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,” 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.
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.)
I recommend purchasing your own copies of the first two texts, as they are relatively inexpensive and will be useful additions to your personal library. The final two texts are also valuable and required, but can be accessed in full-text form via your home campus’s library database(s). Let me know as soon as possible if you are having trouble accessing either of these texts online.
 Benkler, Yochai, Robert Faris, and Hal Roberts. Networked Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics. Oxford UP, 2018.
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.