Final Project Assignment

We may revise this document over the course of the semester to clarify the assignment; however, the fundamental deliverables will not change. This is version 1.0 from 2 October 2007. Please contact Coye or Andrew for advice on your particular project.

Track I: Research Paper

If you choose to write a paper, you will need to do this as a single author. The core requirements are that you need to address some kind of problem in CMC, justify why it is a problem, and do some thorough research of the literature in this area. These should be serious, rigorously researched papers — not just topical overviews or summaries of the literature about an interesting topic. We want you to use the literature to advance an argument of your own, ideas of your own — to address a specific problem or research question.

We are not asking you necessarily to "solve" a problem that you set out for your research paper. However, we do expect you to have a specific goal in mind. That is, you could create a research design (qualitative, quantitative, mixed, etc.) for a proposed study in CMC, or you could attempt to create testable hypotheses from new or existing theories based upon your research in the surrounding literature. Endless other possibilities exist, which is why we want to meet with each of you in early October so that we can reach an agreement about the appropriateness of your proposed research project.

The research papers will be evaluated on several characteristics. A successful paper will have a clear argument, critically examine related literature, and describe/define important concepts and issues. We do not expect you to be experts in research design or theory-building. More precisely, the success of your "outcome" in your paper is determined by the success of your arguments. Thus, we highly encourage everyone to continue to meet with us throughout the semester to ask questions so that we can give you feedback on your ideas.

The final deliverable for this track will be a full paper with the following basic requirements:

Track II: Designing for CMC

Perhaps you would prefer to address a problem in computer-mediated communication by design (and perhaps implementation) rather than by writing a research paper. That's what this track is for. However, it is important that you take a deliberate approach to this process and treat it with the same rigor that you would a research paper.

To that end, we ask for your proposal that you pick a problem in CMC and explain why it is interesting and important. Your final project should address this problem in some meaningful, theoretically motivated fashion. (Note that this is not necessarily the same as definitively "solving" a problem, should the problem be such that a solution exists.)

Furthermore, you should specify exactly how you will address this problem. You might create detailed sketches, working prototypes, ideas described in text, or some combination of these. You don't necessarily have to make a working prototype, but if you are submitting sketches and descriptions only, they must be highly detailed — not hand-waving generalizations but a multitude of pieces showing exactly how your specific system would work. One tool that can be helpful for preliminary sketching is Denim.

We will evaluate projects of this type by the quality of the ideas, not the technical quality of prototypes or sketches, assuming they work well enough or are clear enough to understand. (This is to say, those without extensive training in programming or design need not shy away.)

Finally, we ask that you also submit a short paper giving the background and description of your problem and discussing how your design or prototype addresses it. It should be at least 5 pages, though it could be longer if you're doing more of a hybrid between a research paper and a design project. (Talk to us if you are uncertain about where your project fits in.)

For this track, you may work alone or in groups of two or three. If you work in a group, of course we expect that you will be able to create somewhat more involved designs and/or prototypes. Please indicate the approximate distribution of work on different aspects of the project.

Please submit hard copies of as much of your work as is practical. (That is, definitely turn in a hard copy of the short paper. If you have interactive components or prototypes that don't make sense on paper, you can give us a URL for those instead. Please do not email movies, executables, etc., to us.)