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.