ENG-W 600: Mindfulness, Misinformation, & Media in Composition Studies

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Course Description

This graduate-level special topics course in rhetoric and composition studies focuses on the intersections of mindfulness, misinformation, and media in recent scholarly discussions to foreground the following questions: first, how might mindfulness and/or contemplative writing pedagogies help us and our students resist the lure of problematic information (e.g., misinformation, disinformation, “networked propaganda,” [Benkler, Faris, and Roberts], etc.) and digital polarization on the web and social media? Second, how can these same techniques help us to navigate the epistemological complexities of living and thriving in a (post-)digital context? Third, how can we develop the habits of mind that will empower us as professionals, scholars, and citizens? And if we are educators or aspiring educators, how can we impart these capacities to our students?

These are complicated questions. As such, they resist easy answers. In the exploratory spirit of a special topics course, then, this course will provide you with the intellectual space to begin to flesh out some of your own answers to one or more of these significant questions through a series of readings, discussions, and exploratory projects.

Here’s how the course is organized: in the Introductory Module (IM), we will set the table for the rest of the course by learning some basic terminology concerning problematic information (misinformation/disinformation), digital polarization, and the complexities of digital media. The IM will also provide you with some basic information regarding Canvas and how best to get in touch with me and each other over the course of this rather short six-week summer term.

In the first full module, “Media,” we will take stock of our own professional and personal engagements with digital media of all kinds by reflecting on how we use media and give us some sense of our “information diets.” Like the IM, this module will also involve learning some basic terminology and getting better acquainted with some of the core concepts of digital media.

In the second module, “Misinformation,” we explore recent conversations surrounding problematic information, digital polarization, and the weaponization of information. Much of the work in this module will involve reading core texts in these areas and developing a working understanding of the major concepts, moves, and stakes of these important conversations. The major project for this module involves an exploratory presentation on some concept related to one of these areas.

Our third module, “Mindfulness,” then reaches outside rhetoric and composition studies to disciplines as diverse as cognitive psychology, critical media studies, and communication theory in an effort to understand the contemporary complexity and reach of misinformation and media environments into our lives and those of our students. In this way, the third module zooms out to consider how print and digital media have evolved over the course of the last century in Western culture. Finally, we conclude the course by reflecting on what we have learned and thinking ahead to how some of these concepts might be applied to our personal and professional lives.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of this course, students will be able to

  • Describe, identify, and discuss meditative practices as they have appeared in Western culture (from traditional Buddhism to the corporate boardroom);
  • Describe, identify, and discuss recent scholarship in rhetoric and composition studies that examines mindfulness and contemplative writing pedagogies;
  • Describe, identify, and discuss the historical, cultural, economic, and political development of “fake news,” misinformation, disinformation, satire, and other forms of problematic information and networked propaganda;
  • Use research and scholarship from diverse disciplines to craft an effective multimodal presentation; and
  • Stake out a corner of the vast (and growing) research landscape on media, misinformation, and mindfulness to inform your pedagogical approach.

Required Course Texts

  • Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 1970. Continuum, 2000. (Link to Amazon site.)
  • McIntyre, Lee. Post-Truth. MIT, 2018. (Link to Amazon site.)
  • Ragoonaden, Karen, editor. Mindful Teaching and Learning: Developing a Pedagogy of Well-Being. Lexington Books, 2015. (Available in full-text at this link. You may need to use your IU credentials to access the e-book.)
  • Wenger, Christy I. Yoga Minds, Writing Bodies: Contemplative Writing Pedagogy. Parlor, 2015.   (Available in full-text at this link.)
  • Special issue on contemplative writing across the disciplines (WAC) in Across the Disciplines, eds. Marlowe Miller and Karolyn Kinane, 31 Mar. 2019, wac.colostate.edu/atd/special/contemplative/.

Reflection and Revision Statement (2019)

Developing and teaching this course was a labor of love. By 2019, my research into misinformation studies and the epistemological foundations of the postdigital era had led me to begin looking at the ways that mindfulness might be useful for recognizing and countering some of the harmful effects of problematic information. As my research into information disorder continued (Wardle and Derakhshan), I became increasingly intrigued by the anxiety and emotional turmoil of living in an “always on” culture characterized by personalized social media feeds, algorithmic manipulation, and the overwhelming tidal wave of information that Jay David Bolter calls “digital plenitude.” By digital plenitude, Bolter means a multiplicity of information and cultural forms so vast and rhizomatic that it simply cannot be understood in the whole.

I became particularly curious as to how the most cutting-edge research on the epistemological situation of the postdigital era might be brought to bear on teaching and learning. That is, how might we equip students to not only be efficient fact-checkers and SIFTers of information on the web and social media (Caulfield), but also to be mindfully aware of the complex ways in which our attention (and quite often our emotions) are hijacked by the digital landscapes on which we work, play, and live?

I wondered, how might a scholarly examination of mindfulness, coupled with a structured focus on the history and make-up of digital culture (with some Freirean liberatory pedagogy tossed in for good measure), help teachers and knowledge workers from all sorts of backgrounds make sense of this unprecedented moment in history. (Recall that in 2019, the word “unprecedented” had not yet jumped the shark.)

This course, ENG-W 600: Mindfulness, Misinformation, & Media, was an attempt to take these questions seriously, and to engage a small seminar of graduate students in this critical exploration. Because the seminar was so small (only six students registered), the reporting threshold for course evaluations was not met, which means that no formal evaluations exist for ENG-W 600. This is unfortunate because I received several notes of thanks and appreciation from students upon completion of this course, like this one:

I just wanted to extend a quick thank you for your guidance and instruction over the summer. Though, initially, I felt a bit overwhelmed, your tips and feedback in our discussions and on our projects really kept me grounded. The third module really resonated with me and it was the most enjoyable.

I hope that I will be able to incorporate some of the learning into the classroom (even with a brand new curriculum). I am sharing much of my learning with our media specialist, as the direction seems to be aligned with the course objectives in this class.

In one-on-one conversations with students enrolled in the course, I received more positive feedback on the course, with one student calling her reading of Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and its application to our present era “eye opening and life changing.” In general, though the group was small, this course had a big impact on my own teaching, as it was an attempt to put into pedagogical practice the ideas, themes, and concepts that had been percolating through my research in misinformation studies for some time.

In this course, as in other online courses I have developed since 2018 when I first developed ENG-W 500, I used the TILT method for assignment transparency developed initially by Mary-Ann Winkelmes, now at Brandeis University. You can see this method in action in my major projects linked below in the final section of this course profile. The TILT method has proven transformative in my courses in general, and I find it particularly useful in fully online courses, as it provides much of the scaffolding, explanations, and pedagogical rationales in writing that would in many cases be communicated to students live in a face-to-face class.

Course Outline

Introductory Module (Week 1)

This initial module will involve getting to know Canvas, helping your colleagues and me get to know you, setting some goals for the course, and reading about the course learning outcomes. We will also do a bit of introductory reading to get us oriented to the course topics, themes and key concepts. The module will conclude with a reflection on what you hope to accomplish in this online class over the course of the next several weeks.

Module 1: Media (Week 2)

In this module, we will round out our discussion of media—traditional, digital, and social—by examining an eclectic series of readings, including McIntyre’s helpful overview in Post-Truth, the Truth Decay report from the Rand Corporation, Dennis Baron’s classic essay “From Pencils to Pixels,” and excerpts from other texts, including Plato’s ancient dialogue the Phaedrus. The major project for this module will invite you to complete a reading analysis based on the rather extensive reading we will be doing in our first week and engage in some discussion with your colleagues in the course.

Module 2: Misinformation (Weeks 3 and 4)

Module 2 will focus on problematic information (disinformation, misinformation, propaganda, etc.) in all its various forms and guises. Your major project for this module will include a multi-modal exploratory presentation on some aspect of problematic information. Since much of our work in this module will focus on the politics of information and how increased literacy leads to individual and political empowerment, our readings in Module 2 will include Freire’s landmark book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, as well as a smattering of articles and essays on the history of misinformation and the weaponization of media in the digital age.

Module 3: Mindfulness (Weeks 5 and 6)

Our final module involves exploring ways that mindfulness and contemplative writing pedagogies can help to minimize the harmful effects of misinformation in an information-rich, post-digital society. The major project for Module 3 asks you to develop an annotated bibliography on mindfulness and either a short research paper (8-10 pages) or a multimodal research presentation of similar intellectual heft that you can use in a professional or educational/pedagogical context. The majority of our readings for Module 3 will include excerpts from the books Mindful Teaching and Learning: Developing a Pedagogy of Well-Being and Yoga Minds, Writing Bodies: Contemplative Writing Pedagogy.

Weekly Course Overview (Summer Session II 2019)

Week One — 6/26 – 7/03 = Introductory Module 0.5 (IM)
  • Getting accustomed to the class through the Introductory Discussion Forum
  • Reading from the home page in Canvas
  • Responding to colleagues’ discussion posts; asking a question of your instructor
  • Reading about Student Learning Outcomes, Disciplinary Standards, and some basic terminology related to problematic information/misinformation, digital polarization, and post-truth
  • Responding to the above readings
  • Viewing a video on setting personal goals
Week Two 7/03 – 7/10 = Module 1 (Media)
  • Reading McIntyre’s Post-Truth
  • Reading Truth Decay (Rand Corporation)
  • Reading Baron’s “From Pencils to Pixels”
  • Reading Ragoonaden’s “Mindful Education and Well Being”
  • Completing Major Project 1
Weeks Three & Four — 7/10 – 7/24 = Module 2 (Misinformation)
  • Finishing reading McIntyre’s Post-Truth
  • Reading Jack’s “Lexicon of Lies”
  • Reading Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed
  • Reading chapters from Southwell, et al.’s Misinformation and Mass Audiences
  • Completing an analysis of one of the readings
  • Producing an exploratory presentation based on the Module 2 readings and your own research
  • Responding to the exploratory presentation drafts of your colleagues
  • Reflecting on your learning during the module
  • Completing Major Project 2
Weeks Five & Six — 7/24 ­– 8/07 = Module 3 (Mindfulness)
  • Researching and writing an annotated bibliography on some concept related to the course and your professional life
  • Developing a final presentation or short research paper on this concept
  • Reflecting on your learning during the module
  • Completing Major Project 3
  • Final grades posted by noon on August 9

Course Syllabus and Select Course Materials

ENG-W 600 Syllabus (Summer 2019)

Course Reading List

Problematic Information Timeline Project

Problematic Information Analysis Project

Mindfulness Annotated Bibliography Project

Audio lecture #1

Audio lecture #2

Audio lecture #3

Audio lecture #4

Audio lecture #5

***

Work Cited

Benkler, Yochai, Robert Faris, and Hal Roberts. Networked Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics. Oxford UP, 2018.

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