digital storytelling (#digs16) spring 2016

Course Information

  • Section D03: T/H 8:00 – 9:15am, Merion Hall 174
  • Office: Bronstein 211
  • Office Hours: T/H 9:30 – 10:30am, and by appointment
  • email: wwolff [at] sju [dot] edu
  • Twitter: @billwolff
  • https://williamwolff.orgcourses/ds-spring-2016/

Course Description

In this capstone course, Communication Studies students will complete an individual semester-long community-focused investigation centered around a person, organization, or space that will result in a transmediated digital story that brings together alphabetic text, video, audio, photo, and social media. To complete their work, students will learn open-ended interview techniques, listening and looking techniques, and fieldnotes techniques, as well as build on and hone the audio, video, and photography skills learned in prior Communication Studies courses. The final digital story will be presented online on their web site. Students will also redesign their web site so it is ready to serve them as Communication Studies graduates.

To facilitate the work completed in class, students will dedicate a portion of their web site to a blog created for the purpose of presenting much of their investigation process work, employ social media to learn more about their subject-area, and in a private GoogleDocs document reflect on what they have learned from week to week. As a way to enhance course collaboration and community, students will tweet and instagram their thoughts and work using the #digs16 hashtag.

Required Texts and Materials

  • Horowitz, A. (2013). On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes. New York: Scribner.
  • Duchemin, D. (2015). The Visual Toolbox: 60 Lessons for Stronger Photographs. San Francisco: New Riders.
  • a small notebook for recording fieldnotes—this should be small enough to fit in your pocket or purse (I recommend Fieldnotes Brand 3-1/2” wide by 5-1/2” notebooks with graph paper, which can be purchased online or at various book stores)
  • Access to a camera, a video camera, a microphone, and editing software
  • Your own domain, which should have been created in COM 200: Communication Theory and Practice
  • A computer with internet and web access
  • SJU email and a Google account

Course Overview & Learning Objectives

This course is informed by the Core Objectives for COM 472 as created by the Communication Studies department, the mission of the university to “prepare students for personal excellence, professional success, and engaged citizenship,” and the importance of Reflection advocated by the Office for Mission and Identity.

Effective Communication
Students will be able to identify and employ a range of effective communication strategies to navigate audience, purpose, and context.

Design Thinking
Students will understand and apply human centered design approaches to communicating through digital media. Students will be able to create media objects which effectively apply design principles for a desired rhetorical goal.

Critical Awareness
Students will analyze, articulate, and understand how multiple theoretical approaches of aesthetics and design (that is, digital storytelling) inform the way audiences act, interact, and produce meaning.

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

Students will develop their understanding of the important role of reflection during the investigation, design, and communication process.

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.


Grades in Digital Storytelling are determined on the basis of a Story of Learning, presented in the form of a Storify, which incorporates statements about a student’s learning,  links to work completed throughout the course, important moments of reflection about the course, and social media tweeted, grammed, blogged, or other media that you have sent out in to the internets throughout the semester. Students will present their Story of Learning at the midterm and at the end of the semester. In each case, each student will assess their own performance according to a predetermined grading criteria using their own work as evidence to justify a possible grade. At the midterm, we will meet in individual conferences to discuss your self-assessment and make plans for the rest of the semester. At the end of the semester, BW will use the student’s final assessment to inform the student’s final course grade.

A note on in-class discussions: Contribution to in-class discussion is expected in this class. That is, I expect all students in all class meetings to contribute thoughtful insights into the texts and the ideas discussed in class. 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. No grade will be assigned for in-class participation; however, if your participation is lacking, it could result in a minor reduction in your final grade. There may be times when the class meets in an online space rather than in the classroom. You’ll be notified ahead of time if this is the case.

A note about grades: Grades in the A-range are those that show the student working at levels significantly higher than what is expected. Grades at the B-level are those that show the student working at levels at or just above what is expected. Grades at the C-level and below are those that show the student working at levels below what is expected.

All major assignments must be completed to pass the course. It is better to complete an assignment late then not to complete it at all. Late assignments will result in significant problems when trying to complete the semester-long project.

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.

Universal Learning

I am committed to the principle of universal learning. This means that our classroom, our virtual spaces, our practices, and our interactions be as inclusive as possible. Mutual respect, civility, and the ability to listen and observe others carefully are crucial to universal learning.

Any student with particular learning needs should contact the Student Success Center at 610-660-1041. The Center is located in Bellarmine Hall. The staff is available to answer questions regarding accommodations or assist you in your pursuit of accommodations. Then you and I can work out the details of any accommodations needed for this course.

Students with Disabilities

Requests for Accommodations: Reasonable academic accommodations may be provided to students who submit appropriate documentation of their disability.  Students are encouraged to contact the Office of Student Disability Services at or 610.660.1774(voice) or 610.660-1620(TTY) if they have or think they may have a disability and wish to determine eligibility for academic accommodations.

Grievance Procedures for Students with Disabilities, Appeal Process:The Office of Student Disability Services will seek to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified students with disabilities.  However, there may be times when a disagreement as to what is considered a reasonable accommodation will occur between the student and the University.  The student has a right to file a grievance for complaints regarding a requested or offered reasonable accommodation on the basis of a disability under Section 504 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and University policies. If you have any questions regarding the appeals process, please contact Dr. Christine Mecke, Director Student Disability Services – Bellarmine – Room G10 –

For further information regarding accommodations, please see:


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.

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 section of COM 472, this means students may miss up to 4 classes “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 1 class will affect your grade. More than four 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 1 absences:

2 absences = -1/3 grade (B+ becomes B)
3 absences = -2/3 grade (B+ becomes B-)
4 absences = -1 full grade (B+ becomes C+)
4.5 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 (#digs16) 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.

Technology Rentals: Students can check out digital still cameras, video cameras, phone tripods, and other technology in the Media Closet in the basement of Merion Hall. You will need your student ID. Check outs are for 24 hours, though if you check out on a Friday you can have the equipment until Monday.

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.

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

Firearms Policy

According to the Human Resources section of the SJU website and the SJU Student Handbook (January 14, 2016)

The carrying, or presence, of a firearm is not permitted on University property, including, but not limited to, one’s vehicle, office, residence or locker, except when the firearm is carried by a deputized law enforcement officer and/or agent who is conducting official business on University property.

The University policy concerning the prohibition against the carrying, and presence, of firearms on campus, is intended to conform to applicable statutes of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Such statutes define firearms as any pistol, revolver, shotgun, or any weapon which is capable of firing a projectile.

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