“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 absudities 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)
Last November, Oxford Dictionaries chose “post-truth” as their 2016 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 this moment.
As such, this version of Writing, Research, and Technology will ask you to explore the rhetorical, social, and practical dimensions of writing and research in the networked contexts of the post-truth era. You will focus both on the roles of individuals — whether they lean to the left or right of the political spectrum — and the kinds of networks, forces, conventions, and intermediaries that exist in various web systems, both public and private. To accomplish this, you will become a fact-checker using web-based research, explicate complex rhetorical problems writers face when composing online, and develop your own response to them by working together to launch a public website.
We will begin by considering the roles that facts and emotions play in online spaces. Using Mike Caulfield’s recent, free, open-source textbook, Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers, you will learn how to read and write a bit different on the web by doing things like “going upstream” and “reading laterally.” You’ll finish this first unit by composing a fact-checking campaign on a recent controversial fact, statement, or argument.
In the second unit, you will then probe deeper into the socio-technical systems that have required these literacies in the first place, asking questions about how certain codes, social habits, economies, and discourses affect our rhetorical agency online. Using digital research tools and working in teams, you will describe one technological phenomenon that has played a role in shaping our political realities and share with us an effective counter-technology — that is, a tool or practice — for helping us deflect, expose, or manage it better.
Finally, in the last unit, we will make a turn toward the public, combining our new web literacies plus our understanding of technology in the post-truth world to continue building a webzine called The Future of Writing that was started by myself and students from last semester. Together, we will articulate a sense of audience for this webzine, develop strategies for reaching our readers effectively, and create guidelines for future content while providing experimental content that reaches across web genres (including web video, podcasts, infographics, and more). This will be a project-oriented unit that will begin with cross-section collaboration and end with specific, individual texts for the webzine.
Course Learning Outcomes
Writing, Research, and Technology affords Writing Arts students opportunities to meet the following learning goals:
- To develop rhetorical adaptability across a range of digital spaces, tools, and genres.
- To recognize and learn to negotiate the social nature and expectations of digital, networked writing.
- To blend traditional academic research writing techniques with digital tools and approaches, particularly highlighting the social nature of contemporary academic writing.
- To attend to visual rhetoric and principles of design in the composition of digital texts.
- To inquire deeply into the concept of digital literacies while simultaneously practicing them—in other words, we learn about theories of digital literacies while focusing on the process of digital composing.
- To attend to ethics in digital writing, while striving to contribute to an ethical, social public via our digital compositions.
- To practice collaboration as central to contemporary writing.
Writing Arts Core Values
This course aims to give students practice in the following WA core values:
- Writing Arts students will demonstrate an understanding of a variety of genre conventions and exhibit rhetorical adaptability in applying those conventions.
- Writing Arts students will be able to investigate, discover, evaluate and incorporate materials into the creation of texts.
- Writing Arts students will demonstrate self-critical awareness of their writing.
- Writing Arts students will understand the impact evolving technologies have on the creation of written texts.
- Writing Arts students will show an understanding of the power of the written word and that such power requires ethical responsibilities in its application.
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 as well as the daily plan blog to help you in this regard.
Unit 1 | 40% of course grade
Reading the Stream: Fact-Checking in a Post-Truth World
As one of your assigned readings points out, recent research tells us that many people, especially students, have a difficult time evaluating information on the web. And although the future of trust online might be headed for better days, the reality is that digitally-networked spaces require a different kind of reading than the kinds we usually learn in high school and college. In the first unit, then, you will learn several of these reading strategies and practice describing the process by blogging on your own WordPress blog. This unit will end with a more sustained fact-check on an issue of your choosing.
Unit 2 | 30% of course grade
Counter-Technologies for Digital Literacy
In the second unit, we will inquire deeper into the forces affecting digital literacy, shifting to understand the social, cultural, and economic trends that have increasingly required such savvy fact-checking strategies in the first place. In teams of 3 or 4, you will identify and research these forces, select readings for the class, and lead us in a large-group discussion that spans our classroom and Twitter. 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.
Unit 3 | 30 % of course grade
Info Assemblages and Public Circuits: The Future of Writing Project
In the final unit you will demonstrate your understanding of web literacies as a necessary response to socio-technical systems by working together to launch a new webzine called The Future of Writing. The class will work with a diverse editorial board who will guide us in determining our goals, audiences, and content features. Individually, you will be responsible for helping shape the regularized content guidelines and provide an example of the kinds of multimedia we will publish, using a range of tools.
Required Texts and Materials
- Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers by Mike Caulfield
- Selected readings—provided via Google Drive
You can expect this course to use a mix of approaches to assessment. In the first unit, I take a traditional approach; that is, you will post content on your blog and I will grade it using a rubric that I will share with you. In the second unit you will work with a team of peers; hence, I will require your input — about your own role, as well as those of your teammates — as well input from the class before assigning you a grade. The group and class assessments offer a chance for everyone to share kudos and criticism through a confidential Google Form, which I will draw from and average in my feedback. In other words, in the second unit, your final grade will be broken down as partly a team grade (with input from the class) and partly an individual grade (with input from your teammates). Finally, in the last unit, we will use project-based grading, where you work closely with me to develop a proposal that clearly identifies your goals and assessment measures, including the grade you are striving for. At the conclusion of the course, you will turn in a project with a reflection that describes your process in the unit.
In terms of my responses, you should expect my feedback to be constructive and kind. I will respond primarily in two ways: according to the learning and assessment goals articulated in the unit assignment, and as a reader who is interacting with the text you’ve produced. Feedback on your work is one of the primary available spaces for individual instruction, so please see me during office hours or make an appointment if you’d like to discuss your work!
Letter grades will be based on the following final point values:
|B-||80-83.9||F||64.9 or less|
As with all courses in the Writing Arts department, you cannot pass the class if you miss more than six class periods—including excused and unexcused absences. I have been told that students misunderstand this point, so to be clear: an excused absence does not mean your absence is wiped from your tally of absences. It means that although it counts toward your six allowed absences, you can make up work due that was due that day. Further, excused absences (including religious observances, official university activities, illness, bereavement, or inclement weather) require official or verifiable documentation. All that said, please be in communication with me as soon as you anticipate any attendance concern. Your learning is my primary concern.
I strive to cultivate an educational environment in our classroom that is inclusive, honest, democratic, and congruent with Rowan’s classroom behavior policy. In my experience, such an environment can take time to build, but begins with an assumed sense of respect and sensitivity, especially toward those who do not act, speak, or look like ourselves. Toward that end, we will use preferred names and otherwise respect the communicative needs of each person based on aspects of their social identity. Moreover, participation in this environment does not mean simply attending and being available; it means working actively, collaboratively, responsively, responsibly, thoughtfully, and constructively to one another, and generally being a resource for the course.
All assigned work will be described at the start of each unit. I expect you to make every effort to submit work by the day and time it is due, and via the specified mode (blog, email, tweets, YouTube, etc.). I will, of course, work with you in extenuating circumstances, but please note that it is your responsibility to open communication with me about your needs.
[added 3/23/18] The grade of INC may be awarded only at the end of a term, when all but a minor portion of the coursework has been satisfactorily completed. The grade of INC is not to be awarded in place of a failing grade or when you are expected to repeat the course; in such a case, a grade other than INC must be assigned. You should make arrangements with me to receive an incomplete grade before the end of the term.
Rowan success network
The Rowan Success Network powered by Starfish® is designed to make it easier for you to connect with the resources you need to be successful at Rowan. Throughout the term, you may receive emails from the Rowan Success Network team (Starfish®) regarding your academic performance. Please pay attention to these emails and consider taking the recommended actions. Utilize the scheduling tools to make appointments at your convenience (i.e. Tutoring, Advising, Financial Aid, etc.). Additional information about RSN may be found at www.rowan.edu/rsn.
Your academic success is important. If you have a documented disability that may have an impact upon your work in this class, please contact me. Students must provide documentation of their disability to the Academic Success Center in order to receive official University services and accommodations—however, I will be happy to discuss any non-official ways in which I can make the course most accessible for you.
The Academic Success Center can be reached at 856-256-4234. The Center is located on the 3rd floor of Savitz Hall. The staff is available to answer questions regarding accommodations or assist you in your pursuit of accommodations. They look forward to working with you to meet your learning goals.
Digital Spaces and Privacy
In this course, you are asked to create many accounts and generate content to circulate across digital publics. For a variety of excellent reasons, you may feel uneasy about personal risk in sharing digital content and in being identified with/by that content. The public nature of the course encourages a kind of composing situation that serves our learning outcomes, and thus cannot be altered. However, you’re welcome to take steps to ensure relative anonymity for your coursework, while still ensuring the valuable experience of public circulation. These steps include: using pen names, disabling location services on mobile devices, and using decoy or throwaway accounts on digital platforms. All work created for the course is required to remain published until you’ve received your final grade. Once final grades are submitted, you’re free to permanently delete anything you’ve created for the course. I’m happy to further discuss reservations with students individually or during class discussion.
I encourage you to bring to class any devices that will benefit your learning and composing throughout the course. That said, I hope you will develop and practice a mindful workflow that allows you to integrate your smart technologies while being as present as possible in class activities. I may on occasion assist individuals or the class as a whole in this practice, depending on how well attention is being managed.
Further, you can expect technology to fail in plenty of ways throughout the semester. To avoid disaster, please be sure to save all of your materials in three ways: (1) to your device’s hard drive, (2) to a physical external drive, and (3) to a cloud-based storage system. I have used this system for several years and can attest to its effectiveness! I have never lost, deleted, or suffered a loss from a corrupted file.
Also, note Rowan’s partnership with Google Apps for Education, and that this grants you lots of Google Drive space — a space that we will make use of throughout the course.
For support in any stage of the composing process, please visit the Writing Center, located in Campbell Library, room 131. For hours and to book an appointment, visit their website.
All non-original content that appears in your work should be documented using MLA-style or another appropriate method. Please let me know if you have questions about your citation work in a particular assignment or writing context. That said, I encourage a conscientious application of Fair Use for Education principles. As we are writing for hybrid academic and public contexts, I expect citation to be consistent and visually/functionally appropriate for the medium in which borrowed and remixed work appears. Please be in touch if you have any questions about this.
Further, I expect all compositions submitted for course credit to be the work of the student(s) who turned in the work. Per Rowan University policy, all academic integrity violations — no matter the level or sanction — will be reported to the Office of the Provost.
The Department of Writing Arts does not allow students to turn in the same writing assignment for more than one class. Students must receive express permission of their instructor to submit writing or a substantial part of a written text previously submitted to another class. Not doing so is considered academic dishonesty and, following the policies laid out by Rowan, may result in an F for that assignment.