The Design of Computational Things


Spring 2014 quarter

Taught by

Paul Pham
computer science, electrical engineering, creative writing

What is computer science, who is it for, and can it combine with art, design, and engineering to help us be more free? What is the relationship of computation to human socialization, physical embodiment, psychology, play, intelligence, or gender? This program addresses these questions through four interrelated threads: (1) Massively Multi-language Computer Programming (MMCP), (2) Software Anthropology, (3) Arduino Robotics, and (4) Seminar and Speaker Series. Each thread has a concrete but open-ended goal, which students will pursue in small groups documented with an online journal.

In MMCP, students will learn a programming language of their own choice in a self-directed way and help jointly develop software for an interactive online storybook to teach computer science. Each week, a student group will help prepare a lesson to teach the rest of the class. In Software Anthropology, students will study communities centered around technology including makerspaces, software companies, and schools. They will actively provoke social interaction with other Evergreen programs. The end goal of this thread will be organizing a sustainable Evergreen computer club. In Arduino Robotics, students will learn the basics of computer architecture and system design by using the Arduino electronics platform to control small robots. In the Seminar and Speaker Series, students will hear from a variety of Evergreen alums with careers in technology. In addition, they will help organize the logistics of the speakers' visit.

One or more of the above threads will be shared with the programs "Computer Science Foundations" and "Student-Originated Software." Students wishing to prepare for "Computability and Language Theory" in 2014-2015 may take a 12-credit version of this program and the Discrete Math thread from "Computer Science Foundations." The final goal of the overall program is a single creative work to which all students will contribute. It will be part ethnography and part how-to manual to recreate a future program in a similar spirit.

The program is designed to be self-bootstrapping, vastly exploratory, and evolving, with all students actively participating in ongoing activity planning. It is perfect for responsible, self-motivated students who can tolerate confusion, excitement, boredom, joy, and the gradual formation of new insights. No previous computer science background is required, only a strong desire to improve and not give up.

Activities will include field studies, long hikes, movable feasts, guest lectures, studio time, seminar discussions, student presentations, lively group discussions, silent reading parties, watching films and TED talks, giving peer feedback and critiques, and meetings with the instructor.

Possible texts include "Design Patterns" by Gamma, Helm, Johnson, and Vlissides; "The Design of Everyday Things" by Donald Norman; "Anathem" by Neal Stephenson; "Logicomix" by Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos H. Papadimitriou, Alecos Papadatos; "Thinking with Type" by Ellen Lupton; and "Artificial Knowing: Gender and the Thinking Machine" by Alison Adam.

Program Details

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

computer science.

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Day


Buy books for this program through Greener Bookstore.

Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning: Access to web-based tools required, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.


Date Revision
March 4th, 2014 New opportunity added.

Registration Information

Credits: 12, 16 (Spring)

Class standing: Freshmen–Senior; 25% of the seats are reserved for freshmen

Maximum enrollment: 18


Signature Required

Students should contact the instructor by e-mail to receive help in developing their project proposal and to be connected with other prospective classmates.

Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16 credits): 30448
Fr (12 credits): 30449
So - Sr (16 credits): 30450
So - Sr (12 credits): 30451
(1-16 credits): 30591

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