Course Guidelines

This seminar explores hacking and remixing as creative and critical practices. In the process we will expand the conceptual domains of both terms. We will explore hacking and remixing across a range of forms, including code, software, social media, and digital writing. The historical, ethical, and rhetorical dimensions of hacking and remixing will also be considered as students design their own hacks and remixes. No prior technological experience is required.

DIG 401 borrows from design-focused workshops in the studio arts. A typical task might be to create a “bot” that operates online, using existing code that you adapt for your own purposes. Another activity might involve hacking a piece of software, not in the sense of breaking into the code of the program, but rather by making the software do something unexpected. You might also create something new by remixing public domain video and audio. Throughout all of these experiments, we will keep our eye on broader questions of creativity, craft, design, originality, and the so-called “hacker ethic.”

The nearly 3-hour long seminar format is ideal for such work. Roughly half of our in-class time will be devoted to hands-on practice, often working in small groups. The rest of class time will be devoted to more scholarly approaches to the questions surrounding hacking, remixing, and design. The flexible space of Studio D will allow us to move quickly from a workshop setting to a seminar set-up.

Enduring Concept

This course pairs experimentation and iterative design with a critical approach to technology. While there are many specific skills you will learn in the process (see below), there is an overarching concept that I hope endures in your mind long after the class is over. It is this: making can be a way of knowing.

Learning Goals

By the end of the semester, students will be able to achieve the following:

  • Formulate distinctions between different modes of hacking and remixing
  • Situate contemporary hacking and remixing practices within a broader historical context of cultural appropriation
  • Control and update his or her own Web domain
  • Manipulate the code of open-source software projects
  • Design a digital work that adapts text, data, or procedural elements of existing works
  • Evaluate the ethical issues surrounding algorithmic-based design
  • Debate the impact of intellectual property considerations upon creativity

Universal learning

I am committed to the principle of universal learning. This means that our classroom, our virtual spaces, our practices, and our interactions be as inclusive as possible. Mutual respect, civility, and the ability to listen and observe others carefully are crucial to universal learning.

Any student with particular needs should contact Nance Longworth (x2129), the Academic Access and Disability Resources Coordinator, at the start of the semester. The Dean of Students’ office will forward any necessary information to me. Then you and I can work out the details of any accommodations needed for this course.

Required Material

  • Chris Ware, Building Stories (Pantheon, 2012)
  • Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky, Rhythm Science (MIT Press, 2004)
  • A Domain of Your Own
  • Selected other material available online

Required Work

The required work for DIG 401 will take several forms, detailed below: (1) class participation; (2) a weekly failure log (flog); (3) three “deep” hacks or remixes, each accompanied by an artist’s statement; and (4) an impossible project.

(1) This class is highly interactive and your success will depend upon continual engagement with the readings and in-class and out-of-class activities.

Participation is so essential to your final grade that I will not even calculate it.

(2) Each student will keep a weekly failure log (flog). Similar to a blog, the flog will give you a chance to reflect on things that don’t work for you in this class. It may be a specific technological problem you’re trying to solve, or it may be something you don’t understand with the weekly reading. Every student will host his or her own flog on their own web domain, using WordPress. I will stream individual posts onto our own class blog. Halfway through the semester you will write a reflection about your failure log.

Flogging will be worth 20% of your final grade.

(3) Over the course of the semester you will create “deep” three hacks or remixes. What constitutes a “deep” hack, rather than a superficial hack will be something we debate throughout the semester. You will have a wide variety of projects to choose from. Some possibilities include a strictly “analog” hack that requires physical intervention into a digital form. Another possibility is to appropriate an existing software tool for new purposes. You might create an autonomous software “bot” that operates online. Each hack will be accompanied by an Artist’s Statement of about 1,500 words.

Each hack will be worth 20% of your final grade.

(4) The final project will be an impossible project. Working either individually or in small groups you will design a speculative hack or remix of your own imagining. You will create all of the design documents, wireframes, and prototypes. Think of this final project as a mock Kickstarter Project, in which you “pitch” a project for which you are seeking funding. Note that this proposal need not be turned into an actual Kickstarter Project (though you are certainly invited to do so, if you are willing).

The final project will be worth 20% of your final grade.


The final grade will be calculated in the following manner:

  • Participation: ∞
  • Flogging: 20%
  • Hacks: 60%
  • Impossible Final Project: 20%

Every other assignment will be given a letter grade that has a percentage equivalent:

A+ = 100% /A = 95% /A- = 90%
B+ = 88% / B = 85% / B- = 80%
C+ = 78% / C = 75% / C- = 70%
D = 65% /F = below 60%

Academic Integrity

Students at Davidson College abide by an Honor Code. The principle of academic integrity is taken very seriously and violations are treated gravely. What does academic integrity mean in this course? Essentially this: when you are responsible for a task, you will perform that task. When you rely on someone else’s work in an aspect of the performance of that task, you will give full credit in the proper, accepted form.

Another aspect of academic integrity is the free play of ideas. Vigorous discussion and debate are encouraged in this course, with the firm expectation that all aspects of the class will be conducted with civility and respect for differing ideas, perspectives, and traditions. When in doubt (of any kind) please ask for guidance and clarification.

Classroom Courtesy

While this course embraces the digital world it also recognizes that digital tools and environments complicate personal interactions. Studies have shown that students who use laptops in class often receive lower grades than those who don’t. Even more worrisome are studies that show laptop users distract students around them. I permit laptops and tablets in class, but only when used for classroom activities, such as taking notes, accessing reading materials, or playing with code. Occasionally I may ask students to turn off all digital devices.

Text messaging or other cell phone use is unacceptable.

Late arrivals or early departures from class are disruptive and should be avoided.