Syllabus, Spring 2012

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Please Note: the course syllabus is subject to change depending on the way in which the class unfolds. This class is not premised upon coverage, but rather focused on creative application and interaction with a series of ideas from a wide-range of disciplines.

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Digital Storytelling Syllabus

Course: Computer Science 106: Digital Storytelling

Instructor(s): Jim Groom and Alan Levine

Location: The Internet

Term: Spring 2011

Email, Office Hours, and Location


Office: The Internet (probably easiest reached on twitter @jimgroom or @cogdog ---though we can also be found in duPont 310 on UMW's campus)

Office Hours: Regularly

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. 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

  • To develop skills in using technology as a tool for networking, sharing, narrating, and creative self-expression
  • To frame a digital identity wherein you you become both a practitioner in and interrogator of various new modes of networking
  • To critically examine the digital landscape of communication technologies as emergent narrative forms and genres

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: This class does not take place in a computer lab (if it is in a classroom at all). If this class meets in a physical classroom, I STRONGLY recommend bringing a laptop computer with you to class to participate in class 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.

Department of Computer Science Grading Scale

If applicable, here is the grading scale:

A 92-100% | A- 89- 91% | B+ 87-88% | B 82-86%| B- 79-81% | C+ 77-78%

C 72-76% | C- 69-71% | D+ 67-69% | D 60-66% | F 0-59%

Grading Breakdown

Participation (15% 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). We 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 primarily through regular, thoughtful commentary on the work of your peers in their blogs comments.

Keep in mind comments are distributed, and while we have certain mechanisms for tracking comments it is imperfect, so we will be expecting you to track your feedback on your classmates work and share it with us in the assessment conferences we have throughout the semester.

The Daily Create (15% of Grade)

Regular, creative exercises are at the heart of ds106, and to this end over the course of the semester we will be expecting every student to complete at least three Daily Create assignments each week (unless otherwise specified). These assignments ask students to spend no more than 10-15 minutes experimenting with either photography, video, audio, or text based on a pre-defined assignment that will be posted each and every day. In order to get full credit for this assignment you will need complete it the day the assignment was posted as well as properly tagged to get credit.

Digital Storytelling Assignments (30% of Grade)

Throughout the semester, we 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 a detailed commentary on your blog describing your process, as well as any difficulties you encountered. In other words, you will be expected to not only complete an assignment, but also share with everyone how you did it. What's more, if you have difficulty with an assignment we will always expect you to attempt it, but you can use your blog to share insight into what you found challenging and how you negotiated the requirements.

Generally speaking, as long as we see a commitment to completing an assignment creatively and sharing your process thoroughly, 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 document your process (and have not explained to me why you did not meet them), you can expect to receive partial credit.

Also, keep in mind each assignment in the ds106 assignment repository has two tags. You are required to use both tags from each assignment correctly to receive credit. It is your responsibility to double check the spelling of the tags and ensure they are correct for each and every assignment you create.

You are expected to review the course site regularly and to complete all assignments on-time.

Creating Assignments (10%)

Over the course of the semester we would like each of you to create at least four assignments. Each assignment you create must be for a different section of the course (i.e., visual, design, audio, web storytelling, video, mashup, and fanfiction)---feel free to create more than, but that is your minimum. You will need to create at least 2 by the midterm and 2 more before the class ends. The assignments should be relatively short and creative, also for you to get credit you must do the assignment you propose as well as document your own process for creating it. You will submit the assignments you create [here].

Remember, each assignment has to be tagged correctly to receive credit---and those tags will be created immediately after you submit the assignment. Don't forget to tag your example of the assignment you submit.

Creating Tutorials (10% of Final Grade)

In addition to creating at least four assignments, you will be required to create at least four tutorials for either assignments you submit or pre-existing assignments in the repository. These tutorials can be blog posts with specific instructions or screenshots, screencasts walking an audience through the process, or some other approach to helping through the

Like assignments, tutorials have tags that need to be added to the post on your blog in order for it to be associated with the proper assignment. You need to check the tutorial tag for the assignment you are writing the documentation for. You will need to correctly use the tutorial tags to get full credit.

Use the tag ds106tutorials so that we can aggregate the tutorial into one page.

Final Project (20% of Final Grade)

A digital story of your making. During Week Seven of the class (or thereabouts), you will submit a topic for your storytelling concept project. The topic may be anything you choose, but if we believe it is not sufficient or appropriate for a final project, we will advise you of this immediately. You may tell the story using any of the tools or techniques we discuss in the class; the only requirement is that you share it publicly on your blog and it be something you are interested in and can sustain for 6 weeks.

We will talk about this project in more detail during weeks five and six of the class.


Several times during the semester, we will set up a meeting to discuss your progress in the class. We will be scheduling these appointments during the semester, and the meetings generally should not take longer than 10 minutes. These conferences are a valuable opportunity for you to receive one-on-one feedback about your work. These appointments are required.


You will be expected to attend class (if applicable) on a regular basis, enough said. If, for some reason, you need to miss class we expect that you will contact us prior to class to let us know as much.


We 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 Us

We can be contacted many ways, but e-mail and/or twitter is probably easiest Jim Groom: or @jimgroom / Alan Levine or @cogdog. Our correspondence will be much more productive if you follow a few simple guidelines:

  • First, consider whether you really need to e-mail us. If you're experiencing a technical problem, make every effort to solve it first on your own (though 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 we know who you are, what section you're in, and the exact assignment about which you have a question.
  • Please send a followup. If our explanation helped, or if the technical suggestion worked, please send a note. This way, we 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 (@jimgroom or @cogdog), and we 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.

The Honor Code

Students are expected to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the letter and spirit of the Honor Constitution. A violation of the Honor Code is a very serious matter.

Online Accessibility

The University of Mary Washington is committed to ensuring that all students have the same opportunities to successfully participate and learn in online courses as they do in traditional, face-to-face courses.

To this end, we will make every effort to make sure the media we create in this online courses should be developed and presented in ways that are universally accessible

  • Images should be optimized and include descriptive “alt” tags
  • Written transcripts of audio files and video files should be made available.
  • Whenever possible, alternative formats of materials should be made available to students who require them (e.g. optional print packet of extensive online reading materials, CD of audio clips)
  • Web sites and Web-based tools should adhere to accessiblitiy “best practices”
  • Mechanisms should be available for including “alt” texts when images are uploaded or used.
  • Text should be legible and re-sizable
  • Use of color should add interest and indicate interface choices, but should not disadvantage those with color blindness.
  • When approached by a student with an unanticipated access concern, online faculty should make every attempt to address the concern by adjusting requirements, providing extensions, or making additional accommodations.

Disability Service Statement

The Office of Disability Services has been designated by the University as the primary office to guide, counsel, and assist students with disabilities. If you receive services through the Office of Disability Services and require accommodations for this class, make an appointment with me as soon as possible to discuss your needs. I will hold any information you share with me in strictest confidence unless you give me permission to do otherwise.

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 ( is available as well, but it is subject to change based on the progress of the course.

  • Week One: Introduction and A Domain of Ones Own
  • Week Two: Gardner Campbell's a Personal Cyberinfrastructure
  • Week Three: Web 2.0 and Storytelling
  • Week Four: Introduction Telling Stories Through Images and Design
  • Week Five: Images & Design
  • Week Six: Images & Design; Introduction to Telling Stories with Audio and Sound
    • First Conference
  • Week Seven: Audio and Sound
  • Week Eight (SPRING BREAK)
  • Week Nine: Audio and Sound; Introduction to Telling Stories on the Web
  • Week Ten: Web
  • Week Eleven: Introduction to Telling Stories with Video
    • Second Conference
  • Week Twelve: Video
  • Week Thirteen: Video; Introduction to Playing Inside the Story (Fan Fiction)
  • Week Fourteen: Fan Fiction
  • Week Fifteen: Fan Fiction; Class Wrap-Up
  • Final Exam (4.28): Presentation of Final Projects
    • Final Conferences

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