Week 1

Week 1

This is the first of the weekly newsletters I will send out this semester. I am sending this out on a Sunday, but in general I will send them on Fridays. For the most part, they will be divided into three sections: “General Reminders & Announcements” (these will concern our class as well as any opportunities, etc. that come up college-wide), “Completed Work” (this will discuss what we have done and will usually focus on the week that the newsletter is sent), and “Upcoming Work.” Please read the entire newsletter each week. I will post them as announcements on Blackboard and the course site, and I will email them to you. These will supplement what on the course syllabus, but also check the syllabus once or twice each week.

General Reminders & Announcements

  • It is very important that you keep in touch with your professors, especially while we are holding classes online. All of us want you to succeed in our courses and learn things that will interest and benefit you throughout your lives. Communication—in the case of this class, by email—is very important. Please reach out to me if you are confused, want to schedule a meeting, wish to discuss late work, etc.
  • I have taken one pass at grading Blog Post #1, and I will take another one tonight. If you haven’t done so already, please post yours by the end of today. As I’ve told some of you already, I would like the work for each week to be completed by Friday, but if you get behind on a given week reach out to me and we will work something out.
  • As I read through the posts, I noticed that some of you have not “published” yours yet. I didn’t grade these because I assume you are still editing the post. Please click the “Publish” button once you are done. I also didn’t give you a grade if you posted your blog response as a comment on someone else’s post. Please post all blog responses as stand-alone posts.
  • I have decided to post tutorial videos to the course site here. As of now, you will find two, one that offers a shorter guide for how to post to the blog and one that covers hypothesis, which is a tool I will be using to comment on your blog posts and one you will use later to annotate (mark up, post questions, etc.) readings for the class.
  • And, last thing about blog posts, I want you to think of these as informal opportunities to try out ideas from course material. The questions are open-ended, and my hope is that help you to think through ideas from this material. It’s not as important for you to get a question “correct” as it is for you to address it specifically and as fully as you can.
  • Paper 1: the assignment for this paper will be out on Monday. Look for an announcement on that day.

Completed Work

  • The big, important task of Week 1 was getting started. You learned to navigate how each of your professors have interpreted this online learning environment. This is a big challenge that you should all congratulate yourselves for seeing through. We have all made different choices, and we have different skills: some of us are very good at digital learning and some of us have never touched a computer. Good job!
  • You also introduced yourselves using the course blog, and I enjoyed reading about all of your interests and what brought you to the College. I won’t get the chance to meet you in person until we go back to campus, and even then, you will have completed this course and gone on to bigger and better things. So, it was really nice to get a chance to learn about you in your posts. 
  • In the second half of the week you encountered the first bit of the materials you will encounter throughout the semester. These were the “Introduction” to Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein’s They Say/I Sayand two videos from the Smart History project: “The Power to Look” and “How Art Can Help You Analyze.” These two materials represent the genres of course material: most weeks you will encounter something about the writing process and something else about visual or aural perception.
  • In the “Introduction” to They Say/I Say, Graff and Birkenstein lay out these key points:
    • Writing consists of using established moves and conventions to express ideas.
    • Writing only holds meaning if it is done within the context of what others are saying. In other words, your writing only makes sense if it is stated in response to what others are saying.
    • It is possible for one to practice these moves and become a better writer.
    • One useful way of practicing is to use template models of these moves that convey the structure of academic/argumentative sentences.
    • All of these points are in service to the overall definition of writing the book lays out: that writing is only meaningful when it is in dialogue with what others are saying, when it is thought of as “entering the conversation” about its subject.
  • You also watched the two videos from the Smart History project. These videos frame how I want us to deal with visual art in this first unit. This is not an art history class; it’s a writing class. But, carefully analyzing a piece of visual artwork is a great exercise in close analysis, and close analysis, well-organized, is probably one of the top two skills a writer should have. (The other one I would put on that list is the ability to develop a central argument over the course of an essay.)
  • Many of you rightly pointed out in your blog posts that one of the major points the videos make is that looking at art helps us focus on details and this spills into other facets of life and careers. The other point I would like you to consider from these videos, as well as the other material in the course, is that every artwork is about perception itself; every artwork tries to get us to think about how we perceive the world: how we put visual information in logical order, what we pay attention to, what we should pay attention to, how do changes in angles change our perception etc. In this way, works of art ask us to think about how we analyze and use visual information as well as how visual information is structured. 

Upcoming Work:

  • I will be posting a screencast on this chapter on Monday, but here are some key things to keep in mind from the chapter:
    • Start with what others say
    • “…summarize what ‘they say’ as soon as you can in your text, and remind readers of it at strategic points as your text unfolds.”
    • “…to keep an audience engaged, a writer needs to explain what he or she is responding to–either before offering that response or, at least, very early in the discussion.”
    • Say what “they say” and what you are saying together and as quickly as possible.
    • Keep what “they say” in view throughout your text
  • You will also watch episode two from John Berger’s 1972 BBC television project Ways of Seeing. In this project, Berger tries to get us to see how power dynamics are involved in the production and control of images by asking us to think about how the artist controls and shapes the viewer’s gaze, how he or she treats the subject, how viewers move their eyes around the frame of the image.
    • In the case of this episode, he focuses on representations of women. Berger defines a distinction between the female nude and nakedness. According to him, the female nude is a constructed image of female sexuality meant to satisfy the desires of the male viewer; whereas, actual nakedness is not constructed. It occurs on the fly, when we are least conscious about it. Berger ties this distinction to the objectification of women.
    • In thinking about this further you might ask yourselves if the same thing takes place with depictions of women nowadays. For instance, when Beyonce creates a sexualized image of herself does the same problem Berger identifies arise? Or, is something different going on? You might also think about the role of social media and the “selfie” in this regard. If an Instagram user creates a “sexy” post of herself is she objectifying herself or is she controlling her own image?

As always let me know if you have questions