Syllabus 2018

English 457: Electronic Communication

Web-Based Class (Not DCE): 3 Credits, Spring 2018


Phone:                         231-7147 (w)

Office:                        318 E42 Minard Hall

Office Hours:             Tues, Wed, Thur, 9-12.  Online most evenings.

Course URL:     

Catalog Description

This web-based class will explore issues related to electronic communication through selected readings, projects that allow students to develop skills and insight through experiential learning, and though reflection on the dynamics of online education itself. Prereq: ENGL 120.

Specific Course Description for Spring 2018.

This course in electronic communication will focus on how non-profit organizations use social media. The first half of the course will focus on reading about strategies, analyzing the work of non-profits in ND and Western MN as they try to raise money for Giving Hearts Day (Thursday Feb. 8th), and developing your own online persona and style.  The second half will be dedicated to a service learning, professional writing project: you will work with an organization to develop and implement a social media strategy.

The course will be predominantly asynchronous, but synchronous online meetings via Zoom and face-to-face meetings with me can be arranged if desired or necessary.  Students will need to meet with, or at least talk to, the organization they work with during the second half of the semester.

This course will be conducted almost entirely on the web. I encourage you to set up a blog using your own name, and to comment on other students’ work using your own name.  If you are uncomfortable doing so, you may blog under a pseudonym.  If you do not want to set up a blog, a Twitter account, InstaGram, and generally interact online with others outside of Blackboard, this class will NOT be the right class for you.

Required texts

  • Mahoney, Meghan L. Strategic Social Media: From Marketing to Social Change. Wiley and Sons, 2017.
  • Mansfield, Heather.  Social Media for Social Good: A How-to Guide for Nonprofits.  New York: McGraw Hill, 2012.
  • Halvorson, Kristina, and Rach, Melissa. Content Strategy for the Web. 2nd Edition. New Riders Press, 2012.

Additional readings will be online or posted on our Blackboard site.   Additional costs may arise: $10 donations during Giving Hearts Day (see what kind of response you get); a HootSuite account for $7 / month (although the free version might suffice); a web hosting service ($6 / month): stuff like that.


So what will you get out of this course?  Of course you will be working on your reading and writing skills (English department outcomes 1 and 2), and you will get a smidgen of research and application of theoretical lens practice, but the course is going to push you hardest on these two outcomes:

Outcome 4: English majors [and all students enrolled in this class] will be able to manage sophisticated writing and research projects, planning, documenting, completing, and assessing work on time and within the constraints of the project.

Outcome 7: English majors [and all students enrolled in this class] will develop professionalism exhibited in such qualities as self-direction, cooperation, civility, reliability, and care in editing and presenting the final product.

These outcomes are pretty general, so a quick list of more specific outcomes includes:

  1. Expanding your awareness of, skill in using, and critical assessment of web 2.0 tools and communication strategies. What are the new and new old rules / tips / guides to “writing” for the web?
  2. Assessing an organization’s web strategy and planning a better one; interacting with an organization and career professionals.   Getting experience executing a web 2.0 strategy.

These outcomes, and this course as a whole, is intended to be the kind of course that might be a stepping stone to work as a social media manager (for profit or nonprofit), online journalist, a (social) entrepreneur, a technical writer, an engaged and wired teacher, or a graduate student in English, Communication, Anthropology, or other fields with an interest in social media and new media.  If you get interested in copyright issues, you might also consider law school.

Assignments in brief

Each assignment is described more fully later in the course guide, and a grading rubric accompanies each assignment.

1. Blogging is the new essay. (Part 1: 250 points; Part 2: 150 points).

Instead of asking you to write a traditional print-based essay about social media, or even a web-based essay about social media, I am going to challenge you to write a short (350-400) word essay almost every week of the semester.  Such an assignment is appropriate for a class like this, but it is also crucial professional training for would-be bloggers.  You need to be prepared to produce engaging, insightful content on a regular (weekly) basis.   I will also give you some specific requirements for the blog posts so that you are not just writing for the web, but you are organizing your information with categories and tags, you are writing for visual appeal, with voice, and shared with networks.  See assignment page for more details.

2. Tweeting, social networking,  being engaged with each other, getting techie: 100 points. 

In some courses, I would call this “class participation.”  I am going to ask you to do a number of small things to stay engaged with the class and each other throughout the course.  I’m also going to ask you to Tweet, post to Instagram, and work on the craft of the “short form” via status updates, photo sharing, and other quick hits.  I’m going to ask you to be active in our private Facebook group. About week 8, I’ll ask you to move your site out to web host so you can get a little more technical–good training if you ever find yourself wanting to set up a website for an organization or personal gain. Or, I’ll let you identify a technical skill or additional service you want to incorporate into your personal social media approach (i.e. Instagram master). During week 10, I’ll ask you to write a self-assessment of this work, although I will also give you feedback on your tweeting and networking throughout the course.  See assignment page for more details.

3. Summary and response of four academic articles, 25 points each.  

This assignment is the most academic of the course. I am asking you to summarize and respond to four academic articles (three of my choosing, one of yours) relevant to this class.  One every four weeks; more details here.

4. Analyzing current web strategy; enhancing an organization’s web strategy. (300 points) 

For this service learning project, you will work collaboratively (groups of 2-3), you will identify an organization (could be NDSU, local, or global—I’ll provide a list but you can find or found your own group) in need to some help with their web presence and web strategy, and you will provide an assessments, a strategic plan, and get a start on the plan.  You will also be trying out tools we covered in the first half, maybe even trying out new tools.

The deliverables are:

  1. The assessment report and strategic web plan. (200)
  2. The web content that you outlined in the plan (could be a new website, blog, video(s), Twitter account, Wikipedia entry, Google Earth entries, etc.).  (100)
  3. A project assessment: how well did the plan work? How well did the group work? How well did you work?  (No point value, but might influence your other scores.)

Assignment page here.

5.  Exams (Midterm and Final): 100 points.  

There will be a midterm and final exam each worth 50 points.  While this class isn’t about memorizing facts, it will be about learning some terminology  and developing some specific electronic communication / web writing / visual communication skills. The exams, in other words, will be a test of conceptual knowledge and your ability to apply concepts to new material. The exams will draw on the assigned texts for the course, so please be sure to purchase and read those materials.


The grading scale for the course is:

A= 1000-901.  Excellent work throughout the course.

B= 900-801. Good to very good work.

C= 800-701. Adequate work.  Meets basic requirements, but lots of room for improvement.

D= 700-601. Inadequate work.  Doesn’t meet some basic requirements.

F= 600 or below. Failure. Incomplete work; could include academic misconduct.

Portfolio statement for English Majors

Students in all English classes are encouraged to save their work electronically and in hard copy; all students in English Capstone 467 will be required to assemble a portfolio of their work in order to prepare students for future employment or graduate school.  The portfolio also functions for the department as the primary means of assessing strengths and weaknesses in the curriculum.

Course Policies

Academic Dishonesty/Plagiarism:  Work submitted for this course must adhere to the Code of Academic Responsibility and Conduct as cited in the Handbook of Student Policies:  “The academic community is operated on the basis of honesty, integrity, and fair play.  Occasionally, this trust is violated when cheating occurs, either inadvertently or deliberately.  This code will serve as the guideline for cases where cheating, plagiarism, or other academic improprieties have occurred. . . . Faculty members may fail the student for the particular assignment, test, or course involved, or they may recommend that the student drop the course in question, or these penalties may be varied with the gravity of the offense and the circumstances of the particular case” (65). See the NDSU policy manual for full details:

Academic Honesty Defined:  All written and oral presentations must “respect the intellectual rights of others.  Statements lifted verbatim from publications must be cited as quotations.  Ideas, summaries or paraphrased material, and other information taken from the literature must be properly referenced” (Guidelines for the Presentation of Disquisitions,  NDSU Graduate School, 4).

Special Needs: In keeping with the Americans with Disabilities Act, I would encourage students with disabilities who need accommodations in this course to contact me as soon as possible so that the appropriate arrangements can be made to address particular needs.


  • Be prepared to spend about 9 hours per week reading, writing, researching, and/or creating.  Some weeks will require less time, some weeks will require more, but this formula (3 credit hours = 9 hours of work) is a standard gauge for college education.
  • Be prepared to sign up for a variety of web-based services: WordPress, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest etc.).  You will not be able to complete the course if you are not willing to sign up for these services; you may quit all services upon completion of the course.
  • Be prepared for an intense course experience.  Sitting back and watching is not possible. If you aren’t finding it challenging to keep up with the reading, posting, and exploring, you might not be trying hard enough. That said, I understand that you might need to unplug once in a while, shift your focus to other projects, check out and then check back in.  I’d just encourage you to let me (and your classmates) know.
  • Because you and your work is really the heart of the class, expect (and foster) a community in the class.  Many people are drawn to social media because it is social.  A class that explores social media should be social (and fun) too.  See quotation by McLuhan below.
  • Collaboration is required, even though you might not meet your classmates.  If we have build a good community, collaboration should be fun, rewarding, and successful. If you don’t know your classmates, collaboration may be difficult.  In today’s distributed workplace, it is not uncommon to work with people you have never met. I even work extensively with people at NDSU I have never met.
  • Show respect for your classmates, their ideas, and their work. This class will require you to share your ideas with classmates through electronic discussion and peer review.  Learning to respect—even understand—diverse perspectives is one of the hallmarks of a university-educated person.
  • Be observant, thoughtful, and curious.  This course should give you an opportunity to look at and reflect on some familiar tools (Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia) while also exploring some (perhaps) new tools: Twitter, Tumblr, Delicious, Google+.
  • Have fun!  I know that when someone tells me to have fun, I rarely do, but in my experience, learning is play.  Marshall McLuhan says it best:

“Learning, the educational process, has long been associated only with the glum.  We speak of the ‘serious’ student.  Our time presents a unique opportunity for learning by means of humor–a perceptive or incisive joke can be more meaningful than platitudes lying between two covers.”   — Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage 10.

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