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Mini online course The documentary in the digital realm

Contents of the course

The question, ″What is documentary?″ is already quite challenging to answer. When we delve into the realm of ″the documentary PLUS the digital,″ it becomes even more complex. In recent years, with the ongoing transformation of media and digitalization, new audiovisual documentary practices have emerged, particularly participatory, networked forms of doing documentary. These practices hold significant (inter)cultural potential, enabling active engagement in discourse, carrying substantial socio-political relevance, and offering fresh opportunities for various academic fields.

This online course is dedicated to exploring these novel phenomena and current trends. It places these shifts in documentary practices within their broader context and engages in discussions about different perspectives. A particular emphasis is placed on the potential of participation and interaction in networked|networking documentary in the digital realm, along with its capacity to facilitate the navigation and creation of complex knowledge ecosystems. Throughout this course, we′ll bring together insights from documentary film theory, new media studies, and various disciplines, with a particular focus on concepts like ′process′ and ′performativity′ to analyze paradigm shifts. So, let′s leave the the linear world of documentary filmmaking behind us and venture into the emerging domain of ″the documentary in the digital!″

Aims of the course

The aims of the course are

  • to provide basic knowledge on the most important scientific theories on the documentary – especially the documentary in digital – and on digital media cultures;
  • to present central methods and approaches of research in the field of documentary in the digital realm;
  • to discuss aesthetic representational concepts of non-fictional interactive storytelling and their possibility for interaction, participation and co-creation
  • to give insights into the complex knowledge ecologies currently emerging in the digital realm.

The online course can be used in face-to-face teaching in a blended learning setting, i.e. as an accompaniment and extension to lectures and in seminars; however, self-study is also possible with the help of the course. As a supplement to teaching, it provides a basic structure and relieves the burden on the classroom lectures by clearly conveying factual knowledge. This – as well as impulse questions and reflection tasks – can create space for a more in-depth discussion of content.

Particular emphasis is placed on audiovisual evidence – on simple, vivid access to the thematic material. All too often, documentary practices in the digital realm are characterised by their ephemerality. Therefore, this course also serves as a dynamic snapshot of the currently differentiating spectrum (mind the oxymoron!). Material that may be difficult to find or unfamiliar to students will be contextually integrated ′just a click′ away. Interactivity and interaction, the active participation of students in the per se interactive online medium, are encouraged. The maxime of ′learning by doing′ comes to live.


After an introduction to central issues, the course approaches the topic in three major theoretical blocks, which correspond to the three prisms of consideration of the that we propose here:

  • the prism of the documentary,
  • the prism of the digital (which can be broadly understood as ′new media studies′ or approaches to the study of digital cultures).
  • and the prism of performance.

After a brief outline of what constitutes ′the documentary in general′, ′documentary practices in the digital in special′ and what significance various dimensions of the interactive play in this context, we turn to transformations and specifics of i-docs – from pluri-linear or non-linear narration to various dimensions of interactivity, interaction, participation and the documentary as intervention. In the process, various hybridisation tendencies and documentary practices at the ′edge of the spectrum of the documentary′ are taken into account as well as ′classics′ of i-docs – if one can speak of ′classics′ in the case of an emerging genre. Thus, the overlap of current practices of documentary with digital journalism and the expansion of the documentary nexus in the course of gamification will be discussed, but also projects from the field of VR non-fiction will be presented; works on the borderline of artistic research will find out attention as well as activist-interventionist projects; and last but not least, YOU as users (or user-interactors) of the course will be invited again and again to explore the spectrum yourself through impulse and reflection tasks according to your individual focus of interest.

Finally, the significance of ′the documentary in the digital′ in different areas of digital cultures will be worked out, what socio-cultural relevance documentary practices have in terms of media participation, what contribution they can make theoretically to the interactive and participatory mediation and negotiation of complex issues, and how this has been realised in practice so far.

Methodology – or: The ′how-to′ – how to make this online course work best for you

This online course has a modular structure. It comprises three lessons. These are divided into individual four units, each of them focusing on sub-aspects. In some units, additional material such as screencasts or video essays are integrated, which go into specific aspects more in depth, and at the end of the lessons, further bonus material deepens some key ideas of the lessons even further.

The modular structure of this course allows user to work through lessons either in sequence or to picked out individual elements. This is particularly relevant for you if you are not a student of media studies, for example, but are studying ethnology, anthropology, sociology, political science, etc., and are interested in auto-documentary practices or digital ethnography, for example, or in forms of non-linear narration and the logic of non-fictional hypertext narratives, or in interventionist practices of the documentary and media-initiated transformation processes or…

Each unit ends with a self-test, which is also evaluated immediately and provides automated feedback as to your progress. Here you can check your understanding and, if necessary, refresh the contents of the unit. The self-tests are not assessed and can be repeated as often as you like.

Additionally, each unit contains impulses between the theory blocks that invite you to reflect on content and that often also lead directly to documentary projects. They can serve you as a basis for in-depth discussion in the face-to-face teaching in the seminar. In this way, space is created here to actively promote exchange, as pure factual teaching has already been outsourced to self-study. The same applies to the reflection tasks at the end of the units: These are open questions without automated feedback can be given. They are also intended as a stimulus for individual reflection or discussion in the group.

Finally, an extensive bibliography at the end of each unit allows you to delve deeper into publications on the topic – and, if the works have been published in open access, these are also linked directly.