“[E]very computer desktop, and now every pocket, is a worldwide printing press, broadcasting station, place of assembly, and organizing tool…”
– Howard Rheingold, educator, author, 2008 Macarthur Scholar

More than half of blog readers say blogs influence public opinion (68%), mainstream media (56%) and public policy (54%).”
– 2005 Ipsos Survey

On the 5th of November 2007 — Guy Fawkes Day (remember, remember the fifth of November) — Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) raised more than $4.2 million for his run for White House.

“Were it not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not be president. Were it not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not have been the nominee.”
Arianna Huffington, editor in chief of The Huffington Post.

Course Description and Objectives

COM597, Digital Democracy, examines how open, distributed, decentralized digital networks are affecting the dynamics of power in politics and society in the United States. This seminar focuses on the November 2012 presidential election and Washington statewide campaigns (initiatives, gubernatorial) as well as recent digital issue campaigns (such as StopKONY). Readings draw from political science, sociology and communication. Coursework includes writing for ElectionEye, the UW/Seattle Times collaboration, and, a project of this class in 2008 and 2010.

Course Structure and Requirements

We will explore the theories and practice of the digital democracy by reading books, book chapters and articles as well as discussing the readings with leading practitioners. Because you come with a wealth of experience, learning from one other is an important part of the process. This is a seminar structure, so active student involvement is key to learning. Students will participate in both synchronous and asynchronous interaction.

Internet access, basic computer literacy and a willingness to experiment with new technologies are required.

Learning Outcomes
After completing this course, students will be able to:

  • Identify three ways digital technologies are changing how government agencies communicate with the public
  • Analyze how digital technologies are being used by candidates to raise money, create awareness and facilitate groups
  • Analyze how digital technologies are being used by non-profit agencies and advocacy organizations to further their missions

Student Responsibilities

  • Be prepared for class; have reading and assignments done on time
  • Participate in active learning inside and outside of class (in other words, both on-line and face-to-face). That means asking questions, helping classmates answer questions, and working with one another to solve problems.
  • Be in class. It’s the only time we’ll have to work face-to-face
  • Ask questions!

Alignment With MCDM Core Values and Competencies:

Identify and analyze the latest developments in digital media technology. After questioning invited guest speakers and reading course materials, students can explain how democratic institutions are capitalizing on digital communication technologies
Understand how to use digital media to create and convey a message. Students produce their discussion leader materials and reading reflections on their blogs, a public space, thereby contributing to the public conversation about the themes of the course
Pursue new business and management models based on the application of digital media. After reflecting upon the course material and questioning invited guest speakers, students can explain how digital technologies are exerting pressure on democratic institutions as well as empowering alternative forms of civic engagement

Teaching Strategies
Teaching methods for this course include lectures, demonstrations, student collaboration, guest lecturers, reading, and writing assignments. The class functions more like a seminar than a traditional lecture-driven course.

Classes may feature a guest lecturer who is a leading professional or scholar in digital media. Class discussions are a key element of the course, and students are encouraged to ask questions, offer their own observations, and share their own experiences with technologies.

The instructor will coordinate class material, keep in close touch with each student in order to assess and meet individual needs, and evaluate all course assignments. Communication outside of class will be via a class mailing list; students must either check their UW email regularly or have that address forwarded. All material is available on the class web site:

Instructor’s Educational Philosophy
My goal is to provide a stimulating environment for learning. Course material includes both theory and application, with an emphasis on application to real world problems and situations. Written and oral reports are required because these skills are needed in the work environment in general, and in web development, management, and consulting in particular. Students are required to comment and collaborate as these are practical skills; the means used demonstrates theories and technologies explored in class.

Communication with the Instructor
If you are unable to meet with me during office hours, I am happy to meet with you after office hours to accommodate your schedule. I also strongly encourage you to send questions, comments, concerns to me via email. I check my campus email less frequently on F-Su; please do not expect an answer to email sent F-Su until Monday. Please use clear subject lines (add “urgent” if the message is time-sensitive). Double your chances of a quick response by also sending the note to my gmail account: kegill at If you have not heard from me within 48 hours, please resend to both email accounts.


Required Books

Recommended Books For Book Review Option
Examples of Readings. Students will make selections from recommended readings to lead discussions; book chapters are available in eReserve.
  • Chadwick, A. Access, Inclusion and The Digital Divide, Chapter 4 in Internet Politics (2006)
  • Cook, T. The Political News Media, Chapter 5 in Governing With The News: The News Media As A Political Institution (2005)
  • Eveland, W.P. and Dylko, I. Reading Political Blogs During The 2004 Election Campaign, Chapter 6 in Blogging, Citizenship and The Future of Media (2007) edited by Tremayne, M.
  • Foot, K. and Schneider, S.M. Explaining the Adoption of Web Campaigning Practices, Chapter 7 in Web Campaigning (2006)
  • Foot, K. and Schneider, S.M. Web Campaigning: Introduction and Overview, Chapter 1 in Web Campaigning (2006)
  • Habermas, J. The Public Sphere, Chapter 23 in The Information Society Reader (2004) edited by Webster, F.
  • Klotz, R.J. Cybercampaigning, Chapter 5 in The Politics of Internet Communication (2004)
  • Klotz, R.J. E-Government, Chapter 7 in The Politics of Internet Communication (2004)
  • Klotz, R.J. Party and Group Advocacy on the Internet, Chapter 6 in The Politics of Internet Communication (2004)
  • Papacharissi, Z. The Virtual Sphere, The Internet As Public Sphere, Chapter 26 in The Information Society Reader (2004) edited by Webster, F.
  • Scott, D.T. Pundits In Muckrakers’ Clothing: Political Blogs and the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election, Chapter 3 in Blogging, Citizenship and The Future of Media (2007) edited by Tremayne, M.
  • Tremayne, M. Examining the Blog-Media Relationship, Introduction, Blogging Citizenship and the Future of Media (2007) edited by Tremayne, M.


Critical Analysis

(1) Leading Discussion
Students will lead a discussion once during the quarter; students will select an article of their choice, linking the topic to personal experience or current business practices as well the general class reading, comparing and contrasting viewpoints. A list of articles and book chapters is provided for each week’s topic; however, students are welcome to find articles related to their individual interests. In other words, the list provided is not exhaustive.

  • The discussion leader will provide a written analysis on this blog prior to class, thus contributing to the public discussion of issues raised by this course. In an asynchronous communication — and to practice one of the technologies we are discussing — students are encouraged to comment on these posts. One substantive response is required if you choose not to read a book.

(2) Reading Analysis
Students have the choice of making three substantive posts (on this blog) related to assigned readings (one should be a response to a discussion leader essay) OR selecting a book from the recommended list and writing a critical book review (not a book report). The choice (path) should reflect your learning goals for the quarter.

  • The two reading posts are due before class; the response to a discussion leader post is due by Monday after class.
  • The book review is due prior to the last class; students reading a book will provide an oral as well as written review (not report).


Personal learning contract

Week 1: outline personal learning goals; this is not set in stone but is designed to help you focus and stay on track, which is a challenge during the shorter term that is summer quarter. Due Tuesday after our first class (student decision).

Finals week: in 800-1,000 words, reflect upon your key learnings for the quarter, with appropriate references, noting how well you met (or how you adjusted) your learning goals. What would you do differently, knowing what you know now?

In our first class together, we will discuss the projects.

We will perform objective analyses of the initiatives and referenda on the Washington ballot, providing a one-stop resource for arguments pro/con, organization endorsements, YouTube clips of ads, and so forth. The 2008 class initiated this effort:

Possible tasks:

  • Site redesign
  • Tracking money (initiative-related is the top priority but not exclusive)
  • Background information needed about each initiative/referendum
  • Fact-check posts (hopefully there are claims to check)
  • Portal-type page for gubernatorial candidates
  • Posts about initiative news, eg other fact-check articles, polling data, etc
  • Infographics
  • Something we haven’t yet thought of!

In addition, students will write for ElectionEye, a UW/Seattle Times joint effort.

  • Minimum, two stories.


You may participate through your active presence in class, through discussion that arises in class, and through discussion that arises through class blog posts. There may be additional in-class assignments that will be posted to this blog; these are also considered participation.

Your final grade will be based on the total points received.

Reading response (3×50) or Book Review 150
Discussion Leader (essay/in-class discussion) 200
Projects (ElectionEye/FactCheckWa) 500
Personal learning contract (beginning and end of course) 100
Participation 50
Total Points 1000

Grades (total/10)

  • 97 – 100 = 4.0
  • 94 – 96.9 = 3.9
  • 91 – 93.9 = 3.8
  • 87 – 90.9 = 3.6
  • 83 – 86.9 = 3.3
  • 79 – 83.9 = 3.0
  • 75 – 78.9 = 2.8

Course Policies

By becoming a member of this class, you agree to abide by these policies and any other policies not explicitly stated here that are detailed in the UW Student Conduct Handbook.

Students are expected to attend all classes and are responsible for completing all course material on deadline. You should e-mail me if you miss class because of illness or emergency. This communication is part of your class participation. However, you should also check the class website (this blog) as well as your classmates to “see what you missed.” In-class assignments cannot be made up except by arrangement. Additionally, from the Faculty Code:

A student absent from any class activity through sickness or other cause judged by the instructor to be unavoidable shall be given an opportunity to perform work judged by the instructor to be the equivalent… Examples of unavoidable cause include death or serious illness in the immediate family, illness of the student, and, provided previous notification is given, observance of regularly scheduled religious obligations and might possibly include attendance at academic conferences or field trips, or participation in university-sponsored activities such as debating contests or athletic competition (Faculty code, Vol. 4, Part 3, Chap 12, sec 1B).

All work must be completed on time. Errors (facts, spelling and grammar) will result in a reduced grade. You are expected to produce original work and properly cite the thoughts and works of others. Plagiarism and cheating are serious offenses and are not tolerated by the University. For more information, please refer to the University’s Academic Honesty policy.

Classroom Environment
Students and faculty are responsible for creating a good learning environment. We will use computing technology in the classroom. Material visible on any computing device should not be offensive or incendiary. Any music played during breaks should be at a level conducive to classroom civility.

Courteous Discourse
Whether in class or online, students are expected to conduct themselves with professional courtesy and decorum. Please make constructive comments; flames and insults are not acceptable. Disagree with the idea, not the person!

The instructor will not give incompletes except under exceptional circumstances.

To request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact Disability Resources for Students, 448 Schmitz, 206-543-8924/V, 206-5430-8925/TTY. If you have a letter from Disability Resources for Students indicating that you have a disability that requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to me so we can discuss the accommodations that you might need for the class.

E-mail Communication
E-mail communications among members of this class should reflect respect for the rights and privileges of all members of the academic community. This includes not interfering with university functions or endangering the health, welfare, or safety of other persons. In addition to the University of Washington’s Student Conduct Code, there are additional policies for this class:

  • E-mail communication from a student to the instructor will be acted upon, if possible, within 24 hours (M-Th). If an e-mail from a student does not receive a response within 48 hours, then the student should investigate other ways of contacting me (telephone, office hours, etc.). E-mail to the instructor must have clear, not cryptic, subject lines and should include the course number (COM546).
  • Students are responsible for checking their UW mail regularly; instructor and class mailing list mail is directed to the student UW address, as it is the official e-mail address for class enrollment.
  • E-mail communications should not include any CCing of anyone not directly involved in the specific educational experience at hand.
  • E-mail communications should not include any blind-CCing to third parties.

A Guide to Writing for COM597

Why I Give Writing Assignments
In this class, the writing assignments are designed to help you:

  • gain more knowledge about a particular field that interests you
  • synthesize different positions and evaluate which position has the greatest internal consistency
  • develop support for your own position
  • apply an intellectual framework to a new problem
  • use theoretical criteria discussed in class in an analytical framework
  • extrapolate from ideas developed in readings and in class to suggest what might
    happen in the future or how a past event might have changed had conditions differed

Research shows that writing improves thinking (analytical) skills. It forces us to practice a skill that may have gotten rusty, because most of the time, our thinking remains isolated in our own minds. Reflection, in these hectic, “down-sized” days, is a luxury that we often postpone, sometimes indefinitely. Thus the request to blog: to reflect, then to put our thoughts on digital paper. The act of writing helps us evaluate our beliefs and assumptions and also helps cement knowledge.

These reading reflections are essays. Please don’t just summarize the content of a reading. Instead, the essay should demonstrate that you have thought about the reading and your experiences. How did the reading relate to other readings in this or another course? How did the reading relate to your experience? Did you enjoy the reading? What were your insights, criticisms, comments, questions?

The additional component of peer comment lets us help one another clarify understanding – whether the comments are supportive or critical of our assumptions. In all cases, however, the comments should reflect respect for the other person and for those ideas that differ from our own.


Critical Analyses – Evaluation


Exceptional work.
Student employs a creative and comprehensive exploration of the reading; offers cogent arguments and well thought out explanations supported by evidence; synthesizes material; explains “why” as well as “how” and “what.” Very clear. Any citations have no significant errors.

Organization enhances the essay; the introduction invites the reader to begin. The essay is well-focused and has an interesting thesis; there is a smooth transition among all elements (sentences, paragraphs, ideas). The conclusion goes beyond restating the obvious. The writing style is engaging, and the essay has no significant grammatical or spelling errors.


Good work.
Student exploration of the reading and societal impacts is average; arguments and explanations are average with some evidence; moderate synthesis of material; explains “how” or “what” but “why” is not convincing. Any
citations have minor errors.

This essay has a useful introduction and a focused thesis. Its unified and coherent paragraphs support the thesis; transitions are smooth. The conclusion is competent. The writing style is clear and the essay has no significant grammatical or spelling errors.

30 Below average work.
Student exploration of the essay and societal impacts is below average; arguments and explanations are unconvincing and unsupported by evidence; little synthesis of material; explains “how” or “what” but not “why.” Any citations have major errors, and are mostly popular in nature.

Overall organization in inconsistent. This essay has a general introduction and vague thesis; has incoherent paragraphs that bear little relevance to the thesis. It is missing transitions; choppy. The conclusion is inadequate. The writing style is unclear, and the essay has significant grammatical or spelling errors.


Poor work.
Student exploration of the reading and societal impacts is below average; arguments and explanations are unconvincing; no synthesis of material, merely summaries. No overall coherence. Citations have major errors and are either mostly popular in nature or non-existent.

The essay lacks coherence. It has no introduction or thesis, no transitions, no clear introduction-middle-conclusion. The writing style is unreadable, and the essay has significant grammatical or spelling errors.


Assignment not turned in.

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