Module Information | Object Lesson | Making the Web a Better Place | Digital Methodology | Mediated Metacognitive Meditation

Information about "Module" Assignments

In Digital Studies, "Modules" are unstructured, self-guided units of content focused on a particular skill or content area. This page is a generic description of how to complete one of these assignments, which you'll do three times this Summer semester at different points in the term. Each module has instructions and resources on The first of these takes place in the first week of class, and it should be drawn from the modules tagged with "creativity". Specifically, please choose from The Art of the Animated GIF, Creative Coding, Interactive Fiction or Weird Internet Stuff.

For each of these modules, you'll find a short introduction, a list of links and resources, and some suggested tasks. Use the resources and suggested tasks as your starting point for thinking about what you want to do, but choose a goal and tasks that make sense for you. The point of these modules is to learn something new, so make sure you're stretching yourself, but since some of the tasks will imply different skill levels or experience that you may not have, in those cases, it's perfectly fine to select a different task that is at or just beyond your skill level.

For this online version of the class, the logistics of these modules will be somewhat different than the face-to-face experience. There, students have two weeks to work on their modules, working alongside a cohort of other students working in the same module. At the end of those two weeks, the group gives a brief presentation on what each of them did. For the online version, this will happen over just a few days, but the intellectual process and outcome should be similar. I think of this process in three steps or phases.

Phase 1: Why does it matter?

After you've browsed the available modules and made your choice, think about why you made that choice and why that topic or skill you've chosen is or could be important beyond simply something that you do for a grade. Write a short blog entry about why you think this thing matters: why it matters to you or why it could matter to other people.

Share that blog entry in the Slack channel for your module, where you'll join a cohort of similarly-minded students working on the same module as you.

Phase 2: Learning and Building Together

As a working group, you'll each be working on your own projects and completing the tasks you've set out to work on in your first post, but if you share your work as you go, you'll help each other when you get stuck and share in each other's triumphs when you succeed.

If you find a useful tool that helped you understand your project, share it in your Slack channel! If you can't figure out how to get some software working, ask for help in your Slack channel! If you can't decide if the thing you made is done enough, ask your Slack channel what they think!

Phase 3: Sharing

When you've completed your work, share your work with the rest of us and/or the world. Instead of a presentation, create a short video (60 - 90 seconds) in which you explain three things:

  • What you learned
  • What you built
  • Why it matters

You can create this video in any number ways following any number of formats. You could talk to a webcam (if you do, try and follow a script so you don't go on for too long). You could record a screencast of your project and talk over that. You could even create a slide deck describing your project and record a screencast of that slide deck with you talking over it.

Write a final blog entry describing and reflecting on your work for this module, and share that in Slack. If you want, embed your video in that blog post. If you'd rather not put your video out in the public, at least share it with us in our Slack. We're a supportive community, and we want to congratulate you on your success!

Object Lesson

This is the first large-scale assignment of this class; your job is to do a bit of archaeology on some contemporary or recently-contemporary artifact of contemporary technology. Your goal is to learn about how media and media technology are situated within our lives, so much so that each of our devices has many human stories to tell. Research, discover, and share one of those stories about a device of your own.

Big Picture

Last summer, I went to the Ferry Farm site for their Independence Day activities. There, I talked with an archaeologist who takes the fragments of glass they dig out of the home site and attempts to find what kind of cup or plate that fragment was once part of. With that cup identified, she can, in turn, reconstruct part of the daily life of the Washingtons.

Imaqine a future civilization of, let's say, sentient machines. What would they learn about your life by studying your old computer? An old Game Boy? What traces have you left that make it your own? Or further back, what would that future civilization assume about our society that is capable of producing such things as XBoxes and iPhones? Could they reconstruct the entire supply chain of materials and labor that make it possible?

By successfully completing this project, you will

  • Conduct primary research into the pre-history, lived history, or afterlife of a digital device
  • Learn about how the globalization of labor impacts every digital device
  • Share your findings and tell your device's stories through an interactive timeline that you post on your website


Step 1: Choose a "Sacrificial" Device

For this project, we are interested in specific devices. That is, we're not looking to learn about for example the iPhone as a product design or concept. Rather, we're interested in learning about your iPhone, the one in your drawer that isn't activated but you still keep for some reason. Or maybe you have an old Atari in the Attic or a VCR that doesn't work any more. It's your specific, personal device that we want to learn about.

The older your device, the better, but it should be something that you don't need to work ever again. You'll be taking it apart in step 2, and that deconstruction is often a one-way process. If you can't find anything on your own, I recommend a trip to Goodwill where you can find barely-working electronics for just a few dollars.

And as you evaluate which object to choose, try and make it a media technology of some sort -- something that can play or record sounds, images, games, etc. In the past, students have studied things like game consoles, cassette players, VCRs, desktop computers, laptops, printers, radios, and phones.

Whatever you do, do NOT choose an old CRT TV or anything with a built-in CRT monitor. These can be very dangerous.

Step 2: Deconstruct your Device

For this step, you'll need a few supplies:

  • a table or area to work on
  • some protective gloves
  • needlenose pliers
  • some screwdrivers

Regarding screwdrivers, a good Philips-head with a small tip will get you pretty far. For some devices, however, you may need special implements like "tri-wings" and security bits, especially for Nintendo devices, or possibly a Torx bit, especially for Apple devices.

If you get stuck on a screw, post a picture in Slack and hopefully someone will recognize it.

In deconstructing your device, your goal is to able to see the main components that make up your device. They don't need to be completed separated in order to study them individually.

Step 3: Choose a Story to Research

Each device has many story to tell, and for this assignment, learn about all three of these phases, but spend extra time and detail on one of these three.

  • Pre-history. The fabrication and assembly of your device, all the way from minerals in the ground to a shelf space in a retail store.
  • Lived History. The life of this device as a working whatever-it-is: from the retail shelf to whatever spaces in whatever home or homes it has lived in.
  • Afterlife. The "afterlife" of this device after it is no longer the device it was: from the trash can to the recycler to whatever else it becomes, or to the landfill where eventually it will become minerals in the ground for some far future.

Each of these stories requires a different kind of research.

Option 1: Pre-history

To learn where your device came from, learn about its components. To find out about your devices components, look closely at the markings to determine when and where those components were manufactured. Even though your device will have its final country of origin labeling on the outside (i.e. "Made in Malaysia"), many of its components were likely made in other countries. Even if they're labeled with just a country, you can usually discover a much more specific date and place (down to the city) where each was manufactured. This is a challenge! And it usually involves some educated guesswork. If your device has chips (integrated circuits), they'll usually have at least three markings on them: the logo or name of the manufacturer, a serial or part number identifying what kind of chip it is, and a date code.

Date codes follow several different formats, but they're easy to read once you know how to identify them. Similarly, manufacturer logos are typically pretty easy to recognize once you know what you're looking for. This web site has a thorough list, which you pretty much just have to browse through.

If your device doesn't have any or many ICs, you will probably have some plastic, which has its own form of date marking. Reading those does require a bit of interpretation and context.

Serial numbers and part numbers are just about the only thing you may find from straighforward Googling, but bear in mind that any info you find -- a "Datasheet", for example -- refers to the general design of that sort of chip, not your specific model. Many general purpose chips will be manufactured by dozens of different companies, so you need to make sure you're researching your exact chip by its manufacturer.

Once you've got a few chips identified by manufacturer and date, you can start using that to triangulate the specific origin location for your chip. If you know, for example, that your chip was made by Sanyo in February 1986, look for a corporate history of Sanyo to see if you can find locations of factories that would have been operating in 1986. Gather as much information as you can about as many of these components as you can (at least 8).

Option 2: Lived History

This is the story of your device as your device. The research, therefore, will be more recollection and recovery on your part, but it still should have the same detail as the component history. That is, you should be able to find, recall, or embellish (if necessary) at least 8 significant events in this device's history. This should include when and where it was purchased and when and where it became obsolete. If possible, find exact dates or even photographic evidence for each of these events, and prepare a detailed textual description of that event, focusing on your device. You may even choose to tell the story of that event from the perspective of your device.

Option 3: Afterlife

This option will require some speculation, but like the others, it should be as specific as possible. For example, don't simply say your device will be recycled. Instead, find which recycling facility you will take your device to, find out what they do with their materials and where, and follow your device from there. For example, you may find that local recyclers don't process their own material here but rather sell it to processors in other countries where the breaking down actually takes place.

You should also be able to find out what materials in your device are recyclable, and in turn, you may be able to find devices made from recycled materials of the sort your device contains.

Also, if your device has plastic in it (it definitely does), you can determine what kind of plastic it is and how long it takes that kind of plastic to biodegrade (decades? centuries?) under the conditions it will likely be in if you were to throw it away tomorrow.

Like the other options, you should identify 8 significant events in the future of this device, and document them with as much detailed description and visual evidence as possible.

Step 4: Assemble your findings into a Timeline

This is where the story starts to take shape, in an interactive timeline using Timeline JS. This is a powerful tool for making elegant, media-rich timelines, and like most tools, it takes some getting used to. Conveniently, the database that creates a Timeline is stored in a Google Spreadsheet, which makes it easy to create content and even collaborate.


Whichever story option you choose, your timeline should contain:

  • A title
  • At least 10 total events (8 for the phase you're focusing on and at least one for each of the other two phases.)
  • A conclusion

And each event should include:

  • A date. Be as specific as possible. An exact date is the best-case scenario.
  • A place. Be as specific as possible. A street address is the best-case scenario.
  • A description of what happened. Write a short paragraph of prose explaining what happened on this date in this place.
  • How you know what you know. Acknowledge and cite the sources you've used to determine what you've stated in this event's description.

Sharing and Reflecting

Once your Timeline is complete, write a blog entry on your website describing and reflecting on your project and linking to or embedding your timeline. In your discussion, reflect on the hardest parts of this assignment, the most interesting things you discovered, your research process, or anything else you think is relevant or could be interesting to someone who finds your work.

Share the link to this blog post by Midnight on Saturday, June 1.

Making the Web a Better Place

For this project, work with a team of peers to investigate a dubious claim that you might find in social media, and document its accuracity on the Digital Polarization Initiative website. Using a collaborative Google Document template and the methodologies from the Web Literacy textbook, research to produce a comprehensive article that makes a definitive case for the accuracy or inaccuracy of the claim you're investigating.

Step 1: Choose a Claim to Invesigate

You will be sorted into groups in Slack (I'll invite you to your group's channel), where your first goal will be to decide on a claim that you want to investigate together. There are some good options listed under the "Open Claims" page on, where they're sorted into categories, or you can take a look at the much longer list here. I recommend choosing claims that you've actually seen in the real world or that you're not sure about. If it seems too ridiculous from the outset, it may not be very interesting to research.

Send me your group's top three choices by Midnight on Tuesday, June 4, and I'll let you know which one to work on.

Step 2: Investigate the Claim

Next, use the methodologies described in the Web Literacy textbook and the examples and demonstrations on to learn more about your claim.

Discuss the claim with your group to determine the most appropriate answer to your claim's question. That is, your article's title will be in the form of a question -- "Does Shaq believe the Earth is flat?" -- so your truth status is the clear answer to that question: NO.

Step 3: Document your Findings

Make sure you review the rules for contributing to Digipo and the explanation for the sections of a Digipo article, and start editing your article. This will be Google doc that I send you an invitation to edit.

  • Assign the truth status you've decided on, with a short paragraph summarizing that choice
  • Complete the "Origin and Prevalance" section with an explanation of where this claim originated and how it proliferated. If possible, include examples of this claim being used "in the wild" of social media.
  • Complete the "Issues and Analysis" section with a more detailed discussion of the claim and its implications. If the claim is false, for example, you might discuss motivations for spreading this false information.
  • Add a Timeline for how this claim originated and how it has been repeated.

Step 4: Edit your Article for Clarity

Writing for an encyclopedic resource requires attention to style. Wikipedia, for example, has an extensive documentation of what good writing means for Wikipedia, including most notably the significance of maintaining a "Neutral Point of View.".

After your article has some content, edit it for clarity and neutrality of tone. Avoid using first-person qualifications, which undermine your authority and the impact of your argument (i.e. "In my opinion, this is true..."). Use links within the article text to provide context where its appropriate, and overall try and write with clear, direct, concise sentences. Multiple, shorter paragraphs are generally more effective than a single, long paragraph.

Mainly, don't be shy! Its common to hesitate editing others' work because you're afraid of "messing up" someone else's contributions, but if you see something that needs improvement, improve that thing! Unlike a Google Document, every change is tracked to each user in a very visible way, so make sure you add a note explaining each addition or subtraction you make. In the collaborative arena that is a wiki, your colleagues can always reverse one of your changes if they see something differently.

The article on North Carolina Voter Suppression is a good example of a well-written article with each section complete.

Step 4: Reflect on your Work

As usual, your final step will be to write a blog post in which you describe your work on this project. Discuss what you learned about web literacy and how you applied those skills to your investigation. Summarize what you and your colleagues found and highlight your own contributions. Use the evaluation rubric below as a guide to your reflection.

When you're done, share the link in Slack.

Please complete all of the work for this assignment by Midnight on Friday, June 7.


This assignment is a bit more complex than others, but it still falls into the "✓+ / ✓ / ✓- / X" designation as far as the grade I will assign. If all sections of your group's article are clear and complete by the deadline, you're in for a ✓. If your article is incomplete, or there's evidence that you haven't contributed to your group's project, you'll receive ✓- or 0.

As you reflect on the success and effectiveness of your work, use the following rubric to think about your article:

  • Choice of question: Did you choose a question about which there is currently misinformation or a lack of information? Your completed assignment should show that the question is either matter of some disagreement or an issue on which there is no significant disagreement, but about which there is significant misinformation on the web.
  • Quality of explanation: In answering the question do you write with clarity while still showing the level of nuance the subject requires?
  • Quality of Sourcing: Do you source your support for the answer through the appropriate use of hyperlinks? Are your sources reliable, and do they tap into relevant expertise in the field? For statistical questions do you note both the source of the statistics and any relevant information about how they were collected and by whom?
  • Breadth of sourcing: Do you use a variety of sources, old and new, to show the points of scholarly consensus and disagreement? For statistical questions, do you provide multiple sources if required and available? Style: Does your answer project authority through use of proper grammar, clear writing, and freedom from spelling errors? Where possible, do you make use of properly cited images, videos, and other media? Do you maintain a neutral, unemotional tone throughout?

Digital Methodology

In this project, you'll combine the content of a suggested task from a "Digital Methodology" from (please choose from "Networks", "Image Visualization", or "Text Analysis") with some skills in coding HTML to produce a webpage that shares the findings of your project's research in a web-based essay.

Learning Goals

  • Learn how to install, use, and compare software for the purpose of analyzing culture and cultural artifacts
  • Learn how to write HTML in order to create an effective web design

Choosing a Module

The characteristic that links all of the Digital Methodology modules is an emphasis on using software to investigate problems and answer questions. For example, scholars used software to prove with reasonable certainty that conspiracies about Shakespeare not actually writing his plays are probably not true.

In other cases, the answers won't be so forensic or straightforward. Instead, the output of software will simply look interesting.

Look at the examples in each of the three modules recommended for this assignment: "Networks", "Image Visualization" and "Text Analysis", and choose one of these modules' suggested tasks to work toward. It's OK to experiment with tools and tasks before you make a final decision.

Write it Up

Run your analysis or analyses, and draft a short essay (~300 words) in which you discuss the outcome of your analysis or any conclusions you can draw about the work or body of work you analyzed.

This essay should be written in an academic but accessible style that demonstrates proper use of the conventions of the English language (grammar and spelling).

Design it for the Web

Choose which media will help your essay make its point more clearly: images, video embeds, or links to datasets, and draw a thumbnail sketch for your webpage . I recommend using a pencil and paper, but some people like to work in PowerPoint or a Google Drawing. This thumbnail should be small, but it should display the relative locations of text, images, and anything else within the shape of your page.

This sketch will give you an idea of what you're working toward when you start coding your webpage.

Code it for the Web

Throughout the week, learn and practice some HTML code using Codecademy, W3Schools, or whatever method you like.

Eventually, you should have a webpage you've built from scratch (i.e., typed in the code by hand) that use HTML and CSS well to present your project's findings and analysis.

At a minimum, your page should include

  • A title
  • Several paragraphs of text including
    • A description of your process
    • Any conclusions you can draw from your process
  • Images and/or embedded media
  • Links to related resources
  • Citations and links to your sources

Share it on the Web

Using your File Manager or an FTP client, host your webpage somewhere on your website, share the URL with us in Slack, and write a blog post reflecting on and linking to your project. This is all due by Midnight Sunday, Friday, June 14.

Mediated Metacognitive Meditation

This is your final project for the semester and a final reflection on how you bring everything to a close this semester. It is perhaps true that I got carried away with the overly-alliterative title to this assignment, but the essence of it is, hopefully, quite simple: iterate one (or more) of your projects from earlier in this semester, and use your website to create and share a reflection on that process and that project.

In the Google Docs I've shared for each of you, I'll try to suggest a project or two that you might want to revisit for your final project. You might also think about the home page or front page of your website -- that is, whatever's on your primary domain (e.g., not -- as a final project. Ultimately, the domain is yours, not mine, so it would be appropriate for you to put something there that makes sense to you, something that conveys your ownership and expresses your identity, and something that works well for what it's trying to accomplish. If this is the direction you go in, I'm happy to offer advice about what your homepage can include.


Regardless of your approach, these are the required elements of this final project.

1. Iteration

There needs to be a significant expansion, revision, or re-working of something you've already done. You should be able to point to the new elements of this project or projects, list the changes and additions, and justify each of them in the context for your new ideas for this project.

2. Reflection

What I want to see here isn't anything specific. Don't think in terms of getting a better grade or working toward criteria that I've set. Instead, I want to see that you've thought through that project to let it be more what you want it to be. Set your own goals, and see if you can achieve them. Reflect on why you chose those goals, how you worked toward them, the challenges you faced, and the success (or failure -- and failure is OK!) of your final version.

3. Sharing

Finally, share the content of your iteration and reflection somehow on your websites. You have many options here, so you should use the methods and media that make the most sense to you, but I want to see evidence that you've put some work into the craft of the medium you use to express that content of your reflection. You've made some videos for modules, for example, but instead of a vanilla screencast or talking to a camera, consider using iMovie to add some production style. Or instead of a blog post with words, how about 10 GIFs? Or maybe design another webpage with some HTML and CSS? Many options exist.

Whatever you choose to do, this should be complete no later than Midnight, Sunday, June 23. And unlike previous assignments' due dates, this one is very firm because that's when I have to finalize your grade for the class.