Open a Class Discussion with a Presentation that Includes
a Performance, Thought-Experiment, or Research Briefing (informal
presentation, about 10-15 minutes)
English 236 is designed to operate as a kind of research
"think tank" on the culture of information.
Characteristically, the instructor will begin a class with
a 10-15 minute framing statement articulating the main
topic or context for the class. Occasionally, these
framing statements will be longer when there is historical
material to review.
Students will then open class discussion. Each student
will be assigned one class in which to initiate discussion
in a concrete way. Think about the reading materials and
find some one rich node that can be brought to light by
mining a particular assemblage of passages, illustrations,
or paradigms (materials may also be drawn from outside the
course). Since everything in teaching depends on properly
putting an exemplum into play, students should try to start
or finish their presentaton by "staging" their
issue in some way. For example:
- Perform a situation or scenario that introduces the
problem (e.g., perform the part of Andy Goldsworthy creating
his art and figure out how he could also carry a camera
or where he would put it; perform the state of "distraction"
as Benjamin conceives it)
- Construct a "thought experiment" (create an
unlikely scenario or surprising juxtaposition of materials;
e.g., "Let's imagine a world in which there is no
need to work; what would we do with our computers?",
"Let's say that information access really will be
equal; how would that change things?", or "Here's
Socrates talking, and here's a rap artist. . . .").
Use the experiment to unfold your issue.
- Finish the presentation by extending your topic into
an idea for a hypothetical dissertation, conference, program,
center, start-up company, or other initiative.
The presentation as a whole should bring things to a head
by posingimplicitly or explicitlyan open-ended
dilemma/question capable of starting discussion.
(To assist in their presentations, students may wish to
put up ad hoc Web pages with quotations, links, etc. Students
may also in advance of class use the class e-mail
list to ask others to pay special attention to particular
passages or issues in the readings.)
In the discussion following a student presentation, the
instructor will at times interpolate prepared material or
lines of thought. Or again, the instructor will manufacture
variously seamless or abrupt ways to jump from the student's
node to a different node. Since there is no necessary or
predictable link between the student's opener and either
the instructor's prefatory framing statement or subsequent,
interpolated material, classes will inevitably include elements
of contingency and instability if not downright discontinuity.
This is a risk, but also a gain. It is appropriate in a
graduate seminar (as opposed to the more controlled situation
of an undergraduate course) to negotiate between the instructor's
and students' agendas in ways that can generate unforeseen
and weirdly beautiful moments of resonance.
Online Project (see also "team-concept")
The Basic Idea:
Students will break into teams of two to three students
each. Each team will conceive, research, and produce a Web
page (improvising on the basis of pre-designed Transcriptions
HTML templates as well as using an automated database that
can be fed content through a Web browser). The page will
one of the Transcriptions Web site's topics
pages or, alternatively, part of a sub-branch of such
topic pages called "Artists
of Information." (Students may also propose solo
projects if there is a compelling reasone.g., if the
topic is closely related to their dissertation or some other
ongoing research interest.)
Topics Page Option: In general, Transcriptions topics
pages support research and teaching in the area of literature
and information culture. Each topic page presents a narrative
overview of its topic, a database of timeline events, a
database of annotated links, suggested discussion issues,
a bibliography, and links to related courses and other topic
pages. The goal is to offer critically astute, carefully
selected, and annotated guides to aspects of the relation
between literature and information. The following are some
of the topic pages that have been proposed or are under
development for Transcriptions:
Artist of Information Option: "Artists of
Information" topic pages focus on some writer, artist,
musician, philosopher, director, theorist, architect, designer,
engineer, or other figure (or movement)whether past
or presentwhose art exists in implicit or explicit
relation to the information media and technology of the
time. The idea is to create a view of artists or intellectuals
in their information environment (which artists variously
collaborate with, contest, influence, are influenced by,
etc.). This assignment will require research into the life
and work of the chosen artist(s); and it will also require
research into the information environment of the artist's
time. The following are hypothetical examples:
For "Artists of Information" projects, choose a
tight focus (a single artist, work, or movement) that can
provide an anchor for a broader look at information culture.
Alternatively, focus tightly on both a single artist/work
and a single, illuminating aspect of information culture (e.g.,
Hemingway and the typewriter, Sinatra and the microphone,
Blair Witch Project and the Internet, etc.).
- Ben Jonson, Inigo Jones, and the Technology of the Court
- The Wordsworth Circle and Information Culture circa
- Alice in Medialand: From Lewis Carroll's to Disney's
- Hemingway and Media
- Pynchon and Information
- Faulkner and the Entertainment Industry
- War and the Art of Information
- How Information Works in a Hitchcock Film
Lin, the Vietnam War Memorial, and Monuments of Information
- Neal Stephenson
and the Art of Code
- Paul Rand, Designer for IBM
- Contemporary Women's Hypertext Fiction Writers (e.g.,
Project: The following are the core elements of the
Transcriptions topics page you will be producing. You can
see the template for such a Web here
You will have FTP directory permissions for your site, so
you will be able to upload and revise your Web pages directly.
(Assistance will be offered for those who are learning Web
authoring for the first time.)
- Overview statement.
The overview may be as simple as a linear narrative argument.
It may ramify hypertextually (linking to your own or other's
additional pages) It may even be highly creative. For
example, the overview might include non-linear graphical
or hypertext materialfor example, a juxtaposition
of quotations, the staging of a fictitious or real interview,
- Timeline of events. Material
for a timeline of events relevant to your topic will be
entered in the Transcription Project's Filemaker
Pro database through a Web interface. Once the material
is entered (by writing or cutting-and-pasting into a Web
form through any browser), Filemaker will automatically
generate Web pages for the Timeline that can be dynamically
adapted to the user's search criteria. For an example
of a Transcriptions timeline built by an undergraduate
course in Spring 1999, see Postmodernism
- Linkbase of annotated links
to online resources. These links will be entered in
the Transcription Project's Filemaker Pro database through
its Web interface; Filemaker then automatically generates
the Web pages for the linkbase (see paragraph above).
For an example of a Transcriptions linkbase built by an
undergraduate course in Spring 1999, see Postmodernism
- Bibliography of the
most essential works and online sites consulted in creating
the above Overview, Timeline, and Linkbase (this may in
some cases be a brief subset of the Linkbase).
- Critical Issues: suggested
questions for discussion (including contextualizing statements).
For an example of critical issues on a Transcriptions
topics page, see Weaving
Webs: Discussion Issues.
- You are free to distribute the work on a team project
as you like to take account of varying interests and skills.
You can split the research areas or technical tasks, for
- It is highly recommended that you carve out defined
areas of responsibility (especially if your team consists
of more than two people). That way, everyone on your team
will be responsible for something in particularoften
a more productive situation than if everyone is responsible
for anything and everything. At least one of your team
must also exercise editorial control over your work (editing
for consistency, quality, typos, etc.).
- An outline or organizational chart of the way you have
distributed your tasks is due shortly after you submit
a prospectus for your project (see below).
of Project Tasks:
- Class 5, Workshop 1
for Online Projects: Break into teams and begin brainstorming
about possible projects.
8, Workshop 2 for Online Projects: You must in advance
of this date post to the class e-mail list (firstname.lastname@example.org)
a prospectus of your intended project. The prospectus
need be only a page or so. It should describe your idea
and the areas of research you intend to pursue. If you
are still up in the air about your project, you can post
a couple of ideas and ask for feedback.
9: By this class you must e-mail to the instructor
a statement about how you have distributed responsibilities
for a team project (see above).
From this point on, every student must at the beginning
of each week submit an online weekly
project log form that records roughly what you did
on the project the previous week. (This is to protect
teams from bad situations in which one of its members
never does anything at all and lets everyone else carry
12, Worshop 3 for Online Projects: This class will
be devoted to a show-and-tell about what the class teams
have been thinking and doing.
13-16: There must be online content on project sites
by Class 13 (this is a firm deadline). During the period
from Class 13 to Class 16, each team will be assigned
one other team's project to critique. The medium for this
critique will be a "threaded" Web discussion
forum (enabled by the Transcriptions Exchange
Server program). You post your comments through a
Web browser, and others can respond or append to the thread
of discussion you have started about a particular team
project. For a guide to evaluating Web pages, see here.
Presentation of Class Projects (Meeting Date & Time
TBA): Formal presentation of projects to the class
and other interested members of the departmenta
sort of Emmys or MTV Awards show.
Individual Online Essay (due by Monday, Mar. 20)
An individually-written essay of about 3,600 words (approx.
12 pages in typescript) or a hypertext essay of equivalent
weight. The essay should give a perspective on some issue
relating to your project. Alternatively, you may propose
an essay that strikes off in new directions unrelated to
your project. The essay must make use of at least some of
the readings in the course.
If the essay is part of your project, you can put it online
in the project's Web site. If it is a standalone piece,
then you can put it online in your personal Umail web space
(or anywhere else). In the event that you are uncomfortable
about making your argument/research public in advance of
your dissertation or a journal publication, you can put
online just part of the paper and submit the full version
in hard copy to the instructor.
Requirements for Students Auditing the Course
Auditors should present a class opener, be part of a team
project, or both (anything and everything short of writing
the final essay). Special plea to auditors with Web-authoring
experience: you could usefully serve as technical consultant
to any team project that needs the help.