This is a post hoc website with materials from my Summer 2020 course taught online asynchronously for Northeastern University’s English department. This course originally lived in Canvas.

You can read the collaborative manifesto that the students and I co-authored for their final project here.

I’ve posted the course’s syllabus materials, such as:

  • policies and grade breakdowns
  • assignment descriptions
  • a schedule of readings and assignments

What’s not here:

  • most discussion board prompts or student discussions
  • my weekly orienting notes to students
  • materials like readings, except linkable ones

Department Course Description

Who, or what, decides what shows up on your media feeds and in Google searches? Increasingly, it’s “algorithms.” Instead of following human-written instructions to perform tasks, computers are more often writing their own algorithms for themselves, based on data about our digital lives. How do we function as readers and writers in this changing landscape, in which digital technologies can act, free from their creators, and determine what we “should” experience? We will read, watch, and listen to a range of popular and academic texts to understand how algorithms are lent the power to shape values, ethics, and what counts as knowledge. In your writing assignments, you will explore possibilities to confront critically algorithms and the information they deliver. Along the way, we’ll consider algorithms as texts themselves and think about where a line might be between writing and coding, or reading and “compiling.” We’ll study the computer code in which algorithms are written and read, by us and by machines, as something that might have style and elegance, and we’ll even learn to write some content-mediating code of our own.

An Update Since Registration

Events of the last few months have highlighted for me, even more, an urgent need for attention to the algorithms mediating our engagement with information. Data-driven media outlets have structured our participation in the rhetoric surrounding protests of police violence across the nation. A major social media platform made the decision to fact-check the US President’s posts on a private account, which he also uses as a public platform, recapitulating discourse on “shadowbanning,” content moderation, and “free speech.” We have watched other people (or at least accounts created by people) spread mis/dis-information about the COVID-19 pandemic and response, or maybe we have unwittingly spread it ourselves. This Summer II term, I hope to train you to be critical readers and writers of “algorithmic rhetoric,” in the multiple variations of what I take that phrase to mean. Further, however, I want to stress that identifying and articulating problems is often only the first step toward being an engaged member of communities. In this context, I’d like us to think collectively through how algorithmic processes and literacies might be useful not only for pattern-seeking and analysis, but for remix, intervention, and resistance.

Overview of Course Topics

  • Algorithmic Metaphor
  • Algorithmic Identity & Surveillance
  • Algorithmic Literacy & Logics
  • Algorithmic Bias & Mediation
  • Algorithmic Agency, Ethics, & Accountability
  • Algorithmic Remix and Resistance