Sample Syllabus

The following is an expanded course description that builds on the learning module, Media Literacy in the Age of Deepfakes. For the full syllabus, please go to the main learning module website.

Resource Description

The accelerating proliferation of misinformation poses an urgent threat to American democracy. False or misleading news reports can spread faster than COVID-19, while novel “cheapfakes,” “shallowfakes,” and “deepfakes” challenge the very foundation of our information ecosystem. Our seminar aims to shed a clarifying light on the contemporary media landscape, and to equip students to better understand the past and contemporary impact of misinformation. Students will also learn strategies to combat the dangers posed by novel forms of misinformation as well as how emerging technologies can be used to create a more just and inclusive society.

We will begin by first situating misinformation within a longer history of hoaxes, humbug, and “fake news.” We will then explore the more recent forces that have shaped our fraught media ecology, which have resulted in propaganda campaigns, conspiracy theories, and the rise of deliberately deceptive deepfake videos. Lastly, our seminar will focus on media for the public good, including instances of grassroots networked advocacy as well as synthetic projects geared towards satire, investigative documentary, and community history.

A series of questions will animate our discussion throughout the semester. How old is misinformation? What constitutes “truth” and “fact” in our digital age? Are there ethical or legal responsibilities of media platforms and to what extent should government regulate our information environment? What is the role of socially engaged art and journalism in society today? Our interdisciplinary course ultimately aims to cultivate a more discerning public. To this end, we will combine fine-grained close reading with conceptual interpretation, critical studies with creative practice. Scholarly articles, white papers, and news reports from a range of fields will inform our exploration.

Learning Goals

By the conclusion of the module, students will be able to:

  1. Define key concepts such as “misinformation,” “deepfake,” and “civic media.”
  2. Understand different forms of misinformation, the disruptive role they play within our information ecology, and the threat they pose to societies around the world.
  3. Employ interdisciplinary methods to critically analyze misinformation and emerging media. In addition to learning techniques of close analysis, students will become familiar with how digital forensics, verification, and policy are all crucial to combatting misinformation.
  4. Locate, research and properly cite primary and secondary sources from a variety of institutions and online archives.
  5. Recognize the ways that synthetic media can be used for the civic good.

Readings

See the Bibliography as well as an example Reading List for the course.  

Grading

Activities Percentages
Attendance/Participation 20%
Historical Misinformation Case Study 20%
Group Presentation 30%
Media for the Civic Good Essay 30%

Attendance

Because our discussions are so important to our learning about media, attendance at each class meeting is mandatory. Over the course of the semester, you are allowed two unexcused absences. Missing more than 50% of the classes in any three-week period before the drop date will automatically remove you from the course. Six unexcused absences will result in an F for the course.

Participation

This course is collaborative and will work well when everybody comes to class prepared to contribute. Participation itself may take a number of forms; for example, responding to questions posed in class or asking questions about a reading, film, or another student’s comment. While we do not always have to agree with each other, we must always try to be respectful of different opinions.

It’s natural to feel nervous about speaking publicly in any kind of class setting. I’m happy to chat to discuss strategies for participation. Public speaking is a learned skill and we’ll develop this skill throughout the semester.

Historical Misinformation Case Study

Misinformation is hardly new. False and deceitful media has circulated for 1000s of years. Whether it was generated for an advertising ploy or as a form of official state propaganda, misinformation has served a variety of strategic purposes. Your task will be to write a 5 page account of an historical case study of misinformation. The example must be before the year 2000 and could involve any kind of media (film, radio, newspaper, etc.). Your case study could originate from within the halls of a government institution, be manufactured by a corporation or even a private citizen. The following questions will help to guide your research: Who created this work of media and what does it communicate? Why does it make sense to characterize it as misinformation? How did it circulate and engage with people? What were some of the consequences? Newspapers from Proquest’s online holdings as well as other sources we will discuss in class will aid in your research.

Group Presentation: Combatting Misinformation

There are many strategies being proposed and implemented to combat misinformation. Working in groups of three, research one of them in-depth and present on it to the class. Examples could include government regulation, tech platforms investing in content moderation, third-party watchdogs, or grassroots efforts to bolster a credible and independent press. Your 20 minute presentation should include a range of visuals and text. Describe the motivations behind a particular strategy and your assessment of its effectiveness. We will speak in class about examining different sources for your research, including tech journalism, mainstream news periodicals, and articles from scholars and public intellectuals about how to fight the threat and consequences of misinformation.

Emerging Media for the Civic Good

Just as we have covered how emerging media can be used to manipulate and deceive, we have also examined the civic possibilities of contemporary technology. You will write a 7 pg. paper that analyzes one particular example, devoting special attention to the following: how is a particular technology being used toward a civic outcome? What is the question or challenge that it is addressing? Can you detect qualitative or quantitative impact? Is there a larger public perception or resonance? You might select a film, such as the recent documentary, Welcome To Chechnya (David France, 2020), which uses AI to protect the identity of witnesses; or, you might select the public history project Dimensions in Testimony, which stages conversations between AI-enabled simulations of camp survivors and museumgoers.