ENGL 3177/5177: Weblogs and Wikis

Course Statement v. 2.3 Spring 2007

M C Morgan
HS 314 | 755 2814
mmorgan@bemidjistate.edu mmorgan@bemidjistate.edu
Office hours: M T W R 9:00 - 10:00. Other times by appointment

Course addresses

Prerequisite: Completion of ENGL 1101 and 1102, or permission of instructor.
Note: This course does not fulfill the Language Competency for Masters of Arts.

Other readings provided by the instructor

See also SupplementalReadings | WikiReadingsForCourse | BlogReadingsForCourse


Inthe beginning, c. 1989, the inventor of the WorldWideWeb, Tim Berners-Lee had a vision for it:
When I proposed the Web in 1989, the driving force I had in mind was communication through shared knowledge and the driving "market" for it was collaboration among people at work and at home. By building a hypertext Web, a group of people of whatever size could easily express themselves, quickly acquire and convey knowledge, overcome misunderstandings, and reduce duplication of effort. This would give people in a group a new power to build something together. Weaving the Web, 162.

It was difficult - and tedious, and expensive - to create pages for the original Web. Although Berners-Lee had created a browser that would also allow users to create and edit pages, it was not widely distributed. And soon after the Web went public, the Internet went commercial and money interests bulldozed individual interests: There would be Content Creators, and there would be Customers. The commercial Web appeared interactive, but only in a limited sense. You could click, you could buy, but you weren't invited to create. Creation on the Web remained limited to those with money and technical expertise. But Berners-Lee envisioned not only interactivity but intercreativity.
[M]y definition of interactive includes not just the ability to choose, but the ability to create. We ought to be able not only to find any kind of document on the Web, but also to create any kind of document, easily. We should be able not only to follow links, but to create them - between all sorts of media. We should be able not only to interact with other people, but to create with other people.... If interactivity is not just sitting there passively in from of a display screen, then intercreativity is not just sitting there in front of something interactive 169.

From 1989 to 1999, interest in collaborative tools and the Web as a collaborative environment remained low key and relatively unseen. But development was going on where the Internet was invented: at the universities. The kind of web Berners-Lee envisioned - one of "communication through shared knowledge" - began to surface in 1995 with the design of wiki wiki webs, and in 1999 or 2000 (dates vary) with the advent of easily accessible web logs.
Web logs are chronologically organized spaces where writers post daily news, thoughts, lives, observations, considerations, images, urls - and connect with others. Some blogs are the work of a single author, others are collective or collaborative. They can be designed to create a community, or to place a personality - a star author - at center. While their use as personal online diaries has been highlighted by the press, weblogs were at first used to post links to and comments on interesting sites on the web. But weblogs have also gone pro and are now used to support print, tv, film, and radio, and for professional and academic projects, as witnessed by Abject Learning, CultureCat, or The Lodge.
Wikis are hypertextual writing spaces - entire web sites written and structured by their users on the fly, from the inside out, without the need for web design software or uploading. Like blogs, wikis can be the effort of an individual, but many are collaborative, welcoming all comers to the constant building and rebuilding of the site. The bottom of each wiki page suggests, "Edit This Page." Wikis make possible - and encourage - notebooks and collaborative writing projects, community projects, communally written encyclopedias, and technical assistance and help sites. But they can also be used for essays, collective hypertext short stories and novels. See, for instance Wikipedia, but also WikiFish, IAWiki, Open Guide to London, and WikiHow.

Most recently, weblogs and wiks have been rolled into the genre of social software: software that "enables people to rendezvous, connect or collaborate through computer-mediated communication" Wikipedia as of 18 Jan 2007). Other social software includes del.icio.us (social bookmarking), flickr (photo sharing and tagging), Google Documents, rss feeds, as well as Amazon reviews, Wikipedia, Facebook and MySpace, IM - but you know about all those ... The shift towards social intercreativity is being called Web 2.0 by the technorati and marketeers. Web2Point0 is creating new conceptions of reading, writing, and publishing, as well as new ways of working together online and by distance. But it's also calling into question matters of authority and expertise. Weblogs and wikis lower the bar to publication - the bar that traditionally has separated the amateurs from the experts - and (arguably) makes everyone who has access to the net a writer | editor | publisher | scholar | journalist | pundit | expert. Wikis and weblogs - as social, collaborative hypertextual writing spaces - open textual intercreativity that we haven't seen before. And new kinds of writing emerge, new genres, new purposes for writing, new writer-audience relations, new ends, new social relations.

Web2Point0 also marks the point where blogging and wiki writing - blog and wiki use, management, and publishing - have gone pro. Professionals and scholars in all fields are now using social software to do their work intercreatively; businesses are using weblogs and wikis to interact directly with their customers and clients (much to the chagrin of print-based marketing people); professional writers and journalists are being called on to write for blogs and to manage wikis and other social content; and freelancers - who have been involved in blogging and wikis from the very start - are becoming more and more visible.

This course gives us the intercreative opportunity to explore (meaning work with, investigate, test, actively consider, reflect on) these two writing spaces while they are in their early, formative stages. The course - part seminar, part workshop - is a collective effort to push boundaries, not just to practice a craft but to invent practices and theory.

Course Outline

We'll start the course by getting oriented: setting up a blog, getting used to writing on a wiki, and by reading and discussing some current ideas on blogs and wikis. We'll meet face to face for the first four or five weeks of the class. During this time, we'll visit some blogs and wikis and talk about what conventions are available, what writers are doing, and what else is possible. We'll take the time to develop blogging habits and practices.

During this time, I'll set up an ongoing collaborative wiki project. Everybody will be contributing to this project periodically throughout the semester. I'll have more details for you when the time is ripe.

This first f2f section of the course (our last meeting will probably be late February) will culminate in writing a proposal for the project you'll be undertaking for the remainder of the course. We'll brainstorm some ideas for the projects in a few weeks. But a project might be a straightforward as keeping a blog for 10 weeks, or developing a small (15 - 20 - 30 node) wiki notebook on a subject of interest. Or it might be as complex as coordinating the writing of a collective hypertext shortstory, essay, play, or scholarly or professional paper. Your project needs to be something that you can engage in for the rest of the semester, it needs to suit the media you've chosen to work in, and you need to take the time to define it fairly well in your proposal, but the project is pretty open.

We won't meet f2f for the following four or five weeks, until just after Spring Break. Instead, you'll have your blog or wiki project to work on, as well as the collaborative wiki project.

But to keep us together as a group, we'll have a weekly writing schedule to work to. There are a few activities that we'll draw from:

I'll post these activities every other week, probably on Fridays or Sundays. They will be due a week later. I will comment on and assign points to this work.

The week of March 19 or 26 (that's about mid-term, the week after break) we'll meet f2f again a few times to compare notes, sort out any difficulties, see where everyone is with their projects. Then, we're back to blogging and wikiwriting, bi-weekly readings and responses, and studio tours.

You'll be finishing up your projects about a week before the end of the semester. For the end of the class, you'll compose an extended reflection - a write-up - on what you did and what you found. This reflection might be

Near the end of the semester (roughly April 16 - 25), we'll again meet f2f. During the last few weeks of class (April 27 - May 9), you'll present your project and your reflection to the class in a seminar to great acclaim and applause. Generally, people present a draft of their final-write up during class and get some feedback. They then develop the write-up in detail. The final write-up for your project will be due during finals week.

I'll work with the grad students to define their further requirements for the project.


Behind the course is one main idea: the technology we use to read and write influences what and how we read and write, and those changes can be profound.

Commenting and Grading

The idea in this course is to give you experience in writing with wikis and blogs, to get a larger feel for what it's like, what can be done, what else can be done, and what that doing - and the media themselves - can come to mean. So, in grading, I'm not going to focus on style, technique or manner appropriate to the medium, beyond the most general guides. As the course progresses, I'll give you feedback on your writing, but mainly focused on possibilities rather than prescriptions. I won't comment or grade individual entries you make on your blog or wiki; rather, I'll try to make general comments on directions and possibilities.

For assigned writing, I may comment on your reading responses or work on WritingTheWikiProject and on your studio tours: I may ask for more, give advice, make suggestions, and the like.

Typically, you'll contract for points, based on your engagement with the assignment. You'll say how many points you're working for, and if you fulfill the contract, you get the points.

For the WritingTheWikiProject, the scale might look like this:
And extra points for being the first to edit and the last to edit before midnight Sunday by the wiki clock

Generally, I assign what you contract for - unless it's way off the mark. But what I'm looking at is

The Project

Your project is also a contract for grade. That is, you set the points you intended on earning by defining the project. Here's the cut:

(The point breaks are absolute, by the way. You contract for 500 - 750 - 1000, not "something between 650 - 800.")

Again, the criteria for evaluation involve
You can contract for 500 and still earn 750, or contract for 750 and earn 1000. Surprise yourself.

Here's a rough, preliminary assignment of points, subject to change.


Be here and be here on time.

Our face to face class time is compressed into six weeks; and we cover significant material in class through presentation and discussion that you will need to know and will find valuable. Missing even one class can mean missing a lot, so it's to your advantage to be here when we meet face to face. Missing more than three classes (that's a week out of six weeks) will cut into your final grade. If you miss five, you should drop.

Grad Student Requirements for Project

Your project must be negotiated for 750 or 1000 points, and your presentation and project report will include background reading based on readings for the course and your own reading. The reading can be web-based or print; and can include other blogs and / or wikis. Submit a preliminary bibliography with your project proposal, including sites you plan on looking at and how you see them tying in with what you're doing in the project.

Your presentation should be a little longer and more detailed than the undergraduate presentations: 15 - 20 minutes. You should draw more on and connect more to outside readings and blogs. Attempt to place your work and your blog or wiki in the context of the work of others.

Meeting Out of Class

Even though we aren't meeting formally for part of the class - when our interaction moves to the web - I'd encourage you to meet informally to

As well, I'll keep regular office hours to look at what we're doing online. Don't be a stranger.

Responsibility for Words

There's an old saw on the internet:
You own your own words.

Your writing for this class - both on your blog and on the wiki - will be published and accessible to the world as soon as you place it on line: That's the moment you hit Publish or Save. In any university course, you are legally and ethically responsible for your own words (slanderous and libelous writing, writing in violation of copyright, and plagiarism, are not protected by academic freedom). In the same way, you are legally responsible for what you write in this course. Publish something slanderous, or plagiarize someone - republish their words or images without giving them credit or, in some cases, getting permission - and you could get an email from a lawyer.

I cannot vet wiki postings as they are made. But if I receive a complaint of contentious material on a wiki, I will remove it immediately. I cannot control what you publish on your blog. You're on your own there.

You do not have carte blanche to publish whatever you wish. The law is changing, but if you have doubts on whether what you are publishing is legal, don't publish it. I will post links to more specific legal information as I find them.

* Electronic Frontier Foundation
* Chilling Effects Clearinghouse
* Standford Center for Internet and Society (And their front page is a blog.)
* Free Speech - Virtually: Legal Constraints on Web Journals, Washington Post, Dec 19, 2002.
* [BSU Computing Policies ]

- Summary

Rough Calendar: Subject to change
Revised Feb 14 2007

This syllabus is subject to change with notification.
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