DGST 395:
Applied Digital Studies

This is a website for a class at the University of Mary Washington where students – mainly students who Major in Communication and Digital Studies or Minor in Digital Studies – build on ideas you've encountered in Digital Studies 101 by applying those tools, skills, and insights in a way that matters.

Whereas DGST 101 is a wide, shallow approach to digital culture, creativity and methodology, DGST 395 is a deep dive into a project that students design, complete, and evaluate.

I intend this document for students in this class, but I'm making it publicly available. Feel free to borrow, adapt, or comment on any aspect of this document. For questions, contact me, Zach Whalen.

"Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferals of information." - Paulo Freire
"Self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of [a student]'s nature." - Charlotte Mason
"I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're doing something." - Neil Gaiman

Learning Outcomes
In this class, I hope that you will learn...

How to analyze, critique, and respond to contemporary digital culture.

How to work with computer programming in order to express ideas, explore questions, and investigate problems.

How to plan, manage, and evaluate a long-term digital project.

How to share your work and make it meaningful beyond the audience of this class and this University.

To accomplish these objectives, I've created a structure for this class that I believe will help you be successful. It's up to you to make this work – and I mean "you" both in the singular and the plural, as you'll see below – so to get you all on board with this, I'm laying out as much as I can in this document.

As we think about this class and the experiences that lie before us, consider it in terms of the Three Big Things that comprise its conceptual structure, starting with the two required books.

The Three Big Things


Image of the Cover 'Autonmous' featuring a robotic hand.

With Annalee Newitz's Autonomous, we'll have a series of conversations and activities organized around the topics raised in this futurist fiction. You may find this a complex book, but understanding the book is not our goal per se, at least not as you might in a literature class. Instead, we're using the ideas, characters, and plot of this book as a catalyst for investigating contemporary culture through a digital lens.

Exploratory Programming

Image of the Cover of Exploratory Programming, by Nick Montfort

Similarly, with Nick Montfort's textbook, Exploratory Programming for the Arts and Humanities, we won't be reading this book and following its exercises in order to become good programmers. Instead, we'll use it to learn more about how programming works and how we can use it to do new and interesting things.

Your Big Project

Image of a Typewriter with the text 'Hello World. This is technology.'

It all adds up to your Big Project, which may grow out of your work on the two books or may be something you've always wanted to work on. The project design is up to you, but it must be digital in some way, it should meaningful beyond the scope of this class, and it must challenge you to learn new skills or work with new ideas.

Hopefully you've noticed a couple of themes in the previous section. First, each item relates to the outcomes: Autonomous to Outcome 1, Exploratory Programming to Outcome 2, and The Big Project to Outcome 3. Outcome 4 – sharing your ideas – is present in all three of the course componements, but it's more clearly expressed in the pedagogy for this class.


An icon representing collaboration. 'collection by Kirill Ulitin from the Noun Project'

If knowledge is power, then learning is liberation. And learning can only happen if all of us – teacher and students – choose to invest in and collobaratively determine the stakes and consequences of what we set out to learn and accomplish this semester.

In practical terms, this means that there will be almost no days of class where I stand up in front and try to explain something to everyone. Instead, you'll work with, teach, and learn from each other in smaller groups.

A typical day of this 50-minute class will look something like this:

  • :00 - :05
    Announcements, organization, and pep talk from ZW
  • :06 - :20
    First teaching or workshop session
  • :21 - :25
  • :26 - :40
    Second teaching or workshop session
  • :41 - :50
    Sharing and reflecting

Each of us will be responsible for leading 8 teaching or workshop sessions: three on chapters of Autonomous, three on chapters from Exploratory Programming, and two from your Big Project.

With 50-something students, scheduling these teaching sessions will be complex, but I'll figure it out. I'll also share some basic guidelines and suggestions for each type of teaching in our class's shared Google Drive folder.


The Big Project (30% of total)

Since you're designing this project, you'll also define the criteria for evaluating your efforts and ultimately the success or failure of the project. At a minimum, your evaluation criteria must recognize and assign value to at least these four components:

  1. Proposal
  2. Progress Report 1
  3. Progress Report 2
  4. Final Reflection

Teaching (30% of total)

You'll lead a small group six times this semester, so each of those teaching days is worth 5% of your overall grade. Your grade for each individual teaching session will be determined in a self-evaluation informed by feedback from your peers.

Learning Narrative (20%)

Somewhere public (like a blog) or private (like a Google Doc), keep a weekly reflection of your work for this class and your learnng processes as you navigate the various challenges that will come up.

This should a series of statements you'll prepare (in text, gif, video, or whatever format you prefer). I will post reflection prompts at key points in the semester, but you should add to this narrative at least once per week.

General Participation (20% of total)

Work with and encourage your peers, both in person and online. Give them helpful feedback on their teaching, and provide supportive critique on their projects.

community - /kəˈmjunədi/
noun - ... "9.a. Life in association with others; the social state.b. Social cohesion; mutual support and affinity such as is derived from living in a community."
Oxford English Dictionary


The Slack logo


You've used Slack before in DGST 101, and this community will be similar, with one major difference. Starting this Fall, we're going to use a common Slack team for all Digital Studies classes. Join it at umwdgst.slack.com/signup.

This is an experiment. We'll figure it out as we go.

The Google Drive logo. A stylized triangle.

Google Drive

Google Drive makes it easy to share and collaborate on documents and files. We'll share a folder in Google Drive to make it easier to exchange files, communicate, and plan the teaching schedule, so please create a Google Account if you don't already have one. I'll share the link to this folder privately.

A stylized letter 'h' within a word bubble.


This is the web-based annotation tool that lets users annotate and comment on most webpages. When we use this in class, please add the tag "#dgst395" to your relevant public annotations.

Working together in the community of this classroom requires a fundamental understanding of trust and mutual support. I know you'll be more willing to push your limits and try new things in a supportive environment, but more importantly, being decent to each other is a basic expectation of humanity. The following sections describe some of the the minimal conditions and norms that will help make this happen in our class. In addition to these, we'll collaborate on a Code of Conduct statement.

Policies and Expectations

Technology in the Classroom

You are welcome to use computers during class, including tablets, smartphones, whatever — so long as what you're doing isn't distracting someone else. I simply ask you to be responsible. Proper uses may include taking notes, reviewing the reading material, looking up something related, or participating in a constructive backchannel conversation such as Slack or Twitter. Improper uses may include watching movies, and working on homework assignments for other classes.


Students are expected to treat the instructor and fellow students with the appropriate degree of respect, both in class and in online discussions. Communication, either in person or through electronic media, that is deemed abusive, threatening, or harassing in nature will not be tolerated.


Through the course of this semester, we'll look at a wide array of content that may include literature, film, comics, television, memes, and any manner of things that people post on the Internet. It is possible that some of this material may be disturbing, offensive, or upsetting, possibly including subject matter or themes related to race, gender, sexuality or violence. For some of these conversations to take place, it is important that we grapple with these uncomfortable, and we will always treat all such material with appropriate maturity and as much ethical clarity as possible. However, if you find for some reason that discussing a particular text is too upsetting or traumatic, it is always OK to excuse yourself from that discussion.

Status of Student Work

Much of the work you'll be creating for my class will be posted online and shared with a public audience. Some of the work may also be shared with others in the class via a closed system like Slack. Wherever possible, we will discuss and think carefully about the divide between public and private sharing and when to post what, where. All grades and feedback will be in Canvas or some other private medium only accessible by you and me.

Academic Dishonesty

The UMW Honor System applies to everything you do for our course. I may authorize specific assignments as collaborative work, but all other work must be your own, as per Article 1, Sections 1 and 2 of the University of Mary Washington Student Honor Code.

Academic dishonesty typically boils down to taking credit for someone else's work. Whether you've done so accidentally or maliciously, it's still an honor violation. Some examples include:

  • Including a quote in a blog post without identifying the source of that quote
  • Using an image in a blog post without permission from its copyright holder
  • Asking another student to "edit" your paper for you
  • Creating a blog entry or essay that is mostly quotes, even properly attributed quotes

Disability Resources

The Office of Disability Resources has been designated by the University as the primary office to guide, counsel, and assist students with disabilities. If you already receive services through the Office of Disability Resources and require accommodations for this class, get in touch with me as soon as possible to discuss your approved accommodation needs. Please bring your accommodation letter with you to the appointment. I will hold any information you share with me in the strictest confidence unless you give me permission to do otherwise. If you have not contacted the Office of Disability Services and need accommodations, (note taking assistance, extended time for tests, etc.), I will be happy to refer you. The office will require appropriate documentation of disability. Their phone number is 540-654-1266.

Title IX

University of Mary Washington faculty are committed to supporting students and upholding the University’s Policy on Sexual and Gender Based Harassment and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence. Under Title IX and this Policy, discrimination based upon sex or gender is prohibited. If you experience an incident of sex or gender-based discrimination, we encourage you to report it. While you may talk to me, understand that as a “Responsible Employee” of the University, I MUST report to UMW’s Title IX Coordinator what you share. If you wish to speak to someone confidentially, please contact the below confidential resources. They can connect you with support services and help you explore your options. You may also seek assistance from UMW’s Title IX Coordinator. Please visit http://diversity.umw.edu/title-ix/ to view UMW’s Policy on Sexual and Gender Based Harassment and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence and to find further information on support and resources.

Attending this class is important and I expect everyone to be there. The sense of community that's so important for this class to flourish requires that you be present to participate. Excessive absences are a disservice to your peers, so that will have an impact on your participation grade.


This class meets in two sections: Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Section 1 is at 12:00 PM and Section 2 is at 1:00 PM.

The calendar for this class – including the teaching schedule and major due dates – will be shared in the Google Drive folder.

Both sections meet in room 327 of the Hurley Convergence Center.


The instructor is Dr. Zach Whalen. My email address zwhalen@umw.edu. Office hours are Tuesday from 9:30AM - 11:00PM and both Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:00 - 4:00. Book an appointment at zachwhalen.youcanbook.me.