Syllabus

Writing for the World Wide Web
Fall 2016

Instructor: Dr. Steven D. Krause

Office: 613L Pray-Harrold

E-Mail: skrause@emich.edu (by far the best way to get a hold of me)

Office Phone: 734-487-0985 (I check my voice mail only once in a while, so I recommend emailing first).

Office Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays, noon to 2pm; and by appointment (Even if you want to stop by during office hours, it’s best to contact me ahead of time to let me know).

Description:

This is a course about writing and the World Wide Web in at least two different and related ways. First, we will be reading, “browsing,” and writing about the World Wide Web in order to understand how the web works rhetorically. Second, we will be writing “on” the web in the form of web sites, social media, and all sorts of other things.

Texts:

Krug, Steve.  Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems. New Riders Press, 2009.

Redish, Janice (Ginny). Letting Go of the Words, Second Edition: Writing Web Content that Works.  New York:  Morgan Kaufmann, 2012.

Do get the second edition of the Redish book. I ordered these through the EMU book store, though I would encourage you to purchase your books through an online resource (I link here to amazon.com, but there are plenty of other places). These books are available electronically too, though the problem with kindle books for Krug and Redish is both of those books have a lot of illustrations that probably won’t reproduce well in the kindle version.

There will also be readings available online or through canvas.emich.edu.

A Preamble About Hardware, Software, and Computer Experience

While there are no prerequisites in terms of hardware, software, or computer experiences for this course, it should be obvious that in a course where the focus is the World Wide Web and social media, all of these things are quite important. So let me offer an unusual level of detail on these matters.

In terms of hardware: either an Apple or a Windows-based computer will work fine– I use a Mac. If you don’t have regular access to a computer where you live and/or if your computer is more than about five years old, you are going to have some problems completing the basic work of this course. If you were considering buying a new computer anyway, this would be a good time to do so.

In terms of software: we will not be using software like Dreamweaver or Photoshop; instead, we will get a crash course in coding from Codecademy and we’ll make web sites with WordPress, Weebly, and possibly Squarespace.  Some social media apps require a free app for a smartphone though most of the social media platforms we’ll be discussing are available with any web browser.

We will talk about the benefits of using different web browsers for different things, and toward that point:  if your only web browser is “Internet Explorer,” then you will certainly want to install Firefox, Chrome, and possibly Safari.  Again, all free, and I think you’ll see what I mean when we get to it.

In terms of previous computer experience/knowledge: our focus for the course will be on issues of writing and the web: that is, while we will be making web pages and talking about design and usability issues with the web, we’ll be spending most of our time studying how “writing” (which includes all sorts of different texts– words in a row, images, audio, video, etc.) works with various web sites and with social media. In other words, this isn’t a “computer class” or a “design class.”

That being said, there are a number of activities we’ll be doing this semester that will require a level of computer expertise that goes far beyond using email, surfing the web, and word processing. We will be doing some simple coding with HTML and CSS, and you will have to learn a lot more about things like file transfer protocol, the importance of how you name files, keeping track of files and directories on different servers, and so forth. We’ll also be working with some user friendly but still “techy” tools like WordPress and Weebly– not to mention various social media sites and tools. Given that the class is called “Writing for the World Wide Web,” none of this should be surprising.

We will also be talking about a lot of design and usability issues: page layout, serif versus sans serif fonts, color, image resolution, working with audio and video, and so forth.  We will care as much about how our texts look and sound as the content of those texts. So, while this isn’t a computer class nor design class, we will spend a lot of time discussing coding, hardware, software, usability, design, and multimedia in a fashion that is not typical of most writing classes.

We are walking a fine line this term.

So while it is true that “no previous experience is necessary,” you should be aware this is a “technologically intense” class.  If this “technology stuff” scares you, that’s okay; but if you are going to succeed in this class, you are going to have to face down and conquer those fears. To do that, you might need to spend some extra time getting up to speed on the computer technology. I’m always willing to help. And if you are someone who feels particularly comfortable with these computer and design activities, consider it as an opportunity to help your classmates and your teacher learn what you know.

Stuff You Need to Do:

The class is worth a total of 1,250 points for undergraduates and 1,500 for graduate students.

Online Attendance:

Writing 444 is an online class, but it is not a self-paced/self-study online class.  This is a class that works because of the ongoing interaction between all participants.  Writing in particular and learning in general is a social process, and I do not believe learning about writing and technology works well if you take the class alone.   So, Writing 444 is a class where you will be expected to “attend” electronically and asynchronously during the course of the week.  See the schedule for the details, but basically, everyone must participate in the online class discussion at a minimum of twice a week: once between Monday and Wednesday, and once between Wednesday and Friday (except for holidays).

If you do not participate at all during the class at a given point in the schedule, I will count you as “absent” from that portion of the class.  If you are virtually absent from the class two times, I will dock your participation grade by 30%, or a total of one letter grade for the course.  If you are absent from the class more three times, I will dock your participation grade by 100% and you will not be able to pass the course.

There are no excused absences, so do not bother to email me some sort of note.Under no circumstances will I accept a “lack of internet (or computer) access” as an excuse for not getting work done on time or for online attendance.  This includes foreseen and unforeseen circumstances.  For example, if you are planning a two week back country camping trip where you don’t expect to have wifi access, then you will surly fail the class.  If your computer breaks or your regular computer access is otherwise interrupted, then you will need to address the problem immediately or you will fail the class.

If something serious happens and we need to make arrangements for health/medical reasons, we can; but generally speaking, there are no exceptions to this policy.

Participation = 250 points.

Mind you, minimal attendance will only earn you a C for this part of the course.  To do well in this part of the course, I expect you to participate in the class much more than this.

Setting up and using your 444 class website account.  But before you can participate in the discussions on this web site, you will need to become a registered user on this site.  To set up an account, simply click the “log in here!” link, click where it says “Register” (under the “username” and “password” box) and follow the instructions.  It’s pretty easy, and I can of course answer questions as they come up.  You will need to login to your 444 website account every time you want to comment on this site.

Three important points about this:

  • Use the same account all semester!  Don’t set up a new account from a new computer and/or if you forget your account information!  And when you set up your account, have a way to remember your credentials! I use these accounts to help me keep track of your level of participation and your comments on the class.  If you lose your password or run into other problems, just let me know and I’ll help you fix it.
  • When setting up your account, use your real first and last name in the space where it asks for a first and last name.  You can create a more anonymous nickname for the sake of your own privacy– a first name and last initial, perhaps.  See the end of this syllabus for guidelines on online privacy.
  • This username and login you use for this class is different from what you will set up for your own WRTG 444 Portfolio WordPress site.  Or at least it should be– it’s not great online security to use the same username and password over and over. The account you set up for participating on the class web site has no connection to the account you will set up for creating your own WordPress site.

Participation consists of the following parts:

  • Discussions. This is the key element of our class: our success this term will depend on your participation in lively discussions on the class web site. Essentially, this replaces most of the kind of discussion we might have in a traditional “face-to-face” class.   The most important part for this aspect of the class is that you participate (read each others’ comments and write comments of your own for others to read) and that you participate in a timely fashion, beginning on Mondays and Wednesdays.  .Note my emphasis on the word “begin.”  This is important because if people wait until Wednesday or Friday to chime in about a reading or assignment, we won’t have the time to have a discussion where we actually talk with each other.   Some of the discussion will also take place on the assignments and other “pages” within this blog/web site– for example, posting a comment on the syllabus is different than posting it on the  blog discussion on the main page of the site. In these discussions, I expect and hope that everyone will participate as either someone who has questions or as someone who has answers.
  • A word about “netiquette.” As many of you probably know by now, the internet is a potentially volatile place. Because so much communication via the ‘net is faceless or even anonymous, it’s easy for a “discussion” to turn into a virtual “shouting match” or even what is known as a “flame war.”Obviously, we want to avoid such encounters this term. Just as you (hopefully!) wouldn’t think about getting into a shouting match with a fellow student in a traditional class, my hope is that you will not engage in such behavior in our online discussions. Here are a few things to remember internet etiquette (eg, “netiquette”):
    • Use “common sense courtesy.” Always remember that real people are on the other side of that computer screen. As such, remember to try and treat people as you would want them to treat you.
    • Don’t type in all capital letters. “All caps” is considered shouting on the Internet. Unless you mean to shout something, don’t do this.
    • If you are angry about something, don’t respond right away and then email me first. It is remarkable how well that old advice of “counting to 10” works with preventing angry emails. If you count to 10 (or 20 or 50!) and you’re still mad, email me and I’ll try to mediate.
  • Twitter, LinkedIn, Wordpess, Weebly, and probably more TBA.  You will need to sign up for several different accounts this term. If you already have accounts with these (and other TBA) services, you can use that account, or, if you prefer, set up a new one.We’ll use Twitter a bit to supplement the discussion and share links, and you’ll also use it as one of the media for your “Semester of Social Media” Project. We won’t use LinkedIn much, but I want each of you to join it and the Written Communication Program group and it might be one of your medias for the Social Media Project.Depending on what you decide to do with the rest of your “Semester of Social Media” assignment, you will probably sign up with other accounts as well. Also, to complete the web writing assignments, you will need accounts on Codecademy, WordPress.com, Weebly, Squarespace, and possibly others.
  • Small Group Work. There will be some small group work in the form of peer review and other informal collaboration activities.  As is the case with the discussion, I assume that everyone will participate effectively.
  • Grading Participation: I will keep track of your attendance during the course of each week of the class, and I post a participation grade at the middle and the end of the term.  Of course, if you have any questions or concerns about your participation, you should ask.

Writing Projects=750 points.

There will be three major writing projects for the term, each of which has several parts and each of which will appear in some form on your class web site. In brief, they are:

  • Codecademy Exercises: 150 points: The first part of this assignment asks you to work through a series of tutorials on HTML and CSS on Codecademy and then posting them to your people.emich.edu account. The second part of this assignment involves you working through a second tutorial of your choice on the Codecademy web site. Once finished with these exercises, you will write a brief (500 word or so) reflection on your process.
  • The “Semester of Social Media” project:  300 points. Everyone will sign up for a Twitter and LinkedIn account– if you don’t have one already.  If you have a smart phone, you should also download the Yik Yak app. Besides these social media, you will engage in at least two other “social media” activities that you are not already engaged in–  Pinterest, YouTube, Wikipedia (or another topic-based wiki), Digg, Flickr, Bebo, Delicious,  Google Plus, etc., etc.  I will ask that you interact/engage in these activities on a regular (twice a week or so) basis, though this is something you will have to do on your own and what “interact/engage” means will depend on the social media activity.  For the assignment, you will individually reflect on a group project we will do with Yik Yak; you will post “progress reports” about the social media that you are following individually; and you will complete a final essay describing your experiences and connecting them with assigned readings.
  • The Usability/Text-to-Hypertext Project:  350 points. This is a series of exercises where you (as a user) will be doing some simple usability testing with a specific site; where you will be developing your own web site in which you take a previously written “words in a row” essay; and where you (as a writer) will be doing some simple usability testing.

Graduate student project:  the “Writing for the Web”/”Social Media” electronically mediated interview:  250 points.

If you are taking this 400 level class for graduate credit, then you are required to do an additional project, and this term, each graduate student will conduct an electronic interview (via email, possibly a recorded Skype call, etc.) with some expert in the material we are covering this term, and then each graduate student will present that interview as part of their 444 portfolio and also as a part of our class discussion.

The Writing for the Web Portfolio is worth 250 points.

All of the projects for the term will need to be collected and presented in an electronic portfolio that will actually be a wordpress.com site.  This is something we’ll talk about in great detail throughout the term, but just some basics for now:

  • We’ll be using wordpress.com to do this, which is free and a fairly easy site to use.  Also, you can have a number of different sites with wordpress.com– in other words, you could set one up for our class, one for your knitting club, one for another class, one for a blog about whatever is on your mind (and even possibly as one of the “Semester of Social Media” projects), etc.
  • While this is generally a site/software that is used for “blogging,” I mean something different for the 444 Portfolio.  Basically, you will be using it as a web site for publishing the various writing assignments for the class and organizing them in a fitting manner.
  • Part of what this assignment will be about will be learning more about how wordpress.com (and similar “content management sites”) work.  So toward that end, some of the details of how you set up your site– the layout choices, links, images, other content, etc., etc.– will matter.

The 250 points for this portfolio are different from the points assigned to the projects. These points are based on how well your Writing for the World Wide Web portfolio is designed and how you take advantage of wordpress.com. Again, this is something we’ll talk about as the term goes along, but it seems to me that one of the basic things you ought to have at the end of a class like this is a wordpress.com site that is well-designed, usable, attractive, complete, etc., and it also seems to me that your portfolio should demonstrate that you know how to use wordpress.

Lateness.

I’m against it.  Projects late for peer review or similar activities will be docked a letter grade; late final projects will be docked a letter grade every 72 hours until the project is completed.  However, if you make arrangements with me before the assignment is due, I will generally grant an extension.

In order to pass the course, you must complete all of the Web site projects, regardless of the grades you receive on any of the other work of the course.

Grading:

So, given all this, here’s how grading works:

Undergraduates:

1250-1175 = A | 1174-1125=A- | 1124-1086=B+ | 1085-1037=B | 1036-1000=B | 999-962=C+ | 961-913=C | 912-875=C- |

Graduates:

1500-1410=A | 1409-1350=A-| 1350-1305=B+ | 1304-1260=B | 1259-1200=B-

Privacy:

Everything for this class (other than grade information) will be on the “open and accessible” internet, either on the class web site/blog, your own blog, or your classmates’ blogs.  I take this approach with the class materials because I think it is a much better option than emuonline (and over the years, I have found the majority of my students agree with this) and because it seems to me that for a class called “Writing for the World Wide Web,” we ought to actually be writing on the World Wide Web. It also has the advantage of making the writing that we do for the class “real” in that it is not merely a closed conversation between you and me.  “Real people” might indeed be reading this.

This approach also requires an extra step of diligence on all of our parts regarding your online privacy.  Now, I honestly don’t think this arrangement will impact your privacy in any significant way.  Just because real people might read your blog or the class blog doesn’t mean that they will, and if you have a Facebook or similar account (not to mention a credit card or a cell phone), you are probably already aware of the fact that all of us lead somewhat “non-private” lives.  Personally, I have had lots of stuff about me on the internet for years and have never had any problems.  However, I do think privacy is something you need to keep in mind as you participate in class.

There are a couple of things I promise to do (or not do, as the case may be) to help protect your privacy. First, I will never post grade information online. That would be bad and probably against the law. Instead, I will post all grade information on emuonline, which is behind a firewall and requires you to log in.  Second, when I post stuff about you on the site (e.g., link to your blogs, set up groups, etc., etc.), I will always reference you by your first name and last initial (so I would be “Steve K.”) and not by your last name. Third, I will eventually delete your comments and links to your blogs, and you can delete your work if you don’t want to leave it online (though I would strongly encourage you to at least save a copy of it for future use and other projects).

You will need to make some personal choices about your privacy online with class activities, too.  For example, while I want everyone to select an avatar image for themselves (as we will discuss early in the term), you don’t necessarily have to use a driver license photo. You might also want to set up some kind of alias for your blog (though I will still refer to you by your first name and last initial), especially if you intend to continue using your blog.

Really, the easiest way to protect your privacy online is to use a little common sense. For example, it’s probably not a good idea to post your phone number, address, social security number, credit card account, etc., etc. on a web site that you are uncertain about.

Of course, if you have questions or concerns about this, just be sure to ask.

The fine print

Here are two issues I like to include on any syllabus.

Access Services. If you have a documented disability that affects your work in this (or any other) class, Access Services can provide support for you. Call them, or let me know and I can help you to call them, at 734-487-2470 to make necessary arrangements to ensure you success in this course.

Plagiarism. As the Council of Writing Program Administrators puts it, “Plagiarism occurs when a writer deliberately passes off another’s words or ideas without acknowledging their source. For example, turning another’s work as your own is plagiarism.” Don’t do this. If you plagiarize in this class, you will likely fail the class and your case may be passed to the university for additional disciplinary action.

Leave a Reply