Course Overview

Data, Information, and Culture

ENGL 1101, Fall 2014
Georgia Institute of Technology

Instructor Information

Eric Rettberg, Ph.D.
Office: Stephen C. Hall Building 121
Office Hours: Monday and Wednesday, 3-5 p.m. or by appointment
Instructor’s Web Site

Class Meetings

Section A:
MWF 9:05-9:55
Clough 123

Section J1:
MWF 10:05-10:55
Clough 127

Section G2:
MWF 12:05-12:55
Clough 127

About the Course

In all sections of ENGL 1101, students work to develop their strategies for communication across various modes, including the Written, Oral, Visual, Electronic, and Nonverbal (WOVEN). In this course, you will study the rhetoric of communication as you practice different modalities of communication and produce a variety of rhetorical objects, each of which will involve multiple WOVEN modes. ENGL 1101 also emphasizes communication as a process: that is, you shouldn’t think of your assignments as projects you do one night then turn in; rather, you’ll revise over the course of the semester and for the final portfolio. Revision will make your work better.

Since “communication” is a rather broad topic, each 1101 section has a theme to center its readings, discussions, and assignments. The topic at hand in our course is “Data, Information, and Culture.”

If data can be loosely defined as facts and numbers and information can be loosely defined as what those facts and numbers actually tell us, then data and information saturate our culture. Every day, we perform dozens of Internet searches and post dozens of status updates to online services, and we get gobs of information back. As we seek information, though, we’re also producing it, and it’s not always clear whether individual people benefit as much as corporations and governments do. Some folks complain about a condition of “information overload,” others enthusiastically embrace an era of big data, and still others warn of the sinister possibilities that might result from so much information.

In this course, we’ll try to make sense of this era by reading and responding to texts that explore, historicize, and critique our information-rich era; by exploring and debating a variety of perspectives on what it means to live in a culture of information; and by producing rhetorical objects that make daunting sets of data and information approachable and comprehensible.

The Approach of the Course

Communication, by definition, involves sharing and exchange. By taking this course, you become a member of a community of learners. As an active participant in this course, you’ll share your own work in class and online, offer substantive feedback to classmates, listen to the feedback of peers and your instructor to improve your own, and contribute generously to discussion, both in the classroom and on the course blog. You should expect very little lecturing from your instructor in this course—the focus in class will be on discussing texts and ideas, practicing rhetorical strategies, and workshopping.

Expected Student Learning Outcomes

You’ll find a comprehensive description of state- and program-wide objectives for this course, which you should read in full, here.

I also have my own objectives. By the end of this course, you should also be able to:

  • Think critically about the impact and ethics of data and information in various facets of our culture, from art to science, from schools to militaries, from corporate policies to your own online activities.
  • Make convincing arguments about the role of data and information in our society, with attention not just to opposing points of view, but also to alternative points of view.
  • Present yourself and your work confidently in public, whether in class or online.
  • Understand the ways different modes of communication work together synergistically.
  • Imagine readers and audiences for your work and tailor your rhetoric to those readers and audiences.
  • Choose appropriate tools and mediums through which to express complex ideas.

Required Materials

  • WOVENText, the program-wide electronic textbook. It’s available for purchase here. Access codes are also available at Engineer’s and at the Georgia Tech Barnes & Noble.
  • Essays, chapters, videos, images, and other resources linked on this web site or available on T-Square. You must have access to a printed or electronic copy of these essays in class.
  • A laptop. We’ll frequently use laptops/tablets in class, so you bring yours to class every day. You need some way to produce .docx and .pptx files—some Microsoft Office equivalent. For other software, you may make use of media labs around campus for some assignments.
  • The course blog. You should make a habit of reading each other’s posts, commenting on them, and having something interesting to say about activity on the blog in class.

What’s WOVEN?

WOVEN describes the key modalities the writing and communication program teaches: Written, Oral, Visual, Electronic, and Nonverbal. Each of these modalities intertwines in modern communication, and it’s rare than any communication task involves only one. Even if you’re writing a traditional research essay, for example, you’re likely to visualize it beforehand with a mind-map, and most successful YouTube videos involve some kind of written plan. Some of our assignments will have one of these modalities as a primary focus, but you’ll also use the other modalities during the production of that assignment: in practice, the modes work synergistically, not separately.

Here is a sense of what we mean by each term:

Written communication. Any modern student or professional needs to know how to write well and argue convincingly. This semester, you’ll regularly write posts on the blog, and you’ll also reflect on each of your assignments in writing on the blog. You’ll work on refining your language conventions and citation practices, and you’ll also think a lot about the way readers play into your writing.

Oral communication. You’ll work on presenting your ideas in public during the course of this class, especially during your pecha-kucha presentation and your group project. Though much of our world has moved online, speaking well remains a crucial skill.

Visual communication. Presenting information visually has become increasingly important in our culture, and electronic tools give you all kinds of new ways to do so. Your pecha-kucha presentation will make you think about visual communication in a new way, and you’ll also work on an infographic to make complex data approachable.

Electronic communication. Each of our assignments will involve some form of electronic communication. The blog is the nerve center of our course, and you’ll post some version of all your assignments there. Each of our assignments will involve some kind of electronic component—pecha-kucha presentations, for example, will be recorded and posted to the web.

Nonverbal communication. Much of in-person communication is nonverbal, and as you participate in class, you’ll think about how your eye contact, gestures, and body language also convey ideas.