Thursday, January 16, 2014

January 16, 2014: Spring 2014 Previews: Writing Our World

[As my spring semester gets underway, a series on courses and other events to which I’m looking forward. Share your spring previews for a forward-thinking crowd-sourced weekend post, please!]

On what I know about my new writing class, and what I could really use your help with!
For the first time since the spring of 2008—a sad fact and one due directly to FSU’s reliance on adjunct faculty to teach the majority of our first-year writing courses—I’ll be teaching a section of English 1200 (First-Year Writing II) this spring. At FSU, Writing II is designed to be more topical than the skills-based Writing I, more focused on a particular theme or question (and leading toward a final research paper through which the students explore a take of their own on that theme). In my prior Writing II syllabus I used American immigration as that focal point, but after these six years off I’ve decided to go with a new, even more contemporary and broadly applicable topic: analyzing different aspects of our 21st century, digital and multimedia and evolving society and culture and identities.
The course will have four main units, with the fourth being the work toward the research paper; for the second and third, while like every part of the course they’ll use a textbook I’ve never taught before (Bedford’s pop culture reader Signs of Life in the U.S.A.), the focal points are ones about which I’ve thought a great deal in both my teaching and my scholarly work: analyzing different factors and contexts that contribute to our individual identities; and analyzing film and TV images and stories. I’m particularly interested, in that second unit on the construction of identity, to get the students talking and thinking about digital identities, social media, the ways in which Facebook and Twitter (and Pinterest and Tumblr and all the other sites I’m sure I don’t yet know about) represent both new elements in our identities and yet also connect to longstanding factors such as family, peers, culture and religion, work and class, and many other issues.
If those middle units represent ongoing areas of interest and work for me, however, the course’s first unit is almost entirely uncharted territory: analyzing advertisements and the culture of consumption to which they connect and that’s so ubitiquitous in our world. Signs of Life has a couple of sections dedicated to those topics, so I’ve got lots of short readings on the syllabus to help us think about them; but I could most definitely use some suggestions for websites, resources, or approaches/methods that might help me and the students navigate and engage with and develop our takes on these important 21st century questions. So I’ll leave it at that: suggestions, tips, advice, warnings, and any and all other thoughts very welcome! Thanks!
Last preview tomorrow,
PS. What’s on your spring calendar?


  1. In my prepracticum classroom last semester, the teacher did a lengthy unit on this very thing with his AP class. It was focused mainly on a book by Neil Postman called *Amusing Ourselves to Death*, then supplementing that with a bunch of smaller pieces. My recollection is that there were some very though-provoking ideas put forth in that book, which relate directly to those questions you are talking about.
    One area of this that I think is especially interesting is the very contemporary concept of individually targeted online advertisement (web analytics, email account-based ads, sponsored Google search links, etc.). These are the most subversive forms of advertising and consumerism to date, and they raise all kinds of important, open-ended questions for me. Sounds like this focus will be highly generative in terms of thought for your students.

  2. Thanks so much, Ian! I know Postman's book a little but hadn't thought to go back to it in this context, and will definitely do so. And I agree that targeted ads will be one area we'll talk about a good bit in this unit. Thanks again!