments (40%). At least twice during the semester you will be teaching us something worth knowing. Your success here is dependent on a number of factors, including a good definition of the relevant issues related to the topic, a good selection of readings, a good overview posting to the blog (with relevant links), a good presentation and materials for the class, and leading and encouraging discussion during the segment.

Participation (30%). You are expected to be present and engaged at each class. A significant part of this grade will be based on your role as official discussant during four for the classes. During these segments, you should be especially prepared to jump into the conversation, but you should also encourage participation from other members of the seminar. In addition, your participation grade will be influenced by your participation during the course as a whole, and an indication that you are making significant progress on your capstone.

Posts to blog (30%). You will be expected to post to the blog at least once every week. You are welcome, and encouraged, to do more than this. The aim, collectively, is to produce a weblog that, at least for this short period, is a good overview of the current trends in our field. You should plan to do a continuing environmental scan, and post about items that you think are relevant. Your writing should be engaging and professional, and demonstrate a thorough understanding of the topic.

Capstone? The capstone project itself is not addressed directly in the above categories, but it is addressed indirectly. You should, of course, plan to present on a topic that is generally of interest to the entire class, but is also related to your capstone. For example, if you are doing a project that involves the construction of a website using AJAX (the flavor of the hour) to provide interaction, you could provide an overview of AJAX and some of the design issues involved or the techniques used. Your capstone project may be used to illustrate this segment, but you should keep in mind that your ultimate “customer” for this segment is the other seminar participants, and you should make sure that your presentation provides them with valuable knowledge and understanding that they will be able to make use of in the future.

Moreover, I will be tracking on your self-reports of progress on the capstone, and we will spend a little time at the end of each class to talk about the particulars

Course Policies

I expect everyone participating in the course, including myself, to adhere to the following:

Respect. Listen and pay attention when we are talking. Look for opportunities to help the other participants in the class. Don’t interrupt (too much) or monopolize the discussion. Look for ways to invite participation by asking questions and restating views. Disagree politely. Call people by name. Show up for the seminar on time and be prepared. Leave only when everyone is ready. Turn off your cell phone.

Integrity. You are required to be honest in presenting material that you have borrowed from others. You are encouraged to borrow such material, but any time it could be falsely assumed that you created an intellectual work for which others should be credited, you are guilty of academic dishonesty. If this happens, at a minimum you will receive a failing mark in the course, with an annotation on your transcript that you have been academically dishonest. Plagiarism is a crime; among people who create intellectual work, it is far worse than theft.

Communication. During the semester, I expect to see you in office hours at least once. If those hours don’t work for you, we can make an appointment. I will also keep my IM and Skype clients up, in case you have quick questions. I hope you will keep up with your email, and with the website, and respond to requests within 24 hours. I will do the same.

Food. Given the timing of our meeting, munchies are helpful. I think food is a good thing in seminars. Please think about bringing something for people to share, especially on days when you are presenting. This is not a requirement (and munchies will not impact your grade in any way), but it is a nice thing to do. Please help keep the classroom clean, and pick up any trash, even if it is not yours, at the end of the evening.

Coming Soon

By the end of the first week, we will be adding to this syllabus, at a minimum, a working schedule.

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One Comment

  1. Posted 5/24/2005 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    i love that you expect to see your students in your office at least once during the quarter! as you probably remember, getting students to come to office hours at the UW is like herding cats. they seem to think some sort of clamity has to occur before stopping by.

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