Digital literacy syllabus

I have found great value in viewing other syllabuses, including those generously shared by MIT, e.g. User interface design and interaction, and UC Berkeley, e.g. Geoff Nunberg’s History of Information.

I have also benefited from related resources like Geoff Caulfield’s book on web literacy, Edward Gallagher’s Culture of conversation, and backward design for syllabus development which help generate ideas and structure planning.

Therefore, I would like to share my own syllabus and how it more specifically relates to the design of the site I incompetently hacked.

Previous related articles: digital course workflow and workload and a retrospective of the online semester. This page addresses: Site ethos

The online, digital course had its own site.
As documented here, the course adopts some of the approaches of Freirean critical pedagogy so it would not be fitting for the course to use the software that is being critiqued.
Disclaimer: while I am personally a proponent of free software, I do not expect my students to be. There is a place in the world for all kinds of approaches. After all, Dewey, whose work heavily informs my pedagogical approach, wrote that difference in opinion is merely a problem of not finding the right perspective from which to view both sides.
Solution comes only by getting away from the meaning of terms that is already fixed upon and coming to see the conditions from another point of view, and hence in a fresh light. But this reconstruction means travail of thought.―John Dewey, The Child and the Curriculum, p.4.
Thus, apart from subtle comments as to my own bias, students are merely given experience in this course of using a platform that is not sucking up all their data. Further, no university affiliation or even emails appear on the site, making it less obvious to find (though I know some of my readers have; for this reason, later this year I will migrate off this blog to the one that I wanted to feel ready to grow into, and so divorce my email from this story).
Posts on the student site are filed according to group names or pseudonyms, assisting with anonymity.
All course information is either on the site or linked to from the site, which can be subscribed to via rss feed.
The homepage contains links to the About page with the type of course information found here as well as Site how-tos, Writing resources, and an Issues and announcements page with FAQs and that type of thing, supplemented on a needs-basis.

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Course Objectives

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Course design

Participatory project/problem-based learning
Currently, I am interested in syllabus design that includes project/problem-based learning modules with sections to be completed as a group and sections for individual work. This semester, individual work was only required in the final assignment.
I also experimented with participatory syllabus design, which I integrated with the periodic reflective writing assignments integral to my courses in the past few years. This meant proposing a skeleton syllabus (number and types of assignments) and suggested themes and inviting conversation in the site comments (which had an expiry period) and on the forum (ditto) for students to have a hand in, though not complete control of, the syllabus.
This turned out to be unpopular – and the same old problem of a handful of students inventing their own final assignment persisted. But this type of change can become normalized over time: students need to know (through word of mouth) what to expect from a course.
I’d like to note that while all students began claiming they were well-versed in computer skills, some students demonstrated a level of illiteracy that was surprising. To cite just one example: some students did not know the purpose of a landing page. However, I know this is because some students are so lazy they were probably given a link to a certain page by a friend and thought everything was on one page, even though of course site navigation was reviewed briefly at the beginning and always available with Site-How To screenshots and explanations throughout the semester – albeit, visible on the homepage…
Assignments were all written this semester: the “project” experience being creating site content. I did not have time to cover concepts like governance this semester.
Writing had to have a compelling and relevant title and excerpt/blurb and be assigned to relevant categories. There were originally eight but I added two more as there was an apparent need for new ones like interpretations and interrelations; popular ones were assaying and reflections.
Types of assignments: creating collaborative mind maps of key words from a video interview; using media literacy approaches (five were explained with examples in a video lecture) to analyze a meme; using Caulfield’s book to check for the accuracy of internet content; relating forum rules to the way students’ own content feed is written; choosing an interesting and challenging question to answer (taken from Neil Postman, e.g. What rights and restrictions are given and imposed by digital culture?)…
Students got to contribute to the final question – which was as popular as it was unpopular.
Note: the intercultural networked learning segment is in the second semester this year.
Thoughts (based on student reflective assessment):
A certain type of intelligent student hates this type of course: they prefer to have no choice in the matter and to be told what to do like a computer. When teaching in person, this is easy to deal with as such students are usually vocal about their discontent and I can set them an individual, narrow assignment. My view is that real life includes a variety of situations so my job is to try to bring out the best in all my students in such a way that they can also see their strong points and hopefully be inspired to see, reflect, and work on areas for improvement. Only so much can be achieved in any shorter period of time.
The course needs to be further streamlined. I am still including too much and periodically overstep the boundary between giving students enough to choose from for their own fun exploration and overwhelming them. Part of the problem here is in pioneering a course in a new context, and requiring a few action research cycles for streamlining.
I know it is still unfashionable to be so transparent, but I take Socrates as my mentor and think that he teaches more in some of the dialogues where he is shown to not have the last word than when he does. I do not subscribe to teaching as good/bad, but better/worse – and this is how I try to teach my classes. I have never been a fan of people who try to block the path to improvement by chastizing people for not knowing something: all people should be encouraged to find motivation to improve and sometimes what appears to be a lazy student is a student who hasn’t discovered what motivates them. There are moments when patience and insight to nurture this approach is hard to come by, but it is my genreal approach and what keeps me accountable.
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Course material:

Week 1: Virtual community, 21st C skills

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Week 2: Context/content

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Week 3: Privacy/agency

Additional resources (optional reading): Privacy-themed resource materials Back to top of page

Week 4: Social dilemma

This week, there are only Additional Resources (optional reading) to give you time to do site housecleaning or to add to it if you want to. Back to top of page

Week 5: Our virtual community garden

Thank you to those students who came to this week’s video conference. Resources mentioned during the conference:

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Week 6: Social networks: communication, collapse

Optional reading: Note: the reading is optional this week because some of you may want to take the time to look into Caulfield’s book for further insight into how to do your assignment. Back to top of page

Week 7: Social networks: bias & media literacy

Reading material:
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Week 8: Participatory action research

Thank you to those students who attended this week’s video conference.
A book connecting the outcome of today’s conference with the first lesson we had this semester is Carol Sanford’s No more feedback.
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Week 9: Relations & making (cultural) sense

Three prompts are presented below (the results of your most favorite topics revealed a tie, to which I added a third to help with revision). You can pick one or set your own question as agreed during our last video conference.
  1. The risks of and ingenuity in social media.
  2. The (privacy) threat of data mining vs. users as a (collective, political, ..) force.
  3. Revision prompt (taken from the forum)
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Thoughts on preparing weekly videos
The courses I teach last 90 minutes. I have learned that it is not effective to lecture for more than 35 minutes, even when asking questions and interacting with students (asking periodic questions, etc). And while I kept most videos to 25 minutes, the most effective length was…15 minutes. This still surprises me. But of course it takes longer to prepare more concise slides… Also, where slides used in-person can be more text-heavy, students responded better to fewer words on slides and more images. As I’ve written before, org-reveal was invaluable because through a simple line of code an image can be dimmed into the background for effective, minimal foreground text. I saw no point in filming my face as I spoke.
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Thoughts on using a forum
Forum guidelines
As stated in an earlier post, I modeled my forum after Edward Gallagher’s “Culture of conversation”. The article at that link leads to articles (some needing help from the wayback machine) that contain suggestions for forum guidelines and the like. I used his to begin with and they were an excellent starting point. I would merely distill them in the future as they were rather long – but again, so nicely conceived.
Word limit
While at the beginning some posts went over the suggested word limit, they were thoughtful and insightful. Towards the end of the semester, some students paid no heed to word economy.
Forum moderation
I did not intervene with the later devolution in word count because I noted that students did not respond well to my presence on the forum. There were no trolling-type behaviours in need of moderation.
Forum purpose
This semester, it was used as a place for students to talk about the ideas they were reaing about. This proved invaluable because no matter what I say or what I assign as reading, insight is most valuable when it comes from students themselves. There was one such particularly memorable moment: when a student wrote about how he, for the first time, read the ToS for software he was using and was shocked by what he found.
If I use a forum in the future (it is a lot of extra work to keep track of it), I would likely relegate it solely to student use, encouraging them to ‘teach each other’ the topics we are going over.
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Final notes
I welcome any input any input and invitations to write about this more seriously for journal publication.

If you are interested in reading more of this kind of thing, may I direct you to my paper on technoscientific literacies.

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