The Internet (CPSC 104) – Syllabus

A course on the internet about the internet. 

General course information

Course title: The Internet
Course number: CPSC 104
Semester: Summer 2017
Meeting time: antyime
Meeting location: the internet
Instructor: Kris Shaffer, Ph.D.
Office: HCC 410
Office hours: by appointment
Course website:
Online discussion forum: Slack

Contacting the instructor

The best way to get in touch with me during the course is via Slack. If you want to chat or ask a question that would be valuable to everyone in the course, use one of our class channels. If it's private, send me a private message. If you're having trouble with Slack, or need to use email for some other reason, you can email me at

Getting started

Please see the getting started page for information about the first assignment, required materials and apps, and getting oriented to the class environment.

Overview & course description

The future of digital culture — yours, mine, and ours — depends on how well we learn to use the media that have infiltrated, amplified, distracted, enriched, and complicated our lives. ... [T]he ways people use new media in the first years of an emerging communication regime can influence the way those media end up being used and misused for decades to come.
-Howard Rheingold, Net Smart, p. 1

How does the internet work? How has it changed since its inception? How has the web changed the way we conduct our business? entertain ourselves? communicate with loved ones? engage in politics? try to influence others? What about our society is different ― and what is the same ― now that the internet has achieved the level of dominance it has in our culture? What new "literacies" are required for those of us who use the internet regularly to do so critically and productively?

These are just a few of the questions we will engage in this course as we explore the architecture of the internet and its impact on society, with a view towards developing mindful, critical practices for our own life on the web.

Official course description: A survey of the technology and issues underlying the use of the Internet for communication, resource discovery, research, and dissemination of information in multimedia formats. Topics include an introduction to Internet protocols, Internet history and development, electronic mail, use and functions of a Web browser, accessing Internet services and resources, using the Internet for research, Website design and implementation, and social, legal, and ethical issues related to using the Internet.

Course objectives

  • Gain an understanding of the fundamental architectures on which the internet is built.
  • Explore the social, legal, and ethical implications of living and working on the internet.
  • Produce a collection of carefully curated materials and original critical reflections, aimed at helping a public audience think critically about their own use of the internet.

Required materials

Books. Please purchase the following books, available from the UMW bookstore, among many other places (print or ebooks, purchase or rent are fine):

  • Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, by Howard Rheingold
  • Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age, by Cory Doctorow
  • Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, by Zeynep Tufekci (feel free to purchase or download the open-access, PDF version)

A computer. Make sure you have a computer you can access whenever needed, not a borrowed one. This is essential for an online course, especially a 5-week intensive one. Over the course of the semester, you will probably need to download and install some free and/or open source software to complete various media assignments, so make sure you have the necessary access/permissions to do this.

A (free) account for the class's Slack channel. Slack is powerful tool of growing ubiquity. Many companies, teams, and courses are using Slack not only for communication, but for file sharing, managing of collaborative social media accounts, even posting to blogs. We'll be using it for discussion and semi-private sharing of resources.

A personal domain. This is a course about the internet, so of course we all need our own websites! As a UMW student, you can create and use your own website on your own domain and hosting account, paid for by the university as long as you are a student. We'll be walking through the setup process for this in Week 1. (If you already have a domain, you are encouraged to do this class's work in a subdomain.)


Calendar*, by Dafne Cholet

This is a fast-paced, accelerated, 5-week course. In order to ensure that everyone stays on track to finish on time, and to keep us all tracking more-or-less together through the material (enabling more nuanced community discussions and opportunities for collaboration), we must adhere to a schedule. 

Assignments will generally be due twice per week (usually big assignments on Thursday,  responses to each other's work and weekly self-assessments on Friday) at 8am EDT. Details can be found on the Schedule page

However, if at any point you find yourself falling behind and need a little extra time for an assignment, or if you experience a temporary personal or work situation that interferes with class, please let me know and we can work something out. The deadlines are in place for your benefit more than for mine. But if life throws you a curve ball, and you just need an extra day or two to catch up, I'll likely oblige as long as you get in touch with me at the earliest reasonable opportunity.

Credit and assessment

This course is about growing in your ability to think critically about digital technology and engage it deliberately. That will look different for each person, and to the extent that it can be measured (it can't), it does not involve reproducing existing knowledge or jumping through well-worn academic hoops. The most important and interesting aspects of learning are things that are difficult to assess fairly and reductively (i.e., with a single letter). As a result, heavy emphasis on grades tends to undermine alternative perspectives and stifle creativity — the exact opposite of what a liberal education should do.

Blow Your Mind, by Camilo Rueda López

And yet, I still have to assign final grades. So in light of the individualized nature of our work, we will use self-assessment to determine final grades.

Each week, each student will write a self-evaluation of their work for the week and submit to Canvas. (Canvas is required for all graded submissions, to comply with university policies about identification and authentication. We will only use it for this purpose.) This should be a paragraph-long reflection answering the following questions (along with anything else you find appropriate):

  • What did you do this week? (Reference all assigned work, attendance, and class activities, as well as anything else you think relevant to the course.)
  • What did you learn this week?
  • What difficulties/challenges did you conquer?
  • Who helped you?
  • Whom did you help?
  • What are you looking forward to in the coming week(s)?
  • What can I as an instructor do to better support you and your work?

Be sure to provide links to any digital assignments completed.

Then provide yourself with an appropriate letter grade (A, B, C, D, or F ― no plus or minus) for the week. Be sure that the details in your paragraph support that letter grade, in light of the work assigned for the week and any specific parameters/requirements provided in the assignment or discussed in class.

These letter grades are proposals. If you defend them appropriately, I will approve them. If I disagree with them, I'll leave a comment and give you two weekdays to respond either with a different grade, or with additional details. If your response is satisfactory, that will be your grade. Otherwise, we'll keep discussing until we can come to a consensus.

The final grade will be determined by those five weekly grades and your final project grade (which will count as one weekly grade), as follows:

  • To receive an A for the course, you need a median weekly grade of A and no weekly grades lower than a B.
  • To receive a B for the course, you need a median weekly grade of B and no more than 1 weekly grade lower than a C.
  • To receive a C for the course, you need a median weekly grade of C and no more than 1 weekly grade lower than a D.
  • To receive a D for the course, you need a median weekly grade of D.
  • Anything else receives an F for the course.

If the median puts you exactly between two letter grades, your final grade will be the minus version of the higher letter grade. For example, if your median grade is exactly between A and B, you will get an A- for the course.

Assignments and types

Most weeks will include the following assignment types:

Reading, by Mark Probst

Weekly reading. Each week we will read from our required textbooks and/or freely available online sources. We will respond to the readings on our domains, and/or in our Slack channel.

Weekly writing. Each student will build their own public research notebook on their own domain (see more details below). These writings will be based around one or two topics per week, chosen by you from a set list of topics, and in response to the assigned readings and other resources you can find online. You may also propose other activities to me in advance, as long as they fit the general aims of the course as well as your interests. Each week, we will also nominate the best work from individuals for inclusion in a collaborative site (a kind of online textbook, loosely defined). This constitutes the writing intensive aspect of the course.

Weekly activities. Each week, each student will do one or two activities, chosen by you from a set list of activities. You may also propose other activities to me in advance, as long as they fit the general aims of the course as well as your interests.

Community discussion. We will provide each other feedback, discuss the readings and activities, nominate each other's best work for inclusion in our collaborative site, etc., in our private Slack channel. Some participation will be required, but everyone is encouraged to go far beyond the requirement, as there are many opportunities for "serendipitous learning" there.

Weekly self-evaluations. Each week, each student will submit a self-evaluation of their work in Canvas. See Credit and assessment above for details.

Final project. There will be no final exam. The course will end with a final project, consisting mainly of final revisions/additions to your public research notebook and a final self-evaluation.

Domains project

This is a writing-intensive course on the internet, and so our writing will take place on the internet. Each student will create a site on UMW's Domain of One's Own platform, and use that site as a sort of public research notebook. Throughout the course, we'll be adding pages to those domains, with the goal of each student having a single, coherent site that introduces readers to technical, social, and ethical issues about the internet.

I will also be managing a collaborative site, where we will collect materials from the class as a whole into a single, hopefully comprehensive site. Each week, you will have the opportunity to nominate each other's work that you think will fit well into the site we're building. The goal is to create a resource that could serve as a kind of "textbook" to introduce people who use the web regularly to some of the deeper, critical issues that are emerging around web-based tools and apps in recent years. Hopefully both your individual domains, and the site we build as a class, are things that we will be confident, event excited, to share beyond the class to help people engage the web critically.


Being a course about the internet, we will do a lot of work on the internet. However, the internet is not always a safe place in which to work out budding ideas, and online trolling and abuse have become especially prolific in the last three years. So while we will engage the public with our work, we will also spend time working in private (or, rather, with the class as our "public"), getting feedback on our work, and exploring the implications of working in public before we do a significant amount of public work. Not all work in this class needs to be posted publicly, though you are certainly welcome to do so. But on the other hand, not all work will remain private either, as working in public purposively and critically is an important part of the course. 

At the very least, your work on your domains will be public. Other work may be posted in public, or may simply be shared with the class via Slack. All public work may be posted anonymously or pseudonymously. All private work posted in Slack will be named.

If you have any concerns about privacy or safety online, please talk to me, and I'll gladly help you through it.

About this syllabus

This syllabus is a summary of course objectives and content and a reminder of some relevant university policies, not a contract. All information in this syllabus (except for the "General course description") is subject to change, with sufficient advanced notice provided by the instructor.

In the spirit of collaboration at the center of this course, much of this syllabus is up for (re-)negotiation by the class, if approved by general consensus of the students and the instructor.