Ways of Representing

August 30, 2008

The blurb for the course, and the wordle of the blurb: two ways of knowing, of representation.

Using several frames of reference, ENGL 5933-03 will explore two related questions. First, what difference does technology, especially digital technology, make in the ways that we read, the ways that we compose, and the ways that knowledge is made, sanctioned, and shared? Second, what do the changes related to digital technology mean for those of us who teach reading, literature, and composing? To answer these questions, we?ll consider briefly the relationship between literacies and technologies, marking the shift from manuscript culture to print culture; and from models of private knowledge to mass consumption of knowledge abetted by mass media?and the role of politics, economics, and ideology in each shift. Our focus, however, will be on the changes that are occurring now: What are they? What do we make of them? As scholars and teachers, how do we respond to them?

A preview: According to Sven Birkets of The Gutenberg Elegies, changes wrought by the digital revolution undermine our ability to think and write coherently. According to Richard Lanham of The Electronic Word, our new ability to see at and through the screen afforded by the Internet resuscitates the manuscript culture of the Renaissance for a new kind of (digital) Renaissance with new emerging rules governing intellectual property. According to Sherry Turkle of Life on the Screen, the Internet is a genuinely new space for identity formation, and according to Howard Rheingold, for political action. According to Mark Prensky, today?s students are ?digital natives,? and we who teach them ?digital immigrants.? Echoing Prensky?s observation, some scholars call for a return to the past; others, like Gunter Kress of the New London Group and Glenda Hull of Berkeley call for a new reading and writing curriculum based in a convergence of print, screen, and Internet. Collin Brooke, in Linga Fracta, suggests that through skillful electronic networking, we both create new knowledge and represent it in new ways, while Jim Porter argues that the Internet is remediating the rhetorical canons. In the midst of all this speculation is the undeniable effect of Web 2.0: a recent report claims that teenagers spend 16.7 hours a week online, and if you really want to know what your students are thinking, you should facebook them?and yes, it?s now a verb 😉

After completing this course, you will be able to identify both the significant questions currently in play around digital culture and a range of perspectives on those questions. You will be able to cite key works in, and thinkers commenting on, network culture and understand how they talk to, around, and across each other. And you will be able to consider what all this means for education, now and in the future?in terms of reading practices (both close and distant reading qua Morretti); in terms of researching; in terms of composing; in terms of sharing information; in terms of changing understandings of intellectual property. Through completing a project–options include a print bibliographic essay; a hypertext review essay; a creation of a weblog or set of wiki entries on the one or more issues, and a syllabus keyed to these issues–you will develop the expertise that comes from investigating a topic in considerable depth.

To accomplish these goals, we’ll read in print and online; write in print and online; talk and present to each other; raise questions and try to answer them as members of a community. In exploring digital culture, we will develop a new vocabulary defining this emerging interdisciplinary field and project how current trends may play out. If we succeed in these efforts, you’ll find that you are knowledgeable as a teacher and a scholar about issues that are likely to inform English Studies and education more generally well into the 21st century.


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