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
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.
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
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
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.
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,
The Course website.
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.