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MDST 3703 Introduction to the Digital Liberal Arts

Rafael Alvarado

“We are living in the middle of the largest increase in expressive capability in the history of the human race.”
— Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody

We live in a time of profound cultural change. One of the causes of this change is the transformation of our digital ecology from print and traditional broadcast media to networked digital media, characterized by the rise of database-mediated communication within a global sphere of information exchange. These changes in our media ecology are creating new forms of knowledge and alternative forms of social organization at a pace that is dazzling from an historical perspective. Businesses, governments, and grass roots communities are vigorously adapting to digital media, taking the lead in developing new ways of communicating and acting in the world. Our educational institutions, however, seem bound by habits of thought and structures of communication that resist changes introduced by the new media. Yet the academy is ideally positioned to create and embrace new forms of knowledge with the public interest in mind. In fact a sub-community of academics – dating back to the 1940s and now known as the digital humanities – has pursued exactly this mission, against a tide that seems only now to be turning. In this course, you are invited to join this community and explore the ways digital media are being embraced by scholars, artists, and scientists in the pursuit of knowledge and social change. We will explore the history and culture of the digital liberal arts from its birth in the years immediately following the invention of the first commercial computers through its various incarnations up to the present era of the late World Wide Web. Along the way we will examine specific examples of scholars using digital media to advance their research, and explore the aesthetic and epistemological significance of their work through readings-based discussions and hands-on work on a collaborative class project.


Attendance 10% Blogging 20% Mid-term 20% Final Projects 30% Final Exam 20%



Course Description


Classroom attendance. Attendance is required for all class sessions. Absences in excess of three days will result in loss of a letter grade. Please see the instructors if you anticipate missing more than three classes.

Classroom participation. Although classroom participation is not measured per se, I do expect you to participate by adding to the conversation and answering questions during seminar and actively collaborating with your peers during studio.

Reading before class. Reading is the fuel that drives course discussion. Whether you have done the reading will affect the quality of your contributions and class discussions as a whole. In this course, we have chosen readings (and the occasional video or podcast) that can be completed in the time allotted before class and with enough time to complete the blogging requirement described below. Of course, “reading” in this context means also viewing, listening to, and interacting with assigned new media content.

Timely completion of assignments. Late assignments will not be accepted without loss of a letter grade for each day late. If you anticipate conflicts with your work in other courses, please schedule a meeting with me and bring your other course syllabi so that we may determine if an accommodation is required. In general, it is a good idea to plan your semester in the first two weeks of class, using all of your course syllabi and a calendar to map at a work strategy. (Time management is one of the life skills you would do well to cultivate while in college; you will be abundantly repaid in life by any investment you make in this area.)


The course schedule may be found here.


Blogging Instructions

In this course you will blog extensively. Blogs will be used as a vehicle for your reflection on readings as well as goings on in the course. We use blogging in this course to accomplish an important goal — to connect your reading experience to your classroom experience by means of an on-going conversation that takes place virtually and in person. Your responses help us understand your response to the readings before class, knowledge which we incorporate into the seminar session. Afterward, your blogging allows you to capture and synthesize the thoughts generated during class.



Add a comment on the post for the week’s readings before 5 on Monday


Course Description

Blogging Instructions

  1. Read, view, or listen to each assigned resource. Assigned readings are given in the page associated with the day they are to be discussed. These pages are found under “Lessons” in the menu and are prefixed with the date of the class meeting.

  2. Create a response to the Response Question provided at the end of the reading list by writing a blog post. See the Rubric below for the formal requirements of this post. You must create this post by 5:00 PM the Monday before seminar to receive full credit for your work.

  3. After studio on Thursday but before Friday at 5:00 PM, write a blog post on the course site describing something that you found interesting or confusing from the week, unless otherwise directed. These blog posts are called “synthetic responses” and are an essential part of my teaching process.


  1. The most important aspect of this assignment is to do it. Don’t be a perfectionist — if you have done the reading and attended class, your intuitions are bound to be of value. If they are not, this is one way to develop the muscle that converts the ideas in your head to the words in your mouth — this is what college is for. The point of blogging is not to produce perfect or even completely coherent ideas, but to get the process of talking, thinking, and writing going.

  2. Timeliness is essential. Obviously, for this process to work, your comments and blogs have to be submitted on time. The critical path is your reading — if you get into a schedule for your reading, the rest will follow.

  3. Length is variable. One or two sentences is too short; the ideal is the “fat paragraph” that develops a thought, somewhere between 150 to 300 words.

  4. Consistency matters. Like attendance and bowling, back-to-back participation is essential to a successful outcome.


Here is an example of a synthetic response from a previous course.
Here is an example of a synthetic response in another course, responding to the content of a seminar.


Course Number: 
MDST 3703
DH Certificate requirement :