Communication in the Digital Age

COMM 1255 SEC01 Office hours Content
TU/FR 9:50 - 11:30 am
Snell Library Classrooms 115
Joseph Reagle, Ph.D., <j.reagle>
TU appointments starting at 15:30
Comm Studies, 215 Holmes Hall
Tip: Enter at 41A Leon St.


Course objectives

Digital communication is central to contemporary life and yet (or consequently) we take it for granted. This course will remedy this; at its successful completion you will be able to explain the technical basis, communicative effects, and commercial aspects to digital communication. For instance, you will learn about attention and multi-tasking, the shape and strengths of one’s relationships; you’ll learn about online ads, content, and privacy; and we’ll discuss gender and power in online communication. Furthermore, you will gain experience in digital communication competencies such as writing in a Web markup format, filtering email and managing ads and your own personal exposure online.

Successful completion of this course enables one to:

  1. recall, compare, and give examples of key issues and theories;
  2. ask complex questions and have a sense of how one might address those questions;
  3. exercise practical skills such as filtering email, writing markup, and assessing your digital footprint.
  4. compellingly write in both a short-form online venue and longer-form academic format;
  5. collaborate with one’s peers to improve academic performance.


Active learning and the Web

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” – Confucius

This is an active learning course meaning that you will be engaged with activities such as class and group discussion, participating in and designing class exercises, collaborative note-taking, and peer assessment. An implication of this is, for example, if you do not volunteer at least one good discussion contribution during a class, I might “cold call” you myself.

I also make much use of the Web. For instance, this syllabus is a Web page that will change, which you can bookmark, and I expect you to follow links. (If you find a broken one, let me know!) You can easily find things on this page with control-f. We will also make use of Google Docs.

This is a 4 credit course, which is a 12 hour per week workload. Subtracting ~4 hours for class time, that’s 4 hours per class to be spent in preparation or on assignments.

Academic policies

In short, come to class on time and with the readings and assignments completed; be respectful and willing to collaborate. There are no provisions for missed exams or late assignments.

We sometimes use devices in class as part of an activity, but the default policy is for gadgets to be silenced and put away. (Interestingly, as noted in my tips for note-taking, handwritten notes can lead to better learning.) If you want to use a device throughout classes, email me a proposal with your intended usage (e.g., device proposal). Note, device users might also be called upon you to perform tasks such as looking things up or taking collaborative notes. I can also rescind device privileges. Deviations from classroom professionalism and respect may result in dismissal from class and demerits against your grade. See full course policies for more detail.

In general, if you have an issue, such as needing an accommodation for a religious obligation or learning disability, speak with me before it affects your performance; afterward it is too late. Do not ask for favors; instead, offer proposals that show initiative and a willingness to work.

Academic Integrity: “The promotion of independent and original scholarship ensures that students derive the most from their educational experience and their pursuit of knowledge.” Violations include cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and participating in or encouraging dishonesty. I will and have reported violators to the Office of Student Conduct.


There are 1000 points at stake over the course of the term. This is converted to letter grades on the basis of these thresholds; they are not rounded.

Writing requirements

Written assignments (greater than 450 words) must be double-spaced, 12 point font, 1-inch margins. (One contains approximately 250 words.) Pages must be numbered and stapled together. Citations must be in the APA style.

No APA cover page is required. In fact, so as to avoid bias, I read assignments “blind” without knowing the author until the last page. Hence, your name (and final word count absent bibliography) should only appear on the back side of the final page. That is, I should only know your name by turning the assignment over and seeing the assignment appendix.

All assignments must be reviewed by two peers and assessed according to the writing rubric. Make use of Hacker’s Pocket Manual and my writing tips handout. If you fail to give a peer a draft in time for review; or if they fail to give you a review, document it on the assignment appendix.

On the due date, print copies must be submitted in class and the electronic version must be submitted to BlackBoard Turnitin. The Turnitin version need not include the assignment appendix.

If you have permission to revise a written assignment for re-assessment, please see these revision instructions.

Grading Rubric

The course rubric notes that “A” students have all of the following attributes.

  1. show mastery in assignments. Their work demonstrates impressive understanding of readings, discussions, themes and ideas. It is fluid, clear, analytical, well-organized and grammatically polished. Reasoning and logic are well-grounded and examples precise.
  2. have virtually perfect attendance. Their commitment to the class resembles that of the teacher.
  3. are prepared for class. They always read assignments and participate fully. Their attention to detail is such that they occasionally catch the teacher in a mistake.
  4. show interest in the class. They look up or dig out what they don’t understand. They often ask interesting questions or make thoughtful comments.
  5. have retentive minds. They are able to connect past learning with the present.
  6. have a winning attitude. They have the determination, initiative and self-discipline to succeed.


Many links are found through-out this syllabus (remember, control-f is your friend), but I’ve gathered some of the most important ones below. I also recommend Northeastern’s library resources, writing center, and international tutoring center.

Tip: temporarily place requirements and rubrics into your work (e.g., at the top of the response file template).


Most readings are linked to from this page, if not check Blackboard (“Course Materials/Course Documents”) or in this password protected zip file (ask me in class). However, you must acquire the following:

Like other skills, bibliography is something you learn to do well. Technology can make it easier. NU makes RefWorks and EndNote available to students; you can also use the freely available browser-based Zotero.

Note that for selections, I specify the chapter (chapter=) or pages (PP=) to read.


Sep 05 Fri - Savvy

  1. Subscribe to the class email list.
  2. Bring a mnemonic linking your name with something novel about yourself. For instance, I like science fiction: “Joseph the Jedi”.
  3. Come to class prepared to discuss Vaidhyanathan and the question of if and how your generation is digitally savvy.

Sep 09 Tue - Introduction

Response: Ask a synthesis or evaluation question from Bloom’s taxonomy about the reading. Then reflect on that question, perhaps by discussing how you would answer it. For instance, an example evaluation question would be: “how would you prioritize the skills Rheingold talks about in the digital age?”

Sep 12 Fri - Attention

Response: As part of your reflection conduct the “online intention” exercise from the Attention Probes.

Sep 16 Tue - How the Web works

Response: Identify something about digital communication that you would like to learn more about, or something from the reading you found confusing.

Sep 19 Fri - Markdown

REQUIRED: As your response, review the Markdown and wiki tutorial and create scribble page (using headings, links, images, and videos) prior to class related to the short reading. That is, write a “rich media” response and in addition to emailing me your markdown, send me the link to your page. Bring your computer if you’d like help with markdown in class.

Sep 23 Tue - Crap detection

REQUIRED: See the practical wiki assignment section above and integrate your thoughts about Rheingold’s chapter with the specific questions contained in the Web search and evaluation assignment. Use the power of the Web (links, embedded images, etc.) to show me your searches and results as appropriate.

Sep 26 Fri - Participation power

As your response, provide three good multiple choice questions and answers.

Sep 30 Tue - Filtering

REQUIRED: See the practical wiki assignment section above and integrate your thoughts on the readings below with screenshots from the Filter and label your email assignment into your wiki response.

Oct 03 Fri - Know how

(When’s there no prompt, summarize and engage.)

Oct 07 Tue - Social shape

Oct 10 Fri - Exam Review

In your response, respond to the course so far by crafting two multiple choice questions and two short/essay questions that could appear on the exam. One question must be about the reading below. For each question, provide an answer/explanation—or even a mnemonic. This would be your final entry in your response file for the first half of the class.

DUE:Turn in your reading response file, emailed to me, following template structure.

Oct 14 Tue - Exam

Oct 17 Fri - Privacy

REQUIRED: See the practical wiki assignment section above and integrate your thoughts on the readings below with screenshots from the Privacy footprint assignment into your wiki response.

Oct 21 Tue - Social ads

Due: Essay proposal

Oct 24 Fri - Manipulated

(Please bring Hacker’s Pocket Style Manual to class.)

Oct 28 Tue - Targeted ads

REQUIRED: See the practical wiki assignment section above and integrate your thoughts on the readings below with screenshots from the Adblocking assignment into your wiki response.

Oct 31 Fri - Dating

Nov 04 Tue - Breakup

Nov 07 Fri - Shaped

Nov 11 Tue, NO CLASS

Nov 14 Fri - Gender

How does gender figure into digital communication and contribution?

Nov 18 Tue - Haters

Why does digital communication give rise to such toxic behavior, including that of haters and that seen in “bully battles”?

Nov 21 Fri - Collapsed context

Nov 25 Tue - Bemused

Nov 28 Fri - NO CLASS

Dec 02 Tue - Pushback

DUE:Turn in your reading response file for the latter half of course only, emailed to me, following template structure.

DUE: Essay.

© 2014 Joseph Reagle. Please reuse and share! Creative Commons License