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The Writings on the Stall

TLC 321: Introduction to TLC

Professor: Troy Lovata
Semester: Spring 2002

Introduction to Technology, Literacy and Culture is an interdisciplinary course that examines some of the shared principles and approaches of the disciplines that make up the Liberal Arts. In this course we will explore the ways that changes in the technologies of communication and human interaction are transforming the environments for teaching and learning, and for the culture in general.

The Webby Awards

Rough draft due 2002-02-07 online / word format
Final draft due 2002-02-19 online / word format

Comprehending the web's variety and diversity is one key to understanding how it affects those who use it. This assignment is meant to introduce you to some of this variety. To grasp something of this vast you will examine web sites considered to stand above the rest. The Webby's (and their companion People's Voice awards) are an annual award presented by The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences for just such sites. With categories ranging from activism to news to spirituality to weirdness, these awards have chronicled changes over the last five years in what the web has to offer. For this assignment you will look for a pattern in the accolades they've granted. Either compare the categories from this year's nominees and winners to each other or compare the winners of several categories over the life of the awards. See if you can determine overall themes or standards. Compare factors such as design (including use of color, layout and theme), presentation and navigation, ease of use (to both retrieve information and merely determine what the site's about), type of user (speculate who might use a site and how the might go about it), and content. The categories the Webby's use are fairly broad--figure out how they're defined for online use. Remember, you're looking for patterns that might explain what the web is and how it works.

Visual and Non-Textual Communication

Presented in class on 2002-03-09 online

Although the internet began as a primarily textual medium, it has evolved into a form where visual symbols and non-textual design place a preeminent role in how the web is used and understood. Furthermore, readings from this course have also outlined the general power of non-textual communication and the role visual literacy. For this assignment you will use what you've learned about non-textual communication in a creative visual expression. You'll experiment with and learn first hand the process of moving an idea from conception to completed project. The form your expression takes is up to each of you. We will discuss in class techniques available for you to use. We'll experiment with and give you the opportunity to try out different tools--from physical to digital media. We'll also discuss possible themes for your work. After you've completed your creations, you'll present them in class and discuss what you've attempted to say and how successful you feel you were at non-textual communication. This assignment is meant to be a creative and fairly enjoyable experience. Often students at the University level become overly focused on text and speech and are somewhat reticent about creating and presenting non-textual work. You should realize that you're not being judged or graded on how well you draw, your sense of color or your ability to create beauty. You're artistic skills are not being compared with others in the class. You're being graded on what you come to understand about the process of visual and non-textual expression.

Internet Development

Final draft due 2002-04-02 online / word format

This assignment will be a written response to questions posed about the impact of networking technology after watching the film and reading Tom Standage's The Victorian Internet. You will recieve a movie study guide before watching the film and, after reading Standage's book, a worksheet. You will turn in your study guide and post your written responses to the worksheet online.

Linux / Open Source Movement

Final draft due 2002-04-16 online / word format

This is a writing assignment based on your personal experiences with computers and your personal opinions of how computers should work. It is based on your reading and reaction to Neal Stephenson's book In the Beginning...Was the Command Line. Stephenson covers a lot of ground in his fairly short text--from how he got started with computers to how we interact with interfaces to who controls the development of software. Individually, some of these issues probably appear more important to you and your daily life than others. Yet, computers have become ubiquitous in your lives. Even if you are not a programmer or computer geek, they are immensely important to what you do here at The University and what most of you will do in work post college. This assignment will be a personal exploration based on issues brought up by Stephenson. You will write a fairly short essay (1000-1500 words, to be posted online April 18th) in a personal, perhaps even nostalgic, voice. This is not an argumentative paper, but a personal account of your own life. It is autobiography, not argument. You will chronicle your own experiences with computers (any types of computers--from video games to digital watches to real, box, computers) and how your uses and opinions of them have changed over time. Start with your very first experiences and consider how what you want from them and how you use them has changed over time. Consider the amount of time you spend online or in front of a computer and whether this has changed over the years. Specifically compare your growth with computers to the progression that Stephenson went through as he became interested in computers for different reasons. Consider what drew him to specific kinds and uses of computers and how these motivations compare to your own experiences. Consider why you use or have purchased a specific kind of computer. Think about ideas like the envy of other's machines, the urge (or lack of drive) you may have to take you computer apart and understand how it works, and how you think computers should work as opposed to how you see them actually working. This paper has no specific right or wrong answer. You will be graded on your writing and how you have looked back over your experiences and compared them to Stephenson's.

Cell Phone Ethnography

Mission statement due 2002-04-09 online / word format
Presented in class on 2002-04-30
Final draft due 2002-05-02 online
/ word format

In lieu of a final exam you will work on a extensive, collaborative final project concerning the ways in which use of wireless communication influences human behavior and social interaction. You will work in small groups collecting first hand observations about cell phone use and users. You will use these notes in comparison with readings and class discussions about wireless communication and technology's general impact on society. You are to take a close look at the ways in which we use and don't use wireless technology and the impact wireless tools have on both the individual and the group. You are looking for patterns in what you observe as clues to possible explanations about how these tools have and continue to change our lives.

In class we will discuss basic ethnographic methodology and techniques for recording data about cell phone use and users. You will work in small groups to define what you're looking for and how you might go about collecting data--building a research design. You will spend a significant amount of time outside class in observation. You will go to places like airports, clubs or outside busy buildings to study human behavior. You will record who uses and doesn't use cell phones, how they use them and how it makes them differ from those who don't. As a group you will compile your data and make interpretations about what you've all seen. You will work with each other to explain both things you found to be different and observations that seem similar. Finally, you will present your findings and discuss you experiences in class (in a presentation at least 20-25 minutes long) and through a final written report of no less than 3000 words. Each member of the group will contribute to both the presentation and report and each should have a copy linked to their web space. For the written section you are to use proper English and write in complete sentences. Because your work will be posted online you're encouraged to make use of illustrations, links to the pages you're discussing and hypertext. You must also include online or turn in a copy of your ethnographic notes and compilations of the data you used to make interpretations. You're not required to turn in a rough draft, however, I will gladly review any draft you wish. I also encourage you to make use free the writing and editing services of the Undergraduate Writing Center. Make note that this project requires extensive out of classroom work. You're given plenty of time to get things done and this isn't something which can be completed in just the final days of class. It is a culmulative effort that should reflect both the time you've spent in observation and what you've learned through this semester of study.