DGST 101: Introduction to Digital Studies

Summer 2019

Course Description

In this class, "digital studies" is a discipline that takes a broad approach to the ways digital technology has changed our lives. This includes exploring digital creativity, understanding digital culture, and practicing digital methodology. Completing this class will help you develop the ideas, ethos, and skills that will continue to grow in other courses, especially those in the Digital Studies Minor or the major in Communication and Digital Studies, and that you can apply in other areas of your life. While some of your assignments will involve working closely with computer software and code, no prior experience with programming is required or expected other than reliable internet access and a willingness to challenge yourself.

Learning Outcomes

By successfully completing this course, students will

  • 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.


  • A website of your own. These will be hosted UMW Domains, and you’ll receive instructions and assistance setting these up.
  • All assigned readings will be free and online These will be drawn from the bibliography, and assigned and shared via blog postings and Slack, generally at the beginning of each week.

Structure of the Class

This website will include general information about the class, and a daily/weekly blog with instructions for the day-to-day readings and tasks that support the learning goals and prepare you for the major assignments. Usually, these tasks will require you to share something on Slack or your personal website.

For each week this term, I'll post daily instructions Monday - Thursday, and then a weekly wrap up or summary on Friday.

Slack is also the place for general discussion and questions. This is an online class, but it's more than just a list of things to do. Instead, it's a series of challenges and experiences, some of which will involve communicating and working together with a group of peers.

All assignments -- Modules, Object Lesson, Digital Polarization, and Digital Methodology -- will all be turned in via Slack, or in some cases with Google Forms. Unless otherwise noted, assignments are due in the week assigned by Friday at midnight, Eastern Daylight Time.

We will try not to use Canvas this semester.


Modules (30% total)

In three rotations throughout this term, you'll spend time choosing and working on one of the modules listed at

Reflection and Participation Reports (20% total)

At the end of each week's activity, submit a brief account of what you worked on that week. This can be posted on your blog and shared in Slack, or you may submit it directly in Slack via a direct message. These reports should explain three things: What you did, What you learned, and What you contributed to the community of this class.

Object Lesson (10%)

We're surrounded by media devices, and every one of them can tell many stories, at least three: where it came from, where it lived, and where it goes after we’re done with it. Choose an electronic device that is now obsolete (the older the better) and tell one of those three stories.

Digital Polarization (10%)

The truth seems harder and harder to determine, but verifying accurate information is a crucial digital skill. In this assignment, we'll work together to contribute fact-checking to the Digital Polarization Initiative.

Digital Methodology (10%)

This assignment works in conjunction with the third Module rotation, where you're asked to choose a module that explores a question using digital tools. In a subsequent assignment, share the findings from that module in a hand-coded HTML web page.

Mediated Metacognitive Meditation (20%)

he purpose of this final assignment is to actively reflect on what you have learned this semester and also revisit and revise a piece or pieces you feel strongly about. These options include: refining your website, expanding one of your previous projects from the semester, or creating a digital deformance of your semester. Reflect on that choice and process in a written or recorded statement.



This course embraces a process-oriented approach to learning that includes a “favourable error climate”. In other words, embrace experimentation, both successful and unsuccessful. Your grades will not be an evaluation of the perceived perfection or inadequacy of whatever your produce, but instead on the way you express and reflect on the lessons your learned and skills you acquired through the process.

Therefore, all assignments in this class are evaluated on a minimalist grading rubric with three possible values:

X 0% The student did not complete the assignment.
✓- 70% Student completed the assignment, but was missing key components. Student can revise and resubmit for consideration for full credit.
85% Student completed the assignment in a way that meets all expectations.
✓+ 100% Student completes the assignment, in a way that meets all and exceeds some of expectations and criteria listed in the assignment description. Typically this means going "above and beyond" in some novel way beyond what the assignment specifies.

I'll provide these grades and additional feedback via Slack after you've submitted assignments there.

Grading Distribution

Module 1 10%
Module 2 10%
Module 3 10%
Object Lesson 10%
Digital Polarization Project 10%
Digital Methodology 10%
Mediated Metacognitive Meditation 20%
Reflection and Participation Reports 20%

Policies and Expectations

In general, the standard policies and expectations for my face to face classes will apply here. The special context of an online class does, however, warrant a more specific explanation of how things should go. We will, therefore, collaborate on a Code of Conduct statement for this class.

A Course Outline and Tentative Schedule

The following is a broad, tentative outline of the course content, with major tasks and topics listed for each week. More specific daily tasks and other information will be available in daily posts on the blog. In cases where there's a discrepancy between the two, information specified on the blog will take precedent.

Week 1 (May 20 - 24)

This week, complete the process of setting up your domain, and learn how to create content on your website. Complete the first module, creativity, and share the outcome of your process on your website and in Slack.

  • Say "Hello World" with your domain
  • Complete Module 1
Big Questions:
  • How does the web work?
  • What is a digital identity?
  • What does it mean to have a domain of your own?
  • What are some uniquely digital creative tools?
  • How can those tools be used to make something meaningful?

Week 2 (May 27 - 31)

The electronic devices we use every day have a lot to say about us, but they also have other stories as well. This week, we'll learn about the invisible labor that goes into our contemporary devices and the problematic afterlives of those digital artifacts once they are no longer useful.

  • Complete the Object Lesson Project

Big Questions

  • Where are most of our smartphones and their components manufactured? Why?
  • Why is it so hard, relatively speaking, to track down the specific, physical origin of our phones' components?
  • What can we do to minimize the environmental impact of the e-waste we produce?

Week 3 (June 3 - 7)


  • Complete Module 2
  • Contribute to the Making the Web a Better Place Project

Big Questions

  • What is the truth? Why is it so hard to agree?
  • What are the economics of "fake news," and what can we do to stop it?
  • How can we be responsible fact-checkers of our own social feeds?

Week 4 (June 10 - 14)

As we near the end of the term, our focus turns to the third of the big three concepts of Digital Studies: "Digital Methodology." This is the way in which digital tools let us discover, explore, and share things about ourselves and our world through uniquely digital means.


  • Complete Module 3
  • Share your Digital Methodology Project

Big Questions

  • What, if anything, do digital tools like text analysis reveal about the texts we subject to these heuristics?
  • How does a network analysis help make arguments?
  • What are the best ways to communicate the insights we gain from these tools?
  • What is HTML, and why is it so important to the web?

Week 5 (June 17 - 21)


  • Complete the Mediated Metacognitive Meditation