Weekly Assignment Guide

Week 1: Digital identity/What is a domain?

collaborating, by John Freeland

Welcome to Intro to Digital Studies! I'm really looking forward to our time together as we explore some really interesting, and important, aspects of digital work and life this semester. Questions like: 

  • What is your digital identity? 
  • What do you want it to be? 
  • How can you change what people find about you online?


Week 2: Data ownership and usage

Adrian Williams, Unsplash

Who owns your data? Who can make money off it? Do they owe you anything if they do? Who is tracking you on the web? Can you stop them? How do you cultivate a public digital identity, or even manage your private digital identity, in ways that are safe and sustainable? These are some of the questions we'll explore this week. We'll also get started building your own domains on the web.


Week 3: Copyright, fair use, Creative Commons

image by Scott Webb

How do we include media in our digital work in ways that are legal and ethical? How do we prevent misuse of the media we create? We'll explore these questions this week, as well as do some work building out the look, feel, and media content of our domains.


Week 4: Blogging

image by Negative Space

In the early 2000s, the end of the “.com” era saw the rise of “Web 2.0” as a loosely defined trend in online content generation where everyday users — not traditional media producers — created the content that defined digital culture. Blogs more than any other modality came to symbolize the freedom and autonomy made available by new networks and new platforms. In some ways, that role has since been supplanted by social media, but blogging remains n accessible and powerful tool for sharing one’s ideas. In this module, your challenge is to become a blogger.


Week 5: Networks

Photo by Peng LIU

Networks are defined by the specific relations among elements in the system rather than by the content types or components. The term network is frequently used to describe the infrastructure that connects computers to each other and to peripherals, devices, or systems in a linked environment. But the networks we are concerned with in digital humanities are created by relationships among different elements in a model of content.


Week 6: Representation (gender, race, culture, orientation)

Mesmerized by Numbers, by Hsing Wei

Facebook. All those smiling friends staring back at you like a bag of skittles. Such diversity. Everyone’s so different, except they’re not. Why? Racial and ethnic groups segregate themselves even in living spaces, such as colleges, that have been designed to promote integration. Following a tendency toward ‘homophily,’ this self-segregation seems to be a fairly resilient tendency. Yet shouldn’t you be more likely to form an integrated network online than to seek out diversity in your living environment? Compare choosing Facebook friends to choosing your roommates? Shouldn’t we feel more free to seek out diverse groups online than we would in face-to-face settings where we may feel racial and ethnic difference most strongly? Curiously, online networks tend to follow the pattern of our in-person networks, even though they are presumably free of the constraints of location and opportunity and seem to require such low levels of risk or commitment. (Mark C. Marino)


Week 7: Wikipedia

Wikipedia is one of the largest and most heavily-trafficked websites in the world, and its structure and collaborative model make the world’s knowledge available to anyone. It’s been blamed for killing off encyclopedias, for enabling plagiarists, and for making Internet users intellectually lazy. It has also been called “The greatest work of literature in history.”

Wikipedia is incredibly large, with about 4.5 million articles in just the English-language database.

All this content, power, and promise does not diminish its imbalances, omissions, and controversies. According to one research in 2013, something like 91% of Wikipedia contributors are men. And just visit the “Talk” page for a current event or controversial topic to see how messy it all is under the hood. In this module, you’ll try and do something to make Wikipedia better.


Week 8: Digital polarization

image by Pixabay

Misinformation abounds. This has always been the case, but the problem has become acute in the age of digital communication. As Mike Caulfield and Zeynep Tufekci have been showing in the week following the 2016 US presidential election, Facebook is particularly susceptible to this problem. Of course, Facebook is not alone. The ease with which we can share “news” on social media platforms makes it increasingly easy to contribute to the virality of falsehoods. ... But this problem is bigger than the proliferation of misinformation in today’s media landscape. ...


Week 9: Journalism/Activism, Part 1

image by freestockpro

Information. Attention. Imagery. Sound. Data. Clickbait. Ad-tech. Something new is happening around how users leverage different digital media platforms to accomplish positive change in the world. In this module, we'll explore the history of hashtag activism (including any precursors), data-driven journalism, and multimedia/interactive journalism, and think critically about their impact and the possibilities for the future. We'll also create our own digital activist/journalistic projects.


Week 10: Journalism/Activism, Part 2

image by Carl Heyerdahl

Information. Attention. Imagery. Sound. Data. Clickbait. Ad-tech. Something new is happening around how users leverage different digital media platforms to accomplish positive change in the world. In this module, we'll explore the history of hashtag activism (including any precursors), data-driven journalism, and multimedia/interactive journalism, and think critically about their impact and the possibilities for the future. This week, we'll finish our digital activist/journalistic projects.


Week 11: The art of the animated GIF

image by Living Stills

The animated GIF is a form of digital image that is almost 30 years old, but recent years have seen its resurgence through popular use in social content sites like Tumblr and Reddit. In this unit, we'll research the history of the animated GIF, explore cultural practices around GIFs and their uses in different communities, and produce and share some of our own animated GIFs.


Week 12: Creative Coding

image by Negative Space

There are many reasons to write computer code. As Nelson and Rushkoff (and plenty of others) have said, learning how computers work and how to make them work is a fundamental competency of human existence. Yet putting it in those terms raises the stakes on what can also simply be used to create something interesting, something annoying, or something beautiful.

Ranging from one-purpose websites, to procedurally generated novels, to the rougher edges of net.art or the diverse field of electronic literature, one can find many applications of computer code executed in support of some idea or simply for the heck of it.


Week 13: Interactive Fiction

Interactive Fiction is a genre of game or electronic literature where users participate in the generation or exploration of a story world. In the early 1980s, text adventures like Zork and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy invited players to interact with their computers to explore fictional game worlds. That tradition continues today with a diverse range of tools that make possible all sorts of literary interactivity. The links below will help you scratch the surface of the worlds upon worlds of interactive fiction. Then we'll make our own interactive fiction stories and post them to our domains!


Week 14: Digital/Human Music

Since the advent of the personal computer and digital music interfaces, the roles of composer/songwriter, performer, and producer have been deconstructed and hybridized in ways that have drastically changed music. Not only have artists like Radiohead, Björk, Imogen Heap, The Postal Service, and Air created music in new ways, but entire genres have emerged from the possibilities created by digital music creating/production. In this unit, we'll explore some of that music as we look at Björk's album Biophilia, and use digital audio editing software to build our own sonic creations.

We'll also explore and solidify final project ideas.


End-of-Semester Guide

There will be no final exam for this course. Instead, we will end the semester with final projects. These will generally be projects of your own choosing, under advisement from me.

All work must be completed and submitted by Thursday, May 4, 8am.