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WRITING FOR ELECTRONIC MEDIA

Our Mission: A Syllabus Synopsis



Course Description
Three Hats
Two Primary Research Questions
Virtual Classroom
Projects
References





A Little Note

The following is a short description of what our Writing for Electronic Media instructor, Chris Boese, envisioned for us as a class. She hoped to introduce us to the enormous world of electronic communication and to improve our electronic writing skills.




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.





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


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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.

Your role as electronic authors will be worth one-third of you grade on each project.




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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?




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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.

Projects
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



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

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

Points: 200

Time Frame: Ongoing, all semester.

Audience: One to One, One to Many.

Requirements:

As Participant-Observers, lurk on at least two contrasting asynchronous electronic forums. Write a 1-2 page report (single-spaced, double space between paragraphs) and post it to our class list.

As Class Collaborators on our electronic discussion list, each group member should offer at least two possible criteria statements, one each of good and bad email discussion writing styles. The group will then discuss the various criteria and vote on the ten best and ten worst features. These two lists will be put up on the class web and revised and polished as a class all semester.

As Electronic Authors, you should strive to be an active participant in our class discussion list all semester, experimenting with and applying the writing and communication skills you learn as you go along. You will be evaluated at the end of the semester according to the criteria created by the class in the two lists of good and bad asynchronous electronic writing strategies.




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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.

Points: 200

Time Frame: February 6 through February 29.

Audience: One to One, One to Many.

Requirements:

As Participant-Observers, lurk on at least two contrasting synchronous electronic forums (one of which should be a professional or educational MOO). Write a 1-2 page report (single-spaced, double space between paragraphs) and post it to our class list.

As Class Collaborators on our electronic discussion list, each group member should offer at least two possible criteria statements, one each of good and bad synchronous discussion writing styles. The group will then discuss the various criteria and vote on the ten best and ten worst features. These two lists will be put up on the class web and revised and polished as a class all semester.

As Electronic Authors in our class MOO space, learn all commands for an introductory character class, present yourself well, write interesting descriptions of yourself and any objects you create, and participate effectively in our class debate presentation session. Debate well and attempt to persuade others to your way of thinking on the debate topic. You may earn additional points for advancing a character class and creating an imaginative object or personal room. You may also think of a clever way to set up some objects or visual aids or actions during the debate in order to advance your point of view metaphorically. You will be evaluated according to the criteria created by the class in the two lists of good and bad synchronous electronic writing strategies.




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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.

Points: 300

Time Frame: March 5 through April 2.

Audience: One to One, One to Many, Many to Many.

Requirements:

As Participant-Observers, surf the Web and report on at least two contrasting, comprehensive Web Sites (one effective, one dismal and embarrassing). Write a 1-2 page report (single-spaced, double space between paragraphs) and post it to our class list. Your report should clearly distinguish what you see as the key differences between the two sites.

As Class Collaborators on our electronic discussion list, each group member should offer at least two possible criteria statements, one each of good and bad Web Site design and writing styles. The group will then discuss the various criteria and vote on the ten best and ten worst features. These two lists will be put up on the class web and revised and polished as a class all semester.

As Electronic Authors working with approved REAL WORLD CLIENTS (I will provide a starter list of non-profit agencies and other organizations you may contact, or you may find a client on your own), you will design and write a moderately comprehensive Web Site. By moderately comprehensive, I mean the site structure must be deliberate and complex, far more than a simple home page. It will be your job to meet with the client, propose the project, and conduct informational interviews and research. This project will also entail a one-page audience analysis paper deliverable to me and possibly to the client. As a class, we will review and critique each member's initial rough presentations, before it goes to the client for approval. When the concept and design has been cleared with the client, you will revise and polish your work for an updated presentation. You will also be required to post a 1-2 page final self-evaluation paper to the class list, discussing the modifications you made in response to audience and client feedback. You will be evaluated according to the criteria created by the class in the two lists of good and bad Web Site design and writing strategies.

Also, with this assignment you may find yourself corresponding electronically with your client. You could even arrange client meetings in MOOspace. Remember to use the skills you have learned from Projects 1 and 2 as you conduct yourself in a professional situation.




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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.

Points: 300

Time Frame: Ongoing, all semester, through comprehensive final presentation.

Audience: Many to One, Many to Many.

Requirements:

As Participant-Observers, we will bring various CD-ROMs to class (I have a bunch). If you have any CD-ROMs at home, bring them in for "Show and Tell" presentations. We will work in class as audience testers, taking notes on user responses. From your classroom observations, you will write a 1-2 page report (single-spaced, double space between paragraphs) and post it to our class list. Your report should focus on issues of structure, creativity, and usablity.

As Class Collaborators on our electronic discussion list, each group member should offer at least two possible criteria statements, one each of good and bad CD-ROM design and writing styles. The group will then discuss the various criteria and vote on the ten best and ten worst features. These two lists will be put up on the class web and revised and polished as a class all semester.

As Electronic Authors our mission will be to work collaboratively as a multimedia authoring team and compile all material and research and discussion threads from our entire semester's work into a comprehensive CD-ROM collaborative research project on Writing for Electronic Media. We will use Authorware and possibly Director in the MacLab. The class will organize and plan the project democratically, using the instructor for technical and theoretical support. We also may be able to schedule time in a room set up for computer-supported collaborative work, the Design Conference Room, for one or two of our planning meetings. Material will have to be structured, an interface designed and agreed upon, and project sections delegated. The instructor will keep backup archives after each class session so no material will be lost. We should especially pay attention to how this document contrasts, expands and improves upon the interface and structure of our class web site.

After the final presentation, the instructor will take the project to be made into a CD-ROM, which will be available for class members to purchase for approximately $10 each.




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Reading References

Atkinson, F. D. (1993). Presenting Information through Multimedia. Techniques for Technical Communicators. C. M. Barnum and S. Carliner. New York, Macmillan Publishing Company: 253-272.

Barnum, C. M. (1993). Working with People. Techniques for Technical Communicators. C. M. Barnum and S. Carliner. New York, Macmillan Publishing Company: 107-136.

Benahum, D. (1994). Fly Me to the MOO: Adventures in Textual Reality. Lingua Franca. 4: 1, 22-36.

Birkerts, S. (1994). Hypertext: Of Mouse and Man. The Gutenburg Elegies. Boston, Faber and Faber: 151-163.

Birkerts, S. (1994). Into the Millenium. The Gutenburg Elegies. Boston, Faber and Faber: 117-133.

Boese, C. (1996). Going into the Woods. Unpublished multimedia textbook: 1-15.

Bolter, J. D. (1991). The Computer as a New Writing Space. Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing. Hillsdale, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers: 15-31.

Bolter, J. D. (1991). Introduction: The Late Age of Print. Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing. Hillsdale, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers: 1-11.

Bush, V. (1945). As We may Think. Atlantic Monthly. 101-08.

Duin, A. H. (1993). Test Drive--Evaluating the Usabiltiy of Documents. Techniques for Technical Communicators. C. M. Barnum and S. Carliner. New York, Macmillan Publishing Company: 306-335.

Fetterman, D. M. (1989). A Wilderness Guide: Methods and Techniques. Ethnography: Step by Step. Newbury Park, Sage Publications. 17: 41-61.

Joyce, M. (1995). Siren Shapes: Exploratory and Constructive Hypertexts. Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics. Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Press: 39-57.

Lanham, R. (1989). Elegies for the Book. The Electronic Word: Literary Study and the Digital Revolution. Chicago, University of Chicago Press: 195-221.

Lewis, P. H. (1995). On the Net: Another survey of Internet users is out, and this one has statistical crediblity. New York Times. New York: Technology.

Lustiger, A. (1992). "The "State" of Idaho: The Case for Open Debate." rec.humor.funny.

McKnight, C., A. Dillon, et al. (1991). Creating Hypertext. Hypertext in Context. Cambridge, MA, Cambridge University Press: 86-104.

McKnight, C., A. Dillon, et al. (1991). Linearity and Hypertext. Hypertext in Context: 15-41.

McKnight, C., A. Dillon, et al. (1991). Navigation Through Complex Information Spaces. Hypertext in Context. Cambridge, MA, Cambridge University Press: 65-86.

Negroponte, N. (1995). Commingled Bits. Being Digital. New York, Alfred A. Knopf: 62-74.

Negroponte, N. (1995). The DNA of Information. Being Digital. New York, Alfred A. Knopf: 11-20.

Negroponte, N. (1995). Where People and Bits Meet. Being Digital. New York, Alfred A. Knopf: 89-102.

Nord, M. A. and B. Tanner (1993). Design that Delivers--Formatting Information for Print and Online Documents. Techniques for Technical Communicators. C. M. Barnum and S. Carliner. New York, Macmillan Publishing Company: 219-252.

Redish, J. C. (1993). Understanding Readers. Techniques for Technical Communicators. C. M. Barnum and S. Carliner. New York, Macmillan Publishing Company: 13-41.

Rheingold, H. (1993). Daily Life in Cyberspace: How the Computerized Counterculture Built a New Kind of Place. The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. Reading, MA, Addison-Wesley: 38-64.

Ruiz, J. (1988). "Oranges and Sweet Sister Boy." Iowa Woman June 1988: 18-22.

Tuman, M. (1992). Two Literacies. Word Perfect: Literacy in the Computer Age. Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press: 1-23.

Turkle, S. (1995). Introduction:. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York, Simon and Schuster: 9-26.

Zuboff, S. (1988). Panoptic Power and the Social Text. In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power. New York, Basic Books: 362-386.

Lustiger, A. (1992). "The "State" of Idaho: The Case for Open Debate." rec.humor.funny.

McKnight, C., A. Dillon, et al. (1991). Creating Hypertext. Hypertext in Context. Cambridge, MA, Cambridge University Press: 86-104.

McKnight, C., A. Dillon, et al. (1991). Linearity and Hypertext. Hypertext in Context: 15-41.

McKnight, C., A. Dillon, et al. (1991). Navigation Through Complex Information Spaces. Hypertext in Context. Cambridge, MA, Cambridge University Press: 65-86.

Negroponte, N. (1995). Commingled Bits. Being Digital. New York, Alfred A. Knopf: 62-74.

Negroponte, N. (1995). The DNA of Information. Being Digital. New York, Alfred A. Knopf: 11-20.

Negroponte, N. (1995). Where People and Bits Meet. Being Digital. New York, Alfred A. Knopf: 89-102.

Nord, M. A. and B. Tanner (1993). Design that Delivers--Formatting Information for Print and Online Documents. Techniques for Technical Communicators. C. M. Barnum and S. Carliner. New York, Macmillan Publishing Company: 219-252.

Redish, J. C. (1993). Understanding Readers. Techniques for Technical Communicators. C. M. Barnum and S. Carliner. New York, Macmillan Publishing Company: 13-41.

Rheingold, H. (1993). Daily Life in Cyberspace: How the Computerized Counterculture Built a New Kind of Place. The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. Reading, MA, Addison-Wesley: 38-64.

Ruiz, J. (1988). "Oranges and Sweet Sister Boy." Iowa Woman June 1988: 18-22.

Tuman, M. (1992). Two Literacies. Word Perfect: Literacy in the Computer Age. Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press: 1-23.

Turkle, S. (1995). Introduction:. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York, Simon and Schuster: 9-26.

Zuboff, S. (1988). Panoptic Power and the Social Text. In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power. New York, Basic Books: 362-386.



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