ENGL 4169/5169: Web Content Writing

fall 2008
Prof M C Morgan
HS 314 | 755 2814
Office Hours: M - R 9:00 - 9:50 Other hours by appointment.
mmorgan at bemidjistate dot edu

Course url: http://biro.bemidjistate.edu/webdesignwiki/

Texts
Required
If you haven't taken ENGL 4170/5170: Web Design

Course Statement

This course gives you the opportunity to gain experience in writing and editing content for web sites based on rhetorical principles. It's a course designed to help you develop both hands-on skills in writing for the web and larger rhetorical strategies for web site content creation.

The course focuses on rhetorical situations and circumstances particular to writing for the web (such as differences from print in reading and audience relations) and the rhetorical affordances for addressing those circumstances (web design, web page layout, textual elements such as headings and lists, links).

That is, writing web content is significantly - not trivially - different than writing for print. The capabilities and demands of web readers and web sites make possible - and necessary - changes in writing from the level of the sentence up to the level of the document.

Goals

The course won't necessarily make you an expert in web content writing but it does give you a chance to practice writing web content so that

Focus on Content

The course takes a content- and user-centered approach to web writing. That is, we start with content and the reader's position and make rhetorical choices from there.

And this is a studio course: dominantly hands-on, centered on a web project, with some editing exercises, discussions, and oral critiques.

Projects

The first couple of weeks of the course, we'll figure out what project or projects to take on. As a class, or as two or three large groups. you will design and develop a new web site, or re-design and re-write an existing site. Last year, this course has revised the English Department site, rewriting most of the material for the site. We're looking for a similar kind of project for this semester.

What's nice about working in a larger group is that you can play to different strengths and interests in the group. And professionally, web design and web writing is a group effort. This course gives you practice in that effort.

Exercises, discussion, and quizzes maybe

To introduce new concepts, to broaden the range of opportunities, and to let you experiment a little, I'll be giving you some exercises in writing and recasting web text, drawn from principles and practices in Letting Go of the Words. The exercises can open up our discussion on strategies and complications in addressing rhetorical situations on the web.

Typically, a course might use quizzes and tests to determine your mastery of practices and concepts. Instead, as is appropriate in a workshop, I will ask you to demonstrate a growing mastery of the concepts behind the practice by talking about your work, and the work of others.

I may, for instance, ask you to draw on Letting Go of the Words to discuss why you made the choices you did in placing and labeling links on a page. Or I may ask you to discuss how else you might shorten the main text of a page and deal with the necessary supplemental material.

Expect to be asked in class, on the fly, about writing and design choices you (and your group, if you're working in groups) have made. When you are asked, don't panic. It doesn't mean you have made poor choices. Take your time, think, consider, and do your best to explain your course of thinking. Ground your choices in the principles we're working with. Ask others to help you out. Let others help you out. Look for alternatives.

I may give one or two short quizzes during the course. If I do, I'll mention it in advance. But more often, I will expect you to be able to use the terms and concepts introduced as part of this class to consider and discuss whatever it is we're working on at the time.

All the activities for the course - the project, the editing exercises, the discussions - are designed to give you opportunities not only to learn the practice, the how-to, but to develop and refine your understanding of the rhetorical strategies and principles behind the practice.

Experimentation

While what we do in class builds from fundamentals, I encourage you to experiment. Because we're working in groups and in a classroom environment, we can try things out, consider and discuss and text how they work - or not - and change them as necessary.

Learning Dreamweaver

Most of what happens in web design does not happen using Dreamweaver, or Photoshop, or Flash. And in the same way, much of what you'll be doing in this class will take place in the field, in groups, often using paper and Post It notes and notecards and whiteboards, as well as the wiki and email.

But we'll be putting the sites on the web using Dreamweaver.

We'll use a programmed text: Essentials of Adobe Dreamweaver CS3. Those who have already worked through this text in ENGL 4170: Web Design are set - although you may want to review chapters as we go and keep it around for reference.

Those who haven't worked through the text will need to. Each week, you'll be expected to work through three chapters. I'll ask you to print out and hand in evidence of your work for that week. I'll let you know each week what you'll need to hand in. Those who are already familiar with the text and Dreamweaver will start us off on the site project for the course; by the time it comes to creating your own site in the second half of the course, you'll be ready.

Using a programmed text means you can learn Dreamweaver on your own time at your own pace on your platform of choice. It means we don't have to use time in class learning tedious practices that are best learned slowly and individually. It means you can go over the modules as often as you like. It means that you can probably share a text.

The programmed text is pretty good. The modules build from chapter to chapter, taking you from basic moves of creating and linking pages through advanced page design, templates, drop down menus, rollovers, and cascading style sheets: all the technical matters you'll need to be familiar with to design and update a site. The programmed text will help you learn Dreamweaver better than I could.

You could rush your way through the Dreamweaver text. Please don't. If you know Dreamweaver well, it will be just that much easier to move through the text, and I'd bet you're going to learn a few things that will make you more productive with Dreamweaver. I don't expect you to master Dreamweaver - although you're welcome to if you like. But I will - and your group will - expect you to know the topics the programmed text covers well enough to contribute to your project.

Images and Other Web Technologies

If necessary, we will cover how to prepare original content images - scans and digital photos - for the web, using Photoshop CS3. We have a scanner and a digital camera available in the classroom, and many of you already own digital cameras.

Although you are welcome to explore the following technologies on your own, we will not be covering them in class, nor do you need to know about them.

The Web Design and Content Writing Wiki

We'll use a wiki to support the practices and procedures in this course.

Grad Student Requirements

As grad students, you are expected to demonstrate more mastery of the concepts we're working with, be more forward in offering your input grounded in those concepts, and take on leadership in groups. We'll discuss further grad requirements for projects and exercises as we approach them. My advice: Get out in front.

Due Dates and Preparedness

The class moves quickly. And because this is a studio class, you'll be expected to have materials ready and with you to work on when you come to class. Since you will be able to work anywhere you have a computer, online or off, you should have little difficulty being prepared.

Assignments are due on time, please. Late projects and assignments will loose a full grade for every day they are late. If you don't submit the materials at all, I'll subtract the points from your final total.

Attendance

This is a workshop course. So after the first few weeks, many class sessions will be group work sessions. I want to keep course meetings flexible. Some days, we might meet for ten minutes, then scatter. Other days, we might not need to meet as a class, although the room will be open and I'll be available. We'll decide how to proceed as we go. We will touch base at least once each week, and attendance at these meetings will count towards your final grade.

So plan on being in class when it is scheduled, and on time, please. Missing 4 scheduled classes will cut into your final grade. Miss 6 - that's 3 weeks of class - and I'll ask you to drop.

You may be making group presentations during the course, mainly to get comments and feedback from others. You'll have plenty of time to prepare, and we'll discuss what to prepare in advance.

Assessment and Grading

Your grades on the project - and your final grade - will reflect both your work on the writing and your understanding of the principles on which you base your choices. While the project will demonstrate that you can do something, in-class critiques, exercises, and in-class discussions demonstrate your understanding of the content writing principles on which you grounded your choices.

Understanding of principle is just as important as practice - even more so when you confront a novel situation.

All work must be completed to receive a final grade for the course. But here's the way grading will work out - subject to change. I may adjust the number of points on some of the projects.

Cutoffs
90% = A
80% = B
70% = C
60% = D
below 60% = E

A final word: Learning is about going past what you've done before, even setting aside something you're comfortable with, and trying something new, something you haven't seen before, and thinking about why and how it works - or doesn't. The course gives you that opportunity. Take it.

I may revise this syllabus during the semester if needed. I will inform you of any revisions and mark them in the syllabus.


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