RHE 312 – Syllabus

In the 21st Century, people are living their lives online — posting images to Instagram, status updates to Facebook, and videos to YouTube taken from their cell phones. The invasion of smart phones and social media into our daily lives begs the question, how does the technology I use on a daily basis craft an image and sense of ‘self’ that I call ‘me?’ Am I really being ‘myself’ on Facebook, or am I performing/displaying a version of me that in turn creates my sense of identity? This sort of recursive, creative practice is one of the starting points for our interrogation of what it means/does to write in digital environments. We will begin by questioning and thinking through what “writing” is, and how media affect our understanding and reception of “written” texts.

In his “Introduction to Electracy,” Gregory Ulmer points to a necessary reconsideration of what it means to interact with digital environments – the traditional concept of “literacy” is insufficient to cover the kinds of practices required to engage with new media. Ulmer coins the term “electracy” to name a practice of reading/writing/interacting with the graphic interface available in online environments, where “one writes with the whole page, so to speak—text, picture, layout” (Ulmer, Internet Invention). In this course, then, we will be learning to become “electrate,” using the Internet as an “invention bank” to discover our individual “image of wide scope” (the foundational pattern motivating our individual learning styles and creative processes).

Each unit will lead to a major writing assignment or multimedia project, all of which will ultimately come together into a web-text “Mystory” (as adapted from Gregory Ulmer’s Internet Invention). In addition to building a website, students will develop competence in image and audio editing software (Adobe Photoshop and Garageband).

Although part of our project is to interrogate/re-consider the nature of “writing,” this course fulfills a writing flag requirement and will entail a fair bit of traditional, textual writing.

In this course you will learn how to:

  • Navigate a large number of digital media platforms and engage with online environments to create rhetorically aware arguments
  • Analyze the relationship between writing environment and content (how the medium shapes the message)
  • Craft a particular identity/ethos within specific online environments
  • Engage the principles of design in creating multimedia compositions, effectively arranging visual and textual elements of a webpage
  • Digitally manipulate sounds and images to achieve a desired rhetorical effect
  • Provide appropriate citation/attribution when working with online sources, and to navigate the often murky waters of “Fair Use”

Required Texts and Materials:

  • The New Media Writer. Sean Morey. Fountainhead Press, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-59871-780-8
  • Students should own a college-level composition handbook that covers mechanics, usage, and documentation (such as The Little Penguin Handbook or Easy Writer)
  • Butterick’s Practical Typographyhttp://practicaltypography.com/ (technically avaialable for “free,” but it’d be nice if you send him a few bucks).

Aside from the required text, I will assign a variety of excerpts from other works, newspaper articles, blogs, and essays over the course of the semester. Whenever possible, I will provide you with digital copies of these supplementary readings, which you may decide to print out or read either on your computer or e-reader devices. These additional readings will all be posted to the course wiki and available for access/download well in advance of the due date. Occasionally, I will provide you with hard copies or request that you print them out for the purposes of class discussion and annotation. As students in DWRL classrooms, you have access to free printing (of up to 20 pages at a time) in the DWRL computer lab located in PAR 102.

Coursework and Grading (The Learning Record):

Unlike other English or composition courses you may have taken in the past, this course gives you the opportunity to self-evaluate based on evidence and observations that you collect over the semester. This means both an increase in agency over your own grade as well as an increase in personal responsibility. The goal here will be to demonstrate how your learning evolves as opposed to demonstrating an ability to regurgitate lectures and classroom discussions. Regardless of the skill-level or knowledge with which you enter this class, you will be graded/rewarded for your demonstrable progress.

Your final grade will be determined by use of the Learning Record (LR), a system in which students are assessed holistically based on a final portfolio, rather than by assigning grades piecemeal. These portfolios present a selection of your work (both formal and informal) alongside ongoing observations about your learning. This evidence is then coupled with an analysis of your personal development (written by you) in terms of the six dimensions of learning and the specific learning objectives for this course (course strands).

The six dimensions of learning have been developed by teachers and researchers over the last several decades, and they represent what learners generally experience in any learning situation:

1) Confidence and independence

2) Knowledge and understanding

3) Skills and strategies

4) Use of prior and emerging experience

5) Reflectiveness

6) Creativity, originality, imagination

In your Learning Record and final portfolio, you must convincingly demonstrate growth in the course strands listed below by providing concrete evidence that you collect over time. In the summary, interpretation, and evaluation statements you generate, you should explain how your evidence shows learning in the course strands, using the six dimensions of learning. The course strands and the dimensions of learning can be imagined as a matrix through which you and I will interpret the evidence presented by each of your individual Learning Records.

We will discuss much of this in class (repeatedly), but I highly recommend you spend some time investigating The Learning Record website. It will ease any concerns and anxieties you may have as well as prepare you for the tasks ahead. This is an entirely transparent process/system, and the site will answer many questions that you are likely to have.

Please note: individual assignments will not receive letter grades. You will be given feedback on your submissions and ample opportunity to revise. Again, this system is designed to encourage reflectivity and awareness of your own learning. If, however, letter grades seem vital to your self-assessment on given assignments, you may make an appointment to speak with me during office hours. You should come prepared to make the case for the grade you think the assignment would have earned (if it were being assigned a letter grade), and together we can address any discrepancies in our understandings of the quality of the work.

I will only discuss letter grades in person and with prior, written notice.

Minimum requirements to pass this class (to obtain a “D”):

In order to get a passing mark for the term, you must complete the following assignments to my satisfaction: several long writing assignments (each revised according to peer and instructor feedback), one final multimedia project including oral presentation, all components of the Learning Record (which comprise reflection on and self-evaluation of your work for the term), and brief homework assignments or discussion posts. Failure to complete any of the above assignments may result in a failing mark for the term.

The course strands for RHE 312 are as follows:

Digital Literacy (or, “Electracy”)

Digital literacy includes the ability to locate, manage, synthesize, analyze, and share streams of information in electronic environments; to compose multimodal texts using digital technologies; and to participate in collaborative online spaces. Student development in this area should demonstrate a critical awareness of media and an improved ability to compose and analyze multimodal texts.


Argumentation includes the ability to present a convincing claim (incorporating evidence, connecting reasons and evidence, appealing to emotions, soliciting trust, demonstrating goodwill) and the ability to organize information in a convincing manner (arranging material so that it can be understood and so it conciliates and moves the audience). Student development in this learning strand should demonstrate an acquired ability to analyze the arrangement and persuasive material in an argument as well as the ability to write and arrange a persuasive argument.

 Visual Analysis & Principles of Design

Visual analysis includes the ability to assess the significance or meaning of the various elements related to a text, such as: historical and cultural contexts, style, medium, organization, subject, author, and audience. Principles of design include the ability to assess and engage elements such as typeface, color, shape, texture, balance, proportion, and contrast when building/designing multimedia projects. Student development in this learning strand should demonstrate an acquired ability to analyze the arrangement and persuasive material in a given text, as well as the ability to craft rhetorically effective multimedia work.

The grade criteria for evaluating your learning record are as follows:

A – Represents outstanding participation in all course activities, perfect or near perfect and punctual attendance (no more than one absence and few, if any, tardies), and all assigned work completed on time. Also represents very high quality in all work produced for the course. LR provides evidence of significant development across the five dimensions of learning. The Learning Record at this level demonstrates activity that goes significantly beyond the required course work in one or more course strands.

B – Represents excellent participation in all course activities, near perfect and puctual attendance (no more than two absences and few, if any, tardies), and all assigned work completed on time. Also represents consistently high quality in course work. Evidence of marked development across the five dimensions of learning.

C – Represents good participation in all course activities, minimal absences (no more than three absences), and all assigned work completed. Also represents generally good quality overall in course work. Evidence of some development across the five dimensions of learning.

D – Represents uneven participation in course activities, uneven attendance (three to four absences), and some gaps in assigned work completed. Represents inconsistent quality in course work. Evidence of development across the five dimensions of learning is partial or unclear.

F – Represents minimal participation in course activities, poor attendance (four to five absences), serious gaps in assigned work completed, or very low quality in course work. Evidence of development is not available.

I – Work for the course is incomplete and the instructor will allow the student additional time to complete it. The amount of time allowed is at the discretion of the instructor.

Major Assignments:

Unit I: Career/Major Discourse

In this unit, we will begin compiling materials for your “Mystory,” by researching a significant discovery or figure related to your disciplinary interests. You will create an online annotated bibliography that curates the multimedia research materials that you gather.

Unit II: Family Discourse

In this unit, you will explore the narrative potentials of sound by creating a short, 3-5 minute podcast of a personal/family anecdote, the story of a childhood memory.

Unit III: Entertainment

In this unit, you will draw on the rhetorical devices of juxtaposition and montage to create an artifact for your “Mystory” that synthesizes a figure or scene from a significant film or book with your own personal narrative of identification with that figure/scene.

Unit IV: History/School/Community Discourse

In this unit, you will compile documentation of an exemplary story from your hometown or community of origin/primary identification.

Final Project: Mystory

Drawing on/synthesizing the materials collected via the four units of the course, you will create a web-text that displays your “image of wide scope” (discovered over the course of the semester).

Plagiarism and Collusion:

The writing and digital composition you do in this course must be your own. All images and multimedia pieces you use in this class must be attributed to their sources – regardless of the formality of the assignment. We will spend plenty of time in class covering copyright and fair use guidelines, but it’s important to understand that the same rules apply to both linguistic and visual composition.

Regardless of intention, passing off the work of others as your own can be either plagiarism or collusion. Both are scholastic offenses that I will not tolerate. Plagiarism is a serious offense, and students caught plagiarizing will not receive any credit for the given assignment (meaning they cannot meet the criteria to obtain a “C” in the course). If the offense is egregious or flagrant, however, students risk failing the course outright.

The Department of Rhetoric and Writing’s Statement on Scholastic Responsibility offers detailed explanations of acceptable and unacceptable forms of quotation and paraphrasing. I will provide you with citation guidelines for images, but the fundamental principle is: always provide attribution.

Technology Policies:

We will be engaging with a large number of technological platforms in this class, and you are expected to keep track of your own account information. I encourage you to devise a system early in the semester (such as a Google doc, spreadsheet, or smart phone note) to keep track of your usernames and passwords for each site/program.

FERPA and Usernames

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act grants you the right to privacy regarding course/university enrollment. As such, you are not required to use your real/full name in connection with any of the online environments we will use in this course. While for certain activities/assignments, it may be permissible to use your personal account/profile (on Twitter, for example), you are always welcome to create an account specifically for use in this course, and at time I may request that you set up a separate account. If you do not wish to use your name, I request simply that you choose a pen name/alter ego/username that you then use consistently across media platforms. One of the goals of the class is to analyze how “identity” is constructed across writing platforms, so a certain degree of consistency will aid us in achieving that goal.


For each class period, students will be expected to Tweet a question, comment, or sample material/link connected to the reading for the day. Tweets should be directed to the class Twitter feed (@rhe312) and posted at least 15 minutes prior to the start of class to ensure they are seen by the instructor. Once everyone is following the course feed, I will set up a list of fellow students, and you should follow each other. Tweets are intended to generate discussion both in class and out, so I welcome you to respond to your classmates’ posts and to use these platforms as a conversational tool. Just keep in mind that these are public platforms and use your common sense.

Absences and Tardy Policy:

The Department of Rhetoric and Writing has a very strict absence policy. This is a departmental policy, and no exceptions will be made. Any questions or appeals concerning this policy must be made directly to the department Associate Chair.

You are expected to attend class, to arrive on time, to have prepared assigned reading and writing, and to participate in all in-class activitiesShould you miss the equivalent of FIVE class sections, you will fail the course. However, the grading policies listed above explain the effects of absences on your grades.

I do not “excuse” absences as such, but if you find that an unavoidable problem prevents you from attending class, you should contact me as soon as possible, preferably ahead of time, to let me know.

If you have athletic or other extra-curricular (University supported) engagements that will require you to miss class, you must notify me in writing at the beginning of the semester. With this notice, those absences (and only those absences) will not have a detrimental effect on your grade. So, for example, if you play a sport and will be missing two class periods, those two absences will not prevent you from obtaining an “A” in the class. If, however, you are absent two more times, you cannot receive higher than a “B.” On the fifth absence, you will fail the course.

When you must miss a class, you are responsible for getting notes and assignments from a classmate.

At the beginning of each class period, I will pass around a sign in sheet. You are responsible for the record of your attendance. If your signature is not on that day’s attendance sheet, you will be counted absent. Once the sheet has circulated around the room, I will collect it. Arriving after the sheet has been collected will result in your being counted late (tardy) for the day, and it is still your responsibility to ask to sign in at the end of class. Three tardies will count as one absence.

Religious Holy Days:

By UT Austin policy, you must notify me of a pending absence at least fourteen days prior to the date of observance of a religious holy day. If you must miss a class, an examination, a work assignment, or a project in order to observe a religious holy day, I will give you an opportunity to complete the missed work within a reasonable time after the absence.

Communication and E-mail Policies:

E-mail is an official means of communication at UT-Austin, and I will frequently use this medium to communicate class information. You are therefore required to obtain a UT email account and to check it daily. All students may claim an email address at no cost by visiting the UTMail website.

My email policies are as follows:

  • All emails must contain both a salutation (addressing me as Professor Blouke) and a closing in which you identify yourself.
  • I will check my email between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Monday-Friday and will generally respond within 48 hours/2 business days.
  • I strongly encourage you to email me with questions and concerns, but if your question is a lengthy one (about writing, digital media, etc.), I may ask you to visit my office hours instead of responding via email.
  • If your question relates to technical issues with any of the various programs/digital platforms we will be using in the class, I expect you to investigate the website/program’s online tutorials, instructions page, FAQ page, or to Google your issue before contacting me. Your email should include an acknowledgement that you’ve tried to find a solution and an explanation of what you still need help with.
  • will not respond to emails asking questions that I feel can be answered by looking at the syllabus or schedule.
  • will not respond to emails that I deem impertinent or disrespectful.

Office Hours:

Each week, I will hold regularly scheduled office hours set aside for helping you with issues related to the course. Coming to my office hours ensures you will receive individual attention and support that I cannot provide in class. While you may drop by my office hours without prior notice, this does not a guarantee I will be available or sufficiently prepared to assist you. Depending on your concern, I may, therefore, ask you to make an appointment to return.

Making an appointment to come speak with me ensures that I will be present and ready to help with your issue. Appointments can be made for times during my office hours, or I am also amenable to making appointments outside of office hours if my office hours conflict with your schedule. If you do make an appointment with me, however, I expect you to show up, on time, and with any necessary materials.

Students with Disabilities:

The University of Texas at Austin provides upon request appropriate academic accommodations for qualified students with disabilities. For more information, contact Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD), at (512) 471-6259 [voice] or (866) 329-3986

Undergraduate Writing Center: 

Getting feedback from an informed audience is a normal part of a successful writing project; it demonstrates an active involvement in the writing process, and a desire to go beyond the minimum course requirements (hint, hint). As such, I strongly encourage you to use the Undergraduate Writing Center, FAC 211 (the second floor of FAC, down the hallway on the right). The UWC offers free, individualized, expert help with writing for any UT undergraduate, by appointment or on a drop-in basis. Any undergraduate enrolled in a course at UT can visit the UWC for assistance with any writing project, and although our course will deal heavily in images, writing is nevertheless a component of every assignment.

The UWC’s services are not just for writing with “problems.” Consultants help students develop strategies to improve their writing – in any stage of the process. The assistance they provide is intended to foster confidence and independence (a dimension of learning), as well as offering skills and strategies (another dimension) for particular aspects of the writing process. Each student determines how to use the consultant’s advice, and what the consultation will cover. The consultants are trained to help you work on your writing in ways that preserve the integrity of your work.

Emergency Information:

Occupants of buildings on The University of Texas at Austin campus are required to evacuate buildings when a fire alarm is activated.  Alarm activation or announcement requires exiting and assembling outside.

Familiarize yourself with all exit doors of each classroom and building you may occupy.  Remember that the nearest exit door may not be the one you used when entering the building.

Students requiring assistance in evacuation shall inform their instructor in writing during the first week of class.

In the event of an evacuation, follow the instruction of faculty or class instructors. Do not re-enter a building unless given instructions by the following: The University of Texas at Austin Police Department, or Fire Prevention Services office.

Other important Emergency Information: http://www.utexas.edu/safety/preparedness/


While I will rarely (if ever) disrupt your schedule by moving the due dates of major assignments, all readings and short homework assignments are subject to change. I will distribute reading schedules on a unit-by unit basis, and the class will evolve based on your interests and participation. As a result, occasional juggling of readings may occur, so check the online course schedule regularly for up-to-date reading assignments.