Online Identity, Group and Community Behavior (Winter 2011-12)

Course Syllabus

instructor information

Professor: Elizabeth Lane Lawley
Office: 70-2545
Phone: 585-598-4947
Email: ell at mail dot rit dot edu
Office Hours: Mon 1-3, Tues 2-4

textbooks and readings

All readings for this class will be available online; there is no textbook to purchase. Check the readings section of this site for the specific weekly readings, and make sure you've completed the week's readings before class that week.

course description

This course introduces students to the expanding body of research and popular writing on online identity, social and community behavior and its application to the development of new online communities and social software tools. Students will create their own prototypes for online communities and/or software tools, will participate in and evaluate existing online environments.

course goals and objectives

The goal of this course is to provide an overview of existing research in identity and social behavior in the context of online communities, and to critically examine existing social computing contexts.

At the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Identify and describe influential research and researchers in the fields of identity and social computing
  • Identify, describe, and critically analyze current online social and community environments


The only prerequisite for this class is graduate standing, and a willingness to do reading, research, and writing on a graduate level.


Grades will be based on the following, all of which are discussed in more detail in the assignments section of this site:

  • Class Participation: 20%
    This is a graduate seminar, and as such, much of our class meeting time will be spent discussing the week's topic and readings--both in class and online. I expect you to come to class prepared, having read and thought about the assigned readings for the week.
  • Weekly Reviews: 20%
    You will need to choose one of the readings assigned each week to review. You will also need to find and review at least one additional reading on one of the topics for that week..
  • Midterm Exam: 20%
    The midterm will be a take-home essay question exam. I will hand out the midterm exam in class on week 5, and you will have one week to complete it.
  • Design document for a proposed online community site: 40%
    Your final project for the class will be a design document outlining an online community with a specific target audience, and a storyboard prototype for that site. It could be a community site to support an online game, a neighborhood site, a political action site, or any number of other possible community implementations. I would prefer that you work in teams of 2 or 3, but if you would prefer to work independently that is also acceptable.

This is a graduate class, and as such, I expect students to put forth graduate-quality work. If the work you do in the class is good, you will receive an A. If the work you do is of poor quality, you will receive a C. If you consistently fail to turn in work, or turn in work that is of unacceptable quality, you will receive an F. I do not assign Bs or Ds in graduate classes.

academic honesty policy

Please review the IT department and RIT policies on academic dishonesty.

I will not tolerate plagiarism of any kind in this class. Students who are found to have plagiarized material will be failed not just for the assignment, but for the entire class (and will not be allowed to withdraw).

If you're uncertain as to what constitutes plagiarism, I strongly encourage you to review any or all of these resources:

grading guidelines

Here are my expectations for your written work:

For an "A":

Has a clearly identifiable, original, insightful thesis. Uses primary source evidence beyond the required readings to support key points being made. Good integration of quoted materials into the work. Does not simply reiterate points made in readings, but provides original and well-reasoned responses and commentary on the question posed. All ideas flow logically, with a clearly identifiable logic and structure. Counter-arguments are anticipated and addressed. Grammar and syntax and spelling are excellent.

For a "B":

Has a somewhat unclear or unoriginal thesis. Structure is generally clear and appropriate, but some transitions may be unclear or lacking strong topic sentences. Uses primary source evidence to support ideas, but without going beyond the materials assigned for the class. Some insightful connections to outside evidence are provided. Argument clearly laid out and supported, but coutner arguments may not be fully addressed. Grammar, syntax, and spelling are good but some errors may be evident.

For a "C":

Has an unclear or unoriginal thesis; may simply restate obvious points from the readings. Structure is unclear, with confusing transitions and weak arguments. Limited use of supporting examples. Quotes not well integrated into text. Limited or no original argument, overly simplistic view of content. Noticeable errors in grammar, syntax, and spelling.

A Failing Grade (F):

Shows obviously minimal lack of effort or comprehension of the assignment. Very difficult to understand owing to major problems with mechanics, structure, and analysis.

(drawn in part from Paul Halsall's Fordham University grading rubric.)