Computing for the Common Good
Spring 2020

*Note that the course schedule is tentative.* Lecture slides will be posted after each class.

COMPSCI 692M, 1 Credit, Spring 20
Time: Mondays 1:25-3:25
Location: Room 140, Computer Science Building

InstructorNarges Mahyar

Office: Room 322, Computer Science Building

Course Overview

Computing for the common good is a seminar course that explores new ways of utilizing computational technology for improving the quality of life and humans condition as well as making a positive impact on society. It allows students to apply computing to social and global causes such as democratic decision making, climate change, health,  education, urban design, transportation, infrastructure, and civic engagement. In this course, students will read and discuss the state of the art papers, participate in group discussions, and carry out research projects that address real-world problems. 

Course Structure

The course will involve discussion, presentation, and group work during class. For the first four weeks of the semester, the assignments will primarily be readings, but will quickly transition to project work thereafter.

University policies and information


Accommodation Statement
The University of Massachusetts Amherst is committed to providing an equal educational opportunity for all students. If you have a documented physical, psychological, or learning disability on file with Disability Services (DS), you may be eligible for reasonable academic accommodations to help you succeed in this course. If you have a documented disability that requires accommodation, please notify me within the first two weeks of the semester so that we may make appropriate arrangements.

Academic Honesty Statement
Since the integrity of the academic enterprise of any institution of higher education requires honesty in scholarship and research, academic honesty is required of all students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Academic dishonesty is prohibited in all programs of the University. Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to: cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and facilitating dishonesty. Appropriate sanctions may be imposed on any student who has committed an act of academic dishonesty. Instructors should take reasonable steps to address academic misconduct. Any person who has reason to believe that a student has committed academic dishonesty should bring such information to the attention of the appropriate course instructor as soon as possible. Instances of academic dishonesty not related to a specific course should be brought to the attention of the appropriate department Head or Chair. Since students are expected to be familiar with this policy and the commonly accepted standards of academic integrity, ignorance of such standards is not normally sufficient evidence of lack of intent (

Inclusivity Statement
In this course, each voice in the classroom has something of value to contribute. Please take care to respect the different experiences, beliefs, and values expressed by the students, faculty, and staff involved in this course. My colleagues and I support UMass’s commitment to diversity, and welcome individuals regardless of age, background, citizenship, disability, sex, education, ethnicity, family status, gender, gender identity, geographical origin, language, military experience, political views, race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and work experience (

*This is a tentative schedule and is subject to change.

WeekDateTopics and ReadingsActivities & Deliverables
1Jan 27

Introduction to Computing for Common Good


Horst W. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber. Planning problems are wicked. Polity 4, 1973.

Donald A Norman and Pieter Jan Stappers. DesignX: Complex Sociotechnical Systems. She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 2016. 

Silberman, M. Six. “Information systems for the age of consequences.” First Monday 20.8 (2015).

First-day survey
Sign up for presentations

2 Feb 3

HCI for Common Good

Hayes, G.R. The Relationship of Action Research to Human-Computer Interaction. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum, Interact, 2011. 


Carroll, J.M. Community computing as human-computer interaction. Behaviour & Information Technology. 2001.


Björgvinsson, E. et al. Participatory design and democratizing innovation, Biennial Participatory Design Conference, ACM, 2010.


Form teams 
Presentation evaluation form
3Feb 10

Digital Civics

Mahyar, Narges, et al. CommunityCrit: Inviting the Public to Improve and Evaluate Urban Design Ideas through Micro-Activities. Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, 2018.


Mahyar, Narges, et al. UD Co-Spaces: A Table-Centred Multi-Display Environment for Public Engagement in Urban Design Charrettes. Proceedings of the 2016 ACM on Interactive Surfaces and Spaces. ACM, 2016. 


Foth, Marcus et al. Fixing the city one photo at a time: mobile logging of maintenance requests. Proceedings of 23rd Australian Computer-Human Interaction Conference. ACM, 2011.


Zimmerman, John, et al. Field trial of tiramisu: crowd-sourcing bus arrival times to spur co-design. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference. ACM, 2011.

Present your project idea in class

 4Feb 17  

Holiday-Class will be running on Feb 18th

Crowdsourcing for Addressing Societal Problems

Daren C Brabham. Crowdsourcing the public participation process for planning projects. Planning Theory 8, 2009. Joshua Introne et al. 2013. 


Solving wicked social problems with socio-computational systems. KI-Künstliche Intelligenz 27, 2013.


Paul André et ql. Community clustering: Leveraging an academic crowd to form coherent conference sessions. HCOMP, 2013. 


Le Dantec, et al (2015) Planning with Crowdsourced Data: Rhetoric and Representation in Transportation Planning, 2015.

Present your project idea in class

5Feb 24 

Visualization for Communication

What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Dashboards? Alper Sarikaya, Michael Correll, Lyn Bartram, Melanie Tory, Danyel Fisher, InfoVis 18


Bateman, Scott, et al. “Useful junk? The effects of visual embellishment on comprehension and memorability of charts.” Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems. 2010.


Visual Narrative Flow: Exploring Factors Shaping Data Visualization Story Reading Experiences” by S. McKenna, N. Henry Riche B. Lee J. Boy M. Meyer from EuroVIS 2017


Arcia, Adriana, et al. “Sometimes more is more: iterative participatory design of infographics for engagement of community members with varying levels of health literacy.” Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association 23.1 (2016): 174-183.


Siricharoen, Waralak V. “Infographics: the new communication tools in digital age.” The international conference on e-technologies and business on the web (ebw2013). 2013.


Teams will present problem-solution statements


Project proposal due: submit a 1-page project proposal, share it with me via Google doc for easy feedback. It should include team members’ names, a statement of the problem (1 paragraph), a summary of related literature and/or relevant tools (1-2 paragraphs), and a summary of your plans and objectives (2-3 paragraphs).



 6March 2 

 Mental Health

Pendse, Sachin R., Kate Niederhoffer, and Amit Sharma. “Cross-Cultural Differences in the Use of Online Mental Health Support Forums.” Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction 3.CSCW (2019): 1-29.


Doherty, Gavin, David Coyle, and John Sharry. “Engagement with online mental health interventions: an exploratory clinical study of a treatment for depression.” Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. 2012.

 7March 9 

 Text Visualization

Mapping Text with Phrase Nets. Frank van Ham, Martin Wattenberg & Fernanda Viégas. InfoVis 2009.


Interpretation and Trust: Designing Model-Driven Visualizations for Text Analysis. Chuang et al. CHI 2012


M. Hu, K. Wongsuphasawat and J. Stasko, “Visualizing Social Media Content with SentenTree,” in IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 621-630, Jan. 2017.


Termite: Visualization Techniques for Assessing Textual Topic Models. Chuang et al., AVI 2012.


Chapter 11: Information Visualization for Text Analysis, in Search User Interfaces. Marti Hearst. 2009.

 8 March 16No class-Spring Break 
 9 March 23

 Working Class and Prototype Review

Each team/student present their low-mid fidelity prototype for 3 min and discuss their top challenges to get feedback on their progress and direction.
 10March 30  

Collective Innovation

Mark Klein. 2011. How to harvest collective wisdom on complex problems: An introduction to the mit deliberatorium. Center for Collective Intelligence working paper, 2011. 


Chris Le Dantec. Cover: Design Through Collective Action/Collective Action Through Design, interactions, 2017. 


Eric von Hippel. 2017. Free Innovation by Consumers–How Producers Can Benefit: Consumers’ free innovations represent a potentially valuable resource for industrial innovators. Research-Technology Management, 2017. 


Shirky, C. Collective Action and Institutional Challenges, pp. 143‐160 in Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. New York: Penguin, 2008.

 11April 6


Eiband, Malin, et al. “Understanding shoulder surfing in the wild: Stories from users and observers.” Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. 2017.


Barkhuus, Louise. “The mismeasurement of privacy: using contextual integrity to reconsider privacy in HCI.” Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. 2012.

 12  April 13

Working Class: Prototype and Poster Review

Each team/student present their application/study results for 3 min to get a final round of feedback.
Guidelines for poster design 
 13 April 20

Holiday-Class will be running on April 22

Poster and demo session at CS 140

 14April 27

No class-Attending CHI conference

 Project Report due on April 30th


Throughout the course, we will explore and apply different methods that are appropriate for designing and evaluating an interactive computational technology that closely meets human needs. Examples of potential technologies are mobile applications, online platforms, interactive 2D interfaces, interactive 3D devices, and so on. Your team will choose a topic from the list provided below which will seed your project. You will identify a clear problem to be addressed (or potential design opportunity), and will then create a working prototype that meets their needs, which you will evaluate. Following the design thinking process, there are approximately 6 project milestones, as well as a final demo session to showcase your working prototypes. Meeting the project milestones is crucial in completing the project successfully. 

Team formation:  

The first step in the research project is to form a team. There is not a lot of time for this, so you will need to move fast. You are free to work with whomever you choose, but you should strive for as multi-disciplinary a team as possible. Your team will choose a project topic. 

Project Topics: 

Potential design problems/opportunities/situations: 

Category: Study

  1. An app dedicated to finding available study spaces throughout UMass – which floors of the libraries are less crowded and/or which classrooms are empty. 

  2. An app that shows the number of computers available in the library or whether the resources (printers/scanners) are functional. 

  3. An App to form and organize Study Groups. 

  4. Tool for real-time student-teacher interaction during (office hours/scheduled). 

  5. A tool for better future projection for UMass graduates dependant on their course selections and majors to guide new students. 

  6. An app to help students study effectively.


Category: Traffic

  1. Interactive campus map – with construction notifications, trash can locator, possible detours, and guidance to prevent getting lost inside the campus

  2. Bus scheduling and deployment tool – Maintain real-time bus schedules, tracking, collect metrics to better predict congested times and deploy extra buses accordingly.

  3. Campus congestion – Manage walkways between classes to reduce congestions


Category: Website and SPIRE Alternative

  1. Better scholarship website allowing filters based on the student profile

  2. Replacement for SPIRE that allows better navigation options

  3. Centralize school websites – Most professors have to use multiple different websites for the same class because of their different features.

  4. Tool for better class picker and schedule builder

  5. Gym class signups rework (IMLeagues)

  6. A tool for UHS appointment and waitlisting


Category: International and Out-of-State Students

  1. Information for students: which store to go to for buying a specific item.

  2. Information on non-academic activities such as banking, transportation, and housing.

  3. A chat application with a discussion board

  4. Anonymous emergency chat helpline

Category: Organization

  1. A tool for organizing clubs

  2. Campus event management app with student notifications 

  3. Tool for organizing information for on-campus resources (food pantry, care closet, stonewall center, etc.)

  4. A tool for planning trips


Category: Communication

  1. Tools for students to communicate with teachers

  2. Campus Watch: an app that allows people to report stuff around campus (such as fire drills, damaged utilities, etc.)

  3. Deliberation on Campus Constructions: An app where students can vote/give their opinions on certain campus renovations/construction projects before they take place

  4. An app for reliable services to find and review local musicians and bands

Category: Dining

  1. Interactive dining commons app with a map that provides the exact location of food being served on the menu.

  2. App for easy check-in/out to accurately keep track of the number of people currently in the dining hall.

  3. Online ordering at Blue Wall to reduce waiting at lunchtime


Category: Miscellaneous

  1. An app to use UCard as a digital ID.
  2. A service (like craigslist) for loaning and renting.
  3. Reduce energy waste in UMass – automatically turn off the lights or display possible power wastage areas.
  4. Cross application photo organizer.
  5. An app to track the number of people in the recreation center.