LMC 3314: Technologies of Representation: Data

T/Th 3-4:15pm, Clough Commons 129

Click here to download the syllabus, but remember that the online course schedule will be more up to date.

Office Hours: Thursdays 2-3pm, Skiles 359 (and by appointment)

Course Prerequisites: ENGL 1102

Core Area: Humanities

Course Description

Data has been called “the new oil,” a comparison that emphasizes how data functions as the raw material that drives the digital economy—and, consequently, much of twenty-first century life. But unlike oil, data does not exist in a natural state. Even before a dataset is first collected, it is influenced by people—often with social and political agendas of their own. This course thus examines how information becomes data, in terms of its technical requirements as well as in terms of the social and political contexts that surround it. Through a series of examples, accompanied by readings from the emerging field of data studies, we will explore the significance of data, past and present. We will also explore how visualization has been employed in order to enhance data’s social, political, and rhetorical force. We will work towards final projects focused on visualizations of Georgia state data, using the recently rediscovered visualizations of W.E.B. Du Bois as our point of departure. Through classroom discussion, lab exercises, and several guest lectures, we will emerge with a deeper understanding of the power of data, as well as its constraints. 

Learning Outcomes

  • Students will learn to read, analyze, and interpret not only cultural projects such as film, literature, art, and new media, but also scientific and technical documents;
  • They will become familiar with a variety of social, political, and philosophical theories and be able to apply those theories to creative and scientific texts, as well as to their own cultural observations;
  • They will create digital artifacts with an awareness of history, audience, and context;
  • They will work effectively in teams to accomplish a common goal; and
  • They will communicate information and ideas to a range of audiences.

Required Course Materials

Required readings (if not online) are posted on Canvas.

List of Graded Assignments

Your grade for the course will be calculated as follows:

  • Participation and quizzes: 10%
  • Blogging assignments: 25%
  • Midterm project: 25%
  • Final project: 40%

This chart of grading characteristics, adapted from criteria developed by Professor Mark Sample of Davidson College, describes the general rubric I employ when evaluating student work:

A Exceptional. The work is focused, and coherently integrates examples with explanations and analysis. The work demonstrates awareness of its implications and/or limitations, and it considers multiple perspectives when appropriate. The work reflects in-depth engagement with the topic.
B         Satisfactory. The work is reasonably focused, with explanations and/or analysis that derive from specific examples. Fewer connections are made between ideas, however, and while new insights are offered, they are not fully developed. The work reflects moderate engagement with the topic.
C Underdeveloped. The work is mostly description or summary, without consideration of alternative perspectives, and few connections are made between ideas. The work reflects passing engagement with the topic.
D Limited. The work is unfocused, or simply rehashes previous comments, and displays no evidence of student engagement with the topic.
F No Credit. The work is missing or consists of one or two disconnected sentences/links/etc.

Description of Graded Assignments

Reading Assignments

You will be reading a wide range of texts—some written clearly, some more dense; some short, some long. Because these texts will inform our classroom discussions—and what you, in particular, have to contribute—it is absolutely essential that you stay on top of the reading assignments and complete them before the start of each class. Reading assignments are assessed through classroom participation, as well as the occasional quiz.

Blogging Assignments

In effort to stimulate classroom discussion, as well as to allow you to introduce new material into the course, we will employ an innovative format for class blogging. During the second week of the course, I will divide the class into four blogging groups. Each blogging group will rotate through the following roles (also developed by Mark Sample of Denison College):

First Readers: This is akin to the standard blog post assignment: a 250-500 word response to the week’s materials. There are a number of ways to approach the “first reader” response: to consider the week’s material in relation to its historical or theoretical context; to write about an aspect of the week’s material that you don’t understand, or that you don’t agree with; to formulate an insightful question or two about the material and then attempt to answer your own question; or another line of inquiry of your own choice. First readers are responsible for posting their response to the class blog 24 hours BEFORE the class meets.

Respondents: Students in this group build upon, disagree with, or clarify the first readers’ posts. Respondents are required to comment on at least two posts, in comments of around (or longer than) a short paragraph. Comments are due by midnight on the night BEFORE the class meets.

Searchers: Students in this group find and share at least one relevant online resource (broadly conceived), and are responsible for providing a short (i.e. 250 word) evaluation of the resource, highlighting what makes it relevant to the class. Due by midnight on the night BEFORE the class meets.

The fourth group has the week off.

At the completion of each cycle, you will receive a letter grade on the basis of your contributions. Students seeking additional feedback on their blogging assignments should schedule a meeting with the professor during her office hours.


In addition to the assignments described above, you will be completing two formal projects. The form of the midterm assignment is straightforward: a written analysis of a dataset in terms of the concepts and issues discussed in the course thus far. The final project is more open-ended: you will be creating a data visualization that conveys a specific social or political message (or other rhetorical argument). As part of the project, you will also be required to submit a written analysis that explains the rationale behind your visualization, with reference to the concepts and issues discussed in the course. The visualization portion of the final project can be conducted in groups of up to three people, but the analysis must be submitted individually, regardless of group size.

Specific information about each project will be distributed no later than two weeks before the due date.

Attendance, Punctuality, and Late/Skipped Assignments

You are allowed three excused absences, no questions asked. However, you are responsible for finding out what was discussed in the course on any days that you miss; I do not provide copies of lecture notes.

Beginning with the fourth absence, your overall course grade will be lowered by a half letter grade (e.g. B to B-) for each unexcused absence.

Please be respectful to your fellow students and arrive on time. If you arrive more than 15 minutes late, you will be considered absent for that class. If you absolutely must miss a class meeting, please contact me at least 24 hours in advance in order to make alternate arrangements.

All assignments are mandatory. Should you submit an assignment after the due date, your grade for that assignment will decrease by a half letter grade for each day that it is late (e.g. B becomes B-). Should you fail to submit an assignment entirely, you will receive an F on that assignment and consequently, a lower grade for the course. Should you need an extension, please contact me in advance to discuss your situation.

ADAPTS Contact Information

Students with disabilities should self-report to ADAPTS at:

Smithgall Student Services Building, Suite 220

Phone: (404) 894-2564 / TTD: (404) 894-1664

Email: adaptsinfo@gatech.edu


Writing Support

The Georgia Tech communication center, CommLab, provides professional and peer tutors to work with you to improve your writing skills. More information, including instructions for how to set up an appointment via the website, is available here:

Clough Learning Commons

Phone: (404) 894-3805

Email: commlab@gatech.edu


Honor Code Statement

Plagiarism is an extremely serious offense. Any evidence of plagiarism will result in an F on the assignment and possibly in the course, as well as potential disciplinary action. For more information, please refer to the definition of “academic misconduct” included in the Georgia Tech honor code, available online at:


If you are unsure as to what constitutes plagiarism, please contact me before submitting your assignment.