WRH205 Composing Cyberspace

Course Description

"I was walking around Vancouver [...], and I remember walking past a video arcade [...] and seeing kids playing those old-fashioned console-style plywood video games. The games had a very primitive graphic representation of space and perspective. [...] Even in this very primitive form, the kids who were playing them were so physically involved, it seemed to me that what they wanted was to be inside the games, within the notional space of the machine. The real world had disappeared for them-it had completely lost its importance. They were in that notional space, and the machine in front of them was the brave new world." William Gibson, Explaining what inspired him to coin the term "cyberspace"

In 1984, when William Gibson coined the term "cyberspace" in his influential science-fiction novel Neuromancer, the idea of everyday people using a global network of computers to communicate was as fanciful a science-fiction conceit as any spaceship or alien life-form. Today, just a few decades later, it is a reality so mundane that it may escape our notice. This class is about learning to notice the unique opportunities and challenges that arise when we compose text, images, and other forms of communication using network-connected digital computers (of all sizes, shapes and kinds). These opportunities and challenges can be roughly sorted into three categories, which form the three units of our class:

  • Remix: Digital information, regardless of what sort of content it represents, is always just a string of ones and zeros in the computer's memory. Text, images, video, sounds, once stored in a digital format, are all just strings of ones and zeros in the end. This universal substrate of digital information means that it is quite easy to edit and recombine digital music, movies, photographs and more. These recombined compositions, often called "remixes" or "mashups" became even easier to create once the internet gave potential remixers easy access to huge amounts of content to build from. Today, remix compositions are a ubiquitous feature of social media. However, along with this new opportunity for mash-up creativity come challenges to traditional ideas about copyright that are still being resolved.
  • Collaborate: The internet doesn't just give us access to digital information, it also gives us access to millions of potential co-authors who might like to work with us to compose a collaborative composition. The vast pool of collaborative labor available on the internet has allowed some large and difficult tasks to be accomplished by teams of volunteers working in an ad-hoc manner. The most famous of these collaborative projects is probably Wikipedia, the "free encyclopedia anyone can edit," which is authored and edited entirely by volunteer contributors. However, the opportunity for constructive collaboration comes with challenges in dealing with the sometimes hostile and biased nature of volunteer communities.
  • Automate: We don't just author with the help of other humans online, we also author with the assistance of machines. Increasingly, computer programs are able to automatically generate, sort, and respond to various forms of content. When we write online, we may be influenced by the automated preferences of Google's search algorithm, or we may make use of the ability of mathematical functions to automatically generate realistic looking terrain for images or video game levels. Our machine collaborators create opportunities for new forms of expression, and help sort vast collections of data, but they also confront us with challenges when they shape our experiences in subtle and difficult to account for ways.

Course Goals

This course meets two general education goals: to

  • Communicate effectively
  • Think critically and analytically

In addition, by the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • explain how writing changes when writers make use of the unique capabilities of networked digital computers
  • evaluate the rhetorical situations of online spaces
  • compose various types of online documents
  • interpret and critically analyze different types of documents found online
  • interpret and analyze critical viewpoints on digital culture/cyberculture in order to articulate their own ideas on the material
  • describe trends in composing various “texts” online
  • develop methods of inquiry that will allow them to continue to research, question, read, write, and reflect on online writing and online community formation
Readings, writing assignments, workshop activities, discussions, and conferences are all designed to help you develop these abilities.

Contact Information and Office Hours

The best way to contact me is to use my West Chester email account: afamiglietti@wcupa.edu

My office hours will be held in 419 Main Hall: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 10am-11am and 3pm-5pm

If you can't make any of these times, and need to talk to me, contact me via email to set up an appointment.

Course Policies

In this class, I expect you to:

Be Here: Your attendance in class is required. You get 3 allowed absences, no questions asked (DO NOT send me excuses). Use them wisely. For each additional absence, after the third, you will lose one-half letter grade from your final score (four absences lowers an A to an A-, five lowers to a B+, etc.)

Be Polite: I expect our class to be a safe space for students of all religions, political beliefs, sexual orientations, class backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, and learning styles. Your writing and contributions to classroom discussions should take care to show respect for the diverse backgrounds of your classmates. Offensive or discriminatory language or actions will not be tolerated.

Do The Work: A great deal of our class work is focused on process. That is, it is designed to give you experience and practice using strategies and methods that will improve your composition skills. I do not expect everyone to become a publication-ready writer by the end of our class. I do expect everyone to complete every assignment, complete it on-time, and make a good-faith effort to engage with the process the assignment is designed to teach.

For a more complete list of required class policies, see the pdf version of this syllabus.

Assignments and Grade Breakdown

Remix Composition(20%): You will compose an original piece by remixing one or more existing texts. Your remix will substantially transform and combine your sources to create something new.
Wikipedia Article Contributions (20%): You will make substantial contributions to an article on Wikipedia, adding well-sourced information, correcting errors, or making other improvements to the text. You may contribute to any article that interests you, our goal is to learn about Wikipedia's collaborative process by engaging in it!
Twitter-Bot Project (20%): You will create a twitter-bot, a simple program that automatically sends messages to twitter. You will not have to write any software code to create your bot, we will use a simple tool based on Google docs.
Final Project (30%): You will create an original digital project based on our class themes. What you make is up to you, but it must engage with the class themes, readings, and discussions!
Class Participation (10%):This is an active class. Your participation in class activities and discussions will count towards your grade.

Evaluation and grading

Final grades are determined by the weighted scores given on the assignments above, following the University’s 100-point scale: