Assignment #3 Spring 2001

In the class related to the Impact of Computers we postulate that there are three stages in the insertion of automation into a field:




Choose an activity with which you are familiar and which has already reached (or surpassed) stage two. Write a report on the three stages of computer insertion, and the corollary effects on people (both as users and customers) and the activity itself.


For example. you might have chosen course registration at Virginia Tech. Many years ago, course registration was accomplished by having students (literally) sign up on class sheets that were posted in each department's main office. At that time the number of students was small enough that there was generally sufficient space to accommodate the requests and since all accounting was also done by hand, it was easy to take the requests and generate tuition bills from them. As the university grew, this had to change. Firstly each student was provided with a punched card that contained their name and identification number, and pre-registration took place in Squires Commonwealth Ballroom. A set of cards equal in number to the number of seats in the classroom were prepared in advance. Students then entered the ballroom in alphabetic order (A-D, 8;00 am through 9:00 am, E-H during 9:00 am to 10:00 am, etc.) and picked up class cards for the classes they wanted to take, placed them behind their own card and deposited the deck in a tray close to the exit door. Class availability was strictly first-come first served, but the data processing was much simpler for the university. This represented the first stage of insertion.

In this first stage almost no jobs were lost, though some people's job descriptions were changed from handling paper to handling cards, and in any case by that time the increasing student population kept everyone busy. Change of classes "drop-add" were accomplished strictly by the class teacher who was supposed to provide an up-to-date listing to the department office after the add-drop period (which is those days was one week for both).

The second stage of insertion was the introduction of "Op-scan" forms and the conversion of the pre-registration activity to one of processing requests rather than the processing of strict choices. This increased the amount of data processing required and allowed students to put their choices into a priority order and to also process student requests in a priority according to their degree status. The people handling cards were now handling op-scan sheets but were not capable of programming the registration system itself. Some jobs were lost at the clerical level while jobs were added in programming and computer operation.

Today the university is between the entering the third stags of insertion by allowing on-line pre-registration and changes. I would classify the third stage as a totally on-line system, where even pre-registration is accomplished by having the student enter the requests. In this case there is also a next stage (which could not have ever been accomplished previously) would be (though I am not sure that the university is contemplating this, even though some institutions have been doing it for more than 20 years) to accept student requests at pre-registration without there being a time-table in existence already. The registrar's task would then be to create a timetable with due consideration for student's requests and restrictions and the availability of classrooms and faculty. This fourth stage of development is really only an extension of the third stage of impact by doing tasks that could not be done previously.

This overview has not dealt in any depth with the impact aspects of this automation activity, but obviously you could look at it from several points of view -- the staff of the registrar's office, the departmental staff, the students, and the faculty. For example, it used to be that the departmental staff only had the task of collecting op-scans; today they have to only process the force-adds. There has been a shift in labor from the Registrar to the Department, and then to the student.

Get the idea? Now what might you consider? Well, how about programming languages -- there was a "automation" activity that changed the way one did programming from "hand-to-hand combat" with a machine in a binary environment through to today's visual programming systems. Surely we could identify the stages of insertion there. that example is a little onanistic, so perhaps we should pick (say) the telephone system, or maybe taxi-cab scheduling.

Carefully organize the report into at least the following subsections:

  1. Introduction (including an introduction to the element being "computerized")
  2. The first stage of insertion
  3. The second stage of insertion
  4. The third stage of insertion
  5. An overview of the total impact
  6. Conclusions regarding the benefits of computer insertion
  7. References

This assignment is to be accomplished in two steps. You should prepare a substantial draft that you can hand to a colleague (in your own group) for mark-up and review no later than the date in the calendar. Once the colleague has completed the review, they should give a copy to you so that you can improve your report. They will file a copy with their own report, and you should include a copy in your review of their work. Note in your journal how this review assisted you in completing your assignment.


Your hand-ins for this assignment will include:
  1. The initial draft of your report marked up by colleague;
  2. The mark-up and review of the report on your work done by your colleague;
  3. The final, revised report (HTML formatted) with the file on an IBM Formatted diskette;
  4. A copy of the initial draft by your colleague, marked up by you;
  5. The review that you wrote for a colleague;
  6. The diary and journal of your experiences, carefully answering the questions posed in the page on writing.
Click here to see the grading sheet (and cover sheet for the hand-in).
See also:

Writing Assignments

Last updated 2001/02/28
© J.A.N. Lee, 1995-2001.