Sign up for the class discussion forum, Slack. If you are registered at the beginning of the course, you will receive a notification email on or before the first day with information on signing up for Slack. If you did not receive one, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org), and I will make sure you get one. Be sure to use a username that helps us identify you. For example, mine is @kris (though @kris.shaffer would have also been fine). Please do not use something that we wouldn’t call you in person (like your UMW login or other cryptic code). This video (from an online course I taught in the past) will help you get familiar with Slack.
Personalize your Slack account with a picture. It's no fun conversing online with a bunch of plaid squares! It also adds some personality and relatable-ness to the fully online course environment.
Say hello. Drop a little message in the #introductions channel. Tell us something unique about yourself, upload a picture, share a GIF, whatever little thing could help us get to know you a little better. Then flip through each other's intros and leave a reply, or just an emoji response.
Domain of One's Own (required Week 1)
UMW provides every student with a free domain name and web hosting for their time at the university! This is a great resource and opportunity to start building your public digital identity or your professional brand, and to start experimenting with different kinds of digital media on a space that you control. We'll use these domains substantially in this course.
Spend some time researching options for your own domain name. What possible domains are you interested in and why? Are they available? (Check WHOIS or NameCheap!) Would they work for more than just this class? Could you use it for professional work after you graduate? for personal/family media? Solicit (and provide) feedback on each other's domain name ideas in the #activities channel on Slack before you make your final decision.
As you consider what domain name to pick, think about the following questions:
When you’ve settled on a domain name you like that is available, sign up for it at umw.domains. Then post your final choice in the #activities channel on Slack, along with why you made it.
This is a more advanced activity. It will count as two activities for assessment purposes, and depending on the approach you take, may require some experience coding (or the drive to learn at least the basics).
The goal of this activity is to learn about how online advertising works behind the scenes, particularly when it comes to the collection and mining of your personal data (usually without your knowing it). This will result in an analysis like one of the following:
To conduct one of these kinds of analyses, follow Bill Fitzgerald's instructions for using an intercepting proxy to intercept and analyze background web connections. Then visit several websites you spend time on regularly and collect and analyze the background web connections through which your personal data flows while on these sites. This can be a more manual analysis, like Bill's, or a more statistical, like mine (all the code you need can be downloaded here), or a novel approach that you come up with yourself. Create a page on your domain (called something like "adtech" or "data privacy"), and write up your results along with the implications of those results for life on the web. Post a link to your new page in the #activities channel on Slack.
Download your Twitter advertiser list, explore your Google advertiser profile, or find out what Facebook knows about you. Optionally, ask a friend or two to download theirs so you can compare notes. Is your data accurate? How did they find out that information about you? Would you be comfortable with them selling that data to other companies and/or cross-referencing it with your credit card, your purchasing history, your web browsing history, your political affiliation, your past places of residence, that data from your family and social network connections? (They do all of those things.) In most cases, companies give you discounts (or free services) in exchange for your data. What would it cost to keep your data private? Is it even possible? What data are you comfortable giving away? What data do you absolutely want to keep private?
Create a page on your domain (or add to an existing page on this topic, if one already exists) and write about what you learned. It can be informative, so your audience knows what you were able to find, or it can contain recommendations for better privacy, including information about the trade-offs involved. Post a link to your page in the #activities channel on Slack.
Crap detection/digital polarization
Signup for an account on the Digital Polarization Initiative website (feel free to use your real name or a pseudonym) and choose a recent news topic that you know something about and about which you would like to contribute. Then complete what you think to be a substantive contribution to digipo.io and share a link to the page you created/edited in the #activities channel on Slack.
After reading some of the resources for the Copyright, fair use, Creative Commons topic, find at least five media elements (images, videos, GIFs, audio clips, etc.) that are in the public domain or given a Creative Commons license to embed on your domain. Add them to your website, being sure to provide the appropriate attribution/link to the original in accordance with its license. Post a link to the page(s) on your site containing Creative Commons or public domain material in the #activities channel on Slack, with a brief note about how/why you attributed them the way you did.
Google yourself. Try it logged into Google, then logged out and in incognito/private mode. Also try DuckDuckGo. What are the differences? the consistencies?
Write a third person biography of yourself based on what you find ― including pictures! Then consider the following questions, in reference to what you found in your Google search. Post your biography, along with your thoughts about at least a couple of these questions, in the #activities channel on Slack.
Read the post on digital minimalism linked below. Then think about what you want to prioritize in your digital life, and what things you do regularly that stand in the way. Then delete something. It can be temporary (like deactivating your Twitter or Facebook account, to reinstate later, or changing published blog posts to drafts), or permanent. I recommend spending at least one week (though a month would be better, if too long for this course) without the thing you deleted. Then write about the difference that it made in the #activities channel on Slack (and optionally on your domain). Reflect on how it changed your online activity, your offline activity, your view of other people, or whether you spent enough time to even know the impact.
After reading about mindfulness in Net Smart (and possibly some of the suggested resources under "Attention economy" on the topics page), make a written log of your media consumption for at least two entire days. Every time you check social media, write a blog post, watch TV or Netflix or Hulu, read a book, or even text a friend, write it down ― preferably by hand. Do you notice any patterns? Which things did you do more often (or for longer amounts of time) than you expected? Less often? Write about your experience in the #activities channel on Slack (and optionally on your domain). In your writing, reflect on the patterns you noticed, and try to offer suggestions to others about how (digital) media preys on our attention and how we can regain control.
Don't post anything to social media for at least two days. Instead write it down; in the case of photos, print them out and put them in your notebook with the text (don't worry about videos in your notebook). After your time off, take stock of what you produced in your notebook: What do you still want to post and share? What could you easily throw away? What would you like to keep in a diary or journal, but not share publicly? Also, consider any psychological impact of this shift in social media activity. Were there things you wanted to post, but simply decided not to write down? Did the act of writing it down change the nature of your "posts"? Finally, consider what this activity revealed to you about your social media habits. How much of it is deliberate, and how much second-nature? Does it make you want to change anything about how you use social media in the future?
Write up about a paragraph of your reflections on this activity and post in the #activities channel on Slack.
Perform Google image searches for the following terms: teacher, professor, doctor, nurse, baby, teenager, criminal. What is striking about the results? Are you surprised? How are those results "chosen"? Are they meaningful at all? If we wanted to alter the results, what would it take?
Then choose other terms that you think might show the same kinds of patterns in their search results, and search for them. Were your predictions correct? Why (or why not)? (Tufekci discusses some of the reasons for these striking results in her chapter on algorithms.)
Finally, post in the #activities channel on Slack what you found to be most striking about this activity. Be sure to include the alternate terms you searched, what you found, and why you think these results might be happening. As you reflect on why, build off of the answers that others have already provided. Do you agree? disagree? Can you add more detail or nuance to their ideas?
Twitter archive analysis
Download your Twitter archive (or other social media platform that allows you to download your content in a single archive). Dig through it and see what you find. Who did you tweet to/about most often? What words or topics came up the most? How has your usage changed over time? (volume, topic, conversations, etc.) You can do this manually by simply opening the archive in Excel or a text editor, or you can use one of the resources below to do a statistical analysis of your tweets' content.
Write about what you discovered in the #activities channel on Slack (or optionally on your domain ― perhaps under the Social Media topic). What you discovered about yourself, about the platform, or about social media in general.
Signup for an account on Wikipedia (feel free to use your real name or a pseudonym) and choose an underrepresented topic on Wikipedia (or a few possibilities) that you know something about and about which you would like to contribute. Then, complete what you think to be a round of substantive edits on one or more Wikipedia articles. Post a link to the page you edited in the #activities channel on Slack.