comp 5250 | new media writing | fall 2005

comp5230 | web design and digital culture | sec 001
Fall 2005
6:00 pm-8:30 pm tue | swenson science building 216
course home page:

instructor rob wittig | 726-7545
office: VKH 131A | hours: tue, thu 11-12 | or by appointment

'a nest of blogs'

In just a few years, blogs (internet weblogs) have become an important system of communication in our culture. Taking advantage of an historically unique combination of:

_relatively low cost
_sophisticated, user-friendly database management
_powerful graphic design tools
_rapid publication
_worldwide distribution, and
_potential for immediate audience interaction

the blog as a form is arguably the first complete and viable literary form native to the web.

In this course you will create, write, and design your own blog (weblog) and use it as a base of exploration of the rapidly expanding number of diarists, citizen journalists, artists, fans, creative writers and others who are creating a written world in this supple new medium.

The world of blogs, though young, has developed strong and recognizable cultural attributes. Blogging is a social behavior; it's basically impossible to be "a blogger;" you are a group of interconnected bloggers . . . conversing and collaborating in a nest of blogs. Therefore our class will concentrate on the synergy among students' blogs, and require active involvement in each others' projects.


The broad purpose of this course is to enable you:

_to conceive and carry out writing/design projects that engage audiences on both aesthetic and social levels;
_to apply principles of rhetoric, design, cultural theory and creative thinking to information-design projects;
_to discuss creative work in critically informed ways;
_to understand how verbal and visual elements or techniques relate in successful information-design projects;
_to write critically and historically about issues raised by the use of new media as well as traditional media;
_to participate in and contribute to creative communities of writer/designers;
_to develop successful relationships with clients, audiences and support teams;
_to use a variety of software to create information-design projects.

Specifically in this course we will concentrate on the following aspects of blogs and digital communication:

_"citizen journalists" and blogs in political and social life
_web art and the possibilities of the medium
_ similarities between the situation of publishing in the 18th c. and the 21st c.
_the travelogue and the travel blog; writing on the fly
_the "message" as building block of web writing and digital communication; composition of powerful and effective messages
_awareness of blogs as time-based media; strategies for using timing for aesthetic effect
_the expressive power of graphic design; Suh T'ungpo, Blake, Joyce and the author/designer
_interaction and synergy of text and image; the wisdom of comix; ubiquitous photography and photoblogs
_purposeful and thoughtful innovation in orthography and style, as character voicing, and as participation in the evolution of our beloved English language

exercises and projects

This course comprises a series of in-class exercises, projects and essays. We'll do the exercises together in class to learn particular skills or techniques.

The projects are larger pieces of work that you'll complete individually over a period of weeks using the skills you learned from the exercises and insights from the readings and class activities. You may read about the projects in detail on the pages devoted to them on the class web site.

The first project will consist of establishing and becoming familiar with your blog, and learning a few key expressive techniques.

The second project will be done directly in HTML using Dreamweaver and will be linked directly from your blog.

The third and final project will be customized to your interests and learning goals, and can be either a blog-based or an HTML project. I will make an individual contract with each student defining this final project and the criteria for success.

The first essay will be composed initially as messages on your blog. Then, under my guidance, you will "remix" your blog text into a final essay. The subject of the essay will be an aspect of blogging and the blogoshpere.

The second essay will be composed in the same way, and will have as its subject the relevance of blogging and the blogoshpere to your own professional specialty.

There is a three-point penalty per day for late projects, including the annotations that are explained below.

Due dates for all requirements are included in the online schedule, which will be updated throughout the semester. I will give you specific directions for submitting the finished projects and exercises.

annotated printouts

Each project and essay should be viewable on line at the date and time it is due.

You are also required to give me a printed copy of each project and essay, printed from a web browser.

You should also "annotate" the printout before you hand it in. This means typing up a series of comments about particular features in the project which you want me to pay attention to or understand. These comments should be numbered, tying each comment to a handwritten number on the printout next to the feature in question. For instance, the banner on the first page of your site's printout would have a large, circled (1) next to it, and, on your typed comment sheet, comment #1 would explain why you designed the banner the way you did. Annotate items that

* show you understood and fulfilled the goals of the assignment, that
* you are especially pleased with, that
* show what you've learned in class, that
* you had trouble with, or that
* raise unanswered questions for you.

other writing and design work

In addition to the design, creation and writing of the exercises and projects themselves, you will complete

_drawings, plans and preliminary writings or designs for your projects,
_peer critiques for workshops
_other writings as called for, usually posted on your blog


On days when readings are assigned, please do the following:

_have the readings done by the beginning of class;
_expect brief quizzes or guided reading responses at the beginning or end of class. There are no make-ups on these responses if you are absent, late or leave early.


Since this class will function as a community of writer-designers, your regular attendance is absolutely necessary.

_Absences in excess of 3 (with excused tardiness, see below, over 10% of the class meetings) will deduct 3 percent each from your overall grade.
_These 3 possible absences can be spent however you wish and so there are no "excused" or "unexcused" absences. Save your "free" absences for a rainy (or snowy) day.
_If you are absent, you are responsible for all material covered in class.
_In the case of absence or lateness, some requirements like quizzes and guided in-class activities cannot be made up when timeliness or group interaction is critical.
_In addition to your allowed absence, you also have 3 instances of arriving late or leaving early to use (with or without an excuse) if necessary. Instances in excess of 3 will decrease your overall grade by 2 percentage points each. If on some occasion during the semester you need to leave class early, even if it's one of your three allowed instances, please arrange it with me in advance.


A larger goal of this course is to establish a community or network of writer-designers--with a wide variety of backgrounds, expertise, and interests--to enhance your learning and enjoyment during the next fifteen weeks. The class is designed to provide a number of avenues for this community building, including peer workshopping and critiquing, in-class production work, support groups, and various Internet-based communications and collaborations. Your sincere and regular contributions to maintaining this collaborative environment will count in your grade, and of course will greatly benefit your final products in the course. Because your work is the subject matter for this course, turning in all projects and writings on time is critical; work turned in late will be assessed a 3% penalty per day.  


* Your work on the five major projects and various exercises (weighed according to the size and complexity of the project): 75% total
* Participation in class generally, including in-class activities and contributions, online discussions, attendance, conferences, quizzes, peer workshop responses, Webx discussions, class discussion, promptness: 25%


Incompletes for the semester will be given only in the following very limited circumstances:

_you must contact me in advance of the semester's end to make a request for an incomplete;
_no more than one or two weeks of class, or one or two assignments, can have been missed;
_you must be in good standing in the class (not already behind, in other words);
_you must have a documented family or medical emergency, as required by university policy;
_you must arrange a time table with me for completing the missed work that is acceptable for both of us.

resources needed

_"Carnet de Voyage" by Craig Thompson, Top Shelf Productions, ISBN 1-891830-60-0
_ a UMD e-mail account
_Memory stick/card for saving and transporting your work (at least 100 Mg.)
_occasional access to a digital camera, or several high-density, IBM-formatted floppy disks for use in a digital camera to be checked out from UMD AV
_access to a printer, or funds for printing


Students with disabilities which may affect course performance, please see me at your earliest convenience to arrange for equitable participation.