Researching technology and communication

Sample Syllabus
Researching technology and communication
Do you have a cell phone? An mp3 player? Do you IM? Do you write with a computer?
Do you have a microwave oven? A blender? A refrigerator?
Do you have a car? Have you ever ridden in an airplane? Do you ride a bike?
Do you have electricity in your house? Indoor plumbing?
Do you know how to read and write?
Do you wear clothing? Do you use metal?
Perhaps you don’t consider everything listed above to be a technology, but some people do. For
example, Marshall McLuhan, a theorist about communication, argued that we ought to name as a
technology anything that extends what the human body can do on its own. In this class, we’ll be
discussing what ought to count as a technology, but—more importantly—we’ll be considering
why this matters.
Imagine your life without all the objects, techniques, and tools listed above. It’s not just that you
would be colder and smellier. Your relations with people would change, and the way we shape
the world would change. Consider, for example, when you say goodbye to someone in your
family at the airport: even though the person may be traveling thousands of miles away, chances
are you’ll be able to be in touch once again by phone or email within several hours. Imagine,
then, what it would have been to say goodbye in the eighteenth century to someone traveling
thousands of miles away: the fastest transportation then was by sea, and a trip across the ocean
took approximately a month—which meant that letters (the only form of distance communication
available) would take at least a month to reach their destinations, so it might be several months
before you would hear back. If it is hard now to say goodbye to someone traveling thousands of
miles away, imagine how much more heart-wrenching it must have been two hundred years ago.
Consider also how differently governments—at both the local and the national level—would run
when communication could only be face-to-face or by letter. Consider how different the outside
would look without the parking lots, freeways, and strip malls that result from our use of cars.
In this class we’ll be considering such issues by focusing on communication technologies: we’ll
consider differences between written and visual communication; we’ll consider how computer
games encourage us to think in certain ways; and we’ll look at peer-to-peer (p2p) technologies
and intellectual property rights. You’ll have room to work on and with technologies that matter
to you, but what is most important is that we question how we can use communication
technologies to shape our relations with others to be as we think they ought to be.
Course Projects
A Poster Project in which you define “technology” visually (with some words, as
needed). You’ll also write an extended definition of “technology”—and compare how
the technologies of writing allow us to communicate differently than technologies of
visual representation.
A Research Paper that investigates a particular technology, its history, current state
of development, and its social and political effects and related issues.
A Technology Debate Project in which you work in panels debating the merits and
ethical questions surrounding a particular technology (such as the web, gene splicing,
or ipods). You should be able to use some of the work some of you did in your
research paper projects, at least as a starting point. In groups of six, decide on the
particular technology you want to research and discuss. Then decide how you want to
divide up “sides” or “perspectives” or “stakeholders” around which you will shape
the debate.
An Instruction Set project. You will design an instruction set for what you consider
to be a weird technology. You will perform an audience analysis; plan and lay out a
mock-up of the instructions; test them during an in-class workshop; and revise and
polish the final set.
Course Calendar
what to prepare
what happens in class
week 1
day 1
day 2
Introduction to class
Naming technologies we use
Read Introduction and chapters 1-2 of
Rhetorical analysis of Web
design: the Google and Yahoo
search screens
Read chapter 10 on posters in cda
Start collecting photographs of
Analyzing technology
Discuss the technology
definition poster assignment
Develop statements of purpose
for poster
week 2
day 1
day 2
Read chapter 9 on visual
communication in cda
Preliminary design plan for your poster
Analyzing type and layout of
technology advertisements
Feedback to design plans
Develop together a rubric for
the poster
day 1
Draft of poster due
Feedback to drafts
Write up poster revision plans
day 2
Written definitions of “technology” due
Discussions of different
day 1
Final draft of posters due
Feedback to posters
day 2
Written reflection on differences
between written and visual definitions
Discussion about your
Discussion about the next
section of the course
week 3
week 4
shape and
reflect who we
week 5
day 1
Read “How to Read the Periodic Table” Discussion of the reading—and
in chapter 14 of cda, and the pages
considering it as a rhetorical
following it that analyze it rhetorically
analysis of different
representations of a technology
day 2
Read “A Marketable Wonder” in
chapter 14 of cda
Discussion of reading—and
considering it as a rhetorical
day 1
Bring in a typed description of a
computer game you play
Rhetorically analyzing a
computer game together
Developing a rubric for the
rhetorical analysis of a
computer game
day 2
Read the opening pages to Section 3 of
cda on rhetorical analysis, and read the
rhetorical analysis of the movie posters
Presenting your sketches to
each other and getting feeback
Looking at another game
week 6
Choose a game to analyze, and bring in
a sketch of your ideas about how it
works rhetorically
day 1
Draft of rhetorical analysis of computer
game due
Feedback to draft
day 2
Final version of rhetorical analysis due
Discussion of next section and
day 1
Read the online interviews about peerto-peer technologies in chapter 16 of
cda (at
Discussion of interviews and of
the issues surrounding p2p
day 2
Read chapter 6 on research in cda
Discussing research
Putting together research
Developing preliminary
research questions
day 1
Come in with a group research plan
Read chapter 8 on oral communication
in cda
Comparing & enriching plans
Discussing interview
techniques and interviews as
Planning interviews
day 2
No class — a day for groups to research
together and carry out interviews
week 7
property rights
week 8
week 9
week 10
day 1
Read chapter 7 on written
communication in cda
Statement of purpose for individual
research papers due
Discussing how writing differs
from other forms of
day 2
Interview and research reports due
Read chapter 13 on opinion pieces in
Discussing how we express
week 11
day 1
Design plans for research papers due
Feedback to design plans
Develop research paper rubric
day 1
Informal report on research paper
progress due
Discussion about copyright, fair
use, and the public domain,
based on what you have learned
from your research
day 2
Draft of research papers due
Feedback to drafts
Revison plan for paper due at your
day 2
week 12
week 13
day 1
day 2
week 14
day 1
Final draft of papers due
day 2
Reflection due on your learning this
Class closure