About the Course

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

Bryan Stevensen

Mike Lyons

Office: Merion Hall 16
Office hours: MWF – 11-12, Tuesday 10-12 and by appointment
e-mail: jlyons@sju.edu (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 social-media-human-rights-resized-600-jpgin 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 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,” digital media – from apps to blogs to Twitter – that helps them address a variety of social issues.

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 observing, 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.

This course will require you to do a number of site visits in the city. There will be several to choose from throughout the course of the semester. If this poses a problem for you for whatever reason please let me know as soon as possible.

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 in an urban setting.
  • 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, particularly in an urban setting..
  • 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.

  • Two required books:

Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations

Anthony Townsend, Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for the new Utopia

Both of these should be available at the bookstore. We will begin reading them a couple of weeks into the semester, so don’t worry if they are a little late in arriving. Obviously, you don’t have to buy them at the bookstore and digital copies (Kindle or whatever) are fine.


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 at 9 a.m. on the morning of  class.

Transit ethnography

This assignment requires you to follow a specified route on specified forms of public transportation and take ethnographic field notes along the way. You will return in a short report with your notes and photographs. Basically, you will take the SEPTA 52 bus from in front of the Hagan Arena to 52nd and Market where you will switch to the Market Frankford Line to Center City. I will provide you with an assignment sheet that with detail specific instructions during Week 2.

Site visits/field notes

You will be required to visit three different sites in the city for this assignment – a civic hacking event, a digital inclusion site and a site related to a non-profit organization focused on civic media. The assignment requires you to spend a significant amount of time at the site and record ethnographic field notes, which you will hand in with a short report. I will make a list of possible dates, events and sites available by the second week of the semester. This list list will be updated frequently throughout the semester as events are announced. A detailed assignment sheet will be available by Week 2.

Research Project

Your research project will include a detailed proposal and the final product, which will be a study of an organization in the city focused on civic media. The purpose of the earlier site visits is to help find and focus in on a topic for your final project. I will provide a detailed assignment sheet for the final project by Week 6.


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

• Reading Notes/Participation (25 percent)
• Site visits/field notes (20 percent)
• Midterm (15 percent)
• Project proposal (10 percent)
• Final Project (20 percent)
• Final (10 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 jscott@sju.edu



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