About the Class

Course Description

This course provides a look inside the technologies and infrastructures that make digital media function. Students investigate and manipulate code, formats, platforms, and networks in order to consider the relationship between these structures and the audio, visual, and interactive media representations that are possible. This includes material about search engines; audio, still, and motion picture formats; bots, advertising and content distribution networks. Although some topics will be technical, no previous technical experience is expected.

Learning Objectives

Course Credit

Class Structure

The course consists of two lectures each week and one lab section. Class meetings supplement but do not duplicate the readings; readings supplement but do not duplicate the class meetings. Some of the course content is available only from class meetings and students are responsible for that material.

Overall, the bulk of the work in this course (60%+) consists of a series of lab assignments building up to a final project. Lab sections (which begin in week 3) will include time to work on the lab assignments, but additional time will be necessary. All lab assignments and the final project must be submitted in order to receive a passing grade in the class. However, if you receive a poor grade on a lab assignment there will be an opportunity to revise it to improve your grade.

In-person attendance is required. However, some time after each lecture, a recording of the lecture will be made available on the course Web site, along with lecture slides. These are meant for review. In the event that a lecture video is not made available (e.g., due to technical problems) you are still responsible for the content of that lecture. You are expected to attend lecture and attendance is part of your course grade. Students verify attendance in lecture by answering a short lecture question that may be posed at any time during the lecture, including the beginning.

Final projects may be completed alone or in a team of your choice. The final project counts as a final exam for this course: there is no other final exam. Quizzes are used instead of midterms in this course: there is no other midterm. There are no surprise or "pop" quizzes.

Overall Class Requirements


This course contains a broad spectrum of students with different skills, from noobs to hackers and in between. In order to ensure that those less comfortable are not at a disadvantage, this course is not graded on a curve, there are opportunities to revise assignments for a better grade, and there are extra credit opportunities. The teaching staff reserves the right to award additional points to reward remarkable effort and an upward trend in your work regardless of your starting point.

Your final grade will be weighted:

Lab Assignments: 40%
Quizzes: 30%
Final Project: 15%
Attendance and Participation: 15%

Attendance and Participation includes lab section attendance, lecture attendance, answering the lecture questions, and more generally your overall quality and quantity of contribution to the course.


There are no required textbooks for this course.

Course readings will be provided to you electronically at least two weeks before the reading is expected to be read (with the exception of the readings in the first two weeks). If you wish to read ahead or would like additional information about the course material, purchase or borrow the optional textbooks.

Optional textbooks:

Photo credit: lolcatbible.


Some assignments may involve specialized software and/or small online purchases. We think about these costs as we do textbook costs. We will make any required software available for you on university computers, but if you wish to obtain this software for your own computer you are responsible for the cost. We promise that we will recommend free or inexpensive software to you whenever possible. If assignments involve online purchases, we do not anticipate the overall semester total will exceed $30, and in the past it is typically $0. An assignment involving an online purchase will probably require the use of a credit card. If you don't have a credit card, but you have someone you trust that will buy things for you (mom?) that will also work. If these costs are prohibitively expensive and would make it impossible to participate, e-mail the primary instructor during the first two weeks to make alternate arrangements.

Major Deadlines

Deadline dates may change as the semester progresses. See the schedule page for deadlines.

The final project will be due during the final exam period for this course (Wednesday, April 27, 2016; 8-10 a.m.). You must attend the final exam period.


There will be three multiple-choice quizzes given during the lecture period. These are closed book except that you may prepare and bring to class one 8 1/2 x 11" sheet of notes (typed or written) to consult during the quiz. You may use this sheet and a pencil to take the quiz. No other aids may be used.

There will be no pop quizzes or surprise quizzes.

Class Policies

Legal Thingy

We record parts of our course to help students review the course material. To make this possible, by enrolling in this course as a student you authorize the University of Michigan and the COMM 313 instructors, and anyone that the University or COMM 313 instructors may permit, to film, videotape, audio record, and photograph you during COMM 313 activities for subsequent broadcast or other dissemination in perpetuity through any media, which includes, without limitation, commercial and public radio, television, cable, and the Internet. And you acknowledge that you might not receive a copy of any film, videotape, audio recording, photograph, or computer file that is or may be produced. If you wish to opt-out of the lecture recording process contact the professor and you can be seated in an area of the lecture room not covered by a camera if a camera is being used. You should also be sure to avoid volunteering to participate in any recorded lecture activities (such as demos) at the front of the room if there is a camera present. As there are a variety of vehicles for course participation credit, avoiding lecture demos will not disadvantage your performance in the course.