DS106 Syllabus

General course information

Course title: Digital Storytelling (affectionately, DS106)
Course number: CPSC 106
Semester: Fall 2017
Meeting time: antyime
Meeting location: the internet
Instructor: Kris Shaffer, Ph.D.
Office: HCC 410
Office hours: by appointment
Course website: ds106.pushpullfork.com
Online discussion forum: ds106-fall17.slack.com

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.

Overview & course description

What is digital identity? In what new ways do we make, share, and find art in the digital world? Are digital identity and digital art separate (separable) from identity and art more generally?

DS106 is focused on developing a broad range of skills in telling stories across various media including, but not limited to, the following: text, photography, design, audio, video, code, and mashups. The various stories you create will be shared openly through your own online space(s) that will, over time, come to define a broader narrative of your development throughout this class. Your personal site is the canvas for a semester’s worth of art, and hopefully well beyond that. For this iteration of the course, we will be choosing a theme together and exploring that theme to inform the various stories we both consume and create.

Please Note: The course syllabus is subject to change depending on the way in which the class unfolds, in particular during the first week when we will fill in the missing parts together. This class is not premised upon coverage, but rather focused on creative application and interaction with a series of ideas and a wide-range of media. This 15 week session is completely online. Success in this class hinges on managing time, proactively seeking assistance when needed, and committing regular effort several days a week on the work.

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 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 theme

(Too) Heavy Music, by crises_crs.

Traditionally, each offering of DS106 has been oriented around a theme. The theme governs the readings, videos, music, etc. that form the "content" of the course, as well as the nature of some of the assignments. In this section, we will determine the theme of the course together during the first week, after taking input from everyone in our discussion forum. To get you started, here are some possible themes, some of which have been used before: the internet, music, western movies, film noir, reading/annotating, social media, activism.

While the course has often oriented around a theme that is medium-specific (such as film), there have traditionally been units devoted to various media, in the spirit of achieving the above course objectives. So even if we have a music theme, we can have a unit devoted to social media, perhaps exploring the different ways in which indie artists use social media to promote their music or engage their fans. And a unit on video, exploring the use of documentary, mockumentary, and music videos in the music industry. Anything is possible, so long as it engages the course theme, and allows for us to explore a variety of media and affords us the freedom to be as creative as we want to be when we create our own art.


This semester's theme will be "The Cover." This is typically a musical term, but we will engage remakes of a variety of media types, both by the original artists, and by others. What changes when The Hunger Games moves from the printed page to the big screen? When the 1978 Battlestar Galactica is remade in the 2000s? How many versions are there of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"? And why does that song get covered by so many artists? What is the impact of Imogen Heap's cover of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" ― a much more haunting version of the song, released right after Michael's death? We'll be reading/listening/watching many originals and remakes, discussing them, critiquing them, picking them apart, mashing them up, and even making some of our own!

Required materials

A computer. Make sure you have a computer you can access whenever needed, not a borrowed one. It will need to be the best one you can have available. It should include a built in or attached camera for live video sessions, and you should have a pair of headphones or earbuds. 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.

The internet. There is no textbook for this class, however individual readings/videos will be assigned and will all be available online. Success in this class is very much dependent on a reliable and reasonably fast internet connection.

synapse, by R Kurtz

Media. Over the course of the semester, you will be asked on a regular basis to review certain example “texts” (these may be be written works, collections of images, audio pieces, films/videos, or Web sites). Whenever possible, I will provide a link to free, digitized versions of these texts. However, some of them (particularly films or episodes of TV shows) may not be freely available on the internet. In those cases, you may need to buy/rent an online version; the typical cost for this shouldn’t be more than $3–$5. We recommend that you budget around $20–$30 over the course of the semester to obtain these texts. I also encourage you to work together to keep your costs down! (Arrange to view films together, for example.)

An 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. We may also decide to trick it out a bit more to support the actual work we'll be creating.

Medium. Each week, everyone will post at least once reflection/collection of their work to a class publication on Medium. Sign up for an account, and if you desire, you can also create a personal Medium publication and map your domain (or a subdomain) to your Medium publication.

Praying Otter, by Tambako the Jaguar

A personal domain. As a UMW student, you can create and use your own website on your own domain and hosting account. Go to umw.domains to sign up for free. In most DS106 offerings, we publish all our work to our public domains. However, as discussed under privacy, doing public work online is not without its faults and dangers. The only work that will be required to be public will be the weekly Medium posts and the midterm/final projects (unless the class decides otherwise during the Week 1 Syllabus Sprint). Other work can be posted publicly (named, anonymously, or pseudonymously), or simply shared with the class via Slack. But we will work through some options of what to do with your domain, and everyone will do something with their own domain for this course.

Web Accounts/Software. You will need to set up accounts on various social media sites we will be using for class. For the most part, no specific software is required; you will need to use what you have or choose from web-based/free/trial versions of software to create media. Specific requirements beyond Slack and Medium will be decided together as a group, and you are free to choose others that fit your specific needs or desires.

Credit and assessment

This course is about creating new things, not reproducing existing knowledge or jumping through well-worn hoops. Even so, 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 during Week 1, we will decide the form of assessment we will use for the final grade in this class. (See the Week 1 assignment guide for options, or propose your own on Slack.)


We are doing creative work here. The best creative work is impossible to make a rubric for in advance. But given the institutional importance of grades, I don't want any of you to feel lost in terms of your progress or worried about what your final grade will be. So most of the assignments in this course will simply be graded for completion. Some of the bigger assignments (weekly Medium posts, bigger weekly assignments, and midterm/final projects) will be given a multi-point rubric when the assignment is posted, with care given to ensure that the rubric allows as much creative freedom as possible, while still providing sufficient clarity to keep grade-induced stress from inhibiting the creative process. (For the projects, the rubrics will be student-created, with my guidance and approval.) The goal is for you to feel 1) that you have the creative freedom you want/need and 2) that you know what grade to expect when you turn in the assignment. If at any point you find the grading in this class to fail either of those points, let me know, and we'll work it out.

The final grade will be determined as follows:

Small weekly assignments: 50%
Major weekly assignments: 25%
Projects (midterm/final): 25%

Small weekly assignments will be assessed for completion only, and the overall grade will be the number of assignments completed divided by the number assigned.

Major weekly assignments includes the weekly Medium post and usually one larger assignment. These will be assigned letter grades. The median letter grade of all major weekly assignments will be the final grade for this category.

Weekly Medium posts will be assessed with the following goals in mind:

- Written with a public audience in mind
- Refers to (preferably embeds or otherwise includes) at least one official activity of the week (such as a reading, discussion, Daily Create, or major assignment)
- Makes an original statement of some kind (an insight, a critique, an artistic gesture, etc.)

Posts that do all three will receive an A; two of the three a B; one of the three a C; none of the three a D; not attempted an F.

Other weekly assignments and major projects will be given their own grading rubrics.

source: Giphy.

Department of Computer Science grading scale

A 92–100%
A 8991%
B+ 8788%
B 82
C+ 77
C 72
D+ 67
D 6066%
F 0

Assignments and types

Most weeks, beginning in Week 3, will include the following assignment types:

Reading, by Mark Probst

Weekly reading. One or two short pieces (more in the first week) that we will read and annotate collaboratively using hypothes.is.

The Daily Create. Each week, we will do multiple small assignments in which we create something using one or more digital media. These assignments can be found on The (new) Daily Create website. The exact number we will do, and the number each person will be asked to create for others to do, will be determined during our Syllabus Sprint, as will whether we use the assignment of the day as published on the TDC website, or allow choice from the history of assignments.

Weekly assignments. Most weeks there will be a more substantial (than the Daily Creates) creative assignment, largely taken from the DS106 Assignment Bank and/or student suggestions.

Weekly Medium post. Each week, after the other weekly work is done, shared, and discussed, each student will write a post on Medium reflecting on the activities of the week and sharing at least a sample of the work that was done. These will be public and collected in a class publication on Medium.

Midterm and final projects. Details TBA.

Weekly schedule

Calendar*, by Dafne Cholet

Each week (after we get off the ground, and with the exception of major project weeks) will follow the same schedule.

We'll begin with text/video/audio that we all "read" and annotate. The reading and annotating should be done by Monday morning.

Multiple Daily Create assignments and typically one other assignment will be completed between Tuesday and Friday.

The end-of-week Medium post for the class publication will be completed by Monday morning.

Once we make final decisions about the assignment types and content, I will post the assignments to this website with approx. one extra week of lead time. So, for example, the assignments to be done throughout Week 4 will be posted at the beginning of Week 3. Though many of the assignments are brief, there will be a lot of them. If you wait until right before each one is due, it can get very stressful. But if you take advantage of the extra lead time to plan ahead, you can do several small assignments in a block and get slightly ahead, in order to accommodate other things in your schedule (or just catch a breather!).


DS106 has historically been a course that takes place in public, with all student-created work posted on a public blog and linked via public social media channels. 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, the end-of-week Medium posts and the midterm and final projects will be public. These are the assignments that will allow for the most amount of feedback and discussion before they are published. (Our Week 1 Syllabus Sprint may determine others.) 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 will be (re-)negotiated by the class as a whole during Week 1 of the course. Additional changes may also be considered during the semester if proposed by a group of students, and approved by general consensus of the students and the instructor.

Student support resources

Accommodations/Disability Resources

The Office of Disability Resources (ODR) 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, please make an appointment with me as soon as possible to discuss your approved accommodation needs. Bring your accommodation letter with you to the appointment. I will hold any information you share with me in strictest confidence unless you give me permission to do otherwise.

If you have not made contact with the Office of Disability Resources and have reasonable accommodation needs, I will be happy to help you contact them. The office will require appropriate documentation of a disability.

UMW Writing Center

The UMW Writing Center offers assistance on all types of writing projects: reports, papers, cover letters and resumes, research projects, and citations. The Writing Center can also help you prepare for in-class essay exams and for standardized tests that include essays such as the Praxis I writing exam.

If you are an online, commuter or Stafford Campus student, you can schedule online or face-to-face appointments. Please ensure you are choosing the appropriate appointment type and date.

UMW Libraries

UMW Libraries have both a physical and online presence. The physical locations are: the Stafford Campus Library on UMW’s Stafford campus and the Simpson Library on the Fredericksburg campus. Both libraries are open to UMW students, and librarians are available to assist you via phone, email, chat message, or face-to-face.

UMW Libraries offers online databases, research guides, and e-books that are accessible off-campus by using your network ID and password. An online interlibrary loan service is also available so that students can request articles and books not available in the collections of UMW Libraries

Help Desk/Computer Problems

If you are having difficulties with Canvas or connecting to online University resources, seek assistance from the Help Desk:

Digital Knowledge Center (DKC)

The Digital Knowledge Center (DKC) provides UMW students with peer tutoring on digital projects and assignments. Any student at the University can take advantage of the Center’s services by scheduling an appointment to work one-one-one or in a group with a student tutor; when a tutor is available, the Center also provides walk-in assistance. Tutorials can cover a wide-range of topics related to common digital systems, technologies, new media, and tools used in courses at UMW; the Center also provides training to students interested in learning how to use the Advanced Media Production Studio (HCC 115). DKC tutors adhere to the UMW Honor Code in all tutorials; they are available to provide guidance and advice, but they cannot create, produce, or edit work on a student’s behalf.