This is the syllabus for a class at the University of Mary Washington where students – mainly students who Major in Communication and Digital Studies or Minor in Digital Studies – build on ideas you've encountered in Digital Studies 101 by applying those tools, skills, and insights in a way that matters.

Whereas DGST 101 is a wide, shallow approach to digital culture, creativity and methodology, DGST 395 is a deep dive into a project that students design, complete, and evaluate.

A class is a process, an independent organism with its own goals and dynamics. It is always something more than even the most imaginative lesson plan can predict. ~ Thomas P. Kasulis

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:

  • Discover how to analyze, critique, and respond to contemporary digital culture.
  • Work with computer programming in order to express ideas, explore questions, and investigate problems.
  • Plan, manage, and evaluate a long-term digital project.
  • Share our work and make it meaningful beyond the audience of this class and this University.
  • Have epiphanies.

I will be holding virtual office hours throughout the Spring 2019. You can make an appointment with me by clicking here. My virtual office hours will take place via Zoom. You can get to my dedicated Zoom room at I’ve set aside these hours for you, so don’t worry about interrupting me, and definitely don’t worry if you want to talk about something “off topic,” or if you aren’t sure exactly what you want to touch base about.

There will also be opportunities to work with me face-to-face on campus, both during our class sessions and at other scheduled times. Watch the schedule for updates.

This course will be as much about breaking stuff as it is about building stuff. This is a hybrid class, so we will be meeting in person and also having discussions online via Slack. You will also need 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 (in person, Slack, the rest of the Web). If you can’t finish work for any reason, chat with me in advance.

Other activities. Each week, the course schedule will walk you through the various activities of the week, including information about the when and where of our various in-person sessions. Watch our schedule page and Slack for updates as we proceed.

Major digital project. Throughout the semester, you will work on a single digital project (on your own or in a group). We will be determining the parameters for this project together during our first class sessions.

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 for 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.

A good amount of the work for this course will be done independently or with a small group, as you'll each be working on a major digital project. Think of the rest of your peers as an audience for your work, as well as a source for feedback and encouragement. If you run into snags, feel free to draw on the expertise of your peers. This class will be as much about you teaching yourselves and each other as it is about me teaching you.

Our classroom: We will be meeting in the digital auditorium regularly throughout the semester (but not every week) on Mondays from 6-8:45. This will be a chance for us to experiment, discuss, and get feedback on our work. We will generally work together in the digital auditorium during the first half of these sessions and then spread out across the building for the second half to work on our own (or with a group) on the major digital project for the course. This will also be a chance for me to offer individual feedback and support.

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

#dgst395: Whenever you blog, tweet, tumblr, facebook or instagram anything related to class, use the hashtag #dgst395 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 on your own personal domain. If you would like to remain anonymous, I encourage you to use a pseudonym. 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. There will be specific activities for you to complete each week. Watch for more details. On weeks when we don't meet in person, the week's activities will appear by Monday, and you'll need to complete them by the end of the day on Sunday.

Week 1: Jan. 13 - 19

Jan. 13: Meet in HCC 136, 6 - 8:45pm

Draft of coauthored final project description:

Week 2: Jan. 20 - Jan. 26

First read and watch:
"The Machine is Us/Using Us"
"Mother of Invention"
"House of the Future, 1957"
Cory Doctorow, "The problem with self-driving cars: who controls the code?"

Then, do some stuff:
1)  Sign up for our Slack channel by clicking here, say hello in the #open-forum channel and start getting your bearings. (Note: you'll need to use your UMW e-mail adress to sign-up.)

2) Create a personal domain at You can find steps for signing up here. Take care in determining your domain name, as you may want to take in with you when you graduate. If you already have a domain, feel free to use a subdomain for our classe. You don't have to install anything at your domain yet, but Wordpress is a good place to start if you want to tinker around. You'll be using your domain as a place to share your final project, at the end of the semester and as you work on it.

3) Visit the draft of the final project we worked on last week (, add comments (if you have questions or want to suggest changes), and begin thinking about what you might do.

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 3: Jan. 27 - Feb. 2

Jan. 27: Synchronous chat on Slack, 6 - 7pm, face-to-face group work in HCC

First read and watch:
"Red-lining and the historical roots of housing segregation in New York City"
Chris Gilliard and Hugh Culik, "Digital Redlining, Access, and Privacy"
Cory Doctorow, "I Shouldn’t Have to Publish This in The New York Times"

Then, do some stuff:
1) Join a one-hour live discussion in the #machine-is-us channel on Slack at 6pm on Monday, 1/27. We’ll chat generally about what's becoming of humans in the digital age, but I’ll kick things off with some specific questions about the "Mother of Invention" short story, so make sure you’ve read that one before the discussion.

2) Make a 1-minute short film in any genre (documentary, fiction, experimental, stop-motion animation, etc.) that engages, poses, or responds to any of the ideas raised in the readings or topics from Week 2 or 3. Feel free to work on your own or with a group. (You can use the time we're regularly scheduled to meet to collaborate in the HCC or elsewhere.)

3) Upload your short film to YouTube, Vimeo, or to your domain. Share a link in the #machine-is-us channel anytime before the end of the week. Respond to the films of your peers.

Week 4: Feb. 3 - Feb. 9

Feb. 3: Meet in HCC 136, 6 - 8:45pm

Black Mirror: "Nosedive"

Week 5: Feb. 10 - Feb. 16

First read:
Creative Coding Module (if you didn't already look at this in your DGST 101)

Then, do some stuff:
You may remember this line from our co-authored final project instructions, "At a minimum, you should hand-code in a computer language you do not know, design a website from scratch, manually build a computing tool, or create/code a video game. You are encouraged to use tools that expand your digital horizon, such as (but not limited to) Python for coding or use Sploder to create a game." As we discussed, the idea behind that component of the final project is not to restrict what you can do for your project but to push you even a bit outside your technical comfort zone. Toward that end, let's play with computer code a bit this week.

1) If you are new to coding (or very rusty), pick one of these tools and work through a few of the lessons (all of these have free options, so no need to pay any money):
* codecademy (I suggest starting with: Learn How to Code, then progressing to Intro. to HTML, Learn CSS, and/or Learn Python)
* code avengers (you can get a free trial for 7 days)
* Hour of Code (a lot of playful tutorials here, for children or anyone, mostly designed around an activity you can do in a single hour)
* m1m0 (an iOS or Android app – I haven't tried it, but it looks fun)

2) If you are looking to hone skills you already have, pick any of the above and dive into something more advanced, or here are a couple more places you could start:
* freeCodeCamp (any of the "certifications" have shorter courses within them that are worth checking out)
* (also a fine place for a beginner to start, but you can take a really deep dive with this one)

Now, either:
3) Make something with code (a game, a bot, a whatever) and share it with the class in the #code channel in Slack.

4) Write a code poem (this works especially well with HTML, but also works with Python, CSS, etc.). Your code should be both human readable and machine readable. It doesn't have to accomplish much when compiled, but it needs to accomplish something (rather than just a bunch of error messages). You can run your code using a compiler (here's one for HTML and one for Python) to test it, but the poem should be presented as raw code. Read this piece for ideas. Check out this limited edition book of code {poems} and some amazing pictures of its construction. Share your poem in the #code channel.

Looking Forward:
Begin drafting a proposal or prospectus (an outline or plan that looks snazzy) for your major digital project. During our synchronous chat next week, we'll look at some of your code experiments, but I'll also make time for us to talk about the what, when, and how of digital projects. You don't need to have a finished plan by then, but it would be good to come with a concrete idea and/or questions. We will keep refining these plans when we meet in person on Feb. 24.

Week 6: Feb. 17 - Feb. 23

Feb. 17: Synchronous chat on Slack, 6 - 7pm, face-to-face group work in HCC

First read and watch:
The coauthored assignment description for our final project (

By the way, what's a digital project? We'll look at some of these together in class on Feb. 24, but here's a list of sample digital projects that might be useful.

Then, do some stuff:
1) Join a one-hour live discussion in the #the-big-project channel on Slack at 6pm on Monday, Jan. 27. We’ll chat generally about the scope and scale of a major digital project and look at some examples together.

2) Compose/design a draft of your final project proposal / prospectus. It should contain these three components: An outline of proposed goals, deciding what form of technology your project will require, and a timeline for completing your work. A challenge: find a way for the proposal / prospectus to be itself a creative/digital work. For example, you might write part or all of it in code, make it interactive, describe it in a microfiction, poem, short film, infographic, etc. Bring a full draft with when we meet together in person on Feb. 24. Note that you'll still have a couple days to revise (or change your mind entirely), because the final proposal / prospectus isn't due until Feb. 26.

Week 7: Feb. 24 - Mar. 1

Feb. 24: Meet in HCC 136, 6 - 8:45pm

Workshop digital projects:
These Pictures Are Composed
A Dreadful Start
1 Minute Meal
Bear 71

Feb. 26: Final project proposal / prospectus due
1) Share a link to your work in #the-big-project on Slack with a brief message with questions or asking for specific kinds of feedback from your peers. Everything can still be tentative at this point.
2) Respond to the proposals, answer questions, ask question, add emojis. The more you help your peers, the more help you are likely to get from them.

Mar. 1: Click here to complete your midterm self-reflection

Week 8: Mar. 2 - Mar. 8

Spring Break

Week 9: Mar. 9 - Mar. 15

One and only one thing for this week. Work on your big project.

Also, if you haven't already completed your midterm self-reflection, click here.

Week 10: Mar. 16 - Mar. 22

Mar. 16: Optional synchronous chat on Slack, 6 - 7pm.

We'll have an open discussion about whatever you all need to talk about. But consider me a sounding board for any challenges your facing with this or your other classes.

Otherwise, find time and space to work on your big project. If anything about the current situation (in your life, the world) calls you to go a different direction with your work, follow your instincts.

Week 11: Mar. 23 - Mar. 29

At some point during the week, share a rough something or other in #the-big-project channel on Slack. This can be just a small part of your project, a prototype of the entire thing, anything that you'd like feedback on. Include questions for your peers, letting folks know what kind of support you need. Respond to each other.

Week 12: Mar. 30 - Apr. 5

Mar. 30: Optional synchronous chat on Slack, 6 - 7pm in #open-forum.

Week 13: Apr. 6 - Apr. 12

The due date for The Big Project is now April 26. There is an optional synchronous chat scheduled for Apr. 20 for you to confer with me and each other about any last-minute questions or concerns.

In the meantime, reach out to me on Slack, either by DM or tag me in the #open-forum channel. Let's confer about where you're at.

Week 14: Apr. 13 - Apr. 19

Final project work week. Continue to reach out to confer as necessary, either by DM or tag me in the #open-forum channel.

Week 15: Apr. 20 - Apr. 26

Apr. 20: Optional synchronous chat on Slack, 6 - 7pm in #open-forum. Bring a draft of your project or questions/concerns.
Apr. 26: The Big Project is due; share your work via a hyperlink in #the-big-project channel in Slack; document your process with images, video, or text; include that as part of your project.

Week 16: Apr. 27 - May 3

Apr. 27 - April 30: Comment on the final projects of your peers. Find their work in #the-big-project channel on Slack, add comments via a thread on their Slack post, or (where possible) on the original work.
May 3: Complete final self-reflection by midnight

Final Project

The draft completed version:

[a quote from someone amazing that inspires curiosity, encourages critical thinking, or connects in some other obscure way to anything else here]

A digital project is __________ [two sentences, between 25 and 45 words] __________. A digital project is not  __________ [a single sentence, between 10 and 15 words] __________.

You'll spend the whole semester working (by yourself or with a group) on a single digital project. This document will give you the tools you need to guide your work, but you should feel free to interpret these instructions loosely. We will be working together by offering feedback to each other through the various stages of this work.

Ultimately, a successful digital project is one that:

  • Creates _____ [a sentence fragment between 5 and 10 words] _____
  • Employs _____ [a sentence fragment between 5 and 10 words] _____
  • Addresses _____ [a sentence fragment between 5 and 10 words] _____

You may work on your own or collaborate with a group of up to __ [a number] __ people. If you work with a group of more than __ [a number] __, you should _____ [a sentence fragment between 5 and 15 words] _____. While you are welcome to work on your own, collaboration may help you to _____ [a sentence fragment between 5 and 15 words] _____.

Tools and Media
Your project can take any number of forms, such as __ [a word or phrase] __, __ [a word or phrase] __, or __ [a word or phrase a little wackier than the other two examples] __, but probably not __ [a word or phrase] __ or __ [a word or phrase] __. At a minimum, you should hand-code __ [a word or phrase] __, design __ [a word or phrase] __ yourself, or manually __ [a word or phrase] __. You are encouraged to use tools that _____ [a sentence fragment between 3 and 10 words] _____, such as (but not limited to) __ [a digital tool or platform] __ or __ [a digital tool or platform] __.

Creative Constraints
Sometimes arbitrary constraints can inspire creativity. Choose at least one of the following:

  1. use a digital tool for something other than its express purpose or function
  2. _____ [a sentence or fragment between 10 and 20 words] _____
  3. _____ [a sentence or fragment between 10 and 20 words, a bit more bizarre or obscure than the previous one] _____
  4. _____ [a sentence or fragment between 10 and 20 words, a bit more bizarre or obscure than the previous one] _____
  5. _____ [a sentence or fragment between 10 and 20 words, a bit more bizarre or obscure than the previous one] _____

Our collective theme (inspired by the image at the top of this post) is _____ [several evocative but vague sentences describing the theme] _____. All projects should connect in some way, however loosely, with this theme, or otherwise radically and __ [an adverb] __ diverge from the theme in a way that inspires awe, surprise, or __ [something else] __.

Working Ethically and RespectfullyAll projects completed for this class should aim to _____ [a sentence fragment between 8 and 15 words] _____ and never _____ [a sentence fragment between 3 and 10 words] _____ or _____ [a sentence fragment between 3 and 10 words] _____.

Proposal or Prospectus
You will prepare a proposal or prospectus outlining your plans for the final project by __ [a date] __. It should contain these components:  _____ [a sentence fragment between 3 and 10 words] _____, _____ [a sentence fragment between 3 and 10 words] _____, and _____ [a sentence fragment between 3 and 10 words] _____. You will share it on Slack for feedback from your peers and will also have a chance to discuss and refine your ideas in class. This process will __________ [one or two sentences, between 10 and 30 words] __________.

On __ [a date] __, you will share a draft of your work [online OR in class]. A draft should include ______ [a phrase or list between 3 and 15 words] _____. You will offer __ [an adjective] __ feedback to your peers. And, of course, chat with Jesse if you want to confer or get additional feedback at any point.

Sharing Your Work
You will submit your work by publishing it to the Web, using Domain of One's Own (or some other platform), and sharing a link to it via Slack. But the audience for your work shouldn't just be Jesse or the members of our class, but rather _____ [a sentence fragment between 5 and 10 words] _____. On the last day of class, we will meet in person to _____ [a sentence fragment between 5 and 15 words] _____.

Documenting Your Process
In addition to (or as a component of) your digital project, you will also document your process in a letter, a series of images, a short video, __ [a word or phrase] __, or __ [a word or phrase] __. You will also have a chance to offer thoughts on your digital project in the final self-reflection you will complete for the course. Take risks, break stuff, and don't be afraid to fail, as long as you fail __ [an adverb] __.

Feel free to dramatically reinvent the expectations usually reserved for final projects in college classes. Make this one your own. But feel free to call on Jesse (or your peers) for help.

[a single GIF that connects back to the theme and leaves people excited or bewildered by the work to come]