COM 371 • Civic Media Fall ’14

“Our visions of technology and design and entertainment and creativity have to be married with visions of humanity, compassion and justice.”

Bryan Stevensen


Office: Merion Hall 16
Office hours: MW – 1-2, TTh 10-11 and by appointment (e-mail)
e-mail: (Please allow at least 24 hours for a response. If you don’t get one by then, e-mail me again.) You can also get me on twitter at @jmikelyons.

Course Description

Digital media and the Internet have opened a multitude of new ways for people to engage with issues they care about, everything from repression in the Middle East to homelessness in their neighborhoods. They have placed the tools of production in the hands of ordinary people. This course focuses on what people and organizations are doing – or not doing – with this new-found power. We will read about, observe and write about how citizens, community groups and governments are using digital tools and platforms to create “civic media,” any media – from graffiti to blogs to Twitter – that helps them address a variety of social

This course is also designed to introduce students to conducting systematic research to address complex questions about how digital media is used to bring about social change and augment citizenship, particularly in urban areas. Students will learn how to systematically study civic engagement online and produce and present a significant piece of original research. The research project will require extensive time in the field working on a particular case. To prepare students will spend much of the first part of the course reading and talking about a variety of case studies focused on civic media projects and the people involved in them. Our discussion about research methods (how to gather data for a project) and analysis (how you make sense of that data) will focus on these case studies.

Course Objectives

Our goal by the end of the course is that you will:

  • Have an in-depth understanding of how digital media is being used to foster civic engagement.
  • Be comfortable discussing and debating civic media concepts using a lexicon developed through the semester.
  • Understand how to apply appropriate research methods to collect and analyze data to answer complex questions about civic engagement online and offline.
  • Be adept at designing, implementing and presenting an original research project on a topic related to digital media and civic engagement.

Books, articles, films, etc.

  • One required book:

Chris Wells, The Civic Organization and the Digital Citizen

This should be available at the bookstore, Amazon etc.


Reading Notes

This course requires a lot of reading. I am asking each of you to take notes on each reading that we do for class and share those notes with me in a Google doc. The intention here is to help you express what you did and didn’t understand about the reading, identify some key concepts and terms that are important to know in a discussion of digital media ethics and pose some discussion questions about the readings. Your reading notes are due two hours before class.

These reading notes are a fairly substantial piece of your grade, so don’t go out to lunch on them.

Transit ethnography

I will require you to go on a sort of scavenger hunt using SEPTA. I will give you the route and what you need to do. The idea here is to get your feet wet with ethnography as well. Stay tuned on this one.

Research Project

This course requires you to do an original piece of research. More on this later.


Your grade will be determined through a combination of the following:

• Reading Notes/Participation (30 percent)
• Transit Ethnography (15 percent)
• Social movements response (10 percent)
• Midterm (15 percent)
• Final project (30 percent)

Participation and Attendance

Our success as a class requires that everyone attend prepared to contribute. That means having done the readings and required reading notes.

I take attendance. You get three unexcused absences. After that, each absence will result in the loss of half a letter grade. More than five absences will result in a failing grade.


Projects are due on the date listed on the schedule. Each day late will result in a letter grade deduction. Reading notes are due two hours before class. They will not be accepted after that.

Academic Integrity

No form of academic misconduct will be tolerated in this course. Cheating and plagiarism will result in an immediate fail and you will be reported to the appropriate official in your college. Plagiarism is defined in the Student Code of Conduct as follows:

1. Submitting another’s published or unpublished work in whole, in part or in paraphrase, as one’s own without fully and properly crediting the author with footnotes, quotation marks, citations, or bibliographical reference.

2. Submitting as one’s own original work, material obtained from an individual or agency without reference to the person or agency as the source of the material.

3. Submitting as one’s own original work material that has been produced through unacknowledged collaboration with others without release in writing from collaborators.

Special Needs

For those who have or think that you may have a disability (learning, physical or psychological), you are encouraged to contact Services for Students with Disabilities, Room G10, Bellarmine, 610-660-1774 or 610-660-1620 as early as possible in the semester. Reasonable accommodations can only be offered to students with current (within 3 years) documentation of the disability and to the extent that such accommodation does not interfere with the essential requirements of a particular course or program.

If you have any questions contact Jim Scott, Director, Services for Students with Disabilities – Bellarmine – Room G10 – 610-660-1774 or


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