RHE 309K: Arguing the Digital Divide (Spring 2006)

cnn katrina safelist

As victims of Hurricane Katrina and their loved ones scrambled to locate one another in August of 2005, the internet became an invaluable tool. In Austin, Austin Free-Net helped evacuees locate family members by setting up contemporary computer labs in the Austin Convention Center.

Most major news sources developed "safelists" where survivors could communicate with loved ones. Access to technology was most definitely the last thing on the minds of Katrina victims. However, the Internet became a source of information and a space where separated family members could reunite.

The Katrina tragedy triggered conversations about poverty, class, and race in America, and this class will also touch on a number of these issues. We will look at the arguments surrounding the Digital Divide - the gap between technological "haves" and "have-nots." In reading and analyzing these arguments, our goal will be to figure out why this topic gained momentum in the 1990s and why it still draws interest from politicians, academics, and concerned citizens.

Course Overview

We will begin the class by becoming acquainted with the arguments of the digital divide. We'll investigate questions such as: Who argues that this is a major problem? Who argues that the digital divide is overblown? Why are these arguments made? Who are the particular audiences for these arguments and do the major voices in this conversation take note of opposing arguments? We will not only "listen" to the conversation about the digital divide, we will also participate in the discussion. The first paper assignment will allow you to play the role of a local non-profit organization applying for grant money.

The second section of the course will focus on the "conversation" mentioned above. We'll look at arguments that consider factors such as race, socio-economic status, and gender. We'll find that the digital divide is a slippery topic and one that Benjamin Compaine calls a "moving target." We'll continue to read through the arguments of Compaine's The Digital Divide: Facing a Crisis or Creating a Myth and see how it takes a much different stance than our other text, Technology and Social Inclusion. What assumptions do these texts make about the importance of digital technology? What solutions do they propose, if any? Do they view the digital divide as a unique problem, or do they see this as on more gap in a long history of "haves" and "have-nots"? Who do these scholars believe is responsible for closing the gap? The second paper will require you to compile your own anthology of readings about the digital divide. By presenting your own version of the conversation, you'll be able to break down the debate as you see it.

The final portion of this course will allow you to deal with the digital divide outside of the classroom. We'll work with Austin Free-Net, a local organization that helps launch free community internet access sites. In groups, you'll travel to Austin Free-Net locations to visit with volunteers. During your visit, you'll learn the stories behind these community technology centers. Your final project will be a presentation of the successes, failures, challenges, and needs of these centers. This presentation may come in the form of a film project, a web page, a photo essay, or any other format that allows you to tell the stories of these AFN sites.

Policy Statement

RHE 309K: Arguing the Digital Divide

Instructor: Jim Brown
Meeting Place: FAC 10
Time: T/Th 12:30-2pm
Office Hours: T/Th 11-12:30 (Cactus Cafe)
Email: jimbrown@mail.utexas.edu
Website: http://instructors.cwrl.utexas.edu/jbrown/309k_spring06

The following are available at the University Co-op.

Required Texts:

  • Digital Divide: Facing a Crisis or Creating a Myth, Compaine
  • Technology and Social Inclusion: Rethinking the Digital Divide, Warschauer

Optional Texts:

  • SF Express, Ruszkiewicz et. al.
  • Revising Prose, Lanham

Additional Requirements
- Access to a computer and printer
- An e-mail account that you check daily

You will write two individual papers (each submitted twice), maintain a blog, participate in forum discussions, and colloborate on a group project at the end of the semester. Class meetings will be devoted to various activities, including writing workshops, student presentations, and class discussions. Regular attendance and participation are essential to success in this class.

You should attend class daily, arrive on time, do assigned reading and writing, and participate in all in-class editing, revising, and discussion sessions. Students missing five classes can earn no higher than a B in the class. Six absences will result in failure of the course. A student is considered late when arriving after the sign-up sheet has gone around the room - lateness equals .5 absences. Notify me beforehand of your participation in official athletic events or observance of religious holidays. Save absences for when you are sick or have a personal emergency. If you find that an unavoidable problem prevents you from attending class, please discuss the problem with me.

Grades in this course will be determined by use of the Learning Record Online (LRO), 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 development across five dimensions of learning:

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

This development centers on the major strands of work in this course:

1) Appreciation of Multiple Arguments and Positions
2) Critical reading skills
3) Thoughtful revision
4) Collaboration

Late Assignments and Drafts
All assignments, including drafts, should be turned in on the due date at the beginning of the class period. You will turn in papers by uploading them to the course website. You are responsible for turning in assignments regardless of whether you attend class on the due date. Late coursework will be factored into your grade.

Format of Final Papers
Rough drafts and final drafts of all papers must be typewritten. The first page of your paper must include the following information: your name, my name, course number and unique number, date, and paper title. Double space the lines and use 1 inch margins all the way around the text (this is typically the default setting in programs like Microsoft Word.) Staple your pages together in the upper left hand corner. Unless you are told otherwise, your papers should be in MLA format.

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 the 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 be patient and 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, please visit this site regularly. The course site should be a helpful tool for you, so feel free to make suggestions about anything you feel should be included.

Computer Use and Availability
Computers are available to you in the CWRL open lab (PAR 102), the Student Microcomputer Facility (SMF) on the second floor of the Flawn Academic Center (FAC).

Scholastic Honesty
Turning in work that is not your own, or any other form of scholastic dishonesty, will result in a major course penalty, possibly failure of the course. A report of the incident will also be made to the Office of the Dean of Students. The consultants at the Undergraduate Writing Center (FAC 211, 471-6222) are trained to help you with the proper use of sources.

We will be covering the use of sources in class. In general, I will ask you to provide me with photocopies or printouts of all sources you use. If you have any questions about how you are using sources on a particular assignment, see me before you turn it in.

Students With Disabilities
The University of Texas at Austin provides upon request appropriate academic adjustments for qualified students with disabilities. For more information, contact the Office of the Dean of Students at 471-6259, 471-4641 TDD.


Daily Reading, Writing, and Discussion Schedule
DD = The Digital Divide: Facing a Crisis or Creating a Myth
TSI = Technology and Social Inclusion: Rethinking the Digital Divide
ERES = Electronic Reserves

Introductions: Syllabus/Schedule, Course Web Page, Learning Record Online (LRO)
Discussion: What is the Digital Divide?

Read:Wikipedia Entry for 'Rhetoric'; Wayne Booth's "Judging Rhetoric" from The Rhetoric of Rhetoric (handout)
Write: Blog Response to Reading, Post three questions to the LRO forum
In Class: Discuss different Kinds of Rhetoric, Discuss LRO

Read:xi-xvi of DD (preface); 7-15 in DD (NTIA); 1-10 of TSI
Write: Blog Response to Reading
In Class: Discuss roots of the digital divide and the differing approaches of DD and TSI, Discuss LRO

Read: Paper 1 Assignment Description
Write: LRO Part A Due
In Class: Discuss Paper 1

Read: 105-118 in DD (Compaine); 11-30 in TSI
Write: Blog Entry
In Class: Discuss social inclusion and information gaps

Read: Read and comment on three Organizational Descriptions
Write: Organizational Descriptions (posted to blog by Wednesday 2/1, 10:00pm)
In Class: Paper 1 - Roundtable discussion

Read: 31-48 in TSI; 303-7 in DD (Schement); 309-14 in DD (Powell)
Write: Blog Post
In Class: Models of Access and the shrinking/growing gaps.

In Class: JAWS Exercise (bring headphones to class)

Read: Lanham's "Action" (Handout)
Write: Perform steps 1-5 of the PM on paper 1-1
In Class: Share revisions in class

Read: 49-80 in TSI; 289-291 in DD (Simons); 263 in DD (Lacey)
Write: Blog Post
In Class: Discuss connectivity, access gaps

Read: 81-108 in TSI; Kennard (195-8 in DD)
Write: Blog Entry
In Class: Discuss language and inclusion in the "larger conversation"

In Class: Possible Guest Speaker

Read: Your observations, possible work samples
Write: Drafts of Midterm Parts B and C
In Class: LRO Workshop


Read: Small group reading assignment
Write: Blog Entry
In Class: Small group discussions

Maurrasse - A Future for Everyone
Marshall, Taylor, Yu - Closing the Digital Divide
Solomon, Allen, Resta - Toward Digital Equity
Kolko, Nakamura, and Rodman - Race in Cyberspace
Nelson, Tu, and Hines - Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life

In Class: Share findings from small group discussions



Regroup/Reality Check.

Read: 109-152 in TSI
Write: Blog Entry
In Class: Online chat about new/old literacies

In Class: Discuss Virtual Class Transcript and Paper Swap

Read: Time article
Write: Blog Post
In Class: Discuss Digital Literacy and the "wired" generation

Read: Your partner's Paper
Write: Revision plan for your partner's paper
In Class: Discuss revision plans

In Class: Research AFN sites

In Class: Guest Speaker, Lou Rutigliano

Groups conducting Site Visits
In Class: Possible Guest Speaker

Write: Blog Post about Guest Speaker
Groups conducting Site Visits

Group Work on Final Project

Group Work on Final Project

Share Final Projects

Course Evaluations, Questions about Final LRO

No Class

Final LRO Due Date: 5/5


Paper 1

RHE 309K (43920)
Fall 2005
Jim Brown

Due Dates
•2/1: Organizational Description Due (posted to blog by Wednesday 2/1, 10:00pm)
•2/9: First Submission Due
•2/23: Second Submission Due

Paper Description
In October of 2005, the Austin City Council allocated $90,000 for the Grant for Technological Opportunities Program (GTOPs), a program designed, “to support digital technology projects that show promise of benefiting the community” (here’s the Press Release and here’s the GTOPs website).

Applications for grant money were due on January 20, and city council is currently reviewing grant proposals. However, we will use this situation as a role-playing activity and for your first paper assignment. For this paper, you will be representing a local non-profit organization. As a representative of that organization, you are charged with speaking at a City Council meeting. Your appearance in front of the City Council allows you to request grant money and describe a project that your organization would like to pursue.

Your presentation to Austin City Council will be in the form of a 4-6 page paper. You should consider your audience to be city council - more information on Austin City Council can be found at their website. You might also consider watching part of a city council meeting to get a sense for what the format is like (meetings are broadcast on cable access). You should also review the application and the selection criteria that the city council provides for the GTOP program (all of this informaiton can be found at the GTOPs website). While you won't be able to address everything required in a full grant proposal (a full grant proposal might be 20-25 pages), this information will give you a sense of what the city council is expecting of those applying to this program.

Organizational Description
Your first task will be to choose a local non-profit organization (NOTE: you cannot choose Austin Free-Net, which is the group we'll be working with at the end of the semester). You will have to research this organization to find out what they do and what kind of technology project this non-profit might propose. A list of local organizations can be found at: http://www.main.org/. This description should be one page (double-spaced) and should describe the organization you've chosen and the project you envision this organization proposing. Your proposed project can change, but you should at least be thinking about what you will propose to city council in your paper.

As I have noted above, this description must be posted to your blog by Wednesday, 2/1 at 10:00pm. It should be posted as a blog entry, not as an attached word file. This is important because other students in the class will be commenting on your description.

Submission Guidelines
You will be submitting your organizational descriptions as blog entries. You will also submit your papers via your blog; however, your paper will NOT be in the form of a blog entry. You will submit your paper as an attachment to a blog entry using the "attach new file" function. As noted at the top of this sheet, your first submission is due on 2/9 and your second submission is due on 2/23.

Please note that first submission does not mean "rough draft." Your first submission should be a good-faith attempt at completing the assignment. I will comment on first submissions using Microsoft Word Commenting. These comments will help you to approach a thoughtfully revised second submission.

Format Guidelines

Your final draft should be 4-6 pages long, typed, double-spaced, and carefully proofread. Any references to articles or other research must be in MLA format. REFER TO THE SF EXPRESS HANDBOOK. THE PAPER VERSION OF YOUR DRAFT SHOULD LOOK LIKE THE MODEL PAPER ON PAGES 87-98 of SF Express. If you don't have the SF Express handbook, you must use some other MLA manual.

Paper 2

RHE 309K (43920)
Fall 2005
Jim Brown

Due Dates
•3/28: First Submission Due
•4/11: Second Submission Due

Paper Description
Benjamin Compaine's Digital Divide: Facing a Crisis or Creating a Myth is an anthology of work about the digital divide. It brings together a number of different arguments about the topic and attempts to show the issue from different angles. As editor of this collection, Compaine chose what would be included, how it would be sorted, and how each argument would be framed in terms of his own overarching argument.

For your second paper, you will create your own short anthology about the digital divide. After selecting which pieces you'd like to include, you will write an introduction to your anthology. This introduction should put the different arguments that you've chosen into dialogue with one another. How do they speak to one another? Do the authors participate in a useful "conversation" or do they talk past one another? You should say how they fit together, show where different arguments clash with one another, and explain the different goals each of the pieces have. You can talk about these different arguments in terms of the audience they hope to reach, the different kinds of arguments they make, whether they fairly address their opposition, or any other elements you choose to focus on.

Submission Guidelines
You'll be submitting your papers via your blogs. However, your paper will NOT be in the form of a blog entry. You will submit your paper as an attachment to a blog entry using the "attach new file" function. As noted at the top of this sheet, your first submission is due on 3/28 and your second submission is due on 4/11.

Please note that first submission does not mean "rough draft." Your first submission should be a good-faith attempt at completing the assignment. I will comment on first submissions using Microsoft Word Commenting. These comments will help you to approach a thoughtfully revised second submission.

Format Guidelines
You must include a table of contents for your anthology. On this page, you might want to break your book up into sections, but this isn't required. The introduction to your anthology should be 4-6 pages long, typed, double-spaced, and carefully proofread. Any references to articles or other research must be in MLA format. REFER TO THE SF EXPRESS HANDBOOK. THE PAPER VERSION OF YOUR DRAFT SHOULD LOOK LIKE THE MODEL PAPER ON PAGES 87-98 of SF Express.

Paper Swap Assignment

RHE 309K (43920)
Fall 2005
Jim Brown

Due Date: 4/4

Assignment Description
In this class, we've talked about revision as an involved process. It's a process that forces you to rethink ideas, rewrite large portions of your argument, and add or subtract entire sections of text.

This assignment will allow you to perform this type of revision on someone else's writing. In this sense, you'll be acting as a collaborator or possibly even an editor. Your approach to someone else's writing should also help them approach the second submission of their paper.

For this assignment, you will write a 2 page (double-spaced) revision plan for your partner. This document will explain what you see as the strengths and weaknesses of their argument, suggest some ways to revise the paper, and guide them in what should be added or taken away. Your document should provide specifics and SHOULD NOT be a discussion of mechanical issues such as sentence structure or grammar. You can mention these types of issues, but they cannot be the focus of your write-up. Your focus should be on your partner's argument, how it's constructed, and how it could be constructed in a more effective way.

Submission Guidelines
You'll be submitting your revision plans as a word document. You will submit this document just as you do a paper assignment - as an attachment to a blog entry. Revision Plans should be posted to your blog before class on April 4. During class on April 4, you will meet with your partner to discuss your revision plans.

Austin Free-Net Assignment

RHE 309K (43990)
Fall 2005
Jim Brown

Due Dates
•4/6-4/18: Conduct Site Surveys
•4/18-4/20: Project Proposal Due
•4/27: Presentations Due

Project Description
Your final project will take you on a short trip to one of Austin Free-Net’s free public internet access sites. At your assigned location, you will interview those in charge. Your interview will gather a wide range of information including what kind of access the site provides to visitors, what the site’s needs and wants are, the profiles of their typical users, and much more. Upon conducting the survey, you should be paying close attention to what these site managers say. Your goal will be to identify some need and to make an attempt to fill that need. Here are some possible projects you could take on:

•Take video footage of your site survey and use it to create a promotional video for the site and for AFN.

•Help those in charge of the site to set up a blog that they could use as a way to interact with their users. This site could become the default homepage on their browsers and could notify users of things like upgrades, changes, training classes. Alternately, the blog could be a place where users could post creative work such as poetry and short stories.

•Create informational materials in the form of a web page or a packet that your AFN site can provide to those who make use of the facility. This could be information about the classes they offer, suggestions about how to make use of digital technology, job search tips, easy online publishing strategies (such as Blogger or LiveJournal), or online communities (such as Friendster, Xanga, or Facebook).

•Design some classes that your AFN site could offer to their users. Many sites already offer classes, but you could put together some syllabi of new courses or maybe even offer new ways of teaching their current courses.

This is only a short list of possibilities, and the project you choose will depend on what you uncover during your site survey. Remember that your main tasks will be to 1) listen closely during your conversations with those at the site and 2) use your writing and critical thinking skills to help them fill a need or solve a problem. The options I’ve listed above fit into different rhetorical situations and address different audiences. As you work through this project, remember who your audience is and think about the best way to address that audience.

Site Surveys
Austin Free-Net has provided us with a survey. This form will help AFN get a feel for what’s happening at their various sites. You will use this survey as a guide for your interviews, but you should also develop additional questions you’d like to ask before you conduct the survey. Also, as you conduct the interview and listen closely to the responses, additional questions will arise. Your survey should be a conversation with the people at the AFN site. This means that the survey will provide a guide for the conversation, but these won’t be the only questions you ask.

While you should allow the interview to guide the project you’d like to work on, you could also consider some options ahead of time. If you have an idea in mind, you should discuss this when you schedule your site survey (probably by phone). For example, if you think you might like to take video footage you’ll have to first check with the site to make sure this is okay with them. Feel free to brainstorm projects ahead of time, but be careful not to force a project that doesn’t quite fit the needs of the people you’re working with.

Project Proposal
Upon completing your survey, you’ll turn in a project proposal. This proposal will include the results of your survey and how those results have led you to the project you’d like to work on. Think of this as a way of pitching your project. This proposal should answer these questions:

•What is the rhetorical situation for your project? Who is the author? Who is the audience? What media will your project make use of and why did you choose these particular media?

•How does your project fit with your previous discussions of the digital divide?

•What need are you filling for the site?

•What did you learn during your site survey and how did you apply these findings when coming up with a project?

This list of questions is by no means all inclusive. Regardless of how you approach the proposal, it must explain your project and the justifications for it in some detail. It should also contain some explanation of how this project applies to our discussions of rhetoric and the arguments we’ve read about the digital divide.

During the final week of class, you’ll present your projects to the class. You should consider inviting the people from your site to view your presentation. Your presentation should be both a showcase for your work and a reflection on what you’ve learned during the project. It will be a way to talk about the problem you identified, how you’ve proposed to solve it, obstacles you encountered throughout the process, and advice for future classes that work on similar projects.

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