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Stephen Wicker to teach one of Cornell’s first four MOOCs

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Adapted from the October 2, 2013, Cornell Chronicle article, Cornell’s first four MOOCs to launch next semester.

Beginning next semester, the university will offer its first four massive open online courses – commonly known as MOOCs – to the world at-large, allowing anyone to take Cornell classes from the comfort of their home laptop or desktop computer.

Electrical and Computer Engineering’s Stephen Wicker will teach "Wiretaps to Big Data: Privacy and Surveillance in the Age of Complete Interconnection," which will explain how cellular technology makes surveillance possible, how surveillance affects how we use cellular and other technologies, cellular user's rights and how this system affects our democratic institutions.

"Cellular has become the primary mode of personal communication on the planet," says Wicker. "There are more than six billion phones in use, with communication services ranging from voice to text to the app marketplace. The consolidation of so many modes of communication onto a single platform—cellular convergence—has made cellular telephones the single most important tool for personal expression on the planet.

"The NSA's overzealous collection of American cellular data is thus all the more insidious," he continues. "Surveillance chills speech. The omnipresent potential for surveillance forces voice and other forms of expression into innocuous pathways, taking what should be a powerful tool for personal development and dumbing it down into yet another tool for marketing. The argument that only 'metadata' is being collected is a nonstarter—such data often reveals more about a user's beliefs, preference, and actions than the content of a call."

According to the "Wiretaps to Big Data" course description, Wicker will cover questions such as: How does cellular technology enable massive surveillance? Do users have rights against surveillance? How does surveillance affect how we use cellular and other technologies? How does it affect our democratic institutions? Do you know that the metadata collected by a cellular network speaks volumes about its users?

Further, this course will explore all of these questions while investigating related issues in WiFi and Internet surveillance. With issues converging at the intersection of networking technology, law, and sociology, the course will appeal to anyone interested in the technical, political, and moral questions inherent in the use of information networks. The course will include broad overviews for the novice, while pointing to the detailed resources needed for those engaged in the development of corporate or governmental policies.

Stephen Wicker is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Cornell University and a member of the graduate fields of computer science, information science, and applied mathematics. He teaches and conducts research in wireless information networks, cellular networks, and digital telephony. He currently focuses on the interface between information networking technology, law, and sociology, with a particular emphasis on how design choices and regulation can affect the privacy and speech rights of users.

Wicker is the Cornell principal investigator for the TRUST Science and Technology Center—a National Science Foundation center dedicated to the development of technologies for securing the nation’s critical infrastructure. He is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and published his most recent book, Cellular Convergence and the Death of Privacy, in August 2013. A graduate of the University of Virginia, Wicker earned a master's in electrical engineering from Purdue University and a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California.

"Wiretaps to Big Data: Privacy and Surveillance in the Age of Complete Interconnection" is scheduled start March 2, 2014. More information about the course can be found at https://www.edx.org/course/cornellx/cornellx-engri1280x-wiretaps-big-data-1246.

Last spring, Cornell entered into a partnership with edX to carry the courses. EdX is a MOOC platform founded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University to offer online, university-level courses in a wide range of disciplines to a worldwide audience free of charge. Students will be able to register for classes at: www.edx.org

"Since Cornell University's start nearly 150 years ago, the University has embraced its land-grant mission. Now with the advent of MOOCs, Cornell adds progression and more modernity to its mission to serve a broad, even global, community of learners," said Laura Brown, senior vice provost for undergraduate education and chair of the new Distance Learning Committee. "MOOCs enhance our visibility for potential graduate and undergraduate students, and they open up and model opportunities for innovation in teaching through online methods that have a wide potential impact within and beyond Cornell."

Brown explained that the four selected Cornell MOOC courses —from 15 submissions—are crisp, new offerings specifically tailored to Web learning. The courses were selected by a subcommittee of the Faculty Senate’s Distance Learning Committee, and, in addition to Wicker’s course, include "Relativity and Astrophysics," "Networks," and "American Capitalism: A History."

Find more information on the CornellX MOOCs at:

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