UNIV 200: Inquiry and the Craft of Argument

Digital Engagement Expedition: “Living the Dreams: Digital Investigations and Unfettered Minds”

Fall term, 2015


This is a Course With Many Names.

Our official name is UNIV 200: Inquiry and the Craft of Argument.

Our special digital engagement expedition name is “Living the Dreams: Digital Investigation and Unfettered Minds.” The “dreams” are those of the pioneers and architects of the digital age, people like Vannevar Bush, J. C. R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Ted Nelson, Alan Kay, and Adele Goldberg. In Phase One of the course, we’ll be reading and working with five essays by these dreamers, learning new concepts that will help us build better questions and better learning networks with our trusty personal, interactive, networked computers (including the one you may have in your pocket right now).

Our catchphrase is thought vectors in concept space. It’s the source of our #thoughtvectors hashtag (Twitter) as well as the plain tag thoughtvectors. Our course librarian, Jenny Stout, has a great video about that phrase. Take a look.


As befits a “digital engagement expedition,” this version of the course experiments with the Web, and the Internet, throughout. It also has several moving parts, which you can read all about right here on our syllabus. Note that the syllabus is “beta,” which means that some of the specifics (synchronous events, activities, interactions) may shift a bit from time to time. We want to be able to respond, whenever possible, to the needs of our learning community in this course of study as those needs emerge. We will do everything in our power to avoid truly nasty surprises (for example, you won’t learn that an assignment due the next week is suddenly due the next day).

These kinds of adjustments are normal for most courses of study, but for a fully online course you’ll need to keep a sharp eye on your email, the Twitter hashtag, your section site, and the main course site (the one you’re on right now) for updates. We’ll push the messages out through as many channels as possible, but it’s up to you to keep yourself “tuned in” to the course activity sites. Work in the “spirit of thoughtvectors.” Commit!

So let’s get started.


One: Orientation and Exploration

Activities/assignments/topics include:
Last time around / this time around
Turning your site on
How does it feel when you think?
Pick a thinker
Introduction to nuggets

Two: “As We May Think” (Vannevar Bush)

Activities/assignments/topics include:
Associative Trails
Considering Inquiry Projects

Three: “Man-Computer Symbiosis” (J. C. R. Licklider)

Activities/assignments/topics include:
Formulative vs. formulated thinking
Designing Inquiry Projects, part one (and considering teams)

Four: “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework” (Doug Engelbart)

Activities/assignments/topics include:
Integrated domains, personal learning networks, dynamic knowledge repositories
Designing Inquiry Projects, part two

Five: Computer Lib / Dream Machines (Ted Nelson)

Activities/assignments/topics include:
Curating and sharing ultra-rich environments
Building Inquiry Projects, part one

Six: Building Inquiry Projects

Activities/assignments/topics include:
Shifting into overdrive: Building Inquiry Projects, part two
Using and citing research sources

Seven: Personal Dynamic Media (Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg)

Activities/assignments/topics include:
Going meta with computers, writing, and research
Mindfulness in writing
Building Inquiry Projects, part three

Phase Two Begins October 19 



Ready for a deeper dive? Here’s an overview of the assignments. You’ll be posting each assignment to your blog, the same place where you do all your daily writing. Your grades will be posted to your section’s Blackboard grade book. Specific writing feedback will be delivered from your professor to you, typically via email. Basically, you’re not going to be graded where everyone can see the grade. Worry not.

The Inquiry Project

The final assignment is the inquiry project. You’ll have to have this finished and published for a grade by the last day of class. It’s worth 35% of your final grade. Think of your inquiry project as a research paper for the digital age: although it will have many of the characteristics of academic writing, it’ll take advantage of thought vectors in concept space–and lots of creativity–to make something much more involving and rewarding than a typical “term paper.”

The Essays & What You Make Of Them

We’re also reading five essays by our “digital dreamers.” For each essay, we’ll be doing three assignments. You’ll be learning more about these assignments as they come up, but here’s a brief summary:

Nuggets: For each reading, we’ll ask you to take a passage from the reading that grabs you in some way and make that passage as meaningful as possible. It could be a passage that puzzles you, or intrigues you, or resonates strongly with you. It could be a passage you agree with, or one you disagree with. The idea here is that the passage evokes some kind of response in you, one that makes you want to work with the passage to make it just as meaningful as possible. A good length for your nugget is about a paragraph or so. Too much, and it becomes unwieldy. Too little, and you don’t have enough to work with.

How do you make something as meaningful as possible? Well, use your imagination. You’ll probably start by copying the nugget into your post. From there, consider hyperlinks, illustrations, video clips, animated gifs, screenshots, whatever. Make the experience as rich and interesting as you can. And as we go along, you’ll have more and more of your classmates’ work to link to as well. In fact, linking and commenting are such vital and necessary parts of this course that they have their own definitions page.

Obviously, one of the main goals of this assignment is to get you to read these essays carefully and respond to them imaginatively. Your work with “nuggets” should be both fun and in earnest. It should demonstrate your own deep engagement and stimulate deep engagement for your reader as well.

Concept Experiences: For each of our five essays, we’ll ask you to experience and reflect on a particular exercise related to a key concept in the essay. The idea here is to turn concepts into experiences–in other words, to take a key “dream” from the essay and make it something you do, something you make. For each essay, we’ll specify the experience and set up the parameters. Each experience will have some game-like elements–some things that are arbitrary, but meaningful. All of them will give you practice in habits of mind and inquiry that will help you create better questions, find better problems, and craft better writing.

Progress Report / Research Reflections: Once a week, typically toward the end of the week (see the schedule below), you should write a blog post reflecting on the week’s experience and asking yourself where you are in relation to the inquiry project you are considering, designing, building, and eventually sharing.

Other Committed Activities

In addition to the specific assignments above or others required by your instructor, which will include many rough drafts of, and reflections on, your budding inquiry projects, you will also need to write write write. And create create create. And explore explore explore.  In other words, you should participate robustly in free-range learning and sharing. What you do should be relevant to the course, of course, but please think of “relevant” as potentially a very large set of things. A large part of this course depends on consistent, robust, and relevant participation. Without it, the course is just a bunch of assignments. Good assignments, mind you, but not an adventure or a journey. What you will make, and the total of what we make together, will be visible to the world and might even inspire others. Actually, if prior experience is any guide, it will inspire others. And we could all use some inspiration.

A specific schedule of assignments and due dates follows. But first, let’s have an idea of what each component of the course activity is “worth” in terms of your final grade.

The inquiry project is the biggest goal and the most important destination of the course. 35% of your final grade will be based on the quality of this project, as judged by your section professor.

The assignments linked to our readings (nuggets, concept experiences) will be worth a total of 35% of your final grade, because they are essential parts of building strong and unfettered inquiry brains that can actually live the dreams. If you can’t live the dreams, your inquiry project probably won’t be very interesting or rewarding.

Each section professor can assign the other 30% as he or she sees fit. Some may put all or most of that percentage on participation, including the weekly progress report / research reflection. Some may want to put smaller percentages on various stages of drafting and polishing the inquiry project. This part of the weighting will reflect each professor’s own strengths and strategies for encouraging and inspiring you to build strong, unfettered inquiry brains.

For our section of this course, the grade breakdown is as follows:

Inquiry Project 35%
Phase I & II Streamwork (nuggets, concept experiences, IP drafting, etc) 45%
Participation 20%

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