Digital Literature 101

Course Outline

Course description

This online/distance course explores theoretical and practical considerations for digital literature as it pertains to hypertext, digital and visual poetry, and online discourse communities. The course is at once an exploration of forms of digital literature and a practical approach to developing digital literacy skills.

Course Instructor

Name: Jon Parsons

Email: jwpnfld at gmail dot com

Course Website:

Course Communications and Learning Management System (LMS)

Course communications may take via email or as comments on the course website. While the course instructor may be able to help resolve some technical issues, as the course is a primer on digital literature and digital literacy, you should make every effort to solve any issues independently.

System Requirements

Windows (98, XP, Vista or higher), Mac, or Linux operating systems; must be Adobe Reader, Java and Shockwave enabled (freeware available online).

Approach to Teaching and Learning

Guided discovery and problem solving are the primary modes of investigation. The course strives to answer the question, “What is digital literature?”  The instructor will facilitate the course by directing you to resources where you can find the language to analyze and describe various forms of digital literature.

Learning Outcomes

  • To develop a theoretical understanding of digital literature
  • To develop your ability to communicate and collaborate effectively in online environments
  • To develop an understanding of contentious issues in digital literature
  • To develop digital literacy skills


Blog posts and comments (weekly) – 15%

Discussion forums (weekly) – 10%

Syllabus and digital fluency quiz (week 2) – 5%

Collaborative digital literature project (week 7 and 9) – 30%

Term paper proposal (week8) – 10%

Term paper (week 12) – 30%

 Course Texts

All course texts are available online and are hyperlinked in the course overview below.  It is important in your reading of assigned texts that you think about more than only the content and themes of a particular text, but also how the particular author (or authors) works with digital media and how the readings fit within the overall scope of the course. You are encouraged to take ownership of your learning and read as many digital texts as you can. The web has a constantly expanding corpus of texts and the wider you read the better your appreciation of digital literature will be.

 Brief Course Overview: Discussion Topics and Reading Cues

(Please see Detailed Course Guide for more information and supplemental readings)

                          Week/Topics                                                                     Reading Cues

Week 1

Introduction to Digital Literature I



Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media and Marshal McLuhan Speaks; Michael Joyce, afternoon, a story;

Week 2

Introduction to Digital Literature II




Jim Andrews, McLuhan Reconsidered (part 1 and 2); Adam Kenny, The Museum


Week 3

Hypertext and Literary Form I (Prose)



Raine Koskimma, Digital Texts and Literature (Chapter 1 and 2); Adam Kenny, The Museum


Week 4

Hypertext and Literary Form II (Poetry)


Loss Pequeno Glazier, Introduction to Digital Poetics (essay);  Judy Malloy, where every luminous landscape, Revelations of Secret Surveillance,

Week 5

Digital Poetry


Ana Marie Uribe, Anipoems; Jim Andrews, Enigma n, Seattle Drift; Dan Waber, Strings; Jason Nelson, Birds still warm from Flying

Week 6

Surrealism, Visual Poetry, and HTML



André Breton, Manifesto of Surrealism (essay); Ted Warnell, mo’po; multiple artists, Discharge 6


Week 7

Online discourse communities: Blogging, Twitter, Tumbler, Facebook, etc.



multiple authors, Flashing By; multiple authors, Flowers of Sulfur;


Week 8

Video Games



Goat in Grey Fedora; Jailbreak; Elder Scrolls; Pirate Quest; Second Life; Rule Breaking to ROM Hacking (first few pages), Will Jordan


Week 9

Authorship, copyright, freedom of expression; Google Books; Anonymous; Freedom of Expression in Canada



Week 10

Collaborative Projects Presented




*see supplemental readings in Detailed Course Guide


Week 11

Collaborative Projects Presented




*see supplemental readings in Detailed Course Guide


Week 12




Linda Carroli, speak: a hypertext essay

 Assignments, Due Dates, Grading

1) Blog posts and comments (weekly) – 15%

One focus of our course is the collaborative, community based aspect of digital literature. Rather than only discuss this as an abstraction, you will be actively participating in a discourse community by starting a blog of your own. Blog communities are dynamic and are welcoming of many different voices. However, because of the inherent constraints in this medium, clear writing and effective communication are essential for bloggers to understand one another.

The first step for this assignment: set up a blog of your own and add the URL address to the “student blogs” tab at this link. Every Monday a new writing activity or prompt will be posted with the course material and overview for that week. These writing activities and prompts will engage with course related material from that particular week. Each week you will have until Sunday at 11:55 pm to complete the assigned activity.

Aside from creating posts on your own blog, you are expected to comment on at least two of your peers’ blog posts each week (not two comments on every blog, but comment on any two posts of your choice). You can find links to other student’s blogs in the “student blogs” tab. Blogger has options that allow you to link and follow other blogs from your own page. It is also a good idea to introduce yourself to others in the broader blogosphere (what bloggers call the online community). If you take the time to read other’s posts and leave them a thoughtful comment, they will almost certainly visit your blog and leave a comment on your writing in turn. The blogosphere is a huge realm, and you are sure to find like-minded bloggers with a little searching. If you would like some leads on other blogs, check out the link list on the course blog at this link.

Grades for this component of the course will be awarded for your willingness to participate by making posts and commenting on other student’s blogs. I encourage you to experiment with language and with the blog form, incorporating images, video, and other digital innovation in your work. This will surely help your understanding of course material and may contribute to the collaborative Web 2.0 project later in the course.

***Privacy and anonymity*** Many bloggers write under an alias. If you choose to blog using an assumed name, please let me know in an email which blog is yours so I can track your work. If one of your peers is writing under an alias, please refer to them by that moniker in the blogosphere (even if you know who they are) to protect their privacy and anonymity.

2) Discussion forums (weekly) – 10%

Each week there will be a number of new discussion forums posted in the course site. The course instructor will set the general topic for each forum. Students are expected to contribute to at least one of the forums each week (though of course you may participate in all the discussions if you wish). When posting to forums, be sure that your comment invites response from other students. Asking a good question is a perfectly valid comment. It is not necessary that your discussion contributions be lengthy, however you are discouraged from making one line comments. When responding to comments from other students in forums, try to address your post to a particular person (or a number of people if it makes sense to do so). For more on this, and for other tips on discussion forums, please see “Netiquette in Electronic Class Discussions” in the Course Policies section of this syllabus. For this course component you will be graded based on the degree to which your contributions to the discussion illustrate understanding and engagement with course material. Grades will also be awarded for your active participation and your thoughtfulness in discussion with other students.

3) Syllabus and digital fluency quiz (due end of week 2) – 5%

On the Monday beginning week 2, a short quiz (40 questions) will be posted in the materials and overview for that week. This quiz will test your careful reading of this syllabus and your knowledge of navigating the Web. The answers to all questions pertaining to the syllabus are contained within this document or can be found by following hyperlinks. Questions pertaining to digital fluency will test your ability to problem solve using software applications and to seek out information on the Web. This quiz is due by 11:55 pm on the Sunday ending week 2.

4) Collaborative digital literature project (proposal end of week 7; final project end of week 10) – 30%

This assignment asks you to work in a group and collaboratively create a work of digital literature. The most likely platforms you may consider to host and disseminate your project are Web 2.0 applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, blogs, Youtube, etc. These are good places you can get free space on the web. Likewise, you might also consider the mode of presentation – mobile phones, art on campus, or installation in place. Other potential projects could take up hypertext narratives, dramatic readings, or a treasure hunt in the absurdity of Victorian Literature on the Web. All proposals for projects will be duly considered as long as they demonstrate literariness.

The first thing you will need to do is to join a group, the formation of which is up to you. From your interactions in the forums, through Desire2Learn messages and on the blogs, invite, ask, or otherwise create a group of four. Please read this short webpage on group roles and group dynamics. Groups should be established by the end of week 5. If you have an idea for a project, you are encouraged to get in touch with other students and invite them to join in. However you formed your groups and whatever the final project, the most important thing is that you participate and try to contribute. I am happy to offer advice as your project progresses.

There are two elements of this assignment:

A) Proposal (due end of week 7) – 10%

o   Title

o   Group members

o   Description of the project (navigation, interactivity, media used, etc)

o   Relevance to digital literature

o   Potential pitfalls or difficulties that may be encountered

o   The instructor must approve the project and may suggest modifications

B) Final Project (due end of week 9) – 20%

o   Links to group projects to be posted online

o   We will explore the projects and discuss them in week 10 and 11

Projects will be evaluated using self-assessment, group assessment, and instructor assessment. A self-assessment form will be distributed that asks you to evaluate your own contribution and participation. You will be asked to describe how your project functions and contributes to (or complicates) our understanding of digital literature. You will also be asked to evaluate the contributions and participation of other group members. Remember, not all group members will have the same skills and people can contribute to groups in many ways. Before evaluating your peers, please revisit this short webpage on group roles and group dynamics. Once your self-assessment and group assessment have been submitted, the instructor will consolidate the evaluations and assess the project as a whole. Grades will be based on the combination of these three assessments.

5) Term paper proposal (due end of week 8) – 10%

For essay topics and more details, please see the section for the “Term paper” assignment below. Your term paper proposal should have the following elements:

·         Title

·         Your name

·         Thesis statement

·         Primary work(s) to be discussed

·         Secondary sources

·         Overview of the essay

·         Bibliography

You may find it convenient to write your proposal as though it was the introduction of your essay.  Based on the feedback from your instructor, you should expand and re-working your ideas during the last four weeks of the course. The minimum length for your proposal is 750 words. Although the proposal is not a formal essay, you should still cite all sources and follow standard practice for formatting. Please check “MLA Documentation and Formatting” in this syllabus for formal guidelines. Your proposal is due by 11:55 pm on the Sunday ending week 8 and should be submitted through …..???

6) Term paper (due end of week 12) – 30%

Your term paper should as its base one of the weekly topics from the course (digital poetry, hypertext, video games, etc.). The particular work(s) you decide to write on are up to you, and may include works outside of the reading list. Your essay should be grounded in a theoretical understanding of digital literature, and so in formulating your argument you will want to answer the question “What is digital literature?” In this way, you will discuss why the particular work(s) you are studying are (or are not) digital literature. Along with the primary work(s), your essay should take into account some of the secondary/theoretical sources.  You may use the theoretical essays from the course as secondary literature, but are encouraged to seek further sources on your particular topic. You will be graded based on the strength of your argument, the formal structure of your essay, writing style, and the quality and appropriateness of evidence. Please check “MLA Documentation and Formatting” below for formal guidelines. The term paper should be approximately 2500 words (plus or minus 200 words) and is to be submitted via email to the instructor. The due date for the term paper is 11:55 pm on the Sunday ending week 12. Late essays will be penalized at a rate of 5% per day to a maximum of 7 days.

MLA Documentation and Formatting

Your essay (both the first draft and the final submission) must comply with MLA style and guidelines, must be typed, double-spaced, and use standard one inch margins. Make sure to number your pages in the top right hand corner. For formatting, quotation, and documentation guidelines, consult the MLA section of the OWL, Purdue University ( ). Pay particular attention to documentation of electronic sources. As this is an evolving field, citation and documentation of electronic texts may require adaptation of traditional MLA styles.

Netiquette in Electronic Class Discussions

The following has been modified from the Handbook for Instructors on the Use of the Electronic Class Discussion, Ohio State University by Nancy Chism

Netiquette is the term used to describe rules of courtesy in using electronic communication. These rules are intended to help us use the medium effectively and considerately. Because this form of communication is fairly new, users might not realize the ways in which they are offending or inconveniencing others. The ideas below are intended to help in the particular case of electronic class discussion.

  1. Remember that you are addressing a group. Even though you don’t see them, they will be reading. This means several things:
    • Don’t say things that you wouldn’t say publicly.
    • Don’t address comments to individuals unless you want all to know what you are telling that person.
    • Don’t share confidential information. If you are quoting from something another person has sent you personally, ask their permission first.
    • Read your message before you send it since once it is out there, you can’t change it.
    • Include in your reply only that part of a previous message that is relevant. This means that if you are using an automatic reply function, you will have to cut out portions that are not needed or delete the text and substitute a summary, when needed for clarity.
    • Use the subject line to identify what the message is about so that readers can know whether it concerns them or not.
    • Keep the length of your message reasonable. If you are citing or quoting long pieces of text, these can be appended as an attachment, rather than as part of the message itself.
    • Try to keep to the topic rather than introducing side issues or irrelevant postings.
  2. Access your electronic mail regularly and read through all the messages that have been posted before you reply, avoiding responding to discussions that have become stale or taken another direction as well as not repeating a comment that someone else has already made.
  3. Because electronic communication does not show smiles and frowns, (other than the graphic kind) or employ intonation, humour and sarcasm might be misunderstood. Use these carefully and employ good word choice so that your meaning comes through clearly.
  4. Avoid sending unkind messages. Besides angering others and reflecting poorly on you, they may have the effect of shutting down discussion. When critical comments are called for, try to frame them constructively and tactfully.
  5. Aim for clarity and readability in your text. Paragraph often, avoid using only capital letters, and stay away from character symbols and conventions that get in the way of visual comfort.
  6. Although electronic communication can be very informal, try for good language usage so that your message comes through rather than your mistakes (many mail programs have spell checkers). Avoid correcting other people’s language, however. Try to be clear, indicating what you are talking about fully instead of presuming that others know which message you are responding to, what book you are referring to, and the like.