There are at least two ways of describing the plan or trajectory of this course.
One way is through its readings. In this narrative we will start out by trying to form a context for understanding what it might mean to say that we are shifting from a print to digital culture. We’ll do so by first looking at Dennis Baron’s history of the development of writing technologies, A Better Pencil, and then at Tom Standage’s history of social media, Writing on the Wall. From there we’ll to two enthusiastic accounts of our current digital culture—Now You See It, by Cathy Davidson, and Remix, by Lawrence Lessig. We’ll next narrow our focus more tightly on the question of how academic writing should or might begin to change as it moves online, by reading Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence, and talking with Richard Miller, whose text2cloud is an intriguing series of experiments in critical digital writing. And we will close by considering three very different approaches to teaching writing in a digital age: Christopher Johnson’s Microstyle, Adam Banks’s Digital Griots, and Kenneth Goldsmith’s Uncreative Writing.
Another way is through its writings. I’ll ask you to work on two main writing projects this semester: (1) a collaborative class blog, and (2) a digital essay. In your contributions to the blog, I’ll ask you to play with some of the various possibilities of expression afforded by writing online—in particular, to experiment with making images, audio, and video an important part of your writing. I’ll also expect you to read and comment regularly on work posted by your classmates. As we near spring break, I’ll ask you to identify some longer forms of digital writing that interest you, and to propose a digital essay of your own. After break, much your work will shift towards drafting, developing, and revising that digital essay. And we will finish the course with an arcade showcasing the work each of you has done over the semester.
But probably the best way to think of the course is as a combination of these two narrative arcs—since almost everything you write will respond to and build upon what you read. Indeed a regular rhythm of writing and reading will characterize our work from one week to the next. I will ask you to post a response to the book assigned each week on the Tuesday before we are scheduled to discuss it. (For example, your first response, to Dennis Baron, marked as x1 on the schedule, is due on Tues, 2/18.) I will then expect you to read through those responses and post comments on several of them by Thursday (2/20). And so, by the time we actually meet to discuss a book in class on Friday (2/21), we will have a rich network of responses to consider alongside it.
While this class only meets on Fridays, then, you will need to able to do regular, consistent work for it throughout the week. As we move through the semester, some of your work will shift away from the blog and toward your digital essay. I will ask you to have a proposal for this piece by the end of spring break (Fri, 4/04), and a first full draft to share in a workshop on Fri, 5/02. And our last class meeting (Fri, 5/16) will take the form of an arcade in which each of you presents the final version of your digital essay.
It will be a lot of work, but if all goes well, it should also be a lot of fun. I suspect that I may ask you to try out some things in writing for the screen that you don’t have all that much experience with. You should know, then, that as a reader I tend to value imagination and ambition more than polish or expertise. And you will almost certainly learn from the work that your classmates are doing. I look forward to seeing what each of you comes up with. Good luck!