Powering Up, Again

(Photo Credit: Bill O'Leary, Washington Post, 1/27/11

We begin again, after the storm and the power outages and the canceled class. Social media may be powerful, may effect certain kinds of changes (which is perhaps why the Egyptian government blocked access to social media websites as it has sought to control unrest in that country in recent days), but they can’t control the weather. Alas.

Tomorrow, we will play catch up. Our discussion will focus on the readings that were assigned for last Thursday as well as Aimée Morrison’s essay, “Blogs and Blogging: Text and Practice” (PDF on Blackboard). (Morrison’s essay is in this very useful anthology, by the way, which is electronically accessible through the University of Maryland library.) We will defer our discussion of Rebecca Blood’s The Weblog Handbook to Thursday. You should also be reading around in The Bygone Bureau’s “Best New Blogs of 2010” to help you decide what kind of blog you might like to study for the blog tracking assignment and to start sparking ideas for the blog you will design and build for this class.

In advance of class tomorrow, here are some questions I would like for you to reflect on. Be brave. Leave a comment here on the blog in response to one or more of the questions. It will help you prepare for class, and, besides, it’s never too soon to start learning in public. (Here again is that link to Grammar Girl’s advice on “How to Write a Great Blog Comment.”)

1. As we begin our work, do some reflecting on your use of and relationship to blogs and other social networking tools (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.). How passive or active is that relationship for you? How would you characterize your rate of use — light, medium, heavy, addicted? How would you characterize your technical skills? How, today, would you complete the following sentence? Blogs are . . . .

2. Take notes as you watch the video presentation by professors Richard E. Miller and Paul Hammond, “This Is How We Think: Learning in Public After the Paradigm Shift.” What do you see as the key terms and major ideas in the presentation? How do you imagine they might be relevant to the work we will be doing in this course? How has the transition from what they term a “print-centric paradigm for human communication” to a “network-centric paradigm for human communication” shifted the ways in which you read, write, and think?

3. Similarly, what do you see as the key terms and ideas of Jay Rosen’s “The People Formerly Known as the Audience?” Pay particular attention to his bullet points. Also, think about how Jeff Jarvis’ “First Law of Media,” which Rosen quotes, might be applied to what’s happening in Egypt: “Give the people control of media, they will use it. The corollary: Don’t give the people control of media, and you will lose. Whenever citizens can exercise control, they will.”

4. What did you learn about blogs and blogging that you didn’t know before by reading Aimée Morrison’s essay? What about the form or the practice of blogging do you find especially compelling? baffling? Why?

Have at it, bloggers! See you at 3:30 tomorrow, weather permitting.


Course Description

This course will offer students an immersion in blogging as a writing practice and as a social/literary genre with deep, multiple roots in cultural history. Our broad goal will be to explore what blogs are, what they do – culturally, politically, literarily – and what they can teach us about reading, writing, and social networking in the twenty-first century. Our work will pivot back and forth between formal study of the genre and its history and the daily discipline of designing, building, and maintaining a publicly accessible multimedia text. Thus, the course requires both a willingness to experiment with the production of new media forms and an ability to think critically about them. It will call upon your creativity and your analytical skill, your sense of intellectual play and your curiosity about how media shift – the increasing prevalence of post-print literary and cultural forms – has and has not changed communication and everyday life.

You will spend a lot of time on the Internet for this course, studying blogs, commenting on them, producing your own. We will also examine a number of print genres that might be considered precursors to blogs, including newspaper columns, diaries, journals, essays, pamphlets, miscellanies, and war reporting. We will read around in new media studies (e.g., Jaron Lanier, Alan Liu, Clay Shirky, Cass Sunstein) to help get a handle on where blogs fit into the mediascape of Web 2.0. We will consider blogs – such as Riverbend’s Baghdad Burning and Julie Powell’s The Julie/Julia Project – that have been turned into books and/or films. We will reflect on issues of style and persona, on the norms and practices that define the blogosphere, and on the freedom and responsibility that accompany the possibility of publishing without the print culture filters of editors and other gatekeepers.

NB: No technical skill, including HTML encoding, is assumed or necessary. Students will be urged to make use of Blogger or WordPress for web-hosting and design software. Both services offer templates that make designing and publishing a breeze. Also, if you are curious about what the instructor knows about blogging and where she learned it, feel free to visit Roxie’s World. Rest assured you will not be required to impersonate a dead dog in order to succeed in this course.

(Photo Credit: Moose, Oct. 2003)