Prof. Paul Schacht
SUNY Geneseo,

Prof. Debra Schleef
University of Mary Washington,
Intentional Sociology (blog)

Class sessions

Monday and Wednesday, 1:00-2:15 EST

Office hours (Zoom)

Prof. Schacht: Monday/Wednesday 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. EST and by appointment. Either way, you should reserve a time slot for our meeting.

Prof. Schleef: Monday/Wednesday, 3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. EST and by appointment

What we’ll study

In this course, we’ll try to understand contemporary intentional communities — what drives them, how they work, what obstacles they must overcome — not only by reading about them but by looking at specific communities in depth. We’ll also work to develop digital skills necessary Each pair of students will locate an intentional community near where they live, make contact with its members, and learn about its history, values, accomplishments, and challenges. In pairs, you’ll build individual project websites that chronicle what you learn.

What you’ll learn

In this course, you’ll demonstrate:

  • The ability to use digital tools effectively for research, data analysis, document preservation, visualization, collaboration, and communication
  • The ability to think critically and convey the results of critical thinking through written and oral presentation
  • Historical and critical understanding of community as a concept, including an understanding of how community happens in both physical and online settings, including our own setting as an online course
  • Historical and critical understanding of the examined life as it relates to environmental and community sustainability

What we’ll read

There’s only one text you need to buy for this course: Erik Reece’s Utopia Drive: A Road Trip Through America’s Most Radical Idea, which you can purchase in a print or Kindle edition from Amazon. Other required readings are available online and appear in the syllabus as assignments.

In addition to the required readings, we recommend you look at Kat Kinkade, Is it Utopia Yet?, Douglas Stevenson, Out to Change the World: The Evolution of the Farm, and the variety of books and other resources available through the Fellowship of Intentional Communities.

Tools you’ll need

To participate in this course, you’ll need to have a computer — laptop or desktop — in good working order. It’s your responsibility to keep it working and to make timely repairs or find a replacement as necessary. Your phone and a tablet are helpful additions but won’t take the place of an actual computer.

In addition, you’ll need to run a few software applications (Zoom for video conferencing, Slack for class communications), blog using WordPress, and sign up with the services and platforms below:

Depending on the nature of your project, you may need to using other types of software and sign up for other accounts.

What’s expected of you

You’re expected to:

  • Attend all class sessions or view recordings of sessions that you miss
  • Meet with your instructors online as needed/required, read all assigned texts, and participate in class
  • Work collaboratively, cooperatively, responsibly, and respectfully with your project partner
  • Treat your fellow students and your instructors with empathy and respect
  • Read all assigned material before each class
  • Participate actively in face-to-face and online discussions
  • Complete all assignments, including blog posts, project drafts, and your final project, by their due dates
  • Develop self-reliance in finding answers to questions, but ask for help if the answers elude you
  • Monitor the class communication channels (Slack, email, blogs) and be timely in responding to communications from your instructors and peers
  • Keep your computer in good working order and your software up to date

A word about WordPress

Website-building and blogging lie at the heart of this course, so you should invest some time in understanding the relationship among the several different sites we’ll use and how they’re architected by WordPress, the open-source website-building and blogging platform.

You’re reading this syllabus on our course website at Our course website will be the hub for all our interactions this semester and the world’s window into our activity. It’s public. Anyone in the world with a computer and an internet connection can read it. (Unless, of course, a government or other entity has blocked it).

We also have a separate project website, This site will be the hub through which the world will access your finished projects.

Each of your projects will live on a site at the address<your_institution_name>. Visitors will be able to reach it through our project website.

Finally, each of you will blog in real time about your discoveries, insights, breakthroughs, and technological achievements as well as your disappointments, failures, frustrations (with the course material and tools – not each other, please!) and dead ends at a site with the address<your_last_name>. Visitors will be able to reach your personal blog through the course website, which will aggregate snippets from everyone’s posts on a single page, with links to “read more” on your personal blogs themselves.

It’s a bit dizzying, but it will all make sense once the course is underway, and you’ll get lots of help! (Getting stuck and unstuck with WordPress is one thing you can blog about.) As you work in the two sites under your own control, remember two things: (1) Presenting research on the web requires you to think hard about how you organize your information and guide visitors through it, and (2) Writing for the web requires you to think hard about who your audience is and what tone to adopt in speaking to them.

Your project

You and your team partner will use your project website at<your_institution_name> to present the research you’ll do on either a physical intentional community in your geographic area or an online community you’d like to investigate. Whether you investigate a physical community or an online one, you’ll be expected to gather, organize, analyze, and present information through a combination of reading and personal outreach to community members. Early in the course, your team will develop a project contract stipulating such matters as the project’s name, description, and goals; who’s responsible for what; which digital tools you’ll be using in addition to WordPress; and project milestones with completion dates.

Your team website must be completed by November 29, 2017.

Presentations and papers

Starting in Week 8, you’ll each give the class a weekly status update on your project work in our Zoom meeting. You’ll alternate between short (3-5 minute) updates and longer, more detailed ones. At the end of the semester, you’ll each give an 8-10 minute public presentation on your project.

Your final blogpost for the semester will be a comprehensive reflection on your project: the fruits of your research and your engagement with digital scholarship this semester. It should be about 500 words.

Accommodations for students with disabilities

We’re committed to making this course and related activities accessible to persons with documented disabilities. If you receive services through your Office of Disability Resources and require accommodations for this class, please speak with us as soon as possible to discuss your approved accommodation needs. We’ll need a copy of your accommodation letter. We’ll hold any information you share with us in the strictest confidence unless you give us permission to do otherwise.


You’ll be asked to complete one survey before the beginning of the semester and another at the end. They’re for information-gathering only and will have nothing to do with your grade in the course.


  • Participation (blogging, responding to classmates’ blog posts, and other interactive assignments): 50%
  • Project: contract, interim steps, final project and final presentation (50%)

We want you to succeed in this course. Fulfill the spirit of it, actively engage with your instructors and your peers, complete all assignments on time, take your research seriously, and present your results carefully and thoughtfully, and you’ll do well. We are never looking to “take off points” for mistakes or omissions. But we do care about the quality of your work. And so should you.

We’ll transmit the final grade to the instructor of record for this course at your institution, and that person will enter your grade using an independent study option at your home campus.

Course Schedule

Subject to change until course launch date: August 28, 2017

Week 1: Becoming a digital scholar

Meetings: 8/28, 8/30


Course introduction: review of syllabus, introduction to WordPress,, The Readers' Thoreau


Thinking about community

Read and annotate (at least one annotation per page):

Explore: Century America Projects

Week 2: What makes a community?

Meeting: 9/6

Theories of community formation and social organization


Discuss: What types of intentional communities are there?

Blog: What type of community do I want to study, and how? What have I learned so far?

Week 3: What's an archive?

Meetings: 9/11, 9/13



  • Reece, "Nonesuch," "The New Creation"
  • Rheingold, Chapters 9-10

Discuss: Initial project ideas


How to conduct research in real and virtual archives: Preparing to visit an archive, how to talk to archivists, online archives and repositories.

Websites to review before Wednesday:

(NB: There are many other excellent digital repositories. You will find these collections, however, to be a very useful starting point.They will almost certainly help you in future research projects too!)

Blogging assignments for Wednesday and Friday

For Wednesday: Write a short blogpost about our class as a new and developing community. How do some of the concepts, concerns, and issues that we've read about and discussed apply to our own situation as a group attempting to operate as a virtual community?

For Friday: Visit your library's archive and, if possible, meet with your library's archivist. Write a short blogpost about sources you're finding that might be helpful to your project.

Week 4: What sustains community?

Meetings: 9/18, 9/20


Read: Reece, "A Beautiful Failure," "A Simple Act of Moral Commerce"


Read: Reece, "How Should People Live," "Hunger Not to Have but to Be"


Post to your blog by the end of the day on Friday. Here are some suggestions for topics to write on. Your post doesn't have to be long, and if you have a burning passion to write on some topic other than those listed here, go for it! The important thing is to write.

  • Make a connection between the community you're researching and one of the communities we've read about in Reece. Is there an issue related to, say, governance, equity, civility, or motivation described in Reece that has also been faced by the community you're studying?
  • Make a connection between the communities we've read about in Reece and the principles posed by the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. How do you think the Federation's present-day principles might have evolved out of the experience of the 19th-century communities?
  • Of the communities we've read about in Reece, do you have a preference? Write about your preference and explain the reasons for it.
  • Has reading about the communities in Reece made you ask yourself a question about either the principles underlying intentional communities or the practical problems they have to solve? Share your question and explain why your reading gave rise to it.
  • What do you think Robert Owen and Josiah Warren would be like as citizens of an online community? Does one of them seem more in tune with the spirit of virtual communities as they're described by Rheingold? Which? Why?
Week 5: Doing more with WordPress

Meetings: 9/25, 9/27


Read and annotate:

Discuss: Digitization, copyright, and other image-related issues: Introduction to fair use, Creative Commons; how to ask nicely for permissions; how to cite properly – especially for a website!


Read and annotate: Walden, “Economy,” paragraph 71 - Complemental Verses. Find another passage that you can connect to any idea you like in Reece's book. Compare passages, and include a link to your first passage in this second one. Finally, reply to a classmate’s first or second comment.

Activities: Mapping and timeline tools: Timeline JS, StoryMap JS. Have a preliminary timeline on your community to work with.

Week 6: Contracts due

Meetings: 10/2, 10/4


No readings



  • Sosis, “Religion and Intragroup Cooperation: Preliminary Results of a Comparative Analysis of Utopian Communities”
  • Kanter, “Commitment and Communities”
Week 7: Workshop on audience

Meeting: 10/9, 10/11



  • Walden, “Where I Lived and What I Lived For”. Find a passage that speaks to the idea of sustainability and leave a comment.
  • Reece, "Some Heartbreak, Much Happiness"

Discuss: Identifying, targeting, and writing for an audience



  • Reece, "What If?"
  • Thoreau, "Resistance to Civil Government".
  • Leave a comment on a passage that connects with ideas about government you've encountered in Reece's book.

Week 8: Audio and video editing

Meeting: 10/18

Introduction to Audacity, iMovie

Week 9: Project updates

Meeting: 10/25

Share project progress.

Week 10: Project updates

Meeting: 11/1

Share project progress.

Week 11: Project updates

Meeting: 11/8

Weeks 12-14: Peer review of updates


  • 11/15
  • 11/20
  • 11/29

Rough draft of project due 11/15. Be prepared to guide the rest of us through your project site and to offer constructive criticism to peers after they do the same.

Week 15: Final presentations

Meetings: 12/4, 12/6

Final presentations.