ENC4416H | Fall 2015

“Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is, everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you … the minute that you understand that you can poke life … that you can change it, you can mould it … that’s maybe the most important thing.” -Steve Jobs

Douglas Walls, PhD


Department of Writing & Rhetoric University of Central Florida


Required Texts:

  • Hinton, Andrew. Understanding context: environment, language, and information architecture.
  • One book to be selected by the class
  • Various texts available online and through course reserves.

Course Introduction

As a culture, our understanding of the rhetorical situation (i.e. the static communication triangle of author, text, and reader) and writing has radically changed in a world shaped by information networks, global economies, and new communication technologies. This course will focus on how different types of semiotic systems interact with or are constructed by texts produced and distributed in nonlinear ways that alter our understanding of how writers influence readers and carry out their intended purposes.

We will be reading theories on the complex systems that make up our world today, but we will also be putting those theories into practice by analyzing and producing texts that contribute to the rhetorical ecologies around us. The focus of this course is actually a question: What is writing in digital environments?

We will approach this question with a subquestion: How do reading and writing practices change in digital environments? After all, the Internet is made of writing. Code is writing. Protocols are writing. Web pages are writing. What we call “social media” is usually just a bunch of people writing to each other in a specific genre, say one that has 140 characters or less. Like all writing, writing in these digital environments organizes human behavior. Unlike other forms of writing, however, writing in digital environments also organizes machine behavior. Machines and tools influence the way humans write as much as human writing influences machines; together we make the world.

Writing in Digital Environments is a class that explores digital writing for both humans and machines. As such, the class will ask you as students to approach a variety of writing and coding situations not from a “coder” mentality but from a “writer” mentality. Some parts of this class are “technical” in nature but you should not let that scare you off (alternatively, you should not think this class will be a cake walk because you know Python!). Approaching digital environments from a “writer’s” perspective means paying attention to code but also paying attention to things like digital rhetoric, cultivating communities both online and off, access, and network logic.

The topics we cover, the readings we do, and the discussions we have in this course should help us to:

  • explore and understand digital writing spaces as deeply rhetorical spaces;
  • better understand the multiple and layered elements of digital writing conventions and digital documents;
  • learn to use social media tools for collaborative work;
  • learn the modes, consequences, some of the responsibilities and dangers of different kinds of digital participation, from curation to blogging;
  • understand the sociocultural dynamics of digital writing spaces;
  • distinguish between the characteristics and methods, advantages and pitfalls, of virtual communities, smart mobs, collective intelligence, crowdsourcing, social production, collaborative consumption and wiki collaboration;
  • recognize the ways the structure and dynamics of networks affect the behaviors of populations, the elements of applying of social network analysis to online culture, the dynamics of social capital online, the steps necessary to cultivate personal learning networks;
  • become more effective writers and communicators in print and digitally mediated spaces;
  • become familiar with competing perspectives on social media practices and their effects
  • learn how to make analytic arguments regarding key debates around the use of social media;