Appendix: Field Study in Computing--Term Project
Choose a problem involving computers--an actual, real-world situation that you have a personal interest in--and work towards solving it.
Imagine yourself as a computer consultant, in such demand that you can choose your clients and projects from the widest possible spectrum. Once you settle on a client and a task for this study, you will investigate that area, reporting your findings and recommending actions to your client. The point of casting this as a consulting job is to help you focus on a particular problem with real-world requirements and constraints, as opposed to a merely hypothetical research exercise.
Examples of the range of possible subjects: For example, you might be asked how to improve computerized course enrollment (in which case your client would be the Registrar), or increase computer access for students on campus (the Chancellor), or automatically score intercollegiate fencing matches (the fencing team or league). Another possibility is preventing software piracy (with a software publisher as a client) or hacking (a legislator or computer center manager). Yet another is how to use computers for video special effects or music scoring (for a producer).
Purpose and content: This shouldn't be a conventional term paper, restating information we could find in books. The emphasis of your paper should be on analyzing the difficulties of the particular situation you select and investigating practical solutions. It is a chance for you to address first-hand some of the issues and problems in an area that you care about, applying computing knowledge and techniques.
Complete, definite, final, usable results are not the most important part of this project. We often learn as much from our failures as our successes. What is important is the process of grappling with the problem, trying to understand it, and describing that process to us. This is why we ask you to take on a real problem rather than an imaginary one. With a real problem, you have to fit the solution to reality; with an imaginary one, you could just change the facts for your convenience.
Organization: Your final project should include the following:
* A description of your problem. (If you follow the consultant-client model explicitly, you should say who your client is, what is your client's current situation, what your client needs to know or wants to do, and what your client's special circumstances or requirements are.)
* Your solution process and whatever results you obtained. (This makes up the main part of your project.)
* Your sources of information, backing up all the facts and figures you used. This need not be gathered all together at the end as a formal bibliography--it is better to mention the name of the source at the point where you use it in the body of the paper.
Presentation: You should prepare a half-hour presentation of your project, to be delivered to the class during the last three weeks of the quarter. Please let us know in advance any special audio/visual equipment you will need; we can get almost anything if we have enough lead time.
Format: You should prepare the paper using a computer word processor. It should be around five to seven concisely written pages. That doesn't sound like a big deal, but your major effort should go into solving the problem rather than into writing it up. Think of this as 40 or 50 pages of work, concisely summarized into five to seven pages of writing.
Intersperse whatever appropriate illustrations you can--additional figures do not count as additional pages. Headings and subheadings are useful, as is a table of contents or outline at the start of the paper. And please, please, no padded sentences like, "The subject matter and the nature of the problem which I will attempt to deal with and for which I have carried out a solution process as a field study term paper for Honors Collegium 49 this quarter is the question regarding the determination of whether or not ..." Every word should count!
Grading: We use the following grading criteria, in approximate order of importance:
* Comprehensiveness and thoroughness -- Consider carefully all the alternatives available, all the aspects and difficulties of your topic.
* Clarity of writing and presentation -- If we can't understand it, we can't grade it, and we want it to be very easy to follow.
* Sources of information -- Describe where the information comes from; back up your facts; don't just make assertions (especially technical ones) off the cuff.
* Form -- Lousy grammar and page after page of monotonous text not broken up by illustrations or headings are bad; we appreciate attractively presented and appropriate diagrams, charts, and drawings.
Hints: The best projects almost always turn out to be the ones where the author has a strong interest or commitment to the topic. Since we allow you a great deal of latitude in choosing your topic, there is no reason you shouldn't pick something you find exciting. Don't fall into the successful-student trap of choosing a "safe" topic that you can already see the complete solution to; go for the topic you really want to tackle, and your grade won't suffer. If you have trouble selecting a topic, come talk to us.
Try to choose an unconventional topic. We see many projects on how to choose a microcomputer for some business or personal task; some of these are excellently done, but if you do something different, you'll stand out from the crowd.
Spend most of your time solving your problem and describing how you did it. Don't go overboard describing background information (like how computers work or unnecessarily involved details about your project or client).
Likewise, don't go overboard with flashy illustrations or visuals unless they really help get your point across.
And finally, just to reiterate, you should choose a real-world topic. The more real-world details and constraints you have, the more interesting and useful your solution will be. If your project were purely hypothetical, your field study becomes a purely academic term paper, which is deadly dull.