Week of 10/5

This week, we’ll continue working toward our pecha-kucha presentations and longer multimodal essays as we continue pursuing our discussion of surveillance, transparency, and leaks in the era of big data. Prompts for the week’s short blog posts can be located here.

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Monday, October 6

We’ll begin class with another sample pecha-kucha presentation. Then, we’ll spend some time thinking about oral presentation techniques—read the WOVENText chapter on oral communication in advance of class, and come prepared with questions. In the second half of class, we’ll worked to refine topics for the longer multimodal blog essay.

Wednesday, October 8

We’ll devote today to an extended discussion of surveillance, transparency, and mass leaks. We’ll think about the Assange reading we did last week and the Snowden material we’ll read this week. If you wrote a reading-response post that introduces a resource related to either Assange or Snowden, come to class prepared to discuss it.

Friday, October 10

Today, you should bring a significant portion of your pecha-kucha script, talking points, or outline. I won’t expect you to have full drafts finished, but you should bring evidence of significant work already done. We’ll devote most of the day to workshopping these scripts.

Potentially Interesting Links/Resources

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  • An infographic about the variety of ways of displaying information in charts and graphs.



  • A data-heavy argument that the idea of the “Freshman 15” is a myth.
  • An article about controversial new features Apple has built into iPhones that lock the NSA and other government agencies out. The headline announces a “Post-Snowden Era” in which companies seek to protect consumers’ privacy rights.

Revision to Blog Commenting Assignment

We worked in class today to make our blog conversations more productive. In particular, we’re trying to foster more actual substantive discussion in the comments—we don’t want them to be random text strewn into the ether for the sake of fulfilling a set quantity.

The new commenting guidelines all the classes agreed to are these:

  • The persons primarily responsible for commenting each week will be responsible for at least one, rather than the previously specified three, substantive comments. Since the quantity has gone done, expectations for quality go up a bit. Everyone in the class would prefer one really solid, useful comment to ten random, irrelevant ones. You should post on whichever posts interests you, but if there are posts without comments, you should try to find something interesting to say about them.
  • Authors of original posts should respond to some of the comments on their posts by Monday of the following week.
  • At the conclusion of the blog assignment, you will be responsible for showing evidence of your substantive engagement in comments sections, both as a commenter and as an author responding to comments.

Some classes noted that many useful comments posed direct questions to authors, pointed authors to relevant resources, pointed authors to complicating counter-evidence, or respectfully took objection to specific parts of the post. Authors also appreciated comments that pointed to unexpected ways of thinking about images or details the original author did not address in her post. The key goal of the entire class is to make the comments sections useful and interesting.

I have added these changed expectations as an addendum to blog assignment on the Assignments Overview page of the syllabus.

How to link

As I mentioned in class today, it’s rare to see blog posts on the web in which an author includes a lot of URLs—instead, they use links. The actual HTML of a link looks like this:

<a href=”http://www.google.com”>Google</a>

The “a” stands for “anchor.” If you’re used to linking this way, you can do so using the “Text” editor in the upper-right hand corner of the composition window.


The more intuitive, easier way, though, is to use the graphical interface on the “Visual” side. There are two icons in the bar above the composition pane that look like this:


The one on the left creates a link, and the one on the right removes a link. They’re grayed out in this photo, but they become solid when you select some text. Once you do so, hit the link button, and you’ll get this dialog box:


For the most part, you only need to worry about the “URL” section of this box. Add the URL to the page you’re trying to link to, click “Add Link,” and you’ll have a link in your text.

Blog Conventions and Comment Conversations

A couple quick reminders on blog conventions: blog posts should have titles that aren’t just  “reading-response post” or “experiential post,” and they should be categorized as either Reading-Response Posts or Experiential Posts. One aspect of blogging we haven’t discussed much yet is linking: whenever it makes sense, you should be linking to relevant resources. Take a look around at blogs, and you’ll see that most blog writers don’t strew URLs around their posts willy-nilly. Instead, they use links in the text of their posts.

Today, we’ll talk about how to make the blog component of our course better. I hope that by the end of class, each section will have established some expectations for each other about how we can improve it. In doing so, of course, we’ll also discuss today’s reading about Julian Assange, and also some of the great resources students in the class have found in their reading-response posts.

I received a number of comments from students in the anonymous feedback about the blog posts and comments. Three in particular stood out to me:

I’d actually love to see the blog posts and blog comments being discussed in class and not just out of class.

One thing that I do not enjoy about the class is doing the comments on the blogs. I feel like the writers of the blogs never check back to read the comments and the only person who reads them is you.

I think the forced commenting on blogs is annoying because it doesn’t actually start conversation, people half ass it for the grade.

While I’m sure that students have varied opinions on the quality of the blog conversation so far, I think it’s clear that the conversations in comment sections can be better.

We’ll first listen to an interview from the NPR show On The Media with Atlantic writer and blogger Ta Nehisi Coates about  how he curates the comments section on his acclaimed blog.

Then, I’ll have groups take a look at the conversations that have been taking place in the comments section on the blog. What is working? What could be better?

Finally, each group will be assigned a blog post, and we’ll hold a virtual conversation within each group in the comments section of a blog post.

Then, we’ll brainstorm ways to make the conversation on the blog better—more like the combination virtual/real-world conversations we’ve just had. Are there ways to tweak/restructure the assignment a bit differently to foster better conversations?


Calendar-style Schedule

A student in Section J1 suggested that a calendar-style schedule would be easier to read than the list-style schedule, and I agree. I’ve made the change, and the schedules for October, November, and December should now look like this:

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The dates on which students are scheduled to present their pecha-kuchas are also included on the calendar.

Please let me know if you run into any bugs or errors in the schedule.

Week of 9/28

This week, we’ll shift our attention from data and information in social media to the implications of mass datafication for state surveillance. In particular, we’ll be interested in the recent phenomenon of mass leaks of secret government information. We’ll talk about some changes that I’m making after Friday’s student feedback, from the blog setup to readings to assignment prompts. We’ll begin working toward the pecha-kucha presentations in earnest, and we’ll try to improve the comment discussions we’ve been having on the blog.

Monday, September 29

At the beginning of class, I’ll field questions about the new blog setup and outline some tweaks I’m making to the class after Friday’s feedback. Then, I’ll introduce the pecha-kucha assignment more fully. Most of the class, however, will be spent in a brainstorming and topic-narrowing exercise for the pecha-kucha presentations. You should leave class with a clearer idea of what your p-k may be about and with some resources to help you plan it.

Wednesday, October 1

The primary reading for Wednesday is Raffi Khatchadourian’s “No Secrets,” a profile of Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, from 2010. The “Wikileaks Manifesto” has been made optional. Today, we’ll begin to explore surveillance and transparency as we also try to improve the blog.

One recurring comment in the anonymous feedback on Friday involved the current lack of active discussion in comments sections on the blog. One student noted that people tended to “half-ass” the comments, and that blog authors never responded.

On Wednesday, we’ll work on ways to improve the comments and make them substantive and useful. We’ll have a discussion about ideas for improving blog discussion. Then, we’ll  have discussions about Wikileaks in the comments section of reading-response posts. Your commenting responsibilities for the week, Group A, will likely be fulfilled by work we do in class.

Friday, October 3

This week, I’ll work on developing a pecha-kucha presentation of my own related to our course theme. I’ll begin class on Friday by performing this pecha-kucha, and I’ll field questions about the topic and the form of the presentation.

During most of the rest of class, we’ll be working to design slides for your own pecha-kuchas.

Potentially Interesting Links/Resources

Here are some links related to our course theme (and to communication in general) that might interest you:

  • “Collateral Murder,” the leaked video that brought Wikileaks to prominence, can be viewed below. Be warned, of course, that the content herein is disturbing.

  • This article by Stephen Pinker thinks about why so much writing in our culture is bad. He basically argues that it’s because we have a great deal of difficulty imagining the experiences of our readers.
  • This Vox.com article from a couple weeks ago uses data to argue that Republicans and Democrats have such trouble getting along because of basic differences: Republicans are driven primarily by philosophy, while Democrats are driven primarily by a desire for policy changes.
  • This infographic on “What Makes an Infographic Bad” may help you think about visuals in your pecha-kuchas, and again later in the semester in your infographics. A sample:

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 7.04.18 AM

New, (Hopefully) Simpler Site Setup

In the student feedback I gathered on September 26, one recurring theme was that some students found the course blog hard to navigate, and I realized that I agreed. I realize now that it was hard for students to locate communications from me amid all the student posts. So I’ve set up another blog on which I’ll post syllabus content, assignment prompts, and other content from me. Since I’ll only have to update one site, this will also be a great place for me to answer questions about prompts—just use the comments section for each prompt’s page. Each weekend, I’ll post an update clarifying what needs to be done to prepare for class in the week ahead.

To switch back and forth between this main site and each section’s individual site, use the appropriate link in the upper-left-hand corner of the page:



You can easily navigate back to this main page from roughly the same spot on your individual’s section’s page:


The syllabus, including the full schedule, has been moved to this site. I’ve moved individual assignment prompts to pages here, too, and they can be accessed using the menu in the top bar:


Hopefully, putting these prompts in a more centralized place will make them easier to access. I’ve also attempted to eliminate some extraneous clutter on the section blogs. My hope is that the cleaned-up interface will make the site(s) more usable.

If you have a question about an assignment, please ask it on the blog, even if you do so anonymously. Below each assignment prompt, you’ll see a place for name, email, etc…. but you don’t even need to fill those out if you don’t want to. I prefer that you ask questions here so other students can benefit from the response:

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I will do my best to respond to questions in a timely manner. If you have any questions about the new blog setup, please feel free to ask them here, in the comments section.