Teaching: Computer-Based First-Year Composition
My first chance for independent course design came in Spring 2007, when I was given a section of computer-based first-year composition (English 110C). Since then, many other first-year composition classes have integrated a substantial amount of technology into their syllabi, due mainly to a change in program leadership and priorities, but at that point the department offered only a handful of computer-based sections. I decided to take advantage of this, and put together a course on the rhetoric of blogging. Though I came to realize rather quickly that we could only scratch the surface of this topic in our ten-week quarter, I did my best to assemble some interesting readings. For much of the course we focused on political blogging, using both primary sources and Barbara O'Brien's book Blogging America, but we also read and analyzed materials ranging from a series of blogs about the Bible to a conservative Catholic group blog to the (in)famous PostSecret. Since rhetoric is not my primary research field, and since I had primarily approached blogging from a practical rather than a theoretical angle (I was a regular blogger then, but rarely blog now), secondary sources proved to be more difficult. I discovered the articles at Into the Blogosphere fairly early, but many of them are fairly dense and theoretical, and after two frustrating quarters of trying to teach similarly difficult texts to freshmen in 110, I was wary of overloading them. So, aside from the chapters in O'Brien's book, which were interesting but quite blatantly leftist, the only theory we read was from Jeffrey Abramson's rather dated book The Emerging Internet. Fortunately we had plenty to talk and write about with just the primary texts, particularly when political topics came up.
Along with this new topic, I also decided to alter the assignment sequence I'd been using for the previous two quarters. In addition to a couple fairly standard analytical papers about blogs and articles about blogging, my students designed websites to hold annotated bibliographies for their final projects. The DMP provided an hour-long workshop on using Dreamweaver-- back when I learned HTML and some website design, we used Notepad, and we liked it!-- and while this proved a rather unpopular assignment on the course evaluations, I wanted to show the students at least the basics of how communication in a digital setting might work. Overall I think the assignment would have worked better if we had had a broader theoretical base to draw from, or perhaps if the students had been blogging (an assignment I also considered, but didn't have time to work out the logistics for) all along. The research paper, in which I gave the students free rein to choose a topic as long as they could relate it to blogging, worked somewhat better, but I did end up with a lot of very similar arguments about an overly diverse range of texts. Later, though, I was able to apply this experience to a seminar paper and a later conference presentation on academic blogging, which I delivered at the OSU Graduate Student Colloquium in October 2007.