New telecommunication media Syllabus
Comm 4291 Fall 2011
Prof. Gil Rodman  
rodman@umn.edu / 626.7721  
office hours (253 Ford):  
TuTh 10:00-11:15a, W 10:00-11:30a, and by appointment  

Course description

It has become something of a cliché to claim that our world has been "revolutionized" by "new" communication technologies such as the internet, laptop computers, TiVo, iPods, Blackberries, and the like. How true that cliché is, however, depends a great deal on which technologies one is talking about, where in the world one is trying to measure their impact, and precisely what counts as a "revolutionary" change. The actual relationship between technology and culture is rarely (if ever) as simple as such clichés make it out to be. Our task this semester will be to examine some -- though by no means all -- of the major social, cultural, and political issues raised by the growth and spread of digital media. While our readings will occasionally include brief technical discussions, this is not a course about the science of digital media (e.g., how does WiFi work? what are the acoustic limitations of satellite radio? etc.) and your ability to succeed will not depend on whether you can master the intricacies of software engineering, computer circuitry, or the like.

None of the questions we'll address this semester have easy or predictable answers. How well you do in this class will depend on (1) your ability to think critically about issues related to technology, media, culture, and politics, and (2) your ability to argue your position(s) on those issues persuasively, rather than your ability to memorize and repeat the "right" answers.


Permanent rules

1-001. Applicability of rules.

All rules listed in the original syllabus are in effect when the semester begins and remain in effect until and unless they are officially changed.

1-002. Rule types.

There are three types of course rules:

1-003. Conflicting rules/ballots.

In the event of conflicts between two or more rules, major rules take precedent over minor rules, and permanent rules take precedent over both major and minor rules. If conflicting rules are in the same hierarchy level, the rule with the lowest number shall take precedent (e.g., rule #3-152 would take precedent over rule #3-155). In the event of conflicts between two or more simultaneous ballots, the ballot with the highest number of Yes votes shall take precedent. In the event that such conflicting ballots have passed with the same number of Yes votes, the professor will cast a single Yes vote for one of those ballots in order to resolve the conflict.

1-004. Participants.

1-005. Eligible voters.

All students have the right to propose new rules and/or rule changes, and to vote on official ballots. In any voting situation, each student has exactly one vote. In the event of a tie vote, the professor will cast the deciding vote. Otherwise, the professor is a non-voting participant.

1-006. Quorum.

Any ballot that fails to achieve a quorum of more than half of all eligible voters will be null and void, regardless of the final outcome of the vote.

1-007. Passed ballot grade points.

When a ballot passes, the student who formally proposed that ballot will have one (1) point added to their course grade.

1-008. Timekeeping.

For purposes of all course rules, a "course week" begins at 11:15:00 am CT every Tuesday and lasts until 11:14:59 am CT on the following Tuesday. [Exception: The final course week of the semester will begin at 11:15:00 am CT on Tuesday, 13 December and end at 10:00:00 am CT on Tuesday, 20 December.]

1-009. Senior project.

Students who hope to fulfill their Senior Project requirement must research and write an argumentative paper (~2500-5000 words) on a topic appropriate to the course's central theme. Because this project results in a separate grade for an extra credit hour, it entails work above and beyond the regular requirements of the course. Further details about the Senior Project are available on a separate handout.

1-010. Higher law.

No course rules can be created, changed, or amended in ways that would result in violations of (a) federal, state, or local law; (b) official UMN regulations; and/or (c) Communication Studies department policies.


Major rules

2-001. Readings.

The following required book is available at the University Bookstore in Coffman Union:

The other required readings (see #2-021 below) will be made available in class. Students who choose to acquire any of the required readings through alternate sources do so at their own risk.

Students who choose to pursue a Senior Project in addition to the required course work (see #1-009 above) are strongly encouraged to use the following recommended book (also available at the University Bookstore in Coffman Union) as a helpful guide for how to conceive, plan, research, and write their final papers:

2-002. Course blog.

All students on the official course roster as of 5 Sep have been given posting privileges for the course blog. The principal uses for the blog will be for:

Further details on how to access the blog are available on a separate handout.

2-003. Yoga mat.

All students are required to locate a molded rubber yoga mat (in UMN maroon and/or gold only; minimum length of 120 inches) that they will bring to every class meeting from 4 Oct onward. Students who fail to bring their yoga mats will have their course grade docked one (1) point for each and every such infraction.

2-004. Grades.

This course follows the University's published standards for A-F grading:

Pending the results of the "first week" ballots (see #3-012 below), course grades will be calculated using the following schedule:

{Thought paper 20%}
Attendance/participation 0%
Blog participation 0%
Quizzes 0%
Critical response papers 0%
Trending topic papers 0%
Paper revisions 0%
Annotated bibliography 0%
Take-home final 0%

Final grade point totals will translate to letter grades as follows:

A   93-100 B+   87-89 C+   77-79 D+   67-69
A-   90-92 B   83-86 C   73-76 D   60-66
  B-   80-82 C-   70-72 F   0-59

2-005. NFL prediction.

All students are required to predict the winners of all 14 games played in week 11 (17-21 Nov) of the National Football League's 2011 season, and to submit their predictions to the professor in writing by 11:15 am CT on 11 Oct. Students who fail to predict the winners of at least 10 games correctly will have three (3) points deducted from their course grade. Students who predict that the professor's favorite team will lose will have five (5) points deducted from their course grade, regardless of the actual outcome of that game.

2-006. Attendance/participation.

A portion of the course grade will be based on students' physical presence and active engagement during the regularly scheduled class meetings. Those meetings will typically be structured around discussions rather than lectures. This is not a course where passive spectators are likely to do well, and every student will be expected to (1) attend class regularly, (2) do the required reading, and (3) come to class prepared to discuss those readings in a productive and substantive fashion.

{Attendance/participation points will be calculated for every class meeting. Each class meeting is worth up to 1 point (0.5 points for attendance, 0.5 points for participation) towards the course grade.} Unexcused absences, late arrivals, and/or early departures will be factored into attendance/participation grades. The only absences that will count as "excused" are those resulting from:

2-007. Blog participation.

A portion of the course grade will be based on students' contributions to the course blog. {Blog grades will be calculated every course week. In order to receive credit for any given course week, students must post at least 200 words of thoughtful commentary about the required readings during that week. Each course week of blog posts/comments is worth up to 2 points towards the course grade.} This is a "pile it on" assignment: i.e., students can continue to accrue grade points up to the maximum number possible for blog participation according to rule #2-004. Further details about this assignment are available on a separate handout. That handout constitutes a legally binding extension of this course rule.

2-008. Quizzes.

A portion of the course grade will be based on quizzes about the required readings. {Each quiz will be based on the required readings assigned for the day on which the quiz is given. Each quiz will last for 10 minutes at the start of the class period and is worth up to 2 points towards the course grade. Quiz dates will not be announced in advance, and no makeup quizzes will be given.} This is a "pile it on" assignment: i.e., students can continue to accrue grade points up to the maximum number possible for quizzes according to rule #2-004.

2-009. Mobile phone design.

Each student must submit an original design for a fully functional mobile phone by 1 Nov. The completed design must include a full components list and a detailed schematic diagram of the phone. Designs must not incorporate any (a) prefabricated components and/or (b) features that are subject to existing US patents. The total wholesale price of the components list must be less than US$25. Students who fail to submit a design that meets the above requirements will have ten (10) points deducted from their course grade.

2-010. Thought paper.

{20% of the course grade will be based on an essay of ~1000-1250 words. The first draft of this paper (due by 11:15 am CT on 13 Sep) is worth up to 10 points towards the course grade. A revised version of this paper (due by 11:15 am CT on 29 Sep) is worth up to 10 points towards the course grade.} Further details about this assignment are available on a separate handout. That handout constitutes a legally binding extension of this course rule.

2-011. Critical response papers.

A portion of the course grade will be based on essays that provide a critical (i.e., thoughtful and analytical) response to one or more of the assigned readings. {Each critical response paper should be ~1000-1250 words in length, and is worth up to 10 points towards the course grade.} Further details about this assignment are available on a separate handout. That handout constitutes a legally binding extension of this course rule.

2-012. Trending topic papers.

A portion of the course grade will be based on essays that apply major arguments from the assigned readings to a "trending topic" directly related to the course's central theme. {Each trending topic paper should be ~1000-1250 words in length, and is worth up to 10 points towards the course grade.} Further details about this assignment are available on a separate handout. That handout constitutes a legally binding extension of this course rule.

2-013. Paper revisions.

A portion of the course grade will be based on revisions of previously graded Critical Response Papers and/or Trending Topic Papers. {Each revised paper is worth up to 10 points towards the course grade.} Further details about this assignment are available on the "Critical response papers" and "Trending topic papers" handouts. The "Paper revisions" portion of those handouts constitutes a legally binding extension of this course rule.

2-014. Annotated bibliography.

A portion of the course grade will be based on an annotated bibliography of external readings related to the course theme. {Each individual bibliography entry should be ~500-750 words in length (not including the citation of the source in question), and is worth up to 5 points towards the course grade.} Further details about this assignment are available on a separate handout. That handout constitutes a legally binding extension of this course rule.

2-015. Take-home final.

A portion of the course grade will be based on a take-home final exam. {The exam will be cumulative. Each question on the exam will require students to write an essay of ~1000-1250 words and will be worth up to 10 points towards the course grade. Completed exams are due no later than 10:00a CT on 20 Dec.}

2-016. Academic dishonesty.

The following is a partial list of major examples of academic dishonesty:

The minimum penalty for academic dishonesty is a zero for the assignment in question.

Further information about the University's policies on academic dishonesty (including detailed explanations of what constitutes "plagiarism" and "cheating") can be found at http://writing.umn.edu/tww/plagiarism/

2-017. Recordings and course notes.

Students may make audio and/or video recordings of class meetings for their personal use, provided they can do so without disrupting the ordinary flow of the class. The purchase and/or sale of either written notes or recordings of class meetings is strictly prohibited.

2-018. Etiquette.

Significant disruptions of the normal flow of course-related business during class sessions -- e.g., using cell phones, excessive side chatter, engaging in premature leave-taking behavior -- will result in grade penalties for the student(s) involved.

2-019. Polka pledge.

From 27 Sep onward, all class meetings will begin with a mandatory group recitation of the "Polka Pledge." The pledge's full text (which all students must memorize) is as follows:

Polka! Polka! Polka!
It's the only music for me!
Polka! Polka! Polka!
It sets your spirits free!

Hip-hop just hurts my head.
Jazz makes my ears hurt.
Country makes me wish I were dead.
Rock sounds like nothing but dirt.

Polka! Polka! Polka!
It's the only music for me!
Polka! Polka! Polka!
It sets your spirits free! Boo-YAH!

Students who fail to memorize the Pledge completely and accurately, to participate in in-class recitations of the Pledge, and/or to abide by the noble ideals expressed in the Pledge will have their course grade penalized one (1) point for each such infraction.

2-020. Accommodations.

The professor will make every reasonable effort to accommodate individual student needs relating to religious holidays and/or documented disabilities. Please note that, by University policy, such accommodations can only be made if the students in question provide written notice (for religious holidays) and/or official documentation (for disabilities) far enough in advance for such accommodations to be arranged.

2-021. Reading/assignment schedule.

The schedule below lists reading assignments and due dates for major assignments. Readings should be completed in advance of the dates listed.

introduction
6 Sep

no readings

8 Sep
course syllabus and assignment handouts

theory
13 Sep
Thought paper due

Slack and Wise, pp. 1-49

15 Sep
Slack and Wise, pp. 51-89

20 Sep
Slack and Wise, pp. 93-147

22 Sep
Slack and Wise, pp. 149-196

27 Sep
Polka pledge requirement begins

Jonathan Sterne, "Thinking the Internet"
Susanna Paasonen, "What Cyberspace?"

29 Sep
Revised thought paper due

James W. Carey, "Historical Pragmatism and the Internet"
Gilbert B. Rodman, "The Net Effect"

history
4 Oct
Yoga mat requirement begins

Sven Birkerts, "The Fate of the Book"
Ted Striphas, "E-Books and the Digital Future"

6 Oct
Paul du Gay et al., "Making Sense of the Walkman"
Miriam Simun, "My Music, My World"

11 Oct
NFL prediction due

Raymond Williams, "The Technology and the Society"
Amanda D. Lotz, "Understanding Television at the Beginning of the Post-Network Era"

code
13 Oct

Lawrence Lessig, Code 2.0 [selections]

18 Oct
Gopher spirit requirement begins

Neal Stephenson, In the Beginning . . . Was the Command Line [selections]

20 Oct
NO CLASS

Eric S. Raymond, "The Cathedral and the Bazaar"

25 Oct
Facebook profile requirement begins

Eric S. Raymond, "Homesteading the Noosphere"

27 Oct
Tim Jordan, "The Hack"
Paul Levinson, "Wikipedia"

identity
1 Nov
Mobile phone design due

Allucquére Rosanne Stone, "In Novel Conditions"

3 Nov
Kate Crawford, "These Foolish Things"
Shayla Thiel Stern, Instant Identity [selections]
Ann Werner, "Girls Consuming Music at Home"

property
8 Nov

Lawrence Lessig, "Piracy"

10 Nov
Gilbert B. Rodman and Cheyanne Vanderdonckt, "Music for Nothing or, I Want My MP3"
Laikwan Pang, "Copying Kill Bill"

15 Nov
Sara Grimes, "Online Multiplayer Games"
Lucas Hilderbrand, "YouTube"

17 Nov
NO CLASS

Thomas Streeter, "Open Source, the Expressive Programmer, and the Problem of Property"

22 Nov
Lawrence Lessig, Remix [selections]
Greg Kot, "Girl Talk's Illegal Art"

surveillance
24 Nov
NO CLASS

29 Nov

John Varley, "Press Enter _"
Alexander Halavais, Search Engine Society [selections]

1 Dec
Mark Andrejevic, "The Kinder, Gentler Gaze of Big Brother"
Matt Carlson, "Tapping Into TiVo"

6 Dec
Charles Ess, "Privacy in the Electronic Global Metropolis?"

8 Dec
Ronald J. Deibert, "Black Code Redux"

13 Dec
Siva Vaidhyanathan, "The Googlization of Us"

20 Dec
NO CLASS
Take-home final exam due (10:00a)

Minor rules

3-001. Facebook profile photo.

By the start of class on 25 Oct, all students must change their primary profile picture on their Facebook page to the official logo of one of the following:

BP University of Wisconsin/Madison
Depends Viagra
Halliburton Walmart
McDonald's World Trade Organization

All students must keep their chosen logo as their primary Facebook profile picture until the end of the semester. Students who do not already have a Facebook page will be required to set up a Facebook account in order to comply with this requirement. Students who fail to meet this requirement fully will have their course grade docked by five (5) points.

3-002. Changing course rules.

With the sole exception of rule changes proposed in class on 8 Sep (see #3-012 below), all changes/additions/amendments to the course rules must adhere to the four step process described in rules #3-003 through #3-006.

3-003. Proposing rule changes.

All potential rule changes must first be proposed on the course blog. An official proposal will consist of a post to the course blog in which:

Proposal names are not case-sensitive (e.g., "PROPOSAL #04-11-DSmith" is functionally equivalent to "proposal #04-11-dsmith"). Spacing, punctuation, and leading zeros, however, do matter (e.g., "PROPOSAL #03-06-TJones" is a valid proposal name, but "PROPOSAL #3-6-TJones," "PROPOSAL 03 06 TJones," and "PROPOSAL #0306TJones" are all invalid). Blog posts that fail to follow the requirements listed above precisely will not be considered to be legitimate proposals. Votes cast on any illegitimate proposals will be null and void.

Proposed rule changes must relate to official course business in a clear and explicit fashion, and must be enforceable within the existing structure of the course. The outcome of any and all ballots must be fully decidable by means of a simple Yes/No vote.

Any individual student is allowed to put forward a maximum of one (1) legitimate proposal during any given course week. In the event that a student puts forward more than one legitimate proposal in a single course week, only the first such proposal will be eligible for voting.

3-004. Discussion of proposed rule changes.

The successful posting of a legally formatted proposal will automatically start a 48-hour period for open discussion of the proposal in question. The discussion period is intended to give proposal authors the opportunity to assess the potential effects and/or viability of their proposals -- and, if they so desire, to make revisions to their proposals prior to any formal vote. During the discussion period, any and all students are encouraged to use the course blog to offer questions, suggestions, objections, and/or other constructive commentary on the proposal in question.

3-005. Revision or withdrawal of proposed rule changes.

Immediately after the discussion period ends, a 24-hour revision period begins. During the revision period, the original proposal author has three options:

3-006. Voting.

The professor will create doodle.com polls for all legal ballots, and will post a link to each poll on the course blog at the end of any given ballot's revision period. To vote on any given ballot, students must visit that ballot's doodle.com poll and do the following:

Once cast, legal votes cannot be changed or retracted. The voting period for any ballot will last for 72 hours from the time that the professor posts the associated doodle.com link to the course blog. Votes that fail to conform to the rules above will not be considered to be legal votes, either for deciding the outcome of a ballot or for constituting a quorum.

[N.B.: Doodle.com allows users to place comments on individual polls. The professor will not pay attention to any such comments in calculating the outcome of any given ballot.]

3-007. Gopher spirit.

From 18 Oct onwards, all students must wear T-shirts to class honoring two great Minnesota sports teams of the past. On Tuesdays, students must wear maroon T-shirts displaying a team photo of the 1962 Rose Bowl champion Gophers. On Thursdays, students must wear gold T-shirts displaying a reproduction of the Minnesota Daily story describing the women's basketball team's appearance in the 2004 Final Four. Students who fail to wear the appropriate T-shirts on the appropriate days will have their course grade docked one (1) point for each infraction.

3-008. Changed rules.

Changes to existing rules are considered to have passed if and only if:

3-009. New rules.

New rules are considered to have passed if and only if:

New rules will be assigned to a hierarchy based on the percentage of Yes votes received: i.e., a new rule receiving a supermajority Yes vote (i.e., at least two-thirds of all eligible voters) will be implemented as a major course rule, whereas a new rule receiving only a simple majority Yes vote (i.e., more than half of all eligible voters) will be implemented as a minor course rule. The text of any new rule will be added to the end of the appropriate hierarchy and assigned the next unused number in that hierarchy.

3-010. Effective date of rule changes.

Any rule change(s) resulting from a passed ballot shall take effect at the start of the first class meeting following the completion of the voting period. No ballot may have retroactive application, even if its wording explicitly states otherwise.

3-011. Formal record of rule changes.

In the event of any rule changes resulting from passed ballots, the professor will edit the version of the official course rules maintained on the course blog to reflect such changes.

3-012. "First week" ballots.

During class on 8 Sep, students will have the opportunity to meet in small groups for the purposes of proposing changes to the course rules. At the end of that process, each group will be allowed to propose two (2) official ballots in class: one (and only one) of which must propose a correction to the grading schedule in rule #2-004 such that the total of the percentages listed on that schedule is exactly 100%. All "first week" ballots must be submitted to the professor by the end of class on 8 Sep, using the official form provided for this purpose. The discussion and revision periods for these ballots will be waived, and the 72-hour voting period will begin immediately after the professor posts the ballots (and their respective doodle.com links) to the course blog. For purposes of rule #1-007, grade points for any "first week" ballot that is officially approved will be awarded to all listed members of the group that originally authored the ballot.

This rule does not infringe on the right of any individual student to propose a separate ballot during the first course week in accordance with the procedures described above.

N.B.: There are at least three (3) deliberately unfair rules in the original syllabus. Students are strongly encouraged to locate these, to propose rule changes that would repeal and/or modify them, and to vote these rule changes into effect. Otherwise, by rule #1-001, these unfair rules will remain in effect until and unless they are officially changed.