Writing in an Endangered World is a course in literary and cultural studies that is designed to improve your writing, as well as to empower you with the critical and rhetorical skills to communicate effectively with audiences beyond the classroom—whether you are majoring in sciences, the social sciences, or the humanities.
Developing these skills and habits of mind will make a difference in both the personal and professional dimensions of your life. However, because digital-mediated forms of communication have become ubiquitous in our lives, digital fluency and literacies are imperative. As educated citizens, we need to engage with the personal, social, cultural, and political complexities of the web, as well as navigate, and critically resist, digital technologies.
For more than twenty years my students have worked with digital tools as well as considered the relationship between literacy and technology-whether in academic and professional practice, through building intellectual networks, sharing intellectual work, constructing e-portfolios, or developing online profiles; or in critical thinking about technology, by reflecting on digital platforms, considering the ways that digital technologies constitute identities and social relations, and understanding how digital media both create and reproduce social institutions and structures.
For the past year I have worked to create a learning opportunity for my students that students and faculty at other institutions have been developing—including The University of Mary Washington, Emory University, Middlebury College, Davidson College, and the University of Oklahoma. The opportunity is to participate in a own Domain of One’s Own project, KSC Open.
KSC Open is a collaboration with a talented information technologist (Jenny Darrow), and a visionary colleague in Biology (Dr. Cangialosi), that allows you to register a personal domain name and to begin working in a free, hosted web space. KSC Open is designed to empower you to use the web as a platform for creative expression, critical thinking, and integrative learning— inviting you to connect your learning in unique ways based on your experiences and interests.
KSC Open is at the same time a deliberate pedagogical project, a project based on values that reflect a critical philosophy of education, and a conviction that the digital platforms (and spaces) we use for teaching and learning can be more: as one of the creators of Domain of One’s Own, Martha Burtis, puts it succinctly: “More critical. More relational. More flexible. More beautiful.”
Working in your digital domain will enrich your learning. It will at the same time empower you to shape a critical perspective on how current web architecture works-specifically, how it extracts users data through persistent surveillance, data mining, tracking, and monetization. As Professor of English at Macomb Community College, Keith Gilyard, notes in his essay Pedagogy and the Logic of Platforms, participation on the web raises difficult questions about access and equity. For “web based surveillance, personalization, and monetization works perfectly well for particular constituencies, but it doesn’t work quite as well for persons of color, lower-income students, and people who have been walled off from information or opportunities because of the ways they are categorized according to opaque algorithms.”
These cultural and economic questions are questions that have become imperative for everyone in institutions of higher education-indeed, for anyone. As Gilyard writes,
The fact that the web functions the way it does is illustrative of the tremendously powerful economic forces that structure it. Technology platforms (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) and education technologies (e.g., the learning management system) exist to capture and monetize data. Using higher education to “save the web” means leveraging the classroom to make visible the effects of surveillance capitalism. It means more clearly defining and empowering the notion of consent. Most of all, it means envisioning, with students, new ways to exist online.
These forces are one of the reasons we need to be thoughtful about the uses of educational management systems. They are also the reason why I am making visible the risks and rewards of participating in the digital spaces we too often simply accept.
I will add, finally, that the Domain project got its start at a peer institution, a public liberal arts college not unlike our own, The University of Mary Washington. If you are curious about the emergence of the Domain of One’s Own project, read Part One and Part Two of a Brief History by Jess Reingold and Jesse Stommel.
Welcome to KSC Open! Setting up and managing a domain will enliven your reading and thinking and writing in this course, as well as engage you with the literary and cultural questions inherent in digital participation and exchange.