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Syllabus for Film 3: Intro to Digital Arts and Culture (Dartmouth)
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Syllabus for Film 3: Introduction to Digital Arts and Culture (Dartmouth)

Instructor: John Bell

Based on Mary Flanagan's Film 3 syllabus

Course Description

Digital technology is a key component of culture. Looking at popular media, science fiction, computer games, and artists' projects, students will learn important approaches to digital culture including: the history of the computer as a medium; the conceptual history of interactivity; the development of film, design, animation, and hypermedia; the history of artificial reality; and how visions of the future may change our sense of identity and what constitutes our physical bodies.

This course will explore what it means for something to be digital beyond the reductive definition that it comes from a computer. The spine of the course will test the early promise of the Internet era–that "information wants to be free"–and examine how that idea has been reflected in the art and culture we have produced, where the notion has succeeded and failed, and how the tension between open and closed communities has become a key framework for participating in the digital world.

Course Learning Outcomes

In this course, students will:

  • Read, watch, and play classic and modern critical discussion on digital art and culture
  • Explore the characteristics and boundaries of 'digital' as opposed to other expressions of arts and culture throughout media history
  • Analyze how digital artwork functions as a system that includes technology, individual creators and consumers, and broader social context
  • Develop evidence-based theories on how digital culture has developed from the pre-computing era to today and project today's practices into the future
  • Practice crafting public media and presentations that present compelling arguments to general audiences
  • Hone skills for responsible community-building, including openness, respectful social scaffolding, and collaborative work toward common goals

Teaching Methods & Philosophy

This course explores digital cultures and its methods embody the practices that make up those cultures. As such, it may function a bit differently than other courses you have taken. Some examples include:

  • "I know Google-Fu" – classroom discussions are expected to be supported by open laptops and real-time research.
  • "Plan to throw one away; you will, anyhow" – all submitted assignments may be revised and resubmitted after you receive feedback (though you do need to submit a legitimate attempt at an assignment on time in order to take advantage of this privilege).
  • "It's not a bug, it's a feature" – we will undoubtably run into places where technology fails, ideas fall apart, or schedules don't work; when we do we will adapt rather than try to force our way back to the original plan.
  • "Good artists copy; great artists steal" – we encourage reuse, remix, and derivatives of existing ideas and media, so long as it is significantly transformative and pulls together divergent threads. Note that plagiarism and uncited sources are still very much against the rules and will result in adverse consequences.

The goal of the course is to collectively develop these and other methods that encourage critical analysis, discussion, and self-reflection as both individuals and a group. Defining, evaluating, and setting these philosophies will be an explicit part of everybody's participation in the course.

Expectations & Norms

Meatspace Participation

This course develops a shared understanding of digital culture that will evolve as your ideas bounce off of and are transformed by others in the class. If the only time you talk is when you're giving a presentation then you will have little opportunity to contribute to the shared understanding developed by the class and I will not have much information to use when evaluating your success in the class (i.e., grade). Ask questions, throw in comments, and generally add to the discussion as much as possible, particularly if you think you missed something or you have a stupid question. The odds are good that I failed to completely explain whatever you missed and other people are as confused as you are.

You will be expected to meet with collaborators outside of class. I strongly encourage you to use the designated x hour for these meetings, but you are free to set them as needed to accommodate your schedules.

Online Participation

There are three collaborative resources we will be building throughout the term:

  • A shared jargon file where we will define terms and concepts that are unfamiliar
  • A list of links to interesting digital artwork (or documentation if it is offline)
  • A list of digital- and digital adjacent-artists, each of which is described by a brief paragraph justifying their inclusion on the list

You should add to the jargon file whenever you come across an unfamiliar term that you think needs definition. You will be expected to add at least five entries to the lists of artworks and artists over the course of the term.


You will be given weekly reading assignments that you will respond to and will form the core of our discussions. In addition to these readings, you are expected to keep up with the following blogs during the term:

Note that 'keep up with' does not mean you have to read every post on each site, simply that you check them regularly and pay attention to what you find interesting. Please share the good stuff in our Canvas discussion!

Writing Style

Everything you produce in this course will be created as though it is targeted at the general public, whether anyone outside the course ever sees it or not. That means it is more important that you write for style, rigor, and persuasion than that you get every character of a particular citation style correct. The applicable norms are those of public humanities; unfortunately, those norms are not as well defined as more traditional academic writing. My biggest tip is that you remember that all writing, even a class assignment, is storytelling. Create a clear narrative, use concrete examples, construct an argument, and own your perspective–if you do these things, then you will be on the right path. I encourage you to ask questions about how to improve your ability to work with this style of writing and media production throughout the term, but a few resources for learning more include:

Collaboration Policy

You are encouraged to use outside resources, including people you know from outside the course, as research sources. All such sources must be referenced in the deliverable for the assignment you discuss with them.

Collaboration within the course will vary depending on the requirements of the assignment.

Notes on Logistics

  • All assignments will be submitted via Canvas. If you hand me a piece of paper, you should expect me to lose it.
  • This class is scheduled in the evening and we are in New Hampshire. If weather creates a dangerous travel situation, I may move a class session to an x hour.
  • There are several guest speakers and visitors this term. While I have tried to get a commitment from each of them for specific dates and times, we may need to adjust the schedule slightly to accommodate if a guest is not available on their scheduled date.
  • I may occasionally ask to share a presentation or project outside the classroom (e.g. on Twitter). You are under absolutely no obligation to agree to this and, if you do not, I will not penalize you in any way.
  • I'm happy to chat about any concerns with the course or the material we're discussing. To schedule an appointment for office hours, send email to

Class Climate & Inclusivity

As with all classes, it is expected that you will treat others with respect. Participation in discussion should be a constructive dialog integrating your ideas with mine and those of other students; while disagreements and counterarguments that test ideas are expected and encouraged, they must always be presented in a civil fashion. If you are repeatedly abusive toward your classmates you will be asked to leave and the day will be considered an absence for purposes of the attendance policy.

Texts & Materials

Readings will be provided in Canvas. There is no required textbook for this course.

Assessment & Grading

Participation and Attendance: 20%

Participation includes taking an active role in both the online Canvas site and the classroom. Remember that the topics I introduce in class are only seeds and examples; I expect you to bring in your own related interests, respond to your classmates' ideas, and take our discussions and hands-on projects in directions that I can't predict ahead of time.

I will be taking attendance at each class meeting. If you are more than ten minutes late, that day will be marked as an absence. After two absences, your final grade will be lowered by a full letter grade for each additional absence. If you need to take a planned absence or will not be attending due to illness, let me know via email ahead of the class you will be missing.

Commentary on Readings and Media: 25%

You will need to create a brief response to each week's readings, media, and other ideas. These responses will be created in pairs that will be assigned during the second week of the course. Commentaries are due every Tuesday morning at 9AM, unless otherwise specified.

The form of these commentaries is up to you, though if you want to attempt a highly experimental medium or form you should check with me first. There are no guidelines for length or content, though you should keep in mind the writing style guidelines above when deciding what you want to create (even if your medium is not actually written). You and your partner are trying to explore an interesting set of ideas spanning the materials presented each week; an ideal commentary includes both insights gleaned from the week's ideas and new questions those ideas have posed in your mind.

Deep Dive Explainer: 25%

You will be assigned to a group that will create a deep dive presentation. Each group will present once; the presentation is expected to take roughly twenty minutes, with a few extra minutes for Q&A added to the end. These explainers will go into depth on some big idea that is tangential to the topics discussed in class. Your group will need to propose a topic and, upon approval, develop a presentation aimed at general audiences.

To submit the explainer you will need to send your presentation media, speaker's notes, and bibliography to me on Canvas within a week of the in-class presentation.

Final Project: 30%

The final project for this course will be a ten-minute long podcast or vodcast suitable for public dissemination. By the end of January you will propose an individual research topic related to the ideas we have discussed in class. By the end of the term you will research your topic, write a script (with bibliography), and record your podcast.

To submit your final project you will need to upload the final media file, script, and bibliography to Canvas. I would also encourage you to make the media file public and will help you figure out the best distribution channel for doing so. Publication is not a requirement of the course, however–just something that I think you should do because part of participating in digital culture is actually putting your work out there for people to see.

Dartmouth Policies

Student Accessibility and Accommodations

Students with disabilities who may need disability-related academic adjustments and services for this course are encouraged to see me privately as early in the term as possible. Students requiring disability-related academic adjustments and services must consult the Student Accessibility Services office in Carson Hall 125 or by phone: 646-9900 or email:

Once SAS has authorized services, students must show the originally signed SAS Services and Consent Form and/or a letter on SAS letterhead to me. As a first step, if you have questions about whether you qualify to receive academic adjustments and services, you should contact the SAS office. All inquiries and discussions will remain confidential.

Statement on Mental Health

The academic environment at Dartmouth is challenging, our terms are intensive, and classes are not the only demanding part of your life. There are a number of resources available to you on campus to support your wellness, including your:

Undergraduate Dean (

Counseling and Human Development (

Student Wellness Center (

Religious Observances

Some students may wish to take part in religious observances that occur during this academic term. If you have a religious observance that conflicts with your participation in the course, please meet with me before the end of the second week of the term to discuss appropriate accommodations.

Honor Code Addendum

The Academic Honor Principle depends on the willingness of students to maintain and perpetuate standards of academic honesty. Students may not ask anyone other than the professor of their course to correct written work for this course. Students must rely on their judgment and conscience to determine whether a specific question might be addressed to a classmate or a friend (e.g. help with an idiom not readily available in a dictionary, or the conjugation of a rare irregular verb), but in any case, such aid must be minimal, occasional, and acknowledged. Outside proofreading/correcting changes the student's work, gives the professor an inaccurate idea of the student's skills, and as such violates the Dartmouth College honor principle. As a Dartmouth Student you are required to comply with the Academic Honor Principle:

Dartmouth's Anti-Hazing Policy

The Film and Media Studies Department is a firm supporter of Dartmouth's Anti-Hazing Policy. We reject hazing in all of its manifestations. In order to promote a safe environment for all students and not interrupt the learning experience at Dartmouth College, evidence of hazing-related practices, as defined by the Dartmouth College Anti-Hazing Policy, will not be considered appropriate in the classroom

Course Schedule and Topics

Week Class Topic
Week 1 1/7/20 Introduction and a series of problematic words
1/9/20 No class - move to x hour on 1/13
Week 2 1/13/20 Digital art showcase
1/14/20 Art and idea
1/16/20 Performance and artifact
Readings: Arbesman, Introduction to Overcomplicated; Levy, Hackers at 30; Manovich, Language of New Media excerpts; Paul, Digital Art excerpts
Week 3 1/21/20 Transmedia - Guest Speaker Jennie Chamberlain
1/23/20 Variable Media - Guest Speaker Jon Ippolito
Readings: Jenkins, Transmedia Storytelling; Jenkins, Transmedia What?; Ippolito, Death by Wall Label; Ippolito, Why Art Should Be Free
Week 4 1/28/20 Ethics and fictions
1/30/20 Participatory culture
Readings: Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction; Bell, Ippolito, Diffused Museums; Hopwood, Is Fake News Killing Fictive Art; Jeong, EU Copyright Law; Marino, Wittig, Netprov-Elements of an Emerging Art Form
Week 5 2/4/20 Deep Dive presentations
2/6/20 Prehistories and leftovers - Hood Museum visit to see Fluxus pieces
Readings: Friedman, Intermedia, Multimedia, and Media
Week 6 2/11/20 BASIC - Rauner archive visit on the history of BASIC
2/13/20 BASIC Workshop
Readings: McCracken, Fifty Years of BASIC
Week 7 2/18/20 Demoscene, live coding, and generative art
2/20/20 BASIC presentations
Week 8 2/25/20 Speculative pasts
2/27/20 Speculative futures
Week 9 3/3/20 Final presentations - A
3/5/20 Final presentations - B

There will be no final exam for this course.

Creative Commons License
FIlm 3 Syllabus by John P Bell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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