communication theory and practice, fall 2015

Course Information

  • Section D01: MWF 10:10 am – 11:00 am, Merion Hall 174
  • Section D02: MWF 11:15 am – 12:05 pm, Merion Hall 174
  • Office: Bronstein 211
  • Office Hours: MWF 1:00pm – 2:00pm, and by appointment
  • email: wwolff [at] sju [dot] edu
  • Twitter: @billwolff
  • https://williamwolff.orgcourses/ctp-fall-2015/

Course Description

It is an overused cliche that we live in a digital world. But this cliche, also points to a certain truth: communication is now primarily digital. Indeed it would be possible to argue that all research, writing, and communication is digital, or at least structured by the digital landscape. The ability to write in digital spaces, research online, and participate in these evolving social communities has become a critical 21st century knowledge. In this class we will not only study these evolving digital literacies, but actively practice them. This course serves as one of the foundational courses for Communication majors and minors.

Course Overview & Learning Objectives

This course is built around one semester-long project in which you will be the class subject expert for a particular topic of immediate concern. You will choose a subject of interest to you and collect, curate, filter, and write–building an online presence. You will also explore numerous applications (such as, WordPress, Twitter, Diigo, Storify, Zite, Pocket, IFTTT) which through a variety of technologies and methods will help you understand how information flow, research, curation, and content creation is changing as a result of internet technologies. You won’t do this alone, however, as much of our coursework is focused on collaboration. We will use class time to discuss, learn, create, curate, and write as a group.

The Department of Communication encourages students to experiment, take risks, and play—and see that making mistakes is part of learning, especially when using communication technologies. Fridays will often be dedicated to playing with the communication technologies we are learning so you can feel comfortable trying things out, asking questions, and generally just having a good time getting to know how to use the stuff we’re using.

Specifically, upon completion of this course, students will:

  • Become familiar with digital media and how they operate
  • Develop collaborative learning skills
  • Gain experience with a range of digital tools for capturing, curating, producing, and transmitting media
  • Understand the larger issues and debates shaping the transformation of the media landscape and more importantly the society at large

An Important Note

Should any aspect of class confuse/concern/trouble you, or if you have questions about any of the assignments, readings, or anything else, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Required Texts and Materials

  • Houghton, R. (2012). Blogging for Creatives. Cincinnati, OH: How Books.
  • Barr, C., Ed. (2010). The Yahoo Style Guide. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.
  • Your own domain name and web hosting with Reclaim Hosting, which is $25 for a year. (You don’t need to worry about this until a couple of weeks into the semester, I just wanted you to know the cost upfront.)
  • A computer with internet and web access
  • SJU email and a Google account

Class Requirements

The final grade will be determined by your performance on the following projects. The specific details of each project will be included on the project’s assignment sheet and discussed in class. You must complete each assignment to earn a passing grade.

  • Digital writing project and Reflections (50%): You will study a specific topic in great depth, building a blog and using several digital tools to filter and curate information related to your topic. This project asks you to learn how to write online, how to manage many streams of information, and how to connect with and engage readers.
  • Midterm Exam (10%): The midterm will cover the theories and concepts from the reading material and class discussions.
  • Final Screencast and Reflective Statements (20%): The final screencast and reflections will ask you to take stock of all you have learned about your subject using the various technologies introduced throughout the semester.
  • Diary of Phone Use and Reflection (10%): We are often unaware how often we use digital, electronic, and analog technologies to afford the ability to read and write. Being away of the technologies and spaces we use will help us better understand our technology-rich writing environment and our relationship with those technologies and spaces. Each student will be given a small Field Notes notebook and a pen. Over the course of one 48 hour period, each student will record their communication interactions via their phone. We will discuss the resulting notebook and students will compose a blog post about their experiences with technology.
  • Class Preparation & Participation (10%): You are expected to come to class prepared to be a full participant in the educational experience. We have less than three hours together each week, this is our most important resource, and in order to maximize this you want to (1) be prepared for class (2) be present and participate. Preparation takes a range of forms depending on the assignment for the day, including watching videos, reading texts, researching a topic, trying out a new digital tool, etc. Participation includes coming to class on time, sharing your experiences, thoughts, and ideas, listening to your classmates, collaborating on in class activities, bringing notes from your readings, only using screens (computers, phones, etc.) when it is related to what is happening in class, etc.

A Note on Academic Technology

Because at its core this class is about how technology changes our culture, we will necessarily engage with a range of computer tools and web based applications. You do not need any prior skill, however; you merely need a willingness to engage and learn. A majority of the tools we will be using in class are web-based, and any additional software we use will be free.

One further note about technology. As much as technology makes life easier, at times it can also be difficult (computer crashes, deleted work, slow internet connection, etc.). Plan accordingly: “the computer ate my homework” or “the internet was down” are not reasons to forgo doing the assigned work. It is in your best interest to leave extra time, and back up frequently, especially at first to ensure that technology does not get in the way of your work.

That being said, I will never mark down or refuse to accept a project because of difficulty using academic technology. The software and applications we use are a means to complete the work, not the work itself. The software is often new and sometimes still has bugs. I am aware of this and am aware that problems can happen. If you run into trouble, let me know as soon as possible so I can help you work through it. There is no reason to sit for hours getting more and more frustrated. Send me an email with as detailed a description of your problem as possible and we’ll figure out what is going on.

If you are having trouble getting a project completed on time (for whatever reason) please let me know about your delays as soon as possible. It is better to complete an assignment late then to not complete it at all, and I am more than happy to work with you so you can compete the best project you can.


As this course is highly interactive and practice/discussion-driven, your success is absolutely tethered to your presence and participation. The course will move quickly, and each successive meeting will build upon the concepts of the previous. Missing a class puts you at a serious disadvantage in terms of the larger semester arc. This is not the type of course where you can “ask for the notes” from a classmate and get the same learning experience. If you miss class you will miss something important.

Please come to class on time, prepared, having completed the assigned reading and writing, and ready to contribute to class discussions, to listen seriously and respectfully to the thoughts of others, and to participate in all in-class activities.

According to the 2015-2016 Course Catalog, “Credit and degree-seeking students are obliged to attend all classes and take all examinations. Absences totaling twice the number of hours the class meets a week will be permitted for illness or serious reasons” (p. 513). For our sections of COM 200, this means students may miss up to 6 classes without “without danger of failure due to absence” if—and only if—there is a “serious cause” (p. 513). This excludes common colds, car break-downs, etc. Absences for religious purposes do not count against the permitted number (as long as prior notification is given).

Except for “serious reasons,” missing more than 3 classes will affect your grade. More than six absences will result in failing the course. Lateness counts as .5 of an absence. Leaving early will count as .5 of an absence. The grade reductions after 3 absences:

4 absences = -1/3 grade (B+ becomes B)
5 absences = -2/3 grade (B+ becomes B-)
6 absences = -1 full grade (B+ becomes C+)
6.5 or more = FA (failure due to absences)

Your primary responsibility is to be in class and fully present.

Digital Etiquette

Many of the assignments throughout the semester will require participation in online spaces. Students should work to preserve the same atmosphere of respect and consideration that occurs in the classroom. Disagreements may arise and consensus is not always possible (indeed disagreements are productive). However, name calling, harassing, flaming, trolling etc. is antithetical to the goals of this course.

Email Etiquette

There will be times during the semester when I will need to contact the class and you will need to contact me. I will contact you via your SJU email account, so please be sure you are checking it regularly and/or forwarding it to the email service you use most regularly. I do not recommend calling me on my my office phone.

I strongly suggest you contact me via Twitter (@billwolff) and/or email. Email, however, tends to be seen as an informal medium. This, however, should not always be the case. All emails that I send to you will have a meaningful subject line and a proper salutation (“Hi Class,” or “Hi Jane,” etc.). The first sentence will notify you of the purpose of the email, and then will get to the heart of the matter. It will end with a formal closing (“Thanks, BW”). (See this article on contacting a professor when going to be absent.) I expect the same from any email you send. Twitter is less formal, so feel free to just tweet me questions. Please add the course hashtag (#ctpf15) to all course related tweets.

I’ll get back to your tweets and emails as soon as possible—usually within half a day. With two small children at home, during the week I tend to be offline 5:00pm – 9:00pm and after 11:00pm and during the weekend I’ll be online sporadically, so don’t expect an immediate response during those times. If I don’t get back within a day, it may be that I did not see your tweet or email for one reason or another, such as an email going in my spam folder. Send me a polite reminder and/or ask me in class if I got it, and I’ll get back immediately.

Computer Classroom Etiquette

These general guidelines will help make your overall course experience more effective, productive, and educational:

  • When someone is speaking and you are not asked to be following on your computer, please turn and face that person. Everything the instructor is doing on the computer will be projected onto the screen in the front of the classroom.
  • Class is made up of students with widely varying levels of computer expertise. If you have technical experience, please be considerate of those who do not. Do not act bored during these times of instruction, since that will distract others and alienate you from them. Instead, offer what help you can to others if they seem lost or confused. You will not only help your colleague, but you will create a collaborative atmosphere in the class, both of which are only to your advantage.
  • If you are a novice computer user, do not be afraid of asking questions, even when it seems that everyone around you is “getting it.” I will not know what areas are mysterious unless someone asks for clarification, and they will be more than happy to answer your questions. The chances are good that if you don’t understand something that others don’t either, and your I need to know this. Don’t be intimidated into silence.
  • When communicating with classmates online please pay special attention to how you word things. Electronic communication is wonderful for many reasons, but because tone is not readily apparent, oftentimes things are misinterpreted and people can get quite hurt.
  • Be sure to bring to class all your required materials. If you have time in class to work on projects, don’t work on other courses or personal business. Make use of your limited time in the classroom, ask me and your classmates questions, and take advantage of the opportunities the course and the classroom offers you. Always log out of the computer before leaving for the day.


Writing center: You will write a lot in this class. If you are particularly concerned about your writing or think you might benefit from extra support, SJU has a writing center with peer tutors trained to help with all kinds of assignments. Locations are in Merion Hall (room 162) and Post Learning Commons (room 128). You can drop in during open hours or make an appointment online.

Digital Media Zone (DMZ): The DMZ is a great resource if you need help working through the technical aspects of this class, such as Google docs or image editing. They have trained staff and fancy computers. The DMZ is located on the second floor of the library.

COM studio: In addition to the DMZ, the Communication Studies Department will hold weekly studio sessions that you can attend on a drop-in basis for extra help. The schedule/location of these sessions is TBD, but it will be posted on the course website.

University Policies

Academic Honesty: Please familiarize yourself with the University’s Academic Honesty Policy.

Disability Support: In accordance with state and federal laws, the University will make reasonable accommodations for students with documented disabilities. For those who have or think that you may have a disability requiring an accommodation (learning, physical, psychological) should contact Services for Students with Disabilities, Room G10, Bellarmine, 610-660-1774 (voice) or 610-660-1620 (TTY) as early as possible in the semester for additional information and so that an accommodation, if appropriate, can be made in a timely manner. You will be required to provide current (within 3 years) documentation of the disability.

For a more detailed explanation of the University’s accommodation process, as well as the programs and services offered to students with disabilities, please see the Student Resources Page. If you have any difficulty accessing the information on-line, please contact Services for Students with Disabilities at the telephone numbers above.


Course design and assignments borrowed from and inspired by Mike Lyons, Dave Parry, and Rachael Sullivan.

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