Inter-L&S 102: Writing and Coding

Photo Credit:
"Computation Chair Design"
by mr prudence

This course is part of a freshman interest group (FIG) that will encourage students to view writing as something more than words on the page (or even words on the screen). Students will take Introduction to Composition (English 100), Introduction to Computation (Computer Science 202), and this course. By linking together their work in computer science and composition, students will study the similarities and differences between the composition of computer programs and the composition of text.

In L&S 102, students will combine the skills they learn in these two courses as they interact with various new media technologies and work in groups to create video games, author interactive fiction, and work with computing hardware (such as PicoBoards). Students will examine computation as not only a practical skill but also as an expressive and creative practice.

No programming experience is required for this course, and classes will often be treated as workshops in which students get the opportunity to explore and tinker.


Professor: Jim Brown
Teaching Assistant: Deidre Stuffer
Class Meeting Place: 2252A Helen C. White
Class Time: Monday, 2:30pm-5:00pm

Jim's Office: 6187E Helen C. White
Jim's Office Hours: Monday 12:30-2:30pm, Wednesday 4:00-6:00pm [Make an Appointment]
NOTE: Some office hours meetings will happen via Google Chat, Skype, Learn@UW instant messaging, or some other technology
Jim's Email: brownjr [at] wisc [dot] edu

Deidre's Office: 6132 Helen C. White
Deidre's Office Hours: Monday 11:00am-2:00pm, Wednesday 11:00am-1:00pm, and Thursday 1:00pm-3:00pm [Make an Appointment]
Deidre's Email: stuffer [at] wisc [dot] edu

Course Website:

Course Objectives
In this course, we will:

  • Learn how to evaluate and analyze new media objects
  • Use digital technologies to express ideas and make arguments
  • Develop sustainable writing and design processes
  • Work collaboratively on computer programming and game design projects

Texts to Purchase

  • The Pattern on the Stone, W. Daniel Hillis
  • Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness after the Digital Explosion, Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, Harry Lewis

Texts Available for Download [via Dropbox]

  • Bogost, "Procedural Rhetoric" (excerpt from the book Persuasive Games)
  • Matsumoto, "Treating Code as an Essay"
  • Davidson, Cathy. "The 4th R"

Course Work
In this class, the following work will be evaluated:

  • Attendance and Participation
  • Game Analysis Paper
  • Game Design Project
  • PicoBoard/Arduino Project

Learning Record
Grades in this class will be determined by the Learning Record Online (LRO). The LRO will require you to observe your own learning and construct an argument for your grade based on evidence that you accumulate throughout the semester. You will record weekly observations and you will synthesize your work into an argument for your grade. You will construct this argument twice - once at the midterm and once at the end of the course. We will be discussing the LR) at length during the first week of class. See below for more details.

Success in this class will require regular attendance. I will take attendance at each class meeting, and your Learning Record will include a discussion of attendance. You are required to attend class daily, arrive on time, do assigned reading and writing, and participate in all in-class work. Please save absences for when you are sick or have a personal emergency. If you find that an unavoidable problem prevents you from attending class or from arriving on time, please discuss the problem with me.

If you arrive five minutes after class is scheduled to begin, you will be considered late. If you are more than 10 minutes late for class, you will be considered absent. If there is something keeping you from getting to class on time (i.e., you have a long trek across campus right before our class), please let me know during the first week of class.

Computers, Smartphones, etc.
Please feel free to use your computer or any other device during class, provided that your use of it is related to what we are working on in class. Please silence cell phones during class.

Grades in this course will be determined by use of the Learning Record, a system which requires students to compile a portfolio of work at the midterm and at the end of the semester. These portfolios present a selection of your work, both formal and informal, plus ongoing observations about your learning, plus an analysis of your work in terms of the five dimensions of learning and the goals for this course. You will evaluate your work in terms of the grade criteria posted on the LRO site, and you will provide a grade estimate at the midterm and final.

The dimensions of learning have been developed by teachers and researchers, and they represent what learners experience in any learning situation:

1) Confidence and independence
2) Knowledge and understanding
3) Skills and strategies
4) Use of prior and emerging experience
5) Reflectiveness

In addition to analyzing your work in terms of these dimensions of learning, your argument will also consider the specific goals for this course. These goals are called Course Strands (these are also listed above in the "Course Objectives" section):

1) Medium-Specific Analysis
2) Digital Expression
3) Writing/Design Process
4) Collaboration

The LRO website provides detailed descriptions of the Course Strands and the Dimensions of Learning.

Your work in class (and in other classes during this semester) along with the observations you record throughout the semester will help you build an argument in terms of the dimensions of learning and the course strands. We will discuss the LRO in detail at the beginning of the semester, and we will have various conversations about compiling the LRO as the semester progresses.

Late Assignments
Due dates for assignments are posted on the course schedule. While I will not be grading your assignments, I will be providing comments and feedback. I will not provide feedback on late assignments. Also, late assignments will be factored into your argument in the LR (see the grade criteria for more details).

Intellectual Property
Much of what we'll be working on this semester involves the appropriation of existing texts. This is no different than any other type of writing - all writing involves appropriation. The key will be to make new meaning with the texts that you appropriate. Copying and pasting existing texts without attribution does not make new meaning. Some of your work will make use of different materials (text, video, audio, image), and you will have to be mindful of intellectual property issues as you create texts for this class. If you have questions about the University of Wisconsin's Academic Misconduct policy, please see the Student Assistance and Judicial Affairs website.

Technology Policy
We will use technology frequently in this class. Although I am assuming that you have some basic knowledge of computers, such as how to use a keyboard and mouse, and how to use the Web and check e-mail, most things will be explained in class. If you don’t understand what we are doing, please ask for help. If you are familiar with the technology we are using please lend a helping hand to your classmates.

Course Website and Email
You should check your email daily. Class announcements and assignments may be distributed through email. The course website will also have important information about assignments and policies. Pay close attention to the course calendar as we move through the semester. I reserve the right to move things around if necessary.

Emails to me must come from your email address. They must include a title explaining the email, a salutation (for example, "Dear Jim"), a clear explanation of what the email is about, and a signature.


Unit 1: Analyzing Algorithms

September 10

  • Read: Matsumoto, Hillis Chapter 1
  • In class: Introduction to Procedural Rhetoric, play a few short games

September 17

    [Micro-Response Paper Due]
  • Read: Bogost, "Procedural Rhetoric"
  • Play your group's assigned game
  • In class: Game Analysis Workshop

September 24

    [Micro-Response Paper Due]
  • Read: Hillis Chapter 3
  • Play your group's assigned game
  • In class: Game Analysis Workshop

September 28
[LRO PART A Due at Noon]

October 1

    [Procedural Rhetoric Paper Due]
  • In class: Game Redesign Workshop

Unit 2: Writing with Algorithms

October 8

  • Read: Blown to Bits, Chapter 1 and your group's assigned chapter
  • In class: Discussion and Game Design Workshop

October 15

    [Micro-Response Paper Due]
  • Read: Hillis Chapter 4
  • In class: Game Design Workshop, Progress Reports

October 21
[Midterm LRO Due at Noon]

October 22

    [Game Version 1.0 Due]
  • In class: Game Design Workshop, Progress Reports

October 29

    [Game Version 2.0 Due]
    [Game Explanation Presentation 1.0 Due]
    [Micro-Response Paper Due]
  • Read: Hillis, Chapter 5
  • In class: Game Design Workshop, Progress Reports

November 5

    [Game Version 3.0 Due]
    [Game Explanation Presentations]
  • Arcade day, videogame presentations.

Unit 3: Making With Algorithms

November 12

    [Optional Micro-Response Paper Due]
  • Read: "Bicycles" from Gerald Raunig's A Thousand Machines and "The Theory of Affordances" from James Gibson's The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (both available via Dropbox)
  • In Class: Physical Computing Workshop, using PicoBoards. Guest speaker, Steven LeMieux
    NOTE: This workshop will run from 2:30 until 6:30, and dinner will be provided.

November 19

    [Micro-Response Paper Due]
  • Read: Hillis, Chapter 6
  • In Class: Workshop

November 26

    [Micro-Response Paper Due]
  • Read: Hillis, Chapter 7
  • In Class: Workshop

December 3

    [Game Version 4.0 Due]
    [Micro-Response Paper Due]
  • Read: Hillis, Chapters 9
  • In Class: Workshop

December 10

    [Game Version 5.0 Due]
  • In Class: Sharing Our Work, LRO Workshop

December 19

  • Final LRO due at 12:30pm


Follow the links below for descriptions of our assignments.

Micro-response Papers

Due Dates: These papers are due prior to the beginning of class on 9/17, 9/24, 10/15, 10/22, 11/19, 11/26, 12/3, 12/10

Throughout the semester, you will complete Micro-response papers on our readings. These are very short papers (300 words) in which you will do two things: 1) Summarize the reading; 2) Present a brief analysis of the text that considers what it has to do with composition.

Summary (200 words)
Your summary should explain what the reading says. Given that you'll be summarizing some fairly long readings in only 200 words, you'll need to decide what the most important ideas of the chapter are and what ideas can be left out. These summaries should be written in your own words, and they should make very minimal use of direct quotations from the text. Since you only have 200 words, you don't have much space for quotations. The idea here is to show that you understand what was said in the chapter and that you are able to put the chapter's key arguments in your own words.

What does this have to do with composition? (100 words)
This course is about considering the similarities and differences between composition (writing words) and computer programming (writing code). As we read, we will be considering what discussions of computation have to do with written composition. So, in this section of the Micro-response papers you'll be tasked with writing 100 words that speculate as to what our readings about computer programming have to do with writing.

The most difficult part of these papers will be saying what you want to say within the 300 word limit. This is part of the assignment. These assignments are designed so that you will have to make difficult decisions about what does or does not belong in the paper. This means that you should plan on writing multiple drafts of these papers and considering carefully how you make use of your 300 words.

When providing feedback, we will be looking for the following:

  • Is your paper formatted correctly (single-spaced, observes the word limit, name in upper-left-hand corner)?
  • Does your paper effectively summarize the reading?
  • Does your summary rely on your own synthesis of the information, putting the reading's ideas into your own words?
  • Does your "What does this have to do with composition?" section make an interesting and concise argument about how the reading connects to composition?
  • Is your paper written effectively and coherently with very few grammatical errors?
  • Was the paper turned in on time? (Reminder: We do not accept late work.)

Game Analysis Paper

After reading excerpts of Persuasive Games, you should be able to explain and analyze the procedural arguments made by videogames. We'll put those skills to the test by working in groups to conduct such an analysis.

We'll be asking this: How do the game's mechanics make arguments? What are those arguments? What is the significance of those arguments? Remember that procedural rhetoric is different from verbal rhetoric, visual rhetoric, or textual rhetoric. The images and text of the game do in fact make arguments, but that is not what we're focused on here. Instead, your task is to examine the procedures of the game and to explain how those procedures mount arguments.

The questions you'll address in your brief response paper are: How does the game work? How does the game use computational procedures to make an argument? What is that argument and what is its significance? What claims about how the world works (or how the world should work) does this game make?

Papers should be no longer than 1000 words (roughly: Times New Roman, 12 point font, four double-spaced pages) and should be uploaded to Dropbox.

When providing feedback, we will be looking for the following:

  • Is your paper formatted correctly (double-spaced, observes the word limit, name in upper-left-hand corner)?
  • Does your paper effectively describe how the game works?
  • Does your paper fairly describe and analyze the game's procedural argument?
  • Does your paper describe the significance of this game's procedural argument?
  • Is your paper written effectively and coherently with very few grammatical errors?
  • Was the paper turned in on time? (Reminder: We do not accept late work.)

Game Design Project

This project will provide you with the opportunity to create a videogame that uses procedural rhetoric to intervene in a controversial topic. In groups, you will create a game that makes an argument about one of the chapters in Blown to Bits. You will also present your game to the class, explaining your group's issue and how your game sheds light on that issue.

You will use the programming language Scratch to create a game that makes a procedural argument. The primary requirement is that the game uses procedural rhetoric to address the issue in your group's assigned chapter. This may require that you research the issue beyond what's provided in Blown to Bits. You should become experts on your chapter, and you should be able to answer questions about why the issue is of importance.

You will have ample class time to learn Scratch during workshops (and during CS 202) and to work with your group members to build your game. You will also have opportunities to test your games by having classmates outside of your group play versions of your game. Note that there are due dates for versions of the game. While there are not specific benchmarks for these versions, each version must be a playable version of the game. For instance, while version 1.0 will not incorporate all features and may only be a rough sketch of what you have planned, it must be a playable game.

Throughout the game design process, you will also be crafting a 15-minute presentation about your game. You will be gathering information for the presentation and planning out how you will explain your game to the class. Early stages of this planning may be notes and an outline, but it should be progressing toward a 15-minute presentation that you will deliver on November 5.

Your group's presentation will explain the context of your game, the issue your game addresses, and the procedural arguments that your game makes. You may use any presentation software, but you should plan to incorporate visuals. All members of the group must speak during the final presentation, and you should be prepared to answer questions (as audience members for other group presentations, you should be also be prepared to ask questions).

During your work on this project, you must meet with the consultants at DesignLab at least twice. The consultants at DesignLab can help you with both your game and your presentation by offering advice about how to best present your argument or explain your issue. Note that DesignLab is not a "help desk" and is not focused on providing answers to questions about software (these kinds of questions should be directed toward me and Deidre). Instead, DesignLab consultants are available to help you with creative development and planning.

When providing feedback, Deidre and I will be looking for the following:

  • Does your game make an effective and coherent procedural argument about your issue?
  • Does your game provide sufficient context for the issue?
  • Does your project demonstrate an understanding of the class readings and an application of their terms and concepts? You should be applying what you've learned in the Bogost readings and in our discussions about other games.
  • Has your group effectively managed the project, allowing all group members to take part in all phases (research, writing, coding, testing, etc)?
  • Has your group incorporated feedback from others in the class?
  • Is your project free from grammatical errors and generally well written?
  • Does your presentation explain your issue?
  • Does your presentation provide sufficient context for someone who is not familiar with the issue or with your game?
  • Does your presentation explain your game's procedural argument?
  • Do all members of the group speak during the presentation?
  • Does your presentation incorporate visuals in a way that helps the audience?
  • Was your group prepared to answer questions about your issue and your game?
  • Is your presentation free from grammatical errors and generally well written?

Picoboard Project

Due Dates:
December 3: Game version 4.0 due, paper draft due
December 10: Game version 5.0 due (final version of game), paper due

During our Picoboard workshop, we discussed how humans and machines form complex assemblages. Whether we are riding a bicycle or using a sensor board, humans are coupling with technologies. Humans can be part of machines that include digital technologies, procedures, physical spaces, and other humans. We also discussed affordances, the qualities of objects that encourage or allow certain kinds of activities. Just as a desk affords writing, leaning, or holding a cup of coffee and flat ground affords standing, Picoboards afford various kinds of interaction.

Keeping these discussions in mind, your task for this project is to continue the development of your videogame using a Picoboard. Your incorporation of the Picoboard should move beyond using it as a joystick or controller. Instead, you should be thinking about the sensor board's affordances and about how it can be part of a complex assemblage that includes your game, the computer, the Picoboard, the player, physical space, and multiple other entities. Picoboards allow us to incorporate the human body into the game, extending our procedural argument beyond the screen and the keyboard. You should be considering how the Picoboard allows you to intensify or complicate the procedural argument of your game.

In addition to developing a new version of your game using the Picoboard, your group will write a 500-word explanation of how you incorporated the Picoboard. That paper should incorporate our readings to explain how the sensor board extends your procedural argument into physical space and how it intensifies, complicates, or (possibly) changes your procedural argument. This paper should be focused, concise, and (like all writing in this class) it should go through multiple revisions.

When providing feedback, Deidre and I will be looking for the following:

  • Does your game use the Picoboard to extend, intensify, or complicate your game's procedural argument?
  • Does your use of the Picoboard extend the game out in to physical space, taking full advantage of the sensor boards affordances?
  • Has your group effectively managed the project, allowing all group members to take part in all phases (research, writing, coding, testing, etc)?
  • Has your group incorporated feedback from others in the class?
  • Is your game fully functional and without any bugs?
  • Does your paper explain your use of the Picoboard by drawing on the course readings?
  • Does your paper explain how the Picoboard intensifies, changes, or extends your game's procedural argument?
  • Is your project free from grammatical errors and generally well written?