Blog Post

21st Century Literacies: Syllabus, Assignments, Calendar

[As usual, there will be wonky punctuation--no dashes, missing apostrophes--because of the interface of Word with this particular Drupal stylesheet.  My apologies in advance.   I hope this is useful even if it is odd in places; it looks fine now but I know it is about to change as soon as I hit "save."  Yes, yes, we are so excited that our site is being redesigned and will be up and working in May.]


Here's the url for the parallel post on the contract and peer grading system for this course:

21st Century Literacies   
Spring 2011  MW 1:15-2:30 MW
Humanities Lab, Smith Warehouse Bay 4, Room C105, First Floor
Professor Cathy N. Davidson
Teaching Apprentice (doctoral student in English):  Mary Caton Lingold
Teaching Assistant (HASTAC Intern and recent Duke BME alum):  Anna Rose Beck


This syllabus is a work in progress.  It won't be finished until the course is over since students will be chosing topics, adding content.   Even in this form, posted just by Prof Davidson, the syllabus changes almost every day and will continue to change, even though it has been "published."  That's the point.  "Twenty-First Century Literacies" is an English 90s course, a gateway to the English major.  In the Information Age, English departments should be central, helping all of us to understand the complexities of new forms of reading, writing, communicating using this new form of interactive, iterative publication.   Very few English departments have taken to heart the changes in the substance of what they do--thinking critically and creatively about the history and forms of communication--and thus most English departments seem peripheral to the precise configuration of monumental changes that, abstractly, require the skills and the body of knowledge intrinsic to the discipline.  I am teaching this English gateway class as a true gateway to new ways of thinking about English as a discipline---and using its disciplinary strengths to help us in this transitional time.  --CND
COURSE DESCRIPTION:   We think we know what school and work are but what we really know are configurations of how we learn and how we labor that have been shaped, formalized, institutionalized, routinized, and measured over the course of the last 150 years.   In this course, we will be rethinking the basic concepts that make up our worlds of school and work, all the ways we see the world, for a digital age.  We will be rethinking not only the meaning of reading and writing and publishing but a whole set of interrelated skills (literacies) that were defined in a specific way for over a century and that beg redefinition.  One of the chief factors we will be rethinking in this course is the two cultures divide of science and technology versus the humanities, interpretive social sciences, and the arts.  It is disastrous if those who make our technology do not think deeply about it, with historical perspective and critical and creative skills.  It is equally disastrous if we think those who are concerned with philosophical depth, imagination, language, history, and creative expression are anti-technology or impractical and therefore will never get a job or contribute to our future.  The two cultures divide served the industrial age but does a disservice to the complexity and creativity of the information era.   This course is for anyone interested in reintegrating disciplines and who therefore sees English as a pivotal connector across the terrains of reading, writing, multimedia expression, critical thinking and creative production.  Together, well be working in Twenty-First Century Literacies to animate a new theory of English as a discipline, a new theory of education, new ways of working together, and profound ways to rethink the most practical questions of your life.  
Why is this an English class?  Because what other department is better suited to helping us prepare, in practical and profound ways, for our future, for the highly unpredictable changes in how we read, write, and communicate that are reshaping school and work in the Information Age.  What other department should be addressing a new form of writing and publishing that are collaborative, interactive, multimedia, multimodal, and iterative?  
If historian Robert Darnton is right that we are currently going through the fourth great information age in human history (the first he demarcates as 4000BC ancient Sumeria with the invention of cunieform writing systems and the transition from oral to written information modes), English Departments--all languages and literature departments--should be key to helping us process what it means that, for example, I could publish a syllabus, have it read by several hundred people, and have it read in different forms depending on when the particular reader happened to look in.  More than that, it is from conversations and communications about this course that I have gone back and edited it.   What does that mean?   If "literature" is taking all the complexities of a world and distilling it into the precise affordances of writing, what does it mean that the writing can continue to change once it is published?   Where does writing end?  What is authorship?  What is publication?  What is communication?  What is feedback?  What is judgment?  How do we assess what is or isn't good if "it" can be changed by such assessments, constantly and without end?   What if writing is a process not a product?

These are the issues of "Twenty-First Century Literacies" and that is why my chosen pedagogy suits those issues:  peer-to-peer learning and assessment, peer-led topics, peer-led conversation, process and iteration, contract grading to make a community based on an explicit, witnessed social compact.  Also, skilled and practiced use of available digital tools and multimedia forms of communication as the pen and paper or the typewriter of 21st century writing.     In other words, a gateway to English Studies in the 21st century.

SYLLABUS We will be co-creating a syllabus in this course.  Professor Davidson will begin, there will be several special guests or other events, but the remainder of the course content will be assigned by peer-leaders charged with offering a challenging, creative, informative, inspiring, participatory educational experience (No Talking Heads Please!) for the class.   Peer-led classes might that involve reading/seeing/listening to/experiencing imaginative works (including scientific papers,) attending lectures, visiting art museums and going to concerts together, or visiting businesses and community organizations to understand how these literacies are changing.  I will get us started with some readings and a museum visit and a collaborative public wiki-based writing assignment.   We have a number of exciting visitors coming this term.   The rest of the syllabus will be filled out by the peer leaders and will evolve over the course.  

(1) readings, screenings, viewings, field trips:  attendance, reading in advance of class,  and engaged participation required (see contract for attendance policy);  
(2) weekly blogs (approximately 500 words or, for multi-media projects, of the length specified by the peer leader for that week).  These must be submitted prior to class time. These will be posted on a class-only private blog, in response to all class presentations, including comments on one anothers blogs.  
(3) a collaborative class presentation and responsibility for leading two-three class sessions, including making assignments to the class.  The topics will be either open (a literacy either on the list or selected by the peer leaders) or assigned and synchronized with a special visitor or event.   Students will be responsible for planning course sessions, making reading and writing/multimedia assignments to the other students, offering constructive feedback to each student on their assignment and evaluating the work of the other students to determine if they have fulfilled their contract; if not, the peer leaders must work with the student to do a better job on a resubmission.   If the student fails to, the peer leaders must note an Unsatisfactory grade.  S/U grades for each student must be reported to the TA for formal recording before this assignment is completed.  The final part of this assignment is a self-assessment (private) of ones own contribution to the collaboration and lessons learned from the collaboration.
(4) significant contribution to public knowledge;  individual or joint authorship is permissible
(5) a second significant contribution to public knowledge in a different format or using a different tool; individual or joint authorship is permissible
(6)  a midterm contribution to a collaborative wiki-based midterm, with a posting of the final collaborative essay at plus a social media campaign (twitter, Facebook, and list servs) to encourage readership
(7) a final three-minute collaborative multimedia project focusing on one literacy and based on the peer-led class sessions. The rough cuts will be previewed during the last week of class, will receive feedback from the class, and then final versions will be posted on the HASTAC YouTube site.  

ASSESSMENT:   Grades will be contract-based and peer-evaluated.   In what is one of the most famous blogs in recent pedagogical history, How to Crowdsource Grading, I described this method:  You may look at that blog to understand the method or contact the instructor.   Your contract also spells out more of the ideas behind contract grading and the whole idea of assessment is one we will return to over and over.   

CONTRACT GRADING: In contract grading, the student is assumed to be an adult who is taking a course for his or her own reasons, which may range from I know this course will change my life to I need this to meet a distribution requirement and its at the same time as another class I need in this building and so I wont need to put myself out in any way.   Given that range, in contract grading, you read all of the course requirements in advance and decide what amount of work you wish to complete in the course.  It is anticipated that students will make this decision maturely, weighing their other obligations for the term and will decide in advance.  There is a penalty, as spelled out in the contract, for failure to meet ones signed contractual obligations.  

A:  Satisfactory completion of all seven (7) assignments
B:  Satisfactory completion of 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7
C:  Satisfactory completion of 1, 2, 3, and 7

Class attendance is required.  If you contract for an A in the course, you may miss two classes (and the corresponding blog posts) without an official (doctor or pre-approved) excuse. If you contract for a B, you may miss four; and if you contract for a C, you may miss 6.  Whatever grade you contract for, if you exceed the relevant number of unexcused absences, your grade for the entire class automatically will drop 0.5 below the grade for which you have contracted per each absence over the limit.  

A C is an entirely honorable grade to contract for if you have no need for more than a C and have other responsibilities this term.   If you do all you have contracted to do (you will sign a contract, with a fellow student as witness, and I will cosign and return a copy to you), you will earn your grade.  With one small catch . . .

Peer evaluation:  You must do your assignments satisfactorily to fulfill your contract.   Each week, two or three students will work as a peer group in charge of leading our joint education for two or three classes.  During that unit, the peer leaders will assign readings as well as writing or multimedia assignments--and they will be charged with determining if each student has satisfactorily completed the assignment.   They will be charged with providing written feedback on all assignments.  Their goal will be to ensure that each student satisfactorily completes the assignment and they will work with each student to make sure they succeed.  If a student is given a second chance and still is not satisfactory, the peer leaders will assign a U for that contracted item (meaning the contract was not filled for that assignment).  The contracts spell out the penalties for U or uncompleted grades.   

Remember:  the next week, those peer leaders will be students in the class and they will then be evaluated by the new peer leaders.   Giving and receiving feedback, learning from one another, learning how to set fair, high, and reasonable expectations and standards is part of twenty-first century literacy.   If we live in an interactive age, where anyone can comment on anyone, we better be learning how to do this well.   (Im convinced reality prize shows--So You Think You Can Dance, American Idol, etc--are popular partly because they are a rare place where people learn judgment and feedback in action; schools have not yet taken up this task fully.)   As you think about your role as a peer-leader and assessor, heres a humorous blog post by one annoyed teacher who has turned the typical student evaluation form (where students evaluate the teacher)  into a form for evaluating students:     The issues this author raises are all ones that your group will be considering in your role as peer leaders for one unit of the class.    

Peer-to-Peer Learning:   This is a class that about interactive, collaborative learning--about learning how we learn, how we teach, how we contribute, and how we take responsibility for what and how we contribute in a digital age.  We are taking lessons from open web development and peer-to-peer online learning and translating those to a traditional educational environment.   The rigorous forms of responsibility, interaction, critique, responsiveness, and merit that open source web developers use to co-create open source tools like Mozilla's Firefox browser or the World Wide Web, for that matter, and to teach one another their own skillset is our inspiration for this course.  Your peers are your toughest and best teachers.  As in the real world of work in your future, you will depend upon the standards, fairness, eloquence, skills, creativity, imagination, and cooperation of your peers--and you will contribute the same if the interactions in this class are to succeed.

NOTE:   Detailed contracts spelling out what is required for each grade will be passed out the first day of class so that students can review them with care and make a considered and realistic decision about which grade and set of requirements works best for their schedule and needs that term.   These contracts are binding. Failure to meet any of the terms of the contract results in an automatic grade deduction for the course, as spelled out in detail on the contract.


*   *   *   *

Wednesday, Jan. 12
First day of classes.  Mondays class schedule in effect.
Class leader:  Prof Davidson.  Literacies:  Attention and Affordance.  Jan 12 (class set up and assignments), Jan 19, 24: and Jan 26, field trip, Nasher Museum of Art, to view/listen to The Record.

(1)   Attendance taken, syllabi distributed, class attendance taken.
(2)   Grade contracts distributed.   Students must decide what grade they will contract for and bring signed contract to class on Wednesday, Jan. 19.   Contract will be co-signed by a classmate, countersigned by the professor, and returned.   The contracts spell out the requirements for each grade as well as the penalty for not fulfilling the contract.   Each week, a team of two or three students will set the class assignment for the week, plan activities, and also make comments on all assignments, certifying that all students have met their contractual obligations.   If a students work is not of sufficient quality, the peer leaders will explain what needs to be done to make it satisfactory. Peer leaders will work with the TA and TAP to ensure that grades (meets contract or fails to meet contract are recorded on the grade sheets of all student sin the class.)   See contracts for further detail of this combination of contract grading and peer-evaluation.
(3)   Social media sign up:
Students will sign on to the relevant Google docs; will be registered to our class WordPress class blogging site where assignments will be hosted and visible to the entire class but not the general public; and will sign up to a public Wiki.Twitter will sign up and send their first Tweet; they will join the class Facebook group (NB:  Professor Davidson and TAP Lingold and TA Beck are not allowed to friend any students during the semester; please dont ask.)     Students who are not now on
(4)   Assignment:  Read Emma Donoghues novel Room (available at Regulator Books and Gothic Bookstore)  .   
(5)   Please also read Cathy Davidsons blogs on attention:   and   

On affordance, read the Wikipedia entry on affordance  plus Mike Bull, Affordance in Human-Computer Interaction, April 21, 2008,   and and Matthew Kirschenbaum, Bookscapes  Modelling Books in Electronic Spaces (pdf in Google Docs)

(6)  Writing Assignment:   We will begin a class wiki to co-create a Readers Guide to Room.   The purpose will be to show (not tell) the world why it is important for the English major to exist.   What is the difference between reading Room  and reading Room with the assistance of a Readers Guide?   What is vital to put in a Readers Guide?  Who is your reader?  What do you wish to highlight about the book?  What is important about reading anyway?  Why do we do it?  What can a novel tell us that a text book on attention cannot?   What do you wish to convey to your readers?  What are your key topics?   Lets get started!  

Each student will be required to make at least one comment or edit in answer to the questions Prof Davidson poses and then will be invited to add questions and begin a trail of thought about those questions.  The final product should be a publishable Readers Guide to Room that we will publish on line.   However, because it will be public on an interactive site, we need to think about what a final product is.   Do we just allow comments?  Do we answer them?  Or do we allow anyone to actual edit the Guide?  

Emma Donoghue has promised to answer questions sent to her by the class.  We will also use the Wiki to prepare a set of questions to send her.

Monday, Jan. 17   MLK Day.  No classes.

Wednesday, Jan. 19  
(a) Class sign up for Group, peer-led sessions for the entire term.

(b) Discussion of Room, attention, affordance, and our progress on the collaborative wiki-based Readers Guide to Room .     We will discuss who is contributing best, who we elect to be the editors of the Wiki to take the Readers Guide to the final stages.    The editors will be able to count their work as one of the required contributions to public knowledge in the course.    

Since the affordances of the online publishing we will be using for our Reader's Guide include interactivity, the ability to revise, and multimedia, our Reader's Guide should take these affordances into consideration.   We may not decide to use all of them, but we should experiment, discuss, be open to, explore, and otherwise interrogate the possibilities for online interactive multimedia publishing.

(c) EDITORS for Readers Guide to Room:  ____________________

(d)   If anyone might want to create a virtual space embodiying Room or a video or some other interactive multimedia form of representation (a game, a virtual world, an island in Second Life, etc) that pushes the boundaries of what we can consider, this could be an excellent "contribution to public knowledge.  Sign up:   __________________________________
Monday, Jan. 24   Final class on Room and in-class conversation about attention, affordances, and collaborative editing.   Is the Readers Guide to Room ready for publication?  Class discussion of process and product and class approval for making the Readers Guide public or of what needs to happen (and who will do it) to make it public.

Wednesday, Jan. 26  NOTE:  Field trip to Nasher Museum of Art to see The Record, a show in which artists repurpose, reimagine, and are inspired by The Record.   Final discussion about affordances:  what one can and cannot do with a technology (and how, sometimes, it is far more than you think!)

Peer editors will publish A Readers Guide to Room on the and will tweet, blog, Facebook, and in other ways work to make connections to others interested in the book.

Drop/add ends.

Monday, Jan. 31  Group 1:   Open Topic
Peer Leaders:  ___________  _______________
Wednesday, Feb. 2

Monday, Feb. 7  Group 2:   Literacies:  Authorship, publishing, reading, writing
Peer Leaders: ________________   ________________

Wednesday, Feb. 9    NOTE: Noon-230   240 Franklin Center
1 2 pm: HASTACS WATC in 240 Franklin Center (Erwin Road and Trent Drive) -- Kathleen Fitzpatrick The Future of Authorship:  Writing in the Digital Age   Followed by Q and A with English 90.     Peer leaders will conduct the Q and A with Professor Fitzpatrick, Professor of Media Studies at Pomona College, and will select and assign some of her work to the class.   Her academic biography can be found here:   Also read her blog, Planned Obsolescence:  Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy:

Monday, Feb. 14   NOTE:  Lecture by Vittorio Gallese, 12-1, Schiano Auditorium, Side B, Fitzpatrick Center, CIEMAS  Our class has been invited to attend this special lecture by the distingjuished neuroscientist whose lab discovered mirror neurons, Vittorio Galese, with Professor Michael Platt's reading group for Cognitive Neurosciences:

Group 3:   Possible Literacies:  Social cognition, empathy, aesthetic appreciation, collaboration (mirror neurons)
Peer Leaders:  ____________   ________________

Wednesday, Feb. 16  Group 3, cont:   Literacies:  Social cognition, empathy, aesthetic appreciation , collaboration (mirror neurons)
Monday, Feb. 21  Group 3, cont.

Wednesday, Feb. 23  Group 4:  Open Topic
Peer Leaders:  ______________  _________________

Monday, Feb. 28   Group 4, cont

Wednesday, March 2   NOTE:   No face-to-face class today;  this is an out-of-class collective midterm essay.
You will all be contributing to the class wiki;  each student must contribute substantively at least twice.    Challenge Topic:   What are 21st Century Literacies?  What, if anything, connects these literacies?  Why are they important?   
         The end product is a collective blog post on on this topic, approximately 500-1500 words.   Submit the blog by midnight, March 2, to TA Ms. Beck and she will post on behalf of the class.
(Assessment: TAP Lingold will determine whether students have all met their contract for this assignment.)

Saturday, March 5 - Sunday, March 13

Monday, March 14  Group 5:  Literacies:  Human/Computer Interaction, Mind/Body
Peer Leaders:  _____________  ________________

Peer leaders will introduce and guide the discussion with a special visitor who will be coming to our class (Smith Warehouse Garage, regular class time), science writer Michael Chorost, author of Rebuilt and World Wide Mind:  The Coming Integration of Humanity, Machines, and the Internet (Free Press).  

Wednesday, March 16   Group 5, continued
Monday, March 21   Group 5: continued

Wednesday, March 23    Synthesis sessions (led by Prof Davidson)
Monday, March 28  Synthesis sessions (led by Prof Davidson)

Wednesday, March 30  Group 6:  Open Topic
Peer Leaders:  _____________   _______________

March 30 and April 4 sessions coordinated by TAP Lingold and TA Beck; please address any questions to them.
Monday, April 4  Group 6, continued
Wednesday, April 6   Group 6, continued

Monday, April 11   Group 7, Open Topic
Peer Leaders:  ________________ __________________

We dnesday, April 13  Group 7, continued

Monday, April 18   Group 8, Open Topic
Peer Leaders: ________________   ______________________

Wednesday, April 20 Group 8, continued

Monday, April 25   21st Century Literacies Wrap Up
 Screening of the rough cuts of the three-minute literacy videos by Groups 1, 2, 3, and 4.  Feedback and discussion from the class.

Wednesday, April 27  21st Century Literacies Wrap Up:   
 Screening of rough cuts of three-minute literacy videos by Groups 5, 6, 7, and 8.   

Thursday, May 5
FINAL EXAM, 9 AM NOON   All final cuts of the three-minute multimedia collaborative videos must be posted by noon on May 5, final exam time, to the HASTAC YouTube channel.  
Please see TA Beck about how to do this well in advance of the due date.  Failure to post on time will result in Unsatisfactory completion of this part of your contact, with attendant penalties, as described in the contract.

*   *   *   *

Here is a list of the twenty-first century literacies we will be assessing in this course.  Howard Rheingold (Smart Mobs, and many other visionary books, articles, blogs, and tweets on our interconnected age) has defined four "literacies" (  Here's an extended list.   Please add your own items as well.

Attention: What are the new ways that we pay attention in a digital era? How do we need to change our concepts and practices of attention for a new era? How do we learn and practice new forms of attention in a digital age?

Participation: How do we encourage meaningful interaction and participation in a digital age? How can the internet be useful on a cultural, social, or civic level?  Does everyone participate? Who is left out, who is in?  How can that change?

Collaboration: Collaboration can simply reconfirm consensus, acting more as peer pressure than a lever to truly original thinking. HASTAC has cultivated the methodology of collaboration by difference to inspire meaningful ways of working together.

Network awareness: How can we both thrive as creative individuals and understand our contribution within a network of others? How do you gain a sense of what that extended network is and what it can do?

Global Consciousness: How does the World Wide Web change our responsibilities in and to the world we live in? How does the World Wide Web really weave--who is or isn't part of the fabric of digital communication?

Design: How is information conveyed differently, effectively, and beautifully in diverse digital forms? Aesthetics form a key part of digital communication. How do we understand and practice the elements of good design as part of our communication and interactive practices?

Narrative, Storytelling: How do narrative elements shape the information we wish to convey, helping it to have force in a world of competing information?

Procedural (Game) Literacy: What are the new tactics and strategies of interactive games, where the multimedia narrative forms changes because of our success or failure? How can we use game mechanics for learning and for motivation in our lives?

Critical consumption of information: Without a filter (editors, experts, and professionals), much information on the internet can be inaccurate, deceptive, or inadequate. How do we learn to be critical? What are the standards of credibility?

Digital Divides, Digital Participation: What divisions still remain in digital culture? Who is included and who excluded? How do basic aspects of economics and culture dictate not only who participates in the digital age but how they participate?

Ethics: What are the new moral imperatives of our interconnected age?  What questions do we need to ask in an interconnected world about our ethical obligations and imperatives?

Assessment:  What are the best, most fluid, most adaptive and helpful ways to measure progress and productivity, not as fixed goals, but as a part of a productive process that also requires innovation and creativity?

Preservation: What are the requirements for preserving the digital world we are creating? Paper lasts. Platforms change. On the other hands, some ephemeral aspects of digital communication are remarkably persistent.  How do we value preservation and obsolescence?

Sustainability: What are the metrics for sustainability in a world where we live on more kilowatts than ever before? How do we protect the environment in a plugged-in era?  What is the waste from the "clean technologies" (they are not) that power the Internet? Where does it go?

Labor:  New technologies often promise to "save labor."  Do they? And whose?  And how?  Who produces the laptop or the mobile that makes our lives easier (and do they make life "easier")?

Affordance :   Digital theory has adapted this important concept from the fields of perceptual and cognitive psychology and as a staple of human-computer interface (HCI) design.  An affordance is the quality or condition of an object or environment that allows individuals to perform certain actions there.  Affordances suggest or invite some possibilitiesbut also preclude others.  What are the affordances of the digital age?  What are the affordances of this versus that technology?

Authorship:  What is an author in a remix age?  What is collaborative authorship?  What is mashup authorship?   And what are the conditions of authorship when anyone can easily and anonymously self-publishbut might not so easily reach a desired audience?

Intellectual Property:    How does interactive, do-it-yourself open source remix potential change what constitutes intellectual property?   What is copyright in the twenty-first century?   How does Creative Commons licensing change or support ideas of intellectual property and ownership?

Mind/Body Dualism: The most basic dualism of Western culturethe split between the mind and the bodyis increasingly challenged by the range of biotechnologies the interface between human and computer.   From nanoscience to neuoroscience to Artificial Intelligence, formerly separate categories merge.

Learning, Unlearning, and Relearning: Alvin Toffler has said that, in the rapidly changing world of the twenty-first century, the most important skill anyone can have is the ability to stop in ones tracks, see what isnt working, and then find ways to unlearn old patterns and relearn how to learn. How is this process especially important in our rapidly changing digital world?

WHAT ELSE?  This list is in contant flux.  Its purpose is to make us aware of how changing technologies changes values, sociologies, politics, relationships, conditions, environments, ecologies, communities.   Please add other categories that require serious, sustained critical thinking as well as creative action to this list.



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