Digital Studies 101

A common resource for Digital Studies at UMW.

Tag: creativity

Digital Accessibility: An Introduction

Accessibility means the ability to obtain, access, use, reach, and understand places, products, information, and more. Digital accessibility specifically addresses users’ equitable access to digital technology and digital content. Much as ramps provide accessibility to buildings for individuals using wheelchairs or for other individuals for whom stairs present difficulty, digital designs, such as providing transcripts with audio podcasts, provide greater access to digital users.

Universal Design is one way to approach accessibility. In Universal Design, implementations focus on benefiting users with a range of abilities. One example of Universal Design is the use of sidewalk curb cutouts, or sections of the curb that are at the same height as the road, walkway, etc. Such a design features helps not only individuals who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids, but also individuals who may be pulling a wheeled suitcase, using a baby stroller, or pushing a cart.

Digital Universal Design means that including closed captions for videos benefits users who may have hearing impairments as well as users who may want to watch the video without sound being audible.

Accessibility Laws

United States law requires accessibility. Companies and providers must legally meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates, among other laws pertaining to accessibility. While individuals creating content for personal use may not be required to support accessibility by law, a digital ethics approach to digital communication encompasses supporting accessibility. The year 2020 marks 30 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Relationships between Digital Technologies and Accessibility Tools

Digital technologies may serve as accessibility tools to non-digital technologies. Many digital accessibility tools have become mainstream technologies, as Mukta Kulkarni (2019) explains:

“For example, the widely used speech technology (e.g., hearing driving directions in cars or search results on smartphones) was birthed from Dr. Raymond Kurzweil’s decision to create a reading machine for the blind. E-books that we listen to today were birthed from George Kerscher’s frustration that he, as a blind man, could not access information. Captioned video which helps us follow a movie via subtitles in noisy places or helps us learn new languages was created for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. As a final example, speech recognition or voice recognition technology, be it Microsoft’s Cortana or Apple’s Siri, or interactive voice response systems we use to book hotel rooms or air tickets have been used by persons with disabilities for over thirty years (Lazar et al., 2015).”

Note: This module is an introduction to digital accessibility and is not intended to be a comprehensive or definitive discussion of digital accessibility.



  • Explore design issues around accessibility in digital technology and content.
  • Learn about creating digital content using accessibility principles and practices.
  • Think critically about the relationships between accessibility, users, and digital technologies.



Kulkarni, M. (2019). Digital accessibility: Challenges and opportunities. IIMB Management Review, 31(1), 91-98.

Lazar, J., Goldstein, D. F., & Taylor, A. (2015). Ensuring digital accessibility through process and policy.


Suggested Content:


Suggested Activities:



  • Create digitally accessible content. Consider documenting digital accessibility and post that content on your social media or your domain.
  • Identify aspects of digital accessibility you can support in your own practices.




Browsers and Devices:


Social Media:



  • Check how accessible a web page (such as your domain) is by generating an accessibility report using the WAVE tool.
  • Learn about and practice turning visual images into sounds to support accessibility.



  • Research how different technology companies address accessibility: Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, etc.
  • Consider how you might support digital accessibility in the future, whether on the job or in other occasions when you might create content.


Video Games:



Digital Audio

Digital technology supports the creation, the recording, and the distribution of audio media by individuals without requiring access to recording studios and radio broadcast stations. Hardware innovations, such as MP3 players, the iPod, and smartphones, have made possible the ability for audiences to listen to audio productions using digital devices. Networks have made possible the distribution of sound beyond the listening distance of speakers and reception of radio signals.

Although audio may be created, recorded, and released via multiple digital formats such as songs or book recordings, one popular digital audio medium that has arisen is the podcast. A podcast is a digital audio recording of speech, auditory effects, music, and even absence of sound. Podcasts often run in series, generally focused on a single topic for a “season” or more generally on particular interests, such as history, technology, design, sports, literature, and so forth. Podcasts may feature one person talking, an interview of one or more people, a series of people talking about a topic, or a combination of these.

Digital audio may be produced for audio-focused projects, such as individual songs or podcasts, but may also be created to be incorporated as part of video games, movies, and digital journalism.


  • Explore the significance of sound in digital technology
  • Compose effective digital audio using digital recording and editing hardware and software
  • Consider how digital technology has affected the creation and distribution of audio productions
  • Think critically about sound in everyday life and how that may be reflected (or not) in digital audio


“What Are Podcasts?”

“Audible Revolution”

Ways of Hearing: Listen to Episode 1: “Time” for a history of audio production

99% Invisible: “The Sound of the Artificial World

“Being Siri

“Meet the Man Whose Voice Became Stephen Hawking’s”

“The Sound of Life: What Is a Soundscape?” Part 1 and Part 2

Resources and Tools

  • Audacity
  • Audio Archive
  • Creative Commons Sounds, provides a search tool for looking for items available for re-use under a CC license (which should also be verified when viewing the work)
  • FoundSound, iOS tool
  • FreeSound is a collaborative database of Creative Commons Licensed sounds.
  • Garage Band
  • Radio Garden, “an interactive map of live radio stations across the globe”
  • RadioLab: “a radio show and podcast weaving stories and science into sound and music-rich documentaries”
  • Reply All podcast about how technology and people shape each other
  • SoundBible‘s Royalty Free Sounds
  • StoryCorps focuses on recording and sharing the stories of “everyday lives”

Suggested Tasks

  • Create an audio file using a tool such as Garage Band or Audacity
  • Listen to a podcast and think about all the different sounds intentionally used and occurring in the podcast
  • Listen to a series of individual sound clips and think critically about their different effects on the audience
  • Compose an audio essay using found sound recorded in a local environment, by using sound clips, or through some combination of clips and recordings
  • Create an edited interview of someone using StoryCorps-inspired questions
  • Consider how podcasts can support access for individuals without or with diminished hearing through transcripts, such as those found on Escape Pod
  • Re-present a text previously available only in written form via an audio recording
  • Keep a “sound” journal documenting and reflecting on digital sounds used by technology in daily life or in a podcast series

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) is a digital medium that presents information about users’ surroundings on devices such as smartphones, tablets, and smartglasses. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines AR as both “an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device (such as a smartphone camera),” as well as the technology for creating AR.

Although Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality have similar names, the two media are generally distinguished from one another based on the user experience. While Virtual Reality creates an immersive reality that replaces the user’s surroundings with digital data, Augmented Reality lets the user see and/or hear digital content about the surrounding environment while still perceiving that environment. Not everyone, however, agrees on how to define Augmented Reality, particularly in comparison with other forms of digital representations.

To determine when to deliver AR content to a user, AR software relies on triggers such as visual targets (or “markers”) and geographical locations. Some AR software require the user to point a device camera at an image marker, then the software displays an “overlay” with the AR content. Location-based AR, such as Pokémon GO, uses a player’s phone or tablet GPS location to determine when and where to display AR content, such as Pokémon and other features.

Although Augmented Reality technology has existed for decades, it has increased in recent years as a result of hardware improvements in cameras and displays, and the rise of mobile technologies, like smartphones and tablets, as well as Global Positioning Satellites. With millions of users, Pokémon Go! is probably the most popular AR app to date. With evolving software and hardware, it’s interesting to consider where AR will go next.


  • Learn about Augmented Reality as a medium and technology, AR’s uses, and AR’s potential future uses
  • Differentiate between Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality
  • Experience Augmented Reality by using various AR apps
  • Understand how you might create your own Augmented Reality content
  • Think critically about layered representation of content through AR




Tools and Resources

Suggested Tasks

Beyond DIY: Critical Making

The Maker Movement evolved out of a DIY (or Do It Yourself) ethos, morphing into an approach to learning. From YouTube video how-to’s to hacking your electronics, the Maker Movement has reshaped how we interact with our physical environments, beyond software to hardware. But as this movement has evolved, particularly in higher education, we see the power of the Maker Movement to critically and consciously engage with our material world.


Suggested Readings

Tools and Resources

Suggested Tasks

  • Create a Critical Making manifesto (or anti-Critical Making manifesto)
  • Build a Critical Making Project

Interactive Fiction

“Will you read me a story?”
“Read you a story? What fun would that be? I’ve got a better idea: let’s tell a story together.”
— Adam Cadre, “Photopia”

Interactive Fiction is a genre of game or electronic literature where users participate in the generation or exploration of a story world. In the early 1980s, text adventures like Zork and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy invited players to interact with their computers to explore fictional game worlds. That tradition continues today with a diverse range of tools that make possible all sorts of literary interactivity. The links below will help you scratch the surface of the worlds upon worlds of interactive fiction.


  • Learn about the history and evolution of text adventures and interactive fiction
  • Explore the different affordances of the various platforms available for producing interactive fiction
  • Practice writing in an interactive format


Other Resources

Suggested Tasks

  • Make a story in whatever platform you like best
  • Adapt a scene from a literary work that you know well
  • Re-create a particularly vivid moment from your life
  • Tell the same story across multiple platforms at the same time

Adaptation, Remixes, and Mashups

Adaptations, remixes, and mashups are related in that they take existing materials and repurpose them. But technology and digital culture has opened up new and creative avenues to explore and experiment with these techniques. But questions of copyright, authorship, and originality, however, can make these kinds of projects fraught and complex.


  • Learn about the history and evolution of these concepts
  • Develop an understanding of issues of copyright and authorship
  • Understand the motivation behind these concepts and creative outputs


Suggested Tasks

  • Annotate a remix, adaptation, or mashup using a tool like Vidbolt
  • Create your own remix, adaptation or mashup using a tool like Twine (but really, any tool or platform or approach is fair game)

Weird Internet Stuff


To call any aesthetics “new” is, on the one hand, to assert an arbitrarily diachronic axiology onto cultural phenomenon. On the other hand, the phrase does provide a convenient shorthand for calling attention to certain, digitally-inflected patterns that give shape to everyday life. One popular phrase defines the New Aesthetic as the “eruption of the digital into the physical”, and it can best be explained through examples. In a recently re-blogged post, the author describes how Google+’s “AutoAwesome” algorithm created a photographic moment in history by combining favorable aspects from multiple images. An automated, digital process has created a reference to a moment that didn’t exist. The point isn’t that this is a bad thing, necessarily, but that that “new” moment now shapes how the participants in that event remember that event. This kind of influence happens all the time in many more obvious or subtle ways, but it’s a good example of the new aesthetic in action.


  • Learn about the history and uses of the term “new aesthetic”
  • Learn about Tumblr’s role as a platform that helps this term and others like it develop
  • Evaluate the current state and continuing evolution of the term


Suggested Tasks

  • Read and explore the history of the new aesthetic and its related terms
  • Consider: Is the new aesthetic still a meaningful and relevant term? Who gets to decide what makes something an example of a “new aesthetic”? Is there an alternative terminology available?
  • Create a Tumblr blog (individually or as a group) to curate and comment on material related to you inquiry. For example, blog and reblog material you think represents a new aesthetic, or find some critical inroad into or against the term.


— WOPR / Joshua, Wargames (1983)

Do you play video games? Of course you do!

Video games are an interactive medium capable of engaging their players with beautiful imagery, actively involving players in the creation of epic stories, or demonstrating complex ideas or philosophies. Games can also be massive wasters of time, they may promulgate sexist tropes and imagery, and game culture is poisoned by misogyny and sexism.

For good or ill, video games are ubiquitous digital media, and the tools for creating and sharing video games are getting easier and easier to use. In this module, explore the processes and tools of game design and game programming and produce your own game by the end of the two-week module.


  • Learn about game genres and platforms
  • Learn how background connects to key characteristics in games now
  • Learn fundamental concepts of game design
  • Work with game making tools
  • Produce and share a complete (short) video game



Suggested Tasks

  • Experiment with and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the many free tools for creating video games.
  • Learn about the history of key video game genres, their formal characteristics, and their applications
  • Learn about the video game industry and the current climate
  • Play and talk about video games which claim to have “a point” — art games, persuasive games, newsgames, etc.
  • Create a “mod” for a popular board game, changing its rules or “re-skinning” its look. Play your mod with your team.
  • Describe your game from the point of view of someone playing it, and sketch out the interface and/or structure of the game’s content.
  • Remake one of your old games. Use a different game maker or make it a different genre. Or, simply, fix it using the knowledge you have now as opposed to when you first made it.
  • Build your game iteratively: share your work in progress with your team, and tweak it based on their feedback.

Creative Coding

Code is. Poetry is code?
Code is poetry. Is code?
Code? Is poetry is? Code.

There are many reasons to write computer code. As we read from Nelson and Rushkoff (and plenty of others), learning how computers work and how to make them work is a fundamental competency of human existence. Yet putting it in those terms raises the stakes on what can also simply be used to create something interesting, something annoying, or something beautiful.

Ranging from one-purpose websites, to procedurally generated novels, to the rougher edges of or the diverse field of electronic literature, one can find many applications of computer code executed in support of some idea or simply for the heck of it.

Your job in this module is to learn about computer programming by exploring its creative uses and contributing your own.


  • Explore creative and playful uses of computer code
  • Make your own experiments and interventions into creative computing

Tools and Resources

Suggested Tasks

  • Learn some HTML and CSS from Codecademy
  • Create a web page that interprets — through design, typography, and layout — a poem or short story
  • Complete a course in one or more higher-level scripting languages (Javascript, Python, etc.) at
  • Read Nick Montfort’s “Taroko Gorge” and modify its code to make your own derivation
  • Write a program that generates poetry (follow a specific format like sonnet or haiku)
  • Write a program that interfaces with Wordnik to generate poetry
  • Learn about Twitter bots and make your own!

Art of the Animated GIF


The animated GIF is a form of digital image that is almost 30 years old, but recent years have seen its resurgence through popular use in social content sites like Tumblr and Reddit. In this module, students research the history of the animated GIF and learn how to produce their own.


  • learn about the design and history of the GIF format
  • learn about the technical specifications of a GIF file
  • explore cultural practices around GIFs and their uses in different communities
  • produce and share some animated GIFs

Resources and Bibliography

Suggested Tasks

1. Explore and discuss the resources and reading material

  • Who made the GIF format and why?
  • What is the current legal status of the GIF patent and how has that changed over the years?
  • Where did the very similar PNG image format come from and why?
  • Why are GIFs so popular again?
  • How are GIFs used on Tumblr, and what are the constraints there?
  • Are GIFs used differently on Tumblr vs, say, Twitter?
  • Which segments of the population are familiar with gifs? Is there a generation gap?

2. Learn about making animated GIFs

  • What are the best tools for making GIFs?
  • What constraints are imposed on GIFs uploaded to various sites (Tumblr? Imgur? others?)

3. Learn how to make your own animated GIFs

  • Make a simple, 12-frame animation
  • Make an animated GIF from a video clip
  • Make a perfectly-looping animated GIF
  • Make a cinemagraph-style animated GIF
  • Create a GIF for the ITCC media wall
  • Make a gif “meme”.
  • Make a GIF that means something