50:209:101 Introduction to Digital Studies (Spring 2023)


Image Credit: Image generated by DALL-E

The goal of the course is to help students develop critical vocabularies for analyzing digital objects and also to provide students with a space to tinker with those objects. The class examines contemporary issues surrounding digital media and some of the historical roots of those issues. We will address how our everyday encounters with computational tools sometimes obscure important dimensions of those tools, how these systems create and exacerbate inequalities, and how our understandings of digital media are too often shaped by a white, Western, and/or masculine perspective. In addition to discussing and analyzing digital media, the course features lab sessions that will involve working directly with digital artifacts. In these lab sessions, our goal is not mastery but instead exploration.

No technological expertise is required, and students will be encouraged to experiment with a variety of ideas and technologies.

Syllabus

Professor: Jim Brown
Meeting times: Monday and Wednesday, 9:35am-10:55am
Meeting Place: Digital Commons, Room 102 (WWCAUD)

Prof. Brown's Office: Digital Commons, Room 104
Prof. Brown' Office Hours: Monday 11:00-12:30, or by appointment
Prof. Brown's Email: jim[dot]brown[at]rutgers[dot]edu

Course Website: http://courses.jamesjbrownjr.net/101_spring23

Learning Outcomes
Upon completion of this class, students will be able to:

  • demonstrate familiarity with the histories and cultures that influence and shape digital technologies
  • apply a critical vocabulary for analyzing digital technologies
  • analyze, summarize, and compare academic arguments about digital media and culture
  • experiment with the affordances and constraints of digital tools

Required Texts

  • You must buy a physical copy of this text and bring it to class each day. You cannot purchase an electronic version of this book. Having a physical copy is important for class discussions:
    Your Computer is on Fire, eds. Mar Hicks, Benjamin Peters, Thomas S. Mullaney, Kavita Philip
  • You are also required to have a notebook devoted to this class, and you must bring it to class every day. This book will be used for reading notes, lecture notes, and lab sessions. It will be available to you during quizzes and exams.

Any other readers will be distributed by my during our class sessions. If we have an assigned reading, you are expected to bring a physical copy of that reading to class.

Attendance
Attendance in this class is crucial, and it is worth 10% of your grade, which makes each day's attendance is worth .36 points. That seems small, but those points add up. If you arrive more than 5 minutes late for class, you will receive half-credit for that day's attendance. If you arrive more than 10 minutes late, you will be marked absent.

Course Work and Grades
Grades will be determined based on the following course work:

  • Attendance (10%)
  • Reading Quizzes and Class activities (10%)
  • Lab Reports (15%)
  • R-CADE Report (5%)
  • Midterm Exam (30%)
  • Final Exam (30%)

Grades will be assigned on the following scale:

A 90-100
B+ 88-89
B 80-87
C+ 78-79
C 70-77
D 60-69
F 59 and below

Content Warnings
If we will be reading and discussing material that addresses sensitive topics, I will do my best to let you know in advance. If there are certain specific topics you would like me to provide warnings about, please let me know. I will do my best to flag content based on your requests.

Technology Policy
We will use digital technology frequently in this class. Although I am assuming that you have some basic knowledge of computers, such as how to use a keyboard and mouse, and how to use the Web and check e-mail, most things will be explained in class. If you don’t understand what we are doing, please ask for help.

Canvas, Course Website, and Email
You should check your email daily, and you should regularly check our Canvs page. Class announcements and assignments may be distributed through email. The course website and our Canvas site will also have important information about assignments and policies. Pay close attention to the course calendar as we move through the semester. I reserve the right to move things around if necessary.

University policies and resources

Academic Integrity
My assumption is that any work you turn in for this course has been completed by you. If you ever have questions about proper attribution or citation, please don't hesitate to ask.

Code of Conduct
Rutgers University-Camden seeks a community that is free from violence, threats, and intimidation; that is respectful of the rights, opportunities, and welfare of students, faculty, staff, and guests of the University; and that does not threaten the physical or mental health or safety of members of the University community and includes classroom space. As a student at the University, you are expected adhere to Student Code of Conduct: https://deanofstudents.camden.rutgers.edu/student-conduct

RaptorCares
Rutgers-Camden has a wide range of resources to help you stay on track both personally and academically. The Raptor Cares Report (https://deanofstudents.camden.rutgers.edu/reporting) connects you to our Dean of Students Office and they can assist you with a variety of concerns: medical, financial, mental health, or any life issue that impacts your academic performance. You can share a concern for yourself, a classmate or a friend.

Office of Disability Services
The Office of Disability Services (ODS) provides students with confidential accommodation services in order to allow students with documented physical, mental, and learning disabilities to successfully complete their course of study at Rutgers University – Camden. ODS provides for the confidential documentation and verification of student accommodations, and communicates with faculty regarding disabilities and accommodations. The ODS provides accommodation services, which can include readers, interpreters, alternate text, special equipment, and note takers. The ODS also works with students, faculty, staff and administrators to enforce the American with Disabilities Act of 1990. https://learn.camden.rutgers.edu/disability-services

Office of Military and Veterans Affairs
The Office of Military and Veterans Affairs can assist our military and veteran students with benefits, deployment issues and much more. Contact: Fred Davis 856-225-2791 frdavis@camden.rutgers.edu

Support for Undocumented and Immigrant Students
In an ongoing effort to support all students on campus, Rutgers University has established two offices to support undocumented and immigrant students with questions or concerns related to immigration status. The Rutgers Immigrant Community Assistance Project (RICAP) provides free and confidential immigration legal consultations and direct representation to currently enrolled students. For more information or an appointment, contact Jason Hernandez, Esq., at 856-225-2302 or jason.c.hernandez@rutgers.edu. The Rutgers Office of Undocumented Student Services provides one-on-one case management to assist undocumented students and help them access campus resources including financial aid, career services, health services, etc.

Schedule

UNIT 1: WHEN DID THE FIRE START?

1/18
In Class: Syllabus review, course introduction

1/23
Read: Hicks - "When did the fire start?" (11-26)
In Class: Lecture and reading discussion

1/25
Read: Weizenbaum, Introduction of Computer Power and Human Reason
In Class: ELIZA lab session

1/26
ELIZA lab report due

UNIT 2: IT'S NOT WHAT YOU THINK
1/30
Read: "Platforms are Infrastructures on Fire" (313-326)
In Class: Lecture and reading discussion

2/1
Read: "Platforms are Infrastructures on Fire" (326-336)
In Class: Lecture and reading discussion

2/6
Read: "Source Code Isn't" (273-286)
In Class: Lecture and reading discussion

2/8
Read: "Source Code Isn't" (286-295)
In Class: Lecture and reading discussion

2/15
Read: "Your AI is a Human" (51-67)
In Class: Lecture and reading discussion

2/20
In Class: All students should come to class with a book, article, game, show, film, or some other object that is related to our class discussions. Students should be prepared to share what they've brought and help lead a discussion about it.

2/22
Read: "Your Robot isn't Neutral" (199-212)
In Class: Lecture and reading discussion

2/27
Read: "You can't make games about much" (231-236)
In Class: Lecture and reading discussion

2/28
Read: "You can't make games about much" (236-249)
In Class: Lecture and reading discussion

3/1
Read: A.I. Is Mastering Language. Should We Trust What It Says?, Steven Johnson
In Class: GPT-3 Lab Session

3/2
GPT-3 lab report due

3/6
MIDTERM REVIEW SESSION
Read: Your notes
In Class: Review session

3/8
MIDTERM EXAM


3/13-3/15
NO CLASS - SPRING BREAK

UNIT 3: DIGITAL INEQUALITIES
3/20
Read: "The Internet will be Decolonized" (91-101)
In Class: Lecture and reading discussion

3/22
Read: "The Internet will be Decolonized" (101-115)
In Class: Lecture and reading discussion

3/27
Read: "Broken is Word" (213-230)
In Class: Lecture and reading discussion

3/29
In Class: All students should come to class with a book, article, game, show, film, or some other object that is related to our class discussions. Students should be prepared to share what they've brought and help lead a discussion about it.

4/3
Read: "Siri Disciplines" (179-197)
In Class: Lecture and reading discussion

4/5
Read: "Gender is a Corporate Tool" (159-170)
In Class: Lecture and reading discussion

4/10
Read: "Gender is a Corporate Tool" (170-178)
In Class: Lecture and reading discussion

4/12
Read: "Sexism is a feature, not a bug" (135-147)
In Class: Lecture and reading discussion

4/17
Read: "Sexism is a feature, not a bug" (147-158)
In Class: Lecture and reading discussion

UNIT 4: HANDS-ON DIGITAL STUDIES
4/19
Guest Speaker Brandee Easter (York University, Toronto)

4/20 Extra Credit Opportunity
Guest Lecture during free period

4/21
R-CADE Symposium
All students are required to attend one panel during the R-CADE symposium

4/24
No Class Meeting
R-CADE Report Due by 5:00pm

4/26
Circuit-Bending lab session

4/27
Circuit-Bending Lab report due

5/1
Read: Your notes
In Class: Final exam review and prep

5/10
FINAL EXAM 8:00am-11:00am

Assignments and Exams

Attendance (10%)

Attendance in this class is crucial, and it is worth 10% of your grade, which makes each day's attendance is worth .36 points. That seems small, but those points add up. If you arrive more than 5 minutes late for class, you will receive half-credit for that day's attendance. If you arrive more than 10 minutes late, you will be marked absent.

Reading Quizzes and In-class activities (10%)

On certain days, we will have unannounced reading quizzes. We will also have some in-class activities. These quizzes and activities will happen 10 times during the semester, and each of them is worth a point (making all quizzes and activities worth 10% of your grade in total). You can use your notes (but not your book) during quizzes and activities.

Lab Reports (15%)

During the semester, you will complete three lab reports. Each report is worth five points, making lab reports worth 15% of your final grade.

During these lab sessions, you will investigate some digital object or tool. Primarily, these sessions will be self directed. I will be able to answer questions, but your main task during labs is to explore and tinker. This will mean successes and failures - some confusion is inevitable. That's part of the assignment!

Each person will submit their own lab report, and these will be submitted on Canvas.

Reports will have three sections:

Part A: Initial questions (no word limit)
List the initial questions you have about the tool or object we are analyzing. You will write these down during the first 10 or 15 minutes of our lab session. The questions should be as specific as possible. In this section, we want to set up an agenda for your group's lab session. What are you most interested in? What do you want to learn?

Part B: Lab Narrative (250 words maximum)
Provide a description of your interaction with the object. What did you try? What worked? What didn't work? Why? What strategies did you use to investigate this tool or object? How did your group collaborate?

Part C: Conclusions (250 words maximum)
Describe a potential project that would either use or examine this object/tool. You might describe a project that would use this tool/object in some way to answer a research question. Alternately, you might describe a project that would attempt to analyze or examine this tool or object--this would involve conducting some kind of critical analysis of the tool or object. Your proposed project could take a number of forms. Here's a list of possibilities, but this list is not exhaustive: a historical analysis, a "remix" of this tool or object that changes its functionality, an analysis of its design, a proposed redesign of this technology, a research paper about the creator(s) of this tool or object, etc. No matter what, you should take this section to describe the potential project you have in mind. Remember that you don't have to actually complete the project. You only need to describe it, but you should be as specific as possible. In these 250 words, you should begin to describe what the proposed project is, how you would approach such a project, and what you think it might accomplish.


Each lab report is worth four points. Here are the grade criteria I will use when evaluating lab reports. If your report falls in between these descriptions, your grade will reflect that. For instance, if you fall between the description of a "4" and a "2-3" you could receive a grade of 3.5

4
The lab report offers a detailed and extensive list of initial questions that go beyond surface level concerns, demonstrating that the student is thinking carefully about how to best explore and understand the tool or object. The lab narrative provides a detailed account of the group's activities, describing the collaborative and exploratory strategies used by the group. The conclusions section demonstrates careful thinking about a potential project and shows an understanding of what the tool or object can do and what it can't do. This lab report is carefully written, free of grammatical errors, and observes the word limits described above.

2-3
The lab report offers a partial list of questions that is moderately detailed. There is some evidence that the student has considered the best ways to explore this tool or object. The lab narrative offers a general, rather than specific, description of the group's activities. The conclusions section begins to describe a potential project, though that project is not fully articulated and may not demonstrate an understanding of the how the object works, what it can do, and what it can't do. The report may have benefited from more revision to attend to the clarity of writing, has grammatical errors, and/or may not observe the word limits.

0-1
The lab report offers few questions and the questions it does offer are too general. There is little or no evidence that the student has carefully considered what they want to learn about the tool or object. The lab narrative is incomplete or too general and does not fully account for the group's activities. The conclusions section does not offer enough detail and does not demonstrate an understanding of the tool/object's affordances and constraints. The report may have significant issues with clarity and grammatical errors, which prevent the reader from understanding the content of the report. The lab report does not observe word limits.

R-CADE Report (5%)

In April, you will attend the Rutgers-Camden Archive of Digital Ephemera (R-CADE) Symposium, and you will be asked to write a report based on one panel or presentation at that symposium. This report is worth 5% of your final grade. The report is due April 24 by 5:00pm

Your report will have two sections.

Part A: Summary of the Panel (250 words)
In this section, you will summarize what happened at the panel. You should be as detailed as possible, given the word limit. You should explain who presented, what they presented, and any other pertinent details about the panel. Your summary should make it clear that you were present and engaged throughout the entire panel, and you should take detailed notes.

Part B: Define and Explain at Term or Concept (500 words)
In this section, you will choose a term or concept discussed during the event and then define and explain that concept. This term or concept may be new to you, though this is not a requirement. Defining this concept may require you to do some external research, though you will need to keep the word limit in mind - 500 words is not very much space. This section should be carefully written and revised, so that you can take complete advantage of your limited space. Any sources should be cited, using MLA format (the bibliography does not count toward the word limit).


The R-CADE report is worth five (5) points. Here are the grade criteria I will use when evaluating these reports.

4-5 points
The report offers a detailed description of the panel that the student attended, demonstrating that the student was paying close attention during the presentations. The summary explains the topic of the panel, who presented, and provides details about the people who presented. Part B of the report offers a detailed description of a term or concept addressed during the panel and then explains the significance of that concept. There is evidence that the student conducted research on the topic after attending the panel. In addition, it meaningfully connects the content of the panel presentations to discussions we have had in class. The report is carefully written, free of grammatical errors, and observes the word limits described above.

2-3 points
The lab report offers a partial or incomplete description of the panel attended. There is some evidence that the student was engaged during the presentation, but the summary lacks some details. Part B of the report addresses a concept, but it does not necessarily reflect that the student has researched it, and the connections drawn between that concept and class are somewhat unclear. The report may have benefited from more revision to attend to the clarity of writing, has grammatical errors, and/or may not observe the word limits.

1 point
The report's summary of the panel is overly general and does not provide evidence that the student was attentive or engaged during presentations. There is little or no evidence that the student has researched a topic or concept addressed in the panel. Part B shows no evidence of research or of an attempt to connect the panel's content to things we have discussed in class. The report has significant issues with clarity and grammatical errors, which prevent the reader from understanding the content of the report. The lab report does not observe word limits.

Midterm Exam (30%)

The midterm exam will take place March 8 and will cover all material that we've read and discussed (readings, lectures, labs, and discussions) to that point in the course. During the exam, you are allowed to use your notebook.

Final Exam (30%)

The midterm exam will take place during our assigned final exam slot (May 10, 8:00am) and will cover all material that we've read and discussed (readings, lectures, labs, and discussions) from March 9 through the end of the course. During the exam, you are allowed to use your notebook.