Composing Digital Media

Prof. Annette Vee, Fall 2016

Meeting details

TTh 11am-12:15pm
435 Cathedral of Learning
Course website:
Course Slack channel:

Prof. Vee’s contact information:

Office: 628C Cathedral of Learning
Email: annettevee @ pitt
Office Hours: T 12:30-2:30pm and gladly by appointment

Pitt resources for this class

435 open lab hours: see sidebar in for current hours
CIDDE technology check-out in B10 Alumni Hall (email Prof. Vee to authorize you with them first)

Course Description

This class will help you to get you familiar with some of the basics of composing with digital media–hopefully enough to equip and inspire you to learn more on your own.

Because this is a composition class that fills your Writing (W) requirement, the emphasis is on making stuff rather than reading about stuff. In other words, it’s a class that will require you to be active and to get your hands (figuratively) dirty with digital media. We’ll be composing texts with markup and executable code, images, audio projects, and more. We’ll be working with some software you may be familiar with, and some you’re not. You are welcome here whether you’re a newbie at digital composing or whether you’re an experienced backend web developer and computer science student. My goal is to provide a space where we learn together and support each other’s development. If the experiment works, we’ll all be stronger, smarter composers in digital media than we were when we first met each other.

Critically, this also includes me, your professor. I am pretty good at the basics of of some of the technologies we’ll be using. I am no expert. Please note that the first principle of composing with digital media is learning how to be comfortable trying new things in digital media; the second is how to support others trying new things in digital media. I will be learning alongside you and you will be learning to teach each other. Beyond any specific technology or technique you learn in this class, these twin skills will be the most useful outcomes of this class.

In part because this class is about exploring new territory, our schedule is a bit flexible and to-be-determined. I will be assigning readings and projects as we move through the semester, hopefully with input from you. You can always find the up-to-date schedule online here. This class is what we make of it: let’s make it productive and fun!

Course Goals

The goal of this course is to get you more familiar with some of the basics of composing with digital media–hopefully enough to equip and inspire you to learn more on your own. You will not be an expert in any of the technologies we use in the class by the end of it, but you should know a bit about where to go and what to do next. A passing grade in this class means you:

  • Understand some practical aspects about digital composing, including how to work with layers, versions, compression, separation of form and content, and the legal and social aspects of asset reuse and distribution.
  • Can compose digital media objects in audio, visual, textual modes and share them effectively on the Web.
  • Understand some of the layers of the “stack” in digital media, including the underlying structures of code and computer hardware, and why they matter for digital composition.
  • Have various learning strategies for extending your knowledge in practical and theoretical aspects of digital media composition.
  • Can support others learning to compose with digital media and be sensitive to the different needs of various readers, users and collaborators.

Course Requirements

This is a writing-intensive course, so you should expect a fairly heavy workload. The class requires you to work hard and improve on your own set of skills, but does not require you to be an expert in digital media to succeed. To succeed in this course, you will need to work earnestly on composing and drafting all of the assignments, participate actively in online and in-class discussions, and respect your peers in conversation and reviews of their work. Specifically, you will need to:

  • arrive on time and prepared for class meetings and conferences;
  • participate in discussions online (both in Slack and on the course blog) and in-class;
  • draft, revise and submit all course projects;
  • review your peers’ work regularly and have your own work reviewed;
  • complete all course readings;
  • submit all drafts, projects and work on time.

You will need regular access to a computer to do the work of this class. If, at any time, you have questions or concerns about your ability to fulfill the expectations for this course, please contact me (Prof. Vee). I want to help you succeed in the course, and together we can resolve any issue that may come up.

Course Materials

You are not required to purchase a text for this class; all readings for the course will be made available online or in a shared Pitt Box folder. You will, however, need:

  • Headphones
  • Regular Internet access
  • Regular computer access
  • A 16GB+ flash drive
  • Accounts on several programs and services: Pitt Box (where you will turn in work and access readings), Slack, WordPress, etc.
  • Recommended: A subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud ($218/yr). However, you can get by with using lab computers and free trials on your own computer.

Software we’ll be using includes:

  • Markdown for text editing and markup
  • Dreamweaver for webpages, including HTML, plus styling in CSS
  • Atom, a free code/text editor
  • Pandoc, a command-line document converter
  • WordPress for blogging
  • Pitt Box for file storage and distribution
  • Github, online versioning and document/code repository
  • Slack, project management and conversation
  • Photoshop for image editing
  • Audacity for audio editing
  • AfterEffects for animation

Course projects

Course projects include: a document written in Markdown; a basic website; an image project; an audio project; an animated text project and a group creative project. Most projects will be turned in via Pitt Box, in a folder you set up and share with me.

Technology policy

Please turn off your cell phone before class begins and keep it inside your book bag, purse, etc—do not keep it on your desk during class. I allow and encourage the use of computers, netbooks, tablets, etc. in class for those who want to take notes digitally during class. These devices are not for socializing during class, however—during class you must log out of Facebook, Twitter, IM and the message boards you follow. Studies show that these activities are distracting to your ability to learn and participate. You may visit our blog, Wikipedia or dictionary sites, etc. to help you understand a concept we’re discussing in class, but be prepared to explain any of your in-class Internet use to the entire class. If you are socializing online or on your phone (including texting) during class, be prepared to apologize to the class. Please contact me if you have specific questions about this policy.

Academic Integrity

The University asks us to include in our course descriptions this quotation from Pitt’s Senate Committee on Tenure and Academic Freedom (February 1974):

The integrity of the academic process requires fair and impartial evaluation on the part of faculty and honest academic conduct on the part of students. To this end, students are expected to conduct themselves at a high level of responsibility in the fulfillment of the course of their study. It is the corresponding responsibility of faculty to make clear to students those standards by which students will be evaluated, and the resources permissible for use by students during the course of their study and evaluation. The educational process is perceived as a joint faculty-student enterprise which will perforce involve professional judgment by faculty and may involve—without penalty—reasoned exception by students to the data or views offered by faculty.

Plagiarism hurts the relationships and scholarship we construct during this class. Assignments for this course are designed to be relevant to your specific contexts—your own interest and experience with technologies—and are unlikely to be plagiarized in full. We’ll talk about how to properly reuse other people’s work in digital contexts, and specifically about Creative Commons licensing.

Should you plagiarize, consequences are severe: students suspected of violating the University of Pittsburgh Policy on Academic Integrity, noted above, will be required to participate in the outlined procedural process that I initiate. A minimum sanction of a failing grade for the paper or project will be imposed.

Disability Resources

If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, please inform me and the Office of Disability Resources and Services (DRS) as early as possible in the term. You can reach DRS at (412) 648-7890 or (412) 383-7355 (TTY) and you can visit their office at 216 William Pitt Union. DRS will verify your disability and determine reasonable accommodations for this course.


The grade breakdown for the course will be as follows:

Assignment % of final grade
Seven  Six substantive blog posts to the course website (including intro and remix share) 12.5
Engagement in Slack and in blog comments 0
In-class participation (workshops, review discussion) 12.5
Markdown assignment 12.5
Website 12.5
Image editing assignment 12.5
Audio editing assignment 12.5
Text animation assignment 12.5
Revised project 12.5
Final group project 0
Total 100


Final grades will be assigned based on the following scale:

Grade Points / % Description
A 92 – 100 All projects exceed expectations, they are carefully edited and take risks that work.
A- 90 – 92
B+ 88 – 89
B 83 – 87 All projects meet or exceed expectation, they take risks that may not always work out.
B- 80 – 82
C+ 78 – 79
C 73 – 77 All projects meet basic expectations, some work may fail to take risks or need more careful editing.
C- 70 – 72
D 60 – 69
F below 60 Expectations not met. Work is incomplete or careless.

thanks to Kelsey Cameron for the grade scale.


The schedule for this course will be updated and posted on the course website as the semester goes on. Here’s a general guideline for what we’re doing when.

Unit 1: Digital media (Weeks 1-2)
Unit 2: Text (Weeks 3-5)
Unit 3: Image (Weeks 6-7)
Unit 4: Audio (Weeks 8-9)
Unit 5: Animation (Weeks 10-11)
Unit 6: Revision / revisiting (Weeks 12-15)

Week 1 (8/30 & 9/1) What is digital media?

  • Tues: Intro to course and each other
  • Thurs: Principles of digital media
  • Tues: RIP: Remix Manifesto
  • Thurs: Legal aspects of copyright and Creative Commons

Week 3 (9/13 & 15) Form & content

  • Tues: Intro to Markdown
  • Thurs: Workshop on Markdown

Week 4 (9/20 & 22) Versioning

  • Tues: Intro to Github & versioning
  • Thurs: Workshop on Github & versioning

Week 5 (9/27 & 29) Getting stuff on the Web

  • Tues: Intro to HTML/CSS
  • Thurs: Workshop on getting stuff on the web

Week 6 (10/4 & 10/6) Photoshop and images

Week 7 (10/11 & 10/13) More on images

Week 8 (10/20, fall break week)

Week 9 (10/25 & 10/27) Audio intro

Week 10 (11/1 & 11/3) Audio

  • Tues: Audacity/sound workshop. Bring headphones. Image Editing Assignment due in Pitt Box at 11:59pm.
  • Thurs: Work on audio in class. Bring headphones.

Week 11 (11/8 & 11/10) Animation

  • Tues:  Workshop Audio Project in class.
  • Thurs: Intro to AfterEffects and animation; Assign animation project

Week 12 (11/15 & 11/17) More Animation

  • Tues: Work with animation; Audio project due in Pitt Box at 11:59pm.
  • Thurs: Work with animation; workshop animation project in class

Week 13 (11/22, Thanksgiving week) Enjoy a week off!

Week 14 (11/29 & 12/1) Workshop week

  • Tues: Free work time to work on projects.
  • Thurs: Free work time to work on projects.

Week 15 (12/6 & 12/8) Presentations / Celebrations

  • 12/5 Animation project due in Pitt Box at 11:59pm.
  • Tues: Revised projects draft due for peer review. Prof. Vee will come around to talk to you about yours, and we’ll talk about how to give feedback to each other.
  • Thurs: Presentation of revised projects.

12/9: Final day to turn in blog posts online (11:59pm)

12/15: Revised project due (11:59pm on Box); Final day to turn in projects for optional regrading (11:59pm on Box; send me an email with a link to let me know it’s there) 

Blog posts

You’re required to make seven blog posts to our website. The first will be your intro post in the first week, where you describe your interest and experience with digital media and share something cool. The next post will be you sharing a favorite remix. You then have six blog posts left, which you can do at your own pace during the semester. (So you should have 8 total posts.) I suggest you plan to post every other week; that way you’ll get them done before your end-of-semester crush, and you’ll have a little slack if you miss a week.

Blog posts should be written with your class peers in mind and should be engaging, substantive and enlightening. They should be at least 300 words, and should include links, images, videos, screenshots or other media to enrich them. You’ll need to do at least one post of these genres:

      • Tutorial: A tutorial related to a technology we’re using in class
      • Connection: Sharing an interesting contemporary news story or resource or creative work that shows the relevance of the kinds of work we’re doing in the class
      • Journal: A discussion of your personal challenges or triumphs about your work in the class
        Your remaining posts can also be in these genres, or can be about anything else related to this class or composing digital media generally.

Slack channel

Slack is a software service that helps people collaborate and communicate. We’ll be using it for that, and as an easy way to lean on each other for tech support, info about the class, and sharing resources. Anything urgent I’ll send via email, but otherwise, I’ll post things in our Slack channel You can register for the channel with your Pitt email address here.

Resources and tutorials

See the Resources page on our website.


Like most teaching endeavors and digital media projects, this syllabus and course design benefitted from ideas and feedback from many people. Thanks especially to Lauren Hall, Kerry Banazek, Kelsey Cameron, Matt Lavin, Derek Van Ittersum, Tim Lockridge and Jamie Bianco.