ENGL 385

English 385: New Media and Digital Literacy

Tuesday and Thursday 2:30 – 3:45 PM

Instructor: Earl H. Brooks 

Location: Webex virtual meetings

Contact: earlb@umbc.edu

Office Hours: Monday and Wednesday 1:00-3:00 PM

Course Goals

This course explores the intersections of race, ethnicity, discourse, media, and communication systems. In addition to introducing students to social theories, cybercultures, and other aspects of digital communication, students will explore issues of representation, identity, education, justice, inequality, and power. Students will engage and compose a research with attention to the evaluation and application of rhetorical theory to digital media and communication technologies.

Course Objectives

  1. Acculturate students to current conversations surrounding media and technology.
  2. Provide students with opportunities to explore digital humanities projects
  3. Investigate important intellectual and political questions through the field of rhetoric and composition studies.

Grading Structure

Reading Responses: 40%

Essay: 30%

Class Participation: 30%

Final grade/percentage breakdown:

90-100% A

80-89% B

70-79% C

Assigned Readings List

AuthorBook Title
Everett, Anna (2009)  Digital Diaspora: A Race for Cyberspace
Carey, Tamika (2016)  Rhetorical Healing: The Reeducation of Contemporary Black Womanhood  
Tufekci, Zeynep (2017)  Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest  
Noble, Safiya (2018)Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism  
Gates, Racquel J. (2018)Double Negative: The Black Image and Popular Culture  
Marantz, Andrew (2019)Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation  
Tolentino, Jia (2019)Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-delusion  
Pomerantsev, Peter (2019)This is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality  


Students who log into class without having the assigned texts/readings in hand, not having read, or who are otherwise unprepared for class discussion will be marked absent. If you are without copies of the assigned texts more than 2 times, your final grade will be lowered by one full letter grade per each occurrence. Purchase or print up the assigned texts early—do not wait to try to purchase books (online or at the bookstore) at the last minute.

Course Requirements

To pass this course you must complete all the major assignments, fulfill all the weekly assignments, and submit all the writing assignments on time. You are expected to attend all class meetings and to participate in draft workshops, in-class exercises, and classroom discussions. All proposals, drafts, papers, and final revisions must be handed in on time; failure to turn in a proposal on time, or to appear at a draft workshop without a draft is equivalent to turning in an assignment late (i.e., normally a penalty of one grade per late day).


Simply put, I expect you to log in to each class session. For simplicity’s sake (and in fairness to others enrolled in the course), I DO NOT distinguish between excused and unexcused absences. (Do not approach me with doctor’s notes.) Each person is allotted 2 absences, no penalty. For every additional class session, you miss or arrive unprepared for, your final grade for the course will be reduced one full letter grade per extra absence. Please see me personally if you have a mitigating medical circumstance consistent with UMBC policies or circumstances related to COVID-19 that require special consideration.

Office Conferences

There will be at least two mandatory conferences. Also, I am happy to meet with you in advance of a deadline to offer advice. You can come to my office hours or schedule an appointment with me. Please keep in mind that my job is not to proofread your work. When you come to a meeting with me, you should have some specific questions or concerns to discuss.

Peer Review

Our peer-review sessions will happen in designated class sessions. In most cases, you will exchange your work with a class member prior to the peer review session so that they have time to review your work and provide feedback. We will spend these class periods reviewing both the projects/papers and the feedback. I take peer review very seriously as it is one of the most efficient ways to grow as a writer and thinker. Even professional writers spend countless hours writing, editing, and rewriting their work. Composing is a process that requires revision. Most importantly, this idea of revision goes beyond fixing mistakes. It’s about improving all aspects of composing, including its argumentative, aesthetic, and organizational attributes.

If you miss a peer review day, you must take measures to send your work to a classmate for comment outside of class. I will not accept projects that have not been peer reviewed.

Listening Assignments and Listening Responses

Sometimes I will assign listening assignments that will accompany the reading. I will give you plenty of advanced warning so that you have time to prepare.

Class Citizenship

The class citizenship grade is based on your role as a student and colleague irrespective of essay/project grades. This portion of your grade will take into account your preparation for class, your completion of any homework assignments, your participation in class discussion and writing assignments, your adherence to the rules for class etiquette, and your presence at conferences with me.

Class Etiquette

During this course we will discuss a wide range of topics, some of which may be sensitive or even alienating for you; I urge you to keep in mind that we all have different personal experiences, diverse beliefs, and opinions about such topics. This class is a safe place where we will debate ideas. We will learn a great deal through discussing various views and perspectives if we make a commitment to listening to each other and to honoring each other’s backgrounds, values, and feelings. We will always treat one another with respect and dignity. While I or your peers speak, I expect your full attention. Distractions (talking, laughing, etc.) can be problematic for me as well as for your fellow classmates. Such behavior will harm your grade.


Please make sure cell phones are turned off and computers powered down at the start of class. Anyone checking email, text-messaging, getting up to leave class, etc. will be marked as absent

Graded Essays and Projects

When I return your work to you, I ask that you wait 24 hours to contact me about the grade. Please use those 24 hours to review your work and read my comments carefully. Once you’ve done that and 24 hours have passed, I will be happy to meet with you to offer further comments or answer questions. Please keep all graded material until the end of the semester.


By enrolling in this course, each student assumes the responsibilities of an active participant in UMBC’s scholarly community in which everyone’s academic work and behavior are held to the highest standards of honesty. Cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and helping others to commit these acts are all forms of academic dishonesty, and they are wrong. Academic misconduct could result in disciplinary action that may include, but is not limited to, suspension or dismissal. To read the full Student Academic Conduct Policy, consult UMBC policies, or the Faculty Handbook (Section 14.3).


Before beginning your essay, you will submit a brief proposal (1 or 2 paragraphs) that explains your ideas and ambitions for the assignment. This will allow us to have a dialogue about what your plans are for the assignment. Proposals will also serve as a space to communicate any questions or concerns you have about the assignment.

Statement on Nondiscrimination

The University of Maryland Baltimore County is committed to the policy that all persons shall have equal access to programs, facilities, admission and employment without regard to personal characteristics not related to ability, performance, or qualifications as determined by University policy or by state or federal authorities. It is the policy of the University to maintain an academic and work environment free of discrimination, including harassment. UMBC prohibits discrimination and harassment against any person because of age, ancestry, color, disability or handicap, national origin, race, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or veteran status. Discrimination or harassment against faculty, staff, or students will not be tolerated.

Note: UMBC encourages qualified persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any kind of accommodation in this course or have questions about physical access, please tell me as soon as possible.


WARNING: I have high expectations for you. When this semester ends, you will not be given your grade—you will have earned it. This syllabus shows you how it is possible to earn a competitive grade in this course. Turning that possibility into a probability will entail a lot of reading, writing, listening, and speaking; above all, it will involve a lot of thinking. You will have to possess (or quickly develop) intellectual curiosity and a capacity to engage enthusiastically with complex material. You will also have to work hard. However, as I hope you have already discovered, hard work can be satisfying, not only when it is rewarded but also when it is directed toward a worthwhile goal. If you make an active intellectual commitment to the class, if you are eager to learn, and if you persistently hone your abilities, you will do well. To attain your learning goals, you must recognize that your university education constitutes your full-time job. According to NSSE (National Survey of Student Engagement) guidelines, for every hour spent in class, you need to devote another two to three hours to academic work outside class. To do well, you will thus need to augment your almost six and a half hours a week of work in the classroom with an average of 10 to 12 hours a week of related work outside the classroom. Your goal, however, should not solely be to achieve a good grade for the course but to make significant progress in your own career of lifelong learning and writing. Now, you know something about what I expect from you. What can you expect from me? I am here to help you learn to think critically. If you ask me something that I don’t know, I will work with you to discover the answer. I will show you why learning to think and write critically is important. By challenging you to reach high standards, I shall help you to educate yourself. The workload will be demanding, but I shall never give you busywork: everything I ask of you will be aimed at making you a more accomplished writer, a more discerning reader, a more effective speaker, a more perceptive listener, and a more astute thinker.

Reading Quizzes

There may be sporadic short quizzes of three questions. Usually, these quizzes will be similar to a freewriting exercise in order to warmup for our class discussions. These quizzes will be graded as pass/fail and serve the purpose of supporting your class participation grade. Rest assured, there will be no “got cha” questions meant to cause students to stumble. In other words, the questions will address important concepts or ideas within the reading and not narrow details or obscure minutia.

Class Discussions and Reading Assignments

Our class discussions have three important purposes:

  1. They facilitate the examination of ideas for their merits and applicability which supports the learning processes
  2. They prepare students for careers that require strong communication and critical thinking skills
  3. They provide students the opportunity to ask questions about the material explored within the course

Class discussions will be supported by the assigned readings. To ensure the quality of our discussions, each student will be required to complete a brief post to Blackboard about the following prompts. You must answer all three prompts to receive full credit.

1. Head Scratcher- Identify a quote that you find challenging or inspires your curiosity about something. State the quote and two questions you have about the quote that would expand your understanding of the text.

2. Double Take- Identify a quote that you find to be provocative, controversial, or attention-grabbing. Describe why you found this quote so thought-provoking.

3. Words to Live By- Identify a quote that you feel speaks to your daily life, personal goals, or career ambitions. The idea here is to make it personal. Describe why this quote stands out to you and how you understand its application beyond the scope of the text.

This post will be due before class on days when there is an assigned reading. You must also bring your post to class to support our class discussion. I will usually begin class by asking you about what you wrote in your responses.

Course Essay Assignment


Compose an essay on a topic related to themes and/or ideas that arise from course readings and class discussions. I will work with you to select a topic that serves your interests and goals. We will approach writing this essay in a methodical and efficient way that maximizes the amount of peer review and instructor feedback you may receive before turning in the final draft, thus ensuring a final product of higher quality and rigor. Each checkpoint on the course syllabus is designed to promote incremental progress and earnest revision.

Your essay may take on the conventions of the following genres:

Digital Literacy Narrative-

Purpose: Provide an analytical essay about your current new media literacy. Identify tensions in your relationships with new media practices while considering your personal and educational practices as a set of strategic choices, even if many of those small choices are made unconsciously or reflexively. Why and how do you make choices about the time and energy you invest into technology and communication? Are such choices careful decisions or repeating patterns of behavior? Your goal is to identify strategies in your life that you have probably not explicitly addressed as strategies, try to understand them more fully, and then to explain them in a way that is clear, direct, and succinct. Reflect on your own new media literacy and find some place in your behavior that is surprising, confusing, contradictory, or otherwise just really interesting, and then explain it. Your analysis should (1) be grounded by a set of texts (in this case, the texts should help you explain your behaviors and communication) (2) Engage ideas from our course readings that help you explain your own experiences. This essay may be completed as a video, sonic, or written essay.

Position Argument

Purpose: Argue a point. Take a stand. Change a behavior. Correct a misconception. Refute an argument or belief. Launch a manifesto! Identify an interesting problem or issue that merits your taking a stand; translate your stand (or position) into a thesis statement; support the good reasons for your position with specific details and examples; and marshal your reasoning and appeals to persuade others to accept your position by modifying their thinking, behavior, or influence. Whether the issue you choose is serious, light-hearted, or something in between, it must be debatable and lend itself to genuine disagreement.

Directions:Your argument should (1) open by defining the situation or problem that calls for your attention and establishing an audience who is (or should be) invested in this situation or problem; (2) provide a thesis that states your purpose (to express or defend a position, to question or argue against a belief or action, to invite or convince an audience to change an opinion or practice); (3) marshal rhetorical appeals, good reasons, details and examples to enhance your points; (4) acknowledge and respond to opposing viewpoints; and (5) supply a clear, identifiable conclusion that you want your audience to reach or reconsider. As you consider your audience and the possibilities for productive disagreement, be mindful of your tone. You can hold an opinion and advance an idea without being confrontational. In fact, sophisticated arguers concede points to each other and search for common ground. This behavior shows a willingness to engage in genuine dialogue, and it also creates a positive atmosphere for the disagreement.


Purpose: Evaluate an object, phenomenon, policy, or individual that interests you and merits your attention.

Directions: As you introduce the subject, explain why it merits evaluation. Place the topic in a precise category, and then create and defend the criteria by which you will make your key evaluative judgments, negative and/or positive. Throughout the body of your paper, you should use concrete evidence and examples that illustrate the ways in which the object/phenomenon does or does not meet each evaluative criterion.

Rhetorical Analysis

Purpose: A rhetorical analysis examines and explains how an author attempts to influence an audience. That is, rhetorical analyses use specific evidence from the text to establish a generalization (thesis) about the text’s rhetoric (in short, how it persuades its readers by employing the rhetorical appeals, using good reasons, constituting a fitting response, and using the available means to reach an audience).

Directions: Find a visual text, a website, or some other type of media that you deem to be interesting and that has a persuasive aim. By “interesting,” I mean that the text in question must have some sophistication about it: it should be tantalizing and effective at reaching its audience. (There is no point in analyzing the obvious; pick something that makes an interesting argument that readers might be resistant to.) Your analysis should not simply paraphrase or summarize what the author/creators assert. Assume your audience has already read the text you are analyzing and is aware of what it contains. Your purpose is to provide a way of understanding how the text persuades its audience. Throughout the body of your paper, use specific examples from your chosen text to support your claims. Conclude by making a judgment about the text’s rhetorical effectiveness.

Assignment Goals:

1. Build research and project organization skills

2. Increase the clarity, depth, and acumen of student writing

3. Produce a document that may aid future opportunities (graduate applications, fellowships, scholarships, publications, etc.)

Formatting and Length:

Please use 12-point, Times New Roman font with double spaced paragraphs.

Length: at least 20 pages