Department of Rhetoric & Writing
Department of Rhetoric & Writing

Margaret A Syverson


Professor EmeritusPh.D., 1994, University of California, San Diego

Associate Professor Emeritus
Margaret A Syverson

Contact

Biography


Margaret Syverson is the Director of the Computer Writing and Research Lab in the Division of Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Texas at Austin. She teaches graduate level and undergraduate courses such as "Virtual Worlds," "Computers and Controversy," "Knowledge Ecology," and "Information Architecture" in well-equipped networked classrooms, where students have the opportunity to create Web sites, standalone hypertexts, multimedia projects, and MOO spaces (in text-based environments online). These classes also develop students' skills and experience with email, Web research, and real-time conferencing.  You can find information about Dr. Syverson and her recent classes at http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~syverson.

The Online Learning Record, a portfolio based assessment system developed by Professor Syverson is used for student evaluation in all of her courses, and was the subject of a Carnegie Scholars project. Information about the Online Learning Record is available at http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~syverson/olr.  Professor Syverson's dissertation research, conducted at the University of California, San Diego, focused on the application of complex systems theories and distributed cognition in composition studies. Her recent book, The Wealth of Reality: An Ecology of Composition, was published by Southern Illinois University Press. She is Chair of the Board of Directors for the Center for Language in Learning, and Editor of Computers and Composition Journal's online site. Her work on evaluating learning in MOOs and MUDs has been supported through a CAETI grant. Recently, her collaborative online composition Worlds Fair received an Innovations in Instructional Technology Award from The University of Texas.

Courses


RHE 330C • Ethics And New Media

43790 • Spring 2015
Meets MW 3:30PM-5:00PM PAR 104

This course is intended to explore the foundations on which we base our decisions, actions, and judgments in relation to online environments for communication, expression, and activity. It is not a course about formal propositions and theories of ethics, but about what emerges as we interact with new technologies and reflect about our concepts of right/wrong, good/bad, helping/harming. Students will not apply existing codes of ethics, but engage in explorations about their own beliefs and practices. When there are no absolute rules on which everyone can agree; what do we use to guide our behavior? In this highly collaborative course, students will engage with new media both as producers and as audiences, cultivating a deeper understanding about their own foundational principles and those of others.

Students will read and discuss some contemporary texts both online and in class discussions. They will engage in various construction projects, both individually and collaboratively, developing a richer understanding of the theories and application of the concepts in the course, and they will explore the ethical implications of composing and communicating online. In the process they will gain greater control over their own composing.

This course is taught in the Digital Writing and Research Lab; a significant part of our class time will be spent working with networked computers. All necessary skills will be taught in class and practiced outside of class. The writing component of the course includes four major projects with topic proposal, drafts, and final revision, project memo; one of these projects is the completion of the Learning Record. Students will also post weekly to the class blog in response to readings and discussion. The format, scope, and topic of projects is decided through individual consultation with the instructor.

Grading Policy

Grades in this course are determined on the basis of the Learning Record, which accompanies a portfolio of work presented at the midterm and at the end of the course. (More information about the Learning Record is available at http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~syverson/olr) These portfolios present a selection of student work, both formal and informal, completed during the semester, ongoing observations about student learning, and analysis of student work and interpretations with respect to the student's development across five dimensions of learning: confidence and independence, knowledge and understanding, skills and strategies, use of prior and emerging experience, and reflectiveness. This development centers around the major strands of work in the course: rhetoric and composition, research, technology, and collaboration. 

Please note: All assigned work must be completed to receive a passing grade in this course.

Texts:

Ethics for the New Millenium, The Dalai Lama

Ethical Know-how, Francisco Varela

Online readings as assigned

RHE 330E • Nonargumntatv Rhet In Zen

43820 • Spring 2015
Meets MW 12:30PM-2:00PM PAR 104

American rhetoric is strongly grounded in argument and persuasion, and infused with judgments of good and bad, right and wrong. This is true not only for public discourse in the media, academic discourse in schools, and professional writing and speaking, it is also true in everyday conversation. We are constantly trying to convince someone of our judgments, it seems, or that something or someone is good or bad, right or wrong—a restaurant, a movie, a car, a teacher. Everything is evaluated and every conversation is full of assertions of value. But what if there were a different, equally “real” way to talk about the world and each other? What if we believed that each person is quite capable of waking up to the reality around him or her, and responding appropriately, without being converted to some position or belief we share? What kind of language would we use, and how would we use it?

Zen training begins by kicking the props out of our customary ways of understanding and talking. It subverts value distinctions, challenges our habitual ways of expressing ourselves, and denies the superiority of rationalist, linear logic. It does not do this merely to "deconstruct" language, or to tear down all meaning. It has a radical project of waking us up out of the trance we create for ourselves and others through our habitual uses of language. This class will explore how contradiction, negation, story, surprise, gesture, and silence are used in Zen training as resources for awakening to reality, rather than as assertions or arguments about it. The cryptic pronouncements of Zen masters seem impenetrable. They appear to defy our western rhetorical traditions that depend on logic and formal reasoning as the key to building knowledge. Zen teachers complicate the issue by insisting that language is only "the finger pointing at the moon, not the moon itself." If you have ever tried to write about a meaningful experience, you will recognize the problematic relationship between language and reality. This course engages students in exploring the surprising uses of language and image to create meaning in Zen tradition and practice. 

Students do not need any prior experience or knowledge of Zen rhetoric or practices. The first part of the class will provide background on Zen concepts including ethical precepts and koans, then consider the emergence of the American Zen rhetorical tradition. This class is not an introduction to Zen practice, but rather an exploration of an alternative rhetoric, a different method of using language to construct meaning and shape relationships. We will also be exploring new technologies and the ways that Zen is represented in online media. 

Grading Policy: Grades in this course are determined on the basis of the Learning Record, which accompanies a portfolio of work presented at the midterm and at the end of the course. These portfolios present a selection of student work, both formal and informal, completed during the semester, ongoing observations about student learning, and analysis of student work and interpretations with respect to the student's development across five dimensions of learning: confidence and independence, knowledge and understanding, skills and strategies, use of prior and emerging experience, and reflectiveness. This development centers around the major strands of work in the course: rhetoric and composition, research, technology, and collaboration. The criteria for grades are posted at the Learning Record web site. Please also notice the RHE policy on absences, which can affect your grade. Three unexcused absences will lower your final grade, four unexcused absences results in automatic failure of the course.

Texts

Paul Reps, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones; Joko Beck, Everyday Zen; Steve Hagen, How the World Can be the Way It Is; Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones; Diane Rizzetto, Waking Up to What You Do; Brad Warner, Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies, & the Truth about Reality; Diane Hacker, Research and Documentation in the Electronic Age

E 388M • Information Architecture

36065 • Fall 2014
Meets MW 2:00PM-3:30PM FAC 7

Information Architecture

This course investigates the cultural, cognitive, and rhetorical dimensions of information architecture as it applies to academic professions. Most professional knowledge workers are awash in a tsunami of information and struggling to stay afloat. Edward Tufte maintains that there is no such thing as information overload, only poor information design.

Information architecture is an emerging field that includes aspects of composition, rhetoric, design, cognitive science, information sciences, computer science, mathematics, and social sciences. As computer technologies have expanded the possibilities for creating, organizing, storing, representing, and communicating information, the sheer quantity of information exchanged has exploded. The new field of information architecture (or “informatics” in a current program proposal at UC Irvine) studies this dynamic process, develops systems to help people better manage it, and plans for changes projected in how information is developed and organized.

Theorists currently in the field, including Richard Saul Wurman, Jakob Nielsen, Kevin Mullet, Darrell Sano, and Edward Tufte argue that design, including typography and page design, use of graphics, and organizational structure are crucial to the delivery of information in ways that potential audiences find useful. These elements are often left to editors or publishers in formal publishing situations, or executed poorly in popular media and online communications. Yet they can determine whether information can be easily accessed, apprehended, and interpreted. Similarly, information archives are left in the hands of librarians whose experience and expertise may vary widely from expert to little or no training or preparation. Even well-trained librarians, however, may be ill-equipped to manage the proliferation and dynamic transformation of new media, modes, and genres of work, including web sites, multimedia compositions, collaborative constructions that cross continents and disciplinary boundaries, and online virtual worlds. There are many systems, from library catalogues to Web search engines, to research databases now in use to gather, store, and manipulate information, yet we still often feel overwhelmed, ill-informed, and lost in dealing with them. Wurman has termed our general apprehension “information anxiety.”

While a great deal of work has been done in areas of information science, library science, interface design, and so on, we believe that little attention has been paid to the deeply rhetorical nature of information architecture, particularly in online environments. This course will look at the cultural and cognitive production, organization, representation, and distribution of knowledge as activity.

The objectives for students include the following:

  • Students will be introduced to a new field of study and its concepts, methods, and practices.
  • Students will explore cultural, cognitive, and rhetorical implications of diverse information structures, including hypertext, text-based virtual reality, the Web, and databases.
  • Students will experiment with design for gathering, organizing, and presenting information.
  • Students will develop their own projects based on existing theoretical and methodological challenges in this field. 

Required texts:

Course Reader

There will be a list of recommended texts from which students will make selections for presentations and project work.

Evaluation will be via the Online Learning Record, portfolio-based assessment.

Assignments and class format:

Ground-up information architecture for survival in professional and academic ecosystems:

The project for the semester: Design your own infosphere: a way to manage the flow, storage, communication, and transformation of information in your own lived ecosystem. Conduct and write up a case study detailing this process. This process will require a great deal of observation, reflection, and research. Much of this research will be difficult because our own accommodations are sometimes invisible to us. Alternatively: do this with someone else as your research subject/client.

Part 1: An inventory of information types, media, and sources that participate in your ecosystem right now. Don’t forget the human resources! A second inventory of what should be part of your information ecosystem. This work should be done collaboratively, to help stimulate your thinking about it.

Part 2: The current state of the ecosystem: including what gets left out, what gets ignored or dismissed, what takes greater or lesser priority. Also included, the preferences of the user (you): greater or lesser order and systematicity, willingness to maintain a system, competing or conflicting life commitments, greater or lesser dependence on/enthusiasm for using technology

Part 3: Categories of purpose. What classes of information are needed? What roles are they associated with? Be sure the classes are distinct enough to be useful. “News” is a generic term that probably should be broken down into categories like: news about the world, news about my discipline, personal news, news about my department, and so on. What is the quality of life you aspire to?

Part 4: Audience: Who else is involved as an audience or provider for the information flows? What is their preferred medium for getting and/or receiving information? What structures do they need or prefer to help them interpret and apply the information?

Part 5: Pace and timing: what are the dynamics of information flows in different classes? You may discover that you are a person that prefers to check email as it arrives, once or twice a day, or, as in my Dad’s case, once or twice a year. You may read a newspaper daily, visit the library twice a week, write a paper once a semester. The pace may change during times of crisis or high activity: for example, before an exam. What are the dependencies among different kinds of information, different situations?

Part 6: A review of models: libraries, museums, air traffic control, city planning, ecology, music orchestration, choreography, architecture, etc.

Part 7: What structures, technological or physical, can help gather, organize, maintain, and manage the information flows? Of course, this is no guarantee of stress-free information management, but rather, how can you establish a system that fits your own ecosystem and supports your larger goals? What can be done to support the transformation of information into wisdom?

We will also look at your work during class time in in-class workshops.

Process: Each phase of this work will cover two weeks of classes, organized as follows:

Week 1: Small group discussion around projects (M)

                Focus on technology (W)

Week 2: Readings and disciplinary considerations (M)

               Presentation workshops/check in: group inquiry process  (W)

Technological component:

1. The Learning Record as a model of information architecture development and evolution

2. Brainstorming tools: Novamind, Tinderbox, Omnigraffle

3. Archiving tools: EndNote, FileMaker Pro, MacJournal, file structures (File Don’t Pile)

4. Presentation tools: screen formatting, the web, accessibility

5. Social tools: blogs, wikis, myspace, Google groups

6. Workflow tools: GTD process, Fasttrack schedule, Now Up to Date, Actiontastic, Quicksilver, news aggregators, etc.

7. Integration of systems: putting the pieces together technologically

8. Project presentations (t and th)

E388M Information Architecture Texts

Case Study Research: Design & Methods,

Robert K. Yin

ISBN:0761925538

 

Information Architecture For The World Wide Web,

Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville

ISBN:0596527349

 

Notes On The Synthesis Of Form,

Christopher Alexander

ISBN:0674627512

 

Visual Display Of Quantitative Information,

Edward Tufte

ISBN:0961392142

 

Thinking in Systems,

Donella Meadows

ISBN: 978-1-60358-055-7

 

Plus online sources as listed on the class wiki

 

RHE 330C • Nonviolent Communication

44780 • Fall 2014
Meets MW 3:30PM-5:00PM FAC 7

The central issue in this course will be non-violence and power. How do we understand the uses of power? How can we learn how to use our own power with wisdom and compassion? Can nonviolent action have an impact on violence in the "real world?"

Students will read and discuss foundational work in studies of nonviolence, responding to the issues raised in the texts, online and in class discussions. They will engage in a major project developed in stages, developing a richer understanding of the theories and application of nonviolent action, and they will explore the importance of the right use of power through rhetoric. Students will work on individual chapters for a book tentatively titled Peace and Power. Together we will draft and publish this book in one semester. Previous books published by students in Professor Syverson’s classes include Ethics Now and True Beginner’s Mind: Fresh Encounters with Zen. In the process students will gain greater control over their own composing and learn firsthand about the book publication process. Readings will be drawn from prominent experts on nonviolence and nonviolent communication.

Assignments and Grading

Writing component of the course:

Four major projects representing stages of the chapter development and book publication, and completion of the Learning Record. Students will also post weekly to the class wiki in response to readings and discussion.

Project  Part 1: A short autobiographical paper of individual power

Project Part 2: Drafting and editing the book chapter; providing critical editorial feedback for peers

Project Part 3: Revision, proofreading, and publication of the chapter, and composition of the book

Project Part 4: The Learning Record

 Grades in this course are determined on the basis of your Learning Record, which accompanies a portfolio of work presented at the midterm and at the end of the course. (More information about the Learning Record can be found at www.learningrecord.org) These portfolios present a selection of student work, both formal and informal, completed during the semester, ongoing observations about student learning, and analysis of student work and interpretations with respect to the student's development across five dimensions of learning: confidence and independence, knowledge and understanding, skills and strategies, use of prior and emerging experience, and reflectiveness. This development centers around the major strands of work in the course: rhetoric and composition, research, technology, and collaboration. Please note: All assigned work must be completed on time to receive a passing grade in this course. Book production proceeds on a relentless schedule, which means all deadlines are non-negotiable. I highly recommend that students make use of the Undergraduate Writing Center during the semester for helpful, expert feedback on all stages of the writing.

Required Texts and Course Readings

  • Speak Peace in a World of Conflict: What You Say Next Will Change Your World by Marshall B. Rosenberg
  • The Essential Gandhi: An Anthology of His Writings on His Life, Work, and Ideas by Mahatma Gandhi
  • Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Right Use of Power by Cedar Barstow
  • The Search for a Nonviolent Future: A Promise of Peace for Ourselves, Our Families, and Our World by Michael N. Nagler
  • Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World by Joanna R. Macy
  • UN Millennium Declaration and Roadmap

Recommended:

  • Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Create Your Life, Your Relationships, and Your World in Harmony with Your Values by Marshall B. Rosenberg
  • A Force More Powerful: A Century of Non-Violent Conflict by Peter Ackerman, Jack DuVall

RHE 330C • Knowledge Ecologies

45125 • Spring 2014
Meets MW 2:00PM-3:30PM PAR 104

What does a university, a classroom, a hospital operating room, a library, your smartphone, and a global economy have in common? They are all systems that include people, technologies, and information immersed in environments that shape how we understand, act, and interact in our world. Because these are living, dynamic, evolving systems, they can be described as knowledge ecologies: systems where energy, information, and resources are transformed into knowledge that can be used to further shape our lives and our worlds. 

These knowledge ecologies are systems through which information flows and knowledge is constructed. That knowledge is then directed back into the system to inform the development of strategies and action; and all of this knowledge is how work is accomplished in a particular environment, whether it is a fire station, a second-grade classroom, a high-tech business, or a government agency.

Some knowledge ecologies are quite small: you plus your personal calendar and contact list, for example. They are nested in systems at larger and larger scales: your circle of friends and family, classes, the university, the city, the environment in which so many systems co-exist and interact. Each level of system has its own characteristics and features which cannot be understood simply by breaking the system into its component parts. This is what makes a complex or ecological system different from something merely “complicated,” like a watch. Our ecological systems now irreversibly include human-built artifacts including highways, technologies, social structures and institutions, buildings, and infrastructures such as wi-fi networks, sewers, emergency services, the power grid, and so on. We are mutually dependent on and in intimate relationship with all of these systems. When a natural disaster or outage interrupts these systems, we are directly affected, whether we like it or not. All of these systems depend on flows of information that is effectively mobilized. 

Still, in an information-saturated world, we sometimes find ourselves scrambling and overwhelmed. Much of the information that washes over us is useless, some of it is dead wrong, and all of it creates the phenomenon known as “information anxiety,” the desperate attempt to keep on top of the information flood. Recently, there has been a great deal of discussion about “information design” or “information architecture,” the use of careful design to help manage and navigate large complex sets of information. But information design is only a part of the solution. The real issue is how information becomes knowledge, and how it connects with existing knowledge to expand or reorganize what we know and do. Knowledge is information in use, applied in specific contexts for particular purposes. Understanding how knowledge ecologies are structured and function can help us transform knowledge into wisdom. 

Students in this class will learn how data becomes information that is transformed into knowledge and wisdom in knowledge ecologies. They will research real-world knowledge ecologies, track information flows and activity in these systems, and develop projects to support or create healthy, sustainable knowledge ecosystems. 

Coursework:

1. A major research project in support or creation of a knowledge ecosystem, presented in text, multimedia, website, wiki, or other online medium, project to be negotiated with instructor. This project will be completed in stages:

  • A project proposal of two pages
  • Observational field research in a knowledge ecosystem: an office, classroom, a hospital unit, a non-profit organization, for example, resulting in an information and action inventory, 5-10 pages
  • Information flow diagrams and interviews, 4-8 pages
  • The final presentation in written, web, or multimedia format, length tbd.

2. Regular in-class presentations on the research project.

  1. Completion of the Learning Record

Grading Policy

Grades in this course are determined on the basis of the Learning Record, which accompanies a portfolio of work presented at the midterm and at the end of the course. (More information at http://www.learningrecord.org) These portfolios present a selection of student work, both formal and informal, completed during the semester, ongoing observations about student learning, and analysis of student work and interpretations with respect to the student's development across five dimensions of learning: confidence and independence, knowledge and understanding, skills and strategies, use of prior and emerging experience, and reflectiveness. This development centers around the major strands of work in the course: rhetoric and composition, research, conceptual theories and models, and collaboration. The criteria for grades are posted at the Learning Record web site. 

Texts:

Thinking in Systems: A Primer, Donella Meadows

Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart, Bonnie Nardi and Vicki L. O’Day

Chaos Point 2012 and Beyond: Appointment with Destiny, Ervin Laszlo

Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know, Daniel Bornstein and Susan Davis

RHE 330C • Nonviolent Communication

44830 • Fall 2013
Meets MW 3:30PM-5:00PM PAR 104

The central issue in this course will be non-violence and power. How do we understand the uses of power? How can we learn how to use our own power with wisdom and compassion? Can nonviolent action have an impact on violence in the "real world?"

Students will read and discuss foundational work in studies of nonviolence, responding to the issues raised in the texts, online and in class discussions. They will engage in a major project developed in stages, developing a richer understanding of the theories and application of nonviolent action, and they will explore the importance of the right use of power through rhetoric. Students will work on individual chapters for a book tentatively titled Peace and Power. Together we will draft and publish this book in one semester. Previous books published by students in Professor Syverson’s classes include Ethics Now and True Beginner’s Mind: Fresh Encounters with Zen. In the process students will gain greater control over their own composing and learn firsthand about the book publication process. Readings will be drawn from prominent experts on nonviolence and nonviolent communication.

Assignments and Grading

Writing component of the course:

Four major projects representing stages of the chapter development and book publication, and completion of the Learning Record. Students will also post weekly to the class wiki in response to readings and discussion.

Project  Part 1: A short autobiographical paper of individual power

Project Part 2: Drafting and editing the book chapter; providing critical editorial feedback for peers

Project Part 3: Revision, proofreading, and publication of the chapter, and composition of the book

Project Part 4: The Learning Record

Grades in this course are determined on the basis of your Learning Record, which accompanies a portfolio of work presented at the midterm and at the end of the course. (More information about the Learning Record can be found at www.learningrecord.org) These portfolios present a selection of student work, both formal and informal, completed during the semester, ongoing observations about student learning, and analysis of student work and interpretations with respect to the student's development across five dimensions of learning: confidence and independence, knowledge and understanding, skills and strategies, use of prior and emerging experience, and reflectiveness. This development centers around the major strands of work in the course: rhetoric and composition, research, technology, and collaboration. Please note: All assigned work must be completed on time to receive a passing grade in this course. Book production proceeds on a relentless schedule, which means all deadlines are non-negotiable. I highly recommend that students make use of the Undergraduate Writing Center during the semester for helpful, expert feedback on all stages of the writing.

Required Texts and Course Readings

  • Speak Peace in a World of Conflict: What You Say Next Will Change Your World by Marshall B. Rosenberg
  • The Essential Gandhi: An Anthology of His Writings on His Life, Work, and Ideas by Mahatma Gandhi
  • Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Right Use of Power by Cedar Barstow
  • The Search for a Nonviolent Future: A Promise of Peace for Ourselves, Our Families, and Our World by Michael N. Nagler
  • Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World by Joanna R. Macy
  • UN Millennium Declaration and Roadmap

Recommended:

  • Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Create Your Life, Your Relationships, and Your World in Harmony with Your Values by Marshall B. Rosenberg
  • A Force More Powerful: A Century of Non-Violent Conflict by Peter Ackerman, Jack DuVall

RHE 379C • Mindfulness In Writing

44475 • Spring 2013
Meets MW 2:00PM-3:30PM FAC 7

 Recent research in psychology and neuroscience has shown that the practice of mindfulness increases many different cognitive functions, including memory, learning, and creativity, in addition to reducing stress, depression, and anxiety. The results have led to a widespread interest in mindfulness, in fields including medicine, psychotherapy, and education. But what exactly is “mindfulness,” how can it be practiced, and how can it affect writing? This class will introduce students to current concepts and research in mindfulness and its effects. We will also explore models of mind and mindfulness that have been developed by philosophers, psychologists, political theorists, and religious traditions. Most importantly, we will explore experientially the connections between mindfulness and writing, recording our explorations for a student-authored book. This means that we will practice various techniques for cultivating mindfulness, and we will write about what we discover through personal experience.

 Assignments
  • All writing for this class will be composed in class, and may be revised outside of class. The major project will be a chapter in the student-authored book on mindfulness and writing, to be published at the end of the semester.
  • The other major assignment for this class is the Learning Record (see Grading Policy, below), submitted three times: in the second week of the course, at midterm, and at the end of the term. The development of the Learning Record will also serve as a resource for the development of each student’s chapter.
  • Part A.1 and A.2 plus two observations
  • Midterm: Part B.1 and C.1 plus work samples and observations up to this point
  • Final: Part B.2 and C.2 plus work samples and observations over the course of the semester that represent your development and learning
  • Readings and discussion of the readings will be completed outside of class, based on the class wiki.
Grading Policy

Grades in this course are determined on the basis of the Learning Record, which accompanies a portfolio of work presented at the midterm and at the end of the course. (More information at http://www.learningrecord.org) These portfolios present a selection of student work, both formal and informal, completed during the semester, ongoing observations about student learning, and analysis of student work and interpretations with respect to the student's development across five dimensions of learning: confidence and independence, knowledge and understanding, skills and strategies, use of prior and emerging experience, and reflectiveness. This development centers around the major strands of work in the course: rhetoric and composition, research, technology, and collaboration. The criteria for grades are posted at the Learning Record web site.

Required Texts

Dan Huston, Communicating Mindfully: Mindfulness-Based Communication and Emotional Intelligence

Dan Siegel, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation

Charles Hapden-Turner, Maps of the Mind

Arthur Zajonc, Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry

EDP 382L • Minds, Texts, And Technology

10380 • Fall 2012
Meets MW 3:30PM-5:00PM FAC 10
(also listed as E 388M, INF 385T)

What do readers, writers, and texts have in common with the human immune system, the economics of the stock market, the rise and fall of a pre Columbian city state, or a ship's navigation crew? Recent interdisciplinary research in complex systems and cognitive science has suggested some intriguing possibilities. This seminar will explore some of the foundational theories emerging from this research and their potential for informing English and composition studies. The course introduces concepts in situated and distributed cognition, activity theory, distributed cognition, and complexity theory to establish a theoretical framework for analyzing writing situations, as a way of testing the applicability of these theories for literature, rhetoric and composition. One goal of this seminar is to help students define and develop working bibliographies, which are somewhat different from annotated or "works cited" type bibliographies. For this purpose, students will write regular responses to the assigned readings on the class wiki. They will prepare a short presentation to the class on a text chosen from the recommended reading list. Students will also be responsible for developing an academic project suitable for publication in print or online.

RHE 330C • Virtual Worlds

44215 • Spring 2012
Meets MW 2:00PM-3:30PM PAR 104

“There is a central quality which is the root criterion of life and spirit in a man, a town, a building, or a wilderness. This quality is objective and precise, but it cannot be named. The search which we make for this quality, in our own lives, is the central search of any person, and the crux of any individual person's story. It is the search for those moments when we are most alive. In order to define this quality in buildings and in towns, we must begin by understanding that every place is given its character by certain patterns of events that keep on happening there. . . . The people can shape buildings for themselves, and have done it for centuries, by using languages which I call pattern languages. A pattern language gives each person who uses it the power to create an infinite variety of sentences.”     –  Christopher Alexander

All texts create a shared space, all writing is situated in time and place. What kinds of places do writers construct, and how does a sense of place impact on audiences? How can the computer, a single medium for composing, provide a sense of such diverse places as the millions of Web pages, thousands of news groups and computer forums, virtual worlds such as Second Life or World of Warcraft, collaborative environments such as Facebook and wikis, desktops, directories, spreadsheets, blogs, and other applications representing abstract spaces? The spaces we construct both enable and constrain the activities that will take place there. In Second Life, for example, a place is not merely described, it becomes activated by readers, with objects that can be picked up and examined, "active" parts of the description that can be programmed to provide a wide range of possibilities for acting and interacting with spaces in new ways. Moving beyond description, simple page layout, or even visual design this course explores the architecture of virtual spaces in text and mixed media.

The central issue in this course will be the creation of virtual worlds. Students will take on roles in creating an online society. They will engage in various construction projects, both individually and collaboratively, developing a richer understanding of the theories and application of writing in the creation of alternate worlds, and they will explore the importance of place in writing.

Texts (may be subject to change):

Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds, and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution. Jim Blascovich, Jeremy Bailenson

Designing Virtual Worlds, Richard Bartle

Second Life: A Guide to Your Virtual World, Brian A. White

Grading:

Grades in this course are determined on the basis of an Learning Record (www.learningrecord.org), which accompanies a portfolio of work presented at the midterm and at the end of the course. These portfolios present a selection of student work, both formal and informal, completed during the semester, ongoing observations about student learning, and analysis of student work and interpretations with respect to the student's development across five dimensions of learning: confidence and independence, knowledge and understanding, skills and strategies, use of prior and emerging experience, and reflectiveness. This development centers around the major strands of work in the course: rhetoric and composition, research, technology, and collaboration. There will be a major class construction project that will engage each student in three major projects, plus composing the Learning Record itself. In addition, there will be ongoing reading, informal writing, collaborative work developing the class wiki site. All assigned work must be completed to receive a passing grade in this course. The format, scope, and topic of projects is decided through individual consultation with the instructor.

INF 385T • Knowledge Ecologies

28575 • Fall 2011
Meets MW 3:30PM-5:00PM PAR 104
(also listed as E 388M)

In an information-saturated world, we find ourselves scrambling and overwhelmed. Much of the information that washes over us is useless, some of it is dead wrong, and all of it creates the phenomenon known as "information anxiety," the desperate attempt to keep on top of the information flood. Recently, there has been a great deal of discussion about "information design" or "information architecture," the use of careful design to help manage and navigate large complex sets of information.

But information design is only a part of the solution. The real issue is how information becomes knowledge, and how it connects with existing knowledge to expand or reorganize what we know and do. Knowledge is information in use, applied in specific contexts for particular purposes. We inhabit various "knowledge ecologies," which range in scale from the culture as a whole, through media such as newspapers and television, to shared friendships, a classroom, a writing desk with all of its tools and resources. Most of these ecosystems involve people; knowledge "artifacts" such as books, web sites, and other media; technologies; social structures; and environmental influences. They are dynamic, constantly changing systems, through which information flows and knowledge is constructed. Knowledge that is constructed is directed back into the system to inform the development of more knowledge; and all of this knowledge is part of how activity gets accomplished in a particular environment, whether it is the operating room of a hospital, a second-grade classroom, a high-tech business, or a government agency.

Students in this seminar will investigate real-world knowledge ecologies, track information flows and activity in these systems, and design projects to help support emerging knowledge construction in knowledge ecosystems.

Probable texts

Thinking in Systems, a Primer. Donella Meadows

Cognition in the Wild, Edwin Hutchins

The Image: Knowledge in Life and Society, Kenneth Boulding

Ecologies of Knowledge: Work and Politics in Science and Technology, Susan Leigh Star

Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart, Bonnie Nardi

Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Bateson

Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages, Alex Wright

Coursework

1. A major research project leading to a publishable article or composition in text, multimedia, website, wiki, or other online medium, project to be negotiated with instructor. This project will be completed in stages:

    a. A project proposal of two pages

    b. Observational field research in a knowledge ecosystem: an office, classroom, a hospital unit, a non-profit organization, for example.

   c. Report of recommendations for the benefit of the system.

   d. The final presentation as article or composition, suitable for publication or conference presentation.

2. Regular digital presentations on the research project.

Evaluation

Evaluation is via the Learning Record, a portfolio?based system fully described on the web at www.learningrecord.org.  Students construct and submit a midterm Learning Record and a Final Learning Record composed of samples of their work, observations, and interpretations of their own development on the basis of five dimensions of learning.

 

RHE 330E • Nonargumentative Rhet In Zen

44130 • Fall 2010
Meets MW 3:30PM-5:00PM PAR 104

American rhetoric is strongly grounded in argument and persuasion, and infused with judgments of good and bad, right and wrong. This is true not only for public discourse in the media, academic discourse in schools, and professional writing and speaking, it is also true in everyday conversation. We are constantly trying to convince someone of our judgments, it seems, or that something or someone is good or bad, right or wrong—a restaurant, a movie, a car, a teacher. Everything is evaluated and every conversation is full of assertions of value. But what if there were a different, equally “real” way to talk about the world and each other? What if we believed that each person is quite capable of waking up to the reality around him or her, and responding appropriately, without being converted to some position or belief we share? What kind of language would we use, and how would we use it?

Zen training begins by kicking the props out of our customary ways of understanding and talking. It subverts value distinctions, challenges our habitual ways of expressing ourselves, and denies the superiority of rationalist, linear logic. It does not do this merely to "deconstruct" language, or to tear down all meaning. It has a radical project of waking us up out of the trance we create for ourselves and others through our habitual uses of language. This class will explore how contradiction, negation, story, surprise, gesture, and silence are used in Zen training as resources for awakening to reality, rather than as assertions or arguments about it. The cryptic pronouncements of Zen masters seem impenetrable. They appear to defy our western rhetorical traditions that depend on logic and formal reasoning as the key to building knowledge. Zen teachers complicate the issue by insisting that language is only "the finger pointing at the moon, not the moon itself." If you have ever tried to write about a meaningful experience, you will recognize the problematic relationship between language and reality. This course engages students in exploring the surprising uses of language and image to create meaning in Zen tradition and practice.

Students do not need any prior experience or knowledge of Zen rhetoric or practices. The first part of the class will provide background on Zen concepts including ethical precepts and koans, then consider the emergence of the American Zen rhetorical tradition. This class is not an introduction to Zen practice, but rather an exploration of an alternative rhetoric, a different method of using language to construct meaning and shape relationships. We will also be exploring new technologies and the ways that Zen is represented in online media.

Grading Policy

Grades in this course are determined on the basis of the Learning Record, which accompanies a portfolio of work presented at the midterm and at the end of the course. These portfolios present a selection of student work, both formal and informal, completed during the semester, ongoing observations about student learning, and analysis of student work and interpretations with respect to the student's development across five dimensions of learning: confidence and independence, knowledge and understanding, skills and strategies, use of prior and emerging experience, and reflectiveness. This development centers around the major strands of work in the course: rhetoric and composition, research, technology, and collaboration. The criteria for grades are posted at the Learning Record web site. Please also notice the RHE policy on absences, which can affect your grade. Three unexcused absences will lower your final grade, four unexcused absences results in automatic failure of the course.

Texts

Paul Reps, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones; Joko Beck, Everyday Zen; Steve Hagen, How the World Can be the Way It Is; Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones; Diane Rizzetto, Waking Up to What You Do; Brad Warner, Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies, & the Truth about Reality; Diane Hacker, Research and Documentation in the Electronic Age

Curriculum Vitae


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