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WRITING

FOR ELECTRONIC MEDIA

1996 SYLLABUS

Class Bulletin Board: SSMinnow
Class Web: Maryann
Class MOO: Lingua MOO
Instructor: Christine Boese
Email: boesec@rpi.edu
Meeting Times: 2-3:20 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays Sage 4511 MacLab
MOO Hour:1-2 p.m. Fridays TBA
Office Hours: 1-2 p.m. Tues. and Thurs., and by appt.
Office: 2514 Sage Basement
Dept. Mailbox: Sage 4702
Phone: 276-6467
Department: Language, Literature, and Communication
Institution: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

INTRODUCTION

Students entering the workplace increasingly find themselves expected to communicate through electronic media as if it were the same as print media. This course will explore the unique constraints of electronic writing for nonlinear navigation, with collaborative software, on the World Wide Web, and within complex hypermedia products. Our emphasis will be on discovering new structures for thinking and writing which are best suited for electronic environments. This course fulfills the Rensselaer writing requirement for students entering in 1995-96.

CONTENTS

Required Materials

Course Description
and a warning...

Course Policies
Grading Point Scale
Course Structure
Three Roles

Required Projects
Project 1 Asynchronous email and bulletin board writing.
Project 2 Synchronous MOO and chat space writing.
Project 3 Web Site design and writing.
Project 4 Collaborative hypertextual design and writing.

Two Primary Research Questions

Our Virtual Classroom

Other Policies
Plagiarism
The Writing Center and Gender-Fair Language

Tentative Class Schedule

MacLab Crib Sheet

REQUIRED MATERIALS

COURSE DESCRIPTION

You are cordially invited to join this class on a grand adventure. We will become intrepid observers of new forms of written communication evolving before us on the Internet. Most importantly, we will collect and evaluate our observations in order to become effective electronic authors and to cast our ideas out onto the ethers as well.

My goals for the course are

Warning!

This is a WRITING course, NOT an Internet orientation class. ITS offers workshops that can provide you with a general overview of the Internet, and I can also give you directions to a web site that will allow you to gain basic familiarity with Internet terms and jargon. While I will be introducing you to several simple software tools, I do not intend to run a HOW-TO class. You will find that I don't memorize arcane command sequences either. I am dyslexic, so I must look them up every time. I will however teach you to develop personal crib sheets to tape on the inside of your notebook, so you can have hard-to-remember commands at your fingertips when you need them.

One further note, you may want to learn to manage the memory of your UNIX account. Some of you will have old homework from past math or engineering classes filling up your account. To participate as required in our class email list, you may need to open up some free memory space. Another thing you might do is delete all the old email in your outgoing file in Zmail.

COURSE POLICIES

Please Note: This syllabus is subject to change and revision. Please stay on top of any modifications or changed reading assignments. In order to receive a grade of C or better in this course, you must meet the following basic requirements:

Project 1 Asynchronous bulletin board writing and conferencing. 200 Points
Project 2 Synchronous MOO and chat space writing.200 Points
Project 3 Web Site design and writing. 300 Points
Project 4 Collaborative hypertextual design and writing. 300 Points
All Projects Total Points 1000 Points

Grading Point Scale Grades
900 and above:A
800-899B
700-799C
600-699D
599 and belowF

COURSE STRUCTURE

This is a frame for thinking about the types of writing we will be studying this semester. As grids go, it is interesting, but if you look at it for more than five minutes, the categories all start to disintegrate, which happens a lot when electronic communication starts blurring the boundaries between writing and oral communication.
Time/PlaceSame LocationDifferent Locations
Same
Time
Face-to-Face Communication (F2F), 1-1, 1-Many. Mostly Interactive.

Synchronous Electronic Writing (Chat Rooms, MOOs, MUDs, IRC).

Radio/TV Live Broadcast, 1-Many, Many-Many. Mostly Noninteractive.

Synchronous Electronic Writing (Chat Rooms, MOOs, MUDs, IRC).

Different
Times
Novels, Newspapers, Personal Letters, 1-1, 1-Many.

Radio/TV Taped Broadcast, 1-Many, Many-Many.

Asynchronous Electronic Writing (Email, Newsgroups, Listservs, CD-ROM, Web).
Novels, Newspapers, Personal Letters, 1-1, 1-Many.

Radio/TV Taped Broadcast, 1-Many, Many-Many.

Asynchronous Electronic Writing (Email, Newsgroups, Listservs, CD-ROM, Web).

If the boldfaced part of the above grid can be called cyberspace, I would ask you to pause for a moment and think about the roles you already have played in cyberspace. Who have you been and what masks have you worn? What circumstances affected the postures you adopted? What effect did those postures have on the people or ciphers you encountered?

Death to the Colonization Metaphor!

Cyberspace exists in a field of mixed metaphors, of spiders and webs, virtual cows MOOing, flames without fires, and cyberjockeys "jacked into the matrix" (Gibson, Neuromancer). For our purposes in this class, I want all of us to adopt three different roles, and I hope we can declare a moratorium on one metaphor that creeps into conversations unquestioned.

One of the most overused metaphors in cyberspace treats it as a territory to be colonized and conquered, re-enacting some of the most infamous patterns of dominance and minority group oppression in Western Culture. I'd like to believe, at least for a semester, that we can choose the kind of cyberspace culture we inhabit, and at the most primary level, we MUST be deliberate in our choice of metaphors. But I don't want to censor our language. I think the colonization metaphor is a rich area for class discussion. But let's not use it without thinking critically about it first.

THREE HATS

For each project we will play three different roles, or wear three different hats, if you will. Our three roles will be:

Participant-Observers

For each project you will be required to visit and observe two different electronic environments outside of class and write a 1-2 page cultural observation report (single space, double space between paragraphs). You may choose to lurk unobtrusively, to participate, or to conduct informal interviews. You should keep an open notebook or word processor window and build a file of field notes. Record anything you notice, no matter how insignificant. NOTE: You will only need to summarize the HIGHLIGHTS of your field notes in your 1-2 page report, organized from the most interesting to least interesting, in your opinion. Please don't treat us to long rambling chronologies of your adventures in cyberspace.

Your reports will be worth one-third of your grade for each project.

Class Collaborators

For each project, our class will be also functioning as a Collaborative Media Research Group. As your Participant-Observer Reports are filed to me and to the class bulletin board, SSMinnow, the class as a group has a job to do. You will need to pose the central research questions of the class, reach a consensus using electronic discussion, and collaboratively author the class web site. In itself, this role or hat will test your abilities as electronic communicators. I will be a Participant-Observer on YOUR electronic discussion, evaluating your performance.

Your role as collaborators will be worth one-third of your grade on each project.

Electronic Authors

For each project, you will also practice writing and revising. Your original authoring role will be worth one-third of your grade on each project. My criteria for grading your work will be the same criteria collaboratively authored by the class in answer to the two central research questions of the class. For Projects 2-4 you will have an opportunity to revise your work following the initial class presentations.

TWO PRIMARY RESEARCH QUESTIONS

This course covers four types of currently practiced electronic writing. Electronic communication is constantly in a state of dynamic flux or change as the media evolves. Think of it as flavored gelatin that hasn't had time to "set" yet. Given the instability of the media, we might be trying to nail down liquid "Jell-O." However, I believe we can study and practice current forms of electronic writing in order to become better communicators in whatever new molds these media may solidify toward in the future. Our challenge, as students of electronic writing, will be to try to make explicit those features of effective communication which may transcend the instability and flux of the media.

In other words, we will constantly pose two questions.

1. What characterizes EFFECTIVE or GOOD electronic writing strategies?

2. What characterizes BAD electronic writing strategies?

OUR VIRTUAL CLASSROOM

To answer these questions, we will immerse ourselves in the forms of writing that we will study, attempting to practice what we preach. Our first form of writing to study, asynchronous email and bulletin boards, will become an ongoing medium all semester for discussing and answering the above questions. Highlights of the discussion will be collaboratively archived and revised on our class web site. This site will become an important virtual center for the class because with it we will be developing material for our final project, a collaboratively-authored hypertext "textbook" on Writing for Electronic Media to be spun on CD-ROM at the end of the semester, so you can take it with you!

In this way, the first and the last projects are directly connected, semester-long, ongoing projects, worth 500 points combined, or half of your grade. I expect you to put a lot of work into this central discussion and focus of the course. The quality of your class CD-ROM will depend on it.

The second and third projects will allow us to become more familiar with other forms of writing for nonlinear navigation, in professional, educational, and social MOOs and groupware, and on the World Wide Web.

Specific requirements for each project will be posted to the class web and discussed in class. For projects three and four you will receive credit for revision and ten points each for your written comments on classmates' work. Although we will be working together in the MacLab, you are expected to put in the usual two hours of homework outside of class for every hour spent in class. Do not neglect your homework! All project revisions are due at the beginning of the hour on the day of class presentations. Missing a presentation will result in a ten point deduction in your project grade.

In addition to the above work, you will be responsible for more flexible homework reading quizzes and impromptu "show and tell" presentations during the semester. Extra credit options will also be available. These items will all be worth ten points each toward the project at hand.

Project 1 Asynchronous bulletin board writing and conferencing. 200 Points
Project 2 Synchronous MOO and chat space writing.200 Points
Project 3 Web Site design and writing. 300 Points
Project 4 Collaborative hypertextual design and writing. 300 Points
All Projects Total Points 1000 Points

OTHER POLICIES

Plagiarism

Academic honesty is not just a good idea, it is the law at Rensselaer. If you submit another person's words, thoughts, research, and organization as your own you will receive a failing grade for the assignment and possibly the course. You may ask someone to read and comment on your work, but you are not allowed to have anyone else write your assignments for you. I will show you proper citation and use of source material. Please see the Rensselaer Handbook for further information about plagiarism.

The Writing Center and Gender-fair Language

If you need additional help with your writing, see the tutors at the Writing Center, Sage 4508. The Writing Center Homepage has many online resources for writers. The staff can help you identify and correct problems with organization, grammar, or other aspects of your writing. I will also refer you to the Writing Center if I notice any serious problems with grammar or clarity. Because the way we write and speak influences the way we think, you are required to use gender-fair language in this course. To help in your writing, the essay "Writing with Gender-Fair Language: The Generic He/Man Problem" is available in the Writing Center and on my reserve list. Also please read pages 14-15 in the Hacker handbook.

PROJECT REQUIREMENTS

Project 1: Asynchronous Electronic Writing (Email, Newsgroups, Listservs, Groupware).

Objective: To learn to effectively communicate and collaborate in directly interactive, asynchronous settings.

Project 2: Synchronous Electronic Writing in text-based virtual environments.

Objective: To learn to negotiate ideas, debate, attempt rhetorical persuasion, and establish a persona in a MOO.

Project 3: Design and write a comprehensive Web Site.

Objective: To understand the rhetorical effects of nonlinear navigation, web design structure, and the development of online ethos or character.

Project 4: Writing Yourself on CD-ROM--You ARE the Text.

Objective: To explore approaches to creative hypertextual structuring within a complex, multi-layered, collaborative electronic document.

TENTATIVE CLASS SCHEDULE

Unit 1 Week 1 Week 2 Week 3
Unit 2 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Week 7
Unit 3 Week 8 Week 9 Week 10 Week 11 Week 12
Unit 4 Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16


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Site maintained by Christine Boese. Last Modified 1/15/96.