Syllabus, Fall 2011 – Digital Storytelling

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Fall 2011 Digital Storytelling Syllabus

York College/CUNY - Communications Technology 101

Instructor: Michael Branson Smith

Location: York College Academic Core Building, 4M03 & The Internet (Hybrid Course)

Term: Fall 2011

Email, Office Hours, and Location


Office: Academic Core 4G01 but consider contacting via Twitter @mbransons which is best

Office Hours: M 12-2PM, or by appointment

Phone: 718-262-2853

Course Description

The Wikipedia articles on Digital Storytelling defines it rather succinctly as "using digital tools so that ordinary people can tell their own real-life stories." It then goes on to elaborate as follows:

Digital Storytelling is an emerging term, one 
that arises from a grassroots movement that
uses new digital tools to help ordinary people 
tell their own ‘true stories’ in a compelling and 
emotionally engaging form. These stories usually
take the form of a relatively short story (less
than 8 minutes) and can involve interactivity.
The term can also be a broader journalistic
reference to the variety of emergent new forms
of digital narratives (web-based stories, 
interactive stories, hypertexts, fan art/fiction,
and narrative computer games).
As an emerging area of creative work, the
definition of digital storytelling is still 
the subject of much debate.

There are a number of ideas and assumptions here that we will be interrogating over the course of this semester, namely the idea of "ordinary people," "true stories," and the debate around the meaning of this term. The above article is rather vague about the details surrounding this emerging genre of narrative, and it is our responsibility to interrogate the term digital storytelling within the cultural context of our moment. This means each of you will be experimenting with our own digital platform for storytelling, as well as placing yourself within a larger narrative of networked conversation on the internet at large.

This course will require you to both design and build an online identity and narrate your process throughout the fifteen week semester (ok thirteen weeks as we lost out to a hurricane and labor day). Given this, you will be expected to openly frame this process and interact with one another throughout that course as well as engage and interact with the world beyond as a necessary part of such a development.

In many ways this course will be part storytelling workshop, part technology training and, most importantly, critical interrogation of the digital landscape all around us that is ever increasingly defining the the way we communicate with one another.

Course Objectives

  • Develop a deeper sense of why we create and value stories and how nascent communication technologies are affecting ideas of narrative.
  • Develop an online identity that you will use to narrate your process as a creative practitioner and network with a community of peers to support your growth.
  • Explore a variety of digital technologies for the explicit purpose of employing them to create various narrative forms.

Course Materials

  • The internet: There is no textbook for this class, however individual readings will be assigned and will all be available online. Being successful in this class is very much dependent on a reliable, fast internet connection.
  • A computer: Though class meets two hours each week in a computer lab, you will need regular access to a computer to work on synchronous/asynchronous web based activities and assignments.
  • A Web Hosting account: You will be expected to purchase a subscription to a commercial Web hosting service with a LAMP/cPanel Web environment. One option will be presented to you in class, but you may choose any hosting service you like, as long as it meets the basic LAMP/cPanel requirements.

Class Schedule

The following schedule lays out the basic structure of the class and the units and topics we’ll cover over the semester. A more detailed course calendar will soon be available as well, but it is subject to change based on the progress of the course.

Grading Breakdown

Participation (25% of Grade)

This class will in many ways be anchored around your ongoing, regular participation through the various technologies you will be experimenting with. If you are not present, you will compromise the success of the class (as well as YOUR success in it) . I expect active and engaged participation, which for the purposes of this class means responding thoughtfully and critically to your classmates work. This will be accomplished in several ways, but most of all through commentary of the work of your peers in their blogs.

Course Blogging (25% of Grade)

Everyone will be expected to regularly contribute their reflections on the course work and the projects to their personal blog. The course blog must host all of your digital storytelling assignments (see below).

Digital Storytelling Assignments (40% of Grade)

Throughout the semester, I will assign a number of digital storytelling projects using a variety of tools, techniques, and technologies. You are expected to complete all of these assignments in a timely fashion and share them on your blog. Your grade on these will reflect both your success at completing these assignments as well as any commentary (on your blog) about difficulties you encountered. In other words, if you have difficulty with an assignment I will always expect you to attempt it, but you can use your blog to share with me (and your classmates) insight into what you found challenging and how you negotiated the requirements. Generally speaking, as long as I see a commitment to completing an assignment creatively, you can expect to do well on it. If you don’t complete an assignment, you will receive a zero. If you complete an assignment, but you have failed to meet the requirements (and have not explained to me why you did not meet them), you can expect to receive partial credit.

You are expected to review the course site regularly and to complete all assignments on-time. Late assignments will receive half-credit.

Final Exam (10%)

Depending on the interest of the class, a project to be completed in the final two weeks of class will be completed.


You will be expected to attend class (if applicable) on a regular basis, enough said. If, for some reason, you need to miss class I expect that you will contact me prior to class to let me know as much. In the event your attendance begin to represent a problem with your participation I will contact you directly.


I encourage you to use Twitter for this class. If you already have an account, you may use it. Otherwise, creating an account is easy! Simply tweet class-relevant content with the hashtag #ds106. These tweets will be harvested and displayed on the course website. In addition, Twitter can and should be integrated with your class blog. For example, when you complete a new entry, post a link on your twitter account.

Contacting Me

I can be contacted many ways, but e-mail and/or twitter is probably easiest: or @mbransons respectively. Our correspondence will be much more productive if you follow a few simple guidelines:

  • First, consider whether you really need to e-mail me. If you're experiencing a technical problem, make every effort to solve it first on your own (through a google search, a call for help blog post, etc.). If you do need to ask for technical help, your message should indicate that you've already tried available means to solve the problem, including specific steps you've already taken.
  • Don't forget to identify yourself. If you have a question about an assignment, please make sure I know who you are, what section you're in, and the exact assignment about which you have a question.
  • Please send a followup. If my explanation helped, or if the technical suggestion worked, please send a note. This way, I know whether or not to make the same suggestion to someone else when they come to me with a similar problem.

Twitter is also a very useful medium for quick questions (@mbransons), and I am happy to correspond there as well---though in shorter bursts.


Students are expected to treat the instructor and fellow students with the appropriate degree of respect, both in class (if applicable) and in online discussions. Communication, either in person or through electronic media, that is deemed abusive, threatening, or harassing in nature will not be tolerated.

Academic Integrity

York College's Academic Integrity Policy & Procedures, developed to conform to the CUNY policy on Academic Integrity, can be found at:

INC grades

The following overview of the INC grade is condensed from York's grading policy website:

The student must be passing the course, and have work remaining to complete the course requirements. The student must request an INC grade. The instructor must approve whether the student has a valid reason for not completing course requirements and has reasonable expectation that the student can in fact successfully complete the requirements of the course within the allotted time.

Policy on accommodations for disabled students

Information about the services provided to students at York College can be found at the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities, located in room AC-1002, and on-line at:

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