Prep for Understanding Gee, and DISTRACTION

This post is a short-and-simple preview of the reading for Wednesday and a brief discussion-starter about our experiment with being distracted in class today.

Reading for Wednesday

Even though we didn’t talk about it in class, you (hopefully) have seen that I’ve asked you to read Shirky chapter 3 and a pdf from a writer named James Paul Gee for Wednesday. Your blog post assignment asks you to write about the connection you see between the two chapters. Feel free to be informal in this post, letting your ideas take you wherever they go, but please also demonstrate that you’ve put some effort into it. Write a lot, so we’ll have lots to talk about in class–but don’t worry about making it formal or beautifully proofread. (I’ll give everyone a grade for these posts, but I’ll only respond to a few each week.)

Gee is an interesting dude. One of his passions is reforming education so that it will be more like a videogame, full of meaningful tasks that make sense in the context of a community. Listen to him at 5:51 in this video where he tells the story of one of his earliest mistakes when playing videogames: his assumption that you should read the manual first:

His discussion of videogames will help us in two big ways:

  1. He’ll add to our conversation about communicating in different modalities, since videogames are inherently multimodal.
  2. He’ll give us a lot of helpful terminology about communities and audiences–which are clearly crucial parts of any rhetorical communication.

Distractions in Class

Thanks for being so excellently distracted today during our Twitter/Tweetdeck experiment. Clearly, we need to debrief it a bit, but I was intrigued by the tweets I saw later. Many of you pointed out that it was too much:

Of course, I stacked the deck: I asked you to be distracted on the day that we learned some new terms (modality and medium) and played with new technologies. Maybe distractions are better on days that are likely to be boring?

For me, the lingering question is still the one I started out with: when does live tweeting work? In what situations (if any) can it be helpful/useful/important for the event?

Sometimes you’ll hear the word backchannel used to describe this sort of thing. So I’m essentially wondering, “Do we even need a backchannel?” (Hint: I think we do. But it’s up to us all to figure out when and where.)

A whirlwind first week…

Whew. We’ve now met three times (a regular weeks’ worth) and covered a remarkable amount of material and concepts. I’m writing now in hopes of alleviating some fears and clarifying some things, especially because classes like today’s can feel so hectic. This post is a recap of many things you already know, but I still recommend you read it over as a reminder.

In no particular order, then:

Finding and using the schedule

I hope you’ll use the main schedule as the place to alleviate any fears about what is expected of you. That’s where I always list as clearly as possible exactly what we’re going to do each day and exactly what’s due.

You might want to consider bookmarking that page ( so it’s easy to find, without needing to get to it through Moodle, which adds four or five extra clicks.

Talking to me

I haven’t mentioned office hours much in class, but they’re exactly what they sound like: hours that I’m in my office. Which means you can drop by without an appointment to talk about anything at all or show me anything you’re working on.

If you can’t remember when my office hours are, they’re on the sidebar of this site and taped to my door (Scarborough 117). And you can always ask me to meet at another time!

If face-to-face talking doesn’t work with your schedule, I check email all the time. And as you know, I’m on Twitter a lot, so I can always answer questions there, too.

Online identity stuff

We rushed through the conversation about online identity today, but here’s the core take-away I want you to hold onto: how we shape the spaces where we communicate online will affect how our messages seem to our audiences. Another way to say that: our decisions about how we design our online writing are just as rhetorical as our word choices. It’s all part of the art of effective communication.

That means thinking strategically/rhetorically about the these things:

  • Twitter icons
  • Language about ourselves under our Twitter icons
  • Twitter backgrounds and cover images
  • WordPress themes
  • WordPress “about pages.” (If you’re not sure if you have an about page, go to your blog page and see if there’s an about link on your main menu. What does it say? Does it present you the way you want to be presented?)
  • WordPress titles and taglines. (Many WordPress sites will have a built-in tagline like “The best WordPress site ever.” Does yours have one? If so, do you like it? Change it from your Dashboard under Appearance > Customize > Site Title.)

“What should I have done with Twitter so far?”

Regarding Twitter, at this point (after class on Monday, August 26), you must:

  1. Have a Twitter account
  2. Have a Tweetdeck account (which we’ll use in class in future weeks)
  3. Have tweeted a question or comment about the syllabus using the hashtag #rhet351

If you haven’t done those yet, please do so. But today, we also talked about some recommendations:

  1. Adjust your Twitter image, “about me” text, background image, and cover image to fit your preferred online identity
  2. Follow all of the authors whose work we’ll read in class this semester, found on the first page of the pdf version of the syllabus.
  3. Follow any other Twitter accounts that publish on topics that seem relevant to the course topic or interesting to you. (Hint: to find accounts that tweet things related to class, try looking at who the @rhet351 account follows. Any of those accounts will lead you in the right direction.)

“How should I prepare for the first big essay assignment?”

Great question.

  1. Look for an article on Twitter that seems persuasive in some way. Remember, it can be about any topic at all, as long as you find it on Twitter.
  2. Save the link to any tweet that you think you might use, perhaps by emailing it to yourself, saving it in a document, or something else. (To make sure I don’t lose anything, I use Google Drive, Dropbox, Diigo, and Evernote. They’re all good at helping me stay organized with my professional and personal lives.)
  3. Familiarize yourself with the assignment sheet itself, which is a post in this blog (below). So if you’re looking for the assignment sheet later, you can scroll down until you find it, or you can look at the “Categories of Post” section in the sidebar and click the “Major Assignments” category to head straight to it.
  4. Be ready to discuss an article in class on Friday, with a printout of it in hand.

This is all a lot, I know, but I have high hopes that you can do it. If you push through these first couple of weeks with me, things will feel much more manageable in the coming weeks.



Rhetorical Analysis 1: Analyzing a Text

UPDATE: I’ve posted a sample essay on this blog. Check it out here.


We’ve talked in class about rhetoric, a word that is often defined as “the art of communicating effectively” or sometimes “the art of persuasion.” This is an assignment where you’ll practice analyzing someone else’s rhetoric–that is, the strategies someone else used while communicating.

Specifically, you’ll ask yourself 3 main questions about a text:

  1. “What is this author trying to accomplish with this piece of writing?”
  2. “What strategies does the author use as he or she tries to have an effect on an audience?”
  3. “How effective were the author’s strategies?”


Write an essay that analyzes the rhetorical strategies used by an author of an online article that was primarily designed to persuade.

The article you analyze must be something that you found through Twitter. (You’ll prove this by supplying me with a link to the tweet that led you to your chosen article. See below for technical details on how to link to a specific tweet.) If you’ve already “followed” all the authors whose work we’ll read in class, you can find an article simply by reading the tweets in your feed, looking for one that has a link to an outside source, and then judging whether or not the outside source is primarily designed to be persuasive. But if you don’t find anything there that looks interesting, feel free to follow anyone else who you think is more likely to post links to online persuasive articles you find interesting.

See the Tips section below for advice on what rhetorical strategies you might want to write about.

Additionally, your essay must cite the article you discuss in two ways: the first time you mention the title of the article, you must link to the article itself (like this: “How Well Has The Times Advanced a Story That It Didn’t Break?”). Secondly, you must include a Works Cited or References section at the bottom of your post (depending on whether your major discipline uses MLA or APA format). In this Works Cited or References section, you must also include a formal citation of the website. For example, in MLA format the above article would look like this in a formal citation:

Sullivan, Margaret. “How Well Has the Times Advanced a Story That It Didn’t Break?” New York Times. The New York Times Company, 22 Aug. 2013. Web. 23 Aug. 2013.

If you don’t know how to formally cite a webpage, a good place to start is the Purdue OWL’s pages on MLA format and/or APA format.

There is no length requirement. Write enough to reflect this assignment’s importance to your final grade (see “Assessment,” below). Show me that you’ve carefully considered the author’s strategies and judged their effectiveness.


You’ll write this essay as a new post on your blog. It must be posted publicly before class begins on Friday, September 6. Once it’s posted, you don’t need to do anything else; I’ll be able to visit your blog to see it.

On Wednesday, September 4, we’ll spend the day discussing drafts of each other’s work. Therefore, you must bring a printout of a complete draft to class that day (for a completion grade in the Small Assignments category).


This essay is worth 10% of your final grade. It will be assessed using a rubric that breaks down your success at communicating quality ideas, evidence, organization, and sentence style. (For a pdf of the rubric I’ll use, click here.)

You’ll post your essay on your blog, but the content of your essay will still follow many conventions of academic essays. Think of this assignment as a merging of the two genres.

Specifically, I expect your post/essay to follow these guidelines:

  • As in most academic essays, please use strong organization, including logically ordered paragraphs, clear topic sentences, and a sense that you are purposefully guiding readers toward a conclusion you understand.
  • As in most academic essays, support your claims with evidence. For instance, if you want to suggest that the author’s word choice implies that she is writing for an audience of people who already agree with her, you may find it helpful to quote the parts of her article that prove your point.
  • As in most blog posts, you don’t need to start with a formal academic heading listing our class or my name or the date. After all, I already know whose blog belongs to whom, and WordPress automatically records the date you publish your post.
  • As in most blog posts, you may use links to guide your readers to outside pages that seem pertinent to your discussion.

Technical Considerations

Linking to a Specific Tweet

On Twitter, every tweet mentions how long ago the tweet was published. In the image below, look for the “3h” in the upper right of the tweet, meaning it was tweeted 3 hours ago:

If you click that timestamp on any tweet, you’re taken to a unique page where all you’ll see is that tweet. For instance, if I click the “3h,” I’m taken to this page:

From here, I can copy the url (the “http” stuff in the web browser’s address bar) and paste it somewhere else, allowing someone else to browse directly to this tweet.

In your essay, I’d like you to paste that url into the very top of your post. That way, I’ll be able to see what tweet led you to the article you decided to write about for this project.

Linking to Outside Pages

In WordPress, you can highlight any group of words and make that group a clickable link. Here’s how:

1) While editing your post, highlight the words that you want to make a link. (It’s common practice to not highlight any spaces before or after the words you want to link.)

2) Click the button that looks like a chain. (Get it? It’s a link.) (This button won’t be clickable until you highlight some words first.)

3) In the box that pops up, paste the url of a website that you want readers to go to when they click those words. Be sure that this url includes http:// at the beginning.

4) Click save. While you’re editing the article, the link won’t work yet, but when you preview or publish your post, it should work just fine.


  • You should assume that your audience (me and the rest of the class) has never read your article. Therefore, it makes sense to give some background information about where this article was published, what sort of site it seems to be, what you can find out about the author, and what ongoing argument this piece seems to be a part of, if any. (In rhetorical terms, all of these things could be called a description of the rhetorical situation of the author.)
  • Focus most of your essay on the strategies that you see the author making as he or she tries to persuade an audience on the topic. Some examples:
    • Does the author use humor to try to make the article fun to read, or is the piece serious and somber?
    • Does the author draw attention to his or her credentials in an effort to win over skeptical audiences?
    • Does the author tell any stories that seem designed to affect the audience’s emotions, like a sob story?
    • Does the author use statistics or rely on outside sources (like scholarship, statistics, news stories, etc.) to help make his or her point?
    • Additionally, see this excellent list for a few more things that are commonly included in a rhetorical analysis: Feel free to discuss the answers to any of those questions in your essay.
  • You don’t have to include all of these things–just the ones that make most sense to you as you write your analysis.

Technology Requirements for Early Assignments


This post is to give you details about some of the homework due in our first couple of weeks. Before our second class meeting, for example, you’ll need to have a Twitter account, and before our first day in the computer lab (Starr 108C on Monday, August 26), you’ll need to have a Tweetdeck account and start a blog.

Online Identity

Before I get to the details, let me mention one thing that you’ll hear me say a lot in class: you will never be required to identify your real self online for this class. In fact, some students make a fake Gmail account at the beginning of class, use it to sign up for services with fake names throughout the semester, and then trash it all when the semester is over. This kind of fakery is absolutely okay with me. If that feels like a lot of trouble, though, it’s also okay if you use your real name. Just be smart; your future friends and enemies will surely Google you in the future when you least expect it.

Okay, on to the three things you need to do (in addition to the readings listed on the schedule):

1. Create a Twitter Account

It’s easy at We’ll mostly use Twitter to read what others are saying, but occasionally we’ll play with it in class, as we try to decide what we think about its strengths and weaknesses as a communication tool in real time. As I said above, if you don’t want your real Twitter followers to see the weird stuff you talk about in class, feel free to make a new account with any fake name you choose. As you know, people often have more than one account to manage the different sorts of things they talk about with different audiences.

For instance, I have a real Twitter account that I use for my personal and professional life (@kstedman), but I also have one that I only use for my RHET 351 classes (@rhet351).

Whenever I want to share something with you on Twitter, I’ll include the hashtag #rhet351, and you should feel free to use it as well. Any tweets with that hashtag will appear in the sidebar of this blog.

(Optional: if you’re unfamiliar with Twitter, you might want to read a good introduction to the service, like this one.)

2. Create a Tweetdeck Account

To do so, head to Tweetdeck is one of many ways to read your Twitter feed. I’m going to require that we use it in class, as I think it’s one of the easiest ways to follow multiple tweet streams at the same time. (Don’t worry, I’ll explain all this later.) For now, just having an account when you step through the door on August 26 will save us considerable time in class.

Be sure that you create a Twitter account first, before you create a Tweetdeck account.

3. Create a Blog at

(It’s important that you go to, not Your blog will be your main way to share information with me (and each other!) throughout the semester. You’ll use it to write short responses to readings, longer essays, and to share links to work you’ve done elsewhere.

And because this course page is hosted at, you’ll also be able to comment on any page here once you’ve created a WordPress account. Feel free to post questions or comments at the bottom of any post I make.

As with much of the work you’ll do in this class, your blog will be public to the entire world. Keep this in mind when you choose the title of your blog and the url where people will find it. It’s up to you if you want to give it a fun name or a boring name, and it’s up to you if you want to explain to the public that your blog is for a class or not.

For instance, you might make a blog called Thelma’s Thoughtful Thoughts, found at (whether or not your name is actually Thelma). Or you might make a blog called RHET 351 is a Class My College Requires Me to Take, found at

My main concern is that your blog exists before we meet in the computer lab on August 26. In class, I’ll ask you to log in and fiddle with a couple of things, but until then it’s fine if all you’ve done at WordPress is create a blog. (Of course, if you’re bored and want to play around by adding widgets and customizing the look and writing an “About” page, please go ahead!)

Okay, this is enough for now. As always, let me know if you have any questions or problems. I’d always like to be in the loop. My email address and everyone else’s is in Moodle, or you can just send a tweet to @kstedman.