A haptic interface is one that engages our skin before our intellect, our body before our brain.  Certain media devices could be described as peculiarly haptic (e.g., the Xbox Kinect or Apple’s iPad), but there is a way in which all media have the potential to be (or necessarily are) haptic.

A printed book has weight, odor, a certain texture in our hands.  Roland Barthes writes in The Pleasure of the Text, “Text means Tissue” (64), a nod to the literal substances from which books are made (pulp, rag, and animal hide), while also alluding to the materiality of language.  When we read, we engage the physical object of the book in an intimate way, and the words themselves have physical character through the typographical choices that govern how they appear on the page.  Further, each word has shape as we say it, a part of our mouths, lungs, throat, or gut it tickles into action.  Film emulsion is also a sort of tissue, one that can literally degrade or dissolve.  The practice of film spectatorship, especially with genres like horror, engages us viscerally, taking control of us (and our bodies) in an immediate (and sometimes inescapable) way.  Finally, digital texts command even more deliberate physical attention by being increasingly interactive.  They invite us to (or even demand that we) do multiple things with our eyes, brains, and bodies as we (and in order to) experience them.

This course will look back even as it looks forward, considering conventional media like printed texts and 35mm film, in addition to examining more revolutionary digital media.  Throughout the course, we will ask the following sorts of questions:  What influence does the container for a text have on its content?  To what degree does immersion in a text depend upon the physicality of its interface?  How are evolving technologies (like the iPad or Kinect) helping to enliven (or disengage us from) the materiality of digital texts?  We will engage our subjects through discussion of primary and secondary texts but also through our own experiments in multimodal composition.  We will work in unfamiliar media, coming to an understanding of varied interfaces by creating with and for them.

OUTCOMES: The expected Outcomes For First-Year Composition in the Georgia Tech Writing and Communication Program can be found here.  Specific aspects of this document will be referred to in the instructions for each of the assignments you complete this semester.

N. Katherine Hayles, Writing Machines [ISBN: 970-0-262-58215-5]
Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves [ISBN: 978-0-374-70376-8]
Georgia Tech Writing and Communication Program’s custom-designed E-text
Online Readings via links on schedule (Note that some PDFs are password-protected)

REQUIRED FILMS:  (While you are not required to purchase the films, I am including links here in case you want to work more closely with any of these films on the assignments you complete this semester.  You may also want to consider investing in a Netflix membership for this course.  You can get a free trial by clicking here.)

Gary Hustwit, Helvetica (2007)
Gore Verbinski, The Ring (2002)

CLASS PARTICIPATION:  Since this is a collaborative course, focusing heavily on discussion and work in groups, you have a responsibility to yourself and your classmates to show up for class on time and prepared.  The class will be a cooperative learning experience, a true intellectual community.  And so, you and your work are, in a very real sense, the primary texts for this course.  Because of this, participation will be a very large component of your final grade.  More than 2 absences during the semester will lower your final grade for participation by one full letter grade.  More than 4 absences may result in automatic failure of the course.  Also, in order for the class to work together as a community, it is important that you complete all assigned work before each class session.  If you are going to miss class or can’t finish the assigned work for any reason, your best strategy is to discuss this with me in advance either in person or via e-mail.

OFFICE HOURS:  I have scheduled regular office hours and I’m also available by appointment.  If you’d like to meet in person, I’d recommend setting up a time in advance.  I’m always happy to meet with you (to discuss the course or just to chat).  This is the most effective way for me to give you individual attention and get to know you better.  I encourage you to meet with me as early in the semester as possible, especially if you have any particular questions or concerns.  I’m also very easy to reach by e-mail.  In fact, e-mail is (by far) the best and quickest way to contact me.  You can send an e-mail with questions or comments.

E-MAIL:  E-mail is an important component of this course.  I will be sending regular announcements to you via e-mail, so if you do not check your e-mail regularly, you will miss crucial information.

COLLABORATION:  I encourage collaboration on many of the assignments you’ll complete this semester, especially the final project.  If you have questions about the various ways collaboration can work, feel free to chat with me at any point.  

•  Participation.  This includes your attendance, involvement in class discussion, in-class assignments, and small-group work.  As mentioned above, this is (by far) the most important component of the course.

•  Leading Class Discussion.  You will be asked to help lead discussion at least one time throughout the semester.  This is, by no means, a formal presentation.  Rather, on the day you sign up for, be prepared to come to class with a few questions or topics related to the reading/film for that day, and bring at least one or two passages/clips which you’d like the group to look at in detail.  You are also encouraged to engage your group in writing or other activities related to the text you’re discussing.  As you are leading class discussion, I will be mostly silent, moderating the discussions to some degree but primarily acting as a member of the group w/ my own questions, comments, etc.  This activity will generally help shape the direction our discussion takes for the rest of the class period.

•  Blog.  This is an offshoot of class participation.  You will create and maintain a blog where you respond to issues that are raised in our reading and during class discussion.  Unlike journaling or response papers you’d submit only to me, this will give you a chance to practice your writing in a more social forum.  Like journaling, though, this is meant to be an informal outlet, so you shouldn’t worry about this writing being scrutinized or evaluated.  Just make sure your ideas can be understood.  I will occasionally ask you to post a blog entry in response to questions I give to you; however, the majority of your entries will be more flexible, allowing you to respond to any aspect of what we are studying.  

You will post a new entry (of about 500 words) to your blog prior to each class session.  You should also comment (each class day) on a blog entry from at least one of your peers.  These comments should be as collaborative as possible.  In other words, don’t just throw your ideas into a vacuum.  Instead, ask questions of each other and use the other comments as a jumping off point by answering questions, amplifying or complicating ideas, etc.  Make sure to go back and respond to classmates that comment on your blog.  This will help keep your readers happy.

•  Worksheets.  As a tool to help us focus our discussion, there will be a number of short worksheets due during the semester (one of these is already on the syllabus, although more may be added).  These will consist of a single question or a set of questions designed to get you thinking about various themes, conflicts, and issues at play in the works we’ll be discussing.  Refer to the schedule for due dates.

•  Think-aloud Protocol.  For this assignment, you will talk through your engagement with a media interface, describing your interaction with the interface, making observations about its effects, etc.

1. We will discuss think-aloud protocols in class, and you can consult the Wikipedia entry for more info.
2. You should use video to record yourself as you engage with the interface.  You don’t have to use a high-quality video camera.  Feel free to use the video camera on your laptop or cell phone.
3. The final video should be about 3-5 minutes long.  The video can be edited or filmed in a single take.
4. Upload this video to your blog and include a post that reflects on the process and results.
5. This assignment can and should form the basis for your Media Interface Analysis.

•  Media Interface Analysis.  For this assignment, you will close-analyze an interface, offering commentary on the physical details of the interface and how its form influences your engagement with its content.

  1. You can choose to analyze any media interface: printed book, pop-up book, Kindle, Kinect, iPad, etc.  You can also compare two media interfaces, such as theatrical film and the iPhone as a film-viewer.
  2. While you can use images or figures in your analysis, the primary medium for this work should be text.
  3. You are encouraged to rethink text as a medium, considering innovative ways that typography can be used to convey your argument and to illustrate the effects of the interface you examine.
  4. Maintain strict attention to detail in both the form and content of your own work.
  5. While you don’t need a thesis statement, you do need a thesis, an argument that you explore in a focused way throughout your analysis.
  6. Think in terms of volume not number of words, both literally and figuratively.  In other words, it matters less how many words you produce and matters more how much you communicate with them.
  7. Post this assignment on your blog and include a description of the work and what it accomplishes.

•  Poster.  For this assignment, you will create a poster that engages in an analytic or argumentative way with House of Leaves, which we’ll be discussing throughout the semester.

  1. You are encouraged to collaborate on this assignment in a group of 2-3.
  2. While you worked with text and typography in your last assignment, this one will focus on using images, layout, and graphic design to convey its central points.
  3. We will discuss specific directions you might go with this work as the due date approaches.
  4. Print a large-format poster that you’ll bring to class for display on the due date.  The cheapest way to do this is to use the poster printer in the library or the one in the Craft Center in the Student Center.
  5. Upload to your blog and include an artist’s statement that discusses the choices you made with your work.

•  Final Project.  For this assignment, you’ll compose for a haptic medium.  

  1. The parameters are fairly wide open, so feel free to creatively interpret any of the following rules.
  2. You can choose to work in any of the haptic media we’ve discussed throughout the semester, including but not limited to artist’s book, pop-up, comic, film, video game, web-based media, installation, performance art, etc.  The idea is for you to do a bit of creative work yourself, investigating one or more of the subjects of the course, using whatever style/form/medium you find best suited to the task.
  3. As with the other assignments, you should have a clear argument.  Even if your work is primarily creative in nature, you should still think carefully about what you are trying to convey.  
  4. Include a 500 - 750 word artist’s statement along with (or as part of) your work.  
  5. You are encouraged to collaborate on this project in a group of 2-3.
  6. Archive this project on your blog in whatever way feels appropriate to you.

GRADING:  While I will be assigning final grades, you will also be evaluating your own work.  At the middle of the semester, you will write a midterm self-evaluation that reflects on your work and contributions throughout the course.  You will complete a similar self-evaluation at the end of the semester.  Having your account of your own process is a very big part of how I assign grades.  I will be giving feedback as necessary on major assignments, and you will definitely hear from me if I have concerns about your self-evaluations.  The intention here is to help you focus on working in a more organic way, as opposed to working as you think you are expected to.  If this process causes you anxiety, see me at any point to confer about your performance in the course to date.  

Participation (including worksheets, leading class discussion, individual conferences, etc.) -- 30%
Think-aloud Protocol -- 10%
Media Interface Analysis -- 10%
Poster -- 10%
Final Project -- 20%
Midterm and Final Self-evaluations -- 10%
Portfolio -- 10%

ASSIGNMENTS RUBRIC:  As you work on your self-evaluations, please see the Writing and Communication Program’s rubric.

PLAGIARISM: First, let me say that if you are unable to complete an assignment for any reason, it’s in your best interest to discuss the situation with me.  Authorship is a hotly contested topic in the academy.  At what point do we own the words we say and write or the images we create?  Among authors and filmmakers, creative influence, collaboration, and a certain amount of borrowing are acceptable (even encouraged).  So, what sort of statement or warning about plagiarism would be appropriate in this class?  Let me go out on a limb and say:  in this class, I encourage you to borrow ideas (from me, from the authors we read, from the films we watch, from your classmates).  But, even more, I encourage you to truly make them your own—by playing with, manipulating, applying, and otherwise turning them on their head.  In the end, it’s just downright boring to rest on the laurels of others.  It’s altogether more daring (and, frankly, more fun) to invent something new yourself—a new idea, a new way of thinking, a new claim, a new image.  This doesn’t give you license to copy something in its entirety and slap your name on it.  That’s just stealing.  Instead, think very consciously about how you’re influenced by your sources—by the way knowledge and creativity depend on a sort of inheritance.  And think also about the real responsibility you have to those sources.  

LAPTOP COMPUTER USE:  This course requires you to bring your laptop computer to all class meetings.

ACADEMIC CONDUCT:  You are responsible for knowing and abiding by GT’s policy for academic integrity. Consult the Honor Code online at Work that violates the Honor Code will not be accepted and may result in failure of the course. I will also report any serious misconduct to the Office of Student Integrity.

DISABILITY NOTICE:  If you need accommodations for a disability, please contact me at the beginning of the semester so that we can discuss them. You should also contact Access Disabled Assistance Program for Tech Students (ADAPTS) within the first two weeks of the semester so that they can help us to develop reasonable accommodations. For an appointment with a counselor call (404) 894-2564 (voice) / (404) 894-1664 (voice/TDD) or visit 220 Student Services Building. For more information visit


Books and Digital Books

June 27:  Introduction

June 28:  House of Leaves (front matter, pp. 1-23)
Hayles, Writing Machines (pp. 1-33)
Ch. 1: “Overview of Writing and Communication at GA Tech” (E-text)
Worksheet #1 Due

June 29:  Mod, “Books in the Age of the iPad”
“Is Print Dead?”

June 30:  McCloud, Understanding Comics (excerpt)
Weing, “Pup Ponders the Heat Death of the Universe”
Puentedura, “The Infinite Canvas Reloaded”
Scott McCloud on Comics (will watch in class)

Typography and Live Type

July 4:  NO CLASS

July 5:  House of Leaves (pp. 24-152)

July 6:  Helvetica (2007) (will watch together)
Think Aloud Protocol Due (before class)

July 7:  Lupton, Thinking With Type
Young-Hae, Heavy Industries
Fight Club Kinetic Typography
Sections 46-62: “Effective Language” and “Effective Writing” (E-text)

Images and Moving Images
July 11:  House of Leaves (pp. 153-346) (Class Online)
Hayles, Writing Machines (pp. 100-131)
Worksheet #2 Due

July 12:  Adobe InDesign Tutorial (3 - 4:30 in Library Homer Rice Classroom)
Sections 85 and 90 on Visual Rhetoric (E-text)

July 13:  The Ring (2002)
Linda Williams, “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess”
Bring Computer w/ Rough Draft of Media Interface Analysis

July 14:  Media Interface Analysis Due (upload to blog before class)
Midterm Self-evaluation Due (e-mail by Friday 7/15 at midnight)
Watch 3D film in theater (post blog entry about 3D by midnight)
Ebert, “Why I Hate 3-D”
Ebert, “Why 3D Doesn’t Work and Never Will”

Video Games

July 18:  House of Leaves (pp. 347-535)
Section 45 on Multimodal Synergy (E-text)

July 19:  Bissell, “Grand Thefts”
Gamer Revolution - Part 1

July 20:  Limbo
250 - 500 word Final Project Proposal Due
(Components: description, sketch, purpose, audience, delegation)

July 21:  XBox Kinect and PS3 Move
Sixth Sense Technology
Milo, the Virtual Boy
The Future of UI

Digital (web-based) Media

July 25:  House of Leaves (pp. 536-662)

July 26:  Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”
Mosher, “High Wired”
O’Reilly, “What is Web 2.0?”
Hayles, Writing Machines (pp. 34-63)

July 27:  Dialogue in the Dark (Tweet Trip or Blog afterward)
Optional Blog on any of these (to make up for missed entries):
Campbell, “Spawn”
Sloan, Thompson, and McLeran, “Epic”

July 28:  Final Project Work Day (will work together in class)

July 31:  Final Self-evaluation Due (e-mail by midnight) and Upload Portfolio