Department of Communication Studies
College of Arts, Media, and Communication
California State University, Northridge

Christie Logan, Ph.D.

Communication Studies 454
Communication and Technology

Spring 2006


" The elasticity of the Internet makes it particularly susceptible to intensifying the contradictory trends present in our world. Neither utopia nor dystopia, the Internet is the expression of ourselves -- through a specific code of communication, which we must understand if we want to change our reality."

--Manuel Castells, The Internet Galaxy (2001)

"Cyberspace is built, not found."

--Lawrence Lessig, Code and other laws of Cyberspace

Course Description

This course examines the development of information technologies (and specifically the Internet) from both theoretical and practical perspectives. Politicians, corporate media spokespersons, and scholars alike have joined in the chorus pronouncing the information age the final revolution in human social, political,and economic institutions. For years now we have been bombarded by the discourse of cyberspace, virtual reality, the information superhighway, electronic communities, etc., but the media offer little in the way of a frame of reference from which to evaluate the various claims being made about these developments in communication technology.

This course helps students build such a perspective by introducing both the analytical and the technological skills necessary to understand and navigate information society. Theoretical topics include the history, ideology and current cultural uses of "information," the models of sociality, community and commerce that underlie & permeate the Internet, and the cultural significance of the networked societies within which we live.

As Lawrence Lessig insists, "Cyberspace is built, not found," -- and WE are the ones who are building it. The Communication Studies discipline offers a wealth of scholarly, critical research and analysis of the computer-mediated environment we move in, and its various components and functions. We understand that we construct our social reality and our virtual reality through communication practices, which are framed by ideology. We know that culture is a process accomplished through communication. In this class we will examine how our experience of social reality shapes the ways we communicate on the internet, and also how our use of technology to communicate is changing the ways we relate to our physical and social world.

We will explore this process of mutual influence: just as technological developments enable and constrain communication norms and practices, so too do the ways we use communication technology enable and constrain its future development. Indeed, we invent the technology we can imagine, and the horizon of our imagination is based in our current uses of and needs for technology.

Practical topics include the use of email, newsgroups and the World Wide Web to communicate effectively. Students will learn how to analyze and evaluate web-based messages, and to design web pages using the HyperText Markup Language (HTML). More importantly, students will develop a critical vocabulary and methodology to evaluate the ways current technologies are shaping how we communicate on personal, communal and global levels, and in turn how we are shaping technology in our uses of it.

Required Course Materials

Manuel Castells, The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business, and
 Oxford University Press, 2001.

Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity. Penguin Books, 2004. Also available for free download online.

Other than the above books, everything else you need for this course is available online at our website:

Students are expected to have access to a computer connected to the internet for use in this class, and to know the basics of email, newsgroups and navigating the World Wide Web. The campus offers Technology Training Guides for those wanting instruction, and the Office of Online Instruction provides Student Workshops throughout the semester.

We will use WebCT for our course newsgroup and chat rooms. You are automatically registered on WebCT when you register for this course. To log in to WebCT, use your campus user ID and password (the one you use for SOLAR). Like SOLAR, WCT uses your campus email account as your default email address. ***If you use another email provider (e.g., Earthlink, Pacificnet, AOL, Yahoo, Hotmail etc) for your primary email account, you need to configure your campus email to automatically forward to this account. This will enable your professor and class colleagues to communicate individually with you. After logging in to WebCT, click here for instructions on how to do this.

Through our COMS 454 newsgroup, we will create a virtual classroom for sharing ideas and resources, through Discussion Questions [DQs] and other posted assignments. I will post DQs periodically, or give them to you in class. You may also initiate your own threads as you respond to class readings and discussions, or to postings by your class colleagues. Consult the WebCT Posting instructions if you need them.

You will post your assignments on the newsgroup as well. Newsgroup posts - including DQ responses - are written assignments and should be free of errors. Compose your posts in a word processing program, correct and edit it, save it to a file - and then copy and paste it to the newsgroup. Use the preview function in the newsgroup to be sure your formatting is correct. Also, heed the advice in Tips for Online & Print Assignments.

We will sometimes meet in the computer lab (MZ 363). We may also meet online in course chat rooms on our WebCT site. I encourage you to use chat on your own as well - for online study groups and group meetings.


Course Requirements:

[click on the links for detailed guidelines]
Contribution to the Class
Newsgroup Postings - DQs
Web Page Critique
Personal Web Page
Research Report
Policy on Academic Honesty



100 - 94 = A


87-89 = B+ 77-79 = C+ My Criteria for Grading
84-86 = B 74-76 = C
93 - 90 = A- 80-83 = B- 70-73 = C- etc


Course Policies:

Attendance and Participation: Regular attendance and participation in class discussion is expected, as specified in the assignment guidelines. The student alone is responsible for attending classes and finding out what was missed when s/he is unable to attend. I will not respond to phone calls, emails, or other messages whose content is some variant of "I can't make it to class today; what are we doing [or what did we do]?" You make your own decisions about your own life priorities, but do not expect the course to wait for you.

Timeliness: You are expected to be here on time and leave with the rest of us, at the end of our work together. Tardiness or leaving early will negatively affect your course grade. Readings, newsgroup posts and other written assignments are due on the days listed, and all posted assignments are due to be posted by the start of the assigned class period. Assignments posted late will be docked. Likewise, I expect you to have completed and understood the reading, and to come prepared for discussion. Students who try to participate in discussion without having completed the readings degrade the intellectual experience for others in the class, and frankly, make me cranky. The extent and quality of your engagement in class discussions and activities figures in to your Contribution grade.

In-class work: Our class sessions will include various components -- of lecture / discussion, online work and group exercises and reports. There are no makeups for in-class work for any reason. These are part of your contribution grade.

Writing: Mechanical & Stylistic Competence: Students are responsible for proper spelling, grammar, usage and syntax in all written assignments. If you need help in these areas, I urge you to use the services of the Writing Lab of the Learning Resource Center located in the Student Services Building, room 408. Workshops and individual tutoring are available free to all CSUN students. There is even an online writing lab. All written assignments except for in-class Free Writes will be graded on mechanics.

All newsgroup postings, papers and presentations should be typed and in appropriate format [double-spaced, with headers, numbered pages and standard fonts & margins]. Use full & correct citations: Consult UC Berkeley's Resource Page for Citing Resources [Print & Electronic] for what's required in a citation. Web pages generally have authors, titles, dates, etc. All the proper information may not be there but you must cite the information that is available rather than just the URL.

For this class, use Modern Languages Association [MLA] style manual format - print out this MLA template for citing various kinds of sources.

Academic honesty is expected and required. Academic dishonesty defrauds all those who depend on the integrity of University courses and is a serious offense covered by Section 41301, Title 5 of the California Administrative Code. This section of the Code is published in the University Catalog, Schedule of Classes, and the Student Handbook.

Any form of cheating or plagiarism will not be tolerated. Click here for definitions & examples of what your responsibilities are. If you are caught cheating or plagiarizing in any form, I will assign you a grade of "F" for the course and will pursue university disciplinary action to the fullest extent. If you are uncertain about the ethical responsibilities of particular assignments, citations, research processes, etc., consult the professor before submitting the assignment.

Always Ask for help when you need it. I am happy to meet with you during office hours or by appointment. Don't hesitate to ask for additional help. And don't wait until you're behind - ask for help as soon as you need it.

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Page created & maintained by Christie Logan, Ph.D.
Last update: January 30, 2006