Once You Open Your Laptop...: Activities from My Technology and Culture Class (Part One)

Last time, I shared some of the results of a semester-long effort to integrate forms of transactive memory and collective intelligence into the teaching of an undergraduate lecture hall class on communication technology and culture.  Over the next few installments, I am sharing the discussion prompts and exam questions we developed in this context. Each is designed to support the efforts of small scale 3-4 person teams as they seek to apply concepts from lecture into the investigation of contemporary digital phenomenon. I am sharing these prompts in part because they incorporate so many resources which may be useful for other media scholars and in part because they illustrate the kinds of questions and activities that work on the scale of social interaction we are exploring. As you will notice, the activities became a bit more streamlined as the course went along, reflecting what we learned in terms of how much material the teams could process within the designated classtime and how much background they needed in order to be able to perform the activities. Your experiences will certainly differ in terms of the abilities and backgrounds of your students.

The chunk of activities featured on today's post were ungraded, but intended to give students a chance to work in groups. I will signal when we shifted to graded activities.

I was lucky to be working with three very dedicated and creative Annenberg PhD students, Meryl Alper, Andrew Schrock, and Rhea Vichot, and I've given credit where credit is due here, indicating which activities each of them developed for the class.


Week 3: Facebook and Privacy (Andrew Schrock)

Introduction: The terms of service (TOS) describe the uses that parent companies that maintain platforms and other web services deem acceptable. Among other things, Facebook's terms of service describes the ways that Facebook captures, analyzes, and uses data related to our online identities and interactions. boyd and Marwick described privacy as "both a social norm and a process” – an entirely public or private life would not be feasible (or particularly enjoyable). Privacy is an extremely complex notion, reliant on culture and social context. Feelings of “privacy violations” are often sudden and leave us feeling confused or helpless, such as when our personal information is displayed in unexpected ways. To help us think through the complex negotiations that occur between individuals, platforms, and privacy, we can interrogate the TOS for possible areas of friction between platform-endorsed uses and individual practices.


Team activity: Your assignment is to read the terms of service for Facebook with a critical eye. In teams of 2-3, read a section of the terms of service at http://www.facebook.com/legal/terms. You will be assigned one of the following sections: 2 (sharing), 3 (safety), 4 (registration), 5 (protecting rights of others), 9 (special provisions to developers), or 11 (special provisions to advertisers). Please spend 10 minutes reviewing your section and prepare brief responses to the following questions.


Questions: What does Facebook consider private? How does it differ from yours? Do you see clauses that strike you as potential violations of privacy? If so, why?


What do you think Facebook frames the terms of service this way? How do you think Facebook uses the data it collects? How does Facebook exercise power?


Have you altered the privacy settings of Facebook or used social strategies to deliver messages to friends ("steganography" from danah/alice article)? Can you think of times you or your friends have accidentally or deliberately violated the TOS? If so, why did you?


Week 4 Wikipedia Mechanics (Rhea Vichot) Warmup (5 Minutes) [Citation Needed:]




http://citationneeded.tumblr.com/post/29905972747/whac-a-mole http://citationneeded.tumblr.com/post/31336657830/victor-salva http://citationneeded.tumblr.com/post/28419289190/placeholder-name http://citationneeded.tumblr.com/post/27763947374/cultural-depictions-of-elvis-presley




  • Why is this funny? What kinds of critiques are being made about Wikipedia?

○      the humor is in the failed attempt at creating an “authoratative voice”. There are some critiques of the editorial policies of WIkipedia as well as the attempts to treat all subjects, no matter how trvial or transitory, with the same voice

○      I also feel there is a subtle poke at how white and nerdy Wikipedia editors are, but that’s just my take - RAV Main Activity: How is Wikipedia Structured (Two Parts: 30-35 Minutes Total) Part I (10-15 Minutes) In groups of 2-3, have students look at one of the following Main and Talk Pages (5-10 minutes):


After 5 minutes, have each group provide a quick summary of the main points of their assigned page as well as an interesting discussion thread on the talk page.




  • What ideals are being espoused on these pages?

○      SIngular voice

○      Being not a research circle, but a repository for secondhand research

○      WIkipedia believes in “meritocracy” whether or not that is what happens in reality

  • What kinds of concerns are these policies hedging against?

○      Trolls, Abuse

○      Misinformation

○      Infighting, Faction building

  • Does this make you more or less likely to contribute content to Wikipedia?



  • Understand what Wikipedia’s editorial policy
  • Understand that these editorial Policies are agreed upon and what assumptions may go into those conventions

Part II (20-25 Minutes) In the same groups, they should visit a Wikipedia page on a topic they are familiar with (A novel, Film or TV Show, Comm theory from another class, A piece of technology, or a historical figure or event). They should look at: (1) The structure and content of the main page, (2) The Talk Page and relevant discussion Points, and (3) The history of the Page and Talk, including the first version of the Page. (5-10 Minutes)




Dr. Pepper



Steve Jobs:



The Assassination of John F. Kennedy:



50 Shades of Grey:




  • What aspects of the topic were on the page. What was relegated to separate pages? What was missing, if anything?
  • What were the main points of controversy in the talk page?
  • What kinds of changes were made over time? Were they updates to the topic? Were they major changes to the content and form of the article?
  • How do the Editorial Policies above shape the content of the page and the discussion on the Talk Page?

○      Calls for citations, for better sources, and for discounting personal anecdotes as Original research and, thus, unsuitable.


  • Practice skills needed for the Research Paper
  • Remembering that Wikipedia Pages are Dynamic, both temporally, and content-wise
  • Understand how the editorial Policies above shape the pages displayed

Pull Back: Some Recent Issues  (5-10 Minutes) Gender Gap among Wikipedia Editors:


Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia’s Contributor List:



Philip Roth encounters trouble editing his own Wikipedia page


“An Open Letter to Wikipedia” - Phillip Roth



  • In what ways do the editorial policies act as a barrier to contribution?

○      the weight of citations overwhelms even claims made by the subject of the article in question.

○      The community’s emphasis on meritocracy and “correctness” mobilizes privilege under the guise of “correct voice” and “citable sources” which shuts out marginalized voices.

  • What possible alternatives could there be to increase participation and the kinds of voices represented on Wikipedia?


Week 5 Advertising a New Medium (Meryl Alper)

Warmup (10 min): “Advertising” New Media


Screen 2 YouTube clips: 1)Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear Commercial (circa 1983)

2)Japanese Lots-o-Huggin bear commercial


Who do you think is the intended audience for these commercials?

What do you think these videos are trying to sell?


Main Activity: Advertising “New” Media (30 minutes: 20 minutes in group, 10 minute share with class)


Humans tend to overestimate the “newness” of new media.  Not only do many technologies build on what innovations came before them, but the way a medium is advertised also builds, incrementally and creatively, on prior advertisements and advertising styles.


In the book chapter you read, Lynn Spigel talks about “popular media discourses” - ways people talk about or represent (through media) how society experiences media.  Spigel’s big claim is that popular media discourses about television and the family reflected sometimes conflicting viewpoints: that TV would bring families together, drive them apart, but also a hybrid of the two.  She analyzes popular magazine ads as evidence for her claims.


This activity will be an exercise in meaningfully comparing and contrasting two print advertisements from different eras but that share some common themes and styles.


Students will break into groups of 3 or 4.  All students will have had the PowerPoint sent to them prior to section.


The PowerPoint has 6 different pairs of advertisements:


1A - RCA VideoDiscs - “How to improve your social life” - 1980s

1B - Hohner Harmonicas - “The Hero of Amateur Hour” - 1940s


2A - Dumont Television - “Once upon a time...” - 1940s

2B - Atari - “‘New Frontiers’: Learn to brave new worlds.” - 1980s

3A - Sony - “Sound of a different color - 1980s

3B - Majestic - “For sparkling, vivid colorful tone...” - 1940s


4A - Western Electric - “There are still some things Americans know how to do best” - 1970s

4B - Tobe Filterette - “YOU BET the war has changed us!” - 1940s


5A - Douglas - “How satellites can give us low cost emergency telephone service” - 1960s

5B - Panasonic - “With a new Panasonic cordless phone, you won’t sounds like you’re calling from another planet” - 1980s


6A - Sharp - “The first laptop designed to be your first laptop” - 1980s

6B - Bell Telephone System - “Television” - 1940s


Each group will be responsible for one pair of advertisements.



1. Briefly do an online search for major US & global events during the era of each ad.  How might these ads fit into larger historical trends (e.g. wars, economic up turns and down swings)?


2. Read the “copy” (written text) that the ads use.  A) On it’s own, what meaning does the copy have?  B) When taking into account the full visuals of the ad, does the copy take on additional or different meanings? (You’ll want to zoom in to take a closer look at the ads with smaller text.)


3. What kinds of anxieties and hopes do each of these ads reflect about:

  • Family life?
  • Social life?
  • Political life (in the US and internationally)?
  • Culture/stylistic trends?
  • Gender?
  • Economic issues?


4. Are the people in the ads are actually using the technology or are people are props around the object?  What does the space around the media look like?  How does this make a difference in the ads message?


5. Finally, don’t just describe each ad on its own; Put both of these ads in conversation with each other.  How might they complement and/or contradict each other?

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Week 6 Hacker Week Discussion Activity (Andrew Schrock)

Introduction – What is open-source? (25 mins.)

Stephen Fry explains free software-  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGbMbF0mdPU

What do you make of open-source? How does it relate with previous concepts we’ve encountered in the class? Why do hackers like open-source? How can it be contrasted with more restrictive control over source code?


Protei - open-sourced hardware project - oil skimming  bots http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmZ_uy2Ehi4


Who is involved with this project? How does hardware hacking differ from software? What observations can you make about the progression of the project?

Second part - Software hacking hands-on activity (20 mins.)


One theme of this class is thinking not just about how systems exist in isolation, but how information flows across systems that can talk to one another. Hacking describes a way of viewing technology with a critical eye to understand their inner workings.


If-this-then-that is a website that connects "triggers" to "channels." Triggers are activated when something happens, and channels are what is triggered. The combinations are called "recipes" and can be shared publicly and modified. For example, every time you are tagged in a Facebook photo (trigger), you receive an SMS text (channel).


In groups of 2, think of a cool or interesting recipe. Look to see if one has been created already. Either use that or create one of your own and make it active. Test it out. Did your idea already exist in a recipe? Can you think of triggers that you want but can’t find?


Week 7 YouTube's Many Communities (Rhea Vichot)

Group Activity 1: YouTube as Site of Community and Remix Culture
In groups of 2-3, look through and choose a video from a participatory culture you are familiar with. If you can't find one, you can also browse the YouTube charts: (http://www.youtube.com/charts/) and look through the Most Discussed and Most Favorited videos for the past week or month.

Questions: 1) Is it a commercial or amateur production? How can you tell?

2) What kinds of communities are these videos a part of? Is this a convergence of multiple communities?

3) Is the video critiquing or curating commercial content? In what ways?

4) Who are the creators of the content? How might that affect what is either being expressed or what sorts of comments are being made about the video?

5) What sorts of Intellectual Property (IP) are used? Are the uses if IP in your example defensible by Fair Use? How?

Group Activity 2: Creating Remix Videos

Using the YouTube Doubler: (http://youtubedoubler.com/), create a mashup of video and sound. Use the google URL shortener (goo.gl) to post a link on Blackboard.


"Ant on a Treadmill Vs. Breakfast Machine-Danny Elfman":



"Rooster Vs. Alex Jones":




1) What sorts of Intellectual Property (IP) are used? Are the uses if IP in your example defensible by Fair Use? How?

2) What kind of juxtapositions does your example make? Do the juxtapositons made, either in your example or the ones provided, make a critique about the media used?