Fall 2009, T/Th 11:30am-12:45pm
Old Mill Annex A206
Office Hrs: T/Th 2:30-4:3pm
Or By Appointment
Old Mill 429
reparent at uvm dot edu
- A USB (or “thumb”) Drive, 4GB or larger
This course examines the ways that digital technology is having an impact on writing. We will be exploring the new spaces that technology opens up for us as composers, experimenting with written forms, incorporating a wide range of media in our compositions, and participating in the global conversations taking place online.
When I talk about digital composing, I mean “composing” in the traditional sense usually employed in the label for that dreaded first-year college class: “freshman composition.” That is, composition is the act of writing. However, composition also describes a wide variety of activities that may or may not have much apparent relevance to writing. Composition, for instance, is the process of putting musical notation on paper. It is also the act of arranging objects to achieve certain aesthetic effects, as in the composition of a painting, a flower arrangement, or a photograph.
When I talk about digital composing, I mean composing in all of these senses. In this course, we will be experimenting with combinations of each of these meanings of “composition,” studying the rhetorical strengths and weaknesses of each, producing compositions that could not easily or cheaply be created solely with paper and pen. This is the state of composition today. Blogs, IM, SMS, web pages, ubiquitous computing, MMORPGs… all of these have already changed what we mean by “writing.”
Digital Composing is designed to challenge you to push beyond what we understand composition and writing to be today. Doing this will require you to experiment, to use digital technology in ways and for purposes that may be new to you. It will also require you to engage your creativity, to begin to think and to act as composers outside of the boxes constructed by software companies and common practice. There is no one “right answer” in this course, no single best way to succeed at a particular project – if you can imagine it, and if you think it will work, do it.
The present of composition is already passé. Welcome to the future.
There will be six projects in this course:
- Power Blogging
- A “Moving” Essay
- Writer’s Manifesto
- Prose Re-Design Project
- Interactive Fiction
Each of these projects will be yours to customize and individualize to maximize your own strengths and interests as a digital composer.
According to recent data, over 70,000 new blogs are created every day. In this class, you’ll be adding to that number. You’ll be creating a group blog with 2-3 of your classmates, and then each of you will post to your blog at least twice a week. Some weeks I will give you a topic for one of your posts. At least one of your posts each week will be about whatever you wish. Both weekly posts should be substantive in both length (at least 3 multi-sentence paragraphs) and thoughtfulness. In addition, each week you will comment (substantively, of course) on two other posts from your classmates’ blogs. That is, posts by your classmates on other blogs, not your own.
Blogging is one of the major innovations made possible by the Internet and digital technology – instant publishing with multimedia capability and a theoretically infinite audience. But one of the toughest questions about blogging (and about all writing), is how to generate and keep an audience interested. In this course you’ll have a captive audience of myself and your classmates, but how can you make me and your classmates want to check your blog and comment on your posts? And how can you get that rarest of prizes: outside readers to pay attention to your blog? To motivate our exploration of this sticky question, every two weeks we’ll be voting for our favorite blog of the past two weeks. The winners of each vote will receive extra credit for the course.
A “Moving” Essay
The great essayists of the past, such as Michel de Montaigne, Alexander Pope, and C.S. Lewis, had to rely on words on a page to communicate with their audiences. You have no such limitations. You will compose a digital essay in iMovie on the classroom computers. Your digital essay will combine prose text, still or moving images, your own voice, and any other media you deem necessary.
Essays are sometimes exploratory, sometimes argumentative, sometimes analytical, and sometimes none of the above. You will have the option of crafting whatever type of essay you wish. Your finished essay should aim for a length of around 3 minutes.
You will also write an analysis of your digital essay that addresses the structure (how is it put together and sequenced? Why that way?), rhetorical strategies (how does it try to affect its viewers? Why did you try these ones?), and effectiveness (how well does it succeed at its goals?). Your analysis should be 3-4 pages long, double-spaced.
A Writer’s Manifesto
What is writing? What is it that makes someone a writer? What do writers do? This is your opportunity to put your thoughts into words, images, moving images… whatever you think best captures your beliefs. We’ll be working on our manifestos toward the beginning of the semester and then revisiting it throughout the rest of the term as our composing and our ideas evolve through practice.
Prose Re-Design Project
Good public speakers know that words have sounds, and that the sounds of the words they choose have an important influence on their listeners. Good graphic designers know that words also have looks, and those looks can similarly influence readers. This project asks you to think about the visual aspects of written language to redesign a manifesto from the Bread & Puppet collective so that it most effectively communicates both through the original word choice (which you will leave as-is) and through the appearance, arrangement (and action?) of those words.
You will be working in groups of 2-3 on this project and, as with the Writer’s Manifesto, the possibilities for your redesign are limited only by your imagination and skill. When your redesign is complete, your group will turn in your version of the Bread & Puppet poster. You will also compose a brief (2-3 pages, double spaced) analysis of your work. What did you change? Why? How does the prose “work” now? Why? Each group will need to turn in only one analysis.
A long time ago (1976), in a galaxy far, far away (Cambridge, Mass.), Will Crowther created a computer game called Adventure (also known as The Colossal Cave Adventure) that was played entirely through text. Crowther’s game quickly spread to universities with mainframe computers (the only computers at the time powerful enough to run it). By 1979, programmers at MIT had formed their own company, Infocom, to make and sell other games like Adventure. Infocom’s games, like Zork, A Mind Forever Voyaging, and the game version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, have become classics.
Interactive fiction is a game genre in which the computer shows the player text describing a room or space and the objects that can be seen within it. The player then types in an action command, and the computer responds. In traditional interactive fiction, there are no images.
Interactive fiction continues to enjoy an active and creative prosumer base, and recent advances in scripting programs make it easy for anyone to create their own adventure. We will be using Inform 7 to compose an interactive fiction. You will work in groups of 2-3 on this project. Your group will also compose a “walkthrough” for your Interactive Fiction, which will be due when your Fiction is due.
In 2004 DJ Danger Mouse brought worldwide attention to the by-then common musical practice of mashups by mixing together lyrics from Jay-Z’s Black Album with music from the Beatles’ White Album to create what he called The Grey Album. The Grey Album spread like wildfire over the Internet, and panicked record companies launched lawsuits to stop its distribution. Mashups aren’t only musical in nature, of course. Digital technology allows users to encode and alter anything in any medium, but mashups can happen outside of technology, too.
For this project, you will have the choice of working alone or with a partner or small group. You will take two (or more) media works/frameworks – William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Facebook, as Sarah Schmelling did for McSweeney’s, Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” as DJ Morgoth did, or Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and the heartwarming father-son story genre, as PS260 did – and mash them up. You will also compose a brief (2-3 pages, double spaced) analysis of your mashup. What did you combine? Why? How do the mashed-up elements work together (or do they)? Why, do you think? Each group will need to turn in only one analysis.
Attendance is mandatory. Since composition courses focus primarily not on a textbook but on the work of students themselves, whose writing and reading are central to class discussion, this course is designed to function as a seminar – which means that your participation in class discussion is necessary for the success of the course. Because of this, students who miss three or more classes risk failing the course. We have a lot of material to create and work with in a short amount of time. Be prepared for the heavy commitment that the time spent writing and reading for this course will require.
There is a zero-tolerance plagiarism policy in this course. Usually, it is desperation that drives a student to plagiarize—so if you are having problems, please contact me and I will help you. I cannot emphasize this enough.
You may be surprised by what is and is not included in our Academic Integrity policy. I strongly encourage you to check it out at your earliest possible convenience: http://www.uvm.edu/~uvmppg/ppg/student/acadintegrity.pdf.
All violations of the academic integrity policy will be referred to the Center for Student Ethics and Standards for investigation and adjudication.
AN IMPORTANT NOTE:
If you have (or suspect that you may have) a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, I encourage you to contact both myself and UVM’s Office of Accommodation, Consultation, Collaboration & Educational Support Services (ACCESS), A-170 Living & Learning Center, 656-7753 (http://www.uvm.edu/~access) as early as possible in the term. The ACCESS Office will verify your disability and determine reasonable accommodation for this course.