English 609

ENGL 609
Writing in Digital Spaces

1. Catalog Entry

ENGL 609
Writing in Digital Spaces

Credit hours (3)

An online course that teaches students how to navigate the rhetorical dynamics, professional ethics, and usability considerations of writing and designing for screen-based environments and devices.

2. Detailed Description of Course

In comparison to writing and processing traditional print media, composing and consuming digital texts--those intended for consumption within screen-based environments--demands different expectations of writers and audiences, respectively. As such, this course understands the act of “writing” to be largely synonymous with the concept of “composing”: the manipulation of text (language) along with graphics, moving images, color, hyperlinks, etc. all play an important role in advancing an artifact’s meaning and achieving its intended purpose. Students in this course learn how to navigate some of the unique rhetorical, formal, ethical, and legal demands of composing in digital spaces. Topics addressed may include: writing and designing basic web pages and blogs using “WYSIWYG” (“what you see is what you get”) editors; understanding and participating in usability testing for websites and blogs, including ensuring equal access for ADA-protected populations (e.g., people with low vision); using and managing social media sites (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) for an organization and/or to develop one’s professional, digital presence or “brand”; creating podcasts, screen captures, videos, and online tutorials; making online forms; and optimizing graphics and images; creating infographics; and adapting common business communication genres (e.g., routine emails; negative messages) for mobile devices. While English 609 is intended to be a skills-based course, some historical and theoretical readings on topics such as participatory culture, online harassment, virality, and the web 2.0 may be assigned to contextualize the platforms, artifacts, and technologies to which students might be exposed in the course.

3. Detailed Description of Conduct of Course

English 609 equips students with the rhetorical, design, language, ethical, and other sensibilities needed to write in digital spaces for a variety of audiences. Therefore, the course may include instruction in using specific applications, tools, or programs (e.g., Adobe Acrobat Professional, Twitter, or Wordpress); however, its primary objectives are to (1) furnish students with a broad conceptual understanding of the field, and (2) train them in applying this knowledge in various contexts. In this way, the course can keep pace with the evolution of online platforms and technologies. To that end, students may read about eye-tracking and other studies to learn how writing in digital spaces is contingent on reading behaviors in digital spaces. Students may apply this knowledge by learning to write for the web. Topics addressed may include economy of prose, deductive reasoning, tone, headings and subheadings, headlines, and hyperlinks. Successful writing for the web also takes design and usability concerns into consideration, and students may be asked to evaluate the functionality of a website for various audiences, including populations with disabilities (e.g., low vision). Importantly, writing for the web means engaging with--and not simply talking at--online audiences. Consequently, blogging as a platform and genre will be discussed. In addition, students will learn how to respond to positive, negative, and neutral blog comments while also fulfilling the goals of the organization at hand. Writing for social media similarly requires careful consideration and treatment of the audience; thus, the course may train students to write for social media on behalf of an organization. At the instructor’s discretion, students may be tasked with starting a social media channel, writing for an existing social media channel, or analyzing existing social media channels. Some of this work could be collaborative in nature, and it may involve producing other kinds of content, such as infographics, podcasts, or videos. Students also may be trained in using social media to construct a professional brand to aid in networking or the passive job search. In addition to producing genres for public consumption on the open web, English 609 also teaches developing digitally-based documents for the workplace. Such genres include forms, training modules, or animated presentations. Students may be asked to recommend improvements to existing materials, including those from their own workplaces.

English 609 utilizes a variety of instructional strategies, such as video lecture, online discussion board, case studies, and problem-based learning. Students will have multiple opportunities to improve their digital composition processes in response to instructor and peer feedback. Finally, because English 609 is a graduate-level course, students will be expected to assume more responsibility and agency in their own learning. To this end, collaborative projects and presentations may be assigned. In completing such projects, students might be asked to write reflectively in order to foster metacognition and learning transfer; some of this reflective writing may be part of a major, end-of-term assignment for the course. This assignment most likely would feed into the ePortfolio capstone course for the certificate program as a whole.

4. Goals and Objectives of the Course

By the end of the course, students will be able to:
    1) Understand the traditional conceptions of logos, ethos, and pathos as well as the
        ways that rhetorical appeals transform in digitally-mediated environments
    2) Understand how readers in digitally-mediated environments, particularly on the
        web, find and process information, and organize documents accordingly
    3) Write in a style and tone that is amenable to web readers
    4) Understand the basic principles of search engine optimization in order to write
        effectively for non-human audiences (e.g., web crawlers)
    5) Apply document design principles relative to the media at hand to create
        accessible, aesthetically-pleasing materials
    6) Understand the different goals of web pages and blogs
    7) Understand the importance of constructing a professional web presence
    8) Build a professional web presence using social media and other tools freely
        available on the web
    9) Engage with others via social media on behalf of an organization by appropriately
        responding to positive and negative comments
    10)Understand and abide by copyright rules as well as Creative Commons licenses
    11)Optimize images, graphics, and documents for ease of distribution and storage

5. Assessment Measures

Knowledge and application of course principles will be assessed in a number of ways. Students will plan, write, revise, edit, and/or digital content genres. Students also will analyze the rhetorical, content, design, formal, and other features of real-world documents, including those they may have produced as part of their professional duties. Collaborative projects and presentations may be assigned; for instance, students might work in small groups to start a social media channel or improve an existing one. In completing collaborative projects, students may be asked to produce auxiliary genres, such as an editorial calendar. When theoretical, historical, or other readings are assigned, students may participate in online discussions.

6. Other Course Information