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COMM 750, Web Studies/Digital Media

Department of Communication, North Dakota State University, Fargo

Course overview/syllabus

Instructor: Ross Collins, associate professor of communication, Department of Communication, Dept. No. 2310, Box 6050, North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND 58108-6050; tel (701) 231-7295; fax (701) 231-7784; email

Course Overview

This graduate-level on-line class is designed to give students an overview of internet web theory, research, history and design fundamentals, including basic understanding of coding and software commonly used to build web sites. Emphasis is on web theory and research. Students will have the opportunity to undertake in-depth research on a web studies topic of their choice. Material is divided into three topic areas:

I. History/theory/philosophy of the internet and the web (about 25 percent).

II. Web studies and research into the digital world (about 65 percent).

III. Practical skills in web design and development (about 10 percent).

These areas are presented in four modules, each covering a section of two textbooks, plus extra readings. At the end of the semester, students should have a broad understanding of issues related to the internet and web development, and basic practical understanding of skills useful in building web sites. Note: this is not a course for students who wish to learn web design skills, but for students who wish to understand the web as a social and cultural medium. Students interested in becoming professional web designers should consider an undergraduate minor or major in web design, offered by the North Dakota State University Department of Communication.)

Required texts

About the instructor

Associate professor Ross F. Collins (Ph.D., University of Cambridge, 1992) began work in web development in 1995. He has produced several web sites, and in 2004 launched an interdisciplinary web minor program, soon to become a major in web design. He helped to develop and co-taught the department's upper-level convergence media class, and also developed and teaches an introductory class in web design. He has a variety of professional experience in photography and publication design. He serves as senior editor for the university's publishing division (NDSU Institute for Regional Studies), and as department director of the master's program. His web site: His profile is also available on Facebook.

See a complete vita.


Because this is a graduate-level course, grades are based primarily on essays and a final research paper, and not on exams. Students do have several practical exercises to complete.

Reflective papers (one for each module, four total): 120 pts.

Research paper: 300 pts.

Coding and other exercises: 30 pts.

Total possible: 450 pts.

Grading will be on a standard percentage: 90-100 percent=A; 80-89=B, etc.

Go to class assignments.


Class Schedule

Each module is expected to take you three to four weeks to complete. While you do not have to submit your work by a specific deadline, work must be submitted within a reasonable time frame. The instructor will deduct points for work from modules one, two, or three delayed until the end of the semester. All work must be submitted by the university's official last class day of the semester.

Module One: Brave new media

A. Development/theory

Reading One, class introduction: Development of the internet.

Reading Two, on-line resource: Who is Tim Berners-Lee?

Reading Three, on-line resource: History of the web.

Reading Four, on-line resource: Is Google making is stupid? Atlantic Magazine.

Reading Five, text: Weinberger, Preface, Chs. 1-3

B. Research

Reading One, text: Gauntlett and Horsley, Part One: Web Studies.

C. Practical applications

Reading One, class lecture: Writing for the web; an introduction.

Reading Two, class lecture: Writing for the web; best practices.

Module Two: Web culture, web coding.

A. Development/theory

Reading One, text: Weinberger, Chs. 4-5.

Reading Two, on-line resource: Convergent Journalism, What is convergence? A thorough discussion in the Online Journalism Review.

B. Research

Reading One, text: Web Studies, Part Two, Web Life and Culture.

C. Practical

Reading One, class lecture: A skeleton for the web; basic HTML and CSS.

Resources for more information: complete HTML tutorial and CSS tutorial.

Module Three: making money, giving access, looking pretty.

A. Development/theory

Reading One, text: Weinberger, Ch. 6-7.

B. Research

Reading One, text: Web Studies, Part Three, Web Business Economics and Capitalism.

C. Practical

Reading One, on-line lectures:

Funding and accessibility.


Web site usability.

Principles of design.

Reading Two, on-line resource: Vincent Flanders, Web sites that suck.

Module Four: Summing up; the web and the world

A. Development/theory

Reading One, text: Weinberger, Ch. 8.

Reading Two, on-line resource: Tim Berners-Lee: The Future of the Web.

B. Research

Reading One, text: Web studies, Part Four: Global Web Communities, Politics and Protest.

C. Practical

Reading One, on-line lecture: Web best practices.

Reading Two, on-line lecture/resource: Ross's web design horror show.

University policy statements

Work in this course must adhere to the NDSU Code of Academic Responsibility and Conduct. This addresses cheating, plagiarism, fabrication, or facilitating dishonesty. Instructors have the right to respond to a student's dishonesty by failing the student for the particular assignment or test, or even the entire course, or recommend the student drop the course.

Disabilities notice: If you need special accommodations for learning or have special needs, please let the instructor know as soon as possible.