1. Course Description and Objectives

This course is an entry point into the University of Washington Department of Communication’s Master of Communication in Digital Media (MCDM) program.

The course focuses on the past, present, and future of digital communication technologies, in contrast to traditional mass media studied in most communication programs. We will examine the connections between new technology, traditional media content, social and individual influences, and communications theory. In short, we will explore what may be truly new and revolutionary about digital media contrasted with what may be a continuation of traditional technology, content, and audience uses.

Although we will examine these topics from a traditional “Who said What to Whom through What Channel with what Effect” model of mediated communication, we will also move beyond this traditional “transmission approach” to examine how the technology itself shapes our concepts about self, culture and group membership.

Course Goals

By participating in this course, students will:

  • Acquire an understanding of the historical context, current trends and future projections of digital communication methods
  • Develop an awareness of unintended consequences of new technology
  • Become a critical consumer of information
  • Become better writers and more analytical thinkers

Learning Outcomes

After completing this course, students will be able to:

  • Explain how communication technologies diffuse through society, from invention to adoption
  • Explain how digital media differ from traditional media, both technically and in their social influence
  • Identify three inventions that provided the foundation for today’s digital communication technologies
  • Trace the development of a contemporary technology, service or product, showing its antecedents and logical future direction
  • Analyze and critique digital presentation material (“Powerpoint”)
  • Use social media technologies to share presentations digitally
  • Create a website using

Student Responsibilities

  • Be prepared for class; have reading and assignments done on time
  • Participate in active learning inside and outside of class (in other words, both on-line and face-to-face). That means asking questions, helping classmates answer questions, and working with one another to solve problems.
  • Be in class. It’s the only time we’ll have to work face-to-face
  • Ask questions!

Alignment With MCDM Core Values and Competencies:

Value/Core Competency COM546
Identify and analyze the latest developments in digital media technology. After questioning invited guest speakers and reading course materials, students can explain the origin of contemporary technologies and offer informed hypotheses as to their future trajectory
Understand how to use digital media to create and convey a message.
  1. Students produce their discussion leader materials and reading reflections on their blogs, a public space, thereby contributing to the public conversation about the themes of the course.
  2. Students produce a standalone website for their term project, using WordPress
  3. Students share their presentation material using
Pursue new business and management models based on the application of digital media. After reflecting upon the course material and questioning invited guest speakers, students can explain where contemporary digital technologies are in the adoption cycle and offer informed hypotheses as to appropriate marketing efforts

2. Course Structure and Teaching Strategies

Teaching methods for this course will include lectures, video demonstrations, student presentations, reading, and writing assignments. Some classes may feature a guest lecturer who is a leading professional or scholar in interactive digital media. Although there will be 25 students in the class, we will structure it as closely as possible to a seminar. Class discussions are a key element of the course, and students are encouraged to ask questions, offer their own observations, and share their own experiences with technologies.

The course instructor and graduate assistant will coordinate all class material, keep in close touch with each student in order to assess and meet individual needs, and evaluate all course assignments.

The class meets weekly on Wednesday from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m., and the schedule is posted on the class web site; net access and regular checking of UW email is essential. Readings are from the texts or are available online.

Instructor’s Educational Philosophy

My goal is to provide a stimulating environment for learning. Course material includes both theory and application, with an emphasis on application to real world problems and situations. Written and oral reports are required because these skills are needed in the work environment in general, and in web development, management, and consulting in particular. Students are required to comment and collaborate as these are practical skills; the means used demonstrates theories discussed in class.

Communication with the Instructor

I am happy to meet with you in order to accommodate your schedule. I also strongly encourage you to send questions, comments, concerns to me via email. I check my campus email less frequently on F-Su; please do not expect an answer to email sent F-Su until Monday. Please use clear subject lines (add “urgent” if the message is time-sensitive). Double your chances of a quick response by also sending the note to my gmail account: kegill at If you have not heard from me within 48 hours, please resend to both email accounts; it might be a good idea to also change the subject line. [Note: emails without subject lines will not be read; they are automatically filtered into the spam folder.]

Required Books:

  • Clayton M. Christensen, Seeing What’s Next: Using Theories of Innovation to Predict Industry Change (2004). (Amazon)
  • Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen (2008). (Amazon)
  • Brian Winston, Media Technology and Society – A History: From the Telegraph to the Internet (1998). Available as an eBook or from any online vendor (Amazon).

Recommended Books:

  • Tom Standage, The Victorian Internet (2nd edition).
  • Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations (5th edition). Required readings provided as PDF.

Suggested Books For Improving Writing:

  • American Psychological Association (APA) staff, Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
  • Diana Hacker, A Pocket Style Manual
  • Jack Hart, A Writer’s Coach
  • Brandon Royal, The Little Red Writing Book
  • Strunk and White, The Elements of Style
  • Lynn Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves
  • Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers
  • Kate Wilhelm, Storyteller
  • Ben Yagoda, The Sound on the Page
  • William Zinsser, On Writing Well

3. Assessment

Your work in this course will be evaluated primarily on a term project that is composed of a project proposal, a preliminary paper, a final paper, an annotated bibliography and an end-of-quarter presentation about your project. For this research, each student will choose an industry, issue, or technology related to digital communication. These are very broad topics; it will be up to each student (with help from the instructor and peers) to develop a specific, appropriate, and innovative focus to the term project. Those students interested in reading one of the two science fiction books on the optional reading list may approach the term topic by deconstructing communication technologies presented in those future worlds, linking them to current and predecessor technologies.

The final research project will be published as a standalone website using as a content management system. The final presentation will be published on

In addition, there are reading assignments (including a book review, a book of your choice); small group discussion leadership; and class participation. There are no exams.

Details on readings and the term project are on a separate page.

You may participate through your active presence in class, through discussion that arises in class, and through discussion that arises through class blog posts. There may be additional in-class assignments that will be posted to your blog; these are also considered participation. If you miss a class due to work or illness, you should participate asynchronously by commenting on classmate posts or making extra blog posts.

Your final grade will be based on the total points received. For points, see the Google Spreadsheet (course links).

Reading Reflections (3) 75 x 3 = 225
Discussion Leader (essay/in-class discussion) 125
Term Project (divided into several steps) 425
Book Review (directly related to term project) 125
Participation 100
Total Points 1000


  • >950 points = 4.0

  • 900-949 points = 3.9

  • 870-899 points = 3.7

  • 840-869 points = 3.5

  • 800-839 points = 3.2

  • 770-799 points = 2.8

Grading Scale

  • 4.0 – 95-100
    Exceptional work. Student performance demonstrates full command of course material and evidences a high level of originality and/or creativity
  • 3.9 – 90-94
    Outstanding work. Student performance demonstrates full command of course material and exceeds course expectations by completing all requirements in a superior manner.
  • 3.7 – 87-89
    Very good work. Student performance demonstrates above average understanding of the course material.
  • 3.5 – 84-86
    Good work. Student performance demonstrates good comprehension of the course material.
  • 3.2 – 80-83
    Average work. Student performance demonstrates average comprehension of the course material.
  • 2.8 – 77-79
    Below average work.
  • 2.6 and below – 76 and belowUnacceptable work. Course work performed at this level will not count toward the MC degree. For the course to count towards the degree, the student must repeat the course with a passing grade.

UW Grading System

Why I Give Writing Assignments
In this class, the writing assignments are designed to help you:

  • gain more knowledge about a particular field that interests you
  • synthesize different positions and evaluate which position has the greatest internal consistency
  • develop support for your own position
  • apply an intellectual framework to a new problem
  • use theoretical criteria discussed in class in an analytical framework
  • extrapolate from ideas developed in readings and in class to suggest what might
    happen in the future or how a past event might have changed had conditions differed

Research shows that writing improves thinking (analytical) skills. It forces us to practice a skill that may have gotten rusty, because most of the time, our thinking remains isolated in our own minds. Reflection, in these hectic, “down-sized” days, is a luxury that we often postpone, sometimes indefinitely. Thus the request to blog: to reflect, then to put our thoughts on digital paper. The act of writing helps us evaluate our beliefs and assumptions and also helps cement knowledge.

In addition, there are real-world benefits to improved writing skills. A December 2007 report from the National Academy of the Arts concluded that employers rated “written communications” at the top of a list of applied skills found lacking in both high school and college graduates. Report cited at,

4. Course Policies

By becoming a member of this class, you agree to abide by these rules and any other policies not explicitly stated here that are detailed in the UW Student Conduct Handbook.

Students are expected to attend all classes and are responsible for completing all course material on deadline. You must e-mail me if you miss class because of illness or emergency. This communication is part of your class participation. Moreover, rather than ask me what happened while you were away, you should also check this blog as well as talk to your classmates to “see what you missed.” In-class assignments cannot be made up except by arrangement.

Additionally, from the Faculty Code:

A student absent from any class activity through sickness or other cause judged by the instructor to be unavoidable shall be given an opportunity to perform work judged by the instructor to be the equivalent… Examples of unavoidable cause include death or serious illness in the immediate family, illness of the student, and, provided previous notification is given, observance of regularly scheduled religious obligations and might possibly include attendance at academic conferences or field trips, or participation in university-sponsored activities such as debating contests or athletic competition (Faculty code, Vol. 4, Part 3, Chap 12, sec 1B).

All work must be completed on time. Errors (facts, spelling and grammar) will result in a reduced grade. You are expected to produce original work and properly cite the thoughts and works of others. All sources must be properly cited. Plagiarism and cheating are serious offenses and are not tolerated by the University. For more information, please refer to the University’s Academic Honesty policy.

Classroom Environment
Students and faculty are responsible for creating a good learning environment. We will use computing technology in the classroom during labs; specific uses of computing technology will be announced in advance with detailed instructions.

Students may use laptops or other portable devices for taking notes. However, these portable devices should not be used to engage in non-classroom activities, such as surfing the Net, checking e-mail, playing games or listening to music. These activities would certainly divert your attention away from class and could distract other students as well, thus corrupting the learning environment. I reserve the right to end your use of a portable device, ask you to move, or revoke the privilege of using wireless devices in the classroom.

During class breaks, students may use portable computing devices or lab computers for personal use as long as they respect other class members. Material visible on the computing device should not be offensive or incendiary. Any music played during breaks should be at a level conducive to classroom civility.

Courteous Discourse
Whether in class or online, students are expected to conduct themselves with professional courtesy and decorum. Please make constructive comments; flames and insults are not acceptable. Disagree with the idea, not the person!

The instructor will not give incompletes except under exceptional circumstances.

To request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact Disability Resources for Students, 448 Schmitz, 206-543-8924/V, 206-5430-8925/TTY. If you have a letter from Disability Resources for Students indicating that you have a disability that requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to me so we can discuss the accommodations that you might need for the class.

E-mail Communication
E-mail communications among members of this class should reflect respect for the rights and privileges of all members of the academic community. This includes not interfering with university functions or endangering the health, welfare, or safety of other persons. In addition to the University of Washington’s Student Conduct Code, there are additional policies for this class:

  • E-mail communication from a student to the instructor will be acted upon, if possible, within 24 hours (M-Th). If an e-mail from a student does not receive a response within 48 hours, then the student should investigate other ways of contacting me (telephone, office hours, etc.). E-mail to the instructor must have clear, not cryptic, subject lines and should include the course number (COM546).
  • Students are responsible for checking their UW mail regularly; instructor and class mailing list mail is directed to the student UW address, as it is the official e-mail address for class enrollment.
  • E-mail communications should not include any CCing of anyone not directly involved in the specific educational experience at hand.
  • E-mail communications should not include any blind-CCing to third parties.

5. MCDM Practices and Principles

The Master of Communication in Digital Media is a degree program for working professionals, intended to balance fundamental theory and concepts with practical tools. It focuses on the economic, political, social and cultural impact of new communication technologies and encourages students to apply these concepts to their spheres of interest.

Many of our students are looking to advance their careers – some within their present organizations, others in new professional directions. They want a new perspective on technology. Although a few may pursue additional studies after completing the MCDM, the MCDM is not integrated into the Communication Department doctoral program.

At the end of the program, students should be able to:

  • Identify and analyze the impacts of current digital media technology on business and social institutions
  • Understand how to use digital media tools to create and convey a message.
  • Apply new business and management models based upon or impacted by digital media.

The MCDM provides high quality instruction with conceptual and practical applications. As such:

  • The course plan should clearly lay out expectations and learning objectives.
  • Class projects should flow directly from larger learning objectives.

Grading and workload (3 hours a week per credit hour including class time)

  • A 3.5 – 4.0 grade reflects a substantive ability to master the course content, reflect upon it critically, fully participate in class, and express oneself in a way that expands the scope of the content beyond how it has been traditionally understood.
  • A 3.0 – 3.4 grade reflects the ability to assimilate course content, understand its implications, express oneself clearly, and obvious progress in learning.
  • A minimum of 2.7 is required for each course that is counted towards the degree.

Our students are expected to:

  • Write coherently and clearly, completing assignments on time and as directed.
  • Not miss more than two classes a quarter, unless due to extreme circumstances.
  • Engage as much as possible with colleagues and the instructor.
  • Stay current with the latest developments in digital media.
Revised 6 January 2009; added email policy and MCDM Principles
Revised 15 December 2009 for 2010 required book list
Revised 23 March 2011 for assignments and points
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