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Course Description

WRT 205 Studio 2: Critical Research and Writing (3 credits)
Study and practice of critical, research-based writing, including research methods, presentation genres, source evaluation, audience analysis, and library/online research. Students complete at least one sustained research project.

Course Overview

In the opening sentence of Everything Bad Is Good For You, Steven Johnson describes his book as "an old-fashioned work of persuasion" (xv). Our course of study this term takes this tiny, reflective crumb as its impetus: how does this "old-fashioned work of persuasion" do what it does? How, that is, does Johnson persuade or argue? How does he integrate research? Develop a complex position? Anticipate skeptical, resistant reactions? How does he deploy a rhetoric suited to compelling assent in a wide and varied audience?

His provocative—even controversial—title creates a stir from the outset.  Johnson's reversal of "good" and "bad" warns readers that they will be asked to re-think assumptions, re-examine orthodox attitudes toward media (e.g., television, the internet, film, video games).  Bad is good? How can this be? We should, as we begin to read and think through his book, understand his rhetorical technique for its application of dissoi logoi: the strengthening of a weaker position. In other words, Johnson's rhetoric works by counter-intuition; it turns on its ear conventional thinking about the brain-rotting effects of popular culture.

Critical inquiry—one of the central premises in this course—is, in principle, akin to "examined" and "deliberate" inquiry: we will focus explicitly on what it means to inquire, to venture, guided by an active, wandering curiosity, into the questions loosely assembled at the beginning of the course (into valuations of popular culture read through Johnson and other sources). Critical inquiry demands of us a contingent and flexible disposition open to surprises and discoveries along the way.  As we read, write, and reflect, we will also discover and shape new questions.  We should be alert and ready for them, prepared to notice them, take them up, and think them over for awhile.

Altogether, then, this course foregrounds research and writing practices concerned with media and popular culture—a contemporary domain enriched by Johnson's book and selected other "texts" (e.g., prime time television series, Flash games, YouTube clips, etc.) we will engage with throughout the semester. We will make sense of Johnson's "old-fashioned work of persuasion," ground his research and writing in terms of rhetoric, and develop our own threads of inquiry touched off by readings, research, and conversations.

Course Goals for WRT 195

    Goal #1: Students will compose texts that investigate a focused topic of inquiry that raises issues of diversity and community and that offers multiple points of entry based on their interest and expertise.

    • Students will practice methods of invention that will help them explore multiple questions pertaining to the topic of inquiry and define the boundaries of their research projects.
    • Students will develop strategies of collaboration, such as class discussion, group work, discussion boards, web logs, and group presentations.
    • Students will write a series of informal assignments (e.g. summary, response, paraphrase, annotations, bibliography, source reviews) to help them synthesize their thinking about the topic.
    • Students will develop rhetorical flexibility through experimenting with different principles and practices of design.
    • Students will develop strategies for effectively integrating multiple sources into their texts.
    • Students will apply their skills in composing, revising, and editing texts to develop at least three sustained written projects that are supported by a range of sources and media. At least one of these projects will be a formal research paper at least 10-12 pages in length.

    Goal #2: Students will develop a working knowledge of strategies and genres of critical research.

    • Students will learn and analyze critically multiple research strategies (e.g., interviews, online, library, database) and will develop more extensive knowledge of library databases.
    • Students will learn methods of collaborative research.
    • Students will learn more than one genre of the research text, such as essays, reports, white papers, editorials, and web-based documentation.
    • Students will practice conventions of quotation and citation for varied sources using the guidelines of various disciplines, such as APA and MLA.
    • Students will analyze (e.g., in class discussions, in short assessed writing assignments) the potentials and problems of academic research and writing, including issues of audience, style and language, and rhetorical situation.

    Goal #3: Students will learn critical techniques of reading through engagement with research-based texts.

    • Students will apply their critical reading skills to researched texts, assessing how writers make and support claims, sustain arguments and analyses, position themselves in relation to audiences, and write their way into complex issues.
    • Students will practice critical reading of a range of texts, such as print, online, film, images, etc.
    • Students will learn strategies of reading texts across disciplines and will discover ways of integrating diverse perspectives into their investigation of the topic.
    • Students will strengthen their strategies for assessing the validity of sources across many genres and disciplines.

Work of the Course

This section of WRT205 is divided into three units.  The opening unit takes up the challenge of entering a conversation about the value of popular media—a conversation already initiated by others, such as Steven Johnson and the many sources he draws upon to fashion his argument.  Unit One will last approximately four weeks and will culminate with a 5-6 page essay.  The second unit will involve practices of collecting and annotating.  We will use a variety of methods for locating books and articles in Bird Library's subscription databases, and we will also consider the promises and pitfalls of working with articles and materials available online (e.g., wiki entries, blog entries, etc.).  We will also undertake the collection and annotation of non-textual materials: YouTube clips, audio tracks, and so on, in the interest of laying groundwork for Unit Three.  Unit Three is a sustained research project.  Developed over several weeks, the researched essay will work in certain ways like Johnson's project does—by developing a dissoi logoi (strengthening of the weak position) in an area related to popular culture.  Unit Three will build toward a 10-12 page researched essay, which will be developed through a series of drafts, revised, and turned in at the end of the semester.

In addition to these three larger projects, students will participate in threaded discussions as well as a variety of brief writing activities involving summary, paraphrase, analysis, and locating research materials.

Course Texts and Materials

Everything Bad Is Good For You

Johnson, Steven Berlin. Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter. New York: Riverhead, 2006. ISBN 1-59448-194-6.

The Longman Guide to Revising Prose

Lanham, Richard. The Longman Guide to Revising Prose. New York: Longman, 2006. ISBN 0-321-41766-6.

Brief Thomson Handbook

Blakesley, David, and Jeffrey L. Hoogeveen. The Brief Thomson Handbook. New York: Longman, 2008. ISBN 1-4130-1016-4.

These texts are available at the University Bookstore.

Supplemental readings may be available to you as PDFs posted at http://drop.io/writing205. I will provide a password for the Drop.io account during the first week of class. You should download the PDFs for reading on the screen or printing. Plan to spend as much as $20 on printing and photocopying over the course of the semester.


You will receive many different kinds of feedback to your writing during this course. Some responses will come from fellow students and some will come from me. All forms of feedback, including responses you receive from scheduling individual or group appointments in the Writing Center, are important; they tell you in various ways how your readers are responding to your writing. This will also help you learn how to assess your own work.


The breakdown is as follows:
Project 1: Parlor Inventory: Entering the Conversation, 15%
Project 2: Annotated Collection, 20%
Project 3: Researched Argument, 35%
Invention Portfolio to accompany projects 1-3, 30%

The Invention Portfolio includes timely participation in threaded class discussions. All work listed above will be assigned a letter grade corresponding to a 4.0 scale. Each of the numbered projects will be described fully in separate prompts that I will circulate at an appropriate time in the semester.

Late Work

All work must be submitted on the date due to be considered for full credit.

Course Policies

Attendance and Participation
Writing studios are courses in language learning, and language is learned in communities; therefore, it is essential that you assume an active role in all online activities associated with this course. Participation, involvement, and engagement with the activities of the class will be factored into your overall grade as a portion of the invention portfolio assessment. Absences, lack of preparation, and inadequate participation will affect your classmates' work as well as your own. Remember, also, that our syllabus is only a projection and may be subject to occasional changes and revisions as it seems appropriate, necessary, or just interesting. That is another reason why your active attention and participation is vital. Time-bounded class discussions cannot be reconstructed or made up, and your performance, your work, and your final course grade will be affected if you do not visibly participate. If you miss the equivalent of three weeks of classes or more without any official documented excuse you will not be able to pass the course (viz., presence is indicated by visible activity in the course). I don’t anticipate any of you will be in that position, however, so let’s all agree to do the work, learn a lot, and make the course a meaningful experience.

Communication with Peers; Communication with the Instructor
While you can expect a fair amount of leadership and direction to come from me, you should also make arrangements early in the semester to communicate with your peers. In other words, you are strongly encouraged to identify one or two (perhaps more) peers in the class with whom you can discuss readings and assignments, work through questions brought up in the class, and approach when you find something unclear. In short, my hope is that we all will prefer a climate in which conversation flows both between the instructor and students and also between and among students when questions come up. Finally, you should always be proactive about asking questions when you have them, either by raising questions in the discussion area or contacting me or one of your peers privately.

Special Needs
Students who are in need of disability-related academic accommodations must register with the Office of Disability Services (ODS), 804 University Avenue, Room 309; 315-443-4498.  Students with authorized disability-related accommodations should provide a current Accommodation Authorization Letter from ODS to me and review those accommodations with me.  Accommodations are not provided retroactively; therefore, planning for accommodations as early as possible is necessary.  For further information, see the ODS website, http://disabilityservices.syr.edu/.

The Writing Center
At the Writing Center (101 HBC; 443-5289) experienced, professional writing consultants will help you succeed on individual assignments and ultimately become a better writer. They work one-on-one to help you understand assignments, discuss your responses, revise your drafts, develop proofreading strategies, and more. Appointments are available in 25- or 50-minute sessions, and can be reserved up to seven days in advance via their online scheduling program: WC Online. Drop-in appointments are welcome Monday through Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The Writing Center also offers consulting appointments by email and by IM. On-site and online appointments are free to all students and highly recommended for every assignment you work on in this class.

Academic Integrity
All writing submitted for this course is understood to be your original work. In cases where academic dishonesty is detected (the fraudulent submission of another's work, in whole or part, as your own), you may be subject to a failing grade for the project or the course, and in the worst case, to academic probation or expulsion. For a more detailed description of the guidelines for adhering to academic integrity in the College of Arts and Sciences, go to http://academicintegrity.syr.edu.

Computers, Multimedia and Technology
If this is the first time you have enrolled in an online course, you should let me know during the first week of class. With the exception of one or two on-campus conferences (one-on-one or small group meetings, probably in Bird Library), all of our interaction and involvement will require a moderate level of computer proficiency. We will be interacting with a variety of sites on the internet during the course (Wet Paint, Drop.io). In other words, you should be able to send and receive emails; you should check your email on a daily basis; and you should be prepared to log into the Blackboard discussion area, the library's research databases, and other sites on a regular basis; to save and back-up files; to copy and paste digital content; and to keep copies of all of your written work throughout the semester.

Document Sharing
Early in the semester, you should visit Google Docs and set up an account. Google Docs is where you will turn in much of your work throughout the semester, including drafts of projects that I will then comment on using the commenting features available there. This will prove much less cumbersome than relying on email attachments to share documents and responses. The interface for Google Docs is user-friendly. You should explore the features it makes available and test out the collaboration option early on as you will need to invite me as a collaborator to each of your pieces of writing. Note: Rather than trusting Google Docs alone for storing all of your files, you are strongly encouraged to save a backup copy each time you login and make changes to a document there.

We will also use our syr.edu accounts, accessible via Mymail, for communicating messages not suited for the discussion forum. You may call and leave a phone message, but it is best to use email or AIM to contact me about your coursework, to set up an appointment to meet with me on campus, or to ask a question. With rare exceptions, I will respond to all email inquiries within 48 hours.

Web Browser
As you might expect, we will be reading and engaging with a variety of sites on the internet during the course. Please let me know if you have not had any experience using a browser such as Mozilla Firefox, Safari, or Internet Explorer. In general, I encourage you to use Mozilla Firefox for this course, only turning to Internet Explorer when a particular online application requires it. You can download and install a free copy of Mozilla Firefox at http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/.

I have set up a listserv so that you can send email to everyone from your email client. Simply sending a message to wrt205@earthwidemoth.com will distribute your message to everyone enrolled in our section of WRT205. Keep in mind that messages to the listserv should be carefully considered in terms of proof-reading and providing context. You might, at times, receive reminders and announcements from me sent to the listserv. When responding to such messages, be sure to double-check that your own responses are addressed the way you intend them to be, either to the entire group or to an individual addressee.

Contact Information

Derek Mueller
Office: HBC 002
Spring '09 office hours: Mon., 9-10 a.m.
Phone: (315) 708-3940


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