ENG 111 College Rhetoric schedule, updated Fall 2011 #111cr

All due dates are tentative. Regular blogging is due every week unless specified otherwise.

CSK = Composition Survival Kit
TSIS = Graff & Birkenstein's "They Say / I Say" 

Week 1 - Expectations & Introductions

Week 2 - Justifications & Questions
Read: "Why I Blog," "There's an art to writing on Facebook or Twitter," "In Defense of Twitter," and "Writing in the Age of Distraction"
Write: first blogging entry & first tweet 

Due: 750-word response essay to “What do you want to learn?” prompt
Read: CSK "Introduction" & p. 1-16, TSIS "Preface," p. 1-29 & p. 141-144 
Write: TSIS Exercise 2, p. 15, & Exercise 2, p. 29 

Week 3 - Moves That Matter 
Read: CSK 17-22, TSIS p. 30-51 
Write: TSIS Exercise 1, p.40, & Exercise 1, p.50 

Read: CSK 50-67, TSIS p. 55-77 
Write: TSIS Exercise 1, p. 67, & Exercise 2, p. 76-77 
Student group: Bruce W., Leanne K., Andrew S., Elizabeth S., Amber S.
Student focus: online sources 

Week 4 - Moves That Matter
Read: TSIS p. 78-101 
Write: TSIS Exercise 1, p. 90-91, & Exercise 2, p. 101 
Student group: Katie P., Tiffany B., Karli H., Michael M., Xingyu C.
Student focus: citations 

Read: TSIS 105-128
Write: TSIS Exercise 2, p. 120, & Exercise 2, p. 128 
Student group: Uriah H., Joe S., Catt K., Michelle C., Alex H.
Student focus: writing styles 

Week 5 - Moves That Matter / Pop Up Scholarship
Read: TSIS 129-138 
Write: TSIS Exercise 1, p. 137 
Student group: Charles S.,Stefanie R., Robin B., Alaina P., Chris S.
Student focus: thesis statements 

Student group: Haley G., Tony W., Emily T., Evan P.,
Student focus: transitions 
Pop Up Scholarship introduction 

Week 6 - Pop Up Scholarship
Pop Up Scholarship Parts 1&2 due 

Write: Evaluation of & reflection on Twitter
Pop Up Scholarship Part 3 due
Reverse-Engineered Scholarship introduction 

Week 7 - Reverse-Engineered Scholarship
Reverse-Engineered Scholarship Part 1 due

Reverse-Engineered Scholarship Part 2 due
Mashup Scholarship introduction

Week 8 - Mashup Scholarship
Read: "Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism," "What Plagiarism Looks Like," & "The ecstasy of influence: a plagiarism"

Mashup Scholarship Part 1 due
Pecha Kucha reintroduction

Week 9 - Pecha Kucha
Mashup Scholarship Part 2 due
Pecha Kucha due
Andrew S., Robin B., Kat P., Catherine K., Elizabeth S., Charles S., Joe S., Leanne K., Stefanie R., Amber S. 

Pecha Kucha due
Evan P., Haley G., Alex H., Uriah H., Chris S., Michelle C., Xingyu C., Karli H., Tiffany B., Michael M., Alaina P.

Week 10 - Causes
First causes draft due 

First causes draft due 

Week 11 - Causes
Second causes draft due 

Second causes draft due

Week 12 - Solutions
First solutions draft due 

First solutions draft due 

Week 13 - Solutions
Second solutions draft due 

Second solutions draft due 

Week 14 - Reflections
Read: CSK 27-32 
Write: Self-reflective essay 

Revisions due 

Week 15 - Exam Week

ENG 111 College Rhetoric syllabus, updated Fall 2011 #111cr

Course: ENG 111 College Rhetoric (#111cr)
Semester: Fall 2011
Teacher/Guide: Dr. James Robert Schirmer (@betajames)
E-mail: jschirm AT umflint DOT edu
Office: 320D French Hall
Hours: Monday/Wednesday by appointment
Mailbox: 326 French Hall

Writing Center: 559 French Hall
Writing Center Phone: 810.766.6602 (call ahead to make an appointment)
Writing Center Website:  http://www.umflint.edu/departments/writingcenter/

Course Description: 
English 111 is designed to equip students with the ability and knowledge to write college-level essays that are clear, argumentative, and persuasive. Skills gained in this class will be important beyond the classroom as the ability to communicate effectively is a requirement of most professional careers.

This course is formatted to help students feel more comfortable in their writing.  We will explore and discuss different strategies and steps involved in composition that will allow each student to find the system that works best for them.  Writing is not only a product but also a process; therefore, revision will be emphasized and fostered with instructor, peer, and personal comments.  All aspects of effective essays, such as finding a target audience, creating coherent organization, and establishing purpose will be explored.   

Much of our class time will have a writers' workshop environment. When we share our writing with each other, we'll work to give friendly and helpful feedback. Because we are practicing writers, too, we'll all be able to relate to the demands of writing good essays for a college-level audience. 

In addition to writing, we'll read other writers in order to help us understand the various components of successful essays. The readings should also help in generating ideas for composed pieces and develop and reinforce critical reading and thinking skills. 

Required Texts:
Graff, Gerald, and Cathy Birkenstein. "They Say / I Say": The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. New York: Norton, 2006.
The First Year Writing Program: A Survival Kit: http://www.umflint.edu/english/pdf_files/Kit15.pdf

All other reading materials will be provided online.

Course Contributions: 
The grading contract outlines many parameters for the course, but not all. Below is more information about unique contributions to be made to the course by all students.

Presence: I expect you to come to class on time, prepared, having completed the assigned reading and writing, and ready to contribute thoughts to class discussions, to listen with attentive respect to the thoughts of your peers, and to participate in all in-class group work.  I strongly urge you to attend every class, as most of the work done in class is necessary for successful completion of the course.

Blogging: Contrary to assumptions about writing, authorship is more of a collective process than an individual endeavor. To better illustrate this, you are required to create and maintain a Posterous blog for the duration of the course. Particular requirements for blogging are as follows: 

  • Blog entries of 400-600 words each are due twice a week by session start.
  • Blog comments of 40-60 words each are due thrice a week by 5pm every Friday. 

Further blogging guidelines are provided here.

Tweeting: 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. Further guidelines are provided here

Sequences: For particular course themes, there are some longer assignments. These provide opportunities for not only greater attention and focus but also practice and preparation for later projects and beyond. Clicking on each assignment title will take you to the official assignment sheet. 

  • Pop Up Scholarship (800-1200 words)
    Given a greater familiarity with the discursive particulars of academic writing, we should now have the ability to engage in a dialogue with a text, not only noting its unique, stylistic features but also amending/changing the text itself. This assignment emphasizes Mikhail Bakhtin’s work on dialogism and that “all discourse is a response” (Ewald 88). It also stresses the creativity of the reader in the act of making meaning, encouraging an abandonment of “the notion that the text is the sole, even primary, repository of meaning in written discourse” (88).
  • Reverse-Engineered Scholarship (800-1200 words)
    This assignment asks that you begin at the end, that you start with a finished piece of writing and work backward. It is similar to the other “Scholarship” assignments in that it asks you to pay attention to particulars of a piece of written work. While Pop Up and Mashup consider audience, grammar and syntax, organization, and source materials, Reverse-Engineered Scholarship focuses on argument, idea development, and the method or process of how we write. 
  • Mashup Scholarship (800-1200 words)
    Beyond one-to-one dialogue with a text is, of course, dialogic multiplication, the cacophonous implementation of many texts together. This means realizing and showing how well a variety of works relate to each other in terms of argument and meaning, thereby mirroring Girl Talk, Danger Mouse's The Grey Album, Wugazi’s 13 Chambers, and Jonathan Lethem's "The ecstasy of influence." Like "Pop Up Scholarship," this assignment emphasizes reader as well as writer creativity, encouraging a plagiarism of sorts to promote better understanding of textual construction.
  • The Big One (at least 2000 words total) 
    Having reflected on how we use technology and put together documents revealing knowledge of scholarly argument and discourse, it is important to put those abilities to a larger, cumulative test. Intended as a demonstration of what should be acquired in ENG 111, this assignment asks for process-oriented engagement with a focused topic, one realized through an unorthodox composition and resulting in more traditional pieces of academic work.

Class Facilitation: Student groups are responsible for facilitating class once during the semester. It should last 60 minutes with students providing readings for the rest of the class prior to the facilitation. Student groups will meet for instructor approval at least one week prior to their facilitation to finalize readings and discuss approaches. 

Facilitation readings should be given to the instructor in time to allow for copies to be made (or files to be uploaded). Facilitation readings should be relevant to and provide insight on some aspect of the course. 

A facilitation can take whatever format is comfortable for the student group presenting (discussion questions, in-class activities, online activities, etc.). The introduction and subsequent discussion of topics for facilitation will be based on students' interests and finalized as a class. 

On Technology:
Because an increasing amount of writing occurs in an online format, we will engage a range of computer tools and web-based applications. No prior skill is needed, however, only a willingness to engage and learn. I am more than willing to take extra time; all you need to do is ask.

A majority of the tools we will be using in and outside of class are web-based, so you will not need any special software. I might, however, have some recommendations (not requirements) that I will provide at appropriate intervals. Furthermore, you should have an email address that you check regularly for this class. While I prefer to contact students via university email, I am open to other email addresses.

While technology makes life easier, it can also be difficult (computer crashes, deleted work, unavailable Internet connections, etc.). So, plan accordingly. "The computer ate my homework" or "the Internet was down" are not reasons to forgo the work assigned. It is in your best interest to leave extra time, especially in the first few weeks, to ensure that technology does not get in the way of your coursework.

How to Reach Me: 
The best way to reach me is by email < jschirm AT umflint DOT edu >. You can also find me online via Twitter. I am online almost every day. If you email or @ me and do not receive a response within 24 hours, please feel free to email or @ me again as a reminder. As I might not have received your first message, I promise not to consider your second message harassment.

If you are more comfortable with face-to-face communication, you are welcome to schedule an appointment. My office is 320D French Hall.

Final Note: 
Should any aspect of class confuse/concern/trouble you, don't hesitate to contact me.

Reverse-Engineered Scholarship, updated Fall 2011 #111cr

Reverse engineering is the process of extracting craft knowledge from a human-made artifact. While this activity may be more common in some fields than others, e.g., electronics over furniture, anyone who has ever taken something apart in order to better understand it could be considered a reverse engineer. This assignment asks for you to consider yourself one, too. 

According to Electronic Design, reverse engineering can take several forms:

  •  A product tear-down identifies the product, package, internal boards, and components.
  • A system-level analysis examines operations, signal paths, and interconnections.
  • A circuit extraction de-layers electronics to the transistor level and then extracts interconnections and components to create schematics.
  • A process analysis examines the structure and materials to see how something is manufactured and what it is made of. 

For the purpose of this class, you will be conducting process analysis*.

The Assignment 


This assignment asks that you begin at the end, that you start with a finished piece of writing and work backward. It is similar to the other “Scholarship” assignments in that it asks you to pay attention to particulars of a piece of written work. While Pop Up and Mashup Scholarship consider audience, grammar and syntax, organization, and source materials, Reverse-Engineered Scholarship focuses on argument, idea development, and the method or process of how we write. 


Choose one of the longform articles below or submit one for instructor approval** by 5pm Friday, 10.13.11.

Part 1. (online, due Tuesday, 10.17.11) Upon reading your chosen article, pare it down into the form of a shitty first draft***, eliminating at least 50% of the published article’s content. Post this form to your blog and reflect on your paring choices. In your reflection, consider what’s essential about the article, what ideas or information perhaps came first. 

Part 2. (online, due Thursday, 10.19.11) Pare your chosen article down even further into the form of a basic outline. Post or upload both forms to your blog and reflect on your paring choices. The outline and initial curiosity/perplexity involves some educated guesses on your part, forcing you to think more like the original author of your chosen article. In your reflection, consider the author’s interest in the subject matter and how it is similar to or different from your own interest. This is also an opportunity for you to justify your overall reverse-engineering of the article.


*If one of the other forms of reverse engineering is more appealing to you, please contact me for instructor approval.

**Given this assignment’s connection to The Big One, it may behoove you to choose an article about your area of interest.

***If you would like to use your own identified method or process for writing rather than what’s asked in Parts 1 and 2 of this assignment, please contact me for instructor approval. 

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.