Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Description of Course

Welcome to Comparative Media Studies 600/998: New Media Literacies. I'm glad you decided to join us for what will be an exciting series of discussions and research about literacy and media in its historical and contemporary contexts. Beginning with the origins of Western literacy studies, we will examine how definitions and attitudes toward literacy have changed throughout history so that we may concentrate heavily on how literacies are produced, synthesized, and consumed in modern media contexts. Then the majority of the semester will examine the "New Literacy Studies" research after the so-called "social turn" in the sciences and humanities, which treat literacy as more than a functional skill (one's ability to read and write) and instead as a sophisticated set of meaning-making activities situated in specific contexts.

New Media Literacies will be a rich course directed toward upper-division undergraduates and graduate students in a variety of fields and disciplines but with a special focus on media studies and literacy education. In the weeks that readings are assigned (9 out of 15 weeks), students can expect 75-100 pages of reading, some theoretical and some practical. In the weeks where no reading is assigned, we will teach each other about new media production and use (such as blogging, podcasting, video blogging, mashups and remixes, social networking, tagging, file sharing, memes, fan fiction writing, videogaming, etc.). In other words, the readings are meant to provide theoretical frameworks for our study of new media practices so that we might all acquire a better gauge for understanding how these new media act as important sites for literacy practices and how they might be harnessed for implementation in schools.

Course Objectives and Learning Goals

The purposes of New Media Literacies are both theoretical and practical. Students will be provided with a scholarly foundation in both traditional academic approaches to literacy and how those approaches have changed with the current research in media, cognition, and schooling. In addition, students will work collaboratively and collectively to build their knowledge in how these media are created, used, interpreted, and re-used by themselves and others. As a result of this course, students will have a firm grasp on not only the treatments and relationships of literacy and new media in learning and communications contexts but also concrete experiences with the production and use of them.

Required Texts and Readings

Please consult the Weekly Schedule below for assigned week-to-week readings. There are no required texts to purchase for this class: all readings are available in the readings section.

Grading and Assessment

The course is directed toward upper-division undergraduates and graduate students from a variety of fields and disciplines and therefore assignments will be quite fluid in their design and assessment. Because the course examines theories and uses of new media literacies, there will be regular theoretical readings and practical assignments, both formal and informal. In order to build a community of learners, students will also be expected to review and assess each other's work and provide feedback for revision and additional learning goals.

Although I am quite open to students developing and projects and papers that meet their own paths of research, I will occasionally assign shorter tasks that might enable them to learn better. For example, if a student is working on a formal, end-of-semester research paper, I might assign an annotated bibliography or first draft to help her along. Or, if a student is taking the course to supplement her senior thesis, I might encourage her to regularly share her work-in-progress with the class when it is relevant to current course topics. However, students are expected to consult with me one-on-one prior to the fourth week in the semester to discuss their goals for producing a project or paper in line with the themes of New Media Literacies. This project or paper and its steps will be agreed upon mutually between us and together we will come up with a plan and deadlines. This project will count for half of your grade in the course.

Other major assignments for the course will take place during the "Learning Weeks" in the weekly schedule. During those weeks, students will work together to present teaching workshops, lessons, or hands-on demonstrations of the production, use, and interpretation of new media literacies. We'll tap into each other's expertise so that we can all experience collective intelligence in practice! The formal assignment for the Learning Weeks tasks is available in the assignments section.

Evaluation is based on the student's goals and personal evaluation criteria for her project, which will be addressed in consultation with the instructor. With the "Learning Week" assignments, a list of evaluation criteria will be listed on the assignment sheet. In general, students will be updated regularly on their progress in the course and provided with feedback from the instructor. Students are encouraged to attend regular office hours and keep in touch with me with regard to grades and feedback.

Graduate students

You will be expected to take on a leadership role in the course, providing models of analysis and discussion for undergraduates. On occasion, you may be invited to lead class discussion of key texts in the course.

Working with the Teaching Assistant

Neal Grigsby is a 2nd-year master's student in the Comparative Media Studies program here at MIT. I asked him to help teach the course because of his expertise working for two years on the New Media Literacies project. Neal is an experienced teacher, a terrific writer, and a helpful coach. Students are encouraged to work with Neal in understanding course content, writing and project goals, feedback on assignments, and preparing for class. I have great confidence that he'll be a smart and encouraging teaching assistant and I hope you'll spend time working with him this semester.

Attendance and Participation

This is a small seminar-style course directed toward students who are prepared and invested. We'll work hard to build a learning community that taps into each student's level of knowledge, expertise, and interest. Therefore, attendance is crucial for the success of everyone enrolled. Students may miss two classes–for any reason–without penalty. On the third absence, the student's final grade will be lowered by one letter. On the fourth absence, the final grade will be lowered another letter. Students cannot miss more than four classes and still pass the course .



Introduction to new media literacies

Where is media literacy headed? What's at stake?


Origins of literacy in the west

Where does literacy come from? Where is it found?


Literacy and the media

How is literacy portrayed in media and schools? What is the "literacy myth"?


Learning week

Forums; Photoshop and image editing


New literacies and new media, part 1

What are the new literacy studies? What do they have to do with media?


New literacies and new media, part 2



What counts as a text in the new media literacies?


Learning week

Animation; Podcasting


Learning week


Situated learning

Wikis; Where does learning happen?


Emobodied cognition

How do we learn, know, interpret and produce these new media?



What do we propose for the future of media literacies?


Learning week

Games and game design; Video editing