Communication in the Digital Age

COMM 1255 SEC01 Office hours Content
TU/FR 9:50 - 11:30 am
233 Richards Hall
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 of 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 race and gender in online communication.

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 digital competencies 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; 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. I recommend you use something like Zim or Evernote to “make information your own.”

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 device proposal with your intended usage. 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 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 to my public wiki (remember, control-f is your friend), but I’ve gathered some of the most important ones below. As I explain in this video about tracking assignment requirements, I have high expectations and send a lot of information your way, I recommend you use a tool, like zim wiki or Evernote, so as to “make the information your own.”

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 this password protected zip file (the password is my dog’s name in lowercase). 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 (ch=) or pages (pp=) to read.


Jan 13 Tue - Savvy

  1. Subscribe to the class email list (non-digest).
  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.

Jan 16 Fri - 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?”

Jan 20 Tue - Attention

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

Jan 23 Fri - 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. Don’t get too hung up on technical details (especially about cryptography), we’ll cover everything in class.

Jan 27 Tue - CANCELLED by snow

Jan 30 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.

Feb 03 Tue - Crap detection

REQUIRED: See the practical wiki assignment section above and answer the questions in the Web search and evaluation assignment. Use the power of the Web (headings, links, embedded images, etc.) to show me your searches and results as appropriate.

Feb 06 Fri - Learning

We will discuss the science of learning. Bring your computer and some concepts you’d like to remember to class. In class we will be installing and using software so you can complete the SRL Deck exercise. You may write a response.

Feb 10 Tue - Participation power

As your response, provide three good multiple choice questions; provide your answers in a section below the questions.

Feb 13 Fri - 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.

Feb 17 Tue - Know how

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

Feb 20 Fri - Social shape

Feb 24 Tue - Privacy

REQUIRED: See the practical wiki assignment section above and integrate your thoughts on the readings below with a few screenshots from the Privacy footprint assignment into your wiki response. (Don’t use screenshots that reveal your personal information such as name and phone number!)

Feb 27 Fri - Social ads

Due: Essay proposal

Mar 03 Tue - Manipulated

This would be your final entry in your response file for the first half of the class. (Please bring Hacker’s Pocket Style Manual to class.)

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

Mar 06 Fri - 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.

Mar 10 Tue - NO CLASS

Mar 13 Fri - NO CLASS

Mar 17 Tue - Algorithms

Guest: Christo Wilson

The first short reading summarizes work by Latanya Sweeney that concluded “black-identifying” names tend to be associated with ads for a background-checking service that implies criminality. The second article considers how people using different Web browsers might see different prices when shopping.

REQUIRED: Turn in the SRL Deck assignment via email to the instructor 90 minutes before class.

Mar 20 Fri - Exam Review

In your response, craft two multiple choice questions and two short/essay questions that could appear on the exam. For each question, provide an answer/explanation, or even a mnemonic, in a section below the questions.

Mar 24 Tue - Exam

Mar 27 Fri - Dating

Mar 31 Tue - Breakup

Apr 03 Fri - Shaped

Apr 07 Tue - Gender

How does gender figure into digital communication and contribution?

Apr 10 Fri - Haters

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

Apr 14 Tue - Collapsed context

Bring your device for a class activity.

Apr 17 Fri - Bemused

Apr 21 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