Instructor: Alan Jacobs

Office: Morrison 203.7

Email: alan [underscore] jacobs [at] baylor [dot] edu


This class is all about questions: How is the rise of digital technologies changing some of the fundamental practices of the intellectual life: reading, writing, and researching? How does writing on a computer differ from writing on a typewriter, or (still more) writing by hand? Has Google made information just too easy to find? Is the experience of reading on a Kindle or iPad significantly different from that of reading a paper codex? Moreover, how are these changes affecting the intellectual culture and communal practices of the Christian faith? We will explore these questions through a range of readings and conversational topics, and through trying out some interesting digital and analog tools.

But this is also a class in which we will reflect more generally on why you are here, in the Honors College of Baylor, and what you need to do (and be) to flourish. So we will also spend some time thinking about the character and purposes of liberal education, and I will explain to you why you need to buy earplugs and wash your hands regularly.

I have ordered two books for you to buy: Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that Will Shape the Future and David Sax, The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter. All other readings will be PDFs available in this Dropbox folder.

Assignments

  1. There will be frequent (pop!) quizzes on your readings; these will count a total of 25% of your grade.
  2. You will choose a digital or analog tool with which to organize your academic life this semester, learn to use it well, and give an oral report on it to the class, along with a handout. 15%
  3. You will write a 3500-word research essay on a topic of your choosing, subject to approval by me. I will work with you to choose a good topic and focus it properly, and will read and evaluate a draft of the essay before you hand in a final version. 40%
  4. In lieu of a final exam, you will write a personal narrative identifying the most important things you leaned in this class; as part of that you’ll offer a final evaluation of your chosen organizational tool. 20%
  5. Borderline grades will be decided by class participation.

Here’s a handy list of organizational tools you might try, starting with digital ones:

And now analog (paper-based) ones:

Here’s a guide to helping you think through the options — keyed to the Getting Things Done system, which is fine, though it’s not the only useful system out there. The key to this assignment is that you choose a tool and seriously commit to it, for this semester, anyway. You are of course welcome to ditch it as soon as the term is over. But what I am asking for is a semester-long experiment, so that you will have detailed information to share with the rest of us. N.B.: All the options I am suggesting here are free — if you want to pay for an app or service, you are certainly welcome to, but I wouldn’t ask that of you.

Policies

My policies on attendance, grading, and pretty much everything else may be found here. You’ll find a good deal of other useful information on that site also.


Schedule

This is a course on how the digital worlds we live in now — our technologies of knowledge and communication — will inevitably shape our experience as learners. So let’s begin by trying to get a grip on the digital tech that shapes our everyday lives:

  • 8.22 Introduction to course (with handouts)
  • 8.24 boyd, It’s Complicated, Introduction and Chapter 7
  • 8.29 Wilmer, Sherman, and Chein, “Smartphones and Cognition”
  • 8.31 Rosen, “My Little Sister Taught Me How to Snapchat”

But you’re not just smartphone users, you’re college students. So let’s try to get a better understanding of why we’re here — or why we might be:

  • 9.5 Meilaender, “Who Needs a Liberal Education?“
  • 9.7 Carr, “The Crisis in Higher Education”; Robbins, “Home College”

With some of the initial coordinates in place, let’s get some historical context:

  • 9.12 Jacobs, “Christianity and the Book”
  • 9.14 Blair, “Information Overload”

And now let’s take a deeper dive into the conditions of our moment, and of the near future:

  • 9.19 Kelly, The Inevitable, Introduction and Chapters 1-4
  • 9.21 Kelly, Chapters 5-8
  • 9.26 Kelly, Chapters 9-12
  • 9.28 Sax, The Revenge of Analog, Introduction and Part I
  • 10.3 Sax, Part II
  • 10.5 Concluding discussion of Kelly and Sax

We’ll spend a couple of days finding out how your experiments in organization have been going:

  • 10.10 reports from half of you
  • 10.12 reports from the rest of you

Now that we’re pretty well equipped to think more seriously about the technological and educational challenges facing us, we’ll spend the rest of the term learning some practical strategies for information management, and revisiting some of the key issues we’ve raised in light of our recently acquired knowledge. First, you’re going to get a break from reading:

  • 10.17 Dr. J’s Handy Guide to Owning Your Online Turf, Part 1
  • 10.19 Dr. J’s Handy Guide to Owning Your Online Turf, Part 2

So, back to reading:

  • 10.24 Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers, Parts I-III
  • 10.26 Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers, Parts IV-VI
  • 10.31 further discussion of Web Literacy
  • 11.2 Piper, “Out of Touch” and Clive Thompson, “Reading War and Peace on my Phone”
  • 11.7 Mueller and Oppenheimer, “The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard”; Hensher, “Why Handwriting Matters”; Trubek, “Handwriting Just Doesn’t Matter”
  • 11.9 Zomorodi, “Bored and Brilliant”; draft of research essay due

And finally, we’ll put what we’ve learned to use in thinking about what kind of education we’re pursuing here in the Honors College at Baylor:

  • 11.14 Jacobs, “Renewing the University”
  • 11.16 writing day; research essay due 11.17
  • 11.21 “Engaging the Future of Higher Education”
  • 11.23 THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY
  • 11.28 continued discussion of “Engaging the Future”
  • 11.30 Wrapping up
  • 12.5 Personal narrative due