ENGL 3177/5177: Weblogs and Wikis

Course Statement v. 3.0 Spring 2010
 (image: http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1433/1418460473_3dace2a19a_m.jpg)
My blog on an iPhone JamFactory on Flickr
A blog ... will always be seen as the sum of writing, layout, connections and links, and tempo. Jill Walker Rettberg, Blogging.

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.

  • Blogging, Jill Walker Rettberg. UK: polity, 2008. Amazon, $17.95
  • Wikis for Dummies, Woods and Thoeny. US: Wiley, 2007. Amazon, $16.49.

Others of interest
  • Blood, Rebecca, The Weblog Handbook. [np]: Perseus, 2001.
  • Mader, Stuart. Wikipatterns. Wiley, 2008.
  • Rosenberg, Scott. Say Everything. New York: Crown Publishers, 2009.
  • Sagola, Dom. 140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form. New Jersey: Wiley, 2009. http://140characters.com
  • Bruns, Axel. Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond. New York: Peter Lang, 2008.
  • Cummings, Robert E, and Matt Barton, eds. Wiki Writing: Collaborative Learning in the College Classroom. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan Press, 2008.
  • Morgan's Links on Delicious for ENGL 3177

Other readings provided by the instructor
See also WikiReadingsForCourse | BlogReadingsForCourse


In the 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 links to and comments on news, thoughts, observations, critiques, considerations, images, - 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, London Underground Tube Diary.

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.

These two fundamental writing spaces were given variations, and social media and social networking were born. Some variants:
Microblogging Short form writing. Microblogging took off with Twitter in 2006, but it had been around years before. Twitter gives you 140 characters to tell your followers what you're doing right then and there. It's friend-cast IM, with an emphasis on time and concision. Microblogging via Twitter now defines an audience backchannel in many presentations.
Miniblogging Medium-short form. Tumblr is the most well-known. Tumblr has become a specialized blogging tool for short comments and found objects, billed as an online scrapbook. The mechanism is set up for quick collection and posting of short comments, quotes, pictures, sound, or video. "Mini-blogging is typically short, frequent, mixed-media posts with little or no narrative. The idea is to quickly share some form of media in a way that’s more than a Twitter post but not quite a full blog post." justanotherihoneblog
Photosharing Flickr has the broadest range. Sharing is the keyword. Flickr (and Picasa) are set up to allow users not only to view the work of others but to comment on the work, tag it, collect work in groups and galleries, make corrections and refinements, and use the work (if the author permits) in other contexts. What photosharing shows us is how groups can gather their discussions around artifacts.

Other social spaces Facebook, LinkedIn. These combine elements of blogging, photosharing, and microblogging in one space. Their strength relies on declaring connection with other users subscribed to the same service by way of groups and shared interests.

RSS feeds Push technology at the user's command. Sign up for an rss feed and you will be notified when a post or site you're following is updated. Users can aggregate the feeds they select into a reader to readily see what's happening across the spectrum of news, blogs, wikis, and micro blogs they follow. RSS feeds place the content of a post in an alternative context, shaped by the reader rather than the writer. Google Reader is a well-known aggregator.

Others Delicious, Google Wave, last.fm ...

Driven by the the recent spread of wifi networks, laptops, netbooks, and GPS-enabled 3G cell phones, social interactivity - writing - has gone mobile. Bloggers post from coffee shops using wifi networks, and update their Twitter status on the run. Twitter and blogging applications have moved to cell phones (Blackberries, iPhones, Google phones) that use cellular networks as well as wifi. Brightkite is a microblogging service like twitter, but adds place to time by linking images and notes to physical locations, geotagging both and making possible virtual place annotation. Blogging is now mobile, GPS located, written on cell phones, and includes image and text. The writer's challenge is to bring all these elements together in new ways.

This move towards social intercreativity and mobility is 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.

And 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.

Going Pro
Web2Point0 also marks the point where blogging and wiki writing have gone pro and mainstream. Professionals and scholars in all fields are using social software to do their work intercreatively; businesses are using weblogs and wikis for internal work, for marketing, and to interact directly with their customers and clients; professional writers and journalists are being called on to write for blogs and to manage wikis and other social content; tech writers are expected to work using collaborative software such as wikis; and freelancers - who have been involved in blogging and wikis from the very start - are becoming more visible and more influential. Weblogs and wikis provide new opportunities for freelancing: new outlets, new audiences, new projects, new practices.

This course emphasizes professional practice and use of weblogs, wikis, Twitter, Flickr, and other social media. The readings and our work in class will aim towards practicality, and will ask you to look at writing practices as they unfold online and in the context of social media. Where you take these practices will be up to you, but you will have plenty of opportunities scan the field.


If there is a thesis for this course - a thread that holds everything together, an argument behind it - it's this:
Social media at least challenge if not undercut our understanding of how information, power, and writing play out. Social media have created alternative grounding and theory of communication, one based on produsage [citation needed] rather than production and consumption. New practices of creation and invention, new means of production, and new channels of distribution all feed back to influence what gets written and how and when, what we value, and how we value it. This means that engaging in social media means learning the subtleties not of a new genre or form or kind of writing but the ways and means of a new system - from invention to production to distribution - and a new way of valuing production and content. Sharing rather than monetizing, in short.

Flickr: images, discussion, streams, collections
 (image: http://erhetoric.org/wiki/images/Time-management_software_--_offline_version_on_Flickr_-_Photo_Sharing%21-20100104-103732.jpg)

Course Outline

We'll start the course by getting oriented: signing up with Twitter and following each other, setting up a blog, getting used to writing on a wiki, and by looking at and talking about some blogs and wikis, Twitter posting and Flickr. We'll meet face to face for the first eight or nine weeks of the class. During this time, we'll visit some blogs and wikis, look at photosharing and microblogging, and talk about what conventions are available, what writers are doing, some social implications and practices. We'll take the time to develop habits and practices.

During this time, yoiu'll be using the wiki extensively and collaboratively to take notes on readings for the course, notes that will guide our discussion.

This first f2f section of the course (our last meeting will probably be in early March) 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 8 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 production of a wiki-based guide or encyclopedia, or a 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. It can be blog or wiki based, individual or collaborative, for fun or for professional use.

We won't meet f2f for the following five weeks. Instead, you'll have your project to work on.

But to keep us together as a group, we'll have a weekly writing schedule to work to. There are a couple 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.

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

During the last few days of class, we'll meet again f2f to prepare for the write up and presentation. At the final (the first week in May, 2010), you'll informally present your project and reflection to the class to great acclaim and applause. There will be food.

Commenting and Grading

The idea in this course is to give you experience in writing with wikis, webblogs and other social media, to get a larger feel for what it's like, what practices writers engage in, 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: 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 as demonstrated in your writing. You'll say how many points you're working for, and if you fulfill the contract, you get the points.

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 assignment of points, subject to change.

Attendance, Preparedness, and the Like

Be here and be here on time. Expect to stay the entire 50 minutes.

Have any assigned reading and writing done and ready to work with. Don't try to catch up during class. Come prepared to work.

Our face to face class time is compressed into eight 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 six classes, you should drop, and I may ask you to drop.

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

Grad Student Requirements for Project

Your project must be negotiated for 750 or 1000 points, and your 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.

Grad students should draw more on and connect more to outside readings and blogs. Place your project in the context of the work of others.

Meeting Out of Class

When we aren't meeting formally as a class, we will be pretty tightly connected through twitter, the course weblog, the wiki, and Flickr. Post tweets concerning this course using hashtag #en3177.

But I'd encourage you to meet f2f informally for this class to
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 - on the blog, on the wiki, in twitter, in Flickr - 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 ]

Rough Calendar: Subject to change
Revised 5 Jan 2010

If I change anything on this syllabus I'll let you know.
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