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MDSD01H3 – Senior Seminar

Media & Art: Digital Media, Social Justice, Cultural Production

Winter 2018

Course Meeting: Thursdays 1-3


Classroom: AC 332 (except on StudioLab Days – see course schedule)

Office Hours: Thursdays 11am-noon or by appointment

Office Location: HW411A

Course Description


Cultural production is always mutually constitutive of its political, aesthetic and technological contexts. At this particular moment in human history we are necessarily preoccupied by and embroiled in the ways that artists, activists, politicians and “ordinary” people are using and creating digital media affordances to make statements, to contribute to public culture and to advocate for social change. In this course we will consider the ways that digital media producers engaged in social justice discourses build on and participate in a diverse range of genealogies (including pre-Internet!) of activist aesthetics, while at the same time innovating new communicative strategies developed as and with emergent digital media forms and practices. This course will also introduce students to theories and practices of intermedial dialectics through which we create and interpret meaning.

In this course we will study social justice-oriented cultural production in the digital era in a broader context of activist aesthetics and tactics. This is a practice-focused Senior Seminar, structured according to critical pedagogical principles and I hope that all of us will be committed to the work of working together in our weekly class meetings and in course assignments. Throughout the course we will focus on incremental and process-based projects, and for the final project you will further develop a project or concept that you began to work on earlier in the term. Most importantly, this course offers students the opportunity to experiment across digital media platforms and practices, to gain a better understanding both of how digital media work and how to make stuff with them, and to work on their creative and analytical skills simultaneously.

All materials required for the course will be available online either through the course website, links provided in the weekly schedule or through U of T Libraries.

Students may be required to pay a small amount (totaling no more than $30 total) to access some online materials (i.e. games or to pay for independently-produced content) depending on their choice of topics.

Students must maintain access to online materials either on campus or at home. It is a good idea to download and annotate all course materials in order to maintain your own archive of course work.

Course Materials


Weekly Student Responsibilities for the Class

  • Each week students should check the Course Website for updates to the course schedule, access to readings and other materials, and for supplemental resources.

  • The course schedule will indicate whether materials will be posted on our Course Website or whether the student will access it via the Library system, or elsewhere.

  • If a reading or other material is available via the University of Toronto Library system, students may be expected to locate and download this material. My hope is that this will help students practice doing library research.

  • Students are responsible for all material listed on the course schedule even if we do not discuss everything directly in class.

  • Students may bring their completed course readings to class in digital format only if they are able to annotate these readings, or if they come prepared with detailed notes. Otherwise, students should bring a printed and annotated hardcopy of their readings to class. The reading expectation for this Senior Seminar is between 40-60 pages of reading or 6 hours of out-of-class preparation (viewing, online independent research, etc.) per week. Time required to complete assignments is in addition to course prep time.

  • There will be approximately 12-15 hours of out-of-class collaborative work required by all students. On these weeks I will adjust readings accordingly.

    1. Participation: Total 20%

    Students are expected to come to class prepared and engaged with the materials at hand. (1) Regular in-class participation: 10%

    • Includes coming to class on time and prepared, with thoughtful contributions to the course and respectful dialogue with other students.

    • Students will sign up twice in the semester to lead small group discussions about course readings. (Google doc will be distributed on Blackboard Announcements)

      (2) 3 participation statements (see Assignment Appendix): 10%

    1. Introductory Participation Statement (2%) – Due Jan 25

    2. Midterm Participation Statement (2%) – Due Feb 15

    3. Final Participation Statement (6% – includes individual reflection on final

      project) – Due April 5

2. Keyword Portfolio – 15% (graded on unsatisfactory/satisfactory/outstanding rubric)

Students will submit keyword entries of about 250 words on weeks when there are readings assigned to class. Please try to integrate at least a couple of readings on weeks when there are multiple readings, but discussing a keyword that links some of the week’s readings. DUE BEFORE CLASS ON THESE WEEKS.

3. Meme Analysis & Blog or Vlog Essay: 15% – Due Feb 15 (see Note on Collaboration)

Either collaboratively or independently, students will create a short essay, composed in writing or video, in which they analyze a meme or .gif (or series of memes or .gifs) based on a social justice-related theme. Additionally, students will create their own meme or .gif on a



social-justice related theme and provide a short statement about how it works to produce meaning across visual and/or linguistic registers. If students produce a vlog essay, they must also turn in the script for their vlog. To be posted to the course blog. The analysis may be collaboratively written and must cite at least one course reading.

3. Twine Studio Project: 15% (see Note on Collaboration) – Due Mar 1.

Students will build, collaboratively or solo, a Twine game. No previous gaming or programming experience necessary. Games will be posted to course blog. Students will also write an accompanying Critical Appendix (scholarly artist statement of about 500 words) discussing the process of building the game, the intention informing the game, and an evaluation of how the game might be further developed. The Artist Statement must cite at least one course reading and may be collaboratively written.

4. Digital Video Creation-Based Research Plan: 15% (see Note on Collaboration) – Due Mar 22

Students will create, collaboratively or solo, a digital video installation plan. The plan
will include video clips (original or borrowed), script, storyboard and installation specifications, and how the installation might be developed. The plan must cite at least one course reading. Assignment expectations to be developed as a class.

5. Final Project – Developing a Project: 20% (see Note on Collaboration) – Due Date April 5.

a) solo or collaborative final research essay on a topic of the student’s choosing (in consultation with the prof). The essay should develop a course theme, should cite at least 2 course readings or other materials AND cite at least 1 other scholarly source AND 1 other digital artefact.
b) solo or collaborative development of Meme Analysis* (in consultation with the prof)
c) solo or collaborative development of Twine Project* (in consultation with the prof)
d) solo or collaborative development of Digital Video Creation-Based Research* (in consultation with the prof)

*Each development project will be accompanied by a Critical Appendix of about 1000 words.

A Note on Collaboration: You are highly encouraged to collaborate on at least one course project throughout the term. For each collaboration, please include a Group Work Distribution Agreement that lists the names of all students participating in the collaboration and the work that each student contributed to the collaboration.

Final Grade Calculation:

  1. Participation (20%)

    Ø In-class participation(includes small group leadership) 10%

    Ø Participation Statements 10%

  2. Keyword Portfolio 15%

  3. Meme / .gif Analysis 15%

  4. Twine Studio Project 15%

  5. Digital Video Research Creation Plan 15%

  6. Final Project Development 20%



University of Toronto Grading Criteria



Point Value







Strong evidence of original thinking; good organization; capacity to analyze and synthesize; superior grasp of subject matter with sound critical evaluations; evidence of extensive knowledge base.













Evidence of grasp of subject matter, some evidence of critical capacity and analytic ability; reasonable understanding of relevant issues; evidence of familiarity with literature













Student who is profiting from the university experience; understanding of the subject matter and ability to develop solutions to simple





problems in the material.









Some evidence of familiarity with the subject matter and some evidence that critical and analytic skills have been developed













Little evidence of even superficial understanding of subject matter; weakness in critical and analytic skills; limited or irrelevant use of literature.

Course Policies:1
Late Policy: All work is due before class on the dates indicated in the course timeline, or otherwise

as stated in the Assignment Appendix.
Late assignments received on the same day but after the Due Date Time are

penalized by 5%.

Late assignments received on the next day after the Due Date are penalized by 10%.

Late assignments received two days following the Due Date are penalized by 15%. Assignments will not be accepted after this and will receive a mark of zero.

1 Part of this text has been adopted and adapted from Prof. Kenzie Burchell’s JOUB10H3 syllabus.


These late penalties will apply unless you have a PRIOR agreement with the instructor for an extension. Extensions will be granted only in exceptional and documented circumstances such as illness or emergency situations.

Students’ rights and responsibilities regarding retrieval of official correspondence:

Students are expected to monitor and retrieve their mail, including electronic messaging account[s] issued to them by the University, on a frequent and consistent basis. Students have the responsibility to recognize that certain communications may be time-critical. Students have the right to forward their University issued electronic mail account to another electronic mail service provider address but remain responsible for ensuring that all University electronic message communication sent to the official University-issued account is received and read.2

Academic Integrity: Academic integrity is essential to the pursuit of learning and scholarship in a university and to ensuring that a degree from the University of Toronto is a strong signal of each student’s individual academic achievement. As a result, the University treats cases of cheating and plagiarism very seriously. As such, we maintain a zero-tolerance policy in cases of plagiarism and academic dishonesty. All violations of the standards of academic integrity will be reported to the necessary university officials. Potential offences include, but are not limited to:

  • In papers and assignments: Using someone else’s ideas or words (via direct quotes, paraphrases, and summarizations) without appropriate acknowledgement. Submitting your own work in more than one course without the permission of the Instructor. Making up sources or facts. Obtaining or providing unauthorized assistance on any assignment, including copying and/or modifying the work of your peers.

  • On tests and exams: Using or possessing unauthorized aids. Looking at someone else’s answers during an exam or test. Misrepresenting your identity.

  • In academic work: Falsifying institutional documents or grades. Falsifying or altering any documentation required by the University, including (but not limited to) doctor’s notes.

    Advice on Academic Writing: http://ctl.utsc.utoronto.ca/twc/advice
    Guide on “How Not to Plagiarize”: http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice/using-


2 This text is from official University of Toronto Policy:

www.governingcouncil.utoronto.ca/Assets/Governing+Council+Digital+Assets/Policies/PDF/ppse p012006.pdf


Information Regarding Academic Integrity: http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/aacc/academic- integrity

UTSC Writing Centre: The University of Toronto has a variety of sources of help for essay writing. If you have any concerns about the construction of your essay, I encourage you to attend sessions the UTSC Writing Centre. You can make a meeting to see a writing advisor or you can utilize their drop-in hours. You can go to them at any stage in your writing process – whether you have a full draft or are just in the process of trying to figure out a thesis, or if you are somewhere in between, you are welcome to go in for advising. See the website for more information: ctl.utsc.utoronto.ca/twc/.

English Language Development Centre (ELDC): The English Language Development Centre supports all students in developing better Academic English and critical thinking skills needed in academic communication. Make use of the personalized support in academic writing skills development and Café sessions to enhance your ability to do better in the various components of this course. Details and sign-up information: http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/eld/

AccessAbility Services: Students requiring accommodations due to a disability, health-related issue, or unique learning style are welcome in this course. Both your Instructor and the University of Toronto are committed to accessibility. I am committed to helping all students achieve their academic goals and I am eager to work with AccessAbility Services. All enquiries will remain strictly confidential. If you require accommodations, or have any accessibility concerns about the course, the classroom, or course materials, please let us know as soon as possible and contact Accessibility Services in room S302, or at: http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~ability/.

Participation: Class participation is an essential part of class and includes: keeping up with reading, contributing meaningfully to class discussions, active participation in group work, and coming to class regularly and on time. Students are encouraged to share class notes and other resources on our course website.

Contacting Your Instructor: Email is by far the most efficient way to be in touch with me. I check emails at least once/day (Mon.-Fri.) usually mid-day and I ALWAYS respond to emails. If you send me an email and do not hear back from me within one or two days, assume that I have not received your message and send it again.


A note about email etiquette: Emails between students and professors are professional documents and should be treated as such. When you email me, please address me as “Dr. Cowan” or “Prof. Cowan” and compose your email using professional language and complete sentences and sign your email with your preferred full name. If you use a name different than the one listed on the course list, please sign off using the name you use in class so I won’t mis-name you in my response!

Office Hours: It is highly recommended that you make use of faculty office hours. We can discuss in-class texts, ideas that arise from course materials, or your thoughts about class projects. I will also make appointments outside my regular office hours if necessary.

Cell Phones & Laptop Computers, Tablets, and other Hardware: Cell phones, laptops and tablets may be used during class for class work only. If you are using your cell/laptop/tablet for non-class related activities, or if your laptop/tablet use is disturbing me or other students, you will lose hardware privileges for the duration of the course. P.S. I can tell when you are texting!

Read assignments carefully: If you hand work in that does not meet the requirements of the assignment, you can expect to get a low – failing grade. If you are unclear about an assignment, discuss it with me in my office hours.

Classroom Dynamics: A classroom should be a place where all students feel at liberty to take intellectual risks, to try out new ideas, and to expect that their instructor and classmates will respect their experiences, comments, questions, and concerns. We will discuss a wide range of topics in this course, some of which may be contentious, and which may lead to disagreements in class. I expect that each student will come to every class prepared to listen carefully to the comments of other students and to share ideas with a commitment to having a complex dialogue in every class. Students should also be prepared for a good deal of small group work in this course.

Practice “step up/step up”: Try to distribute class discussion evenly. If you are a “talker,” pay attention to how you might be dominating class discussion. If you are “quiet,” challenge yourself to contribute to class discussion by posing or answering a question, responding to a problem in the course materials, or adding to small group conversation.

Knowledge/Experience Differences: This class will include students with a wide range of knowledge levels, experiences, feelings and beliefs about the politics, socialities, sensitivities, cultures and texts of the material we study in the course. As a class, we need to remember that everyone is here to learn, that classrooms are risky places that also need to be respectful places for intellectual, social, political growth.


Digital Media, Social Justice & Cultural Production Weekly Schedule

This schedule is in progress. I will tinker with this schedule as the course develops and

readings will likely change based on course pace and class direction.

Make sure to check the online syllabus every week for accurate readings and other materials!

Practice active reading: Give yourself a hand by marking your reading copies: underline important passages and annotate your margins with questions and responses. Bring your questions to class to add to the discussion. Each class you be required to provide an anchoring statement about the readings in our daily check-in. If you are struggling with a reading, ask for help! Visit me during office hours! Focus on what makes sense for you, and work from there.

In-class Activities:

  1. Syllabus Overview

  2. Introductions – Who are you & how do you use Digital Media in your everyday life?

  3. “What is a ‘Social Justice Framework’?” http://education.csuci.edu/justice-


  • Ø  Keyword Portfolio Entry

  • Ø  Sign up for Small Group Discussion Leadership (each student does 2 of these over the

    term) see Announcement for Sign-up sheet Google doc link


  1. Lorde, Audre. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” from Sister

    Outsider. 1984. (CW = Course Website)

  2. hooks, bell. “Engaged Pedagogy” from Teaching to Transgress. 1991. (CW)

  3. Dunbar-Hester, Christina. “Radical Inclusion? Locating Accountability in Technical DIY

    1. Ratto, Matt, Boler, Megan, and Deibert, Ronald. DIY Citizenship: Critical Making and Social

    2. Media. Cambridge. MIT Press, 2014. ProQuest ebrary. 75-89. (CW)

  4. Sassen, Saskia. “The Global Street Comes to Wall Street” Possible Futures.” 22 Nov. 2011. http://www.possible-futures.org/2011/11/22/the-global-street-comes-to-wall-street/

  5. “Avgitidou, Angeliki.” Art imitating protest imitating art: performative practices in art and protest. Changing Worlds & Signs of the Times. Eds. Eleftheria Deltsou & Maria Papadopoulou. 2016. 420-429. (CW)

Week 1 – Jan 11 – Course Introductions – Digital Media & Everyday Life

Week 2 – Jan 18 – Digital Media, Social Justice, Cultural Production – Tactics and Terms I

In class short lecture: Social Justice Pedagogy – The Activist/Artist Classroom


Week 3 – Jan 25 – Digital Media, Social Justice, Cultural Production – Tactics and Terms II Meet & Greet at Grad Studio (AA319) – Artist-in-Residence – Michèle Pearson Clarke

Ø Intro Participation Statement Due Ø Keyword Portfolio Entry

1. José E. Muñoz. Introduction to
Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of

Politics. University of Minnesota Press, 1999. 1-36. (CW)
In class short lecture: Dialectical Aesthetics & Reading/Making Queerly

Ø Keyword Portfolio Entry
Ø Sign up for Small Group Discussion Leadership.


  1. Steyerl, Hito. “In Defense of the Poor Image.” 10 (November 2009): http://www.e-


  2. Hall, Stuart. “Encoding/Decoding.” Excerpt printed in The Cultural Studies Reader. Ed. Simon During. 2001. (1993) 90-103. (CW) First published by Stuart Hall in 1973.

  3. Shifman, Limor (2014). “The Cultural Logic of Photo-Based Meme Genres. Journal of Visual Culture. 13(3): 340-358. (CW)

Come prepared with a Flash Drive or a dropbox account so you can save the work you do in class!

Ø Keyword Portfolio Entry
Ø Sign up for Small Group Discussion Leadership

1. Flanagan, Mary & Helen Nissenbaum. Chapter 1 & 2. Values at Play in Digital Games. 2014 (14- 41). (CW)

2. Anthropy, Anna. “Making The Games.” Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks,
Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Dropouts, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form . Seven Stories Press. New York, 2012. p. 117-141 (CW)

3. kopas, merritt. (2014) “Trans Women & The New Hypertext.” Lambda Literary. Jul 08, 2014.


Before you come, try playing a few Twine games on your own! Suggestions:

Skylar Maguire: Baristi (read the game abstract & then hit download to open the game in your browser) http://femtechnet.org/signalnoise-vol1-issue1-baristi/

Week 4 – Feb 1 – Making Visual Meaning – Memes

StudioLab – Meet in BV 494

Week 5 – Feb 8 – SJW Games Arcade


  • Porpentine: http://aliendovecote.com/games.html

  • “Howling Dogs” http://aliendovecote.com/uploads/twine/howlingdogs/howlingdogs.html

  • “Mutant” http://aliendovecote.com/uploads/twine/mutant.html

  • Anna Anthropy, “Dys4ia.” http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/591565

  • merritt kopas, “a conversation.”


  • Christine Love, “Cowgirl.” http://scoutshonour.com/cowgirl/

  • Travis Megill, “Memorial.” http://www.theautumnalcity.org/Memorial.html

  • Dan Waber, “A Kiss.” http://www.logolalia.com/hypertexts/akiss

    Recommended Reading: Brendan Keogh, “Just Making Things and Being Alive About It: The Queer Games Scene” (2013) http://www.polygon.com/features/2013/5/24/4341042/thequeergamesscene

    Assignment Due: Meme Analysis (see Assignment Appendix)

    In StudioLab – developing Twine assignment.

    Ø Twine Assignment due
    Ø Keyword Portfolio Entry
    Ø Sign up for Small Group Discussion Leadership

1. Dean, Adria. “Closing the Loop.” The New Inquiry. March 1, 2016. https://thenewinquiry.com/essays/closing-the-loop/

  1. Gumbs, Alexis Pauline. “Nobody Mean More: Black Feminist Pedagogy & Solidarity.” Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent. Minneapolis: U Of Minnesota P, 2014. 237-259. (PDF in Course Resources)

  2. Harney, Stefano & Fred Moten. “Debt & Study.” The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. Wivenhoe: Minor Compositions P, 2013. 61-68. (PDF in Course Resources – full book available online here: http://www.minorcompositions.info/wp- content/uploads/2013/04/undercommons-web.pdf

  3. Shrum, Wesley, Ricardo Duque, and Timothy Brown. “Digital Video as Research Practice: Methodology for the Millennium.” Journal of Research Practice 1.1 (2005). http://jrp.icaap.org/index.php/jrp/article/view/6/12

Week 6 – Feb 15 – Twine Workshop StudioLab BV494

Feb 22 – READING WEEK – No Classes

Week 7 – Mar 1 – The Black Radical Tradition & Digital Video Practice


Week 8 – Mar 8 – “Creation-Based Research and Digital Video Installation” Michèle Pearson Clarke (http://www.michelepearsonclarke.com/)

Prep for workshop: Spend some time thinking about a topic that you think would make an interesting video or video collage.

Ø Keyword Portfolio Entry
Ø Sign up for Small Group Discussion Leadership


  1. Chapman, Owen & Kimberly Sawchuck. “Research-Creation: Intervention, Analysis and

    ‘Family Resemblances.’” Canadian Journal of Communication. 37 (2012): 5-26.

  2. TBA

  • Ø  Assignment Due: Digital Video Research Creation Plan

  • Ø  Keyword Portfolio Entry

  • Ø  Sign up for Small Group Discussion Leadership

    Readings TBA

    Ø Keyword Portfolio Entry
    Ø Sign up for Small Group Discussion Leadership

    StudioLab Day – Students working on Final Projects in consultation with Prof. Cowan.


  1. Watch Skawennati’s artist talk vimeo.com/77379737

  2. Play TimeTravelerTM

Note: All readings are to be accessed using the U of T Library electronic resources.
If you have trouble finding these readings, please ask a librarian for help.

  1. Nakamura, Lisa. Chapter 4 “Avatars and the Visual Culture of Reproduction on the Web.” Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures on the Internet (U of Minnesota, 2007). Access via U of T Library – ebook.

  2. Coleman, Beth. Chapter 1 “What is an Avatar?” Hello Avatar: Rise of the Networked Generation (MIT Press, 2011). Access via U of T Library – ebook.

Week 9 – Mar 15 – Developing Digital Video Installation Plan StudioLab BV 494

Week 10 – Mar 22 – Catch-Up Week

Week 11 – Mar 29 – Avatars

StudioLab Day – Meet in BV 466


3. “Skawennati’s TimeTraveller: Deconstructing the colonial matrix in

Pullen, Treva Michelle

virtual reality.” AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples. Year 2016.

Volume 12, Issue 3. pp. 236 – 249.

Week 12 – April 5 – Final Projects Festival

Solo or in groups, students will make short (5 min) presentations introducing their final projects.





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Making research-based digital videos and digital video installations is a way to mobilize and distribute your ideas that allows for easier circulation and a more accessible format than some other scholarly formats.



Your installation plan should answer the following questions.


1.    Title of your Digital Video Research Project Plan


  1. Research Statement: What do you want to learn or communicate with this project? What question do you want to answer? Why? This statement should include references to at least two readings from the course. (600-800 words)
  2. Method Statement: What kinds of digital video research will you be doing and why? I.e. using found archival or publicly available materials; or using original footage that you make yourself; or using popular culture materials to make a mash-up? Describe the materials that you plan to use or make, describe how you will collect them and describe how you will work with them. (250-300 words)
  3. Ideal Project Statement: What is your ideal version of this digital video/video installation? Describe what you hope the video/installation will look like and how it will fulfill your research goals. (250-300 words)
  4. Audience & Circulation Statement: Who are your desired audiences for this project & why? Will it circulate online, in theatres or galleries, festivals, religious institutions, in classrooms, etc. and why do you want it to circulate in this way? How will you access these audiences and realize this goal for circulation? (250-300 words)


Originally posted 2018-03-24 22:04:25.



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