Class Details

COM 201 Communications Ethics

Course Information

  • Tuesday & Thursday 2:00-3:15 MH 150
  • Office: Bronstein 212
  • Office Hours: Tuesday & Thursday 10:00-11:00

Course Description

The Internet is old, okay maybe not historically old, but at least older than you probably think. What is not as old, nor mature, is the public internet, especially the widely used social media aspect. What is clear now is that the change in how we communicate and thus organize our social spaces brings with it a host of changes. While the internet has many positive affordances, it also has substantial costs and limitations. With these affordances and limitations come a host of ethical questions about how we want to integrate these developing communication tools into our lives. These questions will be the focus of this class.

Required Texts

  • The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s On-line Pioneers by Tom Standage ISBN 162040592X
  • There will be several movies to assigned throughout the course of the class. Some are available on Netflix, others you might have to rent on iTunes or Amazon.

Course Expectations

First, let me say a bit about this class. This class will reflect one of the fundamental principles underlying the strength of the internet: None of us are smarter than all of us. Or, if you prefer a slightly different take: Knowledge is a communal process even if we have been taught to treat it as an individual product.

This means that in the class you will do a lot more than memorize information gleaned from a range of sources I throw at you; instead we are going to use the class time to discuss, learn, and create as a group. This class is about co-llaboration, co-exploration, and co-learning. While I certainly see my role as someone who is knowledgeable in digital media, I am by no means the final voice. I will try to be provocative, trace points of connection, provide historical background, and serve as a resource, but in this class I view my role as facilitator of your learning, not as lecturer. Indeed, I expect, I hope, that this class will be far more a learning community than a twice-a-week pursuit of credit hours. By taking this class, you are agreeing to participate in this community, to become active learners rather than passive subjects.

Some parts of this class are experiments in which I am going to ask you to participate (and in which I will participate with you). This means that at times things will succeed and at times they will fail, but that is just the point: failure can often teach us more than success. Over the course of the semester we will use a variety of online tools (some you are probably familiar with, others not so much). My hope is that through critical examination and experimental inquiry we will come to understand the strengths and limits of these mediums.

Class Goals

Given all the above, you might ask yourself: “What’s in it for me?” A fair question, since I am going to ask a great deal of you, not just because of the workload, but because I am requiring you to participate in a demanding style of learning. Let me begin by answering the question this way… I think we are approaching a critical cultural juncture, where literacy itself is changing. There will develop, perhaps already has developed, a significant divide between those who know how to use these emerging media, and those who uncritically consume them. My goal for the class is to help you move into that first category: to become active, critical producers in this new media landscape.

Concretely this means:

  • Understand the complex role media plays in culture and society.
  • Begin to analyze the significant changes that comes with the development of the digital network in its various forms.
  • Critique and analyze the ethical and cultural issues that these changes require us to think about.

Class Requirements

Reading Notes (50%): One of the most important things you will do in class is prepare for the class discussions, as part of this you will–through Google Documents–share with me your reading notes and class prep materials. I will evaluate these based on the thoroughness of your preparation. (During the first week of class we will discuss the specifics of this evaluation method.)

Midterm (15%): The midterm will cover the theories and concepts from the reading material and class discussions.

Final exam (15%): The final exam will build on the midterm and concepts throughout the entire semester, asking you to demonstrate your knowledge of the course’s major concepts.

Digital Projects (20%): Throughout the semester I will ask you to explore media, expirement with it, research it, and try out new things. These projects, along with reflections will compromise the digital project part of your grade.


As this course is highly interactive and practice/discussion-driven, your success is absolutely tethered to your presence and participation. The course will move quickly, and each successive meeting will build upon the concepts of the previous. Missing a class puts you at a serious disadvantage in terms of the larger semester arc. This is not the type of course where you can “ask for the notes” from a classmate and get the same learning experience. If you miss class you will miss something important.

Please come to class on time, prepared, having completed the assigned reading and writing, and ready to contribute to class discussions, to listen seriously and respectfully to the thoughts of others, and to participate in all in-class activities. Missing more than three classes will affect your grade. More than five absences can result in failing the course. If you need to miss class for religious reasons, please speak to me ahead of time. Absences for religious purposes do not count against the permitted number (as long as prior notification is given). Latenesss is also unacceptable; if you arrive late to class you can be marked as absent. Leaving early also will count as an absence.Your primary responsibility is to be in class and fully present.

Course Website

The course website for this class can be found at You should get in the habit of checking this regularly as I will post suggestions and thoughts about the readings here, as well as links to other things that might interest the class. The syllabus can be found here as well, and any changes to the syllabus will be posted here. Please note: The syllabus might change throughout the course of the semester, indeed it probably will as we adjust to meet the needs of the class, so please develop a habit of checking the class website. If you forget the web address you can always find it from a much easier url to remember.

A Note on Technology

Because at its core this class is about how technology changes our culture, we will necessarily engage with a range of computer tools and web based applications. You do not need any prior skill, however; you merely need a willingness to engage and learn. A majority of the tools we will be using in class are web-based, thus you will not need any special software.

One further note about technology. As much as technology makes life easier, at times it can also be difficult (computer crashes, deleted work, slow internet connection, etc.) Plan accordingly: “the computer ate my homework” or “the internet was down” are not reasons to forgo doing the assigned work. It is in your best interest to leave extra time, and back up frequently, especially at first to ensure that technology does not get in the way of your work.

Digital Etiquette

Many of the assignments throughout the semester will require participation in online spaces. Students should work to preserve the same atmosphere of respect and consideration that occurs in the classroom. Disagreements may arise and consensus is not always possible (indeed disagreements are productive). However, name calling, harassing, flaming, trolling etc. is antithetical to the goals of this course.

How to Reach me

The best way to reach me is by email or you can find me online at I check email frequently throughout the day. If you email me and do not receive a response within 48 hours please feel free to email me again (I might not have received your first one) and give me a reminder. I promise not to consider this harassing. Don’t call my office phone, though; voice mail is annoying and I tend to check it far less frequently than email.

My office hours are TR 10:00-11:00. My office is on the second floor of Bronstein.

University Policies

Academic Honesty: Please familiarize yourself with the University’s Academic Honesty Policy.

Disability Support: In accordance with state and federal laws, the University will make reasonable accommodations for students with documented disabilities. For those who have or think that you may have a disability requiring an accommodation (learning, physical, psychological) should contact Services for Students with Disabilities, Room G10, Bellarmine, 610-660-1774 (voice) or 610-660-1620 (TTY) as early as possible in the semester for additional information and so that an accommodation, if appropriate, can be made in a timely manner. You will be required to provide current (within 3 years) documentation of the disability.

For a more detailed explanation of the University’s accommodation process, as well as the programs and services offered to students with disabilities, please see the Student Resources Page. If you have any difficulty accessing the information on-line, please contact Services for Students with Disabilities at the telephone numbers above.

A Final Note

Should any aspect of class confuse/concern/trouble you, or if you have questions about any of this, please see me.