Impact of New Information Resources: Multimedia and Networks (ILS 604, Winter 1996)


As new technology makes the shift from broadcasting to narrowcasting more feasible, how will people get their news, culture, and other information? This course examined past predictions, currently available online services, and future delivery mechanisms. During the course the class tracked the shifting alliances between the networks, the telecommunications companies, newspapers, and the entertainment industry. Attention was focused on a wide variety of aspects of the changing landscape: technological, public policy, indexing & access, marketing of services, social, cultural, etc.

The course content aimed to critically examine the new information landscape. It was essentially a communications course that examined new information likely to affect cultural institutions and everyday life from a variety of different social science perspectives: sociology, critical theory, public policy, communications theory, structuralism, political science, etc. Students learned about the new technologies and how they operate, but from the standpoint of a consumer, regulator, or social analyst rather than the standpoint of a technician.

Each student participated in a focus group which paid special attention to issues related to the course: public policy, technology and creative arts, dominant media views of new information technology, or the possibility of virtual communities (see Each of these groups met weekly and created and maintained an online news group, as well as a WWW page for their group. Students also created a Web page for themselves individually, reviewed a multimedia program (see, and did a major project or paper on some topic related to the class.

Because students in previous versions of this course put papers and focus groups sites up on the WWW, these became important readings and resources for students in the current term. And because distance-independent learning was a major innovation when the course was taught the previous year, this term we experimented with both audio-only and low-bandwidth audio-visual delivery of course content.

Project-based learning and collaborative work were both important pedogogical aspects of this class. Students maintained group Web sites and online discussion groups, gained experience working together to move and update a site, and read and commented upon each others' work.


The key course goal is to make students aware of the myriad of issues revolving around new information technology. Students should be able to delve beneath the hype surrounding the "information superhighway" and to intelligently and critically examine the new information landscape. A second course goal is to familiarize students with various aspects of new information technology, and help them to see what is involved in making things work.


* The Media Views focus group gave a weekly "CyberWatch Outrage of the Week" award to current media stories (, which has proven quite popular.

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