Below are some of the classes I’ve taught recently, along with PDFs of example syllabi. Please ask before reusing. Happy to share prompts and rubrics as well.

Technology, Culture, and Society

This is an upper-level seminar that trains Information Science majors in socio-technical realities of race, class, gender, and disability, while also satisfying a general education requirement for ‘cultural competency’ that draws in a variety of other majors. There’s a lot of Technology and Society courses out there–I’ve taught one elsewhere–so I wanted to make this a class specifically for my student population. I did that by focusing on their role as technologists and designers, and shaping the readings and activities to cater to that perspective. A ‘values in design’ framework grounds the entire class, and we focus on problems that are certainly of interest to other fields but are of special import to information studies (e.g., the politics of classification, accessibility and Web design). We explore that perspective through three different month-long themes: Classification, Design, and Politics. As an upper-level seminar, I’m trusting students to grapple with some weighty texts, practice those ideas in class ‘labs’ (e.g., exploring how Census racial categories change over time), producing original research on the politics of historical classification systems, and reflecting on the politics of their future jobs as we design policies and ethical principles for dangerous technologies that do not yet exist.  I’ve taught a lot of classes that introduce students to, say, what race is and how it works, but I’ve never done it in this particular context. It’s exciting. Syllabus.

Internet of Evil

This is a small Honors seminar in the Design Cultures & Creativity program at Maryland. It’s supposed to support critical thinking about digital cultural production, with a creative hands-on component. Inspired by colleagues like Joan Donovan and Jessie Daniels, I’m trying to think through what the field of STS–especially one informed by feminist scholarship, critical ethnic studies, and histories of reaction–can say to current debates about cybersecurity, fake news, and more. And I loved participating in the 2016 4S Evil Infrastructure panel series organized by Chris Kelty, really taught me a different way to think about our digital keywords like breakage, repair, participation, hack, etc.

So I used this as an opportunity to make a class about evil.

Internet of Evil examines the antagonists trying to exploit, break, trick, and brick modern information systems: trolls, spammers, viruses, hackers, dictators, and more. We explore the technical and historical background of internet evildoers, how the meaning of ‘evil’ varies between systems and cultures, and how complex networks and the techniques to support them co-evolve with their evil adversaries. Students develop practical and theoretical skills in threat assessment, design methods, and social research. Evil Syllabus

Introduction to Information Science

This is a large lecture course that introduces majors to the field of Information Science, and also satisfies a general education requirement for social science courses. I introduce students to core concepts in information theory, and then explore pressing issues and thorny research problems in three core areas: Privacy and Information Boundaries, Building Community, and Technology for Collaboration. I want to make sure students understand the human decisions behind technological changes, like why the Web runs on a surveillance economy, and the human consequences behind seemingly mundane aspects of information organization, like what name you have to use on Facebook. We put these ideas into practice with a bunch of hands-on assignments: tracking how our data is processed and sold online in a diary, role-playing as content moderators, studying the back-end activity of a controversial Wikipedia page, and more. This is my first large lecture and it’s been exciting to revise my pedagogy for 100 (!) students. Syllabus.

Valuing Data

This is a seminar series that I organized for my interdisciplinary colleagues at Microsoft Research—computer scientists, economists, historians, sociologists, and media and communication scholars—on social theoretical approaches to the value of data. It is a sequel to an earlier group that reviewed classics of economic theory. They share the same goals: Figuring out what kind of commodities data are, how their commodification compares to historical dynamics associated we associate with, say, land or unpaid domestic labor, and how we might imagine other value systems for data beyond the exploitative and wasteful conditions of the present day. Here, we take different theoretical and thematic approaches each week to the problem of valuing data, which also helps introduce foundational social theoretical concepts and ways of thinking to folks who are brilliant researchers but who may not have a lot of social theory experience.

The value of value and the value of theory

The value of ‘fictitious commodities’ 

  • Chapters 4-6 from Polanyi, K. (1944). The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time.

The value of unpaid labor and ‘natural’ biological processes 

The value of surveillance 

The value of classification 

The value of metrics 

The value of bodies

The value of privacy

The value of networks

 The value of ground truth

The value of humanism 

The value of markets

  • Selections from Posner, E. & Weyl, G. (2018) Radical Markets

Introduction to American Studies

This is the introductory course for the American Studies major and a popular elective course for humanities general education requirements. I have students practice the basic methods of cultural studies research (textual analysis, material culture, ethnography, archival research) and pick one to focus on for a semester-length empirical research project, learn the often-intimidating vocabulary of cultural studies theory by engaging with a variety of classic and contemporary research as well as artistic and journalistic supplements, and debate how these ideas relate their everyday lives in a variety of in-class learning exercises. I have centered the research project more and more in successive iterations of the class, making it the focus of blogs and adding deliverables throughout the semester. It led to great work like an interview series about body image, masculinity and wrestling and a political economy of the Brazilian beauty industries. The course has also been revised for an online, three-week winter semester. 15-week syllabus. Winter syllabus.

American Culture in the Information Age

This course is designed to take some of the classic questions of American cultural studies (‘what’s actually new?’, ‘who’s actually affected and how?’, and ‘how do epochal historical shifts bear out at the everyday level?’) and apply them to the various literatures of the Information Age. It focuses that broad rubric on issues of labor, surveillance, and bodies. I have students produce a series of short empirical research reports that take ethnography online and map surveillance systems across their daily routines; create or curate media related to the week’s readings; blog and tweet to engage the material, find other examples related to it, and reflect on their use of these technologies; and present on the historical and social development of a particular technology.  The last project led to some great moments like students building a totally anonymous IRC channel (even IP-tracking was impossible) that the class used during the presentation and a history of the keyboard by way of gendered office laborSyllabus 

Popular Culture in America

This is a popular course for general education humanities electives, and I design it to first introduce scholarly rigor and systemic perspectives to the pop cultural criticism in which students are usually already quite skilled; as well as to provoke some critical self-reflection on media consumption and production, fanhoods, and what’s be ‘popular.’ Course materials introduce popular culture as texts, performances, and games. Students blog and tweet about course materials and journal about the process; create and curate media related to the week’s readings; produce short empirical research reports using cultural criticism, ethnographic, and software studies approaches; and create and present a piece of popular culture that could teach outsiders about class themes. The last project was something I was gung-ho about intellectually but still a little nervous about when the rubber hit the road. It ended up with great projects like a multi-lingual blog comparing sex industries across countries and a Gramscian Sim City where students tried to establish and manipulate popular culture to keep citizens in check.  Syllabus

Digital Media and Cultural Politics in a Global World

This summer elective (which, unfortunately, was fully designed but never taught) explores how globalization happens. It starts from the premise that globalization does not wash over us as a series of unstoppable social waves. Rather, a variety of different globalizations are made, remade, and unmade through everyday actions. We focus on how using, buying, making, displaying, seeking, and censoring digital media such as smartphones, the Web, PC’s, and videogames crosses some cultural borders and firms up others. These technologies become key sites for the adoption or refusal of global trends in politics, economics, and society. Our course opens with a grounding in globalization studies and digital media studies before transitioning to focused weeks on popular, subcultural, and political digital networks. Throughout, we focus on the historical roots of these trends and communities, their actions online and offline, and how the smallest acts of watching porn alone or leveling up in World of Warcraft can in fact involve many people crossing many different cultural borders. We take advantage of the online setting of the course to practice a number of different kinds of writing (blogging and blog comments, collaborative note-taking, summaries, field notes, research papers, and editing) and engage in ‘virtual ethnographies’ of online communities, where participant-observation and interviewing is largely carried out on the internet. Syllabus

American Studies Pedagogy Mentoring

Teaching cultural studies and theory to undergraduate students is very different from learning it in graduate seminars. But quality teaching is not a matter of natural gifts. There are proven methods, principles, and resources on which all novice teachers can rely. AMST 878 is designed to give first-year graduate teaching assistants an introduction to some of the methods and theories of teaching and learning in higher education, with a focus on issues specific to American Studies. The course was put together in response to graduate student requests for some training in ‘the fundamentals’ as they began working with undergraduates. This seminar is more of a workshop and it takes the ‘mentoring’ title seriously. So while there will be assigned readings, the focus is on explaining your methods, developing plans, and, most importantly, giving and receiving feedback from your peers. 878 is a two-course sequence that combines a spring seminar on theory and preparation for those who will teach the next semester with a fall seminar on practice for those currently beginning to teach.  Syllabus