MDST110 Electronic Coursebook for Students
Information Technology and Digital Media Studies
Prof. David Golumbia
University of Virginia
Fall 2004
MDST110 main pageMDST110 syllabus

Midterm Exam Questions

Exam Goals and Format

The blue book exam is a single essay question. Your goal is also to write a thoughtful, clear essay that represents your own original thoughts about the issues raised by the class. It may be helpful to plan to write an essay that satisifes each of the following criteria, each of which will be weighted equally in grading the exam (the same criteria will apply to the final exam for this course):

Exam Questions

On the day of the midterm, you will be presented with two of these questions. You will choose one of the two presented questions and write an essay on it of approximately one blue book or less in length. In each case, knowledge of one or more of the required readings will be helpful in answering the question, and reference to the text in your exam is expected. Since the exam is taken without notes, it is expected that these references will be in summary form rather than exact quotations. Nevertheless, you should carefully indicate which text you are referencing in your answer.

Some of these questions require knowledge of secondary or recommended texts as well as required texts. It is possible to answer each question by referring only to required texts, but the recommended text may make possible a more complete answer. You are not expected to do original-source research in answering these questions, but (unless otherwise noted) to use the appropriate texts on the syllabus when answering the questions. You should be able to clearly and directly indicate what source you are using in your exam.

  1. Who was Ada Lovelace and what was her role in the history of computing? Discuss two intellectual insights she had into the functions of computers, when and where she expressed them, and speculate on some ways in which these two insights may have been proven true or false by the later development of computers. (For this question, it is advised to use Lovelace's own writings, which we did not read but which are referenced in our texts and which were discussed at length in lecture.)
  2. Discuss ONE specific major innovation or change in computing functionality over a period of not less than 10 years. Describe in detail the various phases this function went through. How has this change affected the ways people relate to computers? In what ways has the change you identify been shaped by technological, media, and/or marketing considerations? One example, which you cannot use for the exam, would be the change in computing processors from vacuum tubes to transistors.
  3. Can today's computers think? Why or why not? Describe two theories about what it might mean for computers to think, and discuss how contemporary computers do or do not live up to these theories. Give examples from contemporary computing to back up your idea.
  4. Where does the idea of mathesis universalis come from? What does it mean? Discuss the history of this idea briefly, and then describe several ways in which contemporary computers either exemplify or do not exemplify the idea.
  5. What is meant by the idea of "rational processes"? What figures are associated with this idea? What role did this idea play in the development of computers? In what way do today's computers exemplify this idea? Provide some specific examples; you do not have to re-write the entire history of computers.


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