This course explores the intersection between computers, digital technology, humans, and the texts and communities that humans make on the web. DGST101 at University of Mary Washington introduces the Minor in Digital Studies and is also a requirement for the Major in Communication and Digital Studies.

We think of the digital as ephemeral, as virtual, as not real, but digital texts command deliberate physical attention by being increasingly interactive. They invite us to (or even demand that we) do multiple things with our eyes, brains, and bodies as we (and in order to) experience them.

This course looks back even as it looks forward. Throughout the course, we will ask the following sorts of questions: How are we and our culture being changed by computers? How are evolving technologies helping to enliven (or disengage us from) our own materiality? In our incessant push toward invention, what sorts of monstrous havoc are we wreaking? Conversely, what sorts of wonders and miracles do evolution and invention beget?

We will engage our subjects through discussion of primary and secondary texts but also through our own experiments in building digital artifacts. We will work in unfamiliar media, coming to an understanding of varied interfaces by creating with and for them.

There is not a traditional textbook for this course. We will do some reading and watch a few things, but the course will center around what we build and our discussions about what we uncover.

You will need to rent (or find) several films throughout the term. There may be a small rental charge for these.
The Internet (the rest of our readings will be available openly online)

Nothing in this syllabus will be set in stone or taken for granted. The instructions and outcomes laid out here are a beginning, something we’ll treat roughly as the course proceeds. This is not a map, but rather a direction in which we’ll point ourselves at the outset with the goal of vigorously rewriting the syllabus as we go, discovering what we’ll learn together as we learn it, questioning what we’ll do even as we begin to do it.

In this course we will:

  • Work to understand the history, present, and future of the web.
  • Think with the web, write for the web, and build upon the web.
  • Consider our own digital identities and how our digital selves intersect with, conflict with, or are synonymous with our embodied selves.
  • Discover the ways different individuals (with varied bodies, contexts, cultures) experience the digital in decidedly different ways.
  • Engage a broad network that stretches well beyond the bounds of University of Mary Washington.
  • Have epiphanies.

I will be holding virtual office hours throughout the Fall 2019 semester on most Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9am — 12pm. Starting around week four, I will announce scheduled drop-in collaboration hours on campus. This will give you a chance to work with me in person, or it’s also an opportunity to do your own work with collaborators and support nearby. Click here for more details on how to make an appointment.

This course will be as much about breaking stuff as it is about building stuff. We’ll be writing regular posts on Medium, commenting on each other’s posts, and engaging in discussion and doing activities via this course publication. There will be discussions online via Slack. Depending on what you choose to do for the various projects of the course, you may also want to set up a free domain through Domain of One’s Own. (If you already have a domain, you can make a subdomain for our class.)

Participation. This is a collaborative course, focusing on discussion and work in groups. The class will be a cooperative learning experience, a true intellectual community. And so, you and your work are, in a very real sense, the primary texts for this course. In order for us to work together as a community, we’ll all have to find ways to be “present” in the various places our course lives (Medium, Slack, the rest of the Web). If you can’t finish work for any reason, chat with me in advance.

Medium posts. Throughout the term you’ll be writing posts here on Medium. Some of these responses will be more structured (i.e. a response to questions I offer), while many of them will be more flexible, allowing you to respond to any aspect of the text/film we’re studying. Responses should be as collaborative as possible. Don’t just throw your ideas into a vacuum. Instead, ask questions of each other and use other posts as a jumping off point by answering questions, amplifying or complicating ideas, etc.

Other activities. Each week, the course schedule will walk you through the various activities of the week. Watch the posts on our medium publication and the schedule page for updates as we proceed.

Final assignment. The final for the course will be an individual or group digital project with a deceptively simple prompt: do something on the web about the web.

You may collaborate with your peers on assignments you complete for this course. If you have questions about the various ways collaboration can work, feel free to chat with me at any point.

If you run into technical difficulties at any point, visit the DKC. The Digital Knowledge Center provides peer tutoring to UMW students on digital projects and assignments. Students can schedule one-on-one or small group tutorials with a trained peer tutor on a variety of subjects relating to common systems, technologies, and tools used in courses at UMW. When a tutor is available, the Center also provides walk-in assistance. The Center is located in room 408 of the Hurley Convergence Center. Visit dkc.umw.edufor more info. or to make an appointment.

This course will focus on qualitative not quantitative assessment, something we’ll discuss during the class, both with reference to your own work and the works we’re studying. While you will get a final grade at the end of the term, I will not be grading individual assignments, but rather asking questions and making comments that engage your work rather than simply evaluate it. You will also be reflecting carefully on your own work and the work of your peers. The intention here is to help you focus on working in a more organic way, as opposed to working as you think you’re expected to. If this process causes more anxiety than it alleviates, see me at any point to confer about your progress in the course to date. If you are worried about your grade, your best strategy should be to join the discussions, do the reading, and complete the assignments. You should consider this course a “busy-work-free zone.” If an assignment does not feel productive, we can find ways to modify, remix, or repurpose the instructions.

Medium: The primary platform we’ll be using for the work of this course is Medium, where the syllabus you’re currently reading lives. During the first week of the semester, you’ll set up a Medium account, complete your profile, and begin writing.

Slack: You should create a Slack account at our class’s domain as early as possible. The mobile app is particularly handy.

#dgst101: In this class, we’ll be dabbling with and researching many social media platforms. Whenever you blog, tweet, tumblr, facebook or instagram anything related to class, use the hashtag #dgst101 to contribute to our distributed conversation.

Much of your work for this course will live publicly on the web within open platforms like Twitter and Medium. If you would like to remain anonymous, I encourage you to use a pseudonym. If you don’t want to include a photograph of yourself, you can upload an avatar to represent you. Think carefully about these choices. We will discuss issues related to privacy and the open web extensively during this class.

You can find extensive details about the UMW Honor System here.

UMW’s Office of Disability Resources guides, counsels, and assists students with disabilities. If you have already met with the Office of Disability Resources and require accommodations for this class, feel free to chat with me about any modifications we can make to help your learning. I will hold any information you share with me in the strictest confidence unless you give me permission to do otherwise. If you would like to reach out to the Office of Disability Resources, click here or call 540–654–1266.

University of Mary Washington faculty are committed to supporting students and upholding the University’s Policy on Sexual and Gender Based Harassment and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence. Click here for resources or contact the Talley Center for Counselling Services, 540–654–1053.

Any student who faces challenges securing their food or housing and believes this may affect their learning in this course is urged to contact the Dean of Students for support. And also let me know if you are comfortable doing so, because there may be ways I can help.

Authorship is a hotly contested topic in the academy. At what point do we own the words we say and write or the images we create? In literature and digital media, creative influence, collaboration, and borrowing are usually acceptable (even encouraged). So, what sort of statement or warning about plagiarism would be appropriate in this class? Let me go out on a limb and say: in this class, I encourage you to borrow ideas (from me, from the authors we read, from the films we watch, from your classmates). But, even more, I encourage you to truly make them your own — by playing with, manipulating, applying, and otherwise turning them on their head. In the end, it’s just downright boring to rest on the laurels of others. It’s altogether more daring (and, frankly, more fun) to invent something new yourself — a new idea, a new way of thinking, a new claim, a new image. This doesn’t give you license to copy something in its entirety and slap your name on it. That’s just stealing. Instead, think very consciously about how you’re influenced by your sources — by the way knowledge and creativity depend on a sort of inheritance. And think also about the real responsibility you have to those sources.

Critical thinking is like eating, something lively and voracious, something that drips and reels. It isn’t (and can’t be) virtual. And yet, somewhat paradoxically, we must increasingly find ways for this work to happen online. We must bring our subjects to life for both ourselves and our digital counterparts. Learning must fire every neuron — must touch us at the highest levels of consciousness and at the cellular level. No matter where it happens, this is what learning must do. It must evolve — and revolt.

Here’s what we’ll spend our time doing this term (and space for us to fill with other stuff we decide on together.) This schedule will evolve as the term proceeds. Watch for more details. You can annotate any Medium page. Feel free to make comments or ask questions right on this page (or any other within our course site).

[/] WEEK 1: August 26 — September 1

First, read:

Ray Bradbury, “The Veldt” (About the Book)
Ray Bradbury, “There Will Come Soft Rains

Then, do some stuff:

1) Sign up for Medium (all you’ll need is a free account), create a profile, making sure to upload a picture (either you or something that represents you), and write an initial post, responding to either of the Ray Bradbury stories. Tag your post with #Dgst101. Don’t forget to do this last bit, as it’s one of the main ways, we’ll be able to find each other’s work.
2) Sign up for our Slack channel by going to, say hello in the #open-forum channel, start getting your bearings, and share a link to your Medium post in the #medium-posts channel.

Note: If you run into trouble with these or any of your digital work this term, you can make an appointment with the Digital Knowledge Center.

[/] WEEK 2: September 2 — September 8

First, read and watch:

Clay Shirky, “Does the Internet Make You Smarter
Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?
“A Vision of Student’s Today”

Then, do some stuff:

1) Search #Dgst101 on Medium. Read a handful of posts by other folks in the class and add comments or annotations.
2) Write a 6-word story and make a short video introducing yourself to us. This can be super simple (shot on your phone, no editing, etc.). Share your six words and video together in the #who-are-we channel in Slack.

  • Don’t tell us your major, unless you have a story about it
  • Don’t tell us what you did over the Summer, unless it involves giant snakes, parachuting, a unicorn, a flash flood, or it was documented in a viral video
  • Don’t tell us where you grew up, unless you’re going to show pictures
  • Do tell us what moves you, what you care most about
  • Do tell us what you hope to get from taking this course, but only if you can do so in a limerick
  • Do tell us where you are
  • Do give us random facts we can come to know you by
  • Do click here and answer the first would you rather question that catches your eye

Hint: To share a video in Slack, go to the #who-are-we channel, click the little + next to the message box, select the video file you created, then add your 6-word story before you hit the upload button.

[/] WEEK 3: September 9 — September 15

First, read:

Preface and Ch. 1 from Small Pieces Loosely Joined

Then, do some stuff:

(1) Publish a post to Medium using #dgst101 with a tentative response to the question, what is the internet? Draw on the various stuff you’ve read so far. Some stuff to consider: where is the internet? what is not the internet? how many internets are there? what is the internet becoming? is the internet alive? what do you love about the internet? what scares you?
(2) Medium likes pictures (makes your posts look snazzy when you share them on Slack or other social media). Add at least one picture to this postand all your other posts. My favorite tool for finding free pictures is Unsplash. Check out their copyright license. I also like Pixabay.
(3) Search #Dgst101 on Medium. Read a handful of posts by a few other folks in the class and add comments or annotations. Respond to comments.
(4) Begin working on Rebuild the Internet due October 13.

[/] WEEK 4: September 16 — September 22

First, watch:

The Social Network ($3.99 on prime) ($3.99 on YouTube)
Wednesday, September 18, 7–9pm: optional live backchannel discussion via #social-network channel in Slack

Then, do some stuff:

The art of the animated GIF
(1) Instructions for making a GIF.
(2) There are also apps and some online tools you can use to make a GIF. Just Google something like “make a GIF.
(3) Publish a response to The Social Network to Medium incorporating at least 5 GIFs (that you made yourself). Don’t forget to tag your post with #Dgst101.
(4) Also, share at least one of your GIFs in the #animated-gif channel in the DGST 101 Slack.

[/] WEEK 5: September 23 — September 29

First, read and watch:

Zeynep Tufekci, “We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads
Dorothy Kim, “The Rules of Twitter
Howard Rheingold, “Smart Mobs

Then, do some stuff:

(1) Find at least one other piece (an article, work of art, video, etc.) about social media that you think would be useful for our group to look at. Share a link in the #open-forum with a sentence saying why folks should read it.

(2) Publish a post to Medium (in any genre: text, video, sound, image). Respond in some way to one or all of the readings for this week. Share a link to your post in the #medium-posts Slack channel. Then highlight and comment on the posts of several of your peers. Look for posts with no comments. And continue the discussions started on your own posts.

(3) Join a one-hour optional live discussion in the #social-media channel on Slack at 7pm on Thursday, 9/26. We’ll chat about social media broadly, but I’ll throw in some specific questions about Howard Rheingold’s “Smart Mobs,” so make sure you’ve read that one before the discussion.

[/] WEEK 6: September 30 — October 6

First, read and watch:

NPR, “Do You Read Terms Of Service Contracts? Not Many Do, Research Shows”
Inside Edition, “Social Experiment Proves That No One Really Reads Terms and Conditions”
Terms of Service; Didn’t Read
Pick one or two things to read/watch here: Digital Privacy Module
(Optional): Twitter thread about Canvas and data-use / privacy
(Optional): Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris, “A Guide for Resisting Edtech: the Case Against Turnitin”

Then, do some stuff:

(1) Read the Medium Terms of Service.
(2) Find and read the terms of service and/or privacy policy for one or more of the following: Canvas, Slack, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever else you’re interested in.
(3) Publish a post to Medium (in any genre: text, video, sound, image). Then highlight and comment on the posts of several of your peers. Look for posts with no comments. And continue the discussions started on your own posts.

Some options for your post this week:
* Respond in some way to one or all of the readings for this week.
* Write a parody Terms of Service or Privacy Policy.
* Follow some or all of the steps here or here. Write a Medium post about what you did, why you did it, and what you discovered along the way.

Note: Rebuild the Internet is due October 13. This is the “midterm assignment” for this course and is meant to be more ambitious, creative, reflective, so make sure you’ve started thinking about what you’ll do (and how you’ll do it). We will have open lab time on campus next week (on Monday from 12–2:30, in case you want to drop by and meet with me and/or collaborate with your peers.

[/] WEEK 7: October 7 — October 13

Monday, October 7, 12–2:30pm in HCC 410: Open Lab Time, where you can come and chat with me and/or collaborate with your peers. If you aren’t available during those hours, remember that you can make an appointment to meet with me during my virtual office hours or get help from the Digital Knowledge Center.

First, read:

Craig Mod, “Books in the Age of the iPad”
Weing, “Pup Ponders the Heat Death of the Universe”

Then, do some stuff:

(1) By end of day on October 13: Publish Rebuild the Internet Assignment
(2) (Optional): If you’ve missed a required post this semester, or if you just have something you can’t not say about Craig Mod or Pup, you can publish a post to Medium (in any genre: text, video, sound, image). Then highlight and comment on the posts of several of your peers.

[/] WEEK 8: October 14 — October 20

This week we’ll be joined by a special guest, Stefanie Chae, who curated the week and will be leading an optional live-chat on Thursday. She’s added an intro video to our #who-are-we channel.

First, watch and read:

Julian Baggini, Ted Talk: Is there a real you?
Gary Vaynerchuk, “How to Tell a Story on Social Media”
Dieneke Boer, “The Construction of an Online Identity
Ruha Benjamin, Podcast: “The New Jim Code? Race and Discriminatory Design

(Optional): Carrie Battan, “The Rise of the ‘Getting Real’ Post on Instagram”
(Optional): Madison Ganda, “Social Media and Self: Influences on the Formation of Identity and Understanding of Self through Social Networking Sites
(Optional): Stefanie Chae, “The greater implication of curating a social media identity through visual communication on an individual’s identity as a whole”

Then, pick two of these three:

(1) Create a thing (or things) that tells a story about you (an Instagram feed, hand drawing, blob of text, photoshopped image, podcast episode, poem, sculpture out of paper, twitter profile and some tweets, one-minute documentary, tiktok, a series of gifs…). Post to the #digital-identity channel.

*Don’t feel like you have to make this fully public. For example, if you want to think through how we construct selves on Instagram, create a real account, temporarily edit your own, or even just mock-up a hypothetical account.

**If you have questions, slack me (Stefanie Chae) or visit the Digital Knowledge Center (tell them Stef sent you).

(2) Join a live discussion on Slack in the #digital-identity channel on Thursday, October 17th at 7pm. We’ll chat with Stef., watch the “Is there a real you?” TedTalk together, and think through some questions raised by this week’s stuff!

(3) Write something! Publish a post to Medium: What is digital identity? Why do you make the choices you do when putting yourself online (or not putting yourself online)? Respond to anything you watched or read this week. Comment on the posts of several of your peers.

[/] WEEK 9: October 21 — October 27

We’ll take a bit of a breather this week from required reading, viewing, and blogging, so you can take time to think about and work on your midterm self-reflection. But there’s some recommended reading that might help as you think about how to evaluate your work for the course.

First, read some or all of this stuff:

Nancy Chick, “Metacognition”
Audrey Watters, “The Web We Need to Give Students”
Alfie Kohn, “The Case Against Grades”

Then, write your self-reflection:

Click this link to write a self-reflection by the end of the day on Friday, October 25

[/] WEEK 10: October 28 — November 3

First, submit to our course publication:

If you haven’t yet, submit one (or two) revised post(s) to our course publication. Feel free to use your rebuild the internet post and/or whatever else. Anything that appears in our course publication will have a broader audience, so keep that in mind as you pick what piece(s) of your work to feature. If you don’t have access to our course publication yet, make sure you’ve submitted your midterm self-reflection. I’ve added everyone who submitted their self-reflection as a writer.

Read, watch, and play some stuff:

Ted Trautman, “Excavating the Video-Game Industry’s Past
Play LIMBO for at least an hour (it’s on multiple platforms for $4 to $10)
Kevin Wong, “The Most Depressing Theories On What Limbo Means” (lots of spoilers, so you may want to play the whole game first)

Then, either:

Watch and add annotations to both of these videos:
Gaming Can Make a Better World
LIMBO Gameplay Walkthrough (play first cause spoilers, then analyze)

Start by clicking on the link and logging in via Google. You’ll have to create a quick account in the tool we’re using to collaboratively annotate. Then, you can add comments as you’re watching. If you run into trouble, click the big pink “help” button in the lower right and search “commenting on a video” or something else. (I’m experimenting with this platform to see how it works for online classes, so feel free to add feedback about the tool to the #open-forum channel on Slack).


Join a one-hour optional live discussion in the #gaming channel on Slack at 7pm on Sunday, 11/3. We’ll chat about gaming more broadly, but we’ll focus on LIMBO, so make sure you’ve played before the discussion. And feel free to continue playing as we’re chatting :)

[/] WEEK 11: November 4 — November 10

First, read and watch:

Veli-Matti Karhulahti, “Defining the Videogame
New York Times #Gamergate Retrospective
Anita Sarkeesian, “Body Language & the Male Gaze

Then, do some stuff:

(1) Make a Game. An interactive or collaborative narrative. Even just a simple prototype for a game. Use ink, Construct, Sploder, Scratch, Twine, PuzzleScript. Or draw the game out on paper. Or use Twitter to make one like A Dreadful Start. Or use hyperlinks in a series of Medium posts. Link to your game in a Medium post. Here are some more ideas for how to get started. And some more resources.
(2) Publish a post to Medium using #Dgst101 with a link to your game, screen shots, a narrative of your construction process, and/or an invitation to potential players.
(3) Spread the word and get folks to play your game.
(4) Search #Dgst101 and play the games of your peers. Comment. Root each other on. Share your high scores.

[/] WEEK 12: November 11 — November 17

First, read and watch:

Daniel Miessler, “The Internet, the Deep Web, the Dark Web”
Juan Sanchez and Garth Griffin, “Who’s Afraid of the Dark? Hype Versus Reality on the Dark Web”
Kris Shaffer, “Visualizing the network that connects mainstream and extremist news”
The WIRED Guide to Your Personal Data (and Who Is Using It)
(Optional): “The Dark Web: What is it exactly and how do you get there?”

Then, do some stuff:

(1) Join a one-hour optional live discussion in the #darkweb channel on Slack at 1pm on Thursday, 11/14. We’ll chat about the concept of the deep Web, the dark Web, and also about how our data moves about the Web.

(2) Publish a post to Medium (in any genre: text, video, sound, image). Then highlight and comment on the posts of several of your peers. Look for posts with no comments. And continue the discussions started on your own posts.

(3) Begin thinking about the final project which has a deceptively simple prompt, do something on the Web about the Web. You can work on your own or with a group. Next week, you’ll join the #finalproject Slack channel (and/or a live chat) to begin brainstorming or refining your ideas. Feel free to get a head start.

[/] WEEK 13: November 18 — November 24

First, read; then, do some stuff:

Click here for all the instructions you’ll need for this week: What’s Behind Door Number 10101? (The instructions are longer than usual, so I didn’t want to clutter up our schedule.)

[/] WEEK 14: November 25 — December 1

Online Relationships / Catfishing (Thanksgiving Holiday)

First, read:

Alan Levine, “Facebook as Catfish Paradise: Its Community Standards Wears the Cone of Shame”
Alec Couros, “Identity, Love, and Catfishing”

Then, do some stuff:

Jump into the #finalproject Slack channel and pitch your ideas, ask questions, give each other feedback, refine your approach. Remember, the instructions are deceptively simple, and you can work on your own or with a group: do something on the Web about the Web.

No other work to do this week. Feel free to continue working on whatever you were up to last week or write an optional Medium post about either of the readings for this week (especially if you’ve missed one or more posts throughout the semester). Happy Thanksgiving!

[/] WEEK 15: December 2 — December 8

First, work on your final project:

The final project is due December 8 (see below). If necessary, use the #finalproject Slack channel to confer with your peers as you’re working.

Then, look forward to next week:

Next week, we’ll do final self-reflections. Those are required. We’ll also have a few more optional activities, including one last optional live-chat about Blade Runner. You can rent it on YouTube or Amazon for $3.99.

December 8: Final Project. Work as an individual or group with a deceptively simple prompt: do something on the web about the web. Publish a Medium post with your project, a link to your project, or pictures of your project. Also, document your process (with a short video, text, and/or a series of images).

[/] WEEK 16: December 9 — December 15

First, a few optional activities this week:

Join an optional live backchannel of Blade Runner in the #blade-runner channel on Slack. You can rent it on YouTube or Amazon for $3.99. We’ll hit play at 8pm Eastern on Tuesday, December 10.

If you’ve missed a required post this semester, or if you just have something you can’t not say about Blade Runner, watch the film on your own and publish a post to Medium (in any genre: text, video, sound, image, series of GIFs). Then, highlight and comment on the posts of several of your peers.

Add comments to both of these two clips from Blade Runner: Deckard vs. Pris and Tears in the Rain. If you didn’t annotate clips during Week 10, start by clicking on the link and logging in via Google. Then, you can add comments as you’re watching. If you run into trouble, click the big pink “help” button in the lower right and search “commenting on a video” or something else.

Then, complete your Final Self-reflection:

December 13: Final Self-reflection, in place of a final exam

Note: Hopefully, by this point, you feel able to fairly evaluate your work for the course, but don’t hesitate to reach out to me (via DM on Slack) if you have concerns.