Group Blogs

Weekly* (*Evaluation
Weeks 7 &13)
Weekly posts of 80-120 words (min. 10 per student between Weeks 2 and 12 incl.)

Assignment 1: Media Analysis

October 16, 11:59pm
1,000 to 1,250 words, PDF submitted via Blackboard

Assignment 2: ImagePlot Exercise “Postmortem”

November 20, 11:59pm
700 to 900 words,
PDF submitted via Blackboard
Assignment 3: Term Paper: Critical Reading Response

December 14, 11:59pm
1,000 to 1,250 words, PDF submitted via Blackboard

Group Blogs
(Evaluation during Weeks 7 and 13)
Overall grade weight: 25%

Students will form groups of 10-12 in order to collaborate on a group blog that will discuss, examine and critique issues and developments related to the course materials and lecture topics. These blogs will not only serve as an online archive of each student’s progress in this course, but will provide a place to record ideas and resources that you’re thinking of using in your assignments, as well as an additional forum to voice your thoughts and questions about weekly readings and topics covered in seminar. Group members are expected to interact with each other, commenting or replying to each other's contributions in order to engage in (and ultimately produce) an ongoing dialogue about research methods and the research process.

The posts are due weekly starting in Week 2, and ending in Week 12 (inclusive). Over the course of the semester, each student will create a minimum of 10 posts total. This means that everyone gets one week off – which you can take at your discretion, when you need it most.

Each week, Sara will browse through one of these group blogs (and project it on the big screen), and extract from it discussion points to pursue in that day’s lecture and group discussions.

The blogs will be formally evaluated twice – once during Week 7 and once during Week 13 (due to the length of time it takes to go through each blog and record each individual contribution, a week-long evaluation period has been blocked off in each instance). Your grade for this assignment will be based on the consistency (10%) and relevance (15%) of your individual contribution to the blog.

Here, “consistency” means that contributions are made on a weekly or near weekly basis, and reflect a timely, ongoing engagement with weekly readings, lectures, etc. “Relevance” means that the contribution contains one or more of the following: familiarity with course readings and other materials (lectures, group discussions, etc.), as demonstrated through the use of specific examples, author names or theoretical concepts; inclusion of themes and points that have a clear and direct relevance to INF1001, including associated issues and debates; discussion of literature, problems, ideas, examples and current events that pertain directly to the course, which includes consideration of the course readings and themes. It is therefore important that all of your posts and comments include a signature (First and Last Name), so that your work can be identified as yours. NOTE: You may use a pseudonym – just make sure that Sara and Andy are notified well in advance to ensure full marks.

Contributions will (and should) vary in terms of length and topic, but try to keep your posts brief (80-120 words) and to the point. Links and block quotes are welcome, but these should never “stand alone” – they should always be accompanied by discussion of contents and an explanation of why they are included. The group blogs may be open for all to see, or password protected so that only the professor/TA and your classmates can access them (Note: If your blog is password protected, make sure that Sara and Andy are notified of the password well in advance of the evaluation period(s)).

The point of this assignment is to inspire discussion and interaction, as well as motivate you to stay on top of the course…and especially to stay on top of your readings for this course.

Assignment 1: Media Analysis of Current Controversy[1]
(Due October 16, 11:59pm)
1,000 to 1,250 words
Overall grade weight: 20%

For this assignment, students will choose a specific controversy in critical information policy studies and write a short analysis of how it has been covered within the popular media. You are permitted to focus on one of the controversies that we’re covering in class, or to come up with your own, current newsworthy controversy (as long as it is relevant to INF1001). Your analysis should be limited to two (2) distinct sources, which can be taken from any one of the following formats: 1) traditional ‘legacy’ media (newspapers, magazines, television or radio broadcasts); 2) news release from governments or public interest groups; 3) alternative media sources such as independent magazines, radio or websites; 4) expert blog posts, or other online forms of editorials and commentary. Additional formats may be acceptable, but these must be proposed to and approved by the professor in advance.

Your analysis should include the following:
• Briefly introduce and describe the controversy in question.
• Describe how the issue is framed within the 2 media sources examined: How is it described? What is the overall narrative theme? Are there any assumptions or underlying stereotypes about how people, institutions, organizations, etc. are covered? Be sure to discuss if and how the 2 sources differ or conflict in their presentation of the issue.
• Identify any background material that is presented by the media sources as aiding in understanding the overall issue. Assess the relevance, comprehensiveness and any meaningful omissions found in this background material.
• Discuss the media sources themselves. Who created these media sources? Who owns them? Do they have an overall or assumed political or economic sentiment or slant?

Assignment 2: ImagePlot Exercise “Postmortem
(Due November 20, 11:59pm)
700-900 words
Overall grade weight: 25%

ImagePlot is a data visualization tool that aims to allow users to “Better understand media collections and make new discoveries.” It’s a free, open source tool developed by the Software Studies Initiative, new media guru Lev Manovich’s lab at UCSD. According to the ImagePlot official website, it was designed to enable and inspire users to see and think about images and videos in new ways. Oftentimes, this seems to include taking a “meta” view of media/data sets that encourages a focus on emergent visual patterns, but the tool has been used for various other applications as well. The site promotes the tool as allowing you to “See your whole image collection in a single visualization.” It can be used with various different types of collections of images and videos, regardless of size.   

For this assignment, you will download ImagePlot and use it to play around with an image or video collection of your choosing: ( You can use a personal collection, the sample data sets that come with the full download, or a suitable “published” online collection (as long as it is legally available for these types of – educational – purposes). Follow the instructions provided, and explore the tool until you identify an “interesting” pattern, which you will then explore (tinker, examine, think about, reflect upon, and analyze) in depth. Be sure to take notes throughout this process to help in the completion of the written assignment. Taking and including screenshots in this assignment is also strongly encouraged!

You will write a “postmortem” of your own ImagePlot experience. Here, the term “postmortem” is being used in a way that is reminiscent of how it is used by game developers. As PixelProspector (2014) writes: “Postmortem normally means “after death” (when forensic doctors examine the death cause etc. of a dead body). However when the word is used in the gaming world it means that developers analyze their finished game and reflect on everything they did during its creation. Basically they talk about what went right and what went wrong.” In this context, the analysis and reflection will focus on first time use of a finished tool (instead of its creation). Moreover, instead of  “right” and “wrong,” you will discuss how the tool met and/or failed to meet its stated (and implied) promise of allowing you to “better understand” your selected data/media collection.

Your postmortem should include the following:
·       Briefly describe the experience of “encountering,” downloading and learning to use ImagePlot, making note of any early expectations, hopes or reservations you may have had about the tool at the outset.
·       Briefly describe the data/media collection that you selected for analysis.  
·       Describe the “interesting pattern” that you elected to explore in depth.
·       What did you “learn” or discover from playing around with the tool? Did the interesting pattern yield any new insight or knowledge? If so, what was it? If not, why not?
·       Adopting a critical stance, what were the limitations of the tool? What did not allow or encourage you to “see” when you used it to (re)visualize your media collection? What type of knowledge and/or information was missing from this experience? (How) does this in turn create its own form of bias or narrowing of perspective?
·       Lastly, how can we use ImagePlot (and/or this exercise) to think about the politics, problems and advantages of data visualizations?

Assignment 3: Term Paper: Critical Reading Response
(Due December 14, 11:59pm)
1,000-1,250 words maximum, excluding references
Overall grade weight: 30%

Students will choose one of the weekly themes explored in this course (of their choice) and write a reading response that utilizes all of the required readings listed for that week. A reading response demonstrates a student’s knowledge of the texts and provides a critical and formal reflection on the weekly theme, through individual and comparative analysis of the readings.

While the readings must be summarized briefly, the bulk of your paper should be focused on the key arguments (thesis statements) found in the readings. Here, you are being asked to respond directly to the readings, by either agreeing or disagreeing with the arguments presented in the readings. Note: Accurately quote and cite, but do not over-quote (i.e. your paper should primarily consist of your own words, thoughts and arguments).

You may provide examples (and counter-examples) that refer to contemporary issues (media and policy) to bolster your arguments, if you wish. You may choose to respond to any weekly theme that most inspires you.

[1] Acknowledgement: Assignments 1 and 3 consist of slightly modified versions of assignments designed by Dr. Leslie Regan Shade and used in the Fall 2013 and 2014 iterations of INF1001. 

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