INLS 520 - Syllabus: general course information

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Table of Contents



Course materials

Textbook (Required)

  • Svenonius, Elaine. (2000) "The intellectual foundation of information organization." Cambridge: MIT Press. ISBN 0262194333
  • Textbook availability
    • It is currently on order at Student Stores. (Student stores reports the book is backordered and cannot tell me when they will have it in stock. Please order your textbook online.
    • It can also be found online. Comparison shop:
    • Paperback edition not available until March. Too late for us. :-(
    • Cake version certainly stale by now.

Other readings

  • Readings not from the required text will be available on the free web or as an e-journal.

Course description

SILS Course description

  • Introduction to the problems and methods of organizing information, including information structures, knowledge schemas, data structures, terminological control, index language functions, and implications for searching.

My expanded description

Similar problems and solution approaches underlie the organization of all types of information. In this course, you will learn and explore these foundational concepts of information organization.

Though the tools and technologies used to organize information have always been changing, the basic problems and conceptual foundations of the task persist. They are given different names and discussed in different ways and from various perspectives over time and by different communities. But the core issues largely remain the same.

These foundational problems, issues, and concepts are the main focus of this course. Learning to recognize the foundational structure of any information organization problem enables you to a) understand the task you face in organizing the information, and b) draw upon a broad range of approaches to find the best solution(s) to the task.

As an instructor, I recognize that:

  • Each group of students comprises a wide range of interests, goals, skills, and expertise.
  • Intellectually curious students value theory, but all students value practical knowledge and skills that will apply in their future work and make them attractive to employers.
  • The topic of information organization is so broad that we do not have time in class to cover all of its conceptual nuances, much less the myriad ways the concepts are put into practice in diverse real-world domains.
  • Further, the standards and tools used in the real-life practice of organizing information are constantly and swiftly changing.
  • It would be fairly easy and clear to ask everyone in the class to learn a handful of metadata standards and information organization tools chosen by me on the basis of my current knowledge and interests.
  • That plan would serve well the lucky students who plan for or muddle into futures involving work with those tools and standards.
  • That plan would bore and/or frustrate other students.
  • That plan might result in knowledge that is out of date by the time a student graduates from SILS.

In the face of the above points, I have pondered how to make this an engaging, relevant course for all students—IS, LS, those who refuse to take a side, techie, technophobe, in between, and at any level of experience.

Here is a sketch of the plan I have devised:

  • Much of the content of course readings and lectures will be highly conceptual, and thus useful to all students.
  • I aim to present the concepts of information organization and provide an intellectual space in which you can make sense of them.
  • To this end, the course will involve readings, reading responses, some lectures, class discussion, and in-class activities.
  • More importantly, I aim to facilitate your exploration of how the concepts of information organization are (or could be) practically applied in domains that are of interest and use to you.
  • This exploration will occur partly in class discussion, as I pose questions about the concepts.
  • In some cases you may choose from a group of readings those that are most relevant to you. I am also open to allowing you to nominate your own readings instead of certain assigned readings if you know of other literature relevant to your interests, and pertinent to the given course topic.
  • Most of your exploration will take place in the completion of a course-long project, completed in pairs. In the project, you will demonstrate how a range of information organization concepts manifest or are implemented in a domain/for a kind of information of your choosing. The project will involve research, analysis, critique, design, creative thought, and writing (and probably other activities).
  • For lack of a better name, I will refer to the project's product as your project portfolio. You will build your portfolio on our course wiki, and, at the end of the semester you will give a brief presentation on the most interesting aspects of your work.
  • The project is described in more detail below.

Course objectives

By the end of the course, students will:


Assignment completion and submission

  • Details on submission of individual assignments are given in the individual assignment descriptions.
    • In general:
      • Reading responses by email (plain text email only–no HTML mail, no attachments). You also have the option to blog or write on the wiki and send me the direct link.
      • Course project components will be posted to the wiki
      • With advanced notice, other methods of submission may be accepted. If you have a special need in this area, let me know.
  • Questions about assignments
    • Please ask questions about the assignments if you are confused.
    • If you have general questions about requirements, meaning of instructions, submission, etc., ask in class or post your question(s) to our course forum (TBA). Everyone should have the same information on these matters.
    • If you have questions about your specific project, visit my office hours, make an appointment for a meeting, or ask in an email.
    • Timing of questions: 24 hours before an assignment is due, I will stop answering questions about the assignment. Don't wait until the last minute to think about the assignment.
  • Late assignments
    • No reading responses will be accepted late.
    • If you know you are going to need an extension on a project component, let me know at least 24 hours before the assignment is due so we can arrange a new due date/time for you. In this case, there is no point penalty.
    • If you do not arrange an extension with me at least 24 hours before the due date, and you do not submit your project component on time, you will be penalized. Your earned score on that component will be dropped one point. On a three point scale, this is significant.
  • Assignment completion
    • The University's Honor Code is in effect.
      • Collaboration and communication on your group projects is NOT a violation. It is authorized and encouraged.
    • In your project components, cite your sources. Choose a style and stick to it.

Attendance policy

  • Regular class attendance is required.
    • I do not formally take attendance, but I notice who is missing. Regular absence will affect your class participation score.
    • Absences I expect will not be penalized in this manner. Let me know in advance if you are going to miss class.

Class participation

  • Active participation in the class is required. Participation makes up 7% of your grade.
  • Venues for participation include:
    • Participating in in-class discussion
    • Posting resources on the course wiki
    • Asking questions when you are confused about anything course-related
    • Responding to my questions and those of your colleagues in any class communication media
    • Engaging with your instructor – I am here to facilitate your learning about this topic. I can't help you if you don't ask for help. Asking for help is not "bothering me," especially if it is during my office hours or before/after class.
    • The topic of this class is everywhere. If you run across something about information organization that is interesting or thought provoking, share.

Grades and grading

Author: Kristina M. Spurgin <kristina at infomuse removeledot net>

Date: Last updated: 01/26/2009 at 14:33.

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