HIST 3260/5260
Digital Studies & Strategies

Professor Cameron Blevins (he/him/his) | cameron.blevins@ucdenver.edu
University of Colorado Denver, Spring 2021
M/W 2:00-3:15pm, Remote Course (via Zoom)
Office Hours (via Zoom): Tues. 10-11:30am & by appointment

Course Description

This course equips students to be effective and responsible users of modern technology. It does so through two pathways, one conceptual and the other practical. First, students will develop a conceptual framework for studying different platforms, software, applications, and tech companies and the role they play within modern society, tackling larger topics like consumer privacy, critical data studies, and algorithmic bias. Second, students will learn how to use an array of technology, such as building a personal website, recording and editing audio, processing and analyzing data, and making digital maps.

Note: This course serves as an introduction to the Digital Studies Certificate and provides 3.0 approved credit hours within the Certificate’s Integration cluster.

Learning Goals

In this class, students will:

  • Understand the cultural, social, and ethical dimensions of how technology shapes modern society
  • Develop technical skills across a variety of platforms and software
  • Build a body of knowledge and skillset that advances your individual educational and/or career goals

Course Philosophy

My main priority as a teacher is that this course is as useful as possible for you, the students. I have some topics I would like to cover and skills I would like you to learn, but each of you have different starting points, perspectives, and goals in terms of what you would like to get out of this semester and the best way to achieve them. Some of you might already have experience with certain technologies; others might be starting from scratch. I am approaching this class not as an all-knowing professor doling out some preordained body of knowledge, but as a coach and mentor who will, as much as possible, work with each of you to tailor the course to meet your individual needs. To that end, we are going to work as a group throughout the semester to adjust the class as needed. If, for instance, there is a consensus around around replacing a certain topic with a different one I am more than willing to do so.

I also want this class to foster experimentation, creativity, and even failure - all useful, and even necessary, for learning new technical skills. To that end, I am abandoning some of the familiar tenets of college courses. In particular, I won’t be using traditional grading. I’ve found that letter grade models cause students to focus on the wrong things: “How do I get an A in this course?” rather than “How can I learn as much as possible?” By moving away from a punitive system in which I act as a judge telling you what you did wrong, I hope to create a space for you to take more intellectual chances and push yourself in ways that you might not otherwise if you were worried about getting a low grade. You will, of course, receive a final letter grade for the course that appears on your transcript, but the way in which you arrive at that grade will look quite different from other classes.

So what does this philosophy look like in practice? I will be using a system of consultative grading in which you take ownership over your own learning. I have established a baseline of expectations for the course (doing the reading, participating in discussion, completing tasks, etc.) that you can find under the Assignments page. As long as you meet those expectations you have wide latitude with how you approach and complete the work for this class. Instead of thinking about assignments as a set of precise instructions, I urge you to think about what you want to get out of it and the most effective way to do so. Rather than give you a letter grade for each assignment, I will be providing feedback that will focus on what I think you did well and what I would like you to improve or focus on for future assignments. I’m going to base your final grade for the course on this feedback along with a series of self-assessments. Throughout the semester I will ask you to reflect on your learning goals and how well you feel are accomplishing them across different topics and assignments, culminating in a final self-assessment for the semester in which you will assign yourself a grade for the semester and explain your reasoning. I reserve the right to adjust this grade up or down if I think you are either being too harsh on yourself or taking advantage of this system. In short, let’s stop worrying about grades and focus on what matters: learning.