Course Syllabus

Digital Literacy and Culture

WR 497/597

Instructor: Ehren Helmut Pflugfelder

Office: Moreland Hall 316

Office Phone: 541-737-1649

Office Hours: MWF 11:00-1:00 and by appt.

Email: ehren.pflugfelder [at]

Meeting Times: MWF @ 1:00-1:50PM

Meeting Location: MORE 332

Course Description

Digital Literacy and Culture focuses on the many and varied relationships between how we express ourselves and the technological systems and networks that provide context, meaning, and shape to those expressions. From pencils to pixels, telegraphs to texts, and semaphores to social networking, this class will examine the interactions between technology and literacy throughout history. While our focus will be on how literacies have both changed and been influenced by specific technologies, we’ll also address the production, reception, and transmission of cultural texts, both analog and digital. Beyond simply defining “new media,” we’ll consider how technologies affect subjectivity, agency, power, community, relationships, careers, and cognition. We’ll also investigate developments in communications technologies and consider important ethical, political, social, cultural, and economic questions that students, educators, politicians, and citizens need to consider. Further, this class will reflect on our current technological situation, how the technologies we use to communicate have ties to older literacies, and what they may suggest about coming changes. Since digital literacy and new media do not inhabit one particular discipline, our course will be quite interdisciplinary, drawing from areas of study such as communication, law, art, history, science, economics, and rhetoric.


Required Texts

Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage (2005, orig. 1967)

Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey Pingree, eds., New Media: 1740-1915 (2004)

Clive Thompson, Smarter than You Think (2013)

Other texts will be offered as PDFs, videos, and audio clips


497/597 Projects

Literacy and Technology Autobiography                    150 points

New Media History Study                                           200

5 Notecards (497) / 3 “VV” Responses (597)              100

Individual Project proposal                                          50

Individual Project draft                                                 50

Final Individual Project                                                200

Large Group Project                                                    100

Attendance                                                                  75

Participation                                                                75



  • To write effective arguments about a variety of cultural texts, both print and digital/online;
  • To use information literacy and new technologies to plan and conduct research appropriate to initial and advanced study of these texts;
  • To demonstrate the role of contexts in the production, reception, and transmission of cultural texts, both print and digital/online;
  • To recognize that developments in communications technologies raise important ethical, political, social, cultural, and economic questions that educators, politicians, and citizens need to consider

Further Learning Outcomes for WR 597:

To analyze and appraise criticism and theory on information literacy and new technology within the fields of rhetoric and composition and new media studies

Differentiation between ENG 497 and 597

Graduate students will also produce a longer final project than undergraduates. In addition, the expectations for writing, both in terms of research and of the quality of writing, are higher. Graduate students may also be responsible to teaching one class near the end of the term (discussions forthcoming).


Notecards (497)

Students in 497 will be responsible for turning in 5 notecards throughout the term, each worth 20 points each. On each 5” x 8” notecard, you’ll be able to include whatever you like, making use of both sides, creating 3-D forms, printing things out and gluing them on, drawing on them, etc. Your goal is to make some connections to the readings by developing ideas, synthesizing ideas, creating short analyses, generating examples, etc. You can use both digital and analog technologies to develop these notecards, too. You’re allowed to turn in one at a time and two in a week (at most).


VV Responses (597)

Graduate students will be responsible for reading nine additional articles throughout the term and writing three additional “papers” on those articles. These papers will be printed/pasted/written/designed on 11" x 17" paper, will be single-sided and single-spaced (probably), and will be worth 33.34 points each (I know…). As you might guess by the strange size of the paper, I don’t expect you to write a straightforward essay, but encourage you to develop unusual structures, formats, and layouts, as fitting your topic. Visuals, experiments, and new designs are encouraged. They should do some synthesis of the readings and also include some interesting examples, conjectures, hypotheses, and ideas wherever possible. We’ll go over these papers, and the three readings you’ve used to create them, during three additional class times during the term. The readings will be as follows:

Paper 1:

The New London Group, Wysocki, Selber

Paper 2:

Gitelman, Bolter and Grusin, Manovich (pgs. 43-65)

Paper 3:

Rice, Porter, McCorkle


Attendance Policy

You cannot succeed in this course if you do not attend classes and conferences. If you have more than 3 unexcused absences, your grade will be lowered. At 8 missed classes, excused or unexcused, you will likely not be able to receive a passing grade for the course. (4 absences=10% off attendance grade, 5=20%, 6=40%, 7=60%, 8=100%). Tardiness (beyond 15 minutes late for class) will count as an absence after the first few classes. If you are absent, it is your responsibility to find out what happened in class: find another student, get the class notes, see the course website for materials, and turn your work in on time. Absences from conferences count toward your attendance. Documented medical, family, and school-related absences can be considered “excused” absences, but make sure you present such documentation to me either before or immediately after your absence. Be smart – stay in touch with me and keep up on class/group work so as not to fall behind.


Participation Policy

This course is largely discussion-oriented, which means that your participation will be necessary for a thoughtful and productive experience. I value your contribution to class and I hope that you will speak up when you feel you have something to add. In most every class, there will be the opportunity for you to participate. Think of this portion of your grade as an opportunity, not an assessment. If you feel as though you didn’t have a chance to participate, or are hesitant about talking in class, use the online spaces to make yourself heard. Also: bring what we will be discussing to class in book, digital, or paper form.


Late Work Policy

Late work cannot receive full credit for an assignment and will be marked down by a letter grade per day late. After three days, late responses or comments on responses receive no credit. If you feel as though your schedule does not permit you to complete an assignment to the best of your ability, please see me ahead of time and we’ll discuss an extension. Extension requests must be made, in writing, 5 full days before the assignment is due. They must also include a rationale for the extension and a new due date.


Format of All Work

You will hand in most projects electronically, though some projects will be turned in both electronically and in paper (hard copy in class). You will receive comments on electronic copies, so please save your versions on your computer/ flash drive/university drive space. If this requirement is a problem, please see me and we’ll work something out.   


Technology Requirements

In order to participate fully in the course, you should already be able to use the technology platforms and applications listed below.

  • Mac OS X, Windows XP, Vista, or 7
  • Microsoft Office for the PC or Mac (Word, PowerPoint, and Excel) or Apple counterparts (Pages, Keynote, Numbers)
  • Web Browser (e.g., Firefox, Safari, IE, Chrome, etc.)
  • Email Program (e.g., Oregon State Mail, Outlook, Thunderbird, Gmail, etc.)
  • Adobe Acrobat Reader (for PDF documents, collaborative review)
  • Access to your university drive space and/or a portable flash drive


Student Multimedia Services

Student Multimedia Services ( is a student-initiated multimedia unit available for use by all currently enrolled OSU students. Their primary mission is to provide multimedia facilities, equipment, and technical support for students producing and presenting academic work. They loan out equipment, provide printing services, enable multimedia support, and offer video editing and dubbing. SMS is located in the Learning Commons (main floor) of The Valley Library.


Course Schedule (subject to change)  



In Class

Due (by class, on this day)



Introduction to course 

To Read: Dennis Baron, “From Pencils to Pixels” (2000)



Discussion of Baron  

To Read: Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage (1967)

To Watch: 



Discussion of McLuhan 
To Read: James Gleick, “The Persistence of the Word” (2011); Walter Ong, “The Orality of Language” (1982)




Discussion of Gleick and Ong

To Read: David Bawden, “Origins and Concepts of Digital Literacies” (2008); Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel “From “Reading” to “New” Literacies” (2011) - read pages 12-26 



Discussion of new literacies

To Read: Alberto Manguel, “The Silent Readers,” “The Book of Memory,” and “Learning to Read” (1996)



Discussion of Manguel 

To Read: Alberto Manguel, “Being Read To,” “The Shape of the Book,” and “Private Reading” (1996)




Discussion of Manguel

To Read: Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey Pingree, intro and chap 1 (2004)

Literacy and Technology Autobiography



Discussion of Gitelman and Pingree

To Read: Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey Pingree, chap 3 and 4 (2004)



Discussion of Gitelman and Pingree


To Read: Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey Pingree, chap 7 and chap 9 (2004); Tom Standage, chapters 1,7,and 10 (1998)




Discussion of Gitelman and Pingree and Standage  

To Read: Richard Polt: 



Discussion of: Polt, typewriters

Guest Speaker: Joy Futrell

[12:00, 597 Meeting] 

To Read: Vannevar Bush, “As we May Think” (1945); Norbert Weiner, “Cybernetics in History” (1954); J.C.R. Licklider, “Man-Computer Symbiosis” (1960)



Discussion of mid-century computer theory


To Read: Tim Berners-Lee, “Information Management” (1989); Alan Kay, “User Interface: a Personal View” (1989)




Discussion of: the emergence of the web 

To Read: Neil Postman, “The Medium is the Metaphor” (1985); Nicholas Negroponte, “An Age of Optimism” (1995); Alex Wright “The Secret History of Hypertext” (2014)

New/Old Media Study


Discussion of different media futures 

To Read: Richard Lanham, “Digital Rhetoric and the Digital Arts” (1993)



Discussion of Lanham 

To Read: N. Katherine Hayles “What does it Mean to be Posthuman?” (1999); Cary Wolfe “What is Posthumanism?” (2010)




Discussion of posthumanism


To Read: Andy Clark “Cyborgs Unplugged” (2003);

Individual Project proposal


Discussion of cyborgs 

To Do: Decisions for current topic readings: Facebook, Memes, Crowdsourcing, Hacking, Activism, Disability, Mashups, Games, Reading Online, Cell Phones, Social Media, Coding, Copyright, Texting, MOOCs, Laptops in Class, Cyberstalking, Online Privacy, Digital Natives, Twitter, Wikipedia, cardboard virtual reality, others?


To Do: Decisions for Group Project; Watch:



Group Project discussion


To Read: James Gleick "Into the Meme Pool" (2011); Patrick Davison "The Language of Internet Memes" (2012)




Discussion of: memes 

To Watch:

To Read: ; ; and (if you have the energy) 



Discussion of: how the internet works

To Watch:

To Read: 

[12:00, 597 Meeting]



Discussion of: crowdsourcing and crowdfunding 

To Read: ; ; 




Discussion of: augmented reality 

To Read: Clive Thompson, “Rise of the Centaurs” and “We the Memorious” (2013) 



Discussion of: Clive Thompson, “Rise of the Centaurs” and “We the Memorious” (2013)  

To Read: Clive Thompson, “The New Literacies” and “The Art of Finding” (2013)



Discussion of Clive Thompson, “The New Literacies” and “The Art of Finding” (2013) 




Memorial Day - No Class



Draft Day workshops


To Read: Manion and Goodrum (2000)

To Watch: (first 45 minutes or so) (video appears to be down - will repost if I find another link)  

Individual Project drafts


Chris Gasser leading - hacking / hacktivism

To Read: Bergman et al. (2011); Rosen (2007)

To Listen: 




Nick Brown leading - narcissism

To Read: Chellis Gendinning (1990) ; Steven Jones (2006)



Wesley Snyder leading - anti-technology movements

To Read: (2013)



 Jordan Terriere leading - disability and new media / post humanism


Finals Week




Final Individual Projects,

Large Group Project


597 Meeting off campus - Friday: 4:00



Basic Grade Explanations

I do grade on the +/- scale, though the following grade explanations may help you understand how grades break down:


You did what the assignment asked at a high quality level, and your work shows originality and complexity. Work in this range shows all the qualities listed above for a B; but it also demonstrates that you took extra steps to be original or creative in developing content, solving a problem, or developing a verbal or visual style. 


You did what the assignment asked of you at a high quality level. Work in this range needs some revision, is complete in content, is organized well, and shows some attention to style and visual design.


You did what the assignment asked of you. Work in this range tends to need a fair amount of revision to achieve excellence, but it is complete in content and the organization is logical. The style, verbal and visual, is straightforward but unremarkable.


You did what the assignment asked at a low level of quality. Work in this range tends to need substantial and significant revision. The content is often incomplete and the organization is hard to discern. Verbal and visual style is often chaotic.


I usually reserve Fs for people who don’t show up or don’t do the work. If you give an assignment an honest try, I doubt you would receive an F. If you feel you put in your best effort and still received an F, you might consider dropping from the class.


C5Competency for Written Work

A grade of “C” for written work means that you have demonstrated in the course of your work that you can consistently produce an original work with the following five characteristics. Your work must achieve “C” competency in all of the following areas:

  1. it delineates a clear thesis on a subject appropriate to the assignment and develops the idea with supporting details and evidence where necessary
  2. it displays a coherent overall design with smooth transitions of ideas from one section to the next
  3. it is appropriate to the rhetorical situation and makes effective and coherent use of rhetorical strategies applicable to the assignment
  4. the prose is generally clear and concise, vocabulary and sentence structure are suitable for the subject matter and intended readers
  5. it meets the format requirements stated above and is largely free from errors in spelling, verb and pronoun forms, agreement, sentencecompletion/boundaries, punctuation and capitalization


The Writing Center

The Writing Center ( is part of the Academic Success Center and is a support service for students and faculty at Oregon State University. Its mission is to provide writing programs that enable students at all levels to function effectively, efficiently, and confidently in an academic environment. The Writing Center offers free help with any writing task at any stage of the writing process and is open to all OSU students, as well as to staff, faculty, and members of the Corvallis community. Writing assistants can help with all aspects of the writing process from brainstorming and organization to questions of grammar and usage. Call (541) 737-5640 for an appointment. Students may also submit their work-in-progress to the Center's Online Writing Lab (

Technology Policy


Cell phones should be placed on “silent” before class starts. If you need to text, make a call, or use your phone, please excuse yourself and do it outside of the classroom. I won’t police your cell phone usage unless it becomes a problem. If you have a computer screen in front of you please don’t let it become a distraction. During most class time, this shouldn’t be a problem, but if you are distracted by other class work, answering email, or posting to Facebook, I’ll hand a warning to you before taking away from your participation grade. Remember: this is a small class and your distraction by technology is usually obvious.


Classroom Conduct

The classroom is a special environment in which students and faculty come together to promote learning and growth. It is essential to this learning environment that respect for the rights of others seeking to learn, respect for the professionalism of the instructor, and the general goals of academic freedom are maintained. Professional and respectful behavior is expected of all students. Behaviors that are disruptive to learning include, but are not limited to: talking while others are speaking, using cell phones, texting, reading the newspaper, arriving late or leaving early. As participation is part of your grade, engaging in these kinds of behaviors will result in deductions from your participation grade.


Statement Regarding Students with Disabilities

Accommodations are collaborative efforts between students, faculty and Disability Access Services (DAS). Students with accommodations approved through DAS are responsible for contacting the faculty member in charge of the course prior to or during the first week of the term to discuss accommodations. Students who believe they are eligible for accommodations but who have not yet obtained approval through DAS should contact DAS at 737-4098.



The instructor will not knowingly infringe anyone’s rights and will do his best to maintain access and safety for all students. Raise any concerns during or after class if you feel the classroom environment (whether due to instructor or student action) is hostile or otherwise inappropriate.


Academic Integrity

While not easily defined, plagiarism is most likely to occur in the following ways:


Excessive Repetition

using too many words that are the same as, or very similar to, the work from which you have read, even if properly cited.

Improper Citation

failing to correctly apply a citation system, including internal citations and Works Cited/Bibliography pages. Improper citation can also happen when you do not acknowledge a source from which you have used information.

Improper Idea Borrowing

failing to acknowledge a source from which you have borrowed ideas or language.


using the words and/or ideas of another and passing those words off as your own. At best, an egregious case of improper citation or excessive repetition, at worst, purchasing your work or having another person do your work for you.


claiming sources that do not exist or improperly attributing ideas or words to sources.


Academic or Scholarly Dishonesty is defined as an act of deception in which a Student seeks to claim credit for the work or effort of another person, or uses unauthorized materials or fabricated information in any academic work or research, either through the Student's own efforts or the efforts of another. For more information, see:



In the event of a major campus emergency, course requirements, deadlines and grading percentages are subject to changes that may be necessitated by a revised semester calendar or other unforeseen circumstances.  



Course Summary:

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