Communication in the Digital Age

2016SP COMM 1255 SEC01 Office hours Content
TU/FR 9:50 - 11:30 am
Ryder Hall 159
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. Communication in the Digital Age 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, for example, is 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 I update; I expect you to bookmark it and to follow links. (If you find a broken link, let me know!) You can easily find things on this page with control-f. You can open links in new tabs with control-click. We will also make use of Google Docs. I recommend you use something like Zim, FoldingText, or Evernote to “make information your own.” By the way, in emails I often use markdown conventions and respond below your quoted (‘>’) text.

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 page 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 appear only on the back side of the final page. That is, I should know only 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

Communication Studies courses are expected, on average, to have a GPA of no more than a 3.3 (B+); this means those receiving an A or A- are in the minority. 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 to my public wiki are found through-out this syllabus (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 12 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 15 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 19 Tue - Attention

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

Jan 22 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 26 Tue - 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 device if you’d like help with markdown in class.

Jan 29 Fri - 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 while engaging with the reading.

Feb 02 Tue - 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 05 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 09 Tue - Participation power

As your response to this chapter, provide three good multiple choice questions; provide your answers in a section below the questions. (No need to write a summary or any such thing.)

Feb 12 Fri - Know how

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

Feb 16 Tue - Gender

How does gender figure into digital communication, participation, and contribution?

REQUIRED: Turn in the SRL Deck assignment via email to the instructor 90 minutes before class. (You may also write a reading response.)

Feb 19 Fri - Social shape

Feb 23 Tue - 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. You may count this toward your reading responses.

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

Feb 26 Fri - Exam

Mar 01 Tue - Manipulated

In what ways are online reviews, ratings, rankings, and comments manipulated? What can you trust and how would you know?

Due: Essay proposal

Mar 04 Fri - Ads and social graph background

What are the main types of advertisements available online? This will inform our discussions of both algorithmic discrimination, online manipulation, and privacy.

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

Mar 08 Tue - NO CLASS

Mar 11 Fri - NO CLASS

Mar 15 Tue - Algorithmic discrimination

Guest: Christo Wilson

Do algorithms exhibit biases (intentional or otherwise) in online commerce?

Mar 18 Fri - Online ads and blockers

Knowing what we know about online advertising, should users be able to easily block ads? If so, who then pays for the free content and services we consume?

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 22 Tue - Dating

How has digital communication changed the dating landscape? Can we trust what we see? What sort of biases emerge in people’s messaging behaviors?

Mar 25 Fri - Breakup

On the flip-side of dating, how to people breakup in the digital age?

Mar 29 Tue - Privacy

How concerned should we be about our privacy online? Is there anything we can do to protect it?

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!)

Apr 01 Fri - Haters

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

Apr 05 Tue - Shaped

How does digital communication affect our ability to be mindful? How does it affect self-esteem; is it making us narcissistic?

Apr 08 Fri - Collapsed context

What does it mean to be authentic online? Is it possible anymore to have more than one persona online?

Bring your device for a class class activity.

Apr 12 Tue - Bemused

How can we make sense of the odd and embarrassing behavior we see online?

Apr 15 Fri - CLASS CANCELLED (Reagle at conference)

Apr 19 Tue - Pushback

Is it possible to opt-out of digital communication?

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

Due: Essay.

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