Rhetoric in Digital Environments: Syllabus

Reference Information for Spring 2008

James Collier
Office: 433 Shanks
Hours: 1:00-2:30 M,W and by appointment
(O) 231.8340; (H) Please refer to the syllabus hard copy
E-Mail: jim.collier@vt.edu
AOL IM: CollierVT

Course Description

" ... [I]f rhetoricians require a distinct domain of inquiry for their own legitamatory purposes, one can hardly blame them for conjuring the specter of hidden tropes and Aristotelian moments in the texts they analyze. It is quite another matter, of course, to believe that anyone other than the rhetoricians in question ever finds these phantoms in the texts. I for one don't. I also don't believe that the rhetoric of science would be best served by staking out its own domain of inquiry. Instead the field should be more straightforwardly in the business of reforming existing domains." (Steve Fuller, 1997)

" Study of the uses of digital media in research, information development and sharing, and advocacy regarding public issues. — " (Official Course Description)

Our course is inquiry-based. We will analyze how the questions we pose set up problems and configure what we count as solutions. Specifically, we will formulate questions regarding the idea of rhetoric, the conditions necessary for digital environments, and how possibilities for communicating, knowing and understanding digital environments shape, and are shaped by, rhetoric. I take 'rhetoric' and 'digital environments' as contested notions. For example, I do not assume that rhetoric is always already present in the symbols and texts comprising what we take to be digital environments. Moreover, I am unsure of either the necessary or sufficient conditions defining a digital environment. I see, then, 'rhetoric' and 'digital environments' as questions rather than markers of a defined field of inquiry. To approach 'rhetoric' as a question, we will analyze a debate regarding the rhetoric as hermeneutic and as a universal (global) element in all human, symbolic transactions. To approach 'digital environments' as a question, we will examine its origins in print culture and in counter culture. Finally, we will investigate how, and if, our questions regarding 'rhetoric' and 'digital environments' allow us to better conceive the problem of communicating using another contested notion — "new media."

Learning Goals

Please consider more broadly stated goals in the course structure and the changing conceptual framework of rhetoric in digital environments:

• To pose clearly considered, concisely worded, evidence-based questions as the basis for shared inquiry;

• To analyze the consequences of questions we pose for forming problems and configuring solutions;

• To examine the idea of rhetoric as a means for interpretation and knowing, generally, and, specifically, for understanding what we define as digital environments;

• To map the relationships of print culture, counter culture and digital culture;

• To investigate and to evaluate the field of digital rhetoric;

• To practice, and to make judgments regarding, mass collaborative writing.


Question Formation and Analysis: 20%
Preliminary Statement: 10%
Oral Address: 10%
Project In-Progress: 10%
Project Realization: 30%
Wiki Project: 20%

Assignment Specifics

Question Formation and Analysis: Grades will be determined by the number of assignments you complete. There are 5 question formation opportunities and 5 question analysis opportunities. In sum, then, there are 10 responses to the assignment. Grades will be determined as follows:

    10 responses: A
    9 responses: A-
    8 responses: B+
    7 responses: B
    6 responses: B-
    5 or fewer responses: F

Preliminary Statement: Each of you will write a preliminary statement regarding your course project. I will formally grade the preliminary statement by offering comments and suggestions for revision. You may revise the statement as many time as you wish during the course of the semester.

Oral Address: Each of you will give an oral address about your course project. I will ask all members of the class to share comments with me about the address. I will take class comments, integrate them with my own, and provide an assessment.

Project In-Progress: Each of you will come to a coherent stopping place in your course project by April 2. At that time, I will ask two members of the class to review the project based as it stands on a shared rubric. I will take comments and integrate them with my own using the same rubric for assessment.

Project Realization: I will formally grade your course projects at the end of the semester.

Wiki Project: The wiki project is experimental. We need you to participate fully to make the experiment successful. Minimally, I expect you to participate by contributing 1,000 to 1,500 words to the article. You may contribute more, or less, to various aspects — revising or providing links, commentary, sources —  of the process. Our goal is to collaboratively author a 12,000 word article. I see this project as an experiment in social epistemology and may seek to publish the article in the journal of the same name. I will assess your performance as pass (A)/fail (F). If you have any questions about your standing regarding this project, please let me know.

Print Texts

Baker, Nicholson. Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper. Vintage, 2002. ISBN-13: 978-0375726217.
Gross, Alan and Bill Keith. Rhetorical Hermeneutics: Invention and Interpretation in the Age of Science. SUNY, 1996. ISBN-13: 978-0791431108.
Turner, Fred. From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism. University Of Chicago Press, 2006. ISBN-13: 978-0226817415.
Warnick, Barbara. Rhetoric Online: Persuasion and Politics on the World Wide Web. Peter Lang, 2007. ISBN-13: 978-0820488028. Barbara Warnick Home Page

Graduate Honor System

Course work will comply with the Graduate Honor Code. From the Graduate Honor System website:

    "Compliance with the Graduate Honor Code requires that all graduate students exercise honesty and ethical behavior in all their academic pursuits here at Virginia Tech, whether these undertakings pertain to study, course work, research, extension, or teaching."

Digital Rhetoric