Living in the Age of the Antihero

WRIT 135  •  Octavio González & Eni Mustafaraj

We are collaborating on WRIT 135: Age of Antiheroes, a First-Year Writing course. We designed the syllabus to add a digital-skills dimension, with its own website, schedule of skills and learning topics, and its own Teaching Assistant, Eliza McNair, a CS major and former student in a previous iteration of the course.

The digital learning website is here.

We also use a class website. This is the main clearinghouse where students post blog entries to prompts, and that is where the Syllabus, Readings, Resources, and other announcements live.

Further, Eni provides a 15-minute mini-lesson every Thursday, on the particular topic for the week. (This week, for example, Eni covered PDF and its history as a universal format for sharing documents, unlike proprietary formats such as Microsoft Word.)

The fourth Assignment of the course will be a Zine, which will be created for digital presentation, along with a Portfolio of all formal assignments and blog posts. An example of a complete Portfolio provided by Eliza is here.

The CS department has provided accounts for each student in the class, to host their individual portfolios, which are works in progress. I'd recommend that you contact Autumn Brown, one of the most committed students in the class in terms of the digital-learning dimension, if you would like to hear directly from students.

An important reason for adding the digital skills components as part of a writing class is to provide students with tools for self-publishing. Although ready-to-use platforms such as blogs and social networks are easily available, they belong to the companies that host them, providing less artistic freedom for the authors. By learning how to create their own digital presence on the Web, students are empowered to self-publish, if they choose to do so. Since this class also discussed graphics novels as a medium that combines graphics and writing, the Web is a perfect medium that blends these two elements together in a seamless way, but with limitless possibilities for creative self-expression.

It is too early to say what the overall impact has been of this BLI initiative--especially as the digital content learning is optional, since the grant was awarded after the class was listed without this information on the catalog. But a midterm self-assessment shows that students generally appreciate the education about digital environments, and about half the class is able to keep up with the material as well as the regular course content.

We made clear that students can wait until the end of the semester to adopt some of the digital learning skills, especially when they begin designing their Zines, with the help of Research Instruction Librarian Emily Belanger, who will provide a lesson on Zine production this semester. We are also taking the class to visit the Special Collections at Clapp, to show them some examples of book history and archival approaches to generating writing and other forms of expressive content.

Image credit: Screenshot of the course Digital Learning Website