This Is Your Brain on the Internet: Syllabus, Contract, Schedule

Here is the full syllabus, schedule, and grading contract for this year's seminar, "This Is Your Brain on the Internet."  It promises to be a very exciting semester ahead. 


ISIS 120S-01, English 173S-05: “This is Your Brain on the Internet” (#TYBIcd)

Instructor:  Prof. Cathy N. Davidson, John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and Ruth F. DeVarney Professor of English,
Teaching Assistant: Anna Rose Beck (HASTAC Intern, recent BME Duke Alum)
Teaching Apprentice: Frances McDonald  (Doctoral student, English Department)


“This is Your Brain on the Internet” is an experimental, innovative, adventurous, non-traditional, multidisciplinary, student-led, contract- and peer-evaluated course open to any student fascinated by how we come to know the world and how we may or may not know the world differently in the Information Age.  It is not for the faint of heart.  If you are not up for what John Seely Brown calls “thinkering” (thinking while doing, project-based thinking, evolving and progressive thinking), this is not a course for you.

Our quest in this course will be to explore many different, quirky, eccentric, and exceptional models of mind in order to force ourselves to think, together, about what models best suit our digital, interactive, collaborative age.  Although we are in a great era of neuroscience and are learning more and more about our mental processing, what we do not know about how our brain works is infinitely more vast than what we know.  Thus we make models to try to explain ourselves to ourselves.  Every era (and the present is no exception) and every culture imagines its own models of mind.  In the scientific method, this “hypothesis” then both shapes experiments and data collection and uses experimental findings and the data collected to test, refine, or (sometimes) refute the hypothesis.

This class advances an argument:  “We are living in one of the most momentous times of change in human history.  We have changed.  Now we need to name the paradigm that has already shifted.”  It advances a second hypothesis:  “If the old twentieth-century metaphor for the mind was the hardwired CPU, what if the model of mind for the era of social networking and interaction is the iPhone:   an App for everything, some come bundled with the technology but most you choose, each one is interconnected to others, you customize, you update, everything is in constant need of a software update, and no one’s iPhone looks alike?  It is not that some iPhones are defective—they each have different Apps, and most of us never explore all of the Apps we have.  Especially if we’ve been told our iPhone is defective.”

This class will be testing that argument in myriad ways.   We will be thinking together about how we know the world, how we think, and how we think about thinking as individuals, as groups, as a culture, as subcultures, in a historical moment, as mediated by and through technology.  The readings are intended as provocations.  Some are evocative, some controversial, all have strong points of view, all are polemical in the sense that they advocate for models of mind, collaboration, interaction, and mediation.  All are also “situated” in the sense that they do not look at “cognition” in an abstract sense, as divorced from social concerns, but as deeply rooted in cultural arrangements, so another focus of the course will be on new ways that humans interact with one another as friends, business partners, and members of a global information community.

How are collaborations different when they are face-to-face than when virtual, mediated by technology?  How are collaborations and interactions different one-on-one than performed with a group, different when a “teacher” or “parent” or other “authority figure” is or is not present?  Our own classroom will move back and forth between actual and virtual experiences, including observation of highly complex collaborative environments (including choreography, improvisation, and other ways of interacting with and without words), some of which involve technology and some of which do not.

The course is conceived as a trans-disciplinary exploration in which we will consider the deep structure of cognition and community in a digital age. We’ll learn from theoretical and expressive books and articles ranging from neuroscience to films and literature, from various experimental and mainstream films as well as from a range of non-traditional sources (websites, interactive games and virtual environments, new media art exhibits, a backstage tour, conversations with social networking activists and community organizers, demonstrations by performance artists and illusionists, Virtual Reality tours, etc.)

We will also learn from engaged collaboration (“collaboration by difference”) with others who have complementary skills, strengths, attitudes, and assumptions.  Every student will have at least three opportunities to work with partner(s) in the class and learning to be conscious and conscientious about that interactive, collaborative process is one of the learning methods of this course.  Each class meeting will have pairs of student leaders.

Choosing readings and supplementary online materials to view will be led by the students leaders of each class session.   Books may be obtained from the Regulator independent bookstore on 9th Street or at the Gothic.  Readings will be chosen from among the following but some will be added or dropped by student leaders as the course unfolds.

Bauby, Jean-Dominique, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly 
Doidge, Norman, The Brain That Changes Itself 
Grandin, Temple, Animals in Translation 
Levitin, Daniel, This Is Your Brain on Music
Haddon, Mark, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time  
Hawkins, Jeff, On Intelligence
Berners-Lee, Tim. Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World    Wide Web.  
*Tara McPherson, ed., Innovative Uses and Unexpected Outcomes (MacArthur
Foundation Digital Media and Learning Series)  [selections online]
*Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
*Clay Shirky,  Here Comes Everybody:  The Power of Organizing Without Organizations

This course is student-driven:  All classes will be lead by pairs of students who will also give us reading assignments (books, articles, websites, films) and writing/creating assignments (setting us ways to interact with the material prior to or in class as well as after it).  The student leaders for each session will also evaluate every other students’ contributions, a process that will continue throughout the class, on our class Wordpress site.   The purpose is for all of us to become used to peer evaluation, peer response, peer collaboration toward our mutual learning goals.   Students will be encouraged to respond back to the student leaders making the comments.

Course Assignments:
(1) readings, screenings, viewings, field trips:  attendance, reading in advance of class,  and engaged participation required (see contract for attendance policy);
(2) weekly blogs (approximately 400-500 words or, for multi-media projects, of the length specified by the peer leader for that week).  These must be submitted by midnight before class time in order that all students can read one another’s contributions prior to class time. These will be posted on a class-only private blog, in response to all class presentations, including comments on one another’s blogs.
(3) a collaborative class presentation and responsibility for leading a unit that includes two-three class sessions.  Peer leaders will give reading and writing/media assignments to the class.  The student can either choose the readings the professor has suggested; supplement those; or choose entirely different readings—or a different topic, upon discussion with the teaching team (prof, TA, TAP).   Keep in mind that, in this class, the “classroom” is the entire campus and the area, so one of the classes you assign may well be a field trip.  You have to be the “eyes and ears” for the class, looking for relevant experiences.  No talking heads presentations please!   We are all investing our precious time in you so you need to find lively, engaged, inspiring ways to conduct this class.  Here’s the adage:  if you can be replaced by a computer screen, you should be. (Highly recommended:  Game Storming:  A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo).   Students will be responsible for planning course sessions, making reading and writing/multimedia assignments to the other students, offering constructive feedback to each student on their assignment and evaluating the work of the other students to determine if they have fulfilled their contract; if not, the peer leaders must work with the student to do a better job on a resubmission.   If the student fails to, the peer leaders must note an Unsatisfactory grade.  S/U grades for each student must be reported to the TA for formal recording before this assignment is completed.  The final part of this assignment is a self-assessment (private) of ones own contribution to the collaboration and lessons learned from the collaboration.
(4) significant contribution to public knowledge;  individual or joint authorship is permissible
(5) a second significant contribution to public knowledge in a different format or using a different tool; individual or joint authorship is permissible
(6)  a midterm contribution to a collaborative wiki-based midterm, with a posting of the final collaborative essay at plus a social media campaign (twitter, Facebook, and list servs) to encourage readership
(7) a final three-minute collaborative multimedia project focusing on one the topic of your peer-led unit.  The rough cuts will be previewed during the last week of class, will receive feedback from the class, and then final versions will be posted on the HASTAC YouTube site.

Assessment Method and Course Requirements ASSESSMENT:   Grades will be contract-based and peer-evaluated.   In what is one of the most famous blogs in recent pedagogical history, How to Crowdsource Grading, Prof Davidson described this method:  You may look at that blog to understand the method or contact the instructor.   Your contract also spells out more of the ideas behind contract grading and the whole idea of assessment is one we will return to over and over.  

CONTRACT GRADING: In contract grading, the student is assumed to be an adult who is taking a course for his or her own reasons, which may range from “I know this course will change my life” to “I need this to meet a distribution requirement and it’s at the same time as another class I need in this building and so I won’t need to put myself out in any way.”   Given that range, in contract grading, you read all of the course requirements in advance and decide what amount of work you wish to complete in the course.  It is anticipated that students will make this decision maturely, weighing their other obligations for the term and will decide in advance.  There is a penalty, as spelled out in the contract, for failure to meet one’s signed contractual obligations.

A:  Satisfactory completion of all seven (7) assignments
B:  Satisfactory completion of 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7
C:  Satisfactory completion of 1, 2, 3, and 7

Class attendance is required.  If you contract for an A in the course, you may miss two classes (and the corresponding blog posts) without an official (doctor or pre-approved) excuse. If you contract for a B, you may miss four; and if you contract for a C, you may miss 6.  Whatever grade you contract for, if you exceed the relevant number of unexcused absences, your grade for the entire class automatically will drop 0.5 below the grade for which you have contracted per each absence over the limit.

A “C” is an entirely honorable grade to contract for if you have no need for more than a C and have other responsibilities this term.   If you do all you have contracted to do (you will sign a contract, with a fellow student as witness, and I will cosign and return a copy to you), you will earn your grade.  With one small catch . . .

Peer evaluation:  You must do your assignments satisfactorily to fulfill your contract.   Each week, two or three students will work as a peer group in charge of leading our joint education for two or three classes.  During that unit, the peer leaders will assign readings as well as writing or multimedia assignments--and they will be charged with determining if each student has satisfactorily completed the assignment.   They will be charged with providing written feedback on all assignments.  Their goal will be to ensure that each student satisfactorily completes the assignment and they will work with each student to make sure they succeed.  If a student is given a second chance and still is not satisfactory, the peer leaders will assign a U for that contracted item (meaning the contract was not filled for that assignment).  The contracts spell out the penalties for U or uncompleted grades.  

Remember:  the next week, those peer leaders will be students in the class and they will then be evaluated by the new peer leaders.   Giving and receiving feedback, learning from one another, learning how to set fair, high, and reasonable expectations and standards is part of  the collaborative, interactive, iterative process that we’re calling “Your Brain on the Internet.”   If we live in an interactive age, where anyone can comment on anyone, we better be learning how to do this well.   (I’m convinced reality prize shows--So You Think You Can Dance, American Idol, etc--are popular partly because they are a rare place where people learn judgment and feedback in action; schools have not yet taken up this task fully.)   As you think about your role as a peer-leader and assessor, here’s a humorous blog post by one annoyed teacher who has turned the typical student evaluation form (where students evaluate the teacher)  into a form for evaluating students:     The issues this author raises are all ones that your group will be considering in your role as peer leaders for one unit of the class.   

Peer-to-Peer Learning:   This is a class that is about interactive, collaborative learning--about learning how we learn, how we teach, how we contribute, and how we take responsibility for what and how we contribute in a digital age.  We are taking lessons from open web development and peer-to-peer online learning and translating those to a traditional educational environment.   The rigorous forms of responsibility, interaction, critique, responsiveness, and merit that open source web developers use to co-create open source tools like Mozilla's Firefox browser or the World Wide Web, for that matter, and to teach one another their own skill set is our inspiration for this course.  Your peers are your toughest and best teachers.  As in the real world of work in your future, you will depend upon the standards, fairness, eloquence, skills, creativity, imagination, and cooperation of your peers--and you will contribute the same if the interactions in this class are to succeed.

NOTE:   Detailed contracts spelling out what is required for each grade will be passed out the first day of class so that students can review them with care and make a considered and realistic decision about which grade and set of requirements works best for their schedule and needs that term.   These contracts are binding. Failure to meet any of the terms of the contract results in an automatic grade deduction for the course, as spelled out in detail on the contract.

SCHEDULE OF READINGS, FIELD TRIPS, ASSIGNMENTS: [Subject to change; please make sure to always check the class website for updates] Peer leaders may stick with these or choose others and may modify the topics too, in conversation with the class or with the prof.

First day of classes; Monday’s class schedule is in effect.
Class leader:  Prof Davidson Unit:   Introduction to Your Brain on the Internet; concept of “affordance”; discussion of attention blindness, human-computer interaction; methods of expression; the “two cultures” of science/technology versus arts/humanities.  Unit includes Jan 12, Jan 19, Jan 24, and Jan 26 (field trip, Nasher Museum of Art, to view/listen “The Record”).

Wed Jan 12:  First day of classes
           UNIT #1:  From My Brain to Yours
Jean-Dominique Bauby, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
           Flim Screening:  The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, dr. artist and film director, Julian Schnabel; Interview with Schnabel:
“Brain-Computer Interface” entry in Wikipedia,
Brain Wave of the Future,” The Washington Post,
Professor Miguel Nicolelis, Center for Neurobiology, Duke University,        Please take a thorough tour of this website.  O'Doherty JE, Hanson TL, Lebedev MA, Henriquez CS, Nicolelis MAL, “Incorporating somatic sensation in a brain-machine interface using cortical microstimulation,”   Reference:. Front. Integr. Neurosci. 3: 1-10, 2009.
Nicolelis MAL, Lebedev MA. “Principles of Neural Ensemble Physiology Underlying the Operation of Brain-Machine Interfaces.” Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 10: 530-540, 2009.

(1)   Attendance taken, syllabi distributed, class attendance taken.
(2)   Grade contracts distributed.   Students must decide what grade they will contract for and bring signed contract to class on Wednesday, Jan. 19.   Contract will be co-signed by a classmate, countersigned by the professor, and returned.   The contracts spell out the requirements for each grade as well as the penalty for not fulfilling the contract.   Each week, a team of two or three students will set the class assignment for the week, plan activities, and also make comments on all assignments, certifying that all students have met their contractual obligations.   If a students work is not of sufficient quality, the peer leaders will explain what needs to be done to make it satisfactory. Peer leaders will work with the TA and TAP to ensure that grades (meets contract or fails to meet contract are recorded on the grade sheets of all student sin the class.)   See contracts for further detail of this combination of contract grading and peer-evaluation.
(3)   Social media sign up:
Students will sign on to the relevant Google docs; will be registered to our class WordPress class blogging site where assignments will be hosted and visible to the entire class but not the general public; and will sign up to a public Wiki.  Students who are not now on Twitter will sign up and send their first Tweet; they will join the class Facebook group (NB:  Professor Davidson and TAP McDonald  and TA Beck are not allowed to friend any students during the semester; please dont ask.)     

(4)   In-class Experiment

(5) Assignment for next class:  Read The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and see film (TBD)

(6)  Writing Assignment:   Open-ended blog on any aspect comparing the memoir and the movie.   You choose the topic.

Mon Jan 17—MLK Holiday—no classes

Tues Night Jan 20:  Film Screening, “Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” on reserve at Lilly Library, details tba

Wed Jan 19   “From My Brain to Your Brain.”  Discussion led by Cathy Davidson:   Topics:  Brain activity v. communication.  What is communication?   What is the role of technology in mediating the transfer of information from me to you? How does the medium change what is communicated? Genres: Memoir, film, interview, Wikipedia entry, popular account, website, scientific papers, lab visit.  What about other genres such as science fiction? What do different kinds of genres put in?  What do they leave out?  [Pay particular attention to when something is fully fleshed out or vague and sketchy—or not an issue raised in one place that, in another, is not even raised at all.] How does the message change from medium to medium?        

2nd Blog assignment (must be posted by 11:59 Sun, Jan 23):   If HCI were advanced enough to save Bauby’s life, imagine what that life would be like.   This is deliberately open ended.

Mon  Jan 24  Discussion continues

Wednesday, Jan. 26  NOTE:  Field trip to Nasher Museum of Art to see The Record, a show in which artists repurpose, reimagine, and are inspired by The Record.  More discussion of  affordances:  what one can and cannot do with a technology (and how, sometimes, it is far more than you think).

Drop/Adds End
Monday, January 31:  OPEN TOPIC.   Possible topic:  How We Measure
Wed Feb 2
Peer leaders: _________________ _______________________

Suggestions for reading if you choose “How We Measure”
“Grading 2.0:  Evaluation in a Digital Age.”
No Child Left Behind:  Policy and Debate

Mon Feb 7    Set topic:   New modes of writing, reading, communicating publishing for a digital age.     Peer leaders should assign work in preparation for visit by Professor Kathleen Fitzpatrick.  You might choose work from her blog or other writings by other scholars.
Peer Leaders: _________________   ___________________________

Wednesday, Feb. 9    NOTE: Noon-230   240 Franklin Center
1-2 pm: HASTAC’s WATC in 240 Franklin Center (Erwin Road and Trent Drive) -- Kathleen Fitzpatrick The Future of Authorship:  Writing in the Digital Age.  Followed by Q and A session (optional; it will be led by students in English 90)
Professor Fitzpatrick, Professor of Media Studies at Pomona College, and will select and assign some of her work to the class.   Her academic biography can be found here:   Also read her blog, Planned Obsolescence:  Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy:

Monday, Feb. 14   NOTE:  Lecture by Vittorio Gallese, 12-1, Schiano Auditorium, Side B, Fitzpatrick Center, CIEMAS  Our class has been invited to attend this special lecture by the distinguished neuroscientist whose lab discovered mirror neurons, Vittorio Galese, with Professor Michael Platt's reading group for Cognitive Neurosciences:

Group 3:    Peer Led:  Special topic, Mirror Neurons (follow up from Professor Gallese’s talk).
Peer Leaders:  ____________   ________________

Wednesday, Feb. 16  Group 3, cont: (mirror neurons)

Monday, Feb. 21  Group 3, cont, with Prof Davidson joining in for wrap up session (TBD).

Wednesday Feb 23:   Group 4:   Open Topic   May choose from reading list, formulate a topic, think about what you want to discuss next.
Peer Leaders:  ________________  ___________________

Monday Feb 28:   Group 4 continues

Wednesday, March 2   Collaborative take home midterm exam.  NOTE:   No face-to-face class today unless the class wishes to meet together.
This is an out-of-class collective midterm essay, an exercise in collective thinking, project management, and leadership.
You will all be contributing to the class wiki;  each student must contribute substantively at least twice.   Challenge Topic: How have 21st century technologies changed the way(s) we think?              The end product is a collective blog post on on this topic, approximately 500-1500 words.   Submit the blog by midnight, March 2, to TA Ms. Beck and she will post on behalf of the class.
(Assessment: TAP McDonald will determine whether students have all met their contract for this assignment.)

Saturday, March 5 - Sunday, March 13

Monday, March 14:  Group 5   Human/Computer Interaction, “Disabilities,” Robotics
Peer Leaders:  ____________________   _________________

Peer leaders will introduce and guide the discussion with a special visitor who will be coming to our class (Smith Warehouse Garage, regular class time), science writer Michael Chorost, author of Rebuilt and World Wide Mind:  The Coming Integration of Humanity, Machines, and the Internet (Free Press).

March 16:  Group 5, continued
March 21   Group 5, continued
Possible topic:   “Different Minds”   (What Is Normal?)    Other possible readings to choose from:
Mark Haddon, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
Temple Grandin, Animals in Translation
Amanda Baggs, “In My Language”,  Baggs is an autistic woman who uses Computer-Mediated Communication to translate the language she operates in to  the world of non-autistics.   (“Not being able to speak is not the same as not having anything to say”)
Faye Ginsburg and Rayne Rapp, “Enabling Disability:  Rewriting Kinship, Reimagining Citizenship,” Public Culture (2001): 13, 3,  533-556.
Wed Feb 10   Continued

Monday March 23  Topic:  “Ways of Knowing”
Wed March 28  Daniel Levitin, This Is Your Brain on Music

Wednesday, March 30:  Group 6:  Open Topic
Monday, April 4   (NB:  Both sessions coordinated by TAP McDonald and TA Beck; please address specific questions to them)
Peer Leaders: _____________ ______________

Monday April 11:   Group 7  Possible Topic:  Theories of the Brain, Theories of the Digital
Wednesday April 13:
Peer Leaders:  ________________  _________________
Possible readings:
Jeff Hawkins, On Intelligence
Tara McPherson, ed., Innovative Uses and Unexpected Outcomes

Monday April 18, Group 8, Open Topic
Wednesday April 20
Peer Leaders:  ___________________ _______________________
Possible Topic:   Collaboration by Difference
Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody:   The Power of Organizing Without Organization
Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs plus his many columns, websites

Monday April 25:   TYBI Wrap Up
Screening of the rough cuts of the three-minute TYBI videos by Groups 1, 2, 3, and 4
Feedback and Discussion from the class.

Wedneday April 27:
Screening of the rough cuts of the three-minute TYBI videos by Groups 1, 2, 3, and 4
Feedback and Discussion from the class.

Tuesday, May 3  FINAL EXAM, 7 PM - 10 PM
All final cuts of the three-minute multimedia collaborative videos must be posted by 7 pm on Tuesday May 3, the final exam time, to the HASTAC YouTube channel.
Please see TA Beck about how to do this well in advance of the due date.  Failure to post on time will result in Unsatisfactory completion of this part of your contact, with attendant penalties, as described in the contract.