Independent Study

All students at Wooster complete an Independent Study (I.S.) during their senior year, and the I.S. is of central importance in our department. I.S. is an opportunity to expand the student’s understanding of the discipline and to do significant work in an area of personal interest. The ability to engage in independent learning is one of the primary goals of the department and of the College at large, and the successful completion of the I.S. thesis represents the culmination of the student’s academic program.

Over two semesters, each student designs a plan of study, completes the I.S. thesis, and gives an oral presentation and defense of the project. Under the guidance of a faculty mentor, the student is free to pursue virtually any area of interest within the discipline.

Notable I.S. Projects:

Zhen Guo

CS-Sociology double major Zhen Guo’21 receives the “Most Timely” award for her I.S. work titled “Defeating the COVID-19 Infodemic on Twitter: A SIP Agent-Based Model of Rumor Propagation and Truth Bot Intervention”.

As stated by a World Health Organization (WHO) director, “We’re not just fighting an epidemic [COVID-19]; we’re fighting an infodemic” (Zarocostas 2020). Researchers and policy makers have tried different methods to stop rumor propagation to defeat the infodemic. To help them, Zhen built a virtual Twitter world, where computer-generated agents view hashtags and write tweets just like humans, to test effective policies. Her virtual Twitter experiment gives a real-world implication that removal of the initial rumor spreaders on social media might not be necessary, since all the human agents end up believing in truth when rumor bots are still active.

Covid Word Cloud

This study explores the intersection of fields including sociology, communication, network science, and computer science. Gabriel Tarde’s Law of Imitation and Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory served as the theoretical frameworks for this project. Zhen utilized agent-based model and SIR (Susceptible-Infected-Recovered) model to develop a new model called Spreader-Ignorant-Philosopher (SIP). It suggests a new way of understanding a complex social phenomenon using simplified computer agents. One of the main conclusions is that punishment and blocking of rumor accounts on social media may not be necessary because truth bots are sufficient enough to defeat the rumors.

Examples of past I.S. projects include:

  • Remembering the City: An Augmented Reality Reconstruction of Memory, Power, and Identity in Ho Chi Minh City through Cartography & Architecture
  • The D&D Sorting Hat: Predicting Dungeons and Dragons Characters from Textual Backstories
  • Deep Reinforcement Learning in Self-Driving Car Systems
  • Hacking Lowry: Examining User Interface Design in the Development of an iOS Application• Applying the Human Factors Engineering Process to the User Interface of Infusion Pumps
  • BioScript: A Web Application for Biological Researchers
  • A Rubbish Affair When Art Met Tech: Dissecting How Consumerism’s Recycling Exploits South East Asian Environment through a Virtual Art Experience using Leap Motion Technology for Gestural Commands and Physical Interactions