digital storytelling, fall 2015

Course Information

  • Section D03: MWF 2:30pm – 3:20pm, Merion Hall 174
  • Office: Bronstein 211
  • Office Hours: MWF 1pm – 2pm, and by appointment
  • email: wwolff [at] sju [dot] edu
  • Twitter: @billwolff
  • https://williamwolff.orgcourses/ds-fall-2015/

Course Description

In this capstone course, Communication Studies students will complete three portfolio-ready digital storytelling projects that demonstrate the knowledge, design thinking and multimedia production skills learned in the courses comprising the student’s degree program. By examining how decisions in story and structure rhetorically work, students will become more critical consumers and producers of digital content. Each project will be accompanied by critical reflection statements.

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

Course Overview & Learning Objectives

Effective Communication
This course enables students to gain experience in creating a multimedia stories and videos, including the development of skills in writing, editing, photography, video, sound and design.

Human Centered Design
Students will give extensive attention to each stage of the design process as they create their multimedia projects. Students will learn how to successfully ideate, create content, and execute creative design solutions.

Critical Awareness
Students will learn how to investigate and tell digital stories through multiple lenses (historical, social, cultural, aesthetic, technological, etc.).

Students will know what it feels like to step out of their comfort zones and take risks with their approaches to and understanding of digital storytelling.

Students will develop their understanding of the important role of reflection during the creative process.

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 Digital Story to earn a passing grade.

Digital Stories (60%)
Students will create three digital stories, each focusing on different presentation mediums:

Unit 1: Audio (20%). In Unit 1, we will focus on telling sound-rich audio stories. Themes include story, structure, arrangement, and editing. Students will record and produce a 2-3 minute nonfiction audio story using techniques learned in class.

Unit 2. Image and Audio (20%). In Unit 2, we will focus on developing and sharing first person stories about the human experience through the interplay of image and audio. Our focus will be on the crafting, designing, producing and distributing of digital stories.

Unit 3. Video and Audio (20%). In Unit 3, we will approach digital stories through the lens of social change (themes include interviews, second and third person narratives, documentary storytelling techniques, and social change). Students will learn to become ethical and truthful storytellers in their communities while producing documentary videos that are creative and innovative.

Social Media: Twitter, Instagram, and Storify (20%)
Students will use Twitter and Instagram to discuss and reflect on their work, share examples of texts that relate to their projects, and show scenes of them working on their digital stories. The goal of using these outlets in class is to both share ideas about class and to reflect on your processes for completing digital work. Your tweets and Instagrams should showcase your work-in-progress. At the end of the semester you will compose a reflective statement using Storify that showcases your processes and reflects on what you have created. The course hashtag for both sites is #digf15. Tweets and Instagram photos with that hashtag will appear in the right sidebar.

Preparation, Participation, and Collaboration (20%)
This class requires active student participation. Each member of our learning community needs to be actively engaged in the learning process. Each student is here to contribute to the exchange of ideas. Ask questions. Be curious. As a student in this course you will create your own communal context for learning by engaging in conversations with others. As such, being prepared to participate in discussions and activities is paramount. This entails having read, annotated, and thought about the required materials carefully before class starts.

A Note on Academic Technology

Because this is a capstone course, you are expected to be familiar with the department’s approach to using digital technologies: experiment, take risks, and play.

However, 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 (#digf15) 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 Aimee Knight’s Fall 2015 Digital Storytelling.

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