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CORE 105
Complex Problems Seminar:
Future of Technology Policy

Spring 2019
Tuesdays and Fridays · 12:55-2:10pm

James M. Quirk, Ph.D. and
Hannah Brown, Teaching Assistant
Draft, January 10, 2019

Office Hours  Tues-Fri 11am-1230pm and 11pm Skype by appointment
TA Office Hours Weds 7-8pm

This is the main course page 

Link to our Schedule of Assignments

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Politics is the art of the possible. – Otto Von Bismarck

Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable. – John Kenneth Galbraith

All great things are simple, and many can be expressed in single words: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope. – Winston Churchill

No one puts their children in a boat
Unless the water is safer than the land – Warsan Shire


Welcome to our Complex Problems seminar on the future of technology policy.  We will explore what government does, why, how, and how to measure how well it does those things.  We’ll call this the study of public policy.  We’ll apply this approach to emerging and future policy questions about energy, biotech, and other topics.

What is Public Policy?

We will discuss specific definitions in class.  You should keep in mind that Public Policy is both an analytical approach (with a variety of evolving models) and the subject matter of governments and politics.  We’ll focus mostly on U.S. policy making and domestic issues, but we will also introduce U.S. public policy with respect to foreign affairs, comparative public policy (considering the approaches of other countries), and global public policy (multinational approaches to global concerns).  Our case studies will include autonomous vehicles, CRISPR-Cas9, cybersecurity, etc.

The U.S. Coast Guard Healy, 2005. (USCG photo)

Learning Outcomes

Discussion about “learning goals,” “course goals,” “learning objectives,” and other terms can be confusing.  Roughly, goals are less easy to measure than outcomes: I want you to understand something is a good goal; your ability to analyze, identify, produce something is a learning outcome.  Typically, in a course required for a major, a course’s learning goals include an emphasis on certain content: you understand how to write a presidential address or you’ve learned about the Middle Ages. Learning outcomes might include demonstrating the skills to write a presidential address or to analyze the importance of Charlemagne on merchant trade between England and France.  As a Complex Problems course, though, our “learning outcomes” are less about the content and more about the approaches: maybe the content as the “vehicle” of the course, and the learning outcomes are the “destination.”

The following student learning outcomes are required for each section of Complex Problems  and must be included in each course as a way to ensure programmatic consistency:

Diverse Perspectives.  In our course, we will read and watch material from U.S. and international sources; scholarly and non-academic readings; fiction and non-fiction; from competing worldviews and backgrounds; and from different eras.

Communication.  We’ll complete a range of reading and writing assignments that will help strengthen their preparation for University-level work.  Students will also complete assignments that engage their campus and off-campus communities; that ask them to explore our issues through individual and cooperative work; and that give them significant practice in oral presentations.

Critical Reading.  We’ll work to improve our critical reading skills, both mechanically (taking notes) and intellectually (what is the author’s intent and strategy?). Students will also set their analyses of the texts against what they know and learn about the world around them (examining current events, current debates, etc.).

Incorporating Feedback.  Finally, you can expect to receive feedback from the instructor, the teaching assistant, and each other.  Aims will include approach and process, not merely subject mastery — you will be offering feedback not only receiving it.  Students will be guided on how to instruct each other.

We’ll talk more about all this in class.

waymo from dabrownstein dot com
Waymo – a leader in autonomous vehicles –

Some of your roles

Your full, active, attentive, inquisitive approach to this course should broaden and deepen your understanding of a wide range a public policy issues, while you strengthen your written and oral communication skills, your critical thinking skills, and your appreciation of ethics in policy debate.

In a course of this type, difficult choices have to be made about areas covered.  Some topics are necessarily treated too briefly, or omitted entirely.  We will address this in a number of ways.

· Some topics not directly treated in the readings we will cover in our on-going discussion of current events – more on which below

· You will decide among your own list of possible issues to consider when formulating a  question that will serve as your paper topic

· Finally, you will find off-campus opportunities to learn more about public policy.  Washington offers one of the world’s best places to do this. You will be responsible for three short reports/reflections on the practice of issues in public policy; we will discuss this

A particular note on this course is that it does not require higher mathematics.  I urge you, however, to take at least one statistics course during your college coursework.

Finally, ask me about the three numbers you should always know, and why they matter.

You are responsible for all of the specific readings assigned below, whether we discuss them in class or not, and everything we discuss in class, whether it relates to a particular reading or not.

Office hours  

I will hold regular office hours listed above; we will discuss in class.  I would like to meet with each of you at least once during the first few weeks – I will circulate a sign-up sheet.  In addition, I will hold online “midnight office hours” during certain parts of the semester.

You can reach me by email at [see Bb > Information], which I will check each morning. You can reach me most of the time on our facebook group, or by fb msg.  The fb group is “closed” – your classmates and I can only see your “public” profile (maybe this is a good time to check your privacy settings).  We’ll use it for some tasks in our class, and for notices, discussions of current events, etc.  (We’ll also talk about whether it would be easier for future students if I used a different app for this.)

Required texts

You will need Ayn Rand, Anthem, any edition, asap.  It is a couple of dollars to purchase used or new online. You can find the entire text free online if you prefer.

There is no textbook to purchase. We will use the publisher’s web site for Kraft and Furlong, Public Policy: Politics, Analysis, and Alternatives, 5th edition, Sage/CQ Press, 2015 – . If you love what we’re doing or desperately need a textbook to snuggle, you can buy the 5th edition used online for $10-$20.

Additional readings will be posted or linked to on Blackboard.

From IBM Big Data Hub: Four V’s of Big Data

Course requirements (or, Some more of your roles)

Your responsibilities include class attendance, thorough reading of the assignments before class, and class participation.  You are responsible for all the reading material regardless of whether we discuss it in class, and for all class discussions regardless of whether the material relates to an assigned reading.  Attendance is not optional; you need to meet with me to discuss any absences, before class.  Unexcused absences will count against your grade. Additionally, there may be required attendance for guest lecturers at times other than the normal class schedule.

Each class may begin with at least one student selected, without prior notice, to discuss and answer questions about the readings or current events.  The pedagogy here is to prepare you for meetings when you are, unexpectedly, asked to give a presentation to a client, boss, etc., not just to ensure you do the readings.  Notice: Pop quizzes may be assigned.

You are expected to complement your study of public policy with an increased awareness of current events.  I know you already know all the new online-only sources – but it’s worth remembering some of their predecessors as well.  At a minimum, you should be familiar each morning with the front page of the New York Times and the Washington Post, spending significant time with at least one of them. You should also see the Wall Street Journal (  We’ll talk about various other online sources as well. This is an excellent time to get out of your “info silo,” if you are in one.  AllSides tries to do this – identifying stories about the same topic from different sources that it judges to be the left, center, and right.

You should check in with Monkey Cage, the Washington Post’s column on political science research.  We will discuss a number of other academic, news, and punditry outlets as well.

You should familiarize yourself with and IEEE Spectrum as well as AAAS Science. You don’t have to understand the tech or science, but you do have to understand the questions they raise.

newspapers - pic

Additionally, I will post news items on the course’s facebook page. You are invited to do so as well, and to comment on mine or anyone else’s.

Your Deliverables

Maybe you are skimming all this because you think this is the most important part.  Well, it’s absolutely not, but I know you want the info anyway, so here you go.  You will a complete a series of eight short writing assignments on our readings, two Tech-In preparations and presentations (we will discuss this in class), off-campus event reflections, other short individual and group assignments. You’ll join off-campus events with our Teaching Assistant, Hannah Brown (or make-up similar events).  In addition, you will write a short (2,000 words) but intensely analytical paper, and a final exam.  We will discuss the paper well in advance of its due date, and you will receive a complete set of written instructions.  We may have surprise quizzes. Late assignments cost one full letter‐grade per day.  You may earn up to ten discretionary points based upon consistent, high-quality class participation and contribution to the course.

Center for Diversity and Inclusion: Intergroup Dialogues

You might be interested in these small-group, sustained conversations gathering people from multiple backgrounds and identities for for two-hours each week.  Learn more here

Our Best Selves

In the classroom, online, and elsewhere, we will approach each other and our material with humility, generosity, and what we’ll call micro-benevolences.  We will all assume best intentions among each other, and we’ll approach disagreements and misunderstandings will honesty, integrity, and the intention that we will grow together as a community in the classroom, on campus, and in Washington.

The University asks faculty to include a range of additional information with the syllabus:

cropped-20120112-afa-site-generic-banner_2.jpgUniversity Information

If you experience difficulty in this course for any reason, please do not hesitate to consult with me, without delay. In addition to the resources of the department, a wide range of services is available to support you in your efforts to meet the course requirements.

Academic Integrity.  The University asks faculty members to include in a syllabus information on academic integrity, emergency preparedness, and additional support services. You should notice that some offices and services have been re-organized and re-located since last spring.  From the University:

The University emphasizes that all students are required to follow the University’s Academic Integrity Code.  If you have not already done so, please familiarize yourself with the standards and requirements of the University’s Academic Code of Conduct.   Violations of the Code of Conduct will not be tolerated and will be reported appropriatelyPlease see me with any questions on the Academic Integrity Code.  Website:

Academic integrity is much more than looking over the shoulder of a classmate during an exam or obvious plagiarism. Issues include, but are not limited to, giving or receiving work not meant to be shared, and representing someone else’s work as your own.  You should particularly note that in academics and in the real world, with issues of plagiarism there is often a presumption of guilt, not innocent until proven guilty.  You should carefully examine the information at

You can also get support on these and other issues from AU’s Writing Center.

* My own perspective:  Some instances that raise questions of academic integrity are genuine opportunities for learning moments. Others are intentional, severe insults against your fellow students. There are at least two difficulties with academic integrity.  The first is that regarding plagiarism, there is inside and outside of academia a presumption of guilt.  Understand what plagiarism is, and work vigilantly to avoid it. The second is that academic integrity is multi-directional.  The USMA honor code requires that you “will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do.”

* Academic integrity goes beyond merely upholding academic and ethical standards –   Academic integrity builds trust and fosters respect (  If/when we engage in policy discussions, we will not typically seek “agreement”; rather, we will strive to evaluate issues from a variety of perspectives with respect, humility, and generosity.  Political science courses are especially conducive to – and vulnerable to – the exchange of sharp differences of opinions. I am confident that simple a request to be mindful and appreciative of the backgrounds, experiences, and opinions of each other is unnecessary – but I mention it here anyway.

* In our classroom, online, and elsewhere, we will approach each other and our material with humility, generosity, and what we’ll call micro-benevolences: offering small acts of compassion and goodwill.  We will all assume best intentions from and among each other, and we’ll approach disagreements and misunderstandings will honesty, integrity, and the intention that we will grow together as a community in the classroom, on campus, and in Washington.

Emergency Preparedness. American University prepares for emergencies that could be geophysical, criminal, political, epidemiological, meteorological, WMATA, or other.  The show, as they say, must go on.  To that effect, text from the University:

In an emergency, AU will use the communication tools the university has at its disposal in as timely a manner as possible using AU Alerts. These messages will provide information on what is happening, what to do, and links to available additional information.

Should the university be required to close for a period of time, we are committed to ensuring that all aspects of our educational programs will be delivered to our students.  These may include altering and extending the duration of the traditional term schedule to complete essential instruction in the traditional format and/or use of distance instructional methods.  Specific strategies will vary from class to class, depending on the format of the course and the timing of the emergency.  Faculty will communicate class-specific information to students via AU e-mail and Blackboard, while students must inform their faculty immediately of any absence due to illness.  Students are responsible for checking their AU e-mail regularly and keeping themselves informed of emergencies.

Our communication tools include text and email alerts, the university’s home page, Facebook, and Twitter, the general information line 202-885-1100, indoor yellow AlertUs emergency beacon boxes and outdoor speakers located throughout campus. 

You can customize whether you receive alerts as e-mail and/or text messages. Add additional work or home phone numbers and e-mail addresses so AU Alerts reach you no matter where you are when an emergency occurs.

Academic Support and Access Center (ASAC
.  ASAC provides a wide range of support for students of all academic abilities. I urge you to see their web site and make a visit.  From the University:

ASAC supports the academic development and educational goals of all American University students and is committed to providing access for individuals with disabilities within the university’s diverse community.

Academic Support & Access Center
Mary Graydon Center (MGC), Room 243; telephone 202-885-3360
M–F: 9am–5pm · 

If you haven’t found The Writing Center yet, you need to, and learn what they do.

Notice from the University on Harassment, Discrimination, and Related Concerns
. The University offers a wide range of services to prevent and address these concerns.  The AU Public Safety emergency number is 3636 – 202-885-3636.  All local D.C., Maryland, and Virginia locations use 911 for police, fire, and ambulance emergencies.

AU’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion works to advance “American University’s commitment to respecting & valuing diversity,” including but not limited to LGBTQ, multicultural, first generation students, women, and international students,

International students can get additional support from the office of International Students and Scholars  From the University:  

American University expressly prohibits any form of discriminatory harassment including sexual harassment, dating and domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The university is an equal opportunity, affirmative action institution that operates in compliance with applicable laws and regulations, and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including pregnancy), age, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, personal appearance, gender identity and expression, family responsibilities, political affiliation, source of income, veteran status, an individual’s genetic information or any other bases under federal or local laws in its programs and activities.

If you experience any of the above, you have the option of filing a report with the AU Department of Public Safety (202-885-2527) or the
Office of the Dean of Students ( or 202-885-3300).

Please keep in mind that all faculty and staff – with the exception of counselors in the Counseling Center, staff in the Office of Advocacy Services for Interpersonal and Sexual Violence, medical providers in the Student Health Center, and ordained clergy in the Kay Spiritual Life Center – who are aware of or witness this conduct are required to report this information to the university, regardless of the location of the incident.

For more information, including a list of supportive resources on and off-campus, contact OASIS: The Office of Advocacy Services for Interpersonal and Sexual Violence (, or 202-885-7070), or the Office of the Dean of Student (

Student Success and Well-Being

Faculty also have resources to initiate student support.  These include the Early Warning System, which alerts students to poor performance in a course, and the Care Network, which engages students who may be struggling with a range of issues and assists in problem solving.

Faculty may initiate these at any time during the semester. The aim is to make it possible for faculty, staff, and students to work together to resolve many of the challenges students often face.

Nota bene. This syllabus is flexible and may be changed at any time. You are well advised to keep up with the readings. You will be expected to have them completed before the beginning of each class.