Online Communities (UW COM481 Winter 2022)

From CommunityData
COM481A: Online Communities - Department of Communication
Instructors: Benjamin Mako Hill / and Kaylea Champion / Messages via Discord or Canvas or if necessary (TA)
Course Websites:
Course Catalog Description of Topics:
Communities formed through digital communication networks and social media. How people build communities, engage in collaboration and conflict, and also develop communities in online environments. Involves study and use of online communities.

Overview and Learning Objectives[edit]

Today, online communities are central parts of each of our daily lives and have an important impact on our cultural, social, and economic experience of the world and each other. This course combines an in-depth look into several decades of research into online communities and computer-mediated communication with exercises that aim to give students experience applying this research to the evaluation of, and hands-on participation in, online communities.

As students of communication in the twenty-first century, I expect that many of you taking this course will, after graduation, work in jobs that involve communicating, working with, or managing online communities. This class seeks to inform these experiences by helping you learn how to use and contribute to online communities more effectively and how to construct, improve, or design your own online communities.

I will consider the course a complete success if every student is able to do all of these things at the end of the quarter:

  • Write and speak fluently about the rules and norms of the Wikipedia community and demonstrate this fluency through successful contributions to Wikipedia.
  • Recall, compare, and give examples of key theories that seek to explain why some online communities grow and attract participants while others do not.
  • Demonstrate an ability to critically apply the theories from the course to the evaluation of a real online community of your choice.
  • Engage with the course material and compellingly present your own ideas and reflections in writing and orally.

Class format and structure[edit]

In general, the organization of the course adopts a "flipped" approach where you consume instructional materials on your own or in groups and we use synchronous meetings to answer questions, address challenges or concerns, work through solutions, and hold semi-structured discussions in the form of cases—discussed in detail below.

The asynchronous elements of this course include two parts:

  1. All readings, recorded lectures/slides, tutorials, and assignments.
  2. Conversation and discussion that happens in the group Discord server over the course of the week.

I expect you to finish all readings and watch all lectures outside of our class meeting times before the class sessions on which they are assigned. Please note that this means I will not deliver lectures during our class meetings. Please also note that this means you are fully responsible for reading all readings and watching all recorded lecture material before you come to the associated synchronous part of class.

I expect you to check in and participate in the Discord discussion at least 3-4 times a week. I plan to check and respond to conversation there at least daily throughout the quarter.

The synchronous elements of the course will be two weekly class meetings and one quiz section meeting. Class meetings will happen at the normal time and in the normal place, unless I communicate otherwise.

The synchronous sections will be conducted as described in the synchronous class setup section of the syllabus. Each session is scheduled to run for a maximum of 110 minutes although I will frequently not use the full period of class each time given that lectures will be pre-recorded. If we do use the entire time, I'll try to work in at least one short break.

I will use the class meetings to do several things:

  1. Discuss and work through any questions or challenges you encounter in the materials assigned for that day.
  2. Discuss and/or answer questions about assignments that have come up over the previous work.
  3. Conduct each day's case study discussion involving an instructor-mediated conversation using input from each of you.

You also selected a timeslot to attend a quiz section. Section meetings will be led by your TA. Section meetings will include:

  1. Short demonstrations and explanations based on common issues
  2. Time for you to ask your questions
  3. Time to work on your assignments with immediate help at hand

Attending quiz section is optional but highly encouraged. Students who attend quiz section will be allotted an automatic extension to that week's assignment due date. If you need to attend quiz section in a different timeslot than the one you registered for, please let the TA know.

Websites and Technology Expectations[edit]

There are a number of expectations that you will be able to connect to certain websites. In order to complete this class, I expect you to be able to access and use the following web resources:

  • — This website will host the syllabus for the course. I expect you to be able to visit it regularly. If you're reading this, you have access.
  • UW's Canvas — We'll be using Canvas for posting announcements, uploading course-restricted files, turning in assignments, and distributing grades, comments, and similar.
  • UW Library Proxy — I'm going to expect that you can use the UW Libraries proxy to access material that UW subscribes to from off campus. You'll need to to get material to read for class.
  • Discord — Discord is a chat system that we'll be using in the course to stay in touch between class and to discuss things asynchronously. It has screensharing and voice chat as well which we are going to use for our case discussions. There is a mobile app as well as a downloadable desktop app that you may find useful but you should be able to do everything you need to while using the web interface version.
  • Panopto — UW uses the video hosting service Panopto which I will be using to share all the lectures and recorded parts for this course.
  • English Wikipedia — Assignments for this course will involve contributing to Wikipedia. This means that you will need to have access to Wikipedia.
  • Google Docs — I'll be using Google Docs to host a series of web forms. This includes the form you'll need to fill out to tell me that you're going to miss class. You will need to be able to access Google to use this.

These websites, in turn, use a range of hosting providers including Amazon Web Services, Google, and Microsoft. As a result, participation in this course requires students to access Internet resources that may not be accessible directly in some places outside of the UW campus. Anybody taking the class must ensure that they can access all Internet resources required for this course reliably and safely. For students who are off-campus temporarily and are in a situation where direct access to these required resources is not possible, UW-IT recommends that students use the official UW VPN, called Husky OnNet VPN. UW-IT advises students to use the VPN with the “All Internet Traffic” option enabled (see the UW Libraries instructions and UW-IT’s FAQs). Doing so will route all incoming and outgoing Internet through UW servers while it is enabled.

Students who are outside the US should be aware that they may be subject to laws, policies and/or technological systems which restrict the use of any VPNs. UW does not guarantee students’ access to UW resources when students are off-campus, and students are responsible for their own compliance with all laws regarding the use of Husky OnNet and all other UW resources. Given that this course is an in-person class, I don't expect this to be a big issue.

Having problems with this checklist? Running into terms you don't understand? We've collected some Frequently Asked Questions and Answers


The teaching team will be posting regular messages and answering questions on the class Discord server. If you've got a question about an assignment, this is almost certainly going to be the the fastest and best way to get our attention. One benefit of asking a question on Discord is that others in the class will be able to see our answer to you! Instructions on joining the Discord server are in the Class Setup Checklist.

You'll see that there are a series of channels we've created. If you don't see an obvious place to ask your question, go ahead and ask it in the #general channel.

Note about this Syllabus[edit]

You should expect this syllabus to be a dynamic document. Although the core expectations for this class are fixed, the details of readings and assignments will shift based on how the class goes, guest speakers that I arrange, my own readings in this area, etc. As a result, there are three important things to keep in mind:

  • Although details on this syllabus will change, I will try to ensure that I never change readings more than six days before they are due. I will send an announcement no later than before I go to sleep each Tuesday evening that fixes the schedule for the next week. This means that if I don't fill in a reading marked "[To Be Decided]" six days before it's due, it is dropped. If I don't change something marked "[Tentative]" before the deadline, then it is assigned. This also means that if you plan to read more than six days ahead, contact the teaching team first.
  • Because this syllabus is a wiki, you will be able to track every change by clicking the history button on this page when I make changes. I will summarize these changes in the weekly announcement on Canvas sent that will be emailed to everybody in the class. Closely monitor your email or the announcements section on the course website on Canvas to make sure you don't miss these announcements.
  • I will ask the class for voluntary anonymous feedback frequently — especially toward the beginning of the quarter. Please let me know what is working and what can be improved. In the past, I have made many adjustments to courses that I teach while the quarter progressed based on this feedback.
  • Many readings are marked as "[Available through UW libraries]". Most of these will be accessible to anybody who connects from the UW network. This means that if you're on campus, it will likely work. Although you can go through the UW libraries website to get most of these, the easiest way to get things using the UW library proxy bookmarklet. This is a little button you can drag-and-drop onto your bookmarks toolbar on your browser. When you press the button, it will ask you to log in using your UW NetID and then will automatically send your traffic through UW libraries. You can also use the other tools on this UW libraries webpage.


This course is organized into two components that roughly span the first and second halves of the quarter.

Component 1: The Theory and Practice of Online Communities[edit]

Kraut and resnick-bsoc.jpg

In the first half of the class (Weeks 1-6), the readings will look to theories of interpersonal media by focusing on how and why online communities succeed and fail and how and why they grow or shrink. In each of the weeks in this period, we will read from the book we'll be using as a textbook: Kraut et al.'s Building Successful Online Communities (BSOC). Here is the citation:

Kraut, Robert E., and Paul Resnick. Building Successful Online Communities: Evidence-Based Social Design. The MIT Press, 2012.

A digital version of the book is available at all UW students through UW libraries and ProQuest Ebook Central at the following link (requires a UW NetID):

If you would like a paper copy, MIT Press sells the book for $35 as a paperback. Amazon has a limited number of hardcover copies available, starting at $13 as of December 2021. They also have paperbacks starting at $15 and the Kindle version is $26. Wikipedia has this long list of possible book sources.

More or less following the organizations of BSOC, we will focus on these key drivers of participation in online communities:

  • Motivation: How do online communities incentivize participation?
  • Commitment: How do online communities build relationships to keep individuals involved?
  • Rules and Governance: How do online communities create norms, rules, and governance?
  • Newcomers: How do online communities attract — or fail to attract — newcomers?
  • Creation: How should one start a new online community?

In order to ground the theoretical readings during the first half of the quarter, there will be weekly assignments that provide a structured opportunity to learn about and become involved in Wikipedia.

You should keep in mind that the bulk of the reading in the course — and most of the most difficult material — will be front-loaded in this first six week period. The goal is to make sure that you have all the tools you'll need by Week 7 so that you can use this material to focus on your projects.

Component 2: Examples and Challenges[edit]

In the second half of the course, we will focus less on theory and more on examples of online communities and on applications, examples, and challenges, associated with interpersonal media and computer-mediated communication.

Our reading during the second part of the quarter will be focused on cases studies. I will also focus on in-class discussions and exercises that prompt critical consideration of how online communities take place in different domains as well as the challenges associated with using online communities. Our goal here is to build up the ability to critically understand these communities in terms of the theory we covered earlier.

In general, readings during this second component will be on the lighter side and there will be no weekly assignments other than reading. The readings are lighter during this component because I'm expecting you to be spending time outside of class working on your projects.


The assignments in this class are designed to give you an opportunity to try your hand at using the conceptual material taught in the class. There will be no exams or quizzes.

Unless otherwise noted, all assignments are due at the end of the day (i.e., 11:59pm on the day they are listed as being due).

Case discussion[edit]

The course relies heavily on the case study method which describes a particular form of instructor-mediated discussion. A standard "case" usually involves reading an example—perhaps up to 20-35 pages of background about an organization or group facing an ambiguous or difficult challenge. I will mark certain readings as "[Cases]" in the syllabus and I will expect you to read these particularly closely. It is important to realize that I will not summarize case material in class and I will not cover it in lecture. I expect you all to have read it and we will jump in and start discussing it.

Cases ask students to put themselves in the positions of individuals facing difficult situations to tease out the tensions and forces at play in the case and to construct — through group discussion — the broader lessons and takeaways. Cases are a wonderful way to connect the sometimes abstract concepts taught in many academic courses to real examples of the type of ambiguous situations that you will likely encounter in your career. Generally speaking, there are not right and wrong answers in cases.

Cold Calling[edit]

Cases rely roughly on the socratic method where instructors teaching cases cold call on students—i.e., instructors call on people without asking for volunteers first. I will be doing this in each class.

Because I understand that cold calling can be terrifying for some students, I will be circulating a list of questions (labeled "Reading Note" in the syllabus) that we will discuss alongside the weekly announcements (i.e., at least 6 days in advance). I will only cold call to ask questions for which you have time to prepare your answers. Although it is a very good idea to write out answers to these questions in advance, we will not be collecting these answers. You are welcome to work with other students to brainstorm possible answers. Although I may also ask questions that I do not distribute ahead of time, I will never cold call when asking these questions.

I have written a computer program that will generate a random list of students each day and I will use this list to randomly cold call students in the class. To try to maintain participation balance, the program will try to ensure that everybody is cold called a similar number of times during the quarter. Although there is always some chance that you will called upon next, you will become less likely to be called upon relative to your classmates each time you are called upon.

Assessment for case study discussion[edit]

I have placed detailed information on case study-based discussion on the case discussion section of my assessment page. This describes both the rubrics I will use to assess your case discussion and how I will compute the final grades in the course.


You will hand in two papers in this class. In both cases, I will ask you to connect something you have experience or knowledge about to course material.

The "Writing Rubric" section of the detailed page on assessment gives the rubric I will use to evaluate these papers.

Project 1: Contributing to Wikipedia[edit]

In the first project, you will be asked to learn about Wikipedia, its norms, rules, and processes. With this knowledge, you will all be asked to research and write a new article in Wikipedia on a topic of your choice and to publish this article in the encyclopedia. As part of this process, you will interact with other community members who are not part of the class. Afterward, you will be asked to write a short essay piece to reflect on this process and to connect your experience to the conceptual course material where appropriate.

I will use material from the Wiki Education Foundation (WikiEdu) to help you learn how to participate in Wikipedia. Every Friday during this first component of this class, there will be a assignment due that corresponds to one step in the process of getting involved in Wikipedia. Most weeks this will involve completing learning modules and assignments in a website put together by WikiEdu. These Wikipedia participation assignments won't be synced up with the theory, but they will provide with you lots of opportunity to reflect on the theoretical work we are covering.

Although only Task #7 includes anything that you will need to turn in, you will need to participate in Wikipedia each week. I will be able to see this activity and we will help you. I will take time each week to discuss our progress and experience with Wikipedia in sections on Friday and to connect it explicitly to the theoretical concepts we are covering.

Wikipedia Task #1[edit]

Create an account and start orientation
Friday January 7
Make contributions in Wikipedia and the class WikiEdu dashboard
  • Complete the WikiEdu training.
  • During this training, you will create an account, make edits in a sandbox, and learn the basic rules of the Wikipedia community.
  • Once you have created an account, you must enroll in the course so that your account on Wikipedia is associated with the course and so that I can track your activity on Wikipedia. click this link and then click "Join" to enroll in the course. If you are asked for a passcode, you can enter kxrdelft.
  • Once you are enrolled in the course, you should begin the training modules and complete the first two, Wikipedia policies and Sandboxes, talk pages, and watchlists.
The biggest pitfall in the past has been failing to enroll in the course. Make sure that you have created an account on and are logged in. Then follow this link and click "Join".

Wikipedia Task #2[edit]

(1) complete Wikipedia orientation; (2) introduce yourself to me and a classmate to practice communication with other editors on Wikipedia using talk pages; (3) choose article topic; (4) evaluate article
Due Date
Friday January 14
Make contributions in Wikipedia and the class WikiEdu dashboard

(1) First, complete the online training topics for week 2 in the the class WikiEdu dashboard.

(2) Second, to practice editing and communicating on Wikipedia, introduce yourself to Mako and at least one classmate on Wikipedia (it can be anybody) using their talk page (not your own talk page!). My username is Benjamin Mako Hill and you can find a list of all of your classmates on the WikiEdu class page.

(3) Third, decide on an article in Wikipedia that you would like to significantly expand and improve.

Please choose an article that is as short and simple as possible and I strongly recommend that you choose a "stub" article on Wikipedia. Because some people are going to start with articles that are better than others, we're going to assess you on the amount to which you can improve the article—not on the final state of the article.

You can find a list of Stub articles arranged by topic here (there are literally millions):

  • List of Stubs — This is an extremely long list of articles that are currently stubs and which is also sorted into categories and then subcategories. It might be a little bit out of date so be sure to click through before you decide on an article.

If there is a topic you know you are interested in writing about that doesn't have an article, that is also possible but will be more difficult so we're recommending against that relatively strongly. If you're committed to doing that in any case, there are a few resources you might find helpful:

  • Requested Articles — This is a list of articles that others have asked to be created. It is sorted into categories and sub-categories. When you're looking at the list, remember that it's possible that somebody else has "gotten" to them first and forgot to remove it. Remember that a red link indicates that there is no page with that name.

When you're done selecting an article, you'll see that there is a "Choose your article" exercise on the WikiEdu dashboard that will end with you being prompted to fill out a page on Wikipedia with a list of articles you want to work on. You only need to fill out the top option but it might be nice to list a few options in order of preferences. The page will ask for "Evaluation" and "Sources" but we're going to get to this in the next step so you can just leave this blank and just list the articles.

You should also enter the article such that is assigned to you in the WikiEd dashboard.

(4) Fourth, you should evaluate an article. I strongly recommend that you evaluate the article you plan to improve! After following the tutorial material on WikiEd about how to do an evaluation, you'll see that there is a corresponding exercise called "Evaluate Wikipedia" in the WikiEdu dashboard that you should complete.

If you run into any trouble, find me in the Discord well in advance of the deadline!

Wikipedia Task #3[edit]

Compile research and write draft
Due Date
Friday January 21
Make contributions in Wikipedia and the class WikiEdu dashboard
  1. Complete online trainings for week 3
  2. Gather notes and links into an informal bibliography of relevant research.
  3. Write a draft of your article—with citations—in your Wikipedia sandbox. Aim for 2-3 paragraphs.

In order to do these, you will need to make sure you have assigned your article to yourself in the dashboard. Most of you have already done this. If you have not, you'll have to do it before you can proceed. You can do so by (a) going to the WikiEdu course homepage, (b) finding the section entitled My Articles, (c) clicking on Assign myself an article, and (d) entering the article title as shown in Wikipedia and click Assign.

Once you have selected an article to work on, the "My Articles" section will show you a number of steps and links. The two links to focus on right now are collecting your bibliography notes and editing your article in your sandbox, which correspond to the two key tasks above. You will need to:

  1. Add the sources that you've found to the bibliography page which will be created when you click on the "bibliography" link. These are your notes about sources. As a reminder, while academic sources are the "gold standard", match your citations with the content. If your article is about a movie star, you will likely be citing interviews that were published in magazines or on the radio. Try to vary the types of sources and select the more notable ones. Additionally, if you are having difficulty finding sources, reach out to a reference librarian. they are a great resource!
  2. Create a copy of the current page in your sandbox through the following steps:
    1. open the article sandbox and the article itself in two separate tabs
    2. in the article tab click Edit
    3. change to Source editing mode by clicking the pencil icon in the top right
    4. select all of the "wikimarkup" (Article content code) and copy it
    5. click the Create tab on the article sandbox
    6. paste the cloned/copied content over
    7. click "Publish page"
  3. Begin editing, drafting, and generally improving the article sandbox page!

In general, you should refer to the WikiEd Foundation's guide to editing which I've found extremely useful.

Because the nuts-and-bolts of completing this is complicated, I've made a short screencast when I taught this class about a year ago that walks through through the process:

  • Note: Rules about copyright and plagiarism still apply in your sandbox -- and your sandbox is not private. Some images (like logos) are not approved for use in the sandboxes, even though they are allowed in the main Wikipedia page! To check your sandbox for this issue, and BEFORE you copy-paste in the article, click each image in the article you're planning to improve. If the image is marked "Fair use" in the media viewer (see an example of what that looks like), you will need to delete the link from your sandbox, and make a plan to re-add it by hand when your article goes live.

Wikipedia Task #4[edit]

Peer review other students' articles
Due Date
Friday January 28
Make contributions in Wikipedia and the class WikiEdu dashboard
  • Select two classmates’ articles that you will peer review and copy-edit. To sign up, you can mark this in the dashboard by using the Assign a review button. Try to pick articles that other students are not yet reviewing.
  • Peer review two of your classmates’ articles and produce a written peer review. If you click on the "Peer review" link next to the assigned review article on your student page in the WikiEd dashboard, you'll see that it pops up a template that will create a sub-page on your classmate's sandbox and prompts you with a bunch of questions. If you do fill out that template, be sure to leave a message on the users talk page so that they know you created the sub-page with your peer review! Using that template will probably be useful but it's not required. What's important is that you engage in the peer review and get your classmate useful feedback. I don't care too much about how you do it.
  • Improve and copy-edit the two reviewed articles by editing them directly to help fix issues, improve sourcing, create a more neutral or encyclopedic tone, etc. Where you see an opportunity to help out, be bold!

Wikipedia Task #5[edit]

Incorporate peer feedback
Due Date
Friday February 4
Make contributions in Wikipedia and the class WikiEdu dashboard
  • Respond to your peer review. Consider their suggestions and decide whether they makes your work more accurate and complete.
  • Continue improving your article. Refine your text, do more research, make sure things are well organized, think about adding images, infoboxes, and templates. If you add images be sure to complete the WikiEd material on images and media.

Wikipedia Task #6[edit]

Make article "live."
Due Date
Friday February 11
Make contributions in Wikipedia

Wikipedia Task #7[edit]

Finalize article and turn in your report -- a reflective essay
Due Date
Sunday February 13
  • Finish article in Wikipedia and turn in a URL to the finished article in Canvas.
  • Turn in report as subpage of your Wikipedia userpage and turn in the URL in Canvas.
Maximum length for report
1000 words (~4 pages double spaced)

Turn your report -- a reflective essay -- as a subpage of your userpage. For example, I would create mine with as the URL. Of course, you should replace "Benjamin_Mako_Hill" with your Wikipedia username. You can also just go to your userpage by clicking on your username on Wikipedia and then adding "/Report" at the end of the URL.

When you go that page, it will say Wikipedia does not have a user page with this exact name.

You can create the new page by just clicking the "Create" tab on that page. When you're done, you can paste the URL into Canvas.

Assessment: Wikipedia Assignment[edit]

I will use the following criteria as a rubric for assessing your work on the contributions made to Wikipedia:

  1. Substantial new article text shows fluency in Wikipedia norms — A student fluent in Wikipedia norms will have created an substantial article or brought an existing article at least one quality class to a higher one in the eyes of most Wikipedia members by adding new encyclopedic text, adhering to policies on tone, adding references for statements from reliable third party sources, and so on.
  2. Peer reviews of other student were thoughtful, critical, and constructive.
  3. Deadlines for tasks #1-7 were met in a way that allowed for the interactive and collaborative aspects of the class (e.g., draft was published to allow for reviews, peer reviews were made on time, article was published live on time, and so on).

Assessment: Wikipedia Reflection Essay[edit]

In addition to finishing up your Wikipedia article, everybody should turn in a report reflecting on your experience contributing to Wikipedia in light of your experience and the course material and, most importantly, offering advice to the Wikimedia Foundation and the Wikipedia Community on how to improve their community. I want you all to treat this as a dress rehearsal for your final projects.

Your report will be evaluated, first and foremost, on the degree to which it provides useful, informed, and actionable advice to the Wikipedia community and the Wikimedia Foundation. It will also be evaluated on the degree to which you engage with the course material. See the writing rubric for details on my expectations in terms of the content of the papers. A successful essay will do the following things:

  1. Provide detailed, concrete, and actionable advice to the Wikipedia community and the Wikimedia Foundation. What should Wikipedia think about doing? What should they think about changing?
  2. Comment directly on your experience in Wikipedia. What did you do and what did you learn?
  3. Connect your experience in Wikipedia explicitly to the concepts in the course material we have covered. Justify your recommendations in terms of the theories and principles we've covered. Why should your recommendations be taken more seriously than just random advice from one new user?
  4. If possible, reflect on what parts of the theories or concepts we covered applied or didn't. You don't have to take everything taught in the course for granted. What would you change or add based on your experience? What is unique or different about Wikipedia?

I will give everybody in the course feedback on their assignment. The basic structure is shorter, but extremely similar, to what you will be doing in the final project. As a result, you can treat this as a "mid-term" and make adjustments based on feedback.

There's no minimum word count, but I'd suggest you take advantage of the space you're given. Generally speaking, you can say more, be more insightful, demonstrate more fluency (all the things we are assessing) if you use more space.

Your audience is Wikipiedians who may read your report. You don't need to define things to prove to us that you've done the reading. You should define terms if you think that an audience of Wikipedians (who have not taken the class) will be lost/confused otherwise. Use your judgement to make a compelling, well reasoned, and well supported argument.

The intro, body, conclusion format is pretty reliable and useful. But if you feel it's better or more useful to deviate from that as well, that's fine.

Make an argument for why, based on your experience in Wikipedia and what you've learned in the class, things could/should be better and how that might happen. "A description of your experience" is part of that but we're not asking for a trip report. It should be service of the argument and suggestions you are making.

Project 2: Critical Analysis of an Online Community[edit]

For the final assignment, I want you to take what you've learned in the class and apply it to a community you have observed or participated in. This project will involve two written assignments and a presentation.

Community Identification[edit]

Maximum Length
300 words (~1 page double spaced)
Turn in through Canvas
Due Date
Friday February 18

In this assignment, you should identify a community you are interested in — and that you hope to analyze critically in your final project. In this assignment, I am asking you to write 1-2 paragraphs explaining what community you want to study, why you care about it, and why you think it would be a rich site for reflection. If relevant or possible, it might be useful to also provide a link.

I am hoping that each of you will pick a community that you are intellectually committed to and invested in your personal or work life. You should also keep in mind that you will be presenting this publicly to the class.

You will be successful in this assignment if you identify a community and clearly explain why you think it would be a useful community to study using the concepts we have covered in the class.

I will give you feedback on these write-ups and will let you each know if I think you have identified a project that might be too ambitious, too trivial, too broad, too narrow, etc.

Final Projects: Critical Analysis of Online Community[edit]

Final Presentation Date
March 7 and 9
Paper Due Date
March 16 @ 11:59pm
Maximum paper length
2,000 words (~8 pages double spaced)

For your final project, I expect students to build on the community identification assignment to describe what they have done and what they have found. I'll expect every student to give both:

  • A final presentation (see instructions on /Final presentations)
  • A final report that is not more than 2,000 words (~8 pages double spaced)

Each project should include: (a) the description of the community you have identified (you are welcome to borrow from your Community Identification assignment), (b) a description of how you would use the course concepts to change and improve the community.

You will be evaluated on the degree to which you have demonstrated that you understand and have engaged with the course material and not on specifics of your community. I want you to reflect on what parts of theory we covered apply or do not. What does the community do right according to what you've learned? What might it do differently in the future based on what you've read? What did the course and readings not teach that they should have?

A successful project will tell a compelling story and will engage with, and improve upon, the course material to teach an audience that includes me, your classmates, and students taking this class in future years, how to take advantage of online communities more effectively. The very best papers will give us all a new understanding of some aspect of course material and change the way I teach some portion of this course in the future.


I will follow the very detailed grading rubric described on my assessment page. Please read it carefully I will assign grades for each of following items on the UW 4.0 grade scale according to the weights below:

  • Case discussion: 30%
  • Wikipedia assignments: 15%
  • Wikipedia reflection essay: 10%
  • Community identification: 5%
  • Final Presentation: 10%
  • Final Paper: 30%


January 3 (Monday): Introduction to the Course[edit]

Goals for the day:

  • Collect some basic information from you all
  • Provide an introduction and some context for the course (and hopefully get you excited about the rest of the quarter)
  • Review the course objectives and requirements
  • Answer your questions about the class

Lectures: (watch before class)


Class Meeting (12:30-2:20pm):

  • Class will be devoted to answering questions and helping students with any challenges they face related to complete the course checklist due on Tuesday.
  • Attendance in class entirely optional.
  • Because UW has made the first week of classes remote only, class will be conducted in this Zoom room (link is accessible through Canvas).

January 4 (Tuesday): DUE: Class Checklist[edit]

Required Task: Complete the class setup checklist. This will likely take most of you 30-90 minutes so please plan in advance.

As with most other assignments, you must complete this task by 11:59pm Seattle time.

January 5 (Wednesday): Motivation (Part I)[edit]

Lectures: (watch before class)


Required Reading:

Optional Reading:

  • BSOC, Chapter 1, pg 1-17

January 7 (Friday): Section & Wikipedia Task #1 DUE[edit]

Details are on the section of this page describing the assignment.

Sections will be working through the Wikipedia assignments due at the end of the day. Attendance is optional but strongly encouraged. If you attend section, the due date will be extended by 24 hours.

We discussed strategies for learning the material in this course. If you're feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, or confused, take a look at the document summarizing our discussion.

January 10 (Monday): Motivation (Part II)[edit]

Lectures: (watch before class)


Required Readings:

  • BSOC, Chapter 2, pg 41-70 (Sections 4-7)

For the case, we're going to talk about Twitch:

January 12 (Wednesday): Commitment (Part I)[edit]

Lectures: (watch before class)


Required Readings:

  • BSOC, Chapter 3, pg 77-102 (Section 1)

In this case, we're going to be looking at five different "subreddit" communities within Reddit. In some of these cases, there is an enormous amount of material on the pages and subpages. Poke around for 10 minutes or so (please not more!) until you get a sense for who is participating and how and why people build commitment to the site such that you will be comfortable answering the questions in the reading note. Please do not post on the sites or disrupt them in any way. We're guests in their communities and you only need to look:

  • [Case] /r/aww — "Things that make you go AWW! -- like puppies, bunnies, babies, and so on..."
  • [Case] /r/udub — "the unofficial subreddit of the University of Washington"
  • [Case] /r/SeattleWA — "the active Reddit community for Seattle, Washington and the Puget Sound area"
  • [Case] /r/NoSleep — "a place for authors to share their original horror stories"
  • [Case] /r/CasualPizzaCats — a World of Warcraft guild

January 14 (Friday): Section & Wikipedia Task #2 DUE[edit]

Details on the assignment are on the section of this page describing the assignment.

Sections will be working through the Wikipedia assignments due at the end of the day. Attendance is optional but strongly encouraged. If you attend section, the due date will be extended by 24 hours.

A template to help you think about how to improve an article is posted here. An article you know how to improve is a great choice for the next phase of this project, where you'll put your plan into practice! [requires Canvas access]

January 17 (Monday): NO CLASS[edit]

The class will not be meeting in observation of Martin Luther King, Jr. day.

January 19 (Wednesday): Commitment (Part II)[edit]

Lectures: (watch before class)


Required Readings:

January 21 (Friday): Section & DUE: Wikipedia Task #3[edit]

Details on the assignment are on the section of this page describing the assignment.

Sections will be working through the Wikipedia assignments due at the end of the day. Attendance is optional but strongly encouraged. If you attend section, the due date will be extended by 24 hours.

The slides for section are posted here. [Requires Canvas Access]

January 24 (Monday): Norms and Regulation (Part I)[edit]

Lectures: (watch before class)


Required Readings:

January 26 (Wednesday): Norms and Regulation (Part II)[edit]

Lectures: (watch before class)


Required Readings:

  • BSOC, Chapter 4, pg 140-170 (Sections 4-5)
  • [Case] Slashdot: Spend 5-10 minutes to visit the homepage, look at a story you think is interesting, and read several of the comments, paying specific attention to the rating system.
  • [Case] Slashdot Moderation FAQ, 2017 (Internet Archive Copy)
  • [Case] Lampe, Cliff, and Paul Resnick. 2004. “Slash(Dot) and Burn: Distributed Moderation in a Large Online Conversation Space.” In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 543–550. CHI ’04. New York, NY: ACM. [Available from UW libraries]

Optional Readings:

January 28 (Friday): Section: DUE: Wikipedia Task #4[edit]

Details on the assignment are on the section of this page describing the assignment.

Sections will be working through the Wikipedia assignments due at the end of the day. Attendance is optional but strongly encouraged. If you attend section, the due date will be extended by 24 hours.

Slides from section are on canvas.

January 31 (Monday): Newcomers (Part I)[edit]

Lectures: (watch before class)


Required Readings:

  • BSOC, Chapter 5, pg 179-205 (Sections 1-2)

We're going to look at the citizen science community Zooniverse:

  • [Case] Visit Zooniverse and create an account. Then visit the Zooniverse project website and pick a project that interests you. I worked on Chimp&See but there are a bunch of projects (scroll down to see more) on a lot of different types of things. Spend 10-15 minutes on the site figure out how it works and make sure you both do a few tasks and look at the "Talk" or discussion and commenting features of each site.
  • [Case] Mugar, Gabriel, Carsten Østerlund, Katie DeVries Hassman, Kevin Crowston, and Corey Brian Jackson. 2014. “Planet Hunters and Seafloor Explorers: Legitimate Peripheral Participation through Practice Proxies in Online Citizen Science.” In Proceedings of the 17th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing, 109–119. CSCW ’14. Baltimore, Maryland, USA: Association for Computing Machinery. [Available from UW libraries] [Available free online]

Optional Readings:

February 2 (Wednesday): Newcomers (Part II)[edit]

Lectures: (watch before class)


Required Readings:

February 4 (Friday): Section & DUE: Wikipedia Task #5[edit]

Details on the assignment are on the section of this page describing the assignment.

Sections will be working through the Wikipedia assignments due at the end of the day. Attendance is optional but strongly encouraged. If you attend section, the due date will be extended by 24 hours.

Slides from section are on Canvas.

February 7 (Monday): Creating New Communities (Part I)[edit]

Lectures: (watch before class)


Required Readings:

Optional Readings:

February 9 (Wednesday): Creating New Communities (Part II)[edit]

Lectures: (watch before class)


Required Readings:

Optional Readings:

February 11 (Friday): Section & DUE: Wikipedia Task #6[edit]

Details are on the section of this page describing the assignment.

Sections will be working through the Wikipedia assignments due this weekend. Attendance is optional but strongly encouraged. If you attend section, the due date will be extended by 24 hours.

Slides from Section are on canvas.

Kaylea also shared a strategy guide that might help you get started or keep moving if you are stuck with the writing assignment.

February 13 (Sunday): DUE: Wikipedia Task #7[edit]

Details are on the section of this page describing the assignment.

February 14 (Monday): Wikipedia Assigment Debrief[edit]

In the first part of class we'll talk about the assignments. In the second part of class, we'll talk about the case.


Required Readings:

Optional Readings:

  • Halfaker, Aaron, R. Stuart Geiger, and Loren G. Terveen. 2014. “Snuggle: Designing for Efficient Socialization and Ideological Critique.” In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 311–320. CHI ’14. New York, NY: ACM. [Available from UW libraries]
  • Morgan, Jonathan T., and Aaron Halfaker. 2018. “Evaluating the Impact of the Wikipedia Teahouse on Newcomer Socialization and Retention.” In Proceedings of the 14th International Symposium on Open Collaboration, 20:1–20:7. OpenSym ’18. New York, NY: ACM. [Available from UW libraries]

February 16 (Wednesday): Hacker Communities[edit]


Lectures: (watch before class)

Required Readings:

Optional Readings:

February 18 (Friday): NO SECTION & DUE: Community Identification[edit]

Details are on the #Community Identification section of this page.

February 21 (Monday): NO CLASS[edit]

The class will not be meeting in observation of Presidents day.

February 23 (Wednesday): Building Community on TikTok[edit]


  • Hunter Brown


Required Readings:

Today, we'll have an interview and question and answer session with Class of 2021 UW Department of Communication student (and COM 481 alumni) Hunter Brown. Hunter Brown posted his first video to TikTok in late December 2019 and started COM481 (then called 482) in the first week of January 2020. Over the quarter that Hunter was taking the class, he grew his followers to more than 15,500 using own creativity, intuition, and some of the concepts and techniques from the course. Hunter has since grown his TikTok following to more than 680,000 people in just over two years.

Read Check out Hunter's TikTok, linked from the syllabus, and come ready to ask him any questions you have. I'll start us out by interviewing Hunter about his experience growing an online community. Then we'll open up to your questions.

February 25 (Friday): NO SECTION[edit]

February 28 (Monday): Anonymity and Identifiability in Online Communities[edit]

Guest Lecturer: Kaylea Champion


Lectures: (watch before class)

Required Readings:

  • Andrea Forte, Nazanin Andalibi, and Rachel Greenstadt. 2017. Privacy, Anonymity, and Perceived Risk in Open Collaboration: A Study of Tor Users and Wikipedians. In Proceedings of the 2017 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW '17). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 1800–1811. DOI: [Available from UW libraries]

Optional Readings

March 2 (Wednesday): Small Communities and Founders[edit]

Guest Lecturers:


Lectures: (watch before class)

Required Readings

Optional Readings:

  • Kraut, Robert E., and Andrew T. Fiore. 2014. “The Role of Founders in Building Online Groups.” In Proceedings of the 17th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing, 722–32. CSCW ’14. Baltimore, Maryland, USA: ACM. [Available from UW libraries]
  • Foote, Jeremy D., & Contractor, Noshir. (2018). The behavior and network position of peer production founders. In G. Chowdhury, J. McLeod, V. Gillet, & P. Willett (Eds.), iConference 2018: Transforming Digital Worlds (pp. 99–106). Springer. [Available free online].

March 4 (Friday): NO SECTION[edit]

March 7 (Monday): No Class Meeting: Spend Time Watching and Giving Feedback on Presentations[edit]


No readings. The final classes will be devoted entirely to presentations.

March 9 (Wednesday): No Class Meeting: Spend Time Watching and Giving Feedback on Presentations[edit]


No readings. The final classes will be devoted entirely to presentations.

March 11 (Friday): NO SECTION[edit]

March 16 (Wednesday): DUE: Final Projects[edit]

Details are on the #Final Projects: Critical Analysis of Online Community section of this page.

Administrative Notes[edit]

Teaching and learning in a pandemic[edit]

The COVID-19 pandemic will impact this course in various ways, some of them obvious and tangible and others harder to pin down. On the obvious and tangible front, we have things like a mix of remote, synchronous, and asynchronous instruction and the fact that many of us will not be anywhere near campus or each other this year. These will reshape our collective "classroom" experience in major ways.

On the "harder to pin down" side, many of us may experience elevated levels of exhaustion, stress, uncertainty and distraction. We may need to provide unexpected support to family, friends, or others in our communities. I have personally experienced all of these things at various times over the past six months and I expect that some of you have too. It is a difficult time.

I believe it is important to acknowledge these realities of the situation and create the space to discuss and process them in the context of our class throughout the quarter. As your instructor and colleague, I commit to do my best to approach the course in an adaptive, generous, and empathetic way. I will try to be transparent and direct with you throughout—both with respect to the course material as well as the pandemic and the university's evolving response to it. I ask that you try to extend a similar attitude towards everyone in the course. When you have questions, feedback, or concerns, please try to share them in an appropriate way. If you require accommodations of any kind at any time (directly related to the pandemic or not), please contact the teaching team.

This text is borrowed and adapted from Aaron Shaw's statistics course.

Your Presence in Class[edit]

As detailed in section on case studies and in my detailed page on assessment, your homework in the class is to prepare for cases and case discussion is an important way that I will assess learning. Obviously, you must be in class in order to participate. If you need to miss class for any reason, please fill out the course absence form so that we know you are not coming and do not include you in our cold call list. In the event of an absence, you are responsible for obtaining class notes, handouts, assignments, etc.

There are many students who have eagerly requested to join the class, but there are not enough seats. I want to include as many students in the class as possible, we will automatically drop anyone who misses the first two class sessions and try to replace them with unenrolled students who do attend. This is consistent with college policy and with the course description in the catalog.

Devices in Class[edit]

Electronic devices (e.g., phones, tablets, laptops) are not permitted in class. If you have a documented need to use a device, please contact me ahead of time to let me know. If you do get permission to use a device, I will ask you to sit in the very back of the classroom.

The goal of this policy is to help you stay focused and avoid distractions for yourself and your peers in the classroom. This is really important and turns out to be much more difficult in the presence of powerful computing devices with brightly glowing screens and fast connections to the Internet. For more on the rationale behind this policy, please read Clay Shirky’s thoughtful discussion of his approach to this issue.

Of course, we will discuss assignments and topics that involve referring to things online. Toward that end, you might find it convenient to bring a laptop or tablet to class. If you want to look something up on your device outside of a time I clearly point out as device-allowed, please ask me. I will always point out explicitly in class if it's OK to use devices.

Except during parts of class when I explicitly invite device usage — I ask that you refrain from using your laptops, tablets, phones, and pretty much any (digital) device with a screen.

Office Hours[edit]

The best way to get in touch with me about issues in class will in the Discord server via asychronous messages sent to one of the text channels. This is preferable because any questions you have can be answered in a way that is visible to others in the class.

We will hold synchronous, in-person, office hours once a week:

Kaylea's office hour: 1 hour before hour the start of class on Wednesdays (i.e., 12-1pm for the immediate future)
Mako's office hour: 12:30-1:30pm on Tuesdays

These meetings will be in the "Office Hours" voice channel on Discord.

If my planned office hours do not work for you, please contact me in the Discord server or over email to arrange a meeting at another time.

Religious Accommodations[edit]

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form.

Student Conduct[edit]

The University of Washington Student Conduct Code (WAC 478-121) defines prohibited academic and behavioral conduct and describes how the University holds students accountable as they pursue their academic goals. Allegations of misconduct by students may be referred to the appropriate campus office for investigation and resolution. More information can be found online at Safety

Call SafeCampus at 206-685-7233 anytime–no matter where you work or study–to anonymously discuss safety and well-being concerns for yourself or others. SafeCampus’s team of caring professionals will provide individualized support, while discussing short- and long-term solutions and connecting you with additional resources when requested.

Academic Dishonesty[edit]

This includes: cheating on assignments, plagiarizing (misrepresenting work by another author as your own, paraphrasing or quoting sources without acknowledging the original author, or using information from the internet without proper citation), and submitting the same or similar paper to meet the requirements of more than one course without instructor approval. Academic dishonesty in any part of this course is grounds for failure and further disciplinary action. The first incident of plagiarism will result in the student’s receiving a zero on the plagiarized assignment. The second incident of plagiarism will result in the student’s receiving a zero in the class.

Disability Resources[edit]

If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to uw at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions. Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

Mental Health[edit]

Your mental health is important. If you are feeling distressed, anxious, depressed, or in any way struggling with your emotional and psychological wellness, please know that you are not alone. College can be a profoundly difficult time for many of us.

Resources are available for you:

Other Student Support[edit]

Any student who has difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or who lacks a safe and stable place to live, and believes this may affect their performance in the course, is urged to contact the graduate program advisor for support. Furthermore, please notify the professors if you are comfortable in doing so. This will enable us to provide any resources that we may possess (adapted from Sara Goldrick-Rab). Please also note the student food pantry, Any Hungry Husky at the ECC.

Credit and Notes[edit]

This will be the fourth time this course has been taught at UW in its current form. This syllabuses draws heavily from these previous versions. Syllabuses from earlier classes can be found online at:

This syllabus was inspired by, and borrowed heavily with permission from, other classes on online communities taught by young academics whose teaching I admire and respect: