Writing Chaos: The Internet, Rhetorical Velocity, and Writing
This course is hybrid (in-class on Mondays and in-class/online on Wednesdays) and will be comprised of multiple writing assignments both online and in-class. The purpose of this course is to demonstrate how writing pervades every aspect of our daily lives, particularly in our online lives, and how the internet has influenced the rhetorical velocity of ideas in our society. Internet videos, e-books, blogs, and viral images/trends (memes) will be used to demonstrate traditional writing principals such as brevity, summary, analysis, and style. At the end of the course, students will be able to recognize principals of writing within their everyday lives such as the use of template statements and rhetorical devices. They will also know the basics of a well-constructed rhetorical argument as well as key concepts of writing such as summary and analysis. This course will fulfill a 3-hour writing-intensive (WI) credit for English (ENGL) and will be offered once a year in the fall.
This course will be structured using the internet as the primary source of course material both educational and examples. The primary texts used for the course will be:
“A Student’s Guide to Collaborative Writing Technologies” by Matt Barton and Karl Klint
“Finding the Good Argument OR Why Bother With Logic” by Rebecca Jones
“How to Read Like a Writer” by Mike Bunn
The above readings reflect the core-ideas of this course: writing is not to be feared, writing is everywhere, everyone can write, and everything is “writing”.
The course will consist of seven assignments spaced throughout the semester in a way that they will build upon themselves. Here is the list of assignments and the amount of the final grade they will be worth:
Weekly blogs 30%
Twitter essay 15%
Prof. blog prompts 5%
Short template essay 10%
Twitter story summary 5%
Final essay 25%
Poster presentation 10%
At the beginning of the course, “A Student’s Guide to Collaborative Writing Technologies” and “Ten Ways to Think About Writing: Metaphoric Musings for College Writing Students” will be assigned to be read by the next meeting. We will discuss how writing is not strictly casual. We will also discuss concepts such as audience and style. The web-blogs will be explained, and I will demonstrate how to setup a blog in class. We will also discuss the Web Writing Style Guide (this will be assigned at the end of class for homework) and visual elements.
Weekly blogs – Each student will be required to maintain a blog through the entirety of the course. Students will create RSS feeds to each others’ blogs so that a blogosphere community will be established among the class. This community will foster reading and response from students. In this way students will create an audience for their writing. They will also develop a collaborative-learning environment where fellow bloggers posts and comments foster additional thinking. Each student will be required to post once a week on Wednesday in their blogs. These weekly posts must be a minimum of 500 words and may be on anything relating to course material: writing, rhetoric, design, etc. These weekly posts are required on Wednesday so that students may have the in-class meeting on Monday as well as the other first-half of the week to prepare their posts. These posts are also to be posted on Wednesday so that students have the latter half of the week to respond to these posts. Alongside these weekly posts, the professor will supply at least 5 additional prompts for the students to reply to on their blogs throughout the course.
After the class has setup their blogs and their RSS feeds, the next meetings will focus on rhetorical velocity. We will discuss how quickly ideas and news spread through our culture by means of the internet, primarily by social sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube. A blog prompt will be assigned, “How do RSS feeds affect rhetorical velocity?”. This prompt should encourage the students to make connections on how our culture is affected by our connectivity. This discussion will also tie into the importance of clarity because of the shortness of Facebook statuses and Twitter tweets.
Next, Twitter and templates will be discussed over multiple class sessions. Copies of a section of “They say / I say: the moves that matter in academic writing” by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein will be handed out. The importance of clarity and brevity will be discussed. A writer must be extremely detailed and effective in their word use because of the restriction of space in a Twitter tweet. One way in which writers can make their prose effective and concise is through the use of templates. We will discuss various types of templates and examples. One class exercise will include rewriting an example sentence that is long and complex using only 140 characters. These sentences will cover various topics. The class will be divided into small groups to work on the exercise. This will promote collaborative learning because the students will have to talk amongst themselves to solve how to shorten the sentence effectively. This exercise teaches the importance of word choice. It also demonstrates the importance of knowing one’s audience as students will have to chose words based on the audience of the sentence (e.g. some jargon or no jargon). Additionally, internet memes (viral images with their own specific templates and genres) will be shown as examples of templates. This will demonstrate how writing intertwines with everything, even “cool” internet items. An in-class assignment will include discussing a particular meme and its template and genre. The students will then have to make their own version of this meme. Two larger assignments will also be introduced during these class sessions: the Twitter story summary and the short template essay. The essay will be due later and will encompass class time to review/edit.
Twitter story summary – “How to Read Like a Writer” will be assigned reading during this assignment. This essay will help the students see how to read critically and analyze a text: two things that will be essential for this assignment. The purpose of this assignment will be to reinforce the in-class discussion on the importance of brevity and audience. Students will be given a list of short stories they may choose from. Then, they must condense the story into one to two 140-character long sentences. This is similar to the six-word memoir assignment in other courses in that it makes students condense and synthesize a large amount of thought and text into a small space. This is due in one week.
After we have discussed Twitter, memes, and templates, we will discuss the ways to create an effective argument. “Finding the Good Argument OR Why Bother With Logic” will be assigned as reading for this section. Here we will take time to discuss what constitutes argument (pathos, logos, ethos). There will be class time to peer-review this paper as well as due-dates for the rough draft and the final revision.
Short template essay – This is a short essay (4-5 pages) in which students must choose an article from a list prepared by me. They must discuss how the article uses templates and how the use of the templates affects the paper. Does is strengthen the argument? Does it make the article easier to grasp? Does it hinder the argument? This assignment will be due in 3 weeks. There will be class time set aside for student to peer-review their papers so as to strengthen their collaborative learning environments. Students will also be encouraged to seek help from the campus Learning Center.
Building on the class discussions about Twitter and rhetorical velocity, the next topic will be viral videos. Viral videos will be connected with Twitter, memes, and Facebook by their ability to travel vast amounts of the internet in mere days. We will discuss audience while considering the popularity of particular videos. Students should have the tools to condense a phrase or idea, identify audience, identify rhetorical devices, and create an effective argument from the previous assignments. Students will now be prompted to use these tools to create a “Twitter essay” about one of the viral videos discussed in class.
Twitter essay – This is an unconventional essay that will require that students think critically about what comprises an argument at its most common denominator. Students must create an essay using only five to seven 140-character length sentences. The essay must include a thesis statement, three supporting claims, and a conclusion. For example, this could be a potential thesis statement, “Many people believe “sex sells”; however, the popularity of “Oh wow a rainbow” clearly indicates that this is not always true.” (126 characters.)
Finally, students will be given their final essay assignment.
Final essay – Students will be expected to use their knowledge of rhetorical devices, essentials of argument, analytical skills, and templates to construct a 6-8 page essay that answers the following prompt: how has the internet changed our rhetorical velocity? Students must incorporate examples such as viral videos, memes, and Twitter to illustrate how the internet has influenced the rhetorical velocity of ideas in our society. This assignment is the culmination of all that the students have learned throughout the semester blogging, commenting and sharing in their blogs, writing in the Twitter assignments, and using templates. Students should display a working knowledge of these concepts as well as the ability to create an effective, and persuasive argument with this essay.
Poster presentation – The last week of class students will be given time to display posters they have prepared. Posters may be on any topic or idea we have discussed during class. Students will be encouraged to think outside of the box with this assignment potentially utilizing “digital posters” such as Prezi or Powerpoint. Students must prepare a short handout of at least 750 words to distribute while discussing their posters. These presentations will hopefully engage the students in final dialogs that tie together the various threads of knowledge they have been weaving all semester.
This objective of this course is to show how much writing pervades our culture. This course should also show how the internet has influence the way we communicate. By using pop-culture examples such as Twitter and Youtube, I hope that students will remain engaged. I also hope that these examples will break the walls of writing as strictly academic and will show students that writing is everywhere. By building upon concepts such as web style, brevity, and rhetorical argument, I believe students will be able to construct a collective of knowledge that they can apply in their coursework both present and future. This class is heavy on group participation and collaborative learning: a learning theory I hold dear. The students will be able to write more effectively by creating an audience for their writing and by having equal peers to hold their writing accountable. Blogs give students a way to access each others’ ideas outside of class. Blogs will also give students a creative environment to explore writing beyond simple alphanumeric characters on page as well as web style techniques. In conclusion, this course is built to break down the walls of traditional academic writing and create an open-environment in which students may see how they influence writing and how writing influences their own daily lives.