About the Course

Course Description

We see a crucial need around the university for a first-year lecture course on the vast changes in the technology, practice, and business of mass communication that have accompanied the diffusion of digital devices, the development of the World Wide Web, and the rapid extension of education, commerce, politics, and social life to the online realm. Such a course could feed directly into J201 Introduction to Mass Communication (intended to orient students to the full range of media industries and careers). It would also complement, but not duplicate, more advanced offerings in other departments such as LIS 201 The Information Society or Comm Arts 346 Critical Internet Studies.

We have created a 3-credit lecture course, J101 Media Fluency for the Digital Age, taught to first-year students from across the university. J101 is delivered as a “hybrid” online/offline course to facilitate student scheduling. Each week the course combines a traditional in-person lecture, a focused in-person discussion/lab section, and an innovative online activity, for a flexible but rigorous “high-impact” experience. And as J101 involves close engagement with digital tools, both in discussion/lab and online, it fits well with the Digital Studies Certificate Program.

Media Fluency for the Digital Age takes seriously the political, social, economic, and cultural ramifications of mediated communication in the online world. It addresses the shift from an old paradigm of mass communication, mass audience, and expert communicator to a new paradigm of distributed communication, fragmented audience, and “crowdsourced” communicator. And it serves an acute student need for both critical media awareness (on the consumption side) and competent media ability (on the production side). This course will be of value to every undergraduate student at UW, regardless major, college, or career path.

(100 points total)

  • 20 points - Two exams
  • 20 points - Weekly one-page, singe-spaced article summary/critiques
  • 20 points - Weekly one-page, single-spaced online assignment write-ups
  • 20 points - Group weblog production
  • 20 points - Group presentation and digital media artifact

Grading Scale
(not curved)

  • A   92-100
  • AB 89-91
  • B   82-88
  • BC 79-82
  • C   72-78
  • D   65-71
  • F   anything below 65

Special Needs

Persons with disabilities are to be fully included in this course. Please let me know if you need any special accommodations to enable you to fully participate. I will try to maintain confidentiality of the information you share with me. To request academic accomodations, please register with the McBurney Disability Resource Center.

Classroom Respect

The UW-Madison is committed to creating a dynamic, diverse and welcoming learning environment for all students and has a non-discrimination policy that reflects this philosophy. Disrespectful behaviors or comments addressed towards any group or individual, regardless of race/ethnicity, sexuality, gender, religion, ability, or any other difference is deemed unacceptable in this class, and will be addressed publicly by the professor.

About the Instructor

Greg Downey is a professor in Letters & Science with a 50 percent appointment in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and a 50 percent appointment in the School of Library and Information Studies.  His teaching and research both center on the history and geography of information and communication technology and the often hidden human labor behind it. 

Downey joined the UW faculty in 2001. He holds a B.S. and M.S. in computer science from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, an M.A. In liberal studies from Northwestern University, and a joint Ph.D. in history of technology and human geography from the Johns Hopkins University. Before coming to Madison, Downey spent a year as a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Geography and the Humanities Institute at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. 

His industry experience as a computer analyst includes three years at the Leo Burnett advertising agency in Chicago, and three years at Roger Schank’s Institute for Learning Sciences at Northwestern University. He has held short-term volunteer positions with both the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago and the Community Information Exchange in Washington D.C. And he used to draw a daily comic strip when he was an undergraduate, believe it or not.

Downey's first book, Telegraph Messenger Boys: Labor, Technology, and Geography, 1850-1950, was published by Routledge in 2002.  His second book, Closed captioning: Subtitling, stenography, and the digital convergence of text with television, was published by Johns Hopkins in 2008.