[ENGL4310F2015 Outline as established during week 1.]




COURSE TITLE: Special Studies in English

COURSE TOPIC (F2015): Writing in the Digital Age


SEMESTER: Winter 2015

SEMINAR: GRHM Room 2302 Mondays and Wednesdays, 2:30-3:50

INSTRUCTOR: Dr. Susan Brown

OFFICE: MacKinnon 412

PHONE: 519-824-4120 x53266

EMAIL: sbrown@uoguelph.ca

OFFICE HOURS: Wednesday 10-11a.m. or by appointment


and password.


A seminar designed to provide students in semesters 7 and 8 with an opportunity to pursue studies in an area or areas of language or literature not available in other courses. The course may be taught by a visiting professor or members of the school.


This double-weighted, project-based seminar course will provide students with the opportunity to investigate collaboratively the place of writing in the digital age from a number of complementary perspectives. It will focus both on the role that writing, including literature, has in an increasingly digital world, and the challenges and opportunities involved in writing for digital media.

Early in the course students will also become familiar with some of the scholarly debates surrounding digital textuality as well as a number of digital environments designed to facilitate research and writing. The course will include:

  • Bibliographical management tools
  • E-literature
  • Semantic text encoding
  • Long-form argument
  • Introduction to several digital writing platforms

The course will incorporate, to a greater or lesser degree based on student interest, the following topics:

  • Non-linear arguments, including hypertext
  • Interactive digital narrative, including video games
  • Text analysis tools
  • The rhetoric of interface
  • Blogs, Twitter, and other social media platforms

Students will define a research project based on their particular interests related either to writing as it exists in digital form or to the process of writing in a digital world. They will develop their project over the course of the semester, presenting on related material and work in progress. Projects will be workshopped by the class as a whole. The project will result in a digital artefact comparable in substance to a major research paper, but incorporating in its methods digital tools and some form of reflection upon their use. Projects may incorporate digital tools in a range of ways, including presenting final results in the form of a conventional word-processed document, but public-facing forms such as blogs or websites are encouraged. Collaborative work on projects is encouraged but not required. The student’s resulting project artefact may form part of a student’s ePortfolio, should they choose to create one.

No experience with web technologies is required. Students are expected to enter the course open to new technologies and with a willingness to experiment and take risks in the form as well as the content of their work.

Distribution requirements: Students can satisfy the18-19th Century requirement by focusing their project appropriately. Consultation with and approval of both the instructor and an academic advisor are required.

Learning Outcomes:

When you have successfully completed this course you should have:

  • produced a lengthy sustained research artifact embedding an argument, on a par with other capstone projects, containing 3500-5000 words;
  • developed your own research question, an applicable methodology, and an analytical argument.
  • demonstrated your ability to evaluate sources and incorporate at least 10 into your project
  • synthesized textual analysis, secondary research, and theoretical awareness.
  • situated your project in terms of the critical or theoretical issues it addresses and the digital form in which you have chosen to produce it
  • demonstrated the ability to manage your time in order to complete an individually directed research project
  • significantly advanced your digital literacy and an expansion of your vocabulary in relation to digital technologies through critical engagement with digital forms
  • acquired additional digital proficiency through hands-on use of a number of different tools, and in-depth application of one of them in your capstone project
  • demonstrated in your journal entries and your participation in discussions a critical understanding of the relevance of cultural, historical and discursive contexts for digital writing

Course Format:

Seminar course, Writing-intensive and Presentation-intensive

Project-based, with considerably emphasis on independent learning in a guided context. Roughly half of each week’s class time will be spent interacting with tools, platforms, or each other. Be prepared to work in class on your project.

Methods of Evaluation and Weights:

15%     Position paper on example of social media (1000-1500 words, incorporating at least one primary, one secondary, and one theoretical source)

10%     Demonstration: lead class re: use of a digital writing tool or platform, plus 500-word evaluation of it

25%     Participation: contributions to class (b)log and in-class engagement

10%     Proposal: Annotated bibliography, 250-word summary of the literature on your topic, 500-word project pitch, and a 250-word summary of digital strategy

15%     Project artefact draft one, feedback on a peer’s draft, and workshop presentation

25%     Final project artefact and/including reflection (3500-5000 words)

Texts and/or Resources Required

Students will require a relatively recent computer (not just a tablet, although computers can be borrowed from the Library or the Arts Media Centre) and regular access to the Internet.

All readings are available online, through the Library, or through Courselink, as specified in the schedule. Students are responsible for bringing a copy of the readings for the week, and ideally also previous readings, to class either on a screen or on paper, and of having engaged with them in such a way that they can refer to them in detail, ask and answer questions, and offer comments about them.

Readings are noted in the schedule. Keep referring to the schedule. Some readings will be added as we go in respond to emergent questions or in relation to particular projects or presentations.

Depending on the nature of the student’s project, there could be software costs, but there are plenty of open-source tools that can be used.

On reserve: consult the list via the libary reserve website.

Practical components: This course emphasizes a blend of critical and practical activity. This is quite different from most English courses. Your intellectual engagement is expected to include trying out new methods and tools for scholarship, in addition to reading, writing, and presenting. Emergent tools are often buggy and poorly documented, so you need to accept a measure of frustration as a distinct likelihood in this course. The course may also have a greater emphasis on work in progress and collaboration than you are used to: you will be asked to present on work that is not yet in final form, and you will be given the option to collaborate on your major project with one or more classmates. You will not be required to collaborate unless you so choose.

A laptop computer with wireless capability that you can bring to class is highly desirable for this course: see me if this is not possible for you. Regular and preferably high-speed access to the internet is necessary to complete the readings and assignments.

Class schedule: The class schedule handed out at the start of the semester is provisional and subject to revision and additions. It will be developed further in conjunction with class members’ interests and project topics. Readings will be finalized no less than a week in advance of the class in which they will be discussed. The online version of the schedule is the current one.

Classroom etiquette and digital devices: We are coming together to talk about the topic of the course, the assigned readings, resources, and tools. We are coming to listen to the presentations you will be making over the course of the semester. You are expected to come to class prepared and with readings and reading notes available for reference, either in hard copy on or a laptop. Cell phones and communications software (including email, Twitter, Facebook) are to be turned off during class and should be consulted only during breaks. Laptops are to be used only for course-appropriate activities.

Communications: E-mail is the best way to reach me. I respond to emails as soon as I am able, but please understand that I receive a high volume of messages. I will do my best to respond within 24 hours. Please check that inquiries do not pertain to information easily obtainable in the course outline or the online course materials.


General: Written work should cite all sources, and not simply those quoted verbatim, using MLA parenthetical style where possible and lists of Works Cited and Works Consulted.

Submission formats and methods for assignments will vary depending on the nature of the assignment. These are outlined for specific assignments or for projects will be decided in consultation with me.

Unattributed indebtedness constitutes academic misconduct as detailed in the University of Guelph calendar. If you are unfamiliar with what constitutes academic misconduct, please consult the calendar; if you have questions or doubts about the specifics of your own practices, please consult me.

Senior undergraduate work requires professionalism regarding deadlines, and the collaborative work of this course depends on members of the class completing their work in a timely fashion. Late work (received later than 4:30 on the day on which it is due, or after the time stipulated in the outline) will be penalized at a rate of two percentage points per day, unless there are extenuating circumstances. Egregiously late work may not be graded. I do not accept conventional paper assignments by email.

15% Position paper on example of social media (1000-1500 words, incorporating at least one primary, one secondary, and one theoretical source)

Your first assignment is to write a short paper that takes a position on an instance of social media. You should identify some instance or manageable collection of social media (e.g. a blog, a facebook group, a Twitter stream or hashtag, a Buzzfeed post) and analyze it as a form of digital writing, being conscious of the differences of platform affordances, audience, personas associated with different forms of media. Your discussion should engage with some of the details of the primary text, and engage in close reading strategies of the kind associated with literary analysis to elucidate its rhetorical components. You may focus on content, or you may decide to focus more on the formal components of your chosen text. The instance of media you are discussing needs to be accessible by me, so a private group is not eligible. Situate your discussion in relation to at least one discussion of the type of media you are discussing, and in relation to an abstract or theoretical articulation of digital writing.

Mechanics: Give your paper a title. Indicate the passage you are analyzing by excerpting it at the beginning of your paper. List your word count at the end. The word count applies to the body of your paper, not the excerpt or the list of Works Cited. Use at least one instance of social media as a primary source. Include also at least one secondary source, which may or may not be scholarly, on the medium, platform or tool used by the primary source, and one theoretical source, such as the general engagements with writing and digital media from our first couple of weeks of reading, that will help to frame your discussion and its terms. Ensure that you engage at least once in close, sustained, textual analysis, and that you present a clear, well-written, and well-structured articulation of your position. See below under General Information regarding format, citations, etc.

10% Demonstration: lead class re: use of a digital writing tool or platform, plus 500-word evaluation of it

You will present briefly (for 5-10 minutes) and then help to facilitate our hands-on exploration of a digital tool or resource. Some are suggested on the schedule, but feel free to suggest others pertinent to the topic for the week you have elected to present. You can look the Platforms, Tools and Technologies site, including the materials collected in the “Building Resources” section, for ideas. The aim will be to promote understanding and discussion of the tool by the class as a whole. You are expected to demonstrate comfort with the tool’s features, provide analysis of its affordances and functionality, and convey a sense of how the particular tool fits into the larger ecology of digital tools. Demonstrations will be assessed for effective summarization and demonstration of the site, clarity of analysis and evaluation, and contextualization in relation to the concerns of the course, as well as for overall quality as oral presentations. The criteria for evaluating sites and tools are in flux but you may find some useful tips online, such as at the University of Nebraska’s Centre for Digital Research in the Humanities (http://cdrh.unl.edu/articles/eval_digital_scholar.php)

25% Participation: contributions to class (b)log and in-class engagement

Your contribution to the course as a shared undertaking will be assessed through a participation grade that covers both your oral participation in class and your electronic participation.

Written participation will happen primarily through postings to the course blog, both original postings and responses to others’ posts. Posts are expected to engage with the topic of the course, readings, assignments, and experiments with digital tools, and related matters from beyond the course. You should aim to write about 300-500 words per week, writing with an informal tone but with attention to correctness of expression (grammar, spelling, punctuation). Your post(s) for each week should include:

  • at least one question
  • at least one comment with attention to specifics, on a particular passage in a reading
  • at least one evaluative comment (i.e. not purely descriptive) with respect to the hands-on work that week

Although the blog is public, you have the option to participate with a private post or a response handed in to me, if you prefer to do so occasionally. Class participation should be based on respect for others’ views and for the need of all to have the opportunity to participate. Responsiveness will be valued along with initiative. Contributions will be assessed for the extent to which they further the collective process of critical inquiry. Careful preparation and reflection before class will enable you to participate most productively. Feel free to come and ask me for feedback on your contributions to class. I will base my evaluation of your participation on both oral and electronic participation. If you shine particularly in one area over the other, I will weight them roughly 2/3-1/3 in your favour, but your participation grade will suffer if you do not contribute in both modes. Do not assume that showing up is participating.

Major Project

This major project will be developed over the course of the semester, starting early. The nature of the project is quite flexible, but it must be cleared with me through a formal proposal. It must involve 1) engagement with a substantive question, which may or may not focus on digital writing, that is susceptible to research and sustained analysis; 2) significant research, in order to be able to situate your project in relation to relevant scholarship; 3) production of your research results, analysis, and conclusions by means of a digital writing medium other than a standard word processor; 4) critical reflection on the writing process and the implications of your results for our understanding of writing in the digital age.

The number of possible topics and modes of approach are legion, so you need to choose carefully something that will sustain your interest. You are urged to consult with me in the development of your project topic. You are welcome to work on non-traditional texts such as –literature or video games, or on a topic related to one of your other courses. Projects may be collaborative but the nature of the collaboration and assessment must be worked out with the instructor before the submission of proposals starts.

10% Proposal: Annotated bibliography, 250-word summary of the literature on your topic, 500-word project pitch, outline of your paper, and a 250-word summary of digital strategy

Annotated bibliography: you will produce a bibliography of at least 10 sources relevant to your paper, and provide annotations of one or two sentences for each, plus a 200-300 word summary of what you take to be the current state of debate about your topic. Ideally your sources should include at least one theoretical or relatively broad study that will help to frame your argument. The quality of the research is important here. You will be assessed on the quality of your chosen materials as well as your annotations and your ability to apply MLA style.

Project pitch: in up to 500 words, provide your provisional title, articulate your topic, why it matters, how you plan to approach it, and what question(s) you hope to answer. Be compelling about the need to understand your topic and how you will help to do that.

Outline: you will produce an outline in which represent some kind of a provisional structure for your paper, identifying the major passages/quotations which you intend to incorporate, and organizing your major sections and points. If you can also identify what secondary sources you will incorporate and link them to the right sections of the paper, you will be that much further ahead. You can create your outline in a range of forms including spatial arrangements of your material using longhand or software gliffy, prezi or wireframing tools.

Digital Strategy: Explain in up to 250 words what digital tool or platform you plan to use to write and present your work and why you consider that particular choice appropriate for your topic. You can go beyond the choices listed in our syllabus, but you need to clear that choice with me well prior to the submission of the digital strategy component of the proposal.

All other components of the proposal need to be handed in again with the Digital Strategy, since the grade will be assigned once all are complete, though feedback will be given during the process.

15% Project artefact draft one, feedback on a peer’s draft, and 2 presentations

Lightning presentation of topic: you will present to the class a succinct, engaging, and informative description of your topic so that everyone is aware of what others are working on. Use your time efficiently. Maximum time for formal presentation: 3 minutes or roughly the time it would take to read one page (though you may do best not to read)!

First draft: You are required to submit a full first draft of your paper for this component: it should be a minimum of 3000 words (but get as close as you can to done) incorporating an introduction, some close textual analysis, incorporation of secondary materials, and a draft of a conclusion

Peer Feedback: You will be assess on the quality of your response to a classmate’s draft. Mechanics of swapping drafts will have to be worked out depending on the choice of medium for writing.

Provide constructive and detailed written feedback designed to encourage your classmate to take their project to the next level. Consider the structure of the project: is the topic clear? Does the argument emerge by stages over the course of the project? Is the conclusion strong? Consider the evidence: is the paper convincing? why or why not? is more research needed, or better use of the existing sources? Consider the writing: is the paper clear? engaging? persuasive? what works well and what needs improvement? Consider the presentation of the project in digital form: does it suit the project topic well? what is effective in how it is being used? could it be used more effectively?

Clearly identify, if you can, a minimum of three writing problems and indicate how they should be addressed. If you cannot find three, then indicate how you think the writing or presentation could otherwise be improved. Flag mechanical or grammatical problems but do not do a full edit of the paper.

Failure to provide timely feedback on the draft assigned to you will result in failure for this assignment.

Workshop presentations of first version: You will have 15 minutes to show your work in progress. Demonstrate what you’ve done to date and how far you’ve been able to progress with your thinking. Flag any gaps that you still have to work on, and ask your classmates for help if you’re stuck in any way.

25% Final project artefact (3500-5000 words)

Building on the feedback you have had from me and from your classmate, you will undertake a full revision of your project. Depending on how far you got with your first draft, this may entail some or all of the following: further research or the incorporation of more sources; a shift in topic or argument; major restructuring; writing entirely new chunks and deleting others; or consulting the Learning Commons for help with writing problems. It will almost certainly involve careful reworking of your project. I am looking for a final version free from mechanical problems and presentation errors, that presents its argument clearly, persuasively, and with solid support from both textual analysis and secondary sources. That said, I recognize that some platforms are much more challenging to work in on others and will not penalize you if the ambition to stretch yourself means that you are short on time for polishing.

See below for General Information regarding format, citations, etc.

Substantial comments will be provided on your first draft. You may choose between two deadlines for submitting the final version of the project: one for those who want comments on their final draft, and a later one for those who do not.

The schedule is now here.

Strategies for success: some suggestions for how to do well in this course

  • Do the reading: this means starting the reading well in advance of the class for which it is assigned, and starting the reading See Paul N. Edwards’s excellent guide to How to Read a Book (which can easily be applied to articles) at http://pne.people.si.umich.edu/PDF/howtoread.pdf
  • Keep notes: Use index cards, or a notebook, and have a pencil or pen with you as you read, use a notetaking app such as Evernote, or use an annotation program for pdf files. Jot down page numbers or phrases for points in the text that seem particularly interesting, troubling, rhetorically effective, puzzling, or infuriating. Make a note of any questions that occur to you as you read. Then bring these notes to class with you. They will serve you well in writing your journal or blog entries, and they will be invaluable if you choose to do further work on the reading.
  • Keep the larger concerns of the course in mind: remember that the class is an on-going, shared inquiry into the relationship between the writing process and digital technologies. It requires attention to large theoretical issues as well as detailed analysis of the digital texts and tools. Be as self-aware as you can about what criteria you are using to judge the materials we read, attending to rhetoric as well as content.
  • Participate in class and online discussion to try out your ideas and benefit from others’ responses.
  • Choose your topics well in advance for your position paper, demonstration, and project. Letting them percolate for a while will help you develop your ideas.
  • Research your assignments in the library as well as on the internet. Find the most pertinent sources you can for your topic and read them: they will help you shape your ideas and place them in a larger context.
  • Polish your written work: a 4000-level English course demands excellent writing. Carefully review both the mechanics (grammar, MLA style, spelling) and organization of your work to avoid careless errors. If you need assistance with either, get it early. The Learning Commons in the Library is there to help. Make sure you take advantage of the opportunities to revise your work and improve it.
  • Talk to me about your work as you develop it, or if you are having difficulties with the course.

The fine print – Standard Statements –Course Outlines

The following are standard statements for inclusion on all courses as per policy in the College of Arts.

E-mail Communication
As per university regulations, all students are required to check their <mail.uoguelph.ca> e-mail account regularly: e-mail is the official route of communication between the University and its students.

When You Cannot Meet a Course Requirement
When you find yourself unable to meet an in-course requirement because of illness or compassionate reasons, please advise the course instructor (or designated person, such as a teaching assistant) in writing, with your name, id#, and e-mail contact. See the undergraduate calendar for information on regulations and procedures for Academic Consideration.

Drop Date
The last date to drop one-semester courses, without academic penalty, is Friday, 6 November 2015. For regulations and procedures for Dropping Courses, see the Undergraduate Calendar.

Copies of out-of-class assignments
Keep paper and/or other reliable back-up copies of all out-of-class assignments: you may be asked to resubmit work at any time.

The University of Guelph is committed to creating a barrier-free environment. Providing services for students is a shared responsibility among students, faculty and administrators. This relationship is based on respect of individual rights, the dignity of the individual and the University community’s shared commitment to an open and supportive learning environment. Students requiring service or accommodation, whether due to an identified, ongoing disability or a short-term disability should contact Student Accessibility Services as soon as possible. For more information, contact CSD at 519-824-4120 ext. 56208 or email sas@uoguelph.ca or see the website: http://www.csd.uoguelph.ca/csd/

Student Rights and Responsibilities

Each student at the University of Guelph has rights which carry commensurate responsibilities that involve, broadly, being a civil and respectful member of the University community. The Rights and Responsibilities are detailed in the Undergraduate Calendar

Academic Misconduct
The University of Guelph is committed to upholding the highest standards of academic integrity and it is the responsibility of all members of the University community – faculty, staff, and students – to be aware of what constitutes academic misconduct and to do as much as possible to prevent academic offences from occurring. University of Guelph students have the responsibility of abiding by the University’s policy on academic misconduct regardless of their location of study; faculty, staff and students have the responsibility of supporting an environment that discourages misconduct. Students need to remain aware that instructors have access to and the right to use electronic and other means of detection.

Please note: Whether or not a student intended to commit academic misconduct is not relevant for a finding of guilt. Hurried or careless submission of assignments does not excuse students from responsibility for verifying the academic integrity of their work before submitting it. Students who are in any doubt as to whether an action on their part could be construed as an academic offence should consult with a faculty member or faculty advisor. The Academic Misconduct Policy is detailed in the Undergraduate Calendar.

Recording of Materials
Presentations which are made in relation to course work—including lectures—cannot be recorded or copied without the permission of the presenter, whether the instructor, a classmate or guest lecturer. Material recorded with permission is restricted to use for that course unless further permission is granted.

The Academic Calendars are the source of information about the University of Guelph’s procedures, policies and regulations which apply to undergraduate, graduate and diploma programs.


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