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WRITING

TO THE WORLD WIDEWEB

1997 SYLLABUS

 

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 writing on the World Wide Web. Our emphasis will be on discovering new structures for thinking and writing which are best suited for nonlinear exploration and navigation. It involves applying techniques of professional writing for real world audiences, both community-based and commercial. This course fulfills the Rensselaer writing requirement.

CONTENTS

Required Materials

Course Description and a warning...

Course Policies

Grading Point Scale

Three Roles

Participant-Observers
 
Class Collaborators
 
Electronic Authors
 

Required Projects

Project 1: Class Contest for the Most Killer Homepage!
 
Project 2: Contribute to or Create a Noncommercial Web Community.
 
Project 3: Professional Web Site Design, Writing, and Execution.
 

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 Web. Most importantly, we will collect and evaluate our observations in order to become effective webmasters 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. Your Web Works Handbook can provide you with a general overview of the Web, 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.

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 Class Contest for the Most Killer Homepage. 200 Points
Project 2 Contribute to or Create a Noncommercial Web Community 400 Points
Project 3 Professional Web Site Design, Writing, and Execution. 400 Points
All Projects Total Points 1000 Points

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

 

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 that pertain to that project 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 ready 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 Participant-Observer 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 conducting marketing research. As your Participant-Observer Reports are filed to me and to the class bulletin board, SSMinnow, the class as a group is required to discuss and deliberate, to reach a consensus on the research findings. 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 Class Collaborators will be worth one-third of your grade on each project.

Electronic Authors

For each project, you will also practice writing, designing, and revising. Your 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 each project you will have an opportunity to revise your work following feedback-centered class presentations.

TWO PRIMARY RESEARCH QUESTIONS

This course covers three general types ofweb sites. 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. The Web Page Design textbook will help us understand electronic authoring more completely. Our challenge, as students of web 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. I hope for wild and challenging discussions, both in class, in MOOspace, and on our electronic bulletin board, SSMinnow. 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, along with excursions into MOOspace. Our first form of writing to study,the ubiquitous Home Page, will help you fine tune your work, and for beginners, establish your online persona. By making it a fun contest that rewards creativity and cleverness, we can also get better acquainted with each other.

The second and third projects will allow us to become more familiar with other kinds of web sites in professional, educational, and community centers on the World Wide Web.

Specific requirements for each project will be posted to the class web and discussed in class. For all projects you will receive credit for revision and ten points each for your written comments on your 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 Class Contest for the Most Killer Homepage. 200 Points
Project 2 Contribute to or Create a Noncommercial Web Community 400 Points
Project 3 Professional, Web Site Design, Writing, and Execution. 400 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.

PROJECT REQUIREMENTS

 

Project 1: Class Contest for the Most Killer Homepage!
 
Objective: To cut loose, get crazy, and introduce yourself to your classmates with a creative and clever presentation of your chosen online persona.
 
Project 2: Contribute to or Create a Noncommercial Web Community
 
Objective: To discover the heart of the noncommercial web, and learn what magnet draws people into those spaces, in order to contribute to an existing community, or, to use links and contacts, create a community niche where there is a gap or a need.
 
Project 3: Professional Web Site Design, Writing, and Execution.
 
Objective: To understand the rhetorical effects of nonlinear navigation, web design structure, and the development of online ethos or character. Also to learn professionalism and how to work in collaborative groups for real world clients.

 

TENTATIVE CLASS SCHEDULE

 Project 1  Week 1  Week 2
 Project 2  Week 3  Week 4
 Project 3  Week 5  Week 6

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