About this Class

This class is a brand-new Digital Studies elective at the University of Mary Washington. This website – hosted in Github pages – is intended to provide information and coordination for students. It is, of course, also open here for anyone to browse, examine, or adapt this content.

This page is also officially the syllabus for this class.


WhatDGST 301A: Creative Coding
When10:00 - 10:50, MWF
WhereHCC 328
WhoDr. Zach Whalen, _Combs 308: Tuesday 9:00 - 11:00, Tuesday/Thursday 1:00 - 4:00_


“Creative Coding” means doing interesting things with computers by writing instructions that make the computer create something. In this class, that something will be poetry, literature, graphic art, music, and anything else you can think of to make it create. We will look at the history of these genres for the ways artists have experimented with code, but this class will emphasize producing original creative work. No prior experience with programming is required, and to some extent, this class may serve as a general introduction to programming — with the caveat that the things you learn how to make for this class will be rigorously impractical. That said, a basic comfort level with code and generally getting along with avant-garde poetics may be helpful. Primarily, we’ll be making things with Processing and P5.js. This class is an elective for the Communication and Digital Studies Major or the Minor in Digital Studies.

Learning Outcomes

It is my hope that, by completing this course, successful students will:

  • Be able to speak about their creative work critically, both process and product.
  • Reflect on the value of the creative process.
  • Evaluate and select appropriate digital tools, programming languages, and composition methods to accomplish their creative goals.
  • Reflect on and evaluate creative digital work by others, including both peers in the class as well as in society.


There is one required book for this class, Virtual Muse: Experiments in Computer Poetry. (1996) by Charles O. Hartmann, but many more helpful things are listed on the resources page.

You should bring a laptop to class every day.


For this class, I am implementing an “ungrading” policy. I will give students feedback on work submitted, and note when it has been completed and submitted, but it will be up to each student to make an argument on their own behalf to justify the final grade that they think they’ve earned by the end of the semester.

Each project will have a list of criteria and goals, and a student must satisfy all of those criteria (or propose and complete reasonable alternatives) and participate in peer workshops in order for that project to be considered “complete.”


Students should use the outomes listed above and the relative weights for each assignment listed below when making their final grade justification.

AssignmentRelative Weight
Projects (7)50%
Final Portfolio20%


Participation is an important part of this class, so it’s listed as 30% of your overall grade. Here’s what I mean by participation:

  • Be in class every day, on time, ready to work on the material at hand
  • Use Slack to keep up to date with your peers, share your work, and give feedback to others
  • Complete and share in-class activities and short homework “mini-projects” in class or in Slack
  • Participate fully and actively in all peer review workshops
  • Commit yourself to knowing and at least getting along with everyone else in the class
  • Avoid behavior in class or in Slack that would distract others or alienate their participation in any way


You’ll be working with Github quite a bit this semester, and you should also create a blog that you’ll use to share and reflect on your projects. Unless otherwise specified, a completed project should consist of:

  • Some code you’ve shared in Github
  • A sample of your output
  • A blog entry describing your process, reflecting on the outcome, and linking to your code in Github

When all this is done, share your blog post in Slack, and submit it in Canvas.

Policies and Expectations

Technology in the Classroom

You are welcome to use computers during class, including tablets, smartphones, whatever — so long as what you’re doing isn’t distracting to someone else. I simply ask you to be responsible. Proper uses may include taking notes, reviewing the reading material, looking up something related, working on a project for class, or participating in a constructive backchannel conversation such as Slack or Twitter. Improper uses may include watching movies, and working on homework assignments for other classes. If what you’re doing is a distraction to me or others, I may ask you to stop.


Students are expected to treat the instructor and fellow students with the appropriate degree of respect, both in class and in online discussions. Communication, either in person or through electronic media, that is deemed abusive, threatening, or harassing in nature will not be tolerated.


Through the course of this semester, we may look at a wide array of content including literature, film, comics, television, memes, and any manner of things that people post on the Internet. It is possible that some of this material may be disturbing, offensive, or upsetting, possibly including subject matter or themes related to race, sexuality or violence. For certain conversations to take place, it is sometimes important that we grapple with these things, and I will always treat all such material with appropriate maturity and as much clarity as possible. I expect you to do the same. However, if you find for some reason that discussing a particular text is too upsetting or traumatic, it is reasonable to excuse yourself from that discussion.

Status of Student Work

Much of the work you’ll be creating for my class will be posted online and, therefore, shared with a public audience. Some of the work may also be shared with others in the class via a closed system like Slack. Wherever possible, we will discuss and think carefully about the divide between public and private sharing and when to post what, where. All grades and feedback will be in Canvas or some other private medium, only accessible by you and me.

Academic Dishonesty

The UMW Honor System is in effect for our course. I may authorize specific assignments as collaborative work, but all other work must be your own, as per Article 1, Sections 1 and 2 of the University of Mary Washington Student Honor Code. Academic dishonesty typically boils down to taking credit for someone else’s work. Whether you’ve done so accidentally or maliciously, it’s still an honor violation. Some examples include:

  • Including a quote in a blog post without identifying the source of that quote
  • Using an image in a blog post without permission from its copyright holder
  • Asking another student to “edit” your paper for you
  • Creating a blog entry or essay that is mostly quotes, even properly attributed quotes

Using code and snippets from others is acceptable when those snippets are shared with amenable licenses (such as MIT) or in a platform where copying is expected, like Stackoverflow. You should still acknowledge those sources in your source code or in discussions of your work.

Disability Resources

The Office of Disability Resources has been designated by the University as the primary office to guide, counsel, and assist students with disabilities. If you have a disability that you think will make some part of this class difficult, please get in touch with ODR to help coordinate your accommodations. Please make an appointment with me, and bring your accommodation letter with you to the appointment. I will hold any information you share with me in the strictest confidence unless you give me permission to do otherwise.

The Office of Disability Resources has a website, or their phone number is 540-654-1266.

Title IX

University of Mary Washington faculty are committed to supporting students and upholding the University’s Policy on Sexual and Gender Based Harassment and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence. Under Title IX and this Policy, discrimination based upon sex or gender is prohibited. If you experience an incident of sex or gender-based discrimination, we encourage you to report it. While you may talk to me, understand that as a “Responsible Employee” of the University, I MUST report to UMW’s Title IX Coordinator what you share. If you wish to speak to someone confidentially, please contact the below confidential resources. They can connect you with support services and help you explore your options. You may also seek assistance from UMW’s Title IX Coordinator. Please visit http://diversity.umw.edu/title-ix/ to view UMW’s Policy on Sexual and Gender Based Harassment and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence and to find further information on support and resources.


Because this site is hosted in Github, and because it’s the norm in Github to add a license to any work you share here, this syllabus and related class material is hereby licensed under with a CC-BY Creative Commons “Attribution” license.

Code samples and snippets related to this class are shared with an MIT License unless otherwise specified.

This site uses Jekyll and the Minimal Mistakes theme, which is also MIT Licensed.