ENGL 632: Writing for Electronic Media
Syllabus, Spring 2011

COURSE DESCRIPTION

Engl 632 offers lectures, demonstration, discussion, and hands-on workshops examining the theory and practical applications of writing in a digital age. Special emphasis will be placed on the rhetorical conventions for online communication and the design of online information, particularly for professional settings. Course topics include strategies for designing effective websites, web style, identity online, Web 2.0 and social media applications, copyright and authorship issues, visual literacy for on-screen information, and collaborative online environments.

The broad goals for this class include:
  • Working with a range of existing and emerging technologies relevant to writing in a digital age.
  • Learning techniques to critically examine the impact technologies have on the manner and form in which we communicate.
  • Strengthening your writing and communication skills, specifically in terms of online audiences, information architecture, and web style.
  • Developing your ability to apply principles and theories to practical, hands-on projects.

REQUIRED TEXTS

  • Morville, Peter, and Louis Rosenfeld. Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. O'Reilly Media, 2006.
  • Redish, Janice (Ginny). Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works. Morgan Kaufmann/Elsevier, 2007.
  • Tapscott, Dan, and Anthony Williams. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. Penguin, 2010.
  • Additional readings as assigned.

TECHNOLOGY

For this class, all assignments will be composed digitally and submitted electronically. We will use a variety of different applications and tools this semester, most of which are freely available on the Internet. While this class does not teach advances use of specific tools and software, you will be introduced to a wide range of applications. At the outset of the class you are not expected to be expert users of any one application; rather the focus of your work as a technology user will be to remain open to learning new and unfamiliar tools and to take individual responsibility for researching and trying new tools. Assignments will ask that you think critically about the capabilities and limitations of different applications and the rhetorical implications of the technology.

Additionally, rather than requiring any one software for projects, I will ask that you select the tools that are most appropriate for your particular communication situation (and justify that choice). For your final web project, you will select which tool(s) will work best for your topic/audience/rhetorical situation. One goal in completing the project will be to become a more proficient user of the tool(s) of your choice. By the end of the semester, then, I expect that you will leave not only as more familiar with a variety of new and emerging digital technologies, but also as better writers/communicators in a digital age.

A note on technology and privacy: All course materials will be posted to our class wiki. All of our online discussion will take place there and some of your writing will be posted there. The class wiki is a public space. While you can (and probably should) choose to shield your identity with the use of an online pseudonym, remember that the wiki is open for anyone to access and read. In addition, much of your writing for the course will appear online in a public space. Never forget that anyone can read what you post there.

ASSIGNMENTS

I. Class Wiki. You will be asked to participate on our class wiki. At a minimum, you should participate in two ways:
1) Weekly Contribution. Each week you will participate by contributing to the class wiki by editing existing content, adding new content, and/or organizing content. To begin, I will assign specific tasks. Contributions may be related to any aspect of the course, but should make a direct connection to an assigned reading or class discussion topic for that week. Your contributions should be made by the end of the day on Tuesday of each week, so that everyone has an opportunity to view by Wednesday evening’s class.

2) “App of the Week” Pages. On the week that you are asked to demonstrate your “app of the week” to the class, you will create, write, and publish a new page on your topic to the class wiki. The page should be a summary of your class presentation. However, this page should also work as a stand-alone page; that is, it should be understandable for someone reading who has not attended your class presentation. The page might include an overview of the application and how it can be used, a demonstration of how to use it for specific purposes (using appropriate visual aids), and links to additional information. Your audience for this writing will be other graduate students interested in digital writing who have no prior knowledge of the application.

II. “App of the Week” Demonstration. During many weeks this semester two or three students will present on an assigned web application used for writing in digital environments (e.g., Flickr, YouTube, ManyEyes, WordPress, Creative Commons, etc.). Your presentation will take place during our lab time (the second half of the class period) and should be scheduled for 30-40 minutes. The purpose of this presentation is to introduce the application to novices, those who have never before seen the application. You should describe what the application is and what a writer/educator/communicator can use it for. You should then walk the class through a demonstration of using the application. You should focus specifically on the rhetorical purposes and implications of the technology for writers.

This presentation will require a fairly extensive amount of research on your part. You will need to research what the technology is on a very basic level and its uses by writers, in addition to its basic features. Approach the presentation as you would a research paper, allowing enough time to conduct your research before planning what you will say about the topic. It is not enough to walk your fellow class members through setting up an account. Rather, you should get them thinking about how this application might serve them well as writers and how they might choose to use it in their final media projects. Feel free to cite relevant academic and professional sources and websites.

Rather than relying on handouts during your presentation, you can create a page on our class wiki to share with audience members. See the previous section for information on what your wiki page might contain.

III. Website Analysis Paper. For this paper, you should choose a website (professional, commercial, organizational, or educational) to review, and analyze. You should select this site fairly early in the semester. Websites today often do not remain static and require an extended time to examine, review, and understand. Once you choose a website, you should follow it for several weeks to note any changing content. Be sure to make screen captures of the site to account for any changes that occur during this time. After following and reviewing the site, you will write a 4-6 page double-spaced paper that applies digital rhetoric or writing theory to the site. Your paper should show how the theories and strategies we’ve been reading and discussing help us to understand the site’s rhetorical functions and reader-writer participation in it. The paper should use at least 4 sources, which should be drawn from assigned material from class and/or academic articles and/or books you’ve found on your own. Follow MLA format properly in your use and citation of sources.
In your paper
  • Provide an overview of the site, its purpose, and intended audience in a paragraph or two.
  • Discuss aspects of the site’s information architecture, design, and/or writing that are especially effective or ineffective for the audience(s) and purpose.
  • Use as many of the strategies and principles listed in the class readings as you can, and cite your sources correctly using MLA format.
  • Conclude with a paragraph or two that addresses the implications of your analysis. To do so, you can outline how you would revise the site, or explain how you would apply these same strategies, tips, and principles in creating your own digital content (perhaps in your final media project).
  • Cite all your sources on a Works Cited page using MLA format.

IV. Proposal, Final Web Project, and Class Presentation. The final outcome of this course will be a digital media project of your own design and execution. You should begin by identifying a client or situation or topic for which you will create the project. You will select an appropriate media format, and the applications that can be used to create the project in that format, based on the rhetorical goals of your project. The project need not be a website, though this is an option, but could also be a podcast, video, blog, or wiki. You will want to choose a technology that you are at least familiar with or that might suit your future needs, but you need not be proficient with the technology at the start of the project. The completion of the project will allow you an opportunity to become a more advanced user of the technology.

This project is broken down into three parts.
1) Proposal. In 2-4 double-spaced pages,
  • Identify and analyze the audience/users of the project;
  • Describe the intended purpose and goals of the final outcome for its intended users;
  • Explain the learning goals of the project for yourself as a writer;
  • Discuss your technology selection and justification;
  • Outline the site structure/information architecture plan for the project.

2) Media project. The requirements for your project will depend on the format/media you choose to work in. For instance, if designing a website, you could plan to create a site with at least 6 pages of content. If creating a podcast or video, you might plan for 10 minutes of material. If writing a blog, your project might include daily posts for four weeks, in addition to linking to and posting on others’ blogs, tagging, and networking. If creating a wiki, you might plan to write 4,000 words of content spread out over several pages, with appropriate use of categories and tags. These requirements and parameters will be worked out on an individual basis during the proposal process. The general requirements for your project are to learn a technology that will suit a current or future need, to think critically about the rhetorical implications of that technology, to strategize and carry out a communication plan that responds to the unique demands of writing online, and to create a project that would be appropriate in content and quality to include in a professional portfolio. Upon completion, the final project should publicly accessible and fully functioning online.

3) Reflection paper and presentation. After developing the project, you will write a 4-6 page double-spaced reflection paper that explains the thinking that went behind it. You should bring in sources from class and/or your own research for the paper. The paper will serve as the basis for a final presentation to the class. In the paper, provide (and not necessarily in this order)
  • A description of the key features of the site, tied to discussion of the users’ needs and impetus for the project
  • An overview of the resources, including people, texts, web pages, etc. that you consulted to create the project
  • A rationale for the design, content, and organizational decisions you made in creating the project
  • An overview of the skills, design principles, and theories you used when creating this project
  • Any questions remaining or lessons learned or other reflections upon completion of the work.

GRADING

ASSIGNMENT
WEIGHT
Class Wiki and Discussion Forum
10%
App of the Week Demonstration
10%
Website Analysis Paper
20%
Proposal for Final Web Project
10%
Final Web Project
30%
Reflection Paper and Presentation of Final Web Project
10%
Class Participation
10%

ATTENDANCE

You are expected to attend every class session this semester. If you must miss class, you should try to contact me before the time the class meets so I can give you an idea of what we are doing in class that day and what you should do to prepare for the next class. Please find someone in class who can take notes for you. Each class missed may affect your participation grade.

PARTICIPATION AND CLASS CONDUCT

You are expected to be an active contributor to class during each class session. Your contributions should include participation in class discussion and all activities. Your participation grade will be based not only on how often you contribute during class (quantity), but also how prepared you are for discussion of readings and for class activities (quality). Please come to class prepared to engage in-depth with readings, discussion forum postings, and other assigned material.
During class discussions and in your writings this semester, you are expected to treat others with the same respect you would like them to grant you. This pertains to your treatment of other class members as well as the audiences you write for and the people you write about. Please listen and consider carefully others’ ideas and, even when you disagree, respond respectfully.

PLAGIARISM

The writing you submit for this class should be your original work and should have been prepared specifically for this class. You are expected to appropriately cite work that you have quoted or referenced, borrowed from others, or produced in collaboration with others. Do not claim as your own work that has been produced by someone else. Plagiarism will result in a failing grade for the project or for the course.

DEADLINES AND LATE PAPERS

No late projects, homework assignments, presentations, or exams will be accepted without first arranging for an extension ahead of time.
Note well: In order to pass the course, you must complete all assignments.

SPECIAL ACCOMMODATIONS

As required by Section 504 or the Rehabilitation Act, appropriate accommodations will be made for all students with documented disabilities. If you have a disability, requiring accommodation in this course, please notify me as soon as possible. This information will be kept confidential. Further information is available from the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) office on the 4th floor of the University Health Services Building, or at 753-1303.