Week 15: How can we take our webtexts from good to great?

I’ve been saying “time flies when you’re having fun” all semester long, and now we’re almost out of time. Congratulations — you’ve almost completed Writing and Digital Media! I’ve really enjoyed teaching this class, and I’ve been so impressed with the projects you’ve created and (more importantly) with your collegiality and collaboration this semester. I can’t wait to see how your Scholarly Webtexts turn out. You’ve set a high bar for yourselves, but I’m confident you’ll clear it with room to spare.

Here’s how we’ll wrap up the semester:

  • On Tuesday, we will conduct our last peer critique session of the semester. You should come to class ready to share a full, finished draft of your project with your classmates. The further along your project is on Tuesday, the better the feedback you’ll receive and the better your revised project will turn out, so please treat Tuesday as a “hard” deadline for Unit #4.
  • We will not meet as a class during Finals Week, so please remember to submit your final project no later than Monday, December 14, at 1:05 p.m. (our university-appointed time for the final exam). Please review the instructions for submitting your memo of transmittal and make sure that your project is live and viewable on the web before the deadline.

As always, if you have any questions about these items, please stop by during my office hours (T 2–5, W 9–12). If you need to meet outside of my official office hours, just drop me a line — I’ll do my best to make time to meet with you. Good luck wrapping up your project and concluding the semester in all of your other classes!

Week 14: What level of digital literacy do we need to survive and thrive in the world?

I hope your Thanksgiving break is off to a good start! I’ll be spending part of my break reviewing your Scholarly Webtext “plan of action” documents, so watch for an email from me with some feedback. I’ll also finish grading all of your Interrogating the Interface projects, and I’ll email each of you about that assignment, too. Your primary assignment over the break is to keep thinking about your Scholarly Webtext, refining your argument and finding additional sources to support your position.

When we come back from the break, we’ll be down to our last three class sessions of the semester. Here’s a quick overview of what we’ll be doing during Week 14:

  • On Tuesday, we will wrap up our discussion of Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or Be Programmed and consider the implications of his book for students pursuing degrees in the humanities. Before you come to class, please read and be ready to vigorously respond to Chapter 10 and two additional articles: “What I Learned at Coding School,” by Michael Brendan Dougherty, and “Maybe Not Everybody Should Learn to Code,” by Chase Felker. [Update: When you get to class, please download the HTML workshop files.]
  • We will spend all of Thursday’s class session in workshop mode, with each of you focusing on your individual project for Unit #4. You can use the time in any way that helps you make progress on your project, and I will be available to answer questions and help you address any problems you’ve encountered. The only requirement for Thursday is that you come to class ready to work on your project and stay focused on that work for the entire class session, so please bring any materials (physical or digital) that you might need.

As always, if you have any questions about these items, please drop me a line. I’ll be traveling during part of Thanksgiving break, but I’ll do my best to respond ASAP.

Week 13: Where is the line between sharing and stealing? How can we make sure we don’t cross it?

After two long days of conferences with all of you, I should be exhausted, but instead I’m energized by your great ideas for the Scholarly Webtext assignment we’re beginning. I’m excited to see your ideas take shape into polished, persuasive, multimodal arguments between now and the end of the semester. With Unit #3 behind us, we can focus our full attention on this new project, beginning with the one-page “plan of action” that’s due next Thursday. This document doesn’t need to follow a strict format, but it should include at least four items:

  1. A description of your topic. (Be specific; the more focused, the better!)
  2. The argument you want to make. (What’s your position?)
  3. A list of at least five sources you plan to use.
  4. A description of the format your final webtext will take. (Video? Podcast? Prezi? Medium post?)

Finally, you should use the plan of action document to ask me any questions you have about getting started on this project. I’ll respond to your plan over Thanksgiving break so we can return from the holiday ready to go.

Before then, though, we have two class sessions that will help you refine your thinking about the Scholarly Webtext assignment. Here’s an overview of our plans for Week 13:

Questions? Concerns about your project? Come see me during office hours (slightly adjusted this week: Wednesday 9–12 and Thursday 2–5) or email me.

Week 12: Does the internet make it harder or easier to find (and tell) the truth?

I hope yesterday’s peer critique workshop provided you with some valuable feedback on your Interrogating the Interface essay. We won’t spend any more time in class working on this project, but you have until Thursday, November 12, to polish the final draft of your article.

Next week, we’ll dive into our final assignment of the semester, the Scholarly Webtext. Here’s the plan for getting started:

  • On Tuesday, I’ll introduce our new assignment and share some examples that might inspire your projects. Our class discussion will explore truth, facts, and trust on the internet. To prepare, please read Chapter 8 in Program or Be Programmed; two New York Times articles, “If a Story Is Viral, Truth May Be Taking a Beating,” and “Why Rumors Outrace the Truth Online“; and “Even If It’s Fake, It’s Real,” by Matt Haughey.
  • We won’t meet as a class on Thursday, but meeting with me in an individual conference to discuss your plans for Unit #4 will count as your attendance for the day. Please sign up for a 20-minute appointment on Wednesday or Thursday using the “Individual Conference Sign-Up Sheet” located in our class’s shared Google Drive folder. (I’ll explain a little more about what these conferences will entail during class on Tuesday.) Since we aren’t meeting as a class, you can submit your Interrogating the Interface essay anytime before the end of the day on Thursday. To submit your essay, please follow the instructions on the assignment sheet.

If you have any questions about these plans, just let me know.

Week 11: Where is the line between the physical and the virtual? Does the distinction still matter?

Your conversations during our workshop today were fantastic — I was so impressed with your early work on the Interrogating the Interface assignment, and I can’t wait to read your finished essays. I hope you received some helpful feedback from your classmates, because we are now at the point when you should begin drafting your essay. You can write using whatever method works best for you, but I would encourage you to give Medium a try — I think you’ll find that it has a lot of nice features. If you haven’t created your account and sent me your Medium username, please do so ASAP, and don’t forget to edit your profile, upload (or update) your profile picture, add links to your other social media accounts, etc., sometime this weekend.

During Week 11, we’ll enjoy another lively discussion and make some additional progress on your Unit #3 projects. Here’s a brief overview of what’s ahead:

  • On Tuesday, we’ll explore the blurry boundary between the physical world and the virtual world. Before you come to class, please read Chapter 7 in Program or Be Programmed, “The Battle of Freedom and Control in a Networked World,” by Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman, and “Stop Pretending Cyberspace Exists,” by Michael Lind. If time allows, we’ll spend the last part of class in a Medium workshop to make sure that everyone is comfortable with that platform.
  • On Thursday, we’ll devote the entire class period to a peer critique workshop for Unit #3. In order to participate, please have a full draft of your Interrogating the Interface essay posted to Medium before you come to class. (At this point, the “visibility” for your essay should be set to “unlisted.”)

As always, if you need another opinion about the approach you’re taking to this project, or if you’d like to discuss an early draft of your essay, please stop by during my office hours next week. I’m always happy to have visitors!

Week 10: Is anonymity possible in the digital age? Should it be?

I hope our past few days of readings and workshops have helped you develop a strong understanding of what it means to “interrogate” an interface and determine the tone and stance you want to use in your finished essay. From this point on, you should focus your attention on your assigned application, taking lots of notes and screenshots along the way. Next week, you’ll begin refining those notes into a structured essay and gather some early feedback from your peers.

Here’s what our time in class will look like during Week 10:

  • Due to popular demand on your midterm feedback cards, we’ll hold our second class debate on Tuesday. To prepare yourselves, please read Chapter 6 in Program or Be Programmed, Facebook’s policy on names, and “We Need Online Alter Egos Now More Than Ever,” by Judith S. Donath.
  • On Thursday, we will hold a feedback session and workshop for our Interrogating the Interface project. Please come to class ready to share your early findings about your assigned application with your classmates. (Practically speaking, this means you should have screenshots, an outline of your essay, and an idea about what argument(s) you want to make.)

Questions? Concerns? Just let me know.

Week 9: What does it mean to “interrogate” an interface?

As we get started on our new assignment, our supplemental reading assignments for the next few weeks will focus on writing about technology. We will read several pieces by experienced technology critics, and you’ll get the chance to apply your analytical skills to a variety of interfaces.

Here’s a quick overview of how we’ll spend our time during Week 9:

If you have any questions about these plans, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Week 8: How can we take our revised slides from good to great?

Yesterday’s dedicated work session for Unit #2 looked very productive from my standpoint, and I hope you’ll continue to make solid progress on your revised slides this weekend. If you missed class, please download a copy of the workshop handout from our class’s shared Google Drive folder and complete those tasks before class on Tuesday.

Because we only have a week left to work on Unit #2, I’ve cleared the calendar of all reading assignments and other projects. Your full attention (for this class, anyway) should be focused on revising and redesigning your chosen slide deck. Here’s how we’ll wrap up the project during Week 8:

  • On Tuesday, we will spend the entire class period in a peer critique workshop for the Slide Deck Redesign project. At this point, your revised deck should be complete, and you should be polishing the fine details of each slide. Please come to class ready to project your slides onto one of the televisions in our classroom, and to offer lots of advice to your classmates.
  • On Thursday, the final draft of your Slide Deck Redesign is due before you come to class. Please make sure that all of your materials for this project are located in your shared Google Drive folder, and don’t forget about the memo of transmittal. During class, I’ll introduce our next assignment, “Interrogating the Interface,” and we’ll explore several options for your work on this project.

As always, if you have any questions about these plans, or if you’d like to talk about your project in progress, please come see me during my office hours next week.

Week 7: How can data be simplified and communicated clearly?

I saw a lot of great work on your screens during class today! If you need a little more time to refine the slides you created during our workshops this week, that’s fine—just make sure they are uploaded to your shared Google Drive folder sometime this weekend. (I recommend creating a “Unit 2” folder where you can save your workshop files, the images you collect, and any other materials related to your your Unit #2 project.) At this point, you should know exactly which slide deck you’re redesigning, and you should be identifying specific slides that you’ll be working on during the next two weeks. As we’ve seen this week, good slide design takes time, so don’t procrastinate your work on this assignment.

Here’s a brief review of our plans for Week 7:

  • On Tuesday, we’ll consider the role of numerical data in slide presentations. Before you come to class, please read pages 127–75 in Presentation Zen Design (you can skim Chapter 5, but Chapter 6 is very important) and identify at least two data-heavy slides in your deck that you’d like to work with during class.
  • We’ll spend all of Thursday in a slide design workshop, comparing various software programs and helping you finalize your choice of tools for the Slide Deck Redesign. In preparation for our workshop, please read pages 181–235 in Presentation Zen Design and be sure you have access to all of your materials for Unit #2.

If you have questions about your work on this project, please come see me during my office hours next week. I’m always happy to discuss your projects in progress.

Week 6: Why is most visual communication so bad? And can we do better?

It feels good to have our first major assignment behind us, doesn’t it? I’m looking forward to watching your videos this weekend, and I will do my best to respond to each of you individually within the next week. The last component of this assignment is for you to watch each other’s videos and then vote for your five favorites. Also, I hope you’ll start sharing your videos with a broader audience. Remember: one of our goals for this class is to get comfortable writing in public, and this is a great opportunity to share your work with the world. (On a related note, if your video is named something like “ENGL 3844 Video Narrative Project” on YouTube, please update it! Think about the potential audience for your video and what they might expect to see on YouTube. Also, consider how you can use the description area under your video to provide context for your video, give credit where credit is due, etc…)

During the next few weeks, we’ll be exploring the many facets of electronic slide presentations as we work on the Slide Deck Redesign assignment. We’ll use part of each class period for hands-on work, so you’ll need to bring your own laptop to class or make sure your project files are accessible on one of the classroom laptops.

Here is a quick overview of how we’ll get started on this new project next week:

  • On Tuesday, we’ll discuss the role of typography in slide design. Before you come to class, please read pages 1–61 in Presentation Zen Design and “How PowerPoint Is Killing Critical Thought,” by Andrew Smith. In addition, you should select the PowerPoint file you want to redesign for Unit #2 and bring it to class. (Remember, I have placed several examples in our class’s shared Google Drive folder, but I would prefer that you find a presentation on a topic that really interests you.)
  • On Thursday, we’ll experiment with color and images in our presentations. Before you come to class, please read pages 63–125 in Presentation Zen Design and be ready to apply the principles in those chapters to your project.

If you’d like a second opinion about potential files for your Slide Deck Redesign project, or if you have questions about anything else, feel free to email me this weekend.

Week 5: Is technology simplifying our world, or making it more complex?

I hope our peer critique exercise helped you with your video narratives. I couldn’t hear the audio, but I could see that most of your videos are starting to come together. Now that we’re in the home stretch for Unit #1, you should be completing the following tasks:

  • Consider asking friends, family, and roommates to review the draft of your video narrative. If you’d like to have them replicate our in-class peer critique session, you can find a copy of the review form in our class’s shared folder on Google Drive.
  • After making any necessary changes to your script, record the final version of your narration. I recommend using the soundproof booth in the InnovationSpace.
  • Adjust the timing and sequencing of your images and video clips based on the feedback you received from your classmates.
  • Make sure your video includes a title at the beginning and a “credits” section at the end, where you can thank everyone whose work you’re building upon.
  • When you are finished with your video, export it so it will play on any computer. Depending on the software you’re using, you should end up with a file that has one of these extensions: .mp4, .mpeg, .avi, .wmv, or .mov. Remember to export your video using the highest quality settings available. You may also want to review YouTube’s guidelines before you export your video.
  • Place your video, your written script, and any other relevant materials into your shared Google Drive folder, then upload a copy of your finished video to YouTube. (You can login to YouTube with the same username/password you use for Google Drive.)

Next week, we’ll wrap up Unit #1 and start thinking about our second big project. Here’s how we’ll spend our time in class:

  • Before you come to class on Tuesday, please read Chapter 4 in Program or Be Programmed and “Automation Makes Us Dumb,” by Nicholas Carr. When you come to class, be ready to engage in a vigorous discussion about what you’ve read and written over the weekend. (That means taking some notes, highlighting passages you want to discuss, and forming an opinion about these readings.)
  • On Thursday, your video narrative is due before you arrive in class. To submit your project, please follow the instructions on the assignment sheet. In class, I will introduce our second major assignment, the Slide Deck Redesign, and we will begin exploring this genre of digital writing.

If you have questions about these plans, please let me know. Otherwise, I’ll see you in class on Tuesday. Have a great weekend!

Week 4: The hand moves the mouse … or does it?

We have now passed the halfway point of the Video Narrative unit, so your project should really be taking shape. During the next week, you should finish collecting (or creating) the assets for your video and begin assembling these raw materials into a rough cut, using whatever software program you have chosen for this project.

In class next week, we will work on refining your videos and solicit some feedback from your peers. Here’s how we’ll spend our time each day:

  • We’ll split Tuesday’s class session in half, with the first half dedicated to discussing our reading assignment and the second half focused on video production. When you come to class, be ready to discuss Chapter 3 in Program or Be Programmed and “The Avalanche of Options,” by Dave Pell. After our conversations, we’ll shift into workshop mode, so please bring your laptops (and headphones) or have your project materials organized in such a way that you can work on one of the classroom computers. In order for our workshop to be productive, you’ll need to put in some serious time on this project before you come to class. I will be available during the workshop to help you resolve technological issues, or just to offer another perspective on your video, but I won’t be able to walk you through the entire process step-by-step. (For that, I highly recommend the tutorials on Lynda.com!)
  • Thursday’s entire class will be devoted to a peer critique workshop. In order to participate in this workshop, you must come to class with a playable video containing a rough cut of your video narrative. It’s OK if your audio track needs to be re-recorded or a few images need to be edited/replaced, but your video should be far enough along that your classmates can give you helpful feedback on the project. Please bring your laptop and a set of headphones. If you need help with your video, you can come to my office hours on Tuesday afternoon (2–5) or Wednesday morning (9–12), but postponing your work on this assignment until a few hours before class starts is a very risky strategy.

As always, if you have any questions about our plans for next week, drop me a line.

Week 3: Is the internet destroying our sense of place?

As we work on the Video Narrative project, we’ll be experimenting with some different approaches to drafting, revising, and polishing our work. I appreciate your willingness to give storyboarding a shot, and I hope you’ll bring that same attitude to the rest of our workshops this semester.

At this point, you should be finishing your storyboards and writing the first draft of your script (please bring both of these things to class on Tuesday). For some of you, writing a finished script won’t be possible until you conduct interviews with other people, but please draft as much as you can this weekend. Here’s how we’ll spend our time in class next week:

  • On Tuesday, we’ll discuss Chapter 2 in Program or Be Programmed (pp. 41–51) and “On Internet Friends and In-Person Friends, Or As They Are More Commonly Known, ‘Friends,'” by Becky Chambers. As you read, make note of specific sections you’d like to bring up in class. Better yet, see if you can find other articles or websites that address similar topics. If time allows, we’ll spend the last part of class reviewing the early drafts of your video narrative scripts.
  • On Thursday, we will spend most of class in workshop mode, reviewing several different hardware and software tools that you can use to create your video narrative. In order for you to choose a specific tool (or set of tools) for your project, you’ll need to have a fairly solid idea about how you plan to tell your story, so your homework for Thursday is to finalize your script (as much as possible) and bring it to class. Remember, your finished video should only be 2–4 minutes, so if you’re worried about the length of your script, I recommend timing yourself as you read it out loud.

If you have questions about these plans, or if you need help with your video narrative, please come see me during office hours (Tuesday 2–5 and Wednesday 9–12) or send me an email. (Big hint: it’s much less painful to have me look at your draft during office hours than to be surprised by my evaluation of your project after you turn it in.)

Week 2: How do we spend our time online?

Our first two class sessions helped lay the groundwork for what we’ll be studying this semester and helped us get to know each other a little better, but I’m excited for next week, when we’ll dive into our first book and start working on our first big project, the Video Narrative.

Here’s a brief overview of how we’ll spend our time in class during Week 2 and what you need to do before we meet each day:

  • You have two homework assignments for Tuesday. The first is to watch several sample video narratives to get a feel for the genre. I have created collections on Vimeo and YouTube, and those are good places to get started. (Try to find others!) Please come to class with at least three different ideas for your video narrative and be ready to share them with your classmates. The second assignment is to read the Preface, Introduction, and Chapter 1 in Program or Be Programmed (pp. 7–40), and Maria Konnikova’s “Is Internet Addiction a Real Thing?” We’ll discuss these readings in class, so please read thoroughly, keeping an eye out for interesting passages you want to address with your classmates.
  • On Thursday, we will hold our first workshop session, which will be focused on developing storyboards for your video narratives. Before you come to class, you should finalize the topic or theme for your video and begin thinking about how you will tell your story. In addition, please read Berkeley’s guide to storyboarding and watch Vimeo’s Storyboarding Basics series.

If you have any questions about our plans for next week, please email me. Otherwise, I’ll see you in class on Tuesday!

Welcome to Writing and Digital Media!

Welcome to ENGL 3844: Writing and Digital Media. This website will function as the online headquarters for our class this semester. I will use Virginia Tech’s Scholar site to record your grades, but otherwise, everything related to this course will be posted here. You should bookmark this site on your laptop, your tablet, your phone, etc. — whatever you use to get online.

A bit about me: I’m starting my fourth year at Virginia Tech, and I love it here. My research focuses on how people use rhetoric in online environments, and all of the classes I teach have something to do with technology. I love experimenting with new digital tools, and it blows my mind to think about what we can do with technology that we couldn’t do 20 (or 10, or even 5) years ago. When I’m not staring at a computer screen, I love to cook, read, and spend time with my wife, a brilliant freelance writer, and our two daughters.

Each week (typically on Thursday evening or Friday morning), I will add a post to this website that explains what we will be doing in class the following week, and what you need to do to prepare for those class sessions. I’ll show you the Week 2 post next time we meet, but here are a few things you need to do to before class on Thursday:

  • Get familiar with your Google Drive account, which is connected to your vt.edu email address. (If you forgot your password for your VT Google Apps account, you can change it here.)
  • Set up an account on Medium if you don’t have one already. (If you use Twitter, I recommend creating your Medium account by signing in with your Twitter account. If you don’t use Twitter, you can sign in with Facebook, Google, or your email account.)
  • Buy copies of our textbooks, Presentation Zen Design and Program or Be Programmed. We will begin using both books soon, so you’ll want to get them ASAP.
  • Read “As We May Think,” by Vannevar Bush. (Be sure to take a look at this PDF scan of a condensed version of Bush’s article, which includes some important illustrations.) Please be ready to discuss this article in class on Thursday.