A new course will soon offer students a three-point perspective on public surveillance by fusing science, sociology and engineering.

The California NanoSystems Institute’s new “Insights into Science and Technology for Society” (INCITES) class series – offered next quarter to all first-year undergraduates – will study the role of technology in the expansion of surveillance practices in the U.S. CNSI director Evelyn Hu said the series is part of an ongoing effort by the Institute to emphasize the importance of engineering, technology and the sciences to human behavior and daily life.

According to Hu, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, the CNSI chose “YouTube and Other Big Brother Stories: Technology and Culture of Surveillance” as the theme for next quarter’s INCITES course. A different theme will be selected for every subsequent class in the series. According to Hussam Mousa – one of several graduate students Hu selected to help teach the courses – the class will study the societal and psychological impacts of the growing presence of public surveillance.

Erin Lennon, another of the graduate student instructors for the classes, said the theme of this quarter’s class is particularly relevant to our society, where surveillance is ubiquitous and new technology related to the practice is constantly emerging.

“From current news about using video surveillance in public places to stop terrorists, to your Vons Club Card, and from spyware to Breathalyzers, everyone is constantly being [watched] on some level,” said Lennon, a graduate student in the department of chemical engineering.

According to Lily Welty, another member of the instructing team, students will be studying a number of different aspects of public surveillance in a series of hands-on labs. Within the first few weeks, Welty said, students will analyze different kinds of drinks used for date-rape drugs, learn the techniques of DNA fingerprinting and study factors that influence a person’s blood alcohol content using Breathalyzers.

Lennon said the course has no prerequisites, and the structure will not resemble that of the typical lecture. In addition, Welty said that a different approach to group-centered class work – as well as a number of unique teaching strategies – will be some of the main features of the class.

“We are trying to make the class more involved by working in groups and using alternative learning strategies to accomplish our educational and pedagogical goals,” Welty, a second-year graduate student in the history department, said.

Mousa emphasized the wide variety of specific perspectives from which the class will study the broader subject of surveillance.

“We will have six course modules: biometrics, chemical and environmental surveillance, the computer and the Internet, tracking and location surveillance and law enforcement surveillance,” Mousa, a Ph.D. candidate in the computer science department, said.

Initial funding for the class – up to $75,000 per year for a total of four years – will be provided by monies from the National Science Foundation Director’s Award for Distinguished Teaching Scholars, which was awarded to Hu in June 2005.