Digital Cultures and Social Media – Spring 2009

This is a draft syllabus of the graduate seminar (advanced PhD-level) on digital cultures and social media that I am teaching this semester (Spring 2009). The course is changing according to the needs of the students and the pace of our learning. Special thanks to (no particular order) Nancy Baym, Howard Rheingold, Judith Donath, Liz Losh, Trebor Scholz, Fred Stutzman, Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel for access to their syllabi, which are also available online. Also, apologies for the lame formatting. I’m still learning. Note: I’m posting this online in hopes that others teaching classes like this one will find it as useful. Consider it my contribution to the commons.

Please see this Creative Commons share-alike license explanation before appropriating, remixing, or citing this syllabus.

Course Title:    Advanced Studies in Rhetoric, Writing, Technology, and Culture
Special Topic:    Digital Cultures and Social Media
Syllabus: English 654 – Arizona State University
Instructor:    Assistant Professor Alice J. Robison
Section:    17430
Meets:    Tuesdays, 4:40-7:30pm, LL 160, Tempe Campus
Class Website:


How does meaning-making happen in and around the contexts of contemporary social media? In what ways are affinities for these media enabling us to think differently about what it means to read, write, and participate? While much has been made about both media consumption and production, we have yet to understand what it means to truly participate in the their situated contexts.

This course is a fair split between both thinking about and using social and digital media. Our in-class work will involve traditional discussion and analysis, but out-of-class work will require students gain fluency in the discourse of a virtual community of their choice—an activity that may or may not involve the use of specific tools for media production. What’s important is that students learn how to be apprenticed into a community of fans, producers, thinkers, and meaning-makers.

It should be noted that this class does not involve in-class tutorials. In other words, we will not be spending class time teaching each other how to produce and share materials. Instead, we will investigate what it means to be members of various media-making communities. Our goal is not just production but participation. In other words, it is not enough to know how to edit an entry on Wikipedia; we need to learn about and understand the Wikipedia community and what our edits mean within that context.

This semester we will trace the trajectory of digital cultures and social media over the course of the past 20+ years, focusing especially on intersections between several areas of thought, research, and production. These include: human-computer interaction, communication studies, media studies, literacy studies, rhetoric, sociology, business, learning sciences, and journalism. Most readings for the course are already published online, but a handful of them will need to be accessed through the university libraries.

Keywords: wiki; blog; Twitter; Flickr; file-sharing; Creative Commons; free culture; fans; participatory culture; SMS; tagging; virtual worlds; videogames; grassroots media; play; identity; networks; smart mobs; LOLcats; xkcd; 4chan; Facebook; MySpace;; memes; YouTube; RSS; collaborative learning.

Goals for Student Learning

  • A deep understanding of contemporary contexts for media use, production, and circulation.
  • A working knowledge of several digital and social media tools and applications.
  • To think in new ways about how information and culture are shared and organized.
  • Make meaningful assessments of their participation in virtual communities.
  • Understand that similar research questions are answered differently in different academic contexts.
  • Be exposed to a wide array of scholarship from across the university and beyond and to appreciate how knowledge-production works in other disciplines.
  • To learn how to ask for and receive help when acquiring new technological skills and cultural insights.
  • Complete a full-length seminar paper ready for publication.

This course will be taught as an advanced graduate seminar. Reading and writing will be heavy, and active participation—both online and off—is required.

In keeping with ASU attendance standards, students may miss one class with no penalty. A second class missed will result in a reduction of one letter grade. A third absence prevents the student from receiving a passing grade in the course.

There is an expectation that students will help develop and maintain an online community for our class. This will take place via our web space on the network. Regular blogging, sharing, and forum discussions are part of this course and will take place, at minimum, on a daily basis. Students without regular access to a computer or broadband network speeds are encouraged to use one of the many computing commons areas throughout campus in order to fully participate in our online class community.

Most readings are already published online. On the syllabus, online readings are marked with a ** symbol. Please see for links to many of the items in the required reading list. For readings not already published online, visit my file folder labeled “ENG654.” There is also a link in the “readings” tab on our class site. On the syllabus, downloadable readings are marked with a ^^ symbol. Note: these downloadable readings meet standards for copyright via Fair Use or a Creative Commons license. Some are personal copies shared by their authors.

Assignments & Assessments
Assignment details will be distributed within the first few weeks of class after we have established the character and pace of our group. In general, students can expect the following.

  • Personal learning blogs are required for every student and will be maintained by each student on her personal web space on our site (25%).
  • A semester-long virtual community assignment will commence with the fourth week of class (25%).
  • A formal research paper of 6000+ words is required and due on May 12th (40%).
  • During class meetings, students are expected to take active notes that can be collected on our website and shared. Contributing to this collective discourse will help us keep a record of our learning over time (10%). Please post notes in the Forums section of the website and not on your personal blog.

While the final paper will serve as the major determiner of your grade in the course, the virtual community assignment and learning blog will count for half your grade. You are encouraged to find a common thread among those three major projects so as to make your writing and thinking work (ahem) seamlessly. On the whole, students will be evaluated on the following criteria.

  • Meeting deadlines and expectations articulated by the instructor.
  • Consistent participation and engagement with the class community, both in-class and online.
  • Listening and responding fairly to ideas and questions posed by others.
  • Reflective and intellectual consideration of how the concepts of the course affect to their own research interests and fields of study.
  • Consideration of the implications and significance of the ideas produced by themselves and others.

Forums & Personal Learning Blogs
Forum threads will take place each week and can be started by any student in the class. However, there should be one featured thread each week that constitutes all discussion for that week’s assigned texts.
Then, while completing assigned reading, viewing, and browsing, students should post their thoughts in a personal learning blog to be housed on their individual pages. Taken together, learning blogs will constitute 25% of each student’s grade for the semester.

Personal learning blogs will no doubt take a variety of forms, but generally speaking, students should include the following somewhere in each post:

  • All unfamiliar and important words and terms and their definitions or explanations.
  • One or more sentences on the author’s thesis, argument, or point of view.
  • A list of important subtopics or implications of the ideas presented by the authors.

Students should use personal learning blogs to sort out ideas for themselves in more depth than they would in the class forums. Personal learning blogs are a space to use writing to think about reading and learning. Forums are a public venue for testing ideas, gaining comprehension, and generating discussion as a class. Ideally, students will use their learning blogs to draft potential ideas for final papers.


Week One (1/20/09) – Introduction to Participatory Media Literacies

Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Clinton, K., Weigel, M., & Robison, A. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Chicago, IL: The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Digital Media and Learning Initiative. Retrieved November 1, 2008 from

Howard Rheingold’s Participatory Media Literacy Wiki –

Jenkins, H. What Wikipedia Has to Teach Us About the New Media Literacies –

Weeks Two and Three (1/27/09 & 2/3/09) – Introduction to Digital Cultures: Memes and Cultural Production

Week Two – Attend James Paul Gee’s class on discourse analysis, Room 130 of Farmer Education Building, ASU-Tempe campus.

Week Three – Special guest: Dr. Joshua Green, Comparative Media Studies, MIT

^^Lankshear, C. and Knobel, M. (2006). Sampling ‘the new’ in new literacies. In C. Lankshear and M. Knobel (Eds.), A New literacies sampler (pp. 1-24). New York: Peter Lang.

^^Lankshear, C. and Knobel, M. (2006). Online memes, affinities, and cultural production in new media literacies. In C. Lankshear and M. Knobel (Eds.), A New literacies sampler (pp. 199-227). New York: Peter Lang.

^^Lessig, L. (2004). Preface and introduction. In Free culture: How big media uses technology and the law to lock down culture and control creativity (pp. xii-15). New York: Penguin Press.

**Lessig, L. (2006). Four puzzles from cyberspace. In Code: and other laws of cyberspace, version 2.0. (pp. 9-28). New York: Basic Books. Retrieved January 14, 2009 from

**Green, J.B. (2007, October 1). Oh hai! Cats, the internet, and tactical communities. Receiver 19. Retrieved January 14, 2009 from

**O’Reilly, T. (2005, September 30). What is Web 2.0: Design patterns and business models for the next generation of software. Retrieved January 14, 2009 from

**Wikipedia entries on internet memes and tragedy of the commons.

**Hardin, G. (1968). The Tragedy of the commons. Science 162(3859), pp. 1243-1248. Retrieved January 14, 2009 from

**Rosforth (2007). Good copy bad copy: A documentary about the current state of copyright and culture. Retrieved January 14, 2009 from

**Wesch, M. The Machine is us-ing us (final version).

**Lessig, L. (2007, March). How creativity is being strangled by the law. TED Talk

**Videonation. The Commons. On the web at

Week Four (2/10/09) – Introduction to Social Media

^^Donath, J. (2004). Sociable media. In W.S. Bainbridge (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of human-computer interaction. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing Group. Retreived January 14, 2009 from

**Kelly, K. (2005, January 1). Wired 13.08: We are the web. Wired News. Retrieved January 14, 2009 from

Common Craft (2008). Social media in plain English. Retrieved January 31, 2009 from

**Shirky, C. (2005). Ontology is overrated. Retrieved January 14, 2009 from

**Wikipedia entries on folksonomy, metadata, taxonomy, and social network.

Week Five (2/17/09) – Introduction to Virtual Communities

^^Duchenaut, N., Moore, R.J., Nickell, E. (2007). Virtual “Third Places”: A case study of sociability in massively multiplayer games. Computer Supported Cooperative Work 16, 129-166.

^^Simmel, G. (1949). The sociology of sociability. The American Journal of Sociology 55(3), 254-261.

^^Turner, F. (2005). Where the counterculture met the new economy: The WELL and origins of virtual community. Technology and Culture 46, 485-512.

**Rheingold, H. WELL party 1989: Early virtual community meetup: Part 1. Video retrieved online February 12, 2009 from

**Rheingold, H. WELL party 1989: Part 2. Video retrieved online February 12, 2009 from

**Whole Earth Catalog

^^Wellman, B. and Gulia, M. (1999). Netsurfers don’t ride alone: Virtual communities as communities. In P. Kollock and M. Smith (Eds.), Communities and Cyberspace. New York: Routledge. Retrieved January 14, 2009 from


**Zuckerman, E. (2006). The history of the internet in five minutes. Talk delivered at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Video retrieved February 1, 2009 from

**Scholz, T. (2009). How the social web came to be. Class lecture, Department of Media Study at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Screencast retrieved February 12, 2009 from

**Rheingold, H. (6 February 2009). Howard Rheingold’s public sphere in the internet age widget. Video retrieved February 12, 2009 from

**Benkler, Y., and Sunstein, C. (10 April 2008). Our world digitized: The good, the bad, the ugly. Panel discussion at the MIT Communications Forum. Video retrieved February 12, 2009 from

**Allen, C. (13 October 2004). Life with alacrity: Tracing the evolution of social software. Life With Alacrity. Retrieved February 10, 2009 from

**Rosen, J. (27 June 2006). PressThink: The people formerly known as the audience. Department of Journalism at New York University. Retrieved February 10, 2009 from

**Heuer, C. (19 September 2006). Social Media Club- The importance of social media. Social Media Club. Retrieved February 10, 2009 from

Week Six (2/24/09) – Fans and Participatory Literacies

^^Black, Rebecca W. (2006). Digital design: English language learners and reader reviews in online fiction. In C. Lankshear and M. Knobel (Eds.), A New literacies sampler (pp. 115-136). New York: Peter Lang.

^^Jenkins, H. (2006). Why Heather can write: Media literacy and the Harry Potter wars. In H. Jenkins, Convergence Culture (pp. 169-205). New York: NYU Press.

^^Brandt, D. (1990). Strong text: Opacity, autonomy, and anonymity. In Literacy as Involvment: The Acts of Writers, Readers, and Texts (pp. 13-32).


Baym, N.K. (2007). The new shape of online community: The example of Swedish independent music fandom. First Monday 12(8). Retrieved January 14, 2009 from

Week Seven (3/3/09) – The Potential of Online Networks

^^Castells, M. (2000). Toward a sociology of the network society. Contemporary Sociology (20)5, 693-699.

^^Granovetter, M. (1983). The strength of weak ties: A network theory revisited. Sociological Theory 1, 201-233.

^^Donath, J. (2007). Signals in social supernets. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1). Retrieved January 14, 2009 from

**boyd, d. m., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11. Retrieved January 14, 2009 from

Week Eight (3/10/09) – Spring Break. Students should prepare seminar paper proposals to share with the class.

Week Nine (3/17/09) – Recent Research: Youth Online

^^James, C. (with Davis, K., Flores, A., Francis, J.M., Pettingill, L., Rundle, M., & Gardner, H.) (2008). Young people, ethics, and the new digital media: A synthesis from the Good Play Project. (Good Work Project Report Series No. 54). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Graduate School of Education, Project Zero.

^^Ito, M., Horst, H., Bittanti, M., boyd, d., Herr-Stephenson, B., Lange, P.G., et al. (2008). Living and learning with new media: Summary of findings from the Digital Youth Project. Chicago, IL: The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Digital Media and Learning Initiative. Retreived December 10, 2008 from

^^Lenhart, A., & Madden, M. (2007, April 18). Teens, privacy, & online social networks. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved January 14, 2009 from

**Lehnert, A., Madden, M., Macgill, A.R., Smith, A. (2007, December 19). Teens and social media. Washington, D.C. : Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved January 14, 2009 from

Week Ten (3/24/09) – Digital Journalism, Civic Media, and Participatory Literacies

Guest: Dan Gillmor, Kauffman Professor of digital media entrepreneurship, Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, ASU. Professor Gillmor is also the Director of ASU’s new Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at the downtown campus. And, he serves as Director of the Center for Citizen Media, which is a joint project with Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

**Gillmor, D. (2008). Principles for a new media literacy. Retrieved January 31, 2009 from

**Rheingold, H. (2009). Participative pedagogy for a literacy of literacies. In Ito, J. (Ed.), Freesouls: captured and Released. Retrieved January 31, 2009 from

**Wesch, M. (2009). Participatory media literacy: Why it matters. Blog post retrieved January 31, 2009 from

**Rheingold, H. (2008). Video interview with Dan Gillmor: Mainstream media vs. bloggers meme and advice to young journalists. Retrieved online February 12, 2009 from

Week Eleven (3/31/09) – Identity in Social Networking Sites

^^boyd, danah. (2007)  “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life.”  MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Learning – Youth, Identity, and Digital Media Volume (ed. David Buckingham). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

**Ellison, N., Steinfield, C., and Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook “friends:” Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12 (4). Retrieved January 14, 2009 from

Week Twelve (4/7/09) – Reputation, Credibility, and Social Capital

**Donath, J. (2007). Signals in social supernets. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 12. Retrieved January 14, 2009 from

**Donath, J. (2007 January 11). Signals, truth, and design. Google Tech Talks. Retrieved January 14, 2009 from

^^Donath, J. and boyd, d. (2004). Public displays of connection. BT Technology Journal 22(4), 71-82.

**Resnick, P. (2002). Beyond bowling together: SocioTechnical capital. In J.M. Carroll (Ed.), HCI in the new millennium (pp. 242-272). New York: Addison-Wesley. Retrieved January 31, 2009 from

**Engeström, Y. (2001). Sizing up social capital. In Engeström, Y. (Ed.), Activity theory and social capital. Technical Reports 5, Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research, University of Helsinki. Retreived January 31, 2009 from

**Howard Rheingold’s delicious links, tagged with “social capital.” Available at

Week Thirteen (4/14/09) – Knowing, Being, and Learning

**Brown, J.S., Collins, A. and Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher 18(1), 32-42. Retrieved January 31, 2009 from

^^Gee, J.P. (2008). Video games and embodiment. Games and culture 3(3-4), 253-263.

^^Dourish, P. (date) Being-in-the-world: Embodied interaction. In Where the action is: Foundations of embodied interaction (pp. 99-125). Cambridge: MIT Press.

Week Fourteen (4/21/09) – Thinking About Design

^^Norman, D. The psychology of everyday interactions. In The design of everyday things (pp. 35-53).

Week Fifteen (4/28/09) – Student Presentations of Research

Week Sixteen (5/5/09) – Student Presentations of Research

21 responses to “Digital Cultures and Social Media – Spring 2009

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