English 505:  Rhetoric of Science and Technology

Steven D. Krause
Email: (by far the best way to get a hold of me)
Office: 603F Pray-Harrold Hall
Office hours: TR 1:00-3:30, by chance, and by appointment. My preference is to schedule an appointment, and I am also able to “meet” virtually by Google Hangout, etc.
Phone: 734-487-0985. Be advised though that I only check my voice mail when I’m in my office, so unless you know I’m there, send me an email.
Class web site:

Course description

Rhetoric of Science and Technology is a course for technical communicators, writing teachers, and those interested in the history of writing and in language theory. The course will introduce basic theories of rhetoric and focus on their applications in scientific and technical texts. As a student in this course, you will read extensively on issues of rhetoric, the epistemologies and ideologies of science and technology, and the relationships between scientific and technical communities, publications within those fields, and society in general. You will also participate in written, online, and oral discussions of issues important to the rhetoric of science and technology and perform research on a topic of your choice.

Required readings

As of the beginning of the class, there is one required book:

Crowley, Sharon and Debra Hawhee.  Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students. Fourth Edition.  New York:  Pearson/Longman, 2009

If I decide to add a book for the “TBA” second half of the class, I will let you know well in advance and I promise it won’t be an expensive book.

All of the other required readings for this term will be available online– either through eReserves, online resources through the Halle Library, the web, or other electronic resources.

While these resources will be available electronically, you probably should print them out. I know that might seem odd, given that this class is online, but my experience has been that it is a lot easier to do “close readings” of texts when it is on paper.

Online Responsibility

This class is offered completely online. There will  be some optional but strongly encouraged face to face meeting opportunities, and I will of course be available to you in person on campus and electronically for support and help. However, all of the required course activities will take place asynchronously (e.g., at no specific, simultaneous time) and online, mostly on the class blog/web site and emuonline. This arrangement has certain advantages and additional responsibilities for you as a student; in brief, you need to keep these three points in mind:

  • You MUST be comfortable and confident in working with computers before beginning this class;
  • Only YOU can be responsible for your computer and internet access; and
  • I WILL NOT accept under ANY circumstances allow problems with your comfort or access to computer technology as an excuse for completing class activities.

Participation in the class web site discussions, 40%

Your participation in the discussions for this class will be critical to its success.

This is not a class where I can deliver content that you reproduce for a test and/or an essay. Nor is this a cooking class, one where I can simply show and tell you how to braise a chicken and assume you will get it (and my hope is that before too long, you will understand the irony in that last sentence when it comes to the study of rhetoric). Rather, this is a course in which all of us will work together.

It is true that there are significant elements of the course over which you have little control– grading, the assignments, the basic direction of things, and so forth. And it is also true that I do possess a certain level of expertise in the subject matter that you (probably) don’t possess (yet). Nonetheless, for this class to be successful, we have to see this as a collaborative learning experience, one where you need to make contributions to discussions and taking on leadership roles, one where you feel empowered to do so, and one where I encourage that to happen.

So, toward that end, “Participation and collaboration” is primarily about diligently engaging in the readings and discussions on the class web site/blog. This is what will make this whole class work (or not!), because when all is said and done, this is a course about close reading of the texts, about raising questions, about making connections, and about letting go and keeping an open mind about new ideas.

The logistics of the discussion should make sense soon enough; basically, I will initiate discussion about particular readings (questions, observations, etc.) on the class blog, and expect each of you to enter into the conversation in the comment section of the blog. I expect everyone in class to participate in this activity! Keep in mind that one of the differences between an online class and a face to face class is that the only way you can demonstrate “presence” and that you are paying attention is to participate in the conversation.  If you don’t do this, you’re absent. See below on the implications of “Online Attendance.”

You also need to participate in the discussions on a timely basis. Take a look at the schedule, but generally this means the discussions begin on a Monday or a Wednesday; that’s when you should start posting about the readings.  As the schedule indicates, we’ll keep discussing the readings through Wednesday or through Friday, but if everyone waits until the discussion window is almost closed, we won’t really have much of an opportunity for discussion.

An Important Tangent About Reading

Reading and approaching an understanding of rhetorical theory is not easy. The texts we will be encountering this term demand a different kind of attention than what you probably give to magazines, newspapers, novels intended for the beach. These are difficult texts, ones that can sometimes take multiple readings to understand, and ones that many scholars in the field have had strong disagreements about for decades– even centuries.

The difficulty of this reading has four basic implications.  First, completing the assigned reading for each part of the week is going to take you longer than it would to read an equivalent number of pages in a John Grisham (or “name your favorite best seller writer here”) novel. A lot longer. Be sure to budget your time accordingly.

Second, print the readings out! Even though this is an online class and I am making most of the readings available to you electronically, I think you should print them out. Reading on the screen often makes it too easy to skim (and not really understand), whereas a print-out allows for notes in the margins, slower reading, etc.

Third, don’t worry if you don’t get each and every word in each and every reading. No one does the first time through, and anyone who tells you that Kenneth Burke’s or Jaques Derrida’s theories are “crystal clear” is lying to you. It is better to complete (or come close to completing) the reading and, at the end, not “get it,” than it is to give up a few pages into the reading and never give it a chance.

Finally and most importantly, follow this basic strategy for engaging in our readings and discussions:

  • Read the text first for understanding. Don’t judge! Don’t form an opinion! That comes later! Rather, read to get a hold of just what in the heck the writer(s) is(are) saying.
  • Ask/Note questions about the text. Some of this will be things you can do on your own– for example, simply looking things up in a dictionary can help a great deal, not to mention a bit of basic internet research. But much of this will be the energy of the online discussions we have. That cliché “there’s no such thing as a stupid question” is not true. However, I do think that almost any engaged question, even something as basic as “I don’t understand the point here at all,” is an excellent way to enter into discussion.
  • After all this, only then offer an opinion. It is is important that this is the last step (and not the first step) for at least two different reasons. First, we will be reading some things this semester where your initial reaction (prior to reading, thinking about, and discussing the text) might be “well, this just doesn’t make any sense.” Believe me, you should resist that reaction because history (in some cases, thousands of years of it) have proven you wrong. Second, a lot of what we are reading this term has the potential to confront and raise questions about some of your own held beliefs, assumptions about the “way the world works” that you might not have even considered in any detail in the past. This is all part of the learning process, but you can’t experience this (even to reject it) without an open mind.

Online Attendance

Since this is a graduate class, I assume that everyone will participate actively in all of the discussions for all of the readings, and I assume everyone will do this in a timely fashion.  To do less than that will hurt your overall participation grade. However, in order to not be counted as “virtually absent,” you need to post to the class discussion at a minimum of twice a week: once between Monday and Wednesday, and once between Wednesday and Friday. 

If you do not participate at all during the class at a given point in the schedule, I will count you as “absent” from that portion of the class.  If you are absent from the class three times, I will dock your participation grade by 30%, or a total of one letter grade for the course.  If you are absent from the class four times, I will dock your participation grade by 100% and you will not be able to pass the course.

There are no excused absences, so do not bother to email me some sort of note.  Excuses that will most certainly not be tolerated include problems with with your computer or travel where you will not have Internet access.  If something serious happens and we need to make arrangements for health/medical reasons, we can; but generally speaking, there are no exceptions to this policy.

Grading for participation: At midterm, I will have an email conversation with each of you about your progress in terms of participation, and we will do this again at the end of the term as well.

Two Short Rhetorical Analysis Projects, 30%

We will of course discuss the details and possibilities of these assignments as we go along, but in brief:  each of you will write two short (about 1750-2000 or so words, which I think is about seven or eight typed and double-spaced pages– or the equivalent) rhetorical analysis projects.  The goal will be for to apply  some aspect(s) of the rhetorical theories and other texts we will read and discuss this term to some cultural phenomenon.  It is a chance to experiment and “work” with the tools we’re learning about this term in a short and fairly low stakes format.

What sort of “cultural phenomenon,” you ask?  Well, I think you should concern yourselves with issues of “science” and “technology” in the broadest sense of those terms.  A simple stroll through our scheduled readings might give you some general ideas; we will be discussing texts where the scholars analyz the rhetoric and discourse of the space shuttle Challenger disaster, the development of a theory regrading DNA/RNA, pathos and charity letters, and medical writing in ancient Greece.  You might want to consider the discourse practices in a work place, of a web site, of a social phenomenon, of a news event, etc.  Basically, anywhere where you see rhetoric “working” is a potential topic and/or site for these projects.

Final, 30%

Finally, there is a final, which will be a comprehensive and “take-home” exam. I will distribute it during the last week of class, and it will be due on Tuesday, December 17. The final will cover all of the assigned material for the class, including readings we might not discuss in exhaustive detail.

The Fine Print:

Here are two issues I like to include on any syllabus.

Access Services. If you have a documented disability that affects your work in this (or any other) class, Access Services can provide support for you. Call them, or let me know and I can help you to call them, at 734-487-2470 to make necessary arrangements to ensure you success in this course.

Plagiarism. As the Council of Writing Program Administrators puts it, “Plagiarism occurs when a writer deliberately passes off another’s words or ideas without acknowledging their source. For example, turning another’s work as your own is plagiarism.” Don’t do this.

If you plagiarize in this class, you will likely fail the class and your case may be passed to the university for additional disciplinary action.