social media and participatory culture (#smpcs18) spring 2018

Course Information

  • COM 473 D02, 10279, T/H 2:00 – 3:15, Merion Hall 174
  • Office: Bronstein Annex (The B:Social Building) 202
  • Bill’s Office Hours: Wednesday, 12 – 2, and by appointment
  • email: wwolff [at] sju [dot] edu
  • Twitter: @billwolffsju
  • Instagram: @billwolffsju
  • https://williamwolff.orgcourses/smpc-spring-2018/

Course Description


In Social Media and Participatory Culture, we will consider how people have used social media to subvert civil and corporate institutions and protest against perceived injustices. We will see how those same institutions have tried to leverage social media to engage in surveillance and manipulation. And we will see how people are using participatory culture to persist against those attempts.

We begin in the 1980s and 90s with fanzines and remix/mashup culture, specifically looking at, for example, the feminist punk zine, Riot grrrl, “which called for the liberation of young women . . . [and] to revivify feminism . . . [in] direct response to the dominance of straight while men in the punk scene” (Darms, 2013, p. 1). We then move to the era of culture jamming, where people were remixing and mashing together corporate-created content, often to comment on the implications of our media-dominated culture. From there move to the supposedly idyllic first years of the web and Web 2.0 to look at how people were participating with the hope of building community. We then come to our present social media moment, dominated by Twitter and Facebook. On Twitter, we will analyze protest hashtags and subnetworks, like Black Twitter, that call attention to and fight injustice. On Facebook, we will look at the proliferation of fake news, which is designed to confuse, deceive, and manipulate. We will consider the implications of our current moment where bots swarm social media feeds and our data can be used against us.

Though the course has a significant theoretical component, we will engage directly in participatory practices by creating our own subversive media objects (such as, zines, mashups, and archives with network visualizations)—the whole time considering how those objects exist within a powerful media ecology that extends from our creative spaces to corporate servers to the halls of Congress.

As a way to enhance course collaboration and community, students will tweet their thoughts and work using the #smpcs18 hashtag. Students will also post their work to small group blog spaces. All major assignments will be accompanied by a prompted reflection statement.

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.

Course Learning Objectives

This course embodies the Saint Joseph’s University mission to “prepare students for personal excellence, professional success, and engaged citizenship” and “model [a] lifelong commitment to thinking critically, making ethical decisions, pursuing social justice.” It is informed by several Core Objectives created by the Communication Studies department, as well as the importance of Reflection advocated by the Office for Mission and Identity.

Objective 1. Communication Technologies
Students will develop and enhance their use of various analog and digital communication technologies for the purpose of creating media objects with specific rhetorical goals and for specific audiences.

Objective 2. Critical Awareness of the Social Role of Media
Students will understand the history and context of the role that media has played in society. Students will be able to articulate and critique the role media has historically played, and currently plays in society.

Objective 3: Effective Communication
Students will understand the principles, practices, and ethics of effective media communication, in particular in terms of how it applies to social media, participatory culture, and subverting institutions.

Objective 4: Reflection
Students will develop their understanding of the important role of reflection during the reading, creation, and communication process.

Objective 5: Risk-taking
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 media and participatory culture.

Required Texts and Materials

  • various articles in PDF format and videos (found on the Readings page)
  • A computer with internet and web access
  • a video editor, such as iMovie or Adobe Premiere (Windows Movie Maker is not allowed)
  • SJU email and associated Google account
  • office supplies, such as staplers, rulers, markers, scissors, tape, and glue
  • access to a photocopier

Please note that the in lieu of books to purchase, you will be required to spend money at the photocopier during the process of creating your zine. I don’t anticipate this costing more than $30, but if expenses mount, please contact me immediately.

Students may also need to purchase storage space on Amazon EC2 servers in order to create archives.


Grades will be calculated in the following way:

  • zine: 20% (Associated Course Objectives: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
  • mashup: 20% (Associated Course Objectives: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
  • archive and network visualization analysis: 20% (Associated Course Objectives: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
  • social media (blogging and tweeting): 15% (Associated Course Objectives: 3, 4, 5)
  • class participation: 25% (Associated Course Objectives: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

A note on in-class discussionsContribution 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. As a result, class participation is a significant part of your grade. Each member of our community of learning 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. The more you as students shape the conversations by engaging with each other, validating each others ideas, pushing each other, and asking each other questions without my prompting, the more this class will feel like a community and not just another class. 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 on collaboration. This course replicates real-world communication and design environments wherein people work with their colleagues to create meaningful, effective, and aesthetically pleasing projects for clients. If you don’t like working on collaborative projects, this course gives you the opportunity to rethink that dislike and, instead, begin to learn how to work with others in ways that will allow you to be successful. You are expected to be intentional, collegial, professional, thoughtful, mindful, polite, and open-minded in all of your interactions in the course, especially when visiting with clients. Significant moments that show a lack of collegiality, etc., can result the a reduction in your grade.

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 assignments will have detailed rubrics directly informed by the Course Objectives.

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. For every week an assignment is late, 1 full grade will be deducted.

A Note on Academic Technology

Because this is an upper-level 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. Hate speech, bullying, and other forms of intimidation, either in person or online, will not be condoned and will be reported to the appropriate administrators (see the “University Guidelines for Incidents of Bias or Hate,” starting on page 38 of the 2017 – 2018 Student Handbook).

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 Dr. Christine Mecke in the Office of Student Disability Services, Bellarmine, B-10, at; or at 610.660.1774 (voice), or 610.660.1620 (TTY), for assistance with this issue.  The university also provides an appeal/grievance procedure regarding requested or offered reasonable accommodations through Dr. Mecke’s office.  More information:

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 with complex coding discussed nearly every meeting, 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 2016 – 2017 Academic Catalog (which is the most recent version), “The course expectation form shall include a clear statement on attendance policy, specifying the maximum number of absences permitted in the course. . . . When students are required to absent themselves from class to participate in a University-sponsored activity, the director of the activity shall give written notice to the instructor in advance” (p. 18).

Except for “serious reasons” (for example, hospitalizations, severe health issues, death of a loved one) and university-sponsored activities, missing more than 1.5 classes will affect your grade. More than 4 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 1.5 absences:

2 absences = -1/3 grade
3 absences = -2/3 grade
4 absences = 1 full letter grade
4.5 or more = F

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

We will have at least 1 required conference this semester. Missing a conference appointment will result in an absence.

Each student is required to attend at least 2 meetings or events with their clientIf you attend fewer then 2, you will be marked absent for each missed attendance. Late Final Stories of Learning will result in a 1/2 grade reduction.

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, bullying, harassing, shaming, flaming, trolling, etc. is antithetical to the goals of this course and decent humanity.

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 office phone.

I strongly suggest you contact me via Twitter (@billwolffsju) 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 (#bsocials17) 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.

There will be times when I ask you to put your phones, tablets, and computers away so we can focus on the discussion.


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.

AV Gear Rentals: Students can check out typewriters, digital still cameras, video cameras, phone tripods, and other technology in the in the Communication Studies Gear Room, located on the second floor of Bronstein Hall. See the AV Gear Checkout Policies on the Communication Studies web page.

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 2017-2018 SJU Student Handbook,

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. (p. 47)

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