Communications Lab Syllabus


Spring 2017
Course Website:

SECTION 1: Instructor: Tim Szetela (
Mondays and Wednesdays, 1:15pm – 2:30pm; recitation Thursdays, 1:45pm – 3:00pm

SECTION 2: Instructor: Ann Chen (
Mondays and Wednesdays, 4:15pm – 5:30pm; recitation Thursdays, 4:45pm – 6:00pm

SECTION 3: Instructor: Roopa Vasudevan (
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:15am – 12:30pm; recitation Fridays, 11:15am – 12:30pm

Professor Szetela: Thursdays from 4:00pm to 6:00pm. Sign up here. 
Professor Chen: Tuesdays from 12:30pm to 2:30pm. Sign up here. Room 939
Professor Vasudevan: Wednesdays from 2:00pm to 5:00pm. Sign up here.

If the times don’t work for your schedule, please email your professor for an appointment.

Communications Lab Fellow: Jiwon Shin (


Course Description

In this foundation course, designed to provide students with a framework to effectively communicate through digital means, students will explore the possibilities of digital media by successively producing projects that make use of digital images, audio, video, and the Web. Students learn in a laboratory context of hands-on experimentation, and principles of interpersonal communications, media theory, and human factors will be introduced in readings and investigated through discussion. Adobe Creative Cloud and other relevant software applications will be examined, and the basics of fundamental web languages HTML, CSS and JavaScript will be studied, to establish a diverse digital toolkit. Both traditional and experimental outputs, including online and interactive media platforms, will be explored. Weekly assignments, group, and independent projects, as well as project reports will be assigned in each of the core areas of study.



There are 5 projects / exercises in this course:

1) basic website illustrating HTML and CSS fundamentals
2) interactive comic utilizing JavaScript
3) audio project
4) video project
5) final web-based project

You will be expected to create a web-based project for all of these assignments, and submit them online.

There are reading assignments throughout the semester. You will be required to write a short response to each reading and post it to the class blog. You will also be required to post a response to each project on the blog, detailing your process and linking to documentation of the work. Even if you work collaboratively, every student MUST post his/her own response.

Software: The Adobe suite is available in the 24-hour labs located in the Academic Building. Additionally, all the software is available as a fully-functional free trial from the Adobe website.

In addition, this course will necessitate the use of equipment from the IMA Equipment Room. Policies and procedures for checking out, caring for, and returning equipment will be discussed during IMA Orientation (February X or X, mandatory) as well as in class. Be aware that keeping IMA equipment past return dates or failing to adhere to the policies of the IMA Lab WILL affect your participation grade for this course.

E.M. Forster, “The Machine Stops”, 1909
Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, 1936
Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium is the Message”, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1967
Scott McCloud Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, chapters 1-4
Joy Garnet & Susan Meiseles, “On the Rights of the Molotov Man: Appropriation and the Art of Context”, Harper’s Magazine, February 2007
Jonathan Lethem, “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism”, Harper’s Magazine, February 2007
Jeff Chang, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation (excerpt), 2005
Paul Rand, “Computers, Pencils and Brushes”, Design Form and Chaos, Yale University Press (1993)
Paul Graham, “Hackers and Painters”, May 2003
Tim Berners-Lee, “Long Live the Web”, Scientific American, December 2010
Rachel Greene, “Web Work: A History of Net Art”, Artforum, May 2000

Kirby Ferguson’s TED Talk: “Embrace the Remix”
The Salt Institute Dissecting Dead Animal Man
Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk: “The Danger of a Single Story”



10% – Basic website
10% – Interactive comic
10% – Audio Project
10% – Video Project
10% – Web Project
15% – Blog posts: Responses to readings and viewings
15% – Blog posts: Documentation & reflection on projects
20% – Class Participation



Attendance in all classes is mandatory. Unexcused absences and tardiness will affect your grade. If you know you are going to be absent or late, please let me know in advance so we can figure out how you can make up what you missed in class. Not doing so will result in an unexcused absence; 2 unexcused absences will lead to a failing grade.

In addition to the lecture sessions, you will also be required to attend a mandatory recitation. The recitation will be used in two ways: to allow time to work on projects, or to work on mini-projects created specifically to reinforce concepts covered in class during the week. If you know you will have to miss a recitation, please let your instructor know as soon as possible. Recitations count toward total attendance, and will reflect in your unexcused absences as well.

Laptops are permitted in class to take notes and to follow along during demonstrations. All other devices are not to be used, and checking social media during class is prohibited.



Week 1
February 6/7: Introduction to Class

    • Introduction to the course & syllabus
    • Logistics of submitting assignments & class blog demo
    • Assignment Read E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops”. Post a response to the reading to the blog, and be prepared to discuss in class next session.
    • Assignment Download and install a text editor (Sublime Text, TextWrangler, etc.) and an FTP client (Cyberduck, Fetch) BEFORE class on Thursday. We will be using them during the session.

February 8/9: The Internet

    • Discuss reading
    • How does the Internet work?
    • Introduction to HTML
    • File management best practices
    • Uploading your files on to the IMA NAS
    • Assignment Read Tim Berners-Lee’s “Long Live the Web”. Post a response to the class blog.
    • Assignment Build a basic webpage in HTML, using the tags we discussed in class. This can be about anything you want — your favorite book, movie, restaurant, your hometown, your family, etc. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can do some research and use new tags as well. (However, please do NOT use the <style> tag, or any other formatting tags, as we will be covering styling next week. These pages should ONLY contain content. This means NO changing fonts, NO changing colors, and NO fiddling with page layout.) Upload your site to the NAS, and post a link to the class blog before Tuesday’s session.

Week 2
February 13/14: Digital Imaging

February 15/16: CSS

    • Share digital images
    • Introduction to CSS syntax
    • Selectors and how they work with HTML
      • Class vs. ID
      • Using the <div> and <span> tags for organization and for CSS

February 16/17: Style

    • Web design fundamentals
    • Color schemes and palettes
    • Typography
    • Layout & the CSS box model
    • In-class CSS design exercise
    • Assignment Take your webpage that you built for Tuesday… and add some style to it. Experiment with color, type, and layout, and feel free to use properties we didn’t discuss in class. Try to use an EXTERNAL stylesheet only; do not put all of the CSS in <style> tags or inline in the document! Upload your page to the NAS, and post a link to the class blog. This time, write a longer post about your process styling the site, what worked, and where you ran into trouble.
    • Assignment Finish CSS design exercise if you were not able to in class.
    • Assignment Read “Understanding Comics”, chapters 1-4. Post a response to the class blog.

Week 3
February 20/21: Sequential Imaging

    • Discussion of reading
    • Narrative and sequential storytelling
    • Print comics vs. web comics
    • Dinosaur Comics
    • The Oatmeal
    • Alien Loves Predator
    • A Softer World
    • Interactive comics: Never Mind the Bullets
    • Interactive comics: Murat
    • Interactive comics: Nawlz
    • Interactive comics: The Fox Sisters
    • Project In teams of 2, create an interactive online comic. Use JavaScript in order to advance the story in some way. (Due Monday March 13/Tuesday March 14)
    • Assignment Post links to two websites that you think have interesting or innovative user interactions. Explain why you are drawn to them and what makes them unique to you.
    • Assignment Begin work on your comic project. During recitation this week, you and your partner will be expected to present your story idea, and a brief outline of how you’d like the comic to unfold for your user. Post what you will be presenting to the class blog.

February 22/23: Interactivity // Introduction to JavaScript

    • Show Week 2 websites
    • “Hello World” / What is JavaScript?
    • Introduction to JavaScript syntax
    • Alerts, click events, and embedding JavaScript inside HTML
    • Project Continue work on interactive comic project. During recitation you and your partner will be expected to present your story idea, and a brief outline of how you’d like the comic to unfold for your user. Post what you will be presenting to the class blog.
    • Assignment DOM and BOM mini-project (to be completed during recitation)

Week 4
February 27/28: JavaScript Fundamentals: Variables

    • Present comic project ideas
    • View source and using the console
    • How to deal with errors in your code
    • Variables
    • Project Continue on interactive comic project. Over the weekend you should begin collecting photo assets, drawing, or otherwise getting the visual elements of your story together.

March 1/2: JavaScript Fundamentals: Choice & Logic

    • Conditionals: If Statements, If/Else If/Else, Boolean Variables
    • Project Continue on interactive comic project. By this point you should have all of your visual elements together, and can begin to place them on a webpage. Your goal is to be 80-90% done with your visual assets by the end of this week, and to begin getting your work into the browser. Please post an update of where you are, and screenshots of whatever you have in the browser, by the next class.
    • Assignment Variables & conditionals mini-project (to be completed during recitation)

Week 5
March 6/7: JavaScript Fundamentals: Iteration & Repetition 1

    • Arrays & Lists
    • Adding elements and removing elements to a list
    • Loops: while & for
    • Project Continue on interactive comic project.

March 8/9: JavaScript Fundamentals: Iteration & Repetition 2

    • Using loops to iterate through an array
    • Functions: Arguments, return types and callbacks
    • Project Finish interactive comic project. Make sure you have a working link and post it to the class blog before the next session. Don’t forget about the blog post documenting the project, your process, and a post-mortem on whether or not you think it has been successful compared to your initial goals.
    • Assignment Watch Kirby Ferguson’s TED Talk: “Embrace the Remix.” Post a response to the class blog.

Week 6
March 13/14: Introduction to Audio

    • Present online comic projects
    • Discussion of TED Talk
    • Intro to audio recording and sampling
    • Assignment Read “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism” by Jonathan Lethem. Post a response to the class blog.
    • Assignment Read “On the Rights of Molotov Man” by Joy Garnett and Susan Meiselas. Post a response to the class blog.
    • Project In your assigned pair/group, create an audio project that is culled together from external sound sources. These can either be sources you record yourselves, or pre-recorded samples. You may either choose to use traditional distribution methods (ie, a sound file like WAV or AIFF), or you may create an interactive audio experience on the web. However, *all projects* must be submitted on their own web page. (Due Monday March 27/Tuesday March 28)

March 15/16: Recording & Sampling Audio

Week 7
March 20/21: Manipulating Audio // Audio Editing

    • Discussion of the beginnings of hip-hop and the importance of sampling and audio manipulation to popular music
    • Look at samples used in popular music and how they are edited/manipulated
    • Watch video on the Amen Break and its use in popular music
    • Demo: Using Reaper to edit sound
    • Project Continue work on sound piece.

March 22/23: Manipulating Audio // JavaScript

    • HTML5 Audio
    • Interactive music box demo
    • Project Finish sound piece. Upload the page to the NAS, and send me a link before class. (Due Monday March 27/Tuesday March 28)
    • Assignment Watch Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk: “The Danger of a Single Story”. Post a response to the class blog, and be prepared to discuss in class.

Week 8
March 27/28: Narrative

    • Present & critique sound pieces
    • Review of basic narrative structure
    • Story vs. plot
    • Discussion of viewing assignment
    • Project In teams of 3 or 4, create a short form video designed *specifically* for experiencing on the web. This means that standard video playback on its own will not be acceptable. Total amount of video content included should be approximately 3-5 minutes at minumum. (Due Thursday April 27/Friday April 28)
    • Assignment Post your video project proposal to the class blog. Make sure that your proposal gives us an idea of what the story is, following the basic narrative structure. Be prepared to discuss in class.

March 29/30: Video, the Storyboard & Pre-Production

      • Review project ideas
      • History of film and video
      • The art of the storyboard
      • Types of shots
      • Making a shot list
      • Project Put together a storyboard, as well as a shot list and/or outline for your video project with your team. Drawings are encouraged and recommended! Post your storyboard to the class blog, and be prepared to discuss in class.
      • Assignment Read Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. Post a response to the class blog.


Week 9
April 10/11: Production

    • Share storyboards
    • The basics of the camera: Canon 6D
    • Casting and location scouting
    • Lighting, sound and composition
    • Making a paper edit and taking notes from the field
    • Project Begin shooting your video. Bring some kind of raw footage to class on Thursday/Friday, because we will be using it in our demo of Premiere.
    • Assignment Download and install Adobe Premiere before class.

April 12/13: In-Class Shoot Time

April 13/14: Post-Production

    • Intro to Adobe Premiere
    • Setting up a project and importing footage
    • Watching your footage down and pulling selects
    • The razor, slip and slide tools
    • Transitions, text, and basic animation
    • Project Continue shooting/editing your video.

Week 10
April 17/18: Interactive Video

April 19/20: More Interactive Video

    • Demo: Using a webcam (WebRTC)
    • Demo: Interlude/Eko and other helpful interactive video tools
    • Project: Continue working on your video project. Bring your rough cut to class next session.

Week 11
April 24/25: Polishing Your Project

    • Review rough cuts
    • Pacing, color correction, and audio polishing
    • Codecs and exporting your video
    • In-class work time
    • Project Continue work on video project.

April 26/27: “Recitation”

    • In-class work time to finish video projects
    • Project Finish your video project. Upload the site containing it to the NAS and post your documentation to the blog.

April 27/28: Internet Art

    • Critique video projects
    • Discussion of Internet Art as a medium
    • Examples of standalone web projects made with JavaScript
    • Assignment Read Paul Graham’s “Hackers and Painters”. Post a response to the blog.
    • Assignment Read Paul Rand’s “Computers, Pencils and Brushes”. Post a response to the blog.
    • Project Come up with a proposal for a web-based art project — NO product or portfolio sites please! At minimum, this MUST be a standalone website that you build utilizing HTML, CSS, and JavaScript; you are free (and encouraged!) to incorporate video and audio content as well if you see it fit. **You may choose to work individually or in teams of 2 for this project (a note: collaborations are highly recommended).** (Project due Wednesday December 7/Monday December 12)

Week 12
May 2/3: JS Review and Introduction to JS Animation

    • Share final project proposals
    • Review of JavaScript essentials
    • JavaScript animation with p5.js
    • Assignment Read Rachel Greene’s “Web Work: A History of Net Art”. Post a response to the class blog, and be prepared to discuss in class.
    • Project Begin work on your web project. Start small; this could mean collecting assets, writing some simple HTML, or shooting some video. Think about the basic building blocks of what you need.

May 4/5: JavaScript Animation: p5.js

    • More p5.js animation examples
    • Intro to Objects & Arrays review
    • Project updates
    • Project Continue work on web project. Keep collecting assets, and begin work on the webpage elements. Be prepared to update the class on your progress (with things to show if possible!) on Tuesday.

Week 13
May 8/9: p5.js: Sound & DOM

    • Using the DOM in p5.js
    • Webcam capture
    • p5.js sound library
    • Microphone input
    • Project Continue work on web project. By this point you should be building for the browser, and assembling all your web-based elements.

May 10/11: Images, Video & 3D

    • Images and video in p5.js
    • 3D in p5.js
    • Project Continue work on web project. Bring a working prototype to class next session for user testing.

Week 14
May 15/16: Speed User Testing

May 17/18: Final Presentations

Friday May 19: IMA SHOW