Sequenced Assignments with Different Forms of Media

Greg Downey, Library and Information Studies
Taught by Professor Greg Downey, this hybrid in-person/online course gives students the chance to experiment with personal publishing tools such as weblogs and video podcasts.

The Information Society: Hybrid In-person/Online Course Syllabus

Today, in an environment of web-enhanced workplaces, schools, and shopping malls, we routinely speak of living in an “information society.” But what does this term mean and where did it come from? How has information—in oral, print, broadcast, and now digital/networked forms—been tied to notions of democracy, capitalism, social justice, and “progress” in American history? And if we really are living in a “postindustrial,” “global,” and “informational” economy today, what does such a world mean for our understandings of our fragmented selves, our cultural affiliations, and our social responsibilities to each other? Through both lecture and discussion, both readings and films, and both offline and online experiences, this course will guide students in interrogating the information society. As a Comm-B course open to all majors, students will both experiment with new personal publishing tools like text weblogs and video podcasts and hone more traditional skills of academic argument and presentation.


Hybrid organization

LIS 201 is a new and somewhat experimental “hybrid” course—even though it is meant for on-campus, full-time students, it contains some elements of online education usually used for “distance” or “asynchronous” learning. What this means in practice is that our four-credit course is divided into four bite-sized portions each week:

  • A regular 50-minute in-person lecture by the professor every Monday morning at 9:55am. We don't take attendance in this lecture but anything said here is fair game for quizzes and tests, so you really should attend. Take notes, and if you miss a day, get the notes from a friend. The professor will post copies of his lecture slides to the web site on the day after each lecture, but these slides only summarize and do not capture all of the content of a live lecture. In Fall 2008 our lecture is held in 5208 Social Sciences Building on Mondays at 9:55am.
  • An online lecture or other activity to be completed each week (before the following week's live lecture). Sometimes this will be a narrated set of slides that you download and view much like a live lecture (except that you can do it in your pajamas). Sometimes this might be a movie which you watch online. Other times this might be a sort of online scavenger hunt with detailed instructions to read, view, and explore various web resources. 
  • A regular 50-minute in-person discussion section each week with your TA during the time you registered for. These sections are capped at 18 students each, so you will get to know your peers as you practice your public speaking and academic writing skills. You will also discuss each week's lectures and readings in discussion section. See the course timetable for section times and locations.
  • An online discussion section involving conversation on a weblog and peer review on a wiki. Usually you will be discussing the week's readings on the weblog, but your TA may ask you to comment on news items, online resources, or other topics related to the class as well. Again, you should expect to spend about an hour each week contributing to the online discussion section, just like in a live discussion section. Our online discussions are hosted through the Blogger service; our online peer reviews will be hosted on the PBWiki service.


 Electronic resources

As a hybrid course, LIS 201 utilizes many new media technologies. We do this both to deliver the class in a way that alters the traditional space-time relations of education (allowing you to participate at a distance, or at odd hours, or asynchronously, or through written text) and to expose students to some of the many collaborative online tools in use today. We choose “outside” tools on purpose—we want you to become familiar with systems “at large” in the world, not just at Madison. Sometimes these tools may not work as well as we would like; we should consider these moments of reflection, not frustration. And most of these tools are publicly visible, so students (and instructors) should keep alert, practice a civil and respectful tone, and be aware when you might be revealing personally identifiable information.

  • This class-wide web page, listing the assignments and schedule for the whole semester, constantly updated with new content and links as the weeks go by. Produced using Adobe Dreamweaver and hosted at the UW-Madison School of Journalism & Mass Communication (just because that's where I keep all my class web sites, regardless of department). You will want to bookmark this web page in your browser and use it as a regular reference!
  • A class-wide news blog for the professor and TAs to post class-wide issues and news articles related to the topic of the class. (Students may comment on anything we put here.) Produced and hosted using Blogger.
  • A class-wide file repository storing electronic versions of the required and optional readings, as well as downloadable files and video associated with each week's online lectures. Produced and hosted using UW Madison MyWebSpace.
  • Individual discussion section wikis for students to use in peer review critiques of polished drafts and podcast speeches. Produced and hosted using PBWiki. (This one is not publicly visible, so only your classmates and the instructors will see your polished drafts and podcast speeches.) Bookmark this one too.
  • Individual discussion section blogs for students to use in posting reactions to readings, responding to questions for discussion, and completing other TA-assigned activities. Produced and hosted using Blogger. Again, bookmark it.
  • Personal student file repositories which students can use to upload podcast speeches and other files which they want to share with the rest of the class. Produced and hosted using UW-Madison MyWebSpace.

Obviously, taking a class with all of these electronic tools means you will need to have regular access to a computer. All of the UW dorms have their own computer labs, and you may also use the College Library computer lab.

There are plenty of other software tools available on campus for producing and consuming online content. Check out the DoIT software training for students website for ideas.





90 - 100


85 - 89


75 - 84


70 - 74


60 - 69


50 - 59


0 - 49

There are 100 points available in this course:

  • Two oral presentations each summarizing an article from your reader—one in-class and one podcasted—10 points each (20 points total).
  • Three 1000-word (four-page) written papers of increasing complexity—10 points each (30 points total).
  • Ten quizzes based on readings and lecture—1 point each (10 points total).
  • A final exam, involving both short answer and essay questions, based on readings and lecture—10 points.
  • Participation in class discussion section—10 points.
  • Participation in online discussion section—10 points.
  • Written peer review of other students podcast speeches and polished drafts of papers—10 points.


Discussion sections

LIS 201 relies on six instructors: the professor plus five paid graduate teaching assistants (TAs). Each TA manages two discussion sections of 18 students a piece (the professor only manages one). Both the professor and the TAs hold regular in-person office hours. 

Each of these discussion sections has its own weblog for students to post reactions to readings, questions for discussion, and other TA-led assignments; and each has its own wiki, where students can assemble and present the materials relating to their papers, podcast speeches, and peer reviews.

We encourage students to communicate with us through email; however, please compose your email as if you were writing a short letter or office memo and not as if you were text-messaging a friend. You should plan on a next-business-day turn-around on emails.

Speech assignments

Practicing oral communication skills is an important part of a Comm-B course. In LIS 201 you will prepare and perform two presentations, one live in-class and one recorded digitally (“podcasted”) for posting on our course wiki. Each of these presentations will be tied to your required readings for the week, and each will be worth 10 points. Your TA will assign you a number during your first discussion section; use this number to figure out which week you will be presenting in class and producing your podcast.

Live presentation

This presentation is a summary and critique of one of the articles your class is discussing from the course reader that week. You will start the class discussion by making a five-minute oral presentation on the article. You will also need to hand in a written outline of your presentation to your TA.

You should devote the first part of your presentation (two minutes) to identifying the main arguments of the reading, outlining the author's claims, reasons, and evidence. You do not have to go into great detail (since all students will have read the article) but you do have to provide an accurate summary. The bulk of your presentation (three minutes) should deal with your reaction to the reading. You need to make your own claim and your reason for that claim, providing evidence to support it. Like a good paper, your talk needs a short introduction and a satisfying conclusion.

Do not read your presentation! You may speak from simple notes that keep you on track, but allow the words to emerge spontaneously and conversationally. A good strategy is to practice your presentation in front of a mirror, a tape recorder, or a friend.

While you are making your presentation, your TA will designate a fellow student to record you on a little digital video camera. Later, your TA will email this video back to you (no one else will receive a copy). You are required to view your performance and perform a self-critique: reply to your TA with one way that you could improve your delivery next time. After that you may delete this video (or post it to YouTube for assured, instantaneous, global fame).

Podcast presentation

The podcast presentation is also five minutes, but it involves making a critical and constructive reply to the live presentation. (In other words, it involves listening as well as speaking.) As you listen to your fellow student perform his or her live summary and critique of the article in class, take notes so you can remember what the student is arguing. Then over the next week (before your next discussion section) compose a five-minute reply which you will perform on your own time in front of a digital recorder, uploading it to your section wiki for peer review (more on that below).

Your reply should both summarize and acknowledge what the student said about the article (two minutes) and then critique what that student said, offering your own ideas (three minutes). Remember, though, that “critique” doesn't necessarily mean “criticize.” Explain whether you agree or disagree with the student's assessment of the article, and why. Or you may suggest a different way of understanding or interpreting the article, contrasting it with what the first student said. Remember to be constructive, civil, and concise.

Recording and uploading your podcast

You may very well have a computer, cell phone, or other gadget which can record digital video. If you like, you may use this device as long as it records in any of the standard video formats (like Quicktime or Windows Media) that can be easily played through most web browsers.

If you do not have your own digital video recorder, you may check out a nice little easy-to-use Flip Video recorder from the SLIS Laboratory Library on the 4th floor of Helen C. White. (Tell them you're an LIS 201 student.) These cameras may be checked out, using your normal university ID, for three days at a time. They run on AA batteries, which you will have to supply if they run out. (For more on how to use the Flip Video cameras, see their technical support page.)

Please be aware: If you check out one of these cameras, you are responsible for treating it with care and returning it in clean and usuable condition. By entrusting the class with $200 digital video cameras, or with any other shared resource, I am fully expecting you to behave as responsible adults and treat this equipment (and its subsequent users) with respect, just as you would in a corporate internship or entry-level job. 

In any case, after you have recorded your speech, you will want to upload it to your My WebSpace public folder and link it to your page on the discussion section wiki. You'll learn how to do all this in the first two weeks of the course.

Peer reviews of student podcasts

Every couple of weeks, after several students have uploaded podcasts, those students will be required to view each others uploaded podcasts and write short peer reviews of them. Each peer review should be about a paragraph long and should mention both something the student did well in the speech and something the student still needs to work on. Write the peer reviews into the wiki below each student's podcast posting.

Evaluation criteria for all presentations

All TAs use the same oral presentation grading sheet and grade your speeches according to both content and delivery.


  • Do you accurately capture what the author (or previous speaker) was saying?
  • Is your own claim clear?
  • Is your evidence for your claim convincing?
  • Have you turned in a written outline of your talk?


  • Have you kept to the time specified?
  • Do you project enough for everyone to hear you?
  • Does your inflection and emphasis help convey your meaning (as in normal conversation)?
  • Are you, like, avoiding the use of slang and, basically, all those crutch phrases like “like” and “basically”?
  • Do you seem to be enjoying yourself (even if you aren't)?


Writing assignments

You will write three 1000-word (four-page) papers for this class, each tied to the class readings and each requiring some outside investigation. Even though these papers are short, they should still each have the three basic components of an academic essay:

  1. An introduction which clearly states a thesis (and please underline that thesis).
  2. A body which develops the thesis, with one argument per paragraph.
  3. A conclusion which not only restates the thesis, but leaves the reader with something more.

For each assignment, first you write a polished draft and post it to your discussion section wiki. Then you receive TA and peer feedback, and only after this feedback do you write a final draft, turning it into your TA in printed form.

Paper one: Critiquing the information society

During the first few weeks of class, you were assigned several readings which discussed the promise and peril of a society tied to information and communication infrastructures in broad terms.

Your goal in this first paper is to choose one specific information or communication technology (digital television, a weekly newspaper, the Play Station Portable, billboards on buses—be creative!) and use at least two scholarly articles to analyze that technology, making an argument about how that technology interacts with society and how it exemplifies or refutes the notion of an “information” or “postindustrial” or “network” society. 

In other words, your paper should answer the questions: What primary purpose does your information or communication technology serve? Which concept of an information society—a knowledge, postindustrial, or network society—can you use to analyze this technology? Does your technology—and the way it is promoted, used, or even ignored by human—support or refute this notion of an information society? (Of course this means that you must demonstrate in your paper that you understand the theory of a knowledge, postindustrial, or network society that you cite.)

Please note that this paper cannot rest simply on your opinions. Your arguments must be drawn from ideas presented in the articles you use, and your evidence should be specific to the media product you chose. You may use articles from your reader, articles from the “optional readings” on this web site, or articles you find on your own.

Paper two: Connecting online and offline worlds

During the second part of this course, in lecture and readings, we are discussing the way different infrastructures for information and communication have evolved historically—from print culture through point-to-point and broadcast communication, to computer and online culture. 

Your goal in this second paper is to pick any online community you like — defined perhaps by things they do in the world, items they consume, skills they have, work they perform, interests they share, philosophies they promote, etc.—and read a substantial body of content produced by that community. Then use at least two scholarly articles to analyze the relation of that online community to “older” offline information and communication practices.

In other words, your paper should both describe the form and purpose of the online community you chose, and analyze how this online community might have been constructed under a previous round of infrastructure (for example, as a reading group or a radio listening audience) or how this online community still connects to other offline forms of information and communication practice (by producing printed products or consuming video broadcasts, for example).

(Hint: You might consider whether the online activity of your group substitutes for offline activity, increases offline activity, or somehow complements/complicates offline activity in a new way.)

Again, your arguments must connect to ideas presented in the scholarly articles you use, and your evidence should be specific to the online community you chose. You may use articles from your reader, articles from the “optional readings” on this web site, or articles you find on your own.

Paper three: Connecting technology to social goals

In the final portion of this course, through lecture and readings, we are discussing the way online culture connects to four social processes: consumption, production, education, and citizenship. Pick any web site you like and use at least two scholarly articles to analyze that web site, including its purpose, its audience, its social function, and its relation to democratic, economic, educational, or cultural goals.

We are intentionally giving you more freedom and less guidance on this paper. However, you may want to consider: What formerly offline social processes does your chosen web site attempt to adapt or encompass? What are the greatest benefits and the greatest risks to society as such social activity moves online?