COM375: argument summary

Not only have I got my own two courses using the UMassWiki, a colleague is also using the public wikispace for an Honors Colloquium. Although not yet confirmed, a few additional colleagues have expressed interest in collaboration between courses, among our students (the next behind-the-scenes step).

The juniors (Communication) began with anonymous WordPress blogs. Their first entries are about the movie, Babel, a good chunk of which we watched on the first day of class (start from the last page, “last” comment and read forward to track chronologically). The second entry is a semiotic analysis of my hairstyle, inspired by a sentence in the introduction of our assigned textbook which asks what someone might be “saying with scissors.” An optional (extra-credit) entry, rewriting the first assignment summary of the argument in a short story by Todd Hasak-Lowy, Willpower, Inc., did not attract any takers.

The third entry returned to Babel, after we watched another portion of the film (included in the link above).

Roughly simultaneously, the first-year students also began anonymous WordPress blogs, beginning with their first impressions of learning in ENG112 on the first day of class, followed immediately by reflections on a movie, in their case, The Wall. We returned to the learning: ENG112 category for some reflections on the biographical introductions written by peers, and their reactions to feedback from me. The most recent blogging regards their process of finding and developing a subject concerning which they can engage the full, social/political “conversation” by writing a letter to a targeted individual or population who has the ability to influence problem-solving.

To date, the blogs are running autonomously, although there is now some overlap in topic as the juniors also have to write a letter engaging some sort of civic action (for the juniors, this is a less-weighted assignment; for the first-year students this is the most heavily weighted assignment).

Interaction among the respective coursewikis has just begun. The first-year students’ introductions (officially, an identity narrative) were written biographically by a peer. Each student then came up with a one sentence “prelude” to introduce the essay written about them by a classmate. Some of these prelude sentences were read and analyzed by a pair of Juniors during a WikiQuiz (designed to familiarize them more with the wiki as well as engage in critical analysis). After anticipating what they prelude sentence was leading them toward (they had no prior knowledge), the juniors read and wrote a brief analysis of what they found and its relation to the prelude. This is a prepatory assignment for their political letters. (There were not enough teams to cover everyone’s work so I’m scrounging up other possibilities before I have the first-year students read these analyses and feedback.)

Interaction going the other way, from the first-year students to the juniors, is occurring on another topic. The juniors read and had to agree or disagree with a quote about reading by Mortimer Adler. In explaining their stance, some confusion about Adler’s point is evident. So I asked the first-year students (working in triads instead of individually) to read the same quote, and express Adler’s point in one concise single sentence. I have not quite worked out the next step yet (gasp!)

Meanwhile, I sent the juniors off to read some cultural analyses of newspaper articles by seniors in Honors 491G: “Cross-Cultural Re-Entry Seminar” for seniors who have participated in a study abroad program. These assignments will be posted later this week.


A primer on semiotics (the study of signs) and media: “The MCS (pronounced ‘mix’) site is an award-winning portal or ‘meta-index’ to internet-based resources useful in the academic study of media and communication.”

I assigned this short story by Todd Hasak-Lowy for the first “high stakes” project, summarizing an argument. Within a few weeks, the students’ final versions will appear in the CourseWiki.

I selected this story because it is dense with semiotic understanding: there is so much material to work with! I am hopeful that the complexity of the story, all its layers, will interact with the students-as-readers in a variety of ways. I am eager to read what they generate. 🙂

A review by reader of depressing books gives guidance for grading. Tao Lin critiques a critique, exposing where the writer of the critique oversteps the original author by inferring too much.  There is such a tight balancing act between the cowardice of saying too little and the arrogance of saying too much.