COM 473

Information. Materiality. 3Dprinting.



COM 473 Information, Materiality and 3D Printing

Course Description

We consistently hear that that society is undergoing an information revolution, living in an information age, that the abundance and ubiquity of information is changing everything about the way we live. In this class we will study this narrative, examining how information has altered the way we live, looking both at historical changes such as the telegraph, and more contemporary ones such as the relational change between material and information initiated by the rise in 3D printing. This class will simultaneously look to examine information’s changing relation to the material, and actively engage in participating in this cultural shift. We will be critiquing and making in 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
  • Information Feudalism: Who Owns the Knowledge Economy? by Drahos & Braithwaite ISBN 1595581227
  • Making is Connecting David Guantlett ISBN 0745650023
  • Communication as Culture, Revised Edition: Essays on Media and Society James Carey ISBN 0415989760
  • Hacker Cultuere Douglas Thomas. ISBN 0816633460 (Note: I don’t think the bookstore has this one.)

Course Overview & Learning Objectives

This course will be built around understanding both the history of information flow and how it shapes culture, and in experimenting in with some of the new information architecture that will shape the coming decades, in particular 3D Printing. And I do mean experimenting, as an evolving technology we will likely struggle, test things out, fail, and succeed. The process of learning in this class will be just as important as any “final product” made. Throughout the course we will combine creative approaches (making stuff) with critical approaches (examining history and theory).

Specifically upon completion of this course, students will:

  • Understand the history of communication, in particular how technological shifts in communication have changed culture.
  • Understand the history of the “maker” movement and its current role in culture.
  • Engage with the various aspects of 3d printing and related technologies.
  • Be comfortable with modeling, and printing 3d objects.
  • Understand the larger ethical and cultural questions that the technology of 3d printing raises.

Class Requirements

The final grade will be determined by your performance on the following projects. The specific details of each project will be included on the project’s assignment sheet and discussed in class. You must complete each assignment to earn a passing grade.

Reading Notes (30%): While I don’t include participation as an assessment category, your performance in preparing for class will be evaluated. 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.)

Weekly Projects and Final Portfolio (30%): Almost every Thursday we will have a “3D Printing” workshop. For each workshop there will be an assignment that needs to be completed prior to coming to class.

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

Topic Proposal, Annotated Bibliography (15%): In preparation to write your researched paper you will need to hand in both a topic proposal, and an annotated bibliography.

Final Paper (10%): A final researched paper relating to 3dprinting on a topic of your choosing.

Attendance, Attention, & Participation

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.

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.

Beyond mere presence, however, a successful course requires student participation. Students are expected to 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. I strongly urge you to attend every class, as most of the work done in class is necessary for successful completion of the course.

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, 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 2:00-3:00. My office is Merion Hall 173.

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.