DGST 101 Syllabus

General course information

Course title: Introduction to Digital Studies
Course number: DGST 101
Semester: Spring 2017
Meeting time: TR 12:30–14:45
Meeting location: HCC 327
Instructor: Kris Shaffer, Ph.D.
Office: HCC 410
Office hours: by appointment
Course website: digitalstudies.pushpullfork.com
Online discussion forum: digitalstudies.slack.com

Contacting the instructor

The best way to get in touch with me outside class time is via Slack. If you want to chat or ask a question that would be valuable to everyone in the course, use one of our class channels. If it's private, send me a private message. If you're having trouble with Slack, or need to use email for some other reason, you can email me. We can also talk briefly before or after class and/or schedule an in-person appointment.

Overview & course description

Introduction to Digital Studies introduces an interdisciplinary approach to using technology and specifically provides a foundation for the Digital Studies Minor. Coursework may include digital approaches to creativity, historiography, media analysis and thinking critically about and through digital culture. 

Please Note: While some coursework will involve working closely with computer software, no prior experience with programming is required or expected. 

Also note that the course syllabus is subject to change depending on the way in which the class unfolds, in particular during the first week when we will fill in the missing parts together. 

Course objectives

  • Develop skills in designing, building and sharing ideas that can be expressed through the uniquely multimodal, procedural, and networked capabilities of digital tools.

  • Explore processes of knowledge production by using digital technology in researching, analyzing, and executing critical inquiry.

  • Build knowledge in contemporary and historical digital cultures, including social, ethical and philosophical issues related to technological development.

  • Build, promote and sustain an active and engaged digital identity.

Required materials

A computer. Make sure you have a computer you can access whenever needed, not a borrowed one. It will need to be the best one you can have available. Over the course of the semester, you will probably need to download and install some free and/or open source software to complete various media assignments, so make sure you have the necessary access/permissions to do this. Though note that for most assignments, the set of applications available on the public computers in the Convergence Center will suffice.

The internet. There is no textbook for this class, however individual readings/videos will be assigned and will all be available online. We will also be doing creative work involving building your own web presence, the creation and consumption of digital media, and the using (and building) of web apps. If you do not have access to reliable broadband off-campus, plan on doing a fair bit of your course work on the campus network.

synapse, by R Kurtz

Media. Over the course of the semester, you will be asked on a regular basis to review certain example “texts” (these may be be written works, collections of images, audio pieces, films/videos, or Web sites). Whenever possible, I will provide a link to free, digitized versions of these texts. However, some of them (particularly films or episodes of TV shows) may not be freely available on the internet. In those cases, you may need to buy/rent an online version; the typical cost for this shouldn’t be more than $3–$5. I recommend that you budget around $10–$20 over the course of the semester to obtain these texts. I also encourage you to work together to keep your costs down! (Arrange to view films together, for example.)

An account for the class's Slack channel. Slack is powerful tool of growing ubiquity. Many companies, teams, and courses are using Slack not only for communication, but for file sharing, managing of collaborative social media accounts, even posting to blogs. We'll be using it for discussion and semi-private sharing of resources. We may also decide to trick it out a bit more to support the actual work we'll be creating.

A personal domain. As a UMW student, you can create and use your own website on your own domain and hosting account. Go to umw.domains to sign up for free. (We will work through this together during the first two weeks of class, so there is no need to do it immediately.) We will be doing a fair amount of our work publicly on the web. However, as discussed under privacy, doing public work online is not without its faults and dangers. With that in mind, we will discuss some of these faults and dangers, and appropriate plans of action in response to them, early in the course. And while everyone in the course will be building out a domain throughout the semester, in the end, you will decide what does and doesn't go on that domain (including your name).

Web Accounts/Software. You will need to set up accounts on various social media sites we will be using for class. The same principles of privacy and anonymity apply here as to your domains, but do note the data collection practices of the services you use when you sign up. (We will look through some of them together early in the semester.)

Credit and assessment

source: Giphy

This course is about growing in your ability to think critically about digital technology and engage it deliberately. That will look different for each person, and to the extent that it can be measured (it can't), it does not involve reproducing existing knowledge or jumping through well-worn academic hoops. The most important and interesting aspects of learning are things that are difficult to assess fairly and reductively (i.e., with a single letter). As a result, heavy emphasis on grades tends to undermine alternative perspectives and stifle creativity — the exact opposite of what a liberal education should do.

And yet, I still have to assign final grades. So in light of the individualized nature of our work, we will use self-assessment to determine final grades.

Each week (starting in Week 2), each student will write a self-evaluation of their work for the week in a Google doc that is updated each week. This should be a paragraph-long reflection answering the following questions (along with anything else you find appropriate): 

  • What did you do this week? (Reference all assigned work, attendance, and class activities, as well as anything else you think relevant to the course.)
  • What did you learn this week?
  • What difficulties/challenges did you conquer?
  • Who helped you?
  • Whom did you help?
  • What are you looking forward to in the coming week(s)?
  • What can I as an instructor do to better support you and your work?
Be sure to provide links to any digital assignments completed (see resources page for instructions, if necessary).

Then provide yourself with an appropriate letter grade (no plus or minus) for the week. Be sure that the details in your paragraph support that letter grade, in light of the work assigned for the week and any specific parameters/requirements provided in the assignment or discussed in class.

These letter grades are proposals. If you defend them appropriately, I will approve them. If I disagree with them, I'll leave a comment and give you two weekdays to respond either with a different grade, or with additional details. If your response is satisfactory, that will be your grade. Otherwise, we'll keep discussing until we can come to a consensus.

The final grade will be determined by those weekly grades and your final project grade (which will count as two weekly grades), as follows:

  • To receive an A, you need a median weekly grade of A and no more than 2 weekly grades lower than a C.
  • To receive a B, you need a median weekly grade of B and no more than 3 weekly grades lower than a C.
  • To receive a C, you need a median weekly grade of C and no more than 3 weekly grades lower than a D.
  • To receive a D, you need a median weekly grade of D and no more than 3 weekly grades lower than a D.
  • Anything else receives an F.

Semester schedule

This course will consist of a series of (mostly) week-long modules, followed by a final project due during finals week. (You will also be building your own domain/website throughout the semester, with work on that domain expected each week.) Several of the modules have already been planned out by me, several of which are important groundwork for the Digital Studies major/minor. The rest will be decided by the class during Weeks 1 and 2, selecting from a list of Building Blocks for Domain of One's Own and a list of common DGST 101 modules.

Following is the schedule of weekly modules/topics:

  • Week 1: Digital Identity/What Is a Domain?
  • Week 2: Data Ownership and Usage
  • Week 3: Copyright, Fair Use, Creative Commons
  • Week 4: Blogging
  • Week 5: Networks
  • Week 6: Representation
  • Week 7: Wikipedia
  • Week 8: Digital Polarization (with guest, Mike Caulfield, for a talk on Wed., Mar 15, 4pm)
  • Week 9: Journalism
  • Week 10: Activism
  • Week 11: Animated GIF
  • Week 12: Creative coding
  • Week 13: Interactive fiction
  • Week 14: Digital/human music
  • Finals week: final projects

Weekly schedule

Calendar*, by Dafne Cholet

Each week (after we get off the ground, and with the exception of major project weeks) will follow roughly the same schedule.

We'll begin with text/video/audio that we all "read" and annotate and/or a project that we create. The reading, annotating, and/or creating should be done by Monday morning.

Read and reply to each other's annotations or creations by Tuesday morning so I can review them before class.

Class on Tuesday afternoon. We will show off creations and/or discuss readings. Mini-lecture, instructor demo, or other activity, as appropriate. At the end of class, we will come to a consensus about a follow-up activity or question(s) to prepare for Thursday.

Class on Thursday afternoon. We will engage in follow-up discussion/activity/showcase. The final 30 minutes (roughly) will be devoted to introducing the module for the following week.

Self-assessments will be due by Friday morning. I will do my best to read and respond to them by the end of the work day.

I will do my best to give you at least a week's lead time with assignment details, so that if you have scheduling difficulties, you can work ahead.


DGST 101 typically involves a significant amount of public creative work. However, the internet is not always a safe place in which to work out budding ideas, and online trolling and abuse have become especially prolific in the last three years. So while we will engage the public with our work, we will also spend time working in private (or, rather, with the class as our "public"), getting feedback on our work, and exploring the implications of working in public before we do a significant amount of public work. Not all work in this class needs to be posted publicly, though you are certainly welcome to do so. But on the other hand, not all work will remain private either, as working in public purposively and critically is an important part of the course. 

If you have any concerns about privacy or safety online, please talk to me, and I'll gladly help you through it.

About this syllabus

This syllabus is a summary of course objectives and content and a reminder of some relevant university policies, not a contract. All information in this syllabus (except for the "General course description") is subject to change, with sufficient advanced notice provided by the instructor.

In the spirit of collaboration at the center of this course, much of this syllabus will be (re-)negotiated by the class as a whole during Week 1 of the course. Additional changes may also be considered during the semester if proposed by a group of students, and approved by general consensus of the students and the instructor.