Digital Folklore and Culture
ENGL 334-001 / MW 1430-1545 / HLG 321 / Schedule
Pr. John Laudun / HLG 356 / MW 1200-1400 & by appointment
Memes, fake news, trolling, rickrolling are all well-established forms of internet behavior and are as much a part of our everyday lives as grandma’s gumbo. English 334: Digital Folklore and Culture explores the varieties and depths of vernacular digital cultures, from the first email forwards to the latest tiktoks and everything in between. Course activities include curating collections of digital materials; learning how to parse digital content; annotating, sorting, and compiling data sets; applying appropriate analytical frameworks; and exploring ways to present your ideas effectively. The final project focuses on an online collection and a poster session.
This course is designed for students:
- who do not currently have a working understanding of folklore, tradition, and/or culture but perhaps do have some understanding of human behavior;
- who are interested in developing a working understanding of culture, and its many forms / behaviors;
- who are interested in a basic understanding, and experience, of the research practice that lies behind scholarly and scientific domains.
Course Learning Goals
There are three learning goals for this course, which intertwine and overlap over the course of the semester and which will be demonstrated through a variety of activities and assignments, some of which occur in-class and some out of class. By the end of this course you should be able to:
- read scholarly and scientific analyses of human behavior,
- discover for yourself how those analyses apply directly or indirectly to online behaviors in general and your own research (interests) in particular,
- by applying definitions, models, or analytical concepts in your own writing.
Writing is a significant component of any communication, be it scientific or professional, and participants in this course will be required to assume those voices necessary to accomplishing a particular task. In addition, as a course in folklore studies participants will also create documentation containing both metadata and data in an appropriate structure.
Please purchase the following books either from the university bookstore or from your preferred vendor. Amazon links are provided only for convenience. Both books are available as Kindle editions, and you are free to purchase them as ebooks, but I will be working with paper copies and referencing page numbers.
McCulloch, Gretchen. 2020. Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language. Riverhead Books. ISBN: 978-0735210943. Amazon.
Paltridge, Brian. 2021. Discourse Analysis: An Introduction. Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN: 978-1350093621. Amazon.
In addition to these books, a fair amount of reading for this course is scholarly materials available either in on-line databases, like JSTOR, or through the course’s Moodle site. Much of that reading will be as PDFs, so please make sure you either have a PDF reader with which you are very happy or you can print the PDFs.
In addition to the texts we encounter in class, there are other resources that may be useful to those either in need of a bit more discussion or seeking to expand their understanding. JSTOR, for example, offers a variety of tutorials: some are simply slides or texts that you can read on your own and others are interactive tutorials hosted on their own Moodle setup. (Registration is required, but once you are registered, you’ll discover a number of short videos as well as interactive exercises. If you allocate 20 minutes per session for a few days, you’ll learn something.)
In case you are unclear, there is a difference between primary and secondary sources in many fields, though the distinction can be blurry in disciplines, like folklore studies and cultural anthropology, that create their own source materials.
As an upper-division course, this course assumes all participants are already familiar with accessing and using scholarly and scientific materials in both print and on-line forms. If not, then your first course of action is to take a library tutorial. (See also the guide on how to access JSTOR, and other resources, from off campus.) It also assumes you are familiar with the University’s Code of Conduct. This class is conducted as if we are are all professionals engaged in a mutually rewarding endeavor to which all of us contribute in order to succeed. That means coming prepared, not being distracted, and being engaged with not only the course materials but also each other.
The schedule of graded assignments is:
- Participation (20%) includes active participation in discussions, activities, and assignments. Discussions & Activities: An important dimension of learning is voicing your ideas either orally or in writing, which is often far easier in conversation than it is in the more formal setting of an assignment. Use these opportunities to your best advantage. I try to use a variety of activities, and discussion formats, in class meetings to help balance those with preferences for extroversion with those for preferences for introversion. Assignments: Unless otherwise specified, homework assignments to be handed-in are due at the start of class; postings to Teams are due by 0800 of the day of class. If they are to (If you have particular ideas or suggestions about what might work best for you and/or others, please feel free to pass those along.)
- Quizzes / Exams (40%): A lot of recent work in learning has suggeted that regular testing of things recently learned is the best way to improve recall and facility. This semester this course is using weekly quizzes to explore how well that works. Each week a quiz will be given. At the end of the quiz, if you feel confident in your answers, you may turn it in for credit. Sufficient number of correctly-answered weekly quizzes will make either of the exams, mid-term and final, optional. If you would prefer to hold onto your quiz for personal review, you are free to do so. Answers will be provided after the quiz – in some cases later in the class meeting and in others the next meeting – so that you can check your understanding. The two exams, then, are each worth 20% and ask you to take concepts and methods taken from the readings and apply them in a very constrained way to novel examples, to examples from another reading, or from your own work. If you’ve kept up with the reading, lectures, and discussions, these are pretty straightforward.
- Project (40%): Drawing upon the ideas, forms, and materials we have discussed this course expects you to strike out on your own, gathering your own data, perhaps even data sets, analyzing it, and bringing appropriate (and novel) ideas and concepts to bear. The project’s output will be a poster and accompanying presentation. (Details on the project page.)
This semester we will be using Microsoft Teams for group communications: I will use it to communicate with the class as a whole and also with class groups. Participants should feel free to set up their own groups, and could use the notion of having peer contacts (see below) to set up smaller chat groups.
In general, if you have a question about the course, please ask it in the main course channel on Teams: chances are quite good that others have the same question. If you have something more personal, than please do either “chat” with me one-on-one or email me. In both cases, please allow 24 hours for me to respond, outside of weekends. (Please also note that I tend to check email only once a day, in the morning.) If something is an emergency, then you should not be contacting me. I would be useless.
Peer Contact Information
Do not hesitate. Immediately look around where you are sitting and get the name and number of two responsible looking people. Not the cute one — because getting his or her number that way would be just creepy, but someone who has at least your level of maturity, if not higher. Write that information below so that when you do have to miss class, then you can contact them about what you missed.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me.