On rhetoric, Anonymous, bookstores, connectedness, videogames, digital natives, and slang #dyr

The reason that rhetoricians have never preponderantly been the primary sources that media go after is that we are just one of many competitors interpreting reality, and often we are looked at as purveyors of ‘‘mere rhetoric’...rhetoricians, although they are often aligned with the political zeitgeist of academia, must compete with other high-ethos sources in or social commentary sources which, again, have more credentials to be able to sort out reality: political scientists, historians, journalists, bloggers, etc. In fact, the fragmentation of prominent sources of rhetoric demands even more the approach to rhetoric argued in the ‘‘Myth’’ piece. Imagine how increasingly irrelevant situationally-grounded rhetoricians’ depictions and interpretations of reality must seem to political principals, political professionals, and even average citizens.

part of Anonymous has over the last three years moved from disaggregated practices rooted in the culture of trolling to also become a rhizomatic and collective form of action catalyzed and moved forward by a series of world events and political interventions.

a small tribe of devoted book lovers with a business bent say that the economic setting has been right for small, highly personal ventures.

The lesson in the decline of big stores, these owners say, is not that no one wants to buy books. It’s that the big stores were too big. They had overreached and, in trying to be all things to all readers, had lost a sense of intimacy that books and reading seem to thrive on.

The Internet has had a dual effect on the level of connectedness I feel with the people I know in my offline life. On one hand, the basic communication tools now available make distance almost a non-issue...On the other hand, when I am actually with my friends and family, I find myself (and increasingly, my companions) distracted by a smartphone that’s either the object of my gaze or being fingered in my front pocket.

People have less time to play games than they did before. They have more options than ever. And they're more inclined to play quick-hit multiplayer modes, even at the expense of 100-hour epics.
via cnn.com

So Prensky was right the first time – there really is digital native generation? No, certainly not – and that’s what’s important about this study. It shows that while those differences exist, they are not lined up on each side of any kind of well-defined discontinuity. The change is gradual, age group to age group. The researchers regard their results as confirming those who have doubted the existence of a coherent ‘net generation’.

There's no grand unified theory for why some slang terms live and others die. In fact, it's even worse than that: The very definition of slang is tenuous and clunky. Writing for the journal American Speech, Bethany Dumas and Jonathan Lighter argued in 1978 that slang must meet at least two of the following criteria: It lowers "the dignity of formal or serious speech or writing," it implies that the user is savvy (he knows what the word means, and knows people who know what it means), it sounds taboo in ordinary discourse (as in with adults or your superiors), and it replaces a conventional synonym. This characterization seems to open the door to words that most would not recognize as slang, including like in the quotative sense: "I was like … and he was like." It replaces a conventional synonym (said), and certainly lowers seriousness, but is probably better categorized as a tic.

The Big One, updated Fall 2011 #111cr

This cumulative, half-semester assignment asks you to discover a topical problem, discuss possible causes, and offer potential solutions. This involves composing at least two unique arguments, (1) exploring the problem’s possible causes and advancing one cause as the most likely and (2) exploring potential solutions to the problem and advancing one solution as the best or most likely. 

The overall problem should be small in scope. Be in a position of knowledge and relative authority on this issue. Be sure to demonstrate clearly in both (1) and (2) that the problem exists, that the problem is serious, and that you have more than a casual understanding of its possible causes and potential solutions. If this isn’t a possibility, select another problem. 

Topical problems to avoid for this sequence include abortion, anorexia, autism, bulimia, capital punishment, drinking age, drug legalization (including medical marijuana), euthanasia, gun control, healthcare, obesity and violent videogames. Such issues are so nebulous and/or overdone that they do not make for challenging writing or interesting reading. As such, all proposed topics must be approved. The problem addressed, though, can be quite serious or quite funny (as will be shown in an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force). 

Trends and/or phenomena whose causes are not definitively known could make for good topical problems. A trend is not just a fad that comes and goes but a significant change that happened (or continues to happen) over several weeks, months, years. Such an event can be identified by an increase or decrease. On the other hand, a phenomenon is a notable circumstance or fact about the human condition or the social order. Political trends and phenomena are also options, but you’ll need to be careful in identifying a problem within this area. 

In exploring possible causes, offer credible guesses that may not be proven as fact. There only needs to be suggestion and analysis of potential causes; there is no need to provide proof the first time around. Still, all causes must be plausible. Even though the first major piece calls for speculation, causes must have some logical basis. 

Again, overly debated topics that have nothing really new to discuss should be avoided; the same goes for any improbable causes.  Presentation and evaluation of multiple causes should be paramount and accompanied by discussion of which cause is most likely. Furthermore, potential objections, questions, and/or reservations should be taken into account. 

In exploring potential solutions, though, description and identification of the problem is required. There should also be a specific example of the particular problem being addressed. All potential solutions must be plausible, too, and speculation is necessary for this sequential section as well. The selection of one potential solution as the most effective and the consideration of objections, questions, and/or reservations of readers are both absolute musts. 

With the dual purpose of this sequence involving possible causes and potential solutions to a problem, it is important to think about both aspects from a variety of perspectives. Furthermore, speculating a cause for and creating a solution to any problem involves using your own thoughts as well as ideas from outside sources. Causes and solutions should be tangible and reachable, and there should be clear evidence and/or support for your reasoning. 

However, this sequence not only calls for cause speculation and solution implementation, but also for the consideration/refutation of other causes and solutions. Therefore, consider the consequences of the various causes/solutions and consider how readers might choose among them. Offer one cause/solution—or combination of causes/solutions—that is the most likely. 

There are many separate pieces of writing to this sequence, each leading into the next. It is very important to complete each piece on time and in the proper order.   


Pop Up Scholarship - Week 6 - 10.10.11 & 10.12.11
 This assignment is a two-part writing sequence that asks students to engage in a dialogue with a particular text. 

Reverse-Engineered Scholarship - Week 7 - 10.17.11 & 10.19.11
 This assignment is a two-part writing sequence that asks students to break down an existing essay into simpler, constituent parts.

Mashup Scholarship - Week 8 - 10.26.11 
This assignment is a writing performance in the style of Jonathan Lethem's "The ecstasy of influence." 

Pecha Kucha Presentations - Week 9 - 10.31.11 & 11.2.11 
This assignment should be 6 minutes, 40 seconds in length and provide an overall approach to not only the topical problem but also potential causes and possible solutions. This presentation should also provide some larger justification (personal, professional, etc.) for addressing this particular issue. 

First Draft of Causes – Week 10 - 11.7.11 & 11.9.11 

Second Draft of Causes – Week 11 - 11.14.11 & 11.16.11 

First Draft of Solutions – Week 12 − 11.21.11 & 11.23.11

Second Draft of Solutions – Week 13 - 11.28.11 & 11.30.11 


All major drafts should be at least 1000 words in length and contain a properly formatted works cited page. All submitted pieces should be typed with 12-point font and have standard one-inch margins. Make sure your name, your class/section, and your instructor’s name appear on the first page. Your name and page number should be clearly visible on each page. Be sure to save your drafts as .rtf files and hand in both online and print versions. 

Mashup Scholarship, updated Fall 2011 #111cr

In "The ecstasy of influence: A plagiarism," Jonathan Lethem pulls from an incredible variety of sources to make an argument about the nature of originality. Part of what makes his argument so compelling has to do with how he makes it, drawing from the work of others and relying very little on his own words. Lethem does, of course, acknowledge his source material, but in a way contrary to established academic forms. Instead of proper citation format, Lethem offers a "key," combining partial quotes and authors' names in red along with the occasional anecdote about a particular source. Like VH1’s Pop Up Video, Lethem's mashup essay is another kind of writer/text collaboration that involves more than one kind of text and more than one kind of author. Mashup is a further invitation to make and see connections between texts, to make something cohesive out of things not our own.

The Assignment

Craft an essay of at least 800 words using 5 strong sources. Potential reference points for this assignment include Jonathan Lethem's "The ecstasy of influence," Danger Mouse's The Grey Album, Wugazi's 13 Chambers, and Wikipedia. Look at how these works are derivative of their source material. Note the revisions made to establish transitions between hooks and lyrics, sentences and paragraphs. Take inspiration from previous mashups; allow them to influence the construction of your own work. You have the opportunity to flex your MLA citation muscles with this assignment, but I encourage you to design a "key" as Lethem does or some other method of giving credit where credit's due.

Part 1. (online, due Wednesday, 10.26.11) Select 5 strong academic sources from journals and magazines related to your area of interest and mash 'em up. Don't just throw the sources together; make a cohesive argument out of them. Don't pull 5 paragraphs at random and simply list them; integrate at the sentence level. Keep your own words to a minimum. 

Part 2. (online, due Monday, 10.31.11) Use Part 1 as the basis for a blog entry. How you construct the entry is up to you. I encourage you to provide a simple walkthrough of your mashup process, a conventional collection of bulleted/numbered points of interest, or a scan/upload of the mashup itself accompanied by your own further commentary. No matter your choice, be reflective and draw some conclusions about the following:

  • mashup in general (or specific to academic writing, e.g., should it be allowed?)
  • plagiarism in general (or specific to academic writing, e.g., how should it be addressed?)
  • what your mashup (or those by your peers) reveals about academic discourse

Pop Up Scholarship, updated Fall 2011 #111cr

The inspiration for this assignment comes from VH1’S Pop Up Video, a show that presented little pop up windows -- officially called "info nuggets" -- during music videos. These pop ups contained all kinds of information, ranging from the band/artist and lyrical interpretation to sociopolitical commentary and little known facts. An example can be found here. VH1’s Pop Up Video is a kind of writer/text collaboration as it not only involves more than one kind of text but also more than one kind of author; furthermore, the show itself is rather light-hearted and all about linguistic play.

The Assignment

Part 1. (print, due Monday, 10.10.11) To develop a better working knowledge of discursive practices in written communication, choose a recent article from a journal or magazine related to your area of interest. After printing out a copy of the article, converting it from .pdf to .doc or simply cutting and pasting it into Google Docs, Microsoft Word or other similar word processor, go through the entire document as you would in peer review. In other words, make observations on format/style, ask questions oriented to the text/field of study, delete unnecessary sentences, insert new sentences. Be sure to give justification for all changes. Track/insert at least 3-5 changes/comments per page and insert a brief end comment after the conclusion paragraph. Keep the idea of Pop Up Video in mind, though. Don't hesitate to get playful and/or experimental with the text.

Part 2. (online, due Monday, 10.10.11) Use Part 1 as the basis for a blog entry about the particular discursive practices within your area of interest. How you construct this blog entry is up to you. I encourage you to provide a simple walkthrough of your comments and observations and suggested changes to the document, a conventional collection of bulleted points, or a scan/upload of the actual document accompanied by your own further commentary. In the blog entry, make sure to have some conclusions about the nature of writing within your area of interest, if you see any problems, or if you think all those writing about in your area of interest should write like this and why.

Part 3. (online, due Wednesday, 10.12.11) Having not only blogged your comments and observations but also read the comments and observations of others, compose an additional blog entry in which you reflect further on not only how to write within your area of interest but also how to write within others' areas of interest. Ask yourself about similarities and differences and what this might reveal about the very nature of written communication. Think as well about whether or not you look forward to writing in such a style/format and how this will change the way you write in the future (if at all).

Toward the rhetorical situations of videogames

As I posted on Twitter a while back, a recent op-ed by Ian Bogost got me thinking about rhetoric and situation. In his discussion of how debates about videogames aren’t really about videogames, Bogost observes how videogames are “being used as instruments in public debate rather than as mechanisms through which players can participate.” He highlights recent statements by Al Gore, Leland Yee, Antonin Scalia, and others to show how their collective function is of greater import than their individual content and that this is a problem. 

Bogost’s observations appear to complement Richard Vatz’s refutation of Lloyd Bitzer’s idea of the rhetorical situation. Whereas Bitzer puts forth that “[rhetoric] is called into existence by situation” (8), Vatz argues that “no situation can have a nature independent of…rhetoric” (154). One might argue that Gore, et al’s statements were called into existence by a given situation. However, Bogost’s persuasive point about Gore, et al’s statements as more functional than content-based makes for better alignment with Vatz than Bitzer. 

If I might borrow one of Bogost’s examples for my own purposes here, I think we can see how Gore was, at least in the eyes of some, an irresponsible rhetor in revealing his lack of videogame experience. That this was made salient by Stephen Totilo in his critique of Gore is also telling, for Vatz stresses that “meaning is not discovered by situations, but created by rhetors” (157). Here we have, then, evidence of contrast between Gore’s and Totilo’s relative abilities in creating situational meaning (at least when it comes to videogames).

How we play and talk about videogames comprise and present myriad situations, but the meaning of videogames continues to come from the rhetoric surrounding them. I appreciate that Bogost recognizes this and I look forward to further discussion from him as well as others. Part of this welcoming stems from my own lack of time in revisiting both Jamieson’s “Generic Constraints and the Rhetorical Situation” and Vatz’s “The Mythical Status of Situational Rhetoric.” I’m sure there are others providing further perspective and I look forward to learning of them. 


Bitzer, Lloyd F. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy and Rhetoric (Winter 1968): 1-14.

Bogost, Ian. “Why Debates About Videogames Really Aren’t About Videogames.” Retrieved from http://www.bogost.com/writing/why_debates_about_video_games.shtml

Consigny, Scott. “Rhetoric and Its Situations.” Philsophy and Rhetoric 7 (1974): 175-186.

Jamieson, Kathleen M. Hall. “Generic Constraints and the Rhetorical Situation.”Philosophy and Rhetoric 6.3 (1973): 162-170.

Vatz, Richard E. “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 6.3 (1973): 41-71.

Vatz, Richard E. “The Mythical Status of Situational Rhetoric: Implications for Rhetorical Critics’ Relevance in the Public Arena.” The Review of Communication 9.1 (2009): 1-5. Available from http://pages.towson.edu/vatz/mythical_status_of_situation.htm

grading contract, updated fall 2011 #111cr #252ac

[amended from Peter Elbow] 

I often find grades to be distractions from learning. This course places a strong emphasis on participation and I'm concerned that grades might get in the way of that. Conventional grading often leads us to think more about grades than about learning and writing, to worry more about pleasing or fooling a teacher than about figuring out what you want to say or how to say it, to be reluctant to take risks. Sometimes grades even lead to the feeling that you are working against the teacher. Instead, I want to create a culture of support, a culture where we function as allies, fellow travelers with various experiences and skills that we can offer to the group, rather than as adversaries working against each other for grades.

Rather than giving individual grades for each assignment and basing them on an arbitrary point system to be tallied at the end of the semester, I will instead provide substantive comments on the majority of work performed this semester. I will also provide individual midterm progress reports. However, these assessments will not affect your overall grade in the course. Instead, they should function as guides to how you need to revise or rethink your course performance.

Through the use of this grading contract, I'm asking for a reconsideration of how you work, what your role is as a student, and what your relationship to one another is as peers. All of this really boils down to rethinking "responsibility." Traditional grading by a teacher alone keeps students from having much responsibility by instead assuming students can only be motivated by grades, not by learning or actual coursework. Grades create systems of accountability instead of providing environments for personal and social responsibility.

In this course, the grading contract asks you to have responsibility to yourself and to the class to do the work required, to attend and participate during class time, to ask questions of me or your classmates if you're confused, and to know what assignments have been turned in and where you stand in relation to the contract. As the teacher/guide, I have the responsibility to be prepared for every class, to answer any questions and consider any feedback, to provide helpful and honest suggestions on your work, and to make myself available for questions and concerns outside of class.

Therefore, the default grade for the course is a "B." If you do all that's asked of you in the manner and spirit it is asked, if you work through the processes we establish and the work assigned during the semester, then you'll earn a "B." If you miss class, turn assignments in late, forget to do assignments, etc., your grade will drop.

“B” Grades
You are guaranteed a course grade of “B” if you meet all of the following conditions:

  1. Attendance/Participation/Presence. You’ll attend and fully participate in at least 86% of our scheduled class sessions and their activities and assignments (that’s at least 24 of 28 scheduled sessions). You may miss (for whatever reason) 4 class sessions. For our class, attendance equates to participation. Therefore, it is not enough for you simply to come to class. If you come to class unprepared in any way (e.g., without work done, assignments read, etc.), it will be counted as an absence, since you won’t be able to participate fully in our activities. This means any informal assignment given, or ones not outlined on our syllabus, fit into this category of attendance. 

    Assignments not completed because of an absence, either ones assigned on the schedule or ones assigned on earlier days in class, will be late, missed, or ignored (depending on when you turn it in finally, see the guidelines #4, #5, and #6 below). 

    Any absence due to an university-sponsored group activity (e.g., sporting event, band, etc.) will not count against the student as long as the student has FIRST provided written documentation in the first 2 weeks of the semester of all absences. This same policy applies to students who have mandatory military-related absences (e.g., deployment, work, duty, etc.). Again, the student must provide written documentation, stating the days he/she will be absent beforehand. This will allow us to determine how he/she will meet assignments, participation, and the responsibilities of our contract, despite being absent. 

  2. Lateness. You’ll come on time or early to class. Walking into class late 2 or 3 times in a semester is understandable, but coming habitually late every week is not. If you are late to class, you are still responsible to find out what assignments or instructions were made, but please don’t disrupt our class by asking about the things you missed because you were late. 
  3. Sharing/Collaboration. You’ll work cooperatively in groups. Be willing to share your writing, to listen supportively to the writing of others, and, when called for, give full and thoughtful assessments that consistently help your colleagues consider ways to revise. 
  4. Late Assignments. You will turn in properly and on time all assignments. Because your colleagues in class depend on you to get your work done on time so that they can do theirs on time, all late assignments are just as bad as missed assignments. 

    Twice during the semester, you may turn in a late assignment. All “late assignments” are due 2 days after their initial due date, no exceptions. Please note that a late assignment may be due on a day when our class is not scheduled to meet. 

  5. Missed Assignments. A missed assignment is NOT one not completed; it is one that has missed the guidelines somehow but is still complete and turned in. In order to meet our contract for a “B” grade, you cannot have any “missed assignments.” Please note that assignments not completed at all are considered “Ignored Assignments” (see #6 below). A missed assignment is usually one completed after the 48 hours that would have made it only a “late” assignment, but it is complete. 

  6. Ignored Assignments. Any assignments not done period, or “ignored,” for whatever reasons, are put in this category. For Eng 111, this means an automatic "N." For ENG 252, this means an automatic "D"; two ignored assignments means an automatic "E." There are no exceptions.

All Compositions need to meet the following conditions:

  • Complete/On Time. You’ll turn in on time and in the appropriate manner completed work that meet all of assignment guidelines. 
  • Revisions. If/when the assignment is to revise, you will reshape, extend, complicate, or substantially clarify your ideas – or relate your ideas to new things. You won’t just correct or touch up. Revisions must somehow respond to or consider seriously your colleagues’ assessments. 
  • Copy Editing. When the assignment is for the final publication draft, your piece must be free from almost all mistakes in spelling and grammar.  It's fine to get help in copy editing.
  • Thinking. Use your work to do some figuring out. Make some intellectual gears turn. Your work needs to move or go somewhere, to have a line of thinking. It shouldn’t be formulaic, random or freewritten. 

All Assessments and Peer Responses need to meet the following conditions: 

  • Complete/On Time. All assessments should be complete and submitted on time and in the appropriate way so that your colleagues will get your assessments of their writing the way the class has predetermined. 
  • Content. All assessments should focus their comments on our rubrics, following the directions established by our evolving class discussions about them. 
  • Courtesy/Respect. All assessments should be courteous and respectful in tone, but honest. It’s okay to say something doesn’t seem right in a draft, or that something doesn’t really work. Respect means we are kind and truthful. It’s not the “golden rule” (treat others as you would have them treat you), but a modified one: treat others as you believe they want to be treated. 

“A” Grades
The grade of "B" depends on behaviors. Have you shown responsible effort and consistency in our class? Have you done what was asked of you in the spirit it was asked?

However, the grade of "A" depends on acknowledged quality. Thus, you earn a "B" if you put in good time and effort; we should push each other for a "B." In order to get an "A," you have to make your time and effort pay off into writing of genuine, recognizable excellence that responds in some concrete way to your colleagues' and my concerns (and also meets the conditions for a "B"). This means that not only is revision important, but a certain kind of revision, one demonstrating a reflective writer listening, making decisions and moving drafts above and beyond expectations. Writing in the "A" category will respond to assessments and be reflective of itself.

For grades up to "B," you don't have to worry about my judgment or my standards of excellence; for higher grades, you do. But we'll have class discussions about excellence in writing and we should be able to reach fairly good agreement.

Knowing Where You Stand
This system is better than regular grading for giving you a clear idea of what your final grade looks like at any moment. Whenever you get feedback, you should know where you stand in terms of meeting the expectations of the course. I will also guide some of these discussions in class, but if you’re doing everything as directed and turning it in on time (no matter what anyone says), you’re getting a "B." As for absences and lateness, you'll have to keep track of them, but you can check with me any time. 

Grades Lower Than "B"
I hope no one will aim for lower grades. The quickest way to slide to a “C," "N," or "E" is to miss class, not turn in things on time, and show up without assignments. This much is nonnegotiable: you are not eligible for a passing grade of “C” unless you attend at least 86% of the class sessions and meet the guidelines above. And you can't just turn in all the late work at the end. If you are missing classes and behind in work, please stay in touch with me about your chances of passing the course.

The Breakdown
So, here’s the way grading works in our class. In order to get the grade on the left, you must meet or exceed the requirements in the row next to it. I’ve embiggened and italicized the default grade that you achieve if you meet our contract obligations. 

For ENG 111


# of Absences

# of  Late Assigns.

# of Missed Assigns.

# of Ignored Assigns.














1 or 2







For ENG 252


# of Absences

# of  Late Assigns.

# of Missed Assigns.

# of Ignored Assigns.














1 or 2








8 or more

4 or more

4 or more

2 or more

All assignments that are turned in as “late” after the 2nd are considered “missed.” All “missed” assignments after the 2nd are considered “ignored.” 


Each student may use one plea to the class in order to receive a special dispensation or exemption from the contract, or to be given a temporary break from the contract. A plea can only be used in extraordinary circumstances, those beyond the student's control or that are special in some other way and that have kept her/him from doing assigned work. Each plea will be voted on and a 2/3 majority is needed for approval. 

Option 1: Public Plea

This is the default and the one I'll push for in 99% of all cases. 

Option 2: Private Plea

As contract administrator, I will decide in consultation with the student whether a private plea is warranted. In rare and unusual cases, there may be extreme, extenuating circumstances that keep an individual student from meeting the contract's stated responsibilities. In such cases, the student must come to the teacher as soon as possible, and before breach-of-contract, so that s/he and the teacher can make fair and equitable arrangements, ones that will be fair and equitable to all in the class and still meet the university’s regulations on attendance, conduct, and workload in classes. In these special cases, the class will not vote on the issue (and may not even know about it).  

My first recourse in most matters will be to take all issues to the class for a plea, not to make special arrangements with individual students who cannot meet the contract requirements. The contract is a public, social contract, one agreed upon through group discussion and agreement, so the majority of negotiations must be public negotiations. This caveat to the contract is NOT an “out clause” for anyone who happens to not fulfill the contract; it is for rare and unusual circumstances out of the control of the student, and usually so personal in nature that a plea to the class is not doable or reasonable. If I (the teacher), in consultation with the student, decide that a private plea is warranted, then the class will be informed that a private plea has been made and decided upon via email. 

By staying in this course and attending class, you accept this contract and agree to abide by it, as do I (the teacher). 

On reading, writing, social media, surveillance, videogame violence, and genre #dyr

the human brain was never meant to read. Not text, not papyrus, not computer screens, not tablets. There are no genes or areas in the brain devoted uniquely to reading. Rather, our ability to read represents our brain's protean capacity to learn something outside our repertoire by creating new circuits that connect existing circuits in a different way. Indeed, every time we learn a new skill – whether knitting or playing the cello or using Facebook – that is what we are doing.

Touch typing allows us to write without thinking about how we are writing, freeing us to focus on what we are writing, on our ideas. Touch typing is an example of cognitive automaticity, the ability to do things without conscious attention or awareness. Automaticity takes a burden off our working memory, allowing us more space for higher-order thinking. (Other forms of cognitive automaticity include driving a car, riding a bike and reading—you're not sounding out the letters as you scan this post, right?) When we type without looking at the keys, we are multi-tasking, our brains free to focus on ideas without having to waste mental resources trying to find the quotation mark key. We can write at the speed of thought.

Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social software are about consumption and production, about dialectic interaction on the read/write web. It’s no wonder short-form writing in sociotechnical networks is epistemologically productive, often leading to richer, longer-form writing work. Savvy writers might intentionally deploy sociotechnical notemaking as a powerful heuristic strategy for moving from short-form to long-form writing practices. Sociotechnical notemaking may therefore be defined as short-form writing work that is typically enacted informally via the enabling technologies of social software, with explicit heuristic, inventional, and epistemological implications.

before we give more attention to having students write briefly to fit their text-messaging sensibilities and the latest technologies, we should be more forceful about expecting and bringing their attention to accuracy and precision. Strunk and White, in their classic The Elements of Style, caution against predilection for brevity over precision in their 19th style reminder: “Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity." I suspect most instructors would agree with this admonition, as I trust precision of thought and expression from our students is paramount for most of us.

Ideas don’t need the media any more than the media need ideas. They’ve relied on each other in the past, true enough — media as the gatekeepers, ideas as the floods — but the present media moment is characterized above all by the fact that ideas, Big and otherwise, can be amplified independently of traditional media filters. The public, online, is empowered to decide for itself which ideas are worthy of changing the world.

In their concern to stop not just mob violence but commercial crimes like piracy and file-sharing, Western politicians have proposed new tools for examining Web traffic and changes in the basic architecture of the Internet to simplify surveillance. What they fail to see is that such measures can also affect the fate of dissidents in places like China and Iran. Likewise, how European politicians handle online anonymity will influence the policies of sites like Facebook, which, in turn, will affect the political behavior of those who use social media in the Middle East.

Through two online surveys and four experimental studies, the researchers showed that people stayed glued to games mainly for the feelings of challenge and autonomy they experience while playing. Both seasoned video gamers and novices preferred games where they could conquer obstacles, feel effective, and have lots of choices about their strategies and actions.

These elements, said coauthor Richard Ryan, a motivational psychologist at the University, represent "the core reasons that people find games so entertaining and compelling. Conflict and war are a common and powerful context for providing these experiences, but it is the need satisfaction in the gameplay that matters more than the violent content itself."

There are no meaningful genres in games anymore. It’s a good thing that developers are pushing back borders and finding interesting ways to combine old mechanics, but as a consequence, there’s no ways of separating works with huge and obvious disparities. There ought to be a way to categorize games in a meaningful, succinct way that doesn’t implicitly suggest a high art/low art dichotomy.

tweeting guidelines, updated Fall 2011 #111cr #252ac

[amended from Brian Croxall]

To create and sustain further conversation this semester, all students are required to maintain active presence on Twitter for a minimum of four weeks. One post (or tweet) per day is required, but there is freedom regarding content. Students are welcome to post original thoughts, "retweet" classmates' updates, @ (reply to) classmates' updates, and share course-relevant links with the course hashtag. Posts unrelated to course content are okay, but these will not count toward the requirement. I am very active on Twitter, so I encourage all students to check my profile (as well as those I follow) for potential models of engagement.

Twitter is a writing platform, but simpler. It's similar to a Facebook status update, except you're only allowed to post entries that are 140 characters long. This is because Twitter was designed to work via cellphone text messaging. You can update Twitter from your phone as well as "follow" people on Twitter (and they can follow you back). Updates come to your phone (or online) instantly. You get real-time updates from peers and others you are interested in knowing what they are doing. 

But why are we doing this? As we'll soon be reading, there are a great number of ways of writing and Twitter is a new one (kind of). Perhaps Twitter can help us learn better clarity and concision. Furthermore, employers in a variety of fields and industries are interested in hiring employees who are social-media savvy. Knowing how to use Twitter could even help you get a job. I'm also curious, though, to see if using Twitter changes the culture or society of the class in any appreciable way. 

So, if you haven't joined Twitter, join Twitter. You should also:

  1. Create a profile. In your username or bio (or both), use your real name (e.g., my username is "betajames," but have my real name in the bio section). Don't forget to upload a picture!
  2. Make your profile public. If you already have a Twitter account that is private and would prefer to keep it that way, create a new account for this class. (If your profile is private, classmates cannot search for you and your course-related tweets won't appear in the archive I set up.)
  3. Find and follow all members of our class (students and professor). (I'll try to make this easier by sharing a full list of users.)
  4. Search for and follow some other interesting people, such as @barackobama, @ConanOBrien, @shakira, and/or @TheScienceGuy. Consider following different services that provide updates, too, like @CNN or @FOXNEWS.
  5. Post at least once a day from September 12 to October 12. When posting about our class, please use the course hashtag. This will allow us to better track one another's tweets. 
  6. Consider connecting your cellphone or smartphone to Twitter to get real-time updates. Having phone updates is not required for this assignment, but it could be helpful. Regular text messaging fees do apply. 
  7. Get into the habit of checking Twitter at least once a day. (Don't worry about keeping up, though. Just see what's happening when you check in. Think of Twitter as a river of information. Dive in and you might get swept away; stick in a toe, or even a whole foot, and you should be fine.)
  8. Post an evaluation of Twitter (and how we used it) on your blog (due Wednesday, October 12). As a class, we will decide whether or not to keep using Twitter for the rest of the semester. This assignment and the subsequent evaluation will be assessed on the same basis as everything else written in this class, i.e., if you make an honest effort to play along, you will be in accordance with the grading contract.

Here are some other interesting ways to use Twitter:

  • There are a number of desktop and smartphone applications for using Twitter. They’re very easy to find and most are free.
  • You can sync your Twitter updates to your Facebook status. Just install the Twitter application on Facebook.
  • Use your cellphone camera in conjunction with Twitpic, Yfrog, Instagram, or other such services.
  • Check out the autopost feature on Posterous. Any time you update your blog, Posterous will send an update to Twitter, too!

blogging guidelines, updated Fall 2011 #111cr #252ac

[amended from Delia DeCourcy, Alan Jacobs, and Bill Wolff]

Your blog is a place to further explore the ideas we discuss in class, to write about related concepts of interest, and to ask questions about them. When creating, designing and writing in your blog, please complete the following:

  1. Choose a professional and meaningful title and subtitle.
  2. Compose a detailed and relevant About page discussing who you are and the focus of your blog.
  3. Choose an appropriate theme.
  4. For each blog post, compose a meaningful title written for an audience beyond our class.
  5. For each blog post, include 5-6 tags.

There is no set requirement for the length of a blog post. One of the features of the blogging medium and the characteristics of individual posts is that length is determined by content and goals. However, each post you make should be thorough in discussing the subject at hand. 

During the weeks regular blogging is required, be sure to post 1) an entry that extends the class discussion and 2) one that explores an area of interest particular to you. These posts should serve as exploratory, introductory writing toward larger, later assignments. I encourage you to offer an interpretation, ask a question, link to, quote from, and respond to anything and everything we read this semester.

Again, blogging in this course should be concerned with the regular examination of ideas and provide concise arguments via unique viewpoint and voice. With that in mind, I encourage you to:

  • Find new ways of saying what you think you want to say.
  • Make clear to readers that there is substantive thought behind the ideas presented. 
  • Push yourself to explore the ways you can get at ideas through the use of different media.
  • Have specific references, including text, hyperlinks, video, images, and audio, as means of support.
  • Experiment with the dashboard area.
  • See how things work and what happens when you make changes.

The more you engage with, customize, and explore your blog, the more effective it will be and the more you will get out of the assignment.

On writing, blogging, design, fake Twitter accounts, spoilers, and death on Facebook #dyr

research verifies that taking notes makes writing easier­—as long as you don't look at them while you are writing the draft! Doing so causes a writer to jump into reviewing/evaluating mode instead of getting on with the business of getting words on the screen.


I have come up with a conceptual framework that explains what I believe to be the core elements--and the essential worth--of a blogging initiative, either within a course or across an entire program. I've built the framework out of three imperatives: "Narrate, Curate, Share." I believe these three imperatives underlie some of the most important aspects of an educated citizen's contributions to the human record. And in my experience, blogging offers a uniquely powerful way of becoming a self-aware learner in the process of making those contributions.


Breakthroughs in all fields—science and engineering, literature and art, music and history, law and medicine—all come about when people find fresh insights, new points of view and propagate them. There is no shortage of creative people in this world, people with great ideas that defy conventional wisdom. These people do not need to claim they have special modes of thinking, they just do what comes naturally to them: break the rules, go outside the existing paradigms, and think afresh. Yes, designers can be creative, but the point is that they are hardly unique.


One of my indulgences, however, is reading well-crafted tweets from satirical Tweeters who've taken on the persona of someone else. To do it right is like being a method actor: You have to get inside the head of a famous person but with a twist; the post has to be funny and insightful. It isn't easy and Twitter is littered with failures.


Subjects liked the literary, evocative stories least overall, but still preferred the spoiled versions over the unspoiled ones.

Why? The answers go beyond the scope of the study, but one possibility is perhaps the simplest one: that plot is overrated.


Nobody is resting in peace anymore. The suicide, the aneurysm, the overdose. Distilled into how they died because their [Facebook] pages are a persistent reminder they are dead, not of how they made me feel alive. I’d like to believe a legacy is in memories made, not the unintended irony of a last status update.