ENGL 347 – Visual Rhetoric
Reading and writing have never been purely alphabetic processes, but in our highly mediated, digitally saturated world, images increasingly dominate our communicative experiences. Moving beyond our aesthetic experience of visual culture, this course focuses on the ways in which visuals provide a means of persuasive communication. We’ll be talking and thinking about how images operate, what they mean, and how we navigate those meanings.
The course is designed as an exploration of the ways in which images and visual elements of design can be read, analyzed, constructed, and manipulated, interrogating how images and visual design inform our reading of historical and political events, of personal identity, of public and private spaces. We’ll use images to think through questions of vision and seeing, media and representation, ideology, reality, power, spectatorship, identity and much more.
At the end of the course, students should be able to:
- Understand the technical and practical affordances of working with images in Adobe Photoshop
- Provide appropriate citation/attribution when working with digital sources
- Apply theories of visual culture and rhetoric to images and other visual artifacts
- Critically analyze how images and elements of visual design can affect and produce audience responses
- Digitally manipulate images to achieve a desired rhetorical effect
- Create visual compositions using design principles to arrange elements effectively
Required Texts and Materials
- Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
- A reliable USB thumb drive on which to save/back up your work
- Accounts with both Wordpress.com and Slack.com
(Highly) Recommended Materials
- 3-month subscription to Adobe Photoshop
- 2-month subscription to Lynda.com (in addition to the free 30-day trial)
While neither of these are required materials for the course, they will be extremely helpful for the work you’ll be doing. I’ll introduce Photoshop tools briefly in class, but much of the learning and experimenting will be done on your own time. Photoshop is available on the classroom computers, and you’ll have access to the room as a computer lab outside of class. However, these hours are obviously more limited than having Photoshop on your own computer. Additionally, although thousands of tutorials for Photoshop can be found on YouTube, Lynda.com offers professional tutorials with searchable transcripts. Being able to quickly find answers will make things much, much easier as you work your way through learning this complicated software.
Below is the most recent schedule I have for the Digital Lab in RSRCA (our classroom), the boxes in green are the open Lab hours for you to work on course projects.
Grading and Assessment
Rather than a traditional model of grading that generates a complex math equation for how much each piece of work is worth in the overall pie chart of coursework, all major assignments are created equal in this class (in a certain sense). Your grade will be based on the work you accomplish and the progress you demonstrate.
Below, I provide detailed and clear expectations for what is required to obtain a B in the class. This is the “contract” by which we will hold each other accountable. Regardless of strengths or weaknesses as writers/creators, anyone in this class can get a B by fulfilling these expectations.
You are guaranteed a B if you:
1. attend class regularly—not missing more than a week's worth of classes (2 absences);
2. meet due dates and writing/composing criteria for all assignments;*
3. participate in all in-class discussions and activities;
4. miss very few informal, low stakes assignments (e.g. reading responses, creative challenges, and in-class exercises);
5. give thoughtful peer feedback during class workshops and work faithfully with your group on other collaborative tasks (e.g. sharing papers, commenting on drafts, peer editing, on-line discussion boards, answering peer questions);
6. sustain effort and investment on each draft of all assignments;
7. copy-edit/proof all final revisions/compositions of main assignments until they conform to the conventions of edited, revised English;
8. make substantive revisions when the assignment is to revise—extending or changing the thinking or organization—not just editing or touching up;
9. attend conferences with the professor to discuss drafts/proposals.
Thus you earn the grade of B entirely on the basis of what you do—on your conscientious effort and participation. The grade of B does not derive from my judgment about the quality of your writing or visual compositions. Grades higher than B, however, do rest on my judgment of writing/composition quality and your participation.
*If any of the work you turn in fails to meet the minimum expectations of the assignment, you will be notified and required to revise it to meet the minimum standards. It will not be considered “complete” until it has been revised (see revision policy below).
While the criteria above clearly outline the requirements/expectations for a B, plus/minuses will be determined by your participation in class and online, and the quality of the work submitted.
Earning an A
The grade of A is reserved for excellent work. Excellent work does not equate with showing up every day, participating once in a while, and turning in completed drafts on time. Those are the average requirements of any class setting, and average equates to a C in this academic setting. Here are some ways to earn an A:
- Produce excellent assignments. What constitutes excellence? Doing more than simply completing the terms of the assignment. An excellent assignment may meet any number of qualities, depending on its purpose and genre. We’ll spend much time analyzing possible qualities for your work, which means you’ll be creating evaluation criteria for your own work. If your texts live up to your own criteria, it’s likely your work will be excellent.
- Participate excellently in class. Excellence in class participation means not simply speaking frequently, but all of the ways I mention in the class participation section below. As some examples, you should contribute in an active and generous way to the work of the class as a whole by asking questions, offering interpretations, politely challenging your classmates, graciously accepting challenges in return, and being a productive group member.
- Be an excellent citizen-scholar. Specifically, be able to demonstrate to me (through discussions, group work, assignment drafts) that you (a) understand and can reflect on the content of this class and show progress toward that knowledge in your final portfolio; (b) reason logically, critically, creatively, independently and consensually, and are able to address issues in a broad and constantly shifting context; (c) recognize different ways of thinking, creating, expressing, and communicating through a variety of media; (d) understand diversity in value systems and cultures in an interdependent world; and (e) develop a capacity for self-assessment and transferable learning.
You are responsible for making your own decisions regarding attendance. I do not excuse absences, but I do like to be informed about your well-being. If an unavoidable problem prevents you from attending class, please contact me as soon as possible, preferably ahead of time, to let me know. Given the size and discussion-based nature of the class, multiple absences will certainly have a negative impact on your grade.
If you show up late or leave early or disappear (or fall asleep) for 15 minutes in the middle of class, it will affect your participation. Timeliness also refers to the time-sensitive nature of completing assignments and turning in equipment on time. I do not accept late work, and I will not give you feedback on anything submitted past the deadline. If you do not have a major assignment ready in time for our workshop days, it is your responsibility to get feedback from your classmates outside of class upon (or before) your return.
Readiness is different from timeliness in that it relates specifically to being prepared by the start-time of the class period (and any outside-of-class work that we do). All homework must be completed before class starts. For instance, uploading of files or posting materials to Slack after the class period has begun will result in a delay of class, which will negatively impact your grade. This bullet also refers to workshop participation and group work participation in that if you do not have a draft ready on workshop day, you are unprepared to provide feedback to your workshop peers, or you are unwilling/unable to perform the responsibilities of your group work, your grade will suffer.
Thoughtfulness translates to critical awareness and participation in all manner of class activities. This may include activities such as having useful, productive questions or discussion items based on homework (readings, assignments, or peer-review work), collegial work completed with your group mates, or thoughtful work demonstrated in the major assignments themselves. In addition (a note for those of you who like to talk a lot), thoughtfulness means that if you constantly need to share in class, but your sharing is largely off-topic, disruptive, or unhelpful, your participation may be more distracting than useful. I will probably talk to you about this before your grade suffers.
Feedback often comes in the form of informal in-class discussions about your assignments and individual or group conferences. For instance, when I and your peers offer critiques of your draft projects, we assume that you will implement those revision suggestions into your drafts. When you don’t, you should have a very good reason in relation to the purpose of the text/composition for not doing so. Otherwise, when I am reviewing your projects, I should be able to see your progress on the text/image from the time it was workshopped as well as from informal, in-class feedback or conferences with me. I hope that this grading system will allow you the freedom and flexibility to take risks in your assignments while also providing time for you to re-envision and revise those drafts into more usable, sophisticated, and polished texts/compositions by the end of the term.
From a curricular perspective, this course fulfills the English Major’s Theory (Category E) requirement, and the Film & Digital Media Minor’s Production requirement. As such, we’ll be bringing both together: theory and practice. The course assignments are designed to push you to learn to apply the theories we work through by analyzing artifacts of visual culture and then creating visual representations of issues and ideas we discuss.
Reading Responses (6)
Responses will be opportunities to critically and creatively engage course readings and case studies as well as provide the starting point for much our class discussion. The goals for these assignments are to a) demonstrate understanding of the major argument(s) of a theory we’ve read and b) apply those ideas/arguments to a cultural artifact.
Creative Challenges (6)
Each week (for the first 10 weeks of class), I will offer up a creative challenge designed to familiarize you with a particular tool or skill set in Adobe Photoshop. You will need to complete at least six of these challenges in the pursuit of building your skills sufficiently to produce the final projects for the course.
Visual Arguments (3)
Your final project in the course will be a set of 3 posters (11x17) created in Photoshop and illustrating concepts covered throughout the course. You’ll be asked to provide a written reflection with each of the posters, discussing your creative process and communicative goals for the piece.
Final Reflection (1)
In lieu of a final exam, you’ll be asked to compose a reflection on your development (both in terms of technical skills and visual thinking) over the course of the semester.
- ability to interact with Wordpress, the course Slack team, and other websites
- access to word processing software and Adobe Photoshop
- a suitable email account checked regularly for course-related business
- a Flash drive or other means to backup coursework
Routine work with technology is a major component of this course. Students need not be technological experts to succeed in this course, but digital technology is integral to the learning outcomes of the course and computer problems are not valid excuses for incomplete work. Practice the core principle of digital data work: redundant backup. Digital technology will fail; be prepared for that eventuality.
I will likely be communicating with you via email with some regularity. Email is an official means of communication at Wofford, and you are expected to check it daily.
I make a concerted effort to respond to all emails within 24 hours. I typically only answer email between 8AM and 5PM, so if you send an email after hours, I’ll get to it the next day. Weekend response times are likely to be longer.
Personal Technology Devices
Students may use laptops, cell phones, and other digital devices during class, provided that they do not disrupt other students’ learning. This is not a trick. This course is situated in an increasingly connected multimedia environment. Each student is responsible for his or her own engagement with class meetings, and thus his or her resultant success or failure.
Much of your work for this course will live publicly on the web within open platforms. If you would like to remain anonymous, I encourage you to use a pseudonym. If you don’t want to include a photograph of yourself, you can upload an avatar to represent you. Think carefully about these choices. We will discuss issues related to privacy and the open web at various points in the semester.
Wofford has a strict and clear honor code, and it applies to all work done for this class. Academic dishonesty will not be tolerated.
For further reading on Wofford’s policies, please refer to the following: http://bit.ly/woffordhonor
Wofford College seeks to provide disabled students with reasonable accommodations needed to ensure equal access to the programs and activities of the college. Support for students with special needs is coordinated through Wofford College Wellness Center/ Accessibility Services. Please let me know how I can best assist you.
Further information can be found at the following: