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:
Online discussion forum: Slack

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.

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 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.

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. This is essential for an online course. 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. We will also be doing creative work involving building your own web presence, the creation and consumption of digital media, and the using (and building) of web apps. If you do not have access to reliable broadband off-campus, plan on doing a fair bit of your course work on the campus network.

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 websites). 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. I 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.

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 to sign up for free. (We will work through this together during the first two weeks of class, so there is no need to do it immediately. In fact, it's best if you wait.) We will be doing a fair amount of our work publicly on the web. However, as discussed under privacy, doing public work online is not without its faults and dangers. With that in mind, we will discuss some of these faults and dangers, and appropriate plans of action in response to them, early in the course. And while everyone in the course will be building out a domain throughout the semester, in the end, you will decide what does and doesn't go on that domain (including your name).

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.

Credit and assessment

This course is about creating new things and growing in your ability to think critically about digital technology and engage it deliberately. That will look different for each person, and to the extent that it can be measured (it can't), it does not involve reproducing existing knowledge or jumping through well-worn academic hoops. 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 in light of the individualized nature of our work, we will use self-assessment to determine final grades.

Each week, each student will write a self-evaluation of their work for the week and submit to Canvas. (Canvas is required for all graded submissions, to comply with university policies about identification and authentication. We will only use it for this purpose.) This should be a paragraph-long reflection answering the following questions (along with anything else you find appropriate):

  • What did you do this week? (Reference all assigned work, attendance, and class activities, as well as anything else you think relevant to the course.)
  • What did you learn this week?
  • What difficulties/challenges did you conquer?
  • Who helped you?
  • Whom did you help?
  • What are you looking forward to in the coming week(s)?
  • What can I as an instructor do to better support you and your work?

Be sure to provide links to any digital assignments completed.

source: Giphy.

Then provide yourself with an appropriate letter grade (A, B, C, D, or F ― no plus or minus) for the week. Be sure that the details in your paragraph support that letter grade, in light of the work assigned for the week and any specific parameters/requirements provided in the assignment or discussed in class.

These letter grades are proposals. If you defend them appropriately, I will approve them. If I disagree with them, I'll leave a comment and give you two weekdays to respond either with a different grade, or with additional details. If your response is satisfactory, that will be your grade. Otherwise, we'll keep discussing until we can come to a consensus.

The final grade will be determined by those five weekly grades and your final project grade (which will count as one weekly grade), as follows:

  • To receive an A, you need a median weekly grade of A and no more than 2 weekly grades lower than a C.
  • To receive a B, you need a median weekly grade of B and no more than 3 weekly grades lower than a C.
  • To receive a C, you need a median weekly grade of C and no more than 3 weekly grades lower than a D.
  • To receive a D, you need a median weekly grade of D and no more than 3 weekly grades lower than a D.
  • Anything else receives an F.

If the median puts you exactly between two letter grades, your final grade will be the minus version of the higher letter grade. For example, if your median grade is exactly between A and B, you will get an A- for the course.

Weekly schedule

Each week (after we get off the ground in Week 1, and with the exception of major project weeks) will follow roughly the same schedule. Though the first due date each week is Thursday morning, there will be a deceptive amount of work due on Thursday, so I recommend you start early in the week and budget your time accordingly.

Due Thursdays at 8am

Reading, by Mark Probst

Weekly reading. Each week we will read from our required textbooks and/or freely available online sources. We will respond to the readings on our domains, and/or in our Slack channel.

The Daily Create. Each week, we will do multiple small assignments (usually 2 or 3) in which we create something using one or more digital media. These assignments can be found on The (new) Daily Create website.

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 suggestions from current or former students.

Due Fridays at 8am

Peer feedback. Each week you will provide feedback and responses to each other's work in Slack.

Due Mondays at 8am

Weekly domain work. Each week, everyone will make a substantive update to their domain. This may involve posting your best work from class for that week (based on your impression, or the feedback you receive), making significant changes to the site theme/style, or deleting/editing/revising old materials.

Midterm and final projects

Midterm projects will take place in Week 9 and final projects during Week 15 and Finals Week. Details TBA.


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 few 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.

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, changes to this syllabus may 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.