Instructor: Quinn Warnick, Ph.D.
Course Location: 1120 Torgersen Hall
Class Hours: T/Th 9:30–10:45 a.m.
Dr. Warnick’s Office: 427 Shanks Hall
Office Hours: T 2:00–5:00 p.m., W 9:00 a.m.–noon, or by appointment
Office Phone: 540.231.8321 (Leave a detailed message if I don’t pick up.)
Email: This is the best way to reach me

ENGL 6344 Overview

How does online discourse differ from previous forms of human communication? How do new technologies enable or constrain rhetorical action? And what will happen to research, teaching, and advocacy as the line between physical and virtual spaces becomes increasingly blurry? This course is designed to help you explore these questions by applying classical and contemporary rhetorical theories to the study of digital environments. During the next few months, we will read broadly on topics such as online communities, social media, educational technology, privacy, and big data. As we do, we will try to identify and foster productive connections among these various subjects, with twin goals in mind: deepening your theoretical understanding of digital rhetoric and strengthening your digital research skills.

Since everyone comes to this class with different scholarly interests and technological skills, almost every assignment in the course can be adapted to build on your individual strengths and meet your personal goals. As the semester progresses, you will be expected to narrow your interests a bit in order to design and execute a small-scale digital research project — the capstone assignment in this course.

Some of our class sessions will follow the traditional graduate seminar model, with a focus on explicating scholarly texts. However, many days will be dedicated to hands-on technology workshops, where we can experiment with a variety of tools and methods for collecting, coding, and critiquing electronic artifacts. This course has no prerequisites for software skills or programming languages, but you should expect to experiment with unfamiliar technologies every day you come to class, and you should be prepared for some of these experiments to go terribly wrong. Failure and frustration are standard experiences when working with digital media, but they are not valid justifications for giving up. If (OK, when) you encounter technical problems in this class, you can get help from a variety of sources, including your classmates, campus resources like the InnovationSpace, and online resources like And, of course, I will do whatever I can to help you solve your thorniest digital problems.

Required Textbooks and Materials

Course Objectives

By the end of the semester, you should be able to:

  • summarize and synthesize the historical and theoretical foundations underlying the field of digital rhetoric.
  • identify key figures in the field of digital rhetoric, along with their theoretical and methodological approaches.
  • analyze and critique a range of methods and tools used to conduct digital scholarship in the field of rhetoric.
  • evaluate the potential of digital methods for use in your individual scholarly pursuits.
  • plan, execute, and polish a substantive digital research project.
  • confidently employ a variety of digital tools to accomplish all of the objectives listed above.

Class Attendance and Participation

Regular attendance and active participation are essential to your success in this course. Please arrive at our classroom on time and stay until class ends. Conference travel or unforeseen circumstances may prevent you from attending a class or two, but excessive absences (i.e., more than three class sessions) will affect your course grade. If you need to miss a class or arrive late, please let me know in advance.

In any graduate-level course, it should go without saying that we will treat one another with courtesy and respect at all times. Vigorous debate is encouraged; ad hominem attacks are not. Most of our class sessions will be conducted in discussion/workshop format, and many of these workshops cannot be recreated outside of class. Similarly, many of our online activities are time sensitive and cannot be “made up” later on. Please allocate enough time to complete the reading assignments and online exercises before you come to class.

Software and Technology

You will submit all of your work for this course in electronic formats and much of our interaction as a class will occur online. Hence, you will need to check your email, the class website, and Twitter regularly to receive important announcements and to participate in an ongoing dialogue with your classmates.

As you complete assignments for this class, be sure to save all your work, both print and electronic. Do not discard any drafts, notes, papers or research materials until you receive a final grade for the course. In addition, be sure to save your work regularly in multiple formats (print and electronic) and multiple locations (e.g., computer, Google Drive, flash drive). Computer problems are a part of modern life, and a crashed computer or a lost flash drive is not a valid excuse for a late assignment in 2014.

To fulfill the requirements of the course, you will need to create several accounts on a variety of websites. I am sensitive to the fact that some of you carefully guard your online identity and have chosen to minimize your personal exposure on the web, and I don’t want to force you to leave an electronic trail that may be difficult to erase at the end of the semester. As a result, you may choose to use a pseudonym and/or a “throwaway” email address to create these accounts. That’s fine with me; just be consistent (don’t choose a new pseudonym for each site) and make sure that you let me know what your pseudonym is.

Grading and Evaluation

Your grade in this course will be determined primarily by your performance on three major assignments. In addition, participating in class discussions (both in class and online) and completing various small assignments will influence your final grade. I expect that all major assignments will be submitted on time, but I will grant each student one extension during the semester, provided that it is negotiated with me several days before the due date. Other late assignments will be penalized 10% for every class period they are late.

Weighted Assignments

Major units and shorter assignments will be weighted as follows:

  • Hashtag Analysis: 20%
  • Book Review: 20%
  • Research Project: 30%
  • Class Participation and Short Exercises: 30%
  • TOTAL: 100%

You can read more details about the major assignments on the assignments page.

Grading Scale

All major assignments will be evaluated on a 100-point scale, and final grades will be calculated using the following scale:

  • A : 94-100
  • A- : 90–93.99
  • B+ : 87–89.99
  • B : 84–86.99
  • B- : 80–83.99
  • C+ : 77–79.99
  • C : 74–76.99
  • C- : 70–73.99
  • D+ : 67– 69.99
  • D : 64–66.99
  • D- : 60-63.99
  • F : 0–59.99

Please note that I do not round up when calculating final grades.

Eliminating Distractions

Part of living in the digital age is dealing with a never-ending stream of electronic distractions. Eliminating these distractions in a traditional classroom might be as easy as banning the use of cell phones or laptops, but in a course on the digital humanities that approach is not only too simplistic, it’s counterproductive. We will be spending a lot of time staring at screens — projectors, laptops, tablets, and cell phones — so you will need to develop the discipline to stare productively. Practically speaking, that means no texting family and friends, checking Facebook, or mindlessly surfing the web. Simply put, when you are in class, be in class. I don’t expect that this will be a problem for any of you, but if it becomes an issue, I will gently remind you about this policy. If the problem continues, I will ask you to leave class and mark you absent for that day.

Disability Accommodations

If you need adaptations or accommodations because of a disability (learning disability, attention deficit disorder, psychological, physical, etc.), if you have emergency medical information to share with me, or if you need special arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, please make an appointment with me as soon as possible. You will first need to provide documentation of your disability to the Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) office, located in 310 Lavery Hall.

Academic Integrity

The Virginia Tech Honor Code expressly forbids the following:

  1. Cheating — Cheating includes the actual giving or receiving of any unauthorized aid or assistance or the actual giving or receiving of any unfair advantage on any form of academic work, or attempts thereof.
  2. Plagiarism — Plagiarism includes the copying of the language, structure, programming, computer code, ideas, and/or thoughts of another and passing off the same as one’s own original work, or attempts thereof.
  3. Falsification — Falsification includes the statement of any untruth, either verbally or in writing, with respect to any circumstances relevant to one’s academic work, or attempts thereof. Such acts include, but are not limited to, the forgery of official signatures; tampering with official records; fraudulently adding, deleting, or manipulating information on academic work, or fraudulently changing an examination or other academic work after the testing period or due date of the assignment.

In a graduate English course, violations of the Honor Code typically take the form of plagiarism. I do not tolerate plagiarism in any form, and I am exceptionally skilled at identifying plagiarized work. If you submit plagiarized work in this course, I will report it to the Honor System and withhold your grade until the Honor System has concluded its investigation. In most plagiarism cases, you will receive a 0 on the assignment, and you may also fail the entire course, depending on the severity of the plagiarism.

Plagiarism occurs when a writer, speaker, or designer uses someone else’s language, ideas, images, or other material without fully acknowledging its source by quotations marks, in footnotes or endnotes, and in lists of works cited. In this course, we will draw heavily upon text, images, videos, and other electronic materials found online; the fact that such material is online does not lessen our obligation to give credit where credit is due. Occasionally, students will unintentionally plagiarize material because they have failed to keep track of their sources as they acquire them. You can avoid this problem by keeping detailed records of your research activities in this class.

As a professor, my academic integrity obligates me to report all cases of plagiarism (regardless of the circumstances) to the Honor System. If you have any questions about plagiarism and how it relates to your work, please talk to me before you turn in an assignment. Once plagiarized work has been submitted for a grade, I have no choice but to enforce this policy.