English 550: Digital Rhetorics (Spring 2013)

Page from Lauren Redniss's Radioactive

Aristotle describes rhetoric as the faculty of observing, in any particular case, the available means of persuasion. Digital technologies have expanded these available means, calling for new ways of understanding rhetorical theory and rhetorical expression. This course will investigate emerging modes of expression in order to rethink and reimagine the available means of persuasion. The course includes a discussion of the history of rhetoric and its contemporary applications, and students will then both analyze and produce digital objects. While composing digitally, we will also build new theoretical approaches for reading and writing digitally. We will be asking: How do we cultivate a rhetorical sensibility for digital environments? What new rhetorical theories do we need for digital technologies? What are the available means of persuasion when using such technologies? No specific technical expertise is required for this course.


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

Jim's Office: 6187E Helen C. White
Jim's Office Hours: Monday, 12:30-2:30pm [Make an Appointment]
Jim's Email: brownjr [at] wisc [dot] edu

Deidre's Office: 7184 Helen C. White
Deidre's Office Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday 10:00am-12:00pm [Make an Appointment]
Deidre's Email: stuffer [at] wisc [dot] edu

Course Website: http://courses.jamesjbrownjr.net/550_spring2013

Required Books

Other required materials, available via Download:

  • Bogost, I. “The Rhetoric of Video Games.” The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Edited by Katie Salen. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 117–140.

  • Juul, Jesper. Half-Real: Video Games Between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. The MIT Press, 2011. (excerpts)

  • Frasca, Gonzalo. "Simulation vs. Narrative." Introduction to Ludology. Edited by Mark J.P. Wolf and Bernard Perron. Routledge, 2003

  • Limbo (videogame) [Available for $9.99 via Limbogame.org]

  • McCarthy, Tom. Transmission and the Individual Remix (e-book) [Available for $1.99 in various formats: Google Books, Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook book]

Course Objectives

Our work in this course will address four main objectives:

  • Rhetorical Theory: Read and analyze classical and contemporary rhetorical theories.
  • Rhetorical Practice: Use rhetorical theory to create digital objects.
  • Writing and Design Process: Develop sustainable writing and design processes when creating traditional writing assignments and digital projects.
  • Collaboration: Effectively collaborate with your peers by sharing ideas and efficiently managing tasks.

Course Work
This course will involve the following projects and activities:

  • Attendance and class discussion
  • Rhetorical exercises from Crowley and Hawhee
  • Digital remakes of rhetorical exercises
  • Digital remake inspired by Radioactive
  • Group Videogame project (in collaboration with Meg Mitchell's Digital Art class)

Please see the "Assignments" page for more details.

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 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 and Cell Phones
Please feel free to use your computer or mobile phone during class, provided that your use of it is related to what we are working on in class. Please silence mobile 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 also listed above under "Course Objectives," and for the purposes of the Learning Record they are called the Course Strands:

1) Rhetorical Theory
2) Rhetorical Practice
3) Writing and 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 wisc.edu 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.



  • Read: Crowley and Hawhee, Chapter 1 (pp 1-29); McCarthy's "Transmission and the Individual Remix"
  • In Class: Discuss syllabus, discuss readings, rhetorical activities



  • Read: Crowley and Hawhee, Chapter 3 (pp56-79); Radioactive
  • Write: Fable, tale, chreia, or proverb exercise (based on Radioactive) [uploaded to Dropbox prior to class]
  • In Class: Discuss reading, proverb exercise, Photoshop workshop


  • LRO Part A Due


  • Read: Crowley and Hawhee, Chapter 4 (pp88-112); Radioactive
  • Write: Common-place Exercise (p. 114) [uploaded to Dropbox prior to class]
  • In class: Discuss reading, GarageBand workshop


  • Read: Crowley and Hawhee, Chapter 6; Radioactive
  • Write: Character Exercise (p. 164) + Digital Remake [uploaded to Dropbox prior to class]
  • In Class: Discuss reading, share remakes, iMovie workshop


  • Read: Crowley and Hawhee, Chapter 7; Radioactive
  • Write: Encomium or Invective Exercise (p. 189) + Digital Remake [uploaded to Dropbox prior to class]
  • In Class: Discuss reading, share remakes, InDesign workshop


  • Version 1.0 of Digital Remake Due
  • In Class: Discuss Chapter 12, workshop


    Midterm LRO Due at Noon


  • Version 2.0 of Digital Remake Due
  • Discussion Chapter 9, Workshop day


  • Project Due [uploaded to Dropbox by midnight]


  • Read: Bogost (preface and pp. 1-40), play Limbo


  • Read: Bogost (pp41-58), Mateas, play Limbo
  • In Class: Discuss reading, discuss Limbo


  • Limbo response paper due
  • Workshop


  • Version 1.0 Due
  • Workshop


  • Version 2.0 Due
  • Workshop


  • Version 3.0 Due
  • Workshop




Follow the links below for descriptions of our assignments.

Rhetorical Exercises / Digital Remakes

As we read Crowley and Hawhee's text, we will be completing the rhetorical excercises at the end of many of the chapters. Those exercises were designed by ancient rhetoricians who hoped to provide their students with a rhetorical sensibility. By developing multiple arguments, crafting stories, and playing with language, students of rhetoric are "tuning their instrument" and preparing themselves for rhetorical situations. These exercises are also used for invention - for the development and discovery of arguments.

We will use these exercises toward the same ends as we brainstorm and tinker with ideas for our digital remake of Lauren Redniss' Radioactive. In order to bring these exercises into digital rhetorical situations, we will remake the exercises themselves. After completing these exercises via writing, the primary technology of the ancients, we will ask the following question: How could this same exercise be carried out using a digital technology? We will be workshopping various tools for digital composition, and we will learn the basics of various software packages. As we learn these tools, we will use them to remake these ancient rhetorical exercises. For instance, if we have written a fable in words, we will then ask: What would that fable exercise look like if we used sound, image, or any other method of digital composition? How do these technologies change the exercise? What new rhetorical possibilities are opened up by digital technologies? What possibilities are foreclosed?

These are the questions we'll ask ourselves as we complete these exercises. We will use the exercises as ways to explore the rhetorical possibilities of digital composition, and each of these exercises will stand as opportunities for you to consider how you might like to create a digital remake of Radioactive.

When evaluating these projects, here are the questions we'll be asking:

  • Have you used the written version of the rhetorical exercise to generate ideas and arguments?
  • Does your exercise demonstrate an effort to apply the terms and concepts of the textbook chapter?
  • Does your digital remake of the exercise take advantage of the rhetorical possibilities of your chosen technology?
  • Do these exercises demonstrate that you are working toward an idea for your digital remake of Radioactive?
  • Were your assignments turned in on time? (Reminder: We do not accept late work.)

Digital Remake of Redniss' Radioactive

Lauren Redniss' Radioactive uses word and image to present narratives and arguments. It pushes the boundaries of the printed page, forcing us to consider different ways of presenting stories, arguments, and information. Redniss has presented a multimodal account of the life and work of the Curies while also showing us how those their stories are part of a broad network of information.

Our task will be to create a digital remake of Redniss' text. She has shown us how to combine word, image, and primary documents and to reimagine what a book can be, and we will take that lesson into digital rhetoric and writing. How could we remake a portion of Redniss' narrative by using the various digital technologies we have explored in this class? How can we remake some portion of Redniss' text in order to make our own argument, and how can use the affordances of digital technology to do so? Redniss' expanded her available means of persuasion beyond print, telling her stories and making arguments by using various media. How can we do the same with digital technologies?

We have been composing rhetorical exercises throughout the semester, and we have also been creating digital remakes of those exercises. These assignments were designed so that we could explore the rhetorical possibilities of various digital technologies. Those exercises have provided us with opportunities to invent, and we will use what we've learned to create a digital remake of Radioactive. That remake will take some portion of Radioactive as its inspiration, and it will use digital technology to make an argument. Your argument can be about anything that relates to Radioactive. It can address the history of science, love, radioactivity, technology, death, and much more. Redniss addresses a number of intersecting themes and makes various arguments in her text (some are more explicit than others), and you should use her text as inspiration for your own attempt at an argument.

I encourage you to use one of your rhetorical exercises as a "rough draft" for this project. Those exercises should have provided you with ways to think about Redniss' text and to imagine how you might use various digital tools to remake some of her arguments in a new way.

In addition to creating a digital remake of Radioactive, you will write a 750-word reflection on your remake that details how you approached the project and what you hope it accomplishes. This document should serve as a way for you to reflect on the process and to provide us with insight into how you've used digital technology to make an argument.

When evaluating these projects, here are the questions we'll be asking:

  • Have you applied the terms and concepts of the textbook in the creation of your digital remake?
  • Does your remake make an argument (or arguments...you can make more than one)?
  • Does your remake take full advantage of the rhetorical possibilities of your chosen medium?
  • Have you transformed some portion of Redniss' argument or narrative? Does your remake do something new with her material, showing us some new possibilities by "translating" her work into some other medium?
  • Does your remake demonstrate an understanding of the significance of Redniss' narratives and arguments? Does it demonstrate an understanding of how she's used particular media toward specific ends?
  • Does your reflection document explain your process and the logic of your remake, providing insight into what you hope the remake accomplishes?
  • Does your reflection document observe the word limit of 750 words?
  • Was your assignment turned in on time? (Reminder: We do not accept late work.)

Short Response Paper on Limbo

Due Date: 4/15

In our readings and discussions, we have addressed how games use rules and procedures to make meaning. We'll put those ideas to the test by conducting a close analysis of Limbo that focuses on how its procedures make make meaning and how it might be redesigned as a persuasive game, a game that uses processes rhetorically.

We have been asking these questions in class: How do a game's mechanics make arguments? What are those arguments? What is the significance of those arguments, and how are the connected to the game's story? 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, we are examining the procedures of the game and explaining how those procedures mount arguments.

Our task in this paper is to transform Limbo into what Bogost calls a "persuasive game." While Limbo does in fact use procedures as an expressive medium, it does not necessarily use those procedures to persuade. How could we redesign Limbo in order to transform it into persuasive game? This is the question you'll take up in this short paper. You will propose a redesign of the game and then explain how your redesign would make Limbo a persuasive game. Your proposed redesign should focus on how the game uses procedural expression. You can address visuals or sound as well (that is, you could redesign these components of the game), but you must also address the game's procedures. How would your new version of Limbo use computational procedures to make an argument? What would that argument be?

Papers should be no longer than 1000 words (roughly: Times New Roman, 12 point font, three double-spaced pages) and should be uploaded to Dropbox prior to our class meeting on 4/15.

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

  • Does your redesign make Limbo into a persuasive game?
  • Does your paper explain your proposed redesign in detail?
  • Does your paper explain and describe the procedural argument that your redesigned game would make?
  • Does your paper focus on how the procedures of your redesigned game would be used to persuade?
  • Is your paper written effectively and coherently with very few grammatical errors?
  • Is your paper formatted correctly (double-spaced, observes the word limit, name in upper-left-hand corner)?
  • Was the paper turned in on time? (Reminder: We do not accept late work.)

Procedural Authorship Project

Due Dates:

4/22: Version 1.0 Due
4/29: Version 2.0 Due
5/6: Version 3.0 Due

Throughout our discussions of games, computational art, procedural authorship, and procedural rhetoric, we’ve been discussing how computational procedures can be used to express ideas, to make arguments, and to create certain kinds of experiences. Procedural expression uses computation as more than a vehicle for text and image. A procedural author uses computation itself as the expressive medium.

In this collaborative project, you will use procedures to express ideas and make arguments. In teams (one student from “Computational Art” will team up with two students from “Digital Rhetorics”), you will combine your expertise to create a computational artifact. That artifact can be a game, but it does not have to be. The primary goal here is to use computational procedures as an expressive medium. The audiences interacting with your artifact should be afforded the opportunity to reflect on how rules are shaping what is or is not possible. Your job is to make an argument or express an idea by way of computational procedures.

Your procedural authorship project should express an idea or make an argument. The students in “Digital Rhetoric” have spent the semester examining how digital tools and environments expand our available means of persuasion. In doing so, they have explored “argument” in a broad sense. We typically think of argument narrowly: I argue an idea, and my audience either accepts or rejects that argument. However, argument rarely happens in these ways, and this is particularly true when using procedurality. An audience interacting with a computational artifact will often glean various arguments from that experience, arguments that appear over and beyond what the artist/writer/rhetor has intended. This is what we expect will happen in these projects.

In addition to using procedures to create something, you will also write a 1000-word reflection on your artifact. This writing should describe both your process and what you hope the piece accomplishes. These brief essays (authored collaboratively) provide you with some space to explain the choices you’ve made and the goals of your project.

Both Meg and Jim will evaluate these projects, and we will do so with the following questions in mind:

  • Have you used procedures as an expressive medium? Does the project use procedures to express an idea and/or make an argument?
  • Does the project allow an audience to reflect on the procedural system you’ve authored, opening up space for reflection, dialogue or critique?
  • Does your reflective essay explain your process in detail, explaining the choices you made, your revision process, and what you hope the piece accomplishes?
    Is your essay written clearly with no grammatical errors?
  • Was your project submitted on time?