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Course with Dr. Jason Farman at the University of Maryland


American Studies 418B — Digital Diversity

Tuesday and Thursday 9:30-10:45am

Dr. Jason Farman

Email: jasonfarman@gmail.com

Office: 2107B Holzapfel Hall

Office Hours: Mondays and Tuesdays, 12:00-2:00pm or by appointment

Office Phone: 301.405.9524


Description: In this course, we will explore the cultural impact of digital media on practices of everyday life and issues identity and difference such as race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability. We will begin by looking at the problem of the “digital divide.” As digital technologies — especially the internet — become more and more essential to our everyday lives, how are communities and nations without access to these technologies impacted? What are some solutions to this growing problem? We will then move on to look at how our individual and collective identities are built and sustained through our interaction with technologies. We will look at how we present ourselves and interact with one another on social networking sites. How do race and gender translate to these online environments? How are race and gender represented in digital media such as videogames? We will also look at how those with various disabilities must contend with media designed with able-bodies in mind. Finally, we will look at how communities utilize technology to remain connected, culminating in a student-created documentary of a particular community in the DC-Baltimore areas. The final project for this course will be a paper that applies the theories studied in this course to your experience interacting with your chosen community.


Required Texts (available in the campus bookstore):

  • Mark Warschauer. Technology and Social Inclusion. MIT Press: ISBN-10: 0262731738
  • Additional Readings posted on ELMS


Assignments:  Reading assignments are listed on the day they will be discussed in class.  You are expected to arrive to class having read the works listed.  All written assignments are to be turned in at the beginning of class. No papers will be accepted via e-mail and computer problems are not an excuse for late work.  NO LATE WORK WILL BE ACCEPTED.



  • Identity Tourism essay: 15%
  • Accessibility Map: 5%
  • Midterm: 15%
  • Documentary: 20%
  • Documentary Revisions: 5%
  • Final Paper synthesizing documentary and course research: 20%
  • Participation: 10%
  • Twitter Responses: 10%


Written Assignments:

There will be one essay and a final paper.  The first essay must be 4-6 pages in length and the final paper for the course will be an 8-10 page research paper. These papers must be written in 12 point Times New Roman font, double spaced, and cite sources accurately in MLA or APA style.  You must turn in your essays electronically by emailing them to me (jasonfarman@gmail.com) as either Word Documents or PDF files. Essay 1 on “Identity Tourism” is worth 15% of your grade. Your final paper for the course is worth 20% of your grade.


Note on Academic Honesty and Plagiarism: Any source that you draw ideas and quotes from must be cited accurately in your paper in APA or MLA style.  If you use any source in your work without correctly citing the work, this constitutes plagiarism.  Any intentional plagiarism will result in a failing grade for the assignment and may result in a failing grade for the course.



Category A: Sloppiness. Automatic “0” on paper, with option to rewrite for no better than a “C”

Category B: Ignorance. Automatic “0” on paper, with option to rewrite for no better than a “C”

Category C: Obvious Conscious Cheating. Automatic “0” on paper, with no option for rewriting


Students caught plagiarizing a second time will be asked to leave the class and will receive an automatic “0” in the course. For those of you who are not aware of what constitutes plagiarism, here is a breakdown of the various types: 1. Buying papers, borrowing papers, or recycling former papers unrevised and claiming these types of papers as your own for your assignment in this course. (This constitutes a Category C offense) 2. Cutting and pasting parts of a webpage or borrowing passages from a book for your paper without properly citing these parts and claiming the material as your own for the expressed intent of cheating. (This constitutes a Category C offense) 3. Failing to use proper citation style for material you borrow, accidentally. (This constitutes either a Category A or B offense)



Your participation is crucial to the learning you will experience in this class and absences are weighed accordingly. Because this is a discussion-driven and hands-on class, the quality of the class for everyone is in large part dependent on the quality of preparation and visible engagement of each participant. Please realize that although you may have prepared the readings and assignments and may be listening to others, if you do not actively demonstrate your preparation and ideas in discussion, there is no way to observe and, hence, evaluate the quality of your preparation and participation. You may miss up to three classes, however, anything beyond this amount will lower the grade significantly and six missed classes may constitute a failing grade. Attendance is taken only during the first 10 minutes of class. If you are 10 minutes late, this will constitute a tardy. Multiple tardies equate an absence and can affect your grade just as missing a class can. Class participation constitutes 10% of the grade.


Twitter Responses (to Readings and to Lectures):

You will need a Twitter account to interact with the course readings and the in-class lectures. For each set of readings, you must write a short reaction (comment, question, challenge) that directly addresses one or more of the readings. You will post this before class every Tuesday and Thursday, which must include the hashtag #amst418. At the end of the semester, you will be posting updates about your documentary fieldwork and project progress. During lecture, we will have a backchannel for Twitter responses. You must write a similar reaction to the content covered and can take any form (reaction, question, conversation with other students) and must include the course hashtag. You will need to provide at least one reaction during each class. I recommend setting up a Twitter archive through a service like Backupify.com/Tweetbackup.com so you can track how many times you have contributed throughout the semester. Your Twitter Responses are worth 10% of your grade.


Documentary:  As a group, you will create a 10-15 minute documentary about a community and its uses of digital media. You may explore communities that exist solely in the virtual realm (such as online gamers) or an “offline” community that uses digital technology as a way to maintain societal bonds (such as teens use of text messaging). Though the community you choose should exist in some form regionally (anywhere from DC to Baltimore) other members might be spread out geographically — perhaps never seeing each other face to face — or might be gathered together in one neighborhood. Your documentary must contain a broad range of perspectives, gained through interviews, voice-over, and great footage that is well edited. You will turn in your video to me as either a .MOV or .MP4 file, which will be uploaded to the class’s YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/communitydocumentary. Though you will work as a group, you will receive individual grades for this assignment. This documentary is worth 20% of your grade. After you screen your documentary for the class, you will receive feedback from me and from you classmates. Based on this feedback, you are expected to edit your documentary to address these critiques. Your final documentary will be due during finals week. Documentary revisions are worth 5% of your grade.


Final Paper: You must take your experience working on the documentary of a digital community and tie it into an analysis of how new media are altering the ways we understand identity and community. You must draw on the readings from this class as well as bring in two outside scholarly journal articles and one scholarly book related to your thesis. Your thesis should develop a strong theory of culture in the digital age, such as, “As seen in the example of the pervasive gaming group, NERO, I argue that cultural experiences of space no longer distinguish between ‘real’ and ‘virtual,’ but instead have become an experience of hybrid reality.” As stated above, your paper should be 8-10 pages long, typed in 12-point Times New Roman font, double spaced, and must cite all outside sources accurately in MLA or APA style. This final paper is worth 20% of your grade.


Students with Disabilities: The University is legally obligated to provide appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities. The campus’ Disability Support Services Office (DSS) works with students and faculty to address a variety of issues ranging from test anxiety to physical and psychological disabilities. If a student or instructor believes that the student may have a disability, they should consult with DSS (4-7682, email Dissup@umd.edu). Note that to receive accommodations, students must first have their disabilities documented by DSS. The office then prepares an Accommodation Letter for course instructors regarding needed accommodations. Students are responsible for presenting this letter to their instructors.


Please Note: This syllabus is subject to change at any time according to the professor’s discretion.  The assignments below may also include readings handed out in class, which each student is responsible for completing.




Week 1: Course Introduction

Jan. 26: Course Introduction

  • Watch Digital Nation


Week 2: What’s “New” About New Media?

Jan. 31: What’s “New” About New Media?

  • Read, Remediation by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin (selections)
  • Finish Digital Nation
  • DUE: Bring in advertisement showing cultural imaginaries/ideologies of technology with one paragraph analyzing its message (if using a YouTube video or Internet link, please email me the link as well as include it on a hard copy printout of your paragraph, turned in at the beginning of class).


Feb. 2: Changes Brought About by Digital Media


Week 3: Contextualizing the Digital Divide

Feb. 7: Contextualizing the Digital Divide


Feb. 9: The Digital Divide

  • Read Technology and Social Inclusion, Introduction and Ch. 1-2


Week 4: The Digital Divide

Feb. 14: The Digital Divide

  • Read Technology and Social Inclusion, Ch. 3-4


Feb. 17: The Digital Divide

  • Read Technology and Social Inclusion, Ch. 5-7


Week 5: Virtual Connectivity: Economies and Activism

Feb. 21:


Feb. 23:


Week 6: Identity in Online Environments

Feb. 28: Identity in Online Environments


March 1:

  • Read, “Race in/for Cyberspace” by Lisa Nakamura in Cybercultures Reader ELMS
  • Andil Gosine, “Brown to Blonde at Gay.com: Passing White in Queer Cyberspce.” ELMS
  • Class will meet in chat room


Week 7: Gender, Sexuality, and Digital Media

March 6:


March 8:

  • Jessie Daniels, “Rethinking Cyberfeminism(s): Race, Gender, and Embodiment” WSQ 37: 1-2 (Spring/Summer 2009). ELMS
  • Read, “Does Lara Croft Wear Fake Polygons?: Gender and Gender Role Subversion in Computer Games” by Anne-Marie Schleiner online at http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/leonardo/v034/34.3schleiner.html
  • In-Class: Play Tomb Raider
  • Essay 1 Due


Week 8: Disability in the Digital Age

March 13:

  • Jonathan Lazar & Paul Jaeger, “Reducing barriers to online access for people with disabilities.” Issues in Science and Technology, 27(2), 68-82. ELMS
  • Brian Wentz, Paul Jaeger, and Jonathan Lazar, “Retrofitting accessibility: The legal inequality of after-the-fact online access for persons with disabilities in the United States.” First Monday, 11(7): http://www.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/viewArticle/3666/3077
  • Guest lecture from Paul Jaeger, author of Disability and the Internet


March 15:

Week 9: Spring Break


Week 10: Midterm Review and Exam

March 27: Midterm Review / Form Documentary Groups

  • Accessibility Map Due


March 29: MIDTERM


Week 11: Documentary Case Studies – MMORPGs & LARPing

April 3: Case Study of Online communities: Massively Multiplayer Gamers

  • Read, Communities of Play Part I by Celia Pearce ELMS
  • In-class screening of Second Skin


April 5: Case Study of Offline communities: gaming beyond the personal computer

  • Read, “From Cyber to Hybrid” by Adriana de Souza e Silva – ELMS
  • Read, “Games and Pervasive Games” in Pervasive Games ELMS
  • In-class screening of Monster Camp


Week 12: Documentary Workshops

April 10: Documentary Workshop


April 12: Documentary Workshop


Week 13: Group Work on Documentary

April 17: Group Work on documentary


April 19: Group Work on documentary


Week 14: Group Work on Documentary

April 24: Group Work on documentary


April 26: Group Work on documentary


Week 15: Screenings of Documentaries

May 1: Screenings of documentaries


May 3: Screenings of documentaries


Week 16: Discussions About Final Research Papers

May 7: Discussions about research papers


May 10: Wrap-up and discussions of research papers


Week 17: Finals Week 

Papers and Final Documentaries are due Monday, May 14 between 9-10am in our classroom