December 09, 2004
For our weekly schedule, I'm going to try a couple of different things. This entry will evolve over the course of the semester; initially, I will sketch out some of the topics and readings we will cover, but those may change as the semester progresses. In addition to maintaining this entry, I will post an initial entry each Friday (for the upcoming week) with some general questions that you may consider as you blog each week and read for class. Finally, we will be maintaining a collaborative account at del.icio.us, a social bookmarking application. In addition to providing a clearinghouse for the links each of you finds this semester, I will use the del.icio.us account as a way of providing online references, resources, and additional readings for each week.
For example, we will be talking about RSS feeds during our first class meeting, and so I've bookmarked an Introduction to RSS from webreference.com. When you go to our del.icio.us page, you'll have the option of selecting the tag for the first week, "wk1," which will pick out for you the resources and optional readings for that week's discussion. And during the semester, when you come across a site that you think is relevant for the week's readings, you can tag it as such for the rest of us. This will make more sense as we put it into practice.
Here's how I see the semester laying out, bearing in mind that this document will evolve substantially:
Week 1, January 20, Course Introduction
Our first class session will be spent familiarizing you with a suite of applications that you'll be using throughout the course, including
- Movable Type, the content management system (CMS) driving this site
- Bloglines, a web-based RSS aggregator (or feed reader)
- del.icio.us, a social bookmarking application/site
We may look at other applications or sites as time permits, but we will start with these three.
Lilia Efimova, Blogging as breathing
Week 2, January 27, Academic Blogging
This is the first of two weeks we'll spend considering the practice of blogging in the context of the academy. This week, we'll be examining some conversations about the challenges that blogging poses to the traditional print-centric economy of research. We'll draw on some reading from KM (knowledge management) and think about the relationship between blogging and scholarly writing.
José van Dijck, Composing the Self: Of Diaries and Lifelogs
Torill Mortensen & Jill Walker, Blogging thoughts: personal publication as an online research tool (pdf)
K. Andrew Edmonds, James Blustein, & Don Turnbull, A Personal Information and Knowledge Infrastructure Integrator
Week 3, February 3, Peda-blogging
How might weblogs affect the way we think about the writing classroom? This week, we'll look both at some articles about adopting weblogs in the classroom and some exemplars of their adoption. We'll be thinking about what weblogs (and the read/write web more broadly) might have to contribute to our pedagogies.
Charles Lowe & Terra Williams, Moving to the Public: Weblogs in the Writing Classroom
Kevin Brooks, Cindy Nichols, & Sybil Priebe, Remediation, Genre, and Motivation: Key Concepts for Teaching with Weblogs
"Why Weblogs?," collected by Will Richardson
Week 4, February 10, Network Literacies
Drawing on our discussions of the previous two weeks, we will spend this week speculating about what post-print, network(ed) literacies might look like. We'll look at some sites (Wikipedia, e.g.) where clashes are occurring between networks and more traditional conceptions of literacy.
Week 5, February 17, The Web as Network
This week, we'll be reading David Weinberger's Small Pieces Loosely Joined, and thinking about what happens when we consider the Web in light of network literacies (as opposed to some of the dominant metaphors that still receive attention, such as the Web-as-library or the Web-as-mall).
Week 6, February 24
Week 7, March 3, Network Studies
We will be spending two weeks with Duncan Watts's Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, another of the central texts in network studies. Our focus will be on familiarizing ourselves with Watts's vocabulary and concepts, and we will spend some time looking at various applications of his ideas.
Duncan Watts, Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (chs. 1-5 due 2/24; chs. 6-10 due 3/3)
Week 8, March 10, Networks as Epistemic
We will spend this week as something of a prelude to our after-break discussions, synthesizing some of the concepts from the previous weeks and considering them in terms of the epistemic character of rhetoric. In other words, we will turn this week from treating networks as objects of study to treating them as epistemelogical or methodological. We will begin asking how network studies might help us to see rhetoric in different ways.
Week 9, March 17, No Class -- Spring Break, CCCC
Week 10, March 24, Power Laws & Long Tails
One of the most popular concepts to emerge from network studies is the power law, which suggests that social phenomena, when examined on a large scale, occur according to very specific and predictable patterns. We will be looking at how this idea has been taken up across the blogosphere.
Bernardo Huberman, The Laws of the Web (Chs. 3 & 4)
Clay Shirky, Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality
Chris Anderson, The Long Tail, (Wired)
Adina Levin, The Long Tail, Creative Commons, and Peer Production
Bnoopy, The Long Tail of Software
Week 11, March 31, Network Properties: Structure
This week, we will look at network studies as it connects with methods of cognitive mapping. How might networks assist us in understanding the structure of our institutions?
James Porter & Patricia Sullivan, Opening Spaces (Chapter 4)
Ronald Burt, The Social Capital of Structural Holes (pdf)
Kenneth Burke, Selections from The Philosophy of Literary Form
James Porter, et al., "Institutional Critique:A Rhetorical Methodology for Change"
Week 12, April 7, Network Properties: Dynamics
Networks help us to see structures, but they also are sites of change, and so this week, we'll be considering that element. How might networks help us to map, perceive, and understand change?
Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point (selections)
Aaron Lynch, Thought Contagion (Chs. 1-2)
Everett Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations (Ch. 3: Contributions and Criticisms of Diffusion Research)
Greg Urban, Metaculture: How Culture Moves through the World (Ch. 1: The Once and Future Thing)
Week 13, April 14, Network Analysis
We will spend this week in an attempt to synthesize both the synchronic and diachronic elements of networks, and draw on the field of social network analysis in a discussion of network analysis as a method, and as a method suited to certain contexts within the study of rhetoric.
Rob Cross, et al., Supporting Knowledge Creation and Sharing in Social Networks
Valdis Krebs, An Introduction to Social Network Analysis and Knowledge Networks
Peter Morville, Social Network Analysis
Week 14, April 21, Information Visualization
We will spend this week looking at numerous examples of how network analysis might be expressed, focusing particularly on the visualization of information or data.
Johanna Drucker, "Graphesis" (see me for handout)
Week 15, April 28
Work on course projects
Whew. This entry is already long, and it will only get longer as I add in readings. Right now, this is my best guess as to how the semester will break down. It looks like there are three major movements--network literacies, network studies, and network methods--but this may change as I add readings, move stuff around, etc.
Course Expectations: Blogging
Although there will be additional expectations in this course, the major portion of your course grade will be determined by the blogging you do in the course. We will be discussing blogs during the first few weeks of the course, but there are a few considerations that I want to raise before class starts.
What are the baseline requirements?
As I understand it, blogging is a combination of reading and writing. So while certain of my expectations deal with producing entries or posts, there are a couple of additional requirements intended to get you reading as well. Each week, I expect you to:
- post 3-4 entries to your individual weblog
- post at least 1 entry to this site, the course weblog (which may be cross-posted to your own weblog)
- make 2-3 comments on your classmates' entries, either here or on their weblogs
- contribute 2 sites per week to a collaborative del.icio.us account
I don't expect to have to spend the semester with a spreadsheet, tallying each of these requirements. In other words, if you are engaging with this class as you should, you should have no trouble meeting and exceeding these expectations. We will spend the first class meeting going over each of these requirements.
How do I set up a weblog?
Some of you already maintain weblogs, but for those who don't, I will create weblogs in Movable Type for you and host them in my own server account. If you wish to try out other blogging platforms, such as Livejournal, Blogger, or the new MS Spaces, you are welcome to do so, but you may have to spend some time outside of class familiarizing yourself with them. I will provide some technical support during class for the MT blogs, but I hope to be able to keep it to a minimum.
Also, each of you will have a username and password that gives you access to this site.
This is actually pretty important. Before our class begins, you have to decide whether or not you'll be blogging this semester under your real name or assuming an alias. Weblogs are public, and the work you do in this class will be accessible to anyone who might take an interest, including the people whose work we'll be discussing. Even if you ultimately decide to blog under your own name, I urge you to consider blogging pseudonymously, at least to begin with. Your "secret identity" won't be a mystery to anyone in the class (or anyone who knows you), but it will provide you with something of a safety net as you grow accustomed to writing publicly about the class materials.
What about etiquette?
Even if you elect to blog under an alias, I recommend that you take the following guidelines to heart:
- If you wouldn't sign your real name to it, think twice about posting it. There are some legitimate reasons for blogging pseudonymously, and you'll find that those who do so are as careful about the credibility of their aliases as those of us who blog under our "real" names are about our own reputations. An alias is not a license to behave badly.
- Write as though the people you're writing about will be reading it. Even if you disagree with someone, do it constructively and respectfully.
- Set some clear boundaries. Personally, I don't blog about my colleagues, classes, or students in much detail, unless it's something that I wouldn't mind them reading. They'll find it eventually, especially if I start gossiping or complaining.
Bottom line here is that you should always overestimate your potential audience, and write about others in a way that you yourself would want to be written about.
Do I have to blog about the class all the time?!
No. Your posts to the class blog should be relevant to the week's topic and readings, but otherwise, your individual weblog is your own space, to fill as you see fit. You can blog about this class there if you choose (especially if you cross-post your weekly entry), but the other entries are entirely up to you. If you want to use it as a space for keeping notes in your other courses, feel free. If you want to reflect on politics, pop culture, or hobbies, feel free. The point of maintaining an individual weblog for this course is that it will give you experience with the kind of writing and (post) literacies we'll be exploring and discussing in class.
Do I have to stick with the default design?
Nope. But we won't be spending a great deal of time in class on issues of HTML or CSS. I can point you to a couple of helpful sites and offer a quick overview of some of the key steps in the process, but if you'd like to customize your site, you'll need to spend some time outside of class with it, either individually or collaboratively.
What are my obligations to my classmates?
Part of my motivation in keeping weekly readings shorter is that you'll have the time to read each others' weblogs as well as the course weblog, and I would urge you not to slack on that portion of the course. I will show you during our first meeting how to use an aggregator to manage your reading load, but after that, it's up to you. Nothing will please me more in class discussion than to hear you citing each others' writing and building on it. Ideally, this site and your own blogs will form an ongoing conversational network, with the value distributed across every node.
Is there anything I'm not telling you, any unspoken assumptions?
Yes, I do have one more thing, an assumption that I carry into every technologically-inflected course I teach. I expect you to be frank and unapologetic about your level of tech expertise, and I expect you to push yourself in that regard during this course. I will help as best as I can, but you are responsible for being able to say at the end of the semester that you know more about this stuff than you did when you started. Don't be afraid to try something new or different, and don't be afraid to ask for help when you get stuck.
[Update: We'll be talking about this in more detail during Week 3, but for those of you who are wondering how this emphasis on blogging relates to your course grade, I recommend this post from Adrian Miles, which speculates briefly on the relationship between assessment and innovation...]
December 08, 2004
The expectations for this course will differ in several ways from the typical graduate course, not the least reason for which is that we will be putting into practice many of the ideas that we'll be studying and discussing. Much of the course will itself be networked, and available for examination by the very writers whose work we will be considering. As I've written in another entry, one of the material changes that you'll experience in this course is a change in rhythm, and I've tried as best as possible to reflect that change in the expectations outlined below.
One thing that remains consistent is that I expect you to come to class having completed the assigned readings each week. Completing the readings in a graduate course entails being prepared to discuss them carefully in class, being cognizant of the connections and/or dissonances among them, and, in the case of extra-disciplinary readings, giving some thought as to their implications for our field. These are high expectations, as you've no doubt already learned, but I'd add that I don't expect "mastery." That is, your preparation can and should include questions, possible lines of inquiry, speculation, etc., with a focus on generating discussion.
This semester, I have intentionally reduced the number of readings required each week, and I do so with the expectation that you do some individual exploration. As you'll see below, this will help you with some of the writing expectations. Let me make this as clear as possible: as part of your preparation for class, I expect you to spend 1-2 hours a week browsing the web. This may entail tracking RSS feeds, reading archives at sites that interest you, tracing out web conversations, investigating blogrolls, etc. Some of the material for this course will inevitably be written and published as the course is taking place, and it is your job (and mine) to stay abreast of relevant conversations.
I'll be posting a separate entry with more detail about this requirement, but for the moment, I want to note that the primary writing assignment for this course involves keeping a weblog. You will each be keeping an individual weblog, you will be contributing to our course weblog, and you will be responsible for providing a certain amount of feedback (in the form of comments) on your classmates' blogs. My hope for this component of the course is that, for each of you, is that it becomes more than just another requirement to be ticked off a weekly to-do list. Invested with enough energy and attention, weblogs can help us re-imagine ourselves as professional writers, teachers, and scholars.
I will ask you to complete a project for this course, but the parameters of that project will be open for negotiation. The traditional output for a graduate course is the 20-25 page seminar paper, but because this course is about rhetorics that are in many ways post-print, I will encourage you to explore alternative models for your project. Some of the possibilities include
- Developing a web-based resource for one or more of the tools we examine in the course (or ones that we won't have time to cover)
- Integrating ideas and/or methods from the course into ongoing projects
- Designing a network-based mini-seminar
- Preparing a shorter (8-10 page) essay, either as a conference presentation or groundwork for a larger project
- Leading class discussion and/or gathering resources for the study of relevant issues (credibility, open source, virtual community, social software, etc.)
The bottom line here is that, if it's relevant to the course and you can imagine a way to do it, there's a good chance that it'll make an acceptable project. Over the course of the semester, we will discuss these and other options during class.
Calculating the Final Grade
Roughly 3/5 of your final grade will come from the blogging that you do this semester. Another 1/5 will come from your grade on your individual project, and the remainder will come from your participation in class discussions.
December 07, 2004
This may be the most important thing I have to say about the logistics for this course. It may not make immediate sense, but by the end of the semester, it will have become obvious.
By this point in your careers as graduate students, you are no doubt experts at the traditional semesterly rhythm of courses, which operate according to an economy of:
- a fairly well-defined subject area to be covered in the course of a semester;
- a relatively consistent weekly reading load (100-150 pages a week, sometimes more);
- ongoing, informal writing assignments (reading notes, short essays);
- lectures and/or class discussions focused on the explication of course readings;
- a capstone project, due at the end of the semester, typically modeled after the base unit of currency in our field, the 20-25 page academic essay/article/chapter
This model of the academic course is one we have inherited from print culture--it is focused around the consumption of books and targeted at the production of print scholarship. We will not be abandoning this economy altogether--we will still read a few books--but the majority of our attention and energy will be spent on the networks we study, and as a result, the rhythm of the course will change.
As I explain in the course requirements, the traditional elements of graduate coursework will be diminished substantially, in favor of more ongoing, exploratory, and inventive types of inquiry. Keeping a weblog bears many similarities to keeping reading notes for a class, but there are some important differences, not the least of which is the fact that your weblogs will spend as much time looking outward as they do examining the course material. There will be less in the way of required reading so that you will have the time to browse, to follow your own lines of inquiry, to respond to each others' work, and to contribute to the course site.
The advantage of this shift is that you will find yourself, at the end of the semester, already having accomplished more during the semester than you would in a frantic, end-of-semester seminar paper. And that's part of my point here. Ask any academic blogger, and you will likely find that they experience writing according to a much different rhythm than the typical academic, binge-and-purge cycle that characterizes many semesters.
However, and this is crucial, you will have to commit to this rhythm. Part of that commitment is built into the requirements themselves--you cannot simply post 50 entries in the final week of the semester and expect to pass this course. But part of the commitment has to come from each of you on your own. The rest of your semester will work against this different rhythm, as you balance this course with the up-and-down of other courses you take and teach. You will not be doing any less work in this class than you do in others, but that work will take a different form and operate according to a different pace than you may be used to. Embrace this change, and you may find yourself thinking about your other time commitments differently. Ignore it, and I suspect that you'll have a difficult time doing as well in this course as you hope to.
Here is the description for the course as I envisioned it in the summer of 2004:
Over the past few years and across a range of disciplines, writers have turned to the study of networks to assist them in modeling various phenomena: fashion trends, sexual contact, social cohesion, disease outbreaks, the development of organizations, the diffusion of ideas, et al. And now, with the development of various forms of social software, the emerging field of network studies has never been more relevant to the study of rhetoric and writing. With more than 4 million active weblogs, according to Technorati, this phenomenon represents a massive site for rhetorical inquiry, one that has gone largely unnoticed. Weblogs are posing a serious challenge to the entrenched customs of both politics and journalism; Wikipedia is causing many to reconsider how trust and credibility are developed in online environments; RSS feeds, Google queries and the like are changing the way we conduct research; graph-based data visualizations offer us new perspectives on collecting, presenting, and understanding information; and on our own campus, The Facebook is reinventing the social lives of our students. The question is no longer whether networks are relevant to what we do, but whether we can continue to ignore them.
Because network studies is an emerging field, we will read broadly across disciplines in this course, and ask some of the fundamental questions that necessarily arise in an encounter with a new field of study:
- What are networks, and how do they behave?
- What are the central tenets of network studies? Its key terms and vocabularies?
- How does the study of networks translate into the field of rhetoric? Is it possible to identify and investigate what we might call discursive networks?
- How might network studies inform our field methodologically?
- Are there implications in network studies for our own writing, and the writing we ask of our students?
We will approach these questions inductively, for the answers themselves are still developing. Network studies is animated both by a spirit of inquiry and by frequent collaboration, and we will attempt to instantiate those values in this course. Students will maintain their own weblogs, contribute to a collaborative course blog, and experiment with a variety of social software applications. I will invite many of the writers whose work we read to participate as guests on our course blog, and I am currently working to network the course itself with related courses at other institutions. In this way, I hope to develop the course itself as a relevant site for our discussions and reflections. Course projects, written or otherwise, will be negotiated within the context of the workload for the class.
This course will be technology-intensive, and while there are no "computer literacy" prerequisites, developing some facility and familiarity with a range of software will be one of the expectations. Whenever possible, I will attempt to build that development into the course itself, but you should be prepared to spend some time outside of class, beyond the reading and writing, to work on this element of the course.
The course blog is now officially up and running. I'll be announcing it as such next week, and in the meantime, my plan is to post several entries about course logistics that I'll be permalinking to the right in anticipation of next semester.
If you have any comments, clarifications, or suggestions to offer while I'm doing this, please feel free to do so. Content on them won't be locked until the semester begins...