Science Fact and Fiction 2020

Language and technology have always been closely linked, from the stone tools used to carve hieroglyphics to the touchscreen of a smart phone. While science fiction imagines seemingly far-fetched scenarios, it is often a way to reflect on the tensions in contemporary society. In this course, we will read works of science fiction alongside nonfiction accounts of cutting edge technology, as we explore how technology shapes what it means to be human.

We will consider the interrelationship among Written, Oral, Visual, Electronic, and Nonverbal (WOVEN) modes in individual and collaborative projects. We will use this WOVEN approach to explore our relationship to technology through fiction and non-fiction. We will read short stories and op-eds and listen to interviews and podcasts by authors such as E.M. Forster, Isaac Asimov, Octavia Butler, George Saunders, T.C. Boyle, Paolo Bacigalupi, Ted Chiang, and N.K. Jemisin. Students will design a device—however realistic or futuristic—that enhances communication and then write an op-ed from the future about how one of their classmate’s devices has impacted society.

Learning Outcomes

  • Rhetoric: Create purposeful, audience directed artifacts that present well-organized, well-supported, well-designed arguments using appropriate conventions of written, oral, visual, and/or nonverbal communication.
  • Process: Use recursive strategies, including planning, drafting, critiquing, revising, publishing/presenting, and reflecting confidently.
  • Multimodality: Develop competence in major communication modalities (WOVEN) and understand that modalities work synergistically.
  • Collaboration: Be productive in communities of practice—for example, as readers and critics, as team members and leaders—balancing their individual and collaborative responsibilities.
  • Critical Thinking: Systematically analyze and question information in a manner that identifies and evaluates problems, processes, values, assumptions, and arguments in order to reach understanding, determine solutions, and initiate actions.

Course Assessment

First Week Video—5%


  • Final video
  • Reflection

You will create a 60-90 second video to introduce yourself, identify the course you are taking, and articulate a challenge you anticipate facing this semester in ENGL 1102. Begin by introducing yourself (name, major, hometown) and identifying your course (teacher, theme) in 10-15 seconds. Your video should articulate a challenge relating to one of the modes—written, oral, visual, electronic, or nonverbal communication—that you’ll be engaging with in class projects this semester. What challenges do you expect to face in relation to this mode? How might you overcome these challenges? Use specific examples. You might also use this assignment as an opportunity to set goals for yourself in terms of a specific mode of communication or in terms of developing a specific skill. To submit your video in Canvas: first upload it to “My Media,” then embed a link to it in the assignment page. After submitting your video, you will write a one-page reflection considering how and why you made the choices you made in completing the assignment.


Our class will be oriented around discussion, so your active participation is essential. We will use Perusall to annotate our readings as a class. Using Perusall’s highlighting and commenting tools, you will identify key passages, pose questions, and respond to your peers. While we will use Perusall to analyze each reading in depth, we will use the discussion board in Canvas to address broader issues and synthesize insights form different readings. We may have multiple discussion threads going at once, so it is important that you pay attention to where you post. Everyone will kick off the discussions once during the semester.

Device Design—20%


  • Proposal
  • Draft
  • Final
  • Reflection

From the telephone to radio to television to the Internet, technology shapes communication. You will design a device that will enhance communication. You should include your device’s specifications—dimensions, materials, power source/capacity, safety guidelines. Your final submission may take the form of an annotated schematic, an illustrated instruction manual, a sales pitch presentation, or promotional video.

Op-ed from the Future—20%


  • Proposal
  • Draft
  • Final
  • Reflection

Imagining what society would be like if one of your classmate’s devices was widely implemented, you will write an op-ed from the future. You may focus on the ethical, legal, political, religious, or social ramifications. You may take any stance you want, as long as you follow the core features of an op-ed: a specific audience, a clear thesis, compelling evidence, and a call to action. You might focus on the device’s unintended consequences and call for its use to be curtailed or banned. You might praise the device’s success and call for its use to be expanded. Your op-ed should include at least one image.

Magazine Feature—20%


  • Proposal
  • Draft
  • Final
  • Reflection

You have been invited to write a feature for a popular sci-fi magazine. You might explore how a recent development in scientific research relates to science fiction representations of technology, artificial intelligence, or alien life. You might contrast how different authors approach the same theme, such as consciousness, race, or cybernetic enhancement. You should discuss at least three of our course texts and reference at least five additional sources to support your thesis. It may be helpful to consult the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database, or Science Fiction Studies. You can assume that your audience will be familiar with the themes, though not necessarily the specific details of the texts you discuss. Your multimodal essay should include images and links to important sources.

Final Portfolio—20%

For the culminating assignment, you will submit a multimodal reflective portfolio in lieu of a final exam. For your multimodal reflective portfolio, you will select evidence from your body of work produced in the course, provide a context for this evidence, and describe the ways in which the evidence supports your argument that you have grown as a communicator. You should identify not only what you rhetorical, aesthetic, and technical choices you made, but why you made them in relation to the course outcomes. Your portfolio must include: 1) Reflective Introduction to the Portfolio: A page for a 1,200-1,800 word essay that introduces your portfolio and strategically employs multimodal elements such as images, videos, audio files, and/or links to accompany your text and demonstrate to your audience how your communication habits have evolved. 2) Artifact 0: A page for your multimodal diagnostic video, which you produced during the first week of class, along with a reflection answering the directed reflection questions about the artifact. 3) Artifacts 1-3: A page for each of three additional artifacts that together best reflect your work and development in the course, along with an introductory paragraph and short reflections (150-200 words) answering the directed reflection questions for each artifact. These artifacts should highlight your development in all WOVEN modes. Your portfolio will be due during our final exam period.


DP=discussion post

Monday 8/17Introductions DP 1: What is technology?
Wednesday 8/19WOVENWOVENText chs. 1-3DP 2: First Week Video Brainstorm
Friday 8/21 WOVENText ch. 4 
Monday 8/24  First Week Video due
Wednesday 8/26TechnologyRachel Kolb, “Sensations of Sound: On Music and Deafness” / MultimediaFirst Week Video reflection due
Friday 8/28 Alan Jacobs, “From Cursive to Cursor”DP 3: How do media/modes affect communication?
Monday 8/31 WOVENText ch. 5-6DP 4: Device Design Brainstorm
Wednesday 9/2 E.M. Forster, “The Machine Stops” 
Friday 9/4 T.C. Boyle, “The Relive Box”Device Design proposal due
Monday 9/7Labor DayNo class 
Wednesday 9/9RevisionWOVENText ch. 10 
Friday 9/11 Peer ReviewDevice Design draft due
Monday 9/14 George Saunders, “Escape from Spiderhead”DP 5: Augmentation
Wednesday 9/16 Susan Schneider, “Should You Add a Microchip to Your Brain?” Portlandia “Mind-Fi” 
Friday 9/18  Device Design final due
Monday 9/21Artificial IntelligenceRachel Metz, “I attended a virtual conference with an AI version of Deepak Chopra. It was bizarre and transfixing”Device Design reflection due
Wednesday 9/23 Isaac Asimov, “Evidence” 
Friday 9/25 Vina Jie-Min Prasad, “Fandom for Robots” 
Monday 9/28 Farhad Manjoo, “How Do You Know a Human Wrote This?”DP 6: The Turing Test
Wednesday 9/30 Stuart Russell, “How to Stop Superhuman A.I. Before It Stops Us” 
Friday 10/2   Melanie Mitchell, “We Shouldn’t Be Scared By ‘Superintelligent AI’”DP 7: The A.I. Debate
Op-ed proposal due
Monday 10/5 Stephen James, “Artificials Should Be Allowed to Worship” 
Wednesday 10/7 Paolo Bacigalupi, “Mika Model” 
Friday 10/9 Peer ReviewOp-ed draft due
Monday 10/12 Naomi Kritzker, “Cat Pictures Please”DP 8: A.I. Personhood
Wednesday 10/14Multimodal EssaysWOVENText, p. 201-205; Stacy Braukman and Jason Maderer, “Out of This World” 
Friday 10/16  Op-ed final due
Monday 10/19Alien LifeJay Werkheiser, “Alien Biochemistry: Embracing the Carbon Chauvinist”Op-ed reflection due
Wednesday 10/21 Peter Godfrey-Smith, Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness 
Friday 10/23 Amia Srinivasan, “The Sucker, the Sucker!”Magazine Feature proposal due
Monday 10/26 Ted Chiang, “Story of Your Life”DP 9: Alien Consciousness
Wednesday 10/28 Orson Welles, War of the Worlds radio broadcast 
Friday 10/30 Peer ReviewMagazine Feature draft due
Monday 11/2 Octavia Butler, Dawn Part I 
Wednesday 11/4 Dawn Part II 
Friday 11/6 Dawn Part III 
Monday 11/9 Dawn Part IV 
Wednesday 11/11 Derrick Bell, “The Space Traders”DP 10: Race and Sci-Fi
Friday 11/13 N.K. Jemisin interviewMagazine Feature final due
Monday 11/16  Magazine Feature reflection due
Wednesday 11/18 Final Portfolio 
Friday 11/20 Final Portfolio 
Monday 11/23 Final Portfolio 
Wednesday 11/25Thanksgiving  
Friday 11/27Thanksgiving