RHE 309K: Rhetoric of Human Computation

fall 2017 — Spring 2018

At the nexus of human talent and technological advancement lies human computation (HC): the practice of using the processing power of people to solve problems and/or analyze data that computers cannot (yet) solve/analyze and, importantly, vice versa. This promising, problematic union of man and machine is certainly not a new phenomenon—the prosthetic extension of human ability via technology is at least as old as the wheel, the stylus, or the sundial. What is novel, however, is the massive scale on which these extensions are taking place in the 21st century. A number of key figures and HC projects are covered, from within academic research circles and without.

I designed "Rhetoric of Human Computation" to offer students a more nuanced understanding of this emerging field and some of the central claims made by its champions and critics, alike. Course readings provide a variety of viewpoints and foster critical thinking about the rhetorical moves made by different texts (including multimodal and born-digital texts). Arguments for and against distinct disciplinary approaches to human computation are be analyzed for their bias/credibility, intended audience(s), underlying assumptions, and appeals to the classical triad of ethos/pathos/logos. Ultimately, this course asks students to analyze and author arguments about human computation, but also to consider the underlying rhetoricity of human-computer interaction and cooperation.

 

Grading

  •             Project 1: Annotated Bibliography and Research Roadmap (10%)
  •             Project 2.1: Rhetorical Analysis Paper (10%)
  •             Project 2.2: Rhetorical Analysis Paper Revision (15%)
  •             Project 3.1: Argument Proposal Paper (10%)
  •             Project 3.2 Argument Proposal Paper Revision (15%)
  •             Project 4: Capstone: Creative or Computational (10%)

Shorter Assignments: Research Summaries 1-4 (15%)

Participation: In-Class, Canvas LMS, and Quizzes (15%)

Instructor Conferences: Prior to Projects 1 & 4 (Mandatory)

Peer Reviews: For Projects 2 & 3 (Mandatory)

 

Course Material

Readings on rhetoric, reading, and writing:

  • Graff, Gerald, and Cathy Birkenstein. They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing. 3rd Edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 2014.
  • They Say I Say Twitter Bot. Maintained by @rooksbay, bot script written by @zachwhalen (2015).
  • Gottfried, Jeffrey, and Elisa Shearer.  “News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2016.”  Pew Research Center.  May 26, 2016.
  • Jack, Caroline.  “Lexicon of Lies: Terms for Problematic Information.”  Datasociety.com.  August 9, 2017.
  • Bullock, Richard, Michal Brody, and Francine Weinberg. The Little Longhorn Handbook. 2nd Edition.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 2014.

Readings on human computation (selections attuned to a given semester's areas of interest are provided to students on Canvas):

 
  Lesson Plan for Digital Writing and Research Lab (DWRL)   Assessing Reliability and Trustworthiness with/in Blockchains  Can you hear that? A certain high frequency hum which, until recently, was perceptible only to dogs, bats, and cryptography cognoscenti? It’s the mounting buzz over “blockchain”—an umbrella term referring to a number of shared ledger services that promise to revolutionize every aspect of social and political exchange, from financial transactions to medical data, voter registration to birth certificates.  Due in large part to the way they address the twinned threats of system failure and malicious users which plague our increasingly bloated, outmoded, centralized systems of exchange, blockchains already appear to be altering institutions that have structured human life and interaction for centuries. More radical in their (re)imagining of system reliability and trustworthiness than cloud computing, social networks, or the Internet of Things, blockchain-based technologies like Bitcoin are certainly a massive phenomenon. But what is a blockchain? How does it work? And can it actually deliver on what it ostensibly promises?  The answers to these questions are highly complex and, like blockchain itself, require no mean amount of human computing power—whether it’s building consensus or hashing (out) values. That’s where this lesson plan comes in. As an instructor working between classical rhetoric and digital methods, I’ve herein refrained from using technical jargon or delving into algorithmic minutiae in favor of constructing a lesson plan that introduces students to this subject in a straightforward and disciplinarily targeted fashion.  This lesson may be deployed in rhetoric and writing-intensive courses, as it regards blockchain through the lens of ethos and decentralized network exchange (i.e., how we build trust computationally within an anonymous, global community). It may also be used for a course more narrowly focused on political action or public discourse, as it provides insight into the promises, potentialities, and public effects of one of the most transformative technologies of our time.     Learning Objectives  Students will learn the general contours of blockchains, broadly construed, from a nontechnical perspective. This lesson plan presents a rhetorical reading of shared ledgers and asks students to analyze constructions of ethos in older models of distributed agency as well as newer blockchain-based technologies. This means they will come away with a rudimentary understanding of:  -Working definitions of decentralized networks and peer-to-peer (P2P) exchange.  -The promises and pitfalls of reliability and trustworthiness associated with decentralized networks and P2P exchange.  -Working definitions of blockchain and select narrower applications (e.g., Bitcoin and smart contracts).  -The promises and potential pitfalls of this technology, in comparison to its forebears.      See more  here.

Lesson Plan for Digital Writing and Research Lab (DWRL)

Assessing Reliability and Trustworthiness with/in Blockchains

Can you hear that? A certain high frequency hum which, until recently, was perceptible only to dogs, bats, and cryptography cognoscenti? It’s the mounting buzz over “blockchain”—an umbrella term referring to a number of shared ledger services that promise to revolutionize every aspect of social and political exchange, from financial transactions to medical data, voter registration to birth certificates.

Due in large part to the way they address the twinned threats of system failure and malicious users which plague our increasingly bloated, outmoded, centralized systems of exchange, blockchains already appear to be altering institutions that have structured human life and interaction for centuries. More radical in their (re)imagining of system reliability and trustworthiness than cloud computing, social networks, or the Internet of Things, blockchain-based technologies like Bitcoin are certainly a massive phenomenon. But what is a blockchain? How does it work? And can it actually deliver on what it ostensibly promises?

The answers to these questions are highly complex and, like blockchain itself, require no mean amount of human computing power—whether it’s building consensus or hashing (out) values. That’s where this lesson plan comes in. As an instructor working between classical rhetoric and digital methods, I’ve herein refrained from using technical jargon or delving into algorithmic minutiae in favor of constructing a lesson plan that introduces students to this subject in a straightforward and disciplinarily targeted fashion.

This lesson may be deployed in rhetoric and writing-intensive courses, as it regards blockchain through the lens of ethos and decentralized network exchange (i.e., how we build trust computationally within an anonymous, global community). It may also be used for a course more narrowly focused on political action or public discourse, as it provides insight into the promises, potentialities, and public effects of one of the most transformative technologies of our time.

 

Learning Objectives

Students will learn the general contours of blockchains, broadly construed, from a nontechnical perspective. This lesson plan presents a rhetorical reading of shared ledgers and asks students to analyze constructions of ethos in older models of distributed agency as well as newer blockchain-based technologies. This means they will come away with a rudimentary understanding of:

-Working definitions of decentralized networks and peer-to-peer (P2P) exchange.

-The promises and pitfalls of reliability and trustworthiness associated with decentralized networks and P2P exchange.

-Working definitions of blockchain and select narrower applications (e.g., Bitcoin and smart contracts).

-The promises and potential pitfalls of this technology, in comparison to its forebears.

 

See more here.