Spring 2013: The Rhetoric of Digital Media and Interaction Design
Interaction design is a crucial - and yet often overlooked - aspect of computer programming. Poor interaction design can drastically affect the success of digital projects from tablet apps to social media platforms to video games as well as to re-presentations of traditional print and visual media such as books, magazines television shows and films. Good interaction design often goes unnoticed by consumers because of its very nature: as consumers we respond instinctively but not always consciously to products that are carefully designed and executed so as to enable us to access and engage with the product without having to think too hard about adjusting our user experience to fit the assumptions of programmers who have not been trained to think first about the end user and then how to make a product, tool, or platform that suits their needs and approaches. There is a rhetoric that underlies these decisions and responses, and those precepts of digital rhetoric are vital to both designers and users of digital media. Through readings and in-depth analysis of a selection of published digital media artifacts (including adaptations of textual, audio and visual narratives from one medium to another) students will consider what constitutes a successful digital interaction for the user. We will examine several successful artifacts, as well as some that have suffered due to bad design. Through this course students will develop a sound understanding of digital and visual rhetoric that will make them better software/platform/media producers and consumers. Project work will include an ongoing blog-based discourse about elements and examples of interaction design (e.g. the Royal Shakespeare Company's Twitter production of Romeo and Juliet, the Lego Lord of the Rings video game, YouTube mashups, radio show/podcasts, etc.); students will collaborate on major projects that adapt narratives (books, films, etc.) for new digital media environments. These projects will require independent analysis and research, and will result in prototypes of products that could viably be developed for niche or mass audiences.
Fall 2012: Shakespeare’s (English) History
As we read Shakespeare’s history plays, it’s easy to assume that he was documenting the **true** history of “this sceptred isle.” In fact, he was taking part in a comprehensive public relations campaign underwritten by Queen Elizabeth’s counselors to adjust that history to support a powerful political agenda. In this course we will read three of Shakespeare’s most famous and resonant history plays: Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V. We will examine the source materials he used in writing these plays and compare them with modern versions of medieval and early modern English history. For our major project will produce a collaborative edition of The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth (one of the sources for Shakespeare's plays) using wiki, blog, and visualization technologies. Through readings, discussions, and assignments we will determine how close Shakespeare came to the truth, and how much he adjusted that truth to suit the political climate.
Associated blog posts:
➢ Student Digital Edition: Observations and Reflections
➢Toward a Better Research Project
Spring 2012: English 1102: #DigitalBard: New Media Approaches to Shakespearean Drama
This course functioned as a practical application of the relationship between Shakespeare studies and the digital humanities. To this end, we focused on the utilization of electronic media to contextualize the early modern period. As we worked our way through a selection of Shakespeare’s plays (including A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth,) Richard III, and Titus Andronicus), students addressed the influence of early modern drama in the digital age. This course, team-taught with Dr. Tom Lolis, offered a combined six sections of 150 students. While all sections made use of the same set of primary texts, the approach to teaching was complementary. Dr. Lolis and I guest lectured in each other's sections, as according to our respective expertise. Students also engaged in projects and activities that encompassed all sections, including the creation of a wiki, workshops with actors from Atlanta’s Shakespeare Tavern, and the digital “networking” of a Shakespeare play. As a collective, we rigorously engaged with the work of the “Digital Bard” as we investigated the ever-changing cultural representations of Shakespearean drama in the twenty-first century.
Fall 2011: English 1102: “Are you a member of the noble city?”: London City Comedy
Drama offers us a unique mirror to look at the society in which we live. In the last days of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and the early years of her successor King James I, professional theatre was a highly popular form of public entertainment to which Londoners turned for amusement as well as instruction. Playwrights experimented with new forms, themes and character-types for their plays. These London-based writers used what they saw all around them and a new dramatic genre evolved: the London city comedy. Poking fun at citizens and foreigners alike, these comedies were hugely successful with a variety of London audiences. They also continue to be revived and are popular with modern playgoers.
In this section of English 1102 we concentrated on two particularly famous examples of the city comedy: The Shoemaker’s Holiday, The Knight of the Burning Pestle, and Bartholmew Fair. Through close readings of these plays, complemented by a select list of critical readings about early modern London society, and dramatic literature and performance practices, students gained a better understanding of how these plays can help us decipher seventeenth-century London society and why they continue to be popular with theatre audiences and readers.
The final course module examined the work and life of Elizabethan comic actor Richard Tarlton. Students read excerpts of plays, ballads, and other contemporary popular literature that refer to Tarlton, as well as secondary research materials about Tarlton and his association with the Queen’s Men. They then collaborated on a digital edition of Tarlton’s Jests, written in a hybrid wiki/blog format. Students were individually responsible for transcribing jests from the 1613 edition and making editorial choices about adjusting spelling and punctuation for a modern audience, as well as creating glosses (using the Oxford English Dictionary electronic edition), and contextual essays that examined the cultural relevance of their jests.
Throughout history there have been moments when technology and entertainment synchronize in such a way that we are changed by them. The most recent example is the explosion of internet and social networking platforms and applications. At the beginning of the 20th century, the advent of film triggered a remarkably similar cultural revolution. In this course we will examine the early days of Hollywood when Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Valentino and the Keystone Kops ruled the screen. In addition to a critical analysis of the elements of film-making, we will address technological and sociological issues that established the film industry and changed not only American society but world culture as well. We will consider how a sleepy little citrus-growing and retirement community in southern California became a massive center of industry within ten years. We will contemplate what made silent films so popular on an international scale, with a near universal appeal that has not been equaled since. Over the course of the term we will watch a variety of films from the silent era and read articles about the early years of the film industry, and how it affected and was affected by developments in American and world society.
The course culminated with a unique research project concerning a spectacular real life crime that rocked early Hollywood. In 1922 William Desmond Taylor, a popular film director, was murdered in his home under questionable circumstances. Many famous film actors and actresses were implicated in the investigation, and the press and US government used Taylor's murder to demand reform of sinful, scandalous Hollywood. But despite the interview of over 300 suspects and a worldwide manhunt, the murderer was never discovered. Students used social networking tools (such as wikis, blogs, podcasts, digital video, etc.) to gather facts about the murder, sort through suspects, motives and alibis, and presented their own theories on who killed William Desmond Taylor. Students developed and produced these theories as silent films, games, virtual reenactments, or other interactive presentations.
This course offers an introduction to the historical development and cultural impact of various forms of media print, radio, television, film, and interactive electronic applications.
**During the course of the semester, the events in the Middle East unfolded at a pace and with significant potential for examination of how media affect and are affected by world issues. The following is a description of the case study undertaken by my class:**
Premise: the revolution in Egypt and surrounding Middle Eastern countries - offers an unprecedented opportunity to examine the roles that various media are playing in actions within the area as well as international observations about what is happening. Traditional mass media such as magazines, newspapers and even television do not appear to be capable of capturing the discourse that is happening in hyper-real time.
Opportunity: Use the forum provided by the Introduction to Media Studies course to teach students about media theory and analysis using a fluid and responsive syllabus and a variety of readings, activities, and assignments.
Challenge: without any idea of how this situation will play out in Egypt and beyond, the only way to approach this idea is by creating a "flash" case study that evolves along with events and media coverage of those events. By using the case study approach, I will ask my students to consider questions of credibility, authority, bias, and effective communication methods. They will examine ideas pertaining to mediation and remediation. We will discuss what happens when a government attempts to cut off media outlets of its citizens, and how social networking tools (such as Speak To Tweet) are creating a narrative of the unrest in Egypt. We will debate questions of ethics in terms of media coverage of such an action.
Classwork: students will read a combination of appropriate chapters from their textbook, Media and Culture, news reports theoretical pieces, and social network feeds. They will participate in an ongoing blog and twitter stream through which they will learn to articulate and evaluate what they are observing. They will take part in a series of formal in-class debates keyed to questions of ethics and technological benefits. They will take part in guest lectures from a series of Brittain Fellows who are interested and expert in a variety of the aspects of the topic. I also hope that they will have input into the types of in-class activities and assignments they will undertake. The section will conclude with a multimodal midterm project geared to synthesize the work they have done in class.
Fall 2010: English 1101: The Cult(ure) of Celebrity – Developing a Discourse
English 1101 is designed to teach you communication and critical thinking skills that prepare you to succeed academically at Georgia Tech and professionally in the work world. Among these skills are the ability to examine the modes of communication with which you are presented throughout your lives, and to learn how to become a discerning participant of such communication – in other words, how to evaluate the credibility, relevance, currency and reliability of the sources of communication in a variety of media. Students discuss and practice strategies for effective multimodal communication – written, oral, visual, electronic, and nonverbal – as consumers and creators of effective communication. In this section of 1101, I focused on American society’s apparently insatiable appetite for celebrity gossip, as well as the blurred line between what is “news” and what is “entertainment”. Through an ongoing rhetorical examination of figures and narratives from the entertainment and sports industries, as well as politicians and other noted persons, we as a class established our own “credibility scale” for the information that seems to bombard us from all sides. Our readings in the course text Critical Theories of Mass Media: Then and Now, as well as a series of recent scholarly articles from the disciplines of literature, behavioral science, and culture, media and gender studies, assisted students as they addressed issues of authority and authenticity, asked one another and themselves how they could become more responsible participants in the transmission of all of this information. We also looked back at previous generations’ experiences with celebrity culture in an effort to determine whether we in the twenty-first century are particularly affected by “infotainment”, or if there is actually some sort of ongoing human need for this type of discourse. We read, viewed, wrote about, discussed, and analyzed recent and current media stories with which the class was interested and by which they were affected. Throughout the course, students produced a variety of multimodal artifacts, contributing regularly to a class blog that tracked these stories as they occurred over the months August through November. In small groups students presented final projects using one of a variety of media platforms (including podcasts, mash-up videos, word cloud textual analyses, comic strips, etc.). These projects represented students' culminating perspectives on the relative importance and influence that mainstream media can wield.
List of Courses Taught
Literature and Drama
- Shakespeare's (English) History: (Georgia Tech)
- #DigitalBard: New Media Approaches to Shakespearean Drama: (Georgia Tech) Introductory Shakespeare survey course: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, Richard III, and Titus Andronicus
- Renaissance London City Comedy (Georgia Tech) Introductory early modern drama thematic course: The Shoemaker’s Holiday, The Knight of the Burning Pestle, and Bartholmew Fair
- Survey of British Literature I and II (1400-1700, 1700-1900) (University of Waterloo) Introductory survey literature courses: Canterbury Tales, Twelfth Night, Oroonoko, Pride and Prejudice, Frankenstein, Heart of Darkness; selection of poetry by Marlowe, Shakespeare, Jonson, Donne, Milton, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Tennyson, Browning
- The Short Story (University of Waterloo) upper-level genre course examining British and American short stories from 1900-2000
- The Rebel (University of Waterloo) introductory thematic course exploring themes of rebellion and society in modern literature (e.g. The Ciderhouse Rules, V for Vendetta)
- Youth and Adolescence (University of Waterloo) introductory thematic course exploring themes pertaining to characters (e.g. Huckleberry Finn, Hamlet) and plots (e.g. Riddley Walker, Alias Grace)
Writing and Communication
- English Composition I and II (Georgia Tech) Develops analytical communication and research skills through investigation of methods used in cultural and literary studies and the application of those methods to specific texts
- Introduction to Theatre (University of Waterloo) introductory survey course, experienced through a selection of discipline-defining performances: historical performances, performances by contemporary theatre artists
- Theatre History (University of Waterloo) upper-level survey course concentrating on performance aspects of world theatre from ancient times through the seventeenth century
- Theatre Criticism (University of Waterloo) upper-level examination of the writings of selected theorists and practitioners of modern theatre in terms of contrasting ideas on expression and communication made possible through the medium of theatre
- Introduction to Media Studies (Georgia Tech) Upper-level genre course focusing on the historical development and cultural impact of various forms of media print, radio, television, film, and interactive electronic applications
- Silent Film and Early Modern 20th Century Popular Culture (Georgia Tech) Introductory genre course examining how the birth and development of film changed American and world society.
- The Cult(ure) of Celebrity and 21st Century Social Media
(Georgia Tech) Introductory thematic course examining the impact of new forms of media upon our perception of popular culture and society
- Writing for the American Film Institute Catalogue (Georgia Tech) Independent study in association with the AFI Academic Network