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This is an old revision of CourseStatement made by MorganAdmin on 2012-08-17 07:40:55.



Technological developments ... are constantly evolving, putting users under constant pressure to adapt their language to the demands of new contexts, and giving them fresh opportunities to interact in novel ways. David Crystal, Language and the Internet.

What happens rhetorically when the traditional barriers to publishing are lowered? Voices that haven't been heard are now heard. Language use that has been kept to the side comes to the front. How we value exchange and communication changes. In a continuous act of creativity, people adapt and discover rhetorical strategies to adapt the technologies to what they want to say and do.

Remember that millions of people have been taught to use a different form of English from yours, including different spellings, grammatical constructions, and punctuation. Wikipedia:Manual of Style

txtin iz messin,
mi headn'me englis,
try2rite essays,
they all come out txtis.
gran not plsed w/letters shes getn,
swears i wrote better
b4 comin2uni.
&she's african
Hetty Hughes, winner of Guardian Text Poetry Prize, 2001

The Elements of E-Rhetoric

Course Statement 3.1 August 2012
ENGL 3179/5179: Elements of Electronic Rhetoric

M C Morgan
HS 314 | 755 2814
Office hours: M W 12:00 - 1:00, T R 1:15 - 2:00. Other times by appointment

Course addresses

Prerequisite: Completion of ENGL 1151 and ENGL 2152, or permission of instructor.


Technological developments create new situations for using language, new ways of using language, and new varieties of language use: new possibilities of expression, new means of persuasion and communication. Under the pressure of technological and cultural change, writing changes - from the stuffiest of academic essays to the most languid and informal personal note. New forms are invented, and existing forms are adapted to new contexts. New ways and means of communicating appear. New modes. New media. New customs of writing. New practices.

New media makes possible - and demands - new rhetorical practices - changes ranging from sentence structure, usage, and punctuation to document structure, argument patterns, and genres. Consider how language is used in these practices:

All of thes are new forms and modes of writing and new spaces for writing, and so new places where rhetorical practices change and expand beyond outside of in ways other than print.

The expansion of linguistic, stylistic, and rhetorical possibilities in digital media is applauded by some, reduced to marketing formulas by others (Be Pithy! Be Brief! Be Real! scream the editors of Wired Style), and condemned by many as The Downfall of Language and Civilization As We Know It. (Evidence? Set this article from the NY Times about corporate email against this 1999 article on the Strunkenwhite Virus).

But a closer look suggests that books like Wired Style don't offer much beyond repeated Do's and Dont's. Not so much a guide to the territory as a couple of snapshots and Keep Off the Grass signs. Not so much descriptive observations about practices as editorial dictates posing as Rules. The same kind of stuff that the typewriter-based, classroom-encompassed Strunk and White Elements of Style offers up.

With new technologies and new media, people create new ways of writing, communicating, expressing themselves, and persuading others. Cell phone users - people practiced in no more than everyday literacy - devise SMS shorthand for efficiency of expression in 160 characters. Students taking online courses learn how to engage in online dialogues with colleagues, which means unlearning monologic practices that serve them well in the face to face classroom. Facebook and LinkedIn provide new social spaces - online student unions and professional conference hotspots - where people hang out, socialize, make contact, make apparently trivial conversation, exchange ideas, engage in public dialogue. Weblogs and wikis, and sites like Flickr and YouTube, lower the barrier to local and global communication and allow new voices to be heard, new images to be seen - and those voices don't all speak the Standard Dialect. Wikipedia challenges the ideas of the authoritative text created by experts and filtered by editors. But it also demands changes in writing (Use NPOV) and makes necessary changes in the way we read.

Spam, promotional email, and web sites are using new methods and technologies to persuade drive-thru-readers that The Truth is out there, and that you can have it, today! in sixty seconds and a set of bullet-points, just for Signing Up with Us. Organizations - schools and universities, governments, corporations, churches have stumbled on digital ways of communicating with their constituencies and are finding that they need to change their traditional rhetorical relationships with those constituencies. It's not a One-Way, One-to-Many channel anymore. The audience isn't a just a consumer anymore but a producer as well - a role that challenges the textbook conception of audience as a target to shoot at. The new audience remixes what rhetors create. The new audience shoots back.

New social software > New practices: tagging and folksonomies on and > New professional practices. My university office is a wiki now and and I'm obligated to keep a blog and stay active on Twitter and Google+ because I teach this stuff.

There is a lot to look at, closely. There is a lot to talk about. There is a lot of work to be done.

A definition

The art and science of creating and analyzing "messages that rely on verbal and nonverbal symbols that more or less intentionally influence social attitudes, values, beliefs, and actions." (Stoner and Perkins, 6).

And so e-rhetoric (or digital rhetoric)
The art and science of creating and analyzing "messages that rely on verbal and nonverbal symbols that more or less intentionally influence social attitudes, values, beliefs, and actions" as those messages are created, delivered, and function in digital media.

Course description

Elements of E-Rhetoric focuses on current and evolving stylistic, linguistic, and rhetorical strategies in online and digital communications. The course explores online writing and pushes the edges of theory and practice. Rather than looking at the style books and The Rules, we'll investigate the rhetorical principles behind the prescriptive do's and dont's - and look at those principles as they operate in their social, situated conditions.

What do you stand to gain? I hope that you might come to a better understanding of how we adapt language to new situations and new media; and, even more, I hope you become more adept at adapting yourself.

Focus on the rhetorical

In this class, we're taking a rhetorical perspective on e-media. Rhetorical study is not an introspective, intuitive, quiet study. It's methodical, self-conscious, and grounded in noisy practice. It involves observing, analyzing, and interpreting forces and phenomena and people and situations in the social world as they play out in practice. Rhetoric focuses our attention on the social, the situated, the contingent, the probable, the particular - and how rhetors (that's anyone when we write, speak, txt, point a camera, create a tag) make choices to address and change particular situations.

A rhetorical focus means we take a different perspective on writing and ask different questions than you might be familiar with. A rhetorical focus is a focus on how messages work. Not so much on what a message means because most of the time the meaning is pretty obvious once it's seen. That is, we're not looking at personal meanings ("What this poem means to me is...") but public, shared meaning, meaning that both writer and reader invest in and employ rhetorical resources to create: the writer in creating the message and the reader in interpreting that message. A rhetorical focus address the larger rhetorical situation rather than looking on one aspect of it. A rhetorical focus demands that we take a step back from the text we're looking at, and work with the text from outside the rhetorical situation, rather than from a reader's impression or a gut reaction. And a rhetorical focus means we sideline intent, because messages typically mean and operate in ways rhetors don't necessarily intend.

The questions we're addressing are

Examples of a rhetorical orientation

Rather than simply noting about a web page, "The dominant color on the page is blue, which is calming and peaceful..." (this is pocketbook psychology-speak) we ask the further questions, "How does the color blue work on this particular web page? Is it there to create some association with others? Does it attempt to create credibility? And what blue is this, anyway? Sky blue? Blue water? IBM Big Blue?"

Or rather than simply noting, "This email sounds just like my friend speaking," we step outside the immediate rhetorical situation of you and your friend to ask further. "What's going on in the writing to make the email read like a) a person positioning the reading audience as a friend, and b) speaking rather than writing?"

The portrait above was considered remarkably life-like in its day, as the artist, Memling, used oil pigments to create a highly detailed yet smooth surface. Casual observers tend to remark that "Memling has captured the inner life of the sitter - his calmness, his faith." But in taking a rhetorical focus, we step out of the literary and into the realm of technique to consider how Memling used his knowledge of light, shade, setting, pigment, form, texture, composition, and stroke to persuade viewers that the representation on canvas is a metonymic representation of a person's consciousness. See this.

Our work with these questions will be social, grounded, specific, particular. And we will not come to any final, absolute conclusions about them. But we can develop some insights, illuminate matters. And that's enough.

Analytical Method means notes

This course is an introduction to some of the methods of rhetorical analysis and criticism. We'll practice a set of analytical methods to help us focus on what we don't see as much as on what what we do see. Analysis doesn't occur by pure introspection; it isn't all in the mind. Analysis proceeds by material means, means such as

So, expect to take lots of notes on paper and online. Expect to make lists and diagrams. Expect face to face and computer mediated collaboration based on those notes, lists, and diagrams. Expect to work in pairs and groups to develop ideas.

In-Class presentation

Even though our day to day activity in this course is grounded in analytical procedures, I won't be asking you to write academic essays as an outcome. Instead, you'll be asked to present what you have discovered about the rhetoric of the medium you're studying, in class, to the class. That will require preparation, of course, but you'll have access to your notes and materials in preparing and presenting.

A survey course

Expertise is not the purpose of this course. You will not become an expert in web design, web content writing, blogging, podcasting, or whatever media we study. But the course will help you get your rhetorical bearings and to push beyond the obvious, the codified, the well-known, the already-habitual, the already-comfortable, the seemingly natural. It gives you a chance to gain an intimacy with the landscape, and an intimacy with an analytical method. Hopefully - and while this is your responsibility, I'll do my best to make it possible - you'll gain in insight into your self as a user and creator of media.

The wiki

Most of the writing we all do for this course will end up on the wiki. Notes, notes on notes, my comments, more notes, group notes and projects. As the course progresses, you'll find that we can begin to link up these nodes, developing them into topics, and further developing topics over the semester and across semesters. The wiki becomes more valuable (to us, to the next group, and to whomever looks in) the more we develop topics over time.

Writing the wiki is an integral part of this course and your learning for this course. As your notes progress, you will begin, I hope, to cross link to the notes and observations of others. University students and professors are now in the business of making their course work in progress available to those interested; it's another new rhetorical practice of digital space.

The policies

This is a workshop course. The trendy term is a flipped course, if you follow trendy terms. I won't be lecturing so much as you'll be doing things in class. This means that you have to be prepared and be here, on time, for the full time, and on task.

We'll make the most of our time together. Be on time, be prepared, and expect to stay the entire class time. Late arrival is a miss.

Things come up, so if you must miss a class, let me know asap. Email or phone my office. To find out what you missed, refer to the wiki and talk to your classmates, not me.

Missing more than four classes will likely affect your final grade. If you miss six, I will ask you to drop.

Do the reading and the writing for the class before the class. (That's how flipped classes work.) The ideas are probably new to you, so if you have questions, bring them to the class so we can review the material. To make preparing easier, I'll generally ask you to post notes on your reading to the wiki so we can review what you have.

Don't squander your time trying to catch up with the concepts during class. If you're not prepared - if you haven't read the material - you will not be able to successfully engage in class exercises and discussions.

General considerations
Please be considerate of others in class. When you're here, you're on task.

Online writing and projects
Much of the writing you do for this course - notes, charts, notes, projects, notes - will be used in class. It's a workshop, after all. Work, online or on paper, is due on time. You will have plenty of lead time. I'll take note of late and missing work. If you're not done, submit what you have anyway so others can work with it. It's always better to turn in something rather than nothing.

Responses to and evaluation of projects will take place in class. If you don't have a presentation done the class day it is due, you miss that evaluation, which will cut into your grade - and the value of your evaluation - for the project. Again, it's best to present or turn in what you have rather than coming to the evaluation empty-handed.

I'll evaluate your work on your notes for a project when you submit the presentation.

Feedback on notes
As I suggested above, note-taking (rather than lecture and essay test) is the primary way you will be learning about e-rhetoric in this course. This means that note-taking is important to your success - that is, your grade - in this class.

While I will be reading much of what you post on line, I won't be commenting on everything. My job in commenting on your notes is to help you practice and master the analytical methods of this class, analytical methods that under gird many classes and most disciplines. So for notes, I'll do three things:

In some cases, I will ask you to structure your notes in particular ways. You might, for instance, be asked to use headings to organize your notes, observations under Description and analysis under Analysis. This request isn't frivolous. It allows me to see not just that you understand but how you understand what you're doing. (It's better than using a quiz or exam.)

You'll will also get feedback on your notes from your colleagues. And because notes are generally posted on line, you will be able to see how others approach the problem.

Final grading tries to balance mastering method (in note-taking and other assignments) with synthesis of knowledge (by means of presentations). Points come from your writing: there are no tests or quizzes. My rough cut is this:

As the course progresses, I may adjust the balance between notes and presentations if this plan doesn't reflect what's happening in class. Right now, I'm considering three projects of 300 points each, for a total of 900 points. The total number of points may increase.

Final grades will follow the usual scale.

Revisions of notes and presentations
Notes can always be revised during a project, and I would suggest you do so as you learn method. Once a project is finished, however, don't bother revising your notes. Move on.

We'll see how presentations and projects go. Sometimes they don't work as expected. If a revision is warranted (that is, if by revising a project, something can be learned, better articulated, better understood), you'll have the opportunity to revise.

Intellectual endeavor is work.... Academic work goes side by side with the work of life.... [And] Work is always meaningful, it is a sign of who the person working is.... Kress, Literacy in the New Media Age.

You do not become someone else when you work in an analytical framework. The practice may be different, but you aren't. And traces of who you are - of what and how you think and see and understand the world - appear in the work you do, just as those traces appear in everything you do.

Requirements for Grad Students

Overall, grad students are expected to go into more depth, more detail, and bring more insight to our work and class sessions. They should lead and guide and focus. There may be extra readings for grad students on some topics. You should draw these readings into your notes and projects.

Early in the semester, I will meet with the grad students to discuss grad requirements. Here are two I've considered and we have used in the past.

Option 1: Class project reports
During project presentations, grad students will spend time getting an overview of the projects and will submit (on the wiki) a 1000 - 1500 word or so analysis and interpretation of the collection of projects, and their project's place in that collection. This can be informally written - you're addressing the class - but should move from analysis towards interpretation. As a grad student, it's your role to help us all see what the larger picture might mean.

Option 2: Class exercise and presentation
Teach the class for a week. Starting with a rhetorical issue from the text, put together two class sessions. In the first, present and have an exercise we engage. In the second, lead a consideration of what we did. Topics might include: presentation of identity, reading, ethos, invention; or you may address and work with a mode or media: follksonomy, YouTube, rss news aggregators... Prepare a short report on what you did and how it went.

This statement is subject to change. You'll be informed if I do change it, and changes will be marked on the statement.

This document can be made available in alternate formats. Contact the Office for Students with Disabilities at 755-3883.

below the line

!!!! Catalogue Description
An introduction to the principles of applied rhetoric integrated with continued writing experience. Students investigate email, web page and site design, online discussion, wikis, and weblogs. Introduces fundamentals of hypertext. Students create and analyze online texts and exchanges. Computer-intensive. Prerequisite(s): Completion of ENGL 1101 and ENGL 1102. Credits: 3

This course is part of the minor in Electronic Writing, and part of the Undergraduate and Grad Certificate in Electronic Writing. Other courses in the series are

- ENGL 4170/5170 Web Design for Content Writers
- ENGL 3530/5530: Teaching Writing with Technology

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