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Rhetoric of the Internet

COMM 498I
Spring 2004

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James F. Klumpp

Department of Communication

College of Arts and Humanities

University of Maryland


 


Course Information

Description Who is the course for? What will the course be like? Expected Knowledge Learning Resources Equipment & Software Required

The internet is a medium of communication. It has common characteristics with many other media of communication – conversation, letter writing, public speaking, business speaking, memo writing, film, television news – and many others you or I could list. And, like those other media, there are unique characteristics of the internet that define its character as different. We are interested in a particular aspect of the internet. We are not interested in the technology, the business, or the regulation of the internet. Only vaguely are we interested in the psychology of internet users, the social characteristics of chat rooms or other internet space, or how the internet is altering day-to-day living. Nor are we interested in the techniques of internet access except as they will assist us, and may be necessary to, our study. As students of the rhetoric of the internet, we are interested in two primary questions: What rhetorical theory should guide invention of discourse within the possibilities of the internet? And, how do the rhetorical characteristics of the internet influence the public communication that creates our society?

These are not narrow questions, but they focus our attention on some issues rather than others. To answer the first, we want to begin by understanding what rhetorical theory is and how it has approached other media of communication. Then we want to use that understanding to formulate our own theory. To answer the second question, we want to take two approaches: to see what others have written about this relationship, and to study the internet to come to our own conclusions about how our social and political practices are changed by its presence.

This course will be unlike many others you take. There is no well-developed theory of the rhetoric of the internet that you will study and master. Current theory is emergent at best. So, you will be a participant in this emergent effort. I will be your guide, not your profess-or. You will need to think primarily inductively: that is, to study the internet and draw conclusions about what you see. This will require your active participation in class as a contributor, with the acceptance of error, advance, and dead ends as part of everyday classroom experience. So, get wired, immerse yourself in the internet and let's see what we come up with.

Description Who is the course for? What will the course be like? Expected Knowledge Learning Resources Equipment & Software Required

Who is the course for?

People who are confident enough in their understanding of communication to operate at the edges of what we know about the subject matter of the course. Also people who are willing to get involved in the give and take of an active classroom. A shrinking violet? Reticent to participate? This may not be the class for you. Want answers from your textbook and instructor? This might not be the course for you.

Description Who is the course for? What will the course be like? Expected Knowledge Learning Resources Equipment & Software Required

What will the course be like?

Two activities are most vital to this class: (1) surfing, and (2) discussion. We want to learn some vocabulary and use that vocabulary to understand the internet and the strategies for working in its medium. This is what we mean by inductive. Between class periods, you will often be asked to surf to find websites or webpages for discussion in class. Sometimes I will give you URLs to examine. You will bring the results of that analysis to class. We will use group work often with groups reporting back to the class on their discoveries.

Description Who is the course for? What will the course be like? Expected Knowledge Learning Resources Equipment & Software Required

What knowledge should you have before you come into this course?

Two types of knowledge will be useful to you. The first is a knowledge of rhetorical theory and how to apply it to discourse. This knowledge is best acquired in COMM 401. Neither the course nor the knowledge is required for this course, but you will be ahead having had it.

The second is a knowledge of how to construct websites and webpages. Again this is not a prerequisite. Instruction will be provided within the class. But the more facile you are in building webpages and websites the easier the assignments will be to do. You do not need to know HTML or any other web language. You should be able to accomplish your purposes with a knowledge of Netscape Composer or Microsoft Front Page or some other webpage construction program.

Description Who is the course for? What will the course be like? Expected Knowledge Learning Resources Equipment & Software Required

Readings and Other Learning Resources

• Ilise Benun, Designing Websites for Every Audience. Cincinnati: How Design Books, 2003.
• Leonard J. Shedletsky and Joan E. Aitken, Human Communication on the Internet. Boston: Pearson, Allyn and Bacon, 2004.
• David M. Anderson and Michael Cornfield, eds. The Civic Web: Online Politics and Democratic Values. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003.
• The Course website.
• The internet.

Description Who is the course for? What will the course be like? Expected Knowledge Learning Resources Equipment & Software Required

Equipment and Software Requirements

• You need daily access to the internet. You may access through a home computer or at the WAM labs on campus.
• You need some webpage preparation software. Netscape Composer is available free and is sufficient for your purposes. Other software may be used instead. We will have some basic training in using this software available during the class.
• You need a method of posting webpages to the internet. The university will provide this service free of charge through WAM. You will need to open a WAM account. You can use other ISPs if they are more convenient for you.

Description Who is the course for? What will the course be like? Expected Knowledge Learning Resources Equipment & Software Required

 

 
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