Syllabi for my courses at Berkeley and Stanford on Participatory Media/Collective Action, Virtual Community/Social Media
August 16th, 2007

Like the fool enthusiast that I am, I’ve agreed to teach at both Berkeley and Stanford this Fall. My syllabi:

The course I co-teach at Berkeley School of Information with co-instructor Xiao Qiang: Participatory Media/Collective Action.

A new course I’ve cooked up for Stanford Communication Department: Virtual Community/Social Media.

What do we mean by “community?” How do we encourage, discuss, analyze, understand, design, and participate in healthy communities in the age of many-to-many media?

With the advent of virtual communities, smart mobs, and online social networks, old questions about the meaning of human social behavior have taken on renewed significance. Although this course is grounded in theory, it is equally rooted in practice, and much of the class discussion takes place in social cyberspaces. This course requires active participation of students and a willingness to immerse in social media practuces — mailing lists, web forums, blogs, wikis, chat, instant messaging –for a part of every day during the quarter. Individuals will develop personal multimedia learning journals, and small groups will use social media to produce and present projects at the end of the quarter.

Although it has special relevance in today’s world of social media, “What is community?” is not a new question, dating back to the distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft that Ferdinand Tonnies made in the 19th century, and before Tonnies, to Hobbes’ Leviathan.

Using a variety of online social media simultaneously, and drawing upon theoretical literature in a variety of disciplines, from Hobbes and T�nnies to Benedict Anderson (Imagined Communities) Robert Putnam (Making Democracy Work), Howard Rheingold (The Virtual Community, Smart Mobs), Fred Turner (From Counterculture to Cyberculture), Manuel Castells (“Why networks matter”) and others, and upon empirical studies by sociologist Barry Wellman (“Netsurfers don’t ride alone”), Sherry Turkle (Life on The Screen), and others, this course delves into discourse about community across disciplines. In addition to the literatures on community, society, social networks, and social capital, the syllabus introduces t the study of collective action by Mancur Olson (The Logic of Collective Action), Robert Axelrod (The Evolution of Cooperation), Peter Kollock (“Social Dilemmas”), and Elinor Ostrom (Governing the Commons) — systematic studies of the ways by which individuals organize groups accomplish mutually-desired goals.

As a theory-based seminar, this course will enable diligent students to understand the kinds of analyses applied by different disciplines to questions about community, to apply methodologies of different disciplines to contemporary questions about community in a variety of settings, and to establish both theoretical and experiential foundations for making personal decisions and judgements regarding the relationship between mediated communication and human community. Much of the class discussion takes place in a variety of virtual world environments during and between face-to-face class meetings. As a practicum, those who complete this course will know how to chat, blog, tag, wiki, avatar, comment, facebook, twitter and flickr productively — and have some notion of how these practices affect self and community .

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