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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Spring 2009

E 388M • Minds, Texts, and Technology: Composing as a Complex Distributed System

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
34700 F
10:00 AM-1:00 PM
FAC 10

Course Description

Course Description: What do readers, writers, and texts have in common with the human immune system, the economics of the stock market, the rise and fall of a pre Columbian city state, or a ship's navigation crew? Recent interdisciplinary research in complex systems and cognitive science has suggested some intriguing possibilities. This seminar will explore some of the foundational theories emerging from this research and their potential for informing composition studies. The course introduces concepts in situated and distributed cognition, activity theory, distributed cognition, and complexity theory to establish a theoretical framework for analyzing writing situations, as a way of testing the applicability of these theories for rhetoric and composition. One goal of this seminar is to help students define and develop working bibliographies, which are somewhat different from annotated or "works cited" type bibliographies. For this purpose, students will write regular blog responses to the assigned readings. They will prepare a short presentation to the class on a text chosen from the recommended reading list. Students will also be responsible for developing an academic project for publication in print or online.

Course Objectives: There are four main objectives for this course: to provide an introduction to foundational theories of distributed cognition, situated cognition, activity theory, and complex systems as well as their potential application in composition studies and rhetoric; to help students develop strategies for compiling and using working bibliographies, to develop strategies and competencies for reading when there is an overwhelming quantity of worthwhile material to be read, and to develop their ability to create substantial academic works. We may discover that the usefulness of the theories is limited or inappropriate, or we may find them generative in thinking about composing situations. We will look closely not only at the theories themselves, but also at the methodologies used to explore them, and their presentation by various writers. Students will develop academic projects intended for publication in print or online journals. The CWRL classroom: This course is held in a CWRL networked computer classroom, which offers a variety of resources for constructing projects, researching topics, and communicating with each other and with other scholars. This course assumes some prior experience with computers. Students should be familiar with word processing, electronic mail, and Web browsing, and with at least basic Internet search techniques


Jean Lave, Etienne Wenger. Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. (Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive and Computational Perspectives) Cambridge Univ. Press. 1991. 0 521 42374 0.

Varela / Thompson / Rosch. Embodied mind: cognitive science and human experience. MIT press. 0 262 72021 3. Waldrop, Mitchell. Complexity: the emerging science at the edge of order and chaos. Fireside Touchstone. 0 671 87234 6. Fleck, Ludwik. Genesis and development of a scientific fact. Univ. of Chicago Press. 1981. 0 226 25325 2. Hutchins, Edwin. Cognition in the Wild. MIT Press. 1996. 0 262 58146 9. Clark, Andy. Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again. MIT Press. 1996. 0 262 03240 6. Seth Chalklin, Jean Lave (Editor). Understanding Practice: Perspectives on Activity and Context. (Learning in Doing : Social, Cognitive and Computational Perspectives) Cambridge Univ. Press. 1995. 0 521 55851 4. Siegel, Daniel. The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. The Guilford Press. 2001. 1572307404 Syverson, M. A. (1999). The Wealth of Reality: An Ecology of Composition. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.


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