Course name: Writing, Research, and Technology
Number: WA 01301
Meeting times: TR 9:30 a.m. (Section 2) and 12:30 p.m. (Section 3)
Location: Victoria 301
My email: luther at rowan dot edu
Office hours: Tuesdays 3:30-4:30 or by appointment
“When politicians toe the party line in every instance, sometimes speaking absurdities in order to be ideologically consistent, audiences, toeing the same party line, accept these absurdities as facts of rhetorical life. In a post-truth world, audiences do not seek information on which to base their opinions; they seek opinions that support their own beliefs. In a world where facts, realities, and truths are irrelevant, language becomes pure strategy without grounding or reference.” (12)Bruce McComiskey, Post-Truth Rhetoric and Composition (2017)
In November of 2016, Oxford Dictionaries chose “post-truth” as their word of the year, “an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’” The concept that people form public opinions based on their feelings over facts or logic isn’t actually all that new. See, for example, Stephen Colbert’s funny monologue on truthiness, which was delivered on the Colbert Report almost 12 years ago, during the Bush administration’s tenure.
That said, two global-political events in 2016 produced a significant uptake in the usage of the term “post-truth”: Britain’s decision to withdraw from the European Union (i.e. Brexit) and the presidential election of outsider conservative candidate Donald Trump in the United States. These events have not only drawn our attention to the importance of emotional appeals that influence our decision making, but to the systems and technologies of information — the individualized media diets — that have gotten us to a moment epitomized by fake news.
As such, we will approach post-truth primarily in two ways: one that is optimistic and focuses on individual responses and another that explores the deeper systemic challenges that makes the future of information more uncertain. With regard to the first approach, you will use Unit 1 to look at how we, as individuals, can learn and adopt media-based literacies like fact-checking to become more responsible citizens. With regard to the second, you will use Units 2 and 3 to examine the many frameworks that make developing counter-technologies and strategies of intervention demanding and complex.
Writing Arts Core Values
Like other courses in the Writing Arts sequence, this one is informed by the major’s core values (note: for more details on how these can help you with Portfolio Seminar, see the document “Questions to Help Further Your Understanding of the Department of Writing Arts Core Values”).
While WRT touches upon every value to some extent, the following will be explicitly emphasized:
- Value 3. Writing Arts students will demonstrate the ability to critically read complex and sophisticated texts in a variety of subjects.
- Value 4: Writing Arts students will be able to investigate, discover, evaluate, and incorporate information in the creation of text.
- Value 6: Writing Arts students will understand the impact evolving technologies have on the creation of written texts.
- Value 7: Writing arts students will show an understanding of the power of the written word and that such power requires ethical responsibilities in its application.
Important: If you are a Writing Major, you will need to use specific textual evidence from your writing in this course once you get to Portfolio Seminar. Once there you will demonstrate how you met the following learning outcomes by pulling from your reflections, blog posts, or other pieces you published in this course. See Major Assignments below for further description. Of course, throughout each of these assignments and units we will discuss how evolving technologies have impacted the creation of written texts (Value 6) in terms of mediation, identity, publics, and ethics.
NOTE: My teaching is flexible and responds to your evolving needs as the course progresses. This is one of the reasons I use a blog to organize course content. As such, you might notice that I will communicate more specific information about our learning goals and assignments as we get closer to certain deadlines. Although no new information will be given, my responsibility is to help you develop ways to respond to course challenges as you encounter them and communicate them with me. Please use the unit pages and schedule, as well as the daily plan blog to help you in this regard. Each of the following units is worth 100 points for a total of 300 possible points in the course. See the individual assignments (links are nested above) for more details. In the meantime, here is a quick overview:
Unit 1 | FACT-CHECKING THE STREAM [Weeks 1-5]
Recent research tells us that many people, especially students and older adults, have a difficult time evaluating information on the web. This is largely because digitally-networked spaces require a different kind of reading toolkit than those offered through traditional, print-based literacies. After a brief introduction to one of the more visible consequences of our post-truth moment — the rise of fake news — you will spend the first two weeks of the course reading Mike Caulfield’s textbook, Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers and practicing web-based research such as going upstream and reading laterally. You’ll not only read and research with these strategies in mind, you’ll compose five fact-checks shuttling between two popular web platforms for writers: Google Docs and WordPress. The first four fact-checks will be between 500-700 words and the final one will be longer. Although drafts should be written in Google Docs, revisions will be posted on WordPress and will include additional embedded media and links. Because you will learn specific research strategies that require you to incorporate information into your posts, this unit especially emphasizes Value 4.
Unit 2 | READING REALITY [Weeks 6-9]
The second unit aims to provide a deeper context for post-truth and fake news, starting with a critique of fact-checking using the concept of frame-checking. It will then offering five specific frames for understanding post-truth (political, economic, cultural, psychological, and technological) while also introducing three methods of annotation, including those designed for print and digital/web texts. Reading and annotating complex and sophisticated texts written by professional writers and scholars will provide a framework for understanding how claims to facts, truth, and reality are mediated; hence this unit emphasizes Value 3.
Unit 3 | Strategies of Intervention [weeks 10-14]
In the final few weeks, you will inquire deeper into the forces affecting digital literacy by selecting one of several strategies of intervention to study and locate a current or prospective counter-technology — a literacy, tool, or practice that can help users resist, expose, or otherwise ethically mitigate the pernicious forces of post-truth. In teams, you will research and write about the relationship between problems related to post-truth, strategies of intervention, and challenges to those strategies. You will select readings for the class, and lead us in a large-group discussion that spans our classroom and social media. Because some of these forces threaten the foundations of our democracy, our discussions risk becoming a bit depressing; as such, a significant and essential part of your time will also be spent teaching us about one effective counter-technology — a tool or practice that can help writers and researchers resist, expose, or otherwise mitigate these forces. Ultimately this ethical engagement with mediation emphasizes Value 7.
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