writing for electronic communities

Course Description

In this course we will be considering the relationship among writing, electronic environments, and communities, as well as their multiple interpretations, particularly in terms of new media technologies. It is significant to note that though we will be looking at technology, not all technologies—past and present—exist among electronic environments. Rather, the electronic environments we will consider will be on and off line, and will cover range of spaces: books, web sites, movies, advertising, to name a few. We will explore how writing has impacted and has been impacted by these electronic environments, and how communities have emerged from and within them as a result.

The course has a significant reading component. Each of the texts has been selected to highlight a particular idea(s) on writing, electronic environments, and/or community. Some do not touch on electronic environments at all, while others are so engaged with them that we will have to parse just where one environment ends and another begins. Students will be exposed to various Web 2.0 technologies (Zotero, CiteULike, Twitter, Facebook, and so forth)—and if they are released in time, Web 3.0 technologies (such as, Twine)—and we will discuss how you might be able to use them in your personal and professional work spaces.

The readings, materials, and assignments will benefit anyone who writes, presents, and/or consumes writing and presentations using any electronic-based communication medium or tool.

Brief Description of Assignments

We will be completing three overlapping projects.

Usability Project
Nielson and Loranger (2006) define usability as a “quality attribute of how easy something is to use” (p. xvi). Donald Norman (1990) puts it another way in “The Psychopathology of Everyday Things”: “‘You would need an engineering degree from MIT to work this,’ someone one told me, shaking his head in frustration over his brand new digital watch. Well, I have an engineering degree from MIT. (Kenneth Olsen has two of them, and he can’t figure out a microwave oven.) Give me a few hours and I can figure out the watch. But why should it take hours?” (p. 1). In groups of three we are going to be conducting usability studies of large scale web sites. We will learn each phase of usability studies: locating the web site, designing the study, asking for IRB approval, conducting the study, writing up the findings, and suggesting solutions (the last two in multiple formats).

Review Essay
Much like a standard book review that only focuses on one book, a review essay places three or more books in conversation to be both reviewed and analyzed in terms of a unifying theme(s). Journal editors tend to prefer review essays over book reviews because they are more scholarly in nature, more interesting, and more useful to readers. They are often written by authors who are trying to work out some ideas in new books they have read that are related in one way or another, and then lead to much larger scholarly pieces. We will be writing a review essay that discusses three books—two from the Required Texts and one of your own choosing from the Review Essay Book List. It will be written in publishable form for a particular journal, again of your own choosing. Specific requirements to come later.

Individual Blog
Each student will create, name, and post to their own blog. The topic of your posts will relate to your professional, educational, and personal interests—just as most blogs do. The posts are to be written for an intended, yet unknown audience, and not solely for the benefit of the class. Students are also expected to read on a regular basis each other’s blogs, posting comments to posts and/or referencing posts in their own blog spaces. There will be no formal prompt for blog entries. Nor is there any requirement on the length of a blog post, nor the format that posts take or use. As we will see (and you may already be aware) post characteristics are determined by a host of factors, including author goals, subject matter, and time. This semester-long assignment will stretch our understanding of what the genre can do. Requirements: Minimum of 3 posts per week per student, one of which must touch on the weekly reading in a meaningful way.

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