DCS 1100: Introduction to Digital & Computational Studies


Crystal Hall (she/her)

        Office hour scheduling: see Blackboard

Fernando Nascimento (he/his)

        Office hour scheduling: see Blackboard

Teaching Assistant

Patrick Bloniasz ‘22, TA hours to be held via Zoom, link will be posted on Blackboard and circulated by email

Course Description

We invite you to make sense of the chaos of digital devices, apps, and algorithms that we confront every day. We use so many of these objects (or they are used on us), and some of them work well, but others aren’t great. We encourage you to use your enthusiasm for your favorite app or internet-of-things gadget to imagine something better. Our hope is that you gain a habit of asking four types of questions whenever you encounter a digital artifact to restore agency and power to you in a technological world that often seems out of our control. Our approach is collaborative and project-based so that you can immediately apply what you have learned and draw on the perspectives and experiences of your classmates to identify nuances, seek solutions that work for broader communities, and be actively involved in every class. You will have a chance to demonstrate your Digital and Computational Studies (DCS) knowledge in a final project that you can opt to share outside of class.

Learning Goals

  1. Bring together perspectives from different fields of study in the liberal arts to evaluate the structures, advantages, and limitations of computer programs, textual analysis, and network analysis.
  2. Use the 4As of DCS to examine apps, devices, and “smart” objects as artifacts with histories, that interact via infrastructures, represent abstractions of processes, and have consequences for the agency of users.
  3. Tell the story of a digital artifact beyond where to click to make it work (functionality). Talk about it as code, visual or physical object, and as an argument. Compare and contrast evaluations made by different users with different purposes. Imagine improvements or alternatives.
  4. Connect a big question to textual and network data through digital and computational analysis in order to propose a conclusion that connects to current scholarly and popular conversations about your topic.

Outcomes: What you will point to at the end of the semester


Synchronous meetings

Asynchronous work

For students on campus: optional in-person components replicate the asynchronous group work assigned to all students. More information will be provided in the instructions for these activities.

Time commitments this semester to meet those goals:

In terms of workload, Bowdoin asks for a minimum of 3 hours in class plus 9 hours of preparatory work, labs, discussion sections, film viewings, etc. for each course credit. Our estimates below of ~5-7 hours recognizes that completion time varies by student, with some additional work on the project likely, but also leaving time for office hour check-ins as necessary.

Weekly Journal Entry                        45 min.                 15% of the final grade

Conversational Python Activities                 45-90 min.                 20% of the final grade

Synchronous Meeting (1 per week)         80 min.                 10% of the final grade

Reading                                         60-90 min.                 Included below

Concept checks for the module                 30-60 min.                20% of the final grade

Projects & Project Development                 30-45 min.                 35% of the final grade

Schedule - Big Picture for the Semester

Week 1        Feb. 8-12        Module 1.1 Tech-Check and Introductions

Week 2        Feb. 15-19        Module 2.1 Artifacts

Week 3        Feb. 22-26        Module 2.2 Artifacts

4As Project: Artifact Section Due Feb. 28 at 11:59pm ET

Week 4        Mar. 1-5        Module 3.1 Architecture

Week 5        Mar. 8-12        Module 3.2 Architecture

4As Project: Architecture Section Due March 14 at 11:59pm ET

Week 6        Mar. 15-19        Module 3.3 Artifacts & Architecture

Week 7        Mar. 22-26        Module 4.1 Abstraction - asynchronous only

Week 8        Mar. 29-Apr.2        Module 4.2 Abstraction

Week 9        Apr. 5-9        Module 4.3 Abstraction

        4As Project: Abstraction Section Due April 11 at  11:59pm ET

Week 10        Apr. 12-16        Module 5.1 Agency

Week 11        Apr. 19-23        Module 5.2 Agency

        4As Project: Agency Section Due April 25 at  11:59pm ET

Week 12        Apr. 26-30        Module 6.1 Digital Analysis

4As Project: Optional Revisions Due May 1 at 11:59pm ET

Week 13        May 3-7        Module 6.2 Digital Analysis

Week 14        May 10-14        Module 7.1 4As Major Challenges

Week 15 + Reading Period        Digital Analysis Consultations (optional)

Finals Week                        Digital Analysis Project due at noon ET Monday, May 24

Schedule - Weekly Routine

1-2 days prior to class                Weekly Journal & Computational Python

Synchronous class meeting        Review the journal entry & Python activities before class

3 days after class                Reading & Concept Checks due at 11:59pm ET

Course Materials

Please contact the professors if there are any obstacles to accessing the course materials.

Terms & Conditions


One of the principal components of a DCS course is collaboration. However, you should always be clear on what part of the work you hand in is your own, what parts come from other sources, and what parts are collaborative. As a general rule, we distinguish between interacting with another student using any written medium (e.g. pencil and paper, email, looking at their code, screen sharing) and having broad discussions with them. Unless you work with another student in a group, you are not allowed to exchange information through a written medium with them or provide answers to activities such as problem sets through conversation. This is a zero-tolerance policy.

It is permissible to use materials available from other sources such as the Internet (understanding that you get no credit for using the work of others) as long as: 1) You acknowledge explicitly which aspects of your assignment were taken from other sources and what those sources are. 2) The materials are freely and legally available. 3) The material was not created by a student at Bowdoin as part of this or another course this year or in prior years. To be absolutely clear, if you turn in someone else's work you will not receive credit for it; on the other hand, if you acknowledge it, at least you will not violate the Honor Code. All write-ups, reviews, documentation and other written material must be original and may not be derived from other sources.

Grading Policies

Credit/D/F. DCS 1100 can be a requirement for the coordinate major and the minor in DCS. You retain the option to change your grading option to Credit/D/F until May 3 at 5pm EST. We would be glad to talk to you about this decision. For students planning a major or minor in DCS, you would then need to take DCS 1200 for a grade to satisfy the introductory course requirement. If taken for Credit/D/F, this course will not satisfy the MCSR distribution requirement.

Late work. This semester might go smoothly for us all or it might be full of surprises for everyone. If things feel out of control, prioritize the project work. Be a good community member first. We can work with you on timing of the individual responsibilities. Importantly: we can’t help if we don’t know what is going on. Please stay in touch!

Religious Holidays

Please be in touch with Profs. Hall and Nascimento as soon as possible if deadlines conflict with religious holidays. We will make course materials for the week available on Mondays to allow for flexibility when completing any activities, but the Monday night meeting at 7pm might conflict with Jewish High Holidays, for example.