I teach a variety of undergraduate and graduate classes in social media and communication technologies. I get many requests for my syllabi and teaching materials, so I have made the most recent versions available here.
My general philosophy of undergraduate assignments is: don’t assign anything you don’t want to read. I am tired of reading response papers, compare-n-contrast, etc. and I like coming up with new assignments that use new technologies, require undergrads to use social media they might encounter in a job or internship, allow students with different skill sets to shine (e.g. a student who isn’t a great writer might be an awesome video creator or podcaster). Such assignments require a lot of scaffolding; they often require you to act as tech support; and sometimes they fail spectacularly, but they are memorable and (when they work) very effective.
Networked Societies (The Amazon Class, first-year undergraduate)
The “network” is the 21st century’s most popular metaphor, used to describe relationships, economies, the movement of people and goods around the globe, technological infrastructures, and politics. In this class, we will delve into the relationship between networked digital technologies (social media, video games, server farms, gig economy apps like Uber, etc.); networked logistics, finances, and labor; and the ways we think about ourselves, our communities, our careers, our possessions and our futures. Specifically, this semester we will be using amazon.com, the world’s biggest retailer (and most valuable US company), to examine the impact of digital and communication technologies on labor, supply chains, publishing, retail, urban planning, web hosting, infrastructures, and gaming, to name but a few. The goal of this seminar is to provide participants with a set of critical and theoretical tools to interpret the complexity of everyday life—from algorithms to big data to the internet of things. We will do a lot of reading, try out a variety of new networked technologies, and debate their ethical ramifications in class, culminating in a series of podcasts on technology and society. This class is a great fit for sci-fi nerds, Black Mirror fans, social media gurus, gamers, tech enthusiasts, or anyone who likes thinking deeply about the impacts of technology locally and globally.
- Syllabus Spring 2019 – Very proud of this syllabus! I tried to pitch it low because these were first-year students from all over North Carolina and they came into class with a range of readiness.
- Assignments (these are a doozy, I tried really hard to do unconventional assignments in this class and it.. kind of worked).
- Reverse Engineer a Recommendation Algorithm
- Amazon Reviews Assignment
- Kindle Direct Publishing Assignment – they had to self-publish a Kindle book about anything. This was a huge pain because you have to have a bank account/SSN to use KDP which I didn’t realize. I don’t think I would do this again.
- Podcast Assignment – work in teams of three to produce an episode of an 8-episode podcast about Amazon.
Feminism & Technology (graduate)
This class will examine feminist theories of technology and read a number of example studies that use feminist principles, methodologies, and praxis. While “technology” is writ large, the class will generally focus on media and digital technologies. We will take an intersectional approach to feminism, using gender not as a primary lens but as one alongside race, class, and sexuality (among others) to examine how technology researchers de-center hegemonic perspectives when investigating technology. To that end, we will read ethnographic and historical accounts of various technologies and discuss a variety of projects—some successful, others less so—that involve queer, postcolonial and feminist approaches to design and deployment. This class draws from feminist philosophy of technology, science and technology studies (STS), human-computer interaction (HCI), feminist technology studies (FTS), material culture studies, the social history of technology (SHOT), and internet studies, among others. I invite students to keep an open mind about the interdisciplinarity of the works we will discuss.
Note: This was my first graduate seminar and I would probably assign more books and fewer journal articles next time. I would add Wacjman’s Feminism Confronts Technology right after the Harding. I would assign the entire Harding. I have more Thoughts. If you’re teaching a similar class and want to hear them, email me.
Social Media (300 level undergraduate)
This class examines the relationship between society and the current crop of computer-mediated communication technologies known as “social media,” including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and more. These technologies are often regarded with fear or awe; the purpose of this class is to break down the mythologies of social media and develop methods of analysis and critical understanding. To do this, we will draw from a broad range of social theory including science and technology studies (STS), communication theory, linguistics, cultural studies, and media anthropology to critically evaluate the impact of social media on relationships, activism, branding, politics, news media, and identity. We will focus on the “sociotechnical,” the relationship between the technical affordances of a website/technology and the social norms of a user community, and how to use this to understand emerging technologies (and social media that doesn’t exist yet!). Students will also gain basic practical social media skills: understanding the landscape, learning “best practices,” and using different social media technologies throughout the class to create and propagate content.
Please note: I have pitched this class up and down depending on the composition. My first semester at UNC, the class had a lot of freshmen and sophomores, so the syllabus reflects that. My Fordham classes were primarily upper-classmen, so the syllabus reflects that too.
- Syllabus (Spring 2018) – Pitched to younger undergrads
- Syllabus (Spring 2016) – Pitched to juniors/seniors
- Essay about the syllabus for Ethnography Matters
- Breaching Experiments:
- Norm Breaching Experiment (Spring 18) – I assign this every semester and give extra-credit on the midterm for devising a “new” breaching experiment; then I add the very best ones to the breaching experiment for the next semester, which allows me to keep current with whatever tech the students are using.
- Christian Sandvig’s essay about the breaching experiment (he originated the assignment and I blatantly stole it)
- Buzzfeed Assignment (Spring 2018) – Write a Buzzfeed post and make it go viral. Student with the most views gets extra credit. Every semester I’ve done this, at least one student gets 100K views, which is very fun for them. The assignment is only OK overall; it needs a bit of work. (I’ve also struggled to pair it with a good reading.) Buzzfeed is very tricky to use and they provide no help with their interface, meaning you have to do some tech support.
- Eavesdropping Worksheet (Spring 2018) – Eavesdrop on conversations about social media. This is the most fun assignment to grade! I’m not sure if it exactly conveyed what I wanted it to, but it was a good experiment.
- Medium Post (Spring 2016): I challenged my students to write an essay on Medium, which I thought would be a good experience for them in terms of writing for a public. I required them to turn in a topic first and then write a rough draft for peer editing.
- How to Write the Medium Post (tips for students in picking and scoping a topic)
- The result: Digital Living: Spring 2016 Medium.com Publication by Social Media 3307 students at Fordham University
- I also did peer review on Medium, which worked pretty well. It is a surprisingly good medium (ha!) for small classes (30ish)
- Breaching Experiments:
The Selfie Class (undergraduate, modular, modifiable for all levels)
The Selfie Class is a collaborative project between 12 academics from around the world. It is a six-week class (including syllabus and teaching exercises) for university students studying selfies, rooted in critical theory, media studies, feminist theory, post-colonial theory and science & technology studies. The class is designed for teachers, students, or anyone on the internet wishing to think critically about the use of “selfies” in popular culture. Full Description
- Selfie Class website, six topical units including readings, assignments, exercises and writing prompts
- The unit I wrote with Crystal Abidin on micro-celebrity, selfies and consumer culture
- A paper written by a bunch of us who worked on the Selfie Course about the experience and our thoughts behind it [PDF] (with Kath Albury, Tama Leaver, Jill Walker Rettberg and Theresa Senft)
Digital Media & Cyberculture (200 level undergrad)
With the exponential global growth of the internet, all forms of digital media– apps, websites, social media, mobile telephony, video games– have increased and multiplied. This class looks at the cultures of this new digital landscape, using cultural theory, sociology, and ethnographic methods to examine and analyze popular internet culture, self-expression, relationships, social practices, and emerging technological forms. Students will learn the basics of digital ethnography, and be able to competently leverage cultural analysis to understand digital artifacts.
- What types of online culture exist, and what are some patterns or themes we see appearing and reappearing in discussions of digital culture?
- How do we study online culture? What is “ethnography,” and what does it look like online?
- What is the relationship between the digital and other forms of cultural expression?
The final assignment for this class was to create a YouTube video based on their ethnographic explorations in class- they could work as a team. It was really fun and the results were fantastic.