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ENGW 3332: Writing Online

April 27, 2012
by Quinn Warnick
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Week 15 and Finals Week: Wrapping Up the Client Project

The end of the semester is upon us, and this will be my final update to the class website. (Please try to hold your applause until you finish reading this post.) Here’s how we’ll spend our last week in class:

  • On Tuesday (5/1), we will briefly review the remainder of Responsive Web Design, so please read pages 64–139 before you come to class. We will then spend the rest of class in workshop-mode. I will be available to answer brief, specific questions related to your client project, but I won’t be able to spend a lot of time with each person during class, so if you need serious technical help with your site, please come see me on Monday during office hours (1:00-4:30 p.m.).
  • On Thursday (5/3), we will conduct a structured peer critique of your client project websites. Please come to class with a draft of your site that you can demonstrate for your classmates on one of the lab computers.
  • Your client project is due on Thursday, May 10, at 11:15 a.m. For our final, we will meet in our regular classroom, where each of you will give us a tour of your website and briefly discuss the challenges you faced as you worked on the project. Plan to present for 5–8 minutes.

As always, if you have any questions about these items, please email me or come see me during my office hours. I’ll try to be in my office as much as I can for the next week, so let me know if you need to come by during a time other than my “official” office hours. Good luck wrapping things up!

April 20, 2012
by Quinn Warnick
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Week 14: Responsive Web Design, Working with Audio and Video

It was nice to talk with each of you about your final projects, and at this point, most of you have signed, finalized MOUs for Unit #4. (If you need to revise and resubmit your MOU, please take care of that by Monday!) From here on out, each of you will be working on slightly different tasks in our in-class workshops, but during our last two weeks we’ll try to cover a few items that will be helpful for almost everyone. Here’s the plan for next week:

  • On Tuesday (4/24), we will review some of the nuts and bolts of managing a server (e.g., how to register a domain name, how to find a good hosting company, how to set up email and FTP accounts), so if you have particular questions about these topics, send me a quick email before Tuesday morning. In addition, we will review the first half of our final textbook, so please read pages 1–63 in Responsive Web Design before you come to class. And last but not least, remember that Tuesday is the deadline for submitting your Unit #3 Team Evaluation Form and Exam #2.
  • On Thursday (4/26), we will talk about incorporating media (specifically audio and video) into your final project websites. Before you come to class, watch “What Is HTML5?,” read the Occupy Flash manifesto and “HTML5 Audio and Video: What You Must Know” (it’s OK if some of this one goes over your head), and get familiar with the HTML5 Video site.

Finally, a quick reminder that I won’t have office hours on Monday due to the Edward Tufte event I’m attending that day. If you have questions about our plans for Tuesday or Thursday, or if you want to talk about your client project, please send me an email and we’ll find a time to meet.

April 13, 2012
by Quinn Warnick
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Week 13: Advanced Typography, Individual Conferences, and Exam #2

With the final project underway, we are officially in the homestretch of the semester. In the next few weeks, you’ll be marshaling all of your web design and writing skills to create beautiful sites for your clients. This is my favorite part of the semester — I love watching everything come together!

Next week, we’ll make sure that everyone starts off on the right foot. Here’s our game plan:

  • On Tuesday, we will spend most of the class session experimenting with advanced typography tools. Because you will be busy putting the finishing touches on your Unit #3 reports, there are no official reading assignments for Tuesday; however, if you get the chance, you should explore some of my bookmarks about typography. Please remember that your Unit #3 report is due at the beginning of class. Before you finalize your report, I strongly recommend reviewing the evaluation criteria and the final checklist I gave you on Thursday.
  • On Thursday, we will not meet as a class, but I will meet individually with each of you to review (and hopefully approve) your MOU for Unit #4. (You will sign up for a conference appointment in class on Tuesday.) Please use the MOU template as a starting point for developing your individual (or team) MOU and print out two copies of your completed MOU before coming to meet with me.

Finally, a few words about our second exam: Because we have a limited number of class sessions left, I have decided to make this an open-book, open-note (but not open-classmate) take-home exam. In addition, the exam will be optional, which means that you only need to complete the exam if you are unhappy with your score on the first exam. If you are satisfied with your grade on that exam, I will simply duplicate that score for Exam #2. However, if you would like the opportunity to raise your exam grade, you can pick up a copy of the take-home exam when you meet with me to discuss your MOU and submit it at the beginning of class on Tuesday, April 24. (Please note that while a take-home exam is likely to produce higher grades than an in-class exam, a higher grade on Exam #2 is not guaranteed.)

As always, if you have any questions about these plans, or if you want to discuss potential clients for the Unit #4 project before your individual conference, please let me know.

April 5, 2012
by Quinn Warnick
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Week 12: Finishing Up the Usability Report, Working with Clients

Next week we will wrap up the usability testing project and begin working on our final assignment of the semester: the client project. Because each project will be unique, I have built a lot of flexibility into our schedule during the next few weeks. I really want them to be productive and helpful for you as budding web designers, usability gurus, and information architects, so think carefully about what topics you would like to spend more time discussing and what type of site you would like to work on for your last project of the semester. We’ll spend some time on Tuesday discussing these issues, which will help me determine how we should spend our time in class.

Here are the specific plans for next week:

  • On Tuesday, we will discuss how to put the finishing touches on your usability reports. Please bring all of your data (print and electronic) with you to class and be ready to ask any final questions about the assignment. Due to the day we lost to Easter break this week, I have pushed back the due date for Unit #3 to April 17 (a week from Tuesday), but in class, we will be moving on to Unit #4 on Thursday, so this will be your last team workshop day. Please be ready to put it to good use!
  • On Thursday, I will introduce Unit #4, the client project, and we will talk about how to find appropriate projects for this assignment. Before you come to class, please read this series of articles about working with clients:

    You don’t need to print out all of these articles, but you should be ready to discuss them when you come to class. (When you’re done reading those, if you need a little diversion, check out Clients from Hell.)

Some of you already have ideas about what you want to do for Unit #4, but if you haven’t started thinking about it yet, now is the time to begin asking friends, roommates, relatives, and coworkers if they know people who need a new website. Don’t commit to anything yet, but start stockpiling ideas for potential projects.

March 30, 2012
by Quinn Warnick

Week 11: Making Sense of Usability Data

I think our pilot testing exercise in class went really well yesterday. I hope you were able to work out the bugs in your usability test protocols. If you have not already sent me a copy of your final protocol, please email me or share the document with me on Google Docs by tomorrow evening (Saturday). Once I have approved your protocol, you can begin administering your tests. Ideally, you should complete all of your tests (8–10 subjects) before Easter break, which will allow you to focus on writing your report after the break.

Next week we will only meet on Tuesday, and we will focus on techniques for analyzing your raw data and making recommendations to your clients. Before you come to class, please read two usability reports from WordPress (PDF) and the University of Washington Library (PDF). In addition, please find one additional example of a successful usability report and post a link to it in the comments section of this post. (You can find great examples of usability reports by searching for “usability testing report” or similar phrases.)

Although we won’t meet on Thursday due to Easter break, you should meet with your teammates before everyone leaves for the long weekend to make sure that specific tasks have been distributed to each member of your team. When we return on April 10th, we will be in serious crunch mode to complete these projects, so it is very important that we get a lot done during Week 11.

March 23, 2012
by Quinn Warnick
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Week 10: Drafting Usability Plans, Testing Tests

I hope yesterday’s mock usability tests gave you some idea of the type of work you’ll be doing for your Unit #3 project over the coming weeks. Next week, we will get serious about drafting your usability plans, and we will conclude the week by testing your tests on one another. (Don’t worry, this will make sense next week — I promise.)

Here’s the day-by-day breakdown of what we’ll be doing next week:

  • On Tuesday, we will spend most of the day in workshop mode, drafting personas and scenarios for your usability projects. At the beginning of class, your team should submit a short (1-page) memo analyzing the current website you are testing. Your memo should outline what you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the current site, as well predict the changes you think your team might recommend to your client. To prepare for our in-class activities, please read the “Planning the Project” and “Analyze Current Site” sections of Usability.gov. (Note that each of these sections contains multiple pages; use the sidebar navigation to work your way through each section.) Please come to class on Tuesday ready to discuss these readings and put them into practice on your project.
  • By Thursday, your team should have a rough draft of its usability testing protocol. Please bring that draft of the protocol to class so you can administer your test with one of your classmates as a pilot subject. (UPDATE: Bring two printed copies of your protocol to class so I can review one while you conduct your pilot tests.) Afterwards, we’ll spend the rest of the class session working out the kinks in your tests. By the end of class on Thursday, you should submit the final draft of your protocol so I can give you approval to begin conducting your tests with Real Live Humans (TM). Before you come to class, please read “The 100% Easy-2-Read Standard,” by Oliver Reichenstein, and “Top 10 UX Myths,” by Keith Lang.

If your Unit #3 team didn’t receive final approval on your selection of a website for Unit #3, please contact me this weekend to confirm your choice. And, as always, let me know if there’s anything I can do to help with your projects.

March 9, 2012
by Quinn Warnick
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Week 9: Usability, Usability, Usability

As I’ve watched you create (and sometimes scrap and re-create) your Print-to-Web projects, I’ve been impressed with how far you’ve come in just a few weeks of working with WordPres. Many of your draft sites looked excellent during our peer review session yesterday, and I can’t wait to see your final sites after spring break!

As you put the finishing touches on your site, remember that the difference between a good design and a great design lies in the details. When you’re done marking up your content, make sure you spend enough time customizing the typography, the color scheme, and the images connected to your theme. Think about menus, hyperlinks, and sidebar widgets, and how you can use those elements to improve the functionality of your site.

Next week we will all be enjoying a much-deserved spring break, but when we meet again, here’s how we’ll proceed:

  • On Tuesday (3/20), your Unit #2 project is due before you come to class. Please review the assignment details before you submit your project to make sure you’ve followed the specific instructions for creating your site and writing your memo. If you have any questions, please let me know. In class, we will dive into our next unit, which focuses on usability testing and user-centered design. Before you come to class on Tuesday, please read pages 10–93 in Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think (our second textbook).
  • On Thursday (3/22), you will get to play the role of usability test subject in a mock usability exercise, then you will meet with your team for Unit #3 to plan the details of your usability test. Before you come to class, please read pages 95-167 in Don’t Make Me Think, as well as “Super Easy Usability Testing,” by John S. Rhodes.

One final note: Due to my travel schedule, I will not be able to hold office hours on Monday morning after spring break. If you need to meet with me to discuss your Unit #2 project before you submit it, please email me so we can find a time to meet on Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning.

March 2, 2012
by Quinn Warnick
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Week 8: Wrapping Up the Print-to-Web Conversion Project

As we near the end of Unit #2, I want to give you ample time to work out the kinks in your designs and get feedback from your peers to help you put the finishing touches on your WordPress sites. With that in mind, I have cleared the syllabus for Week 8 so you can make significant progress on Unit #2 before you leave for spring break. Here’s how we’ll spend our time in class:

  • On Tuesday, each of you will meet with me individually for five minutes to present a draft of your Print-to-Web Conversion project. You will spend the rest of class time sharing WordPress resources that you have used to improve your Unit #2 projects. Please come to class with two things: (1) a complete draft of your site, including a customized theme, and (2) at least one tip or trick that you have discovered to improve your WordPress site.
  • On Thursday, we will conduct a formal peer critique session for the Unit #2 project. By the time you come to class, your site should be nearly ready to submit for a grade. The goal for this critique session is to identify minor areas for improvement, so your site should not contain serious gaps in design, content, or functionality.

I have changed the due date for Unit #2 to Tuesday, March 20, so you will be able to polish your projects over spring break, but please don’t use the extended deadline as an excuse to postpone your work on this assignment. Week 8 (before spring break) is the time to get 95% of the way there. As always, I’m happy to meet with you during my office hours (M 9-12 or W 1-4) if you feel like you need extra help on this project. Feel free to drop by during those hours or email me if you’d like to reserve a specific time slot.

February 24, 2012
by Quinn Warnick
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Week 7: WordPress Workshop, Plus a Taste of Tables

Now that our first exam is behind us (hooray!), we can shift our focus back to the print-to-web conversion project. At this point, you should have added all of your content for Unit #2 to your WordPress site and you should be “cleaning up” the text as needed. (Translation: paragraph and line breaks should be accurate, there should be no extra spaces in your text, list items should be enclosed in the appropriate HTML tags, etc…) If you haven’t completed these tasks already, that’s your main homework assignment for this weekend. When we meet again on Tuesday, you should be done building your website so you can focus on styling it.

Here’s a quick overview of how we’ll spend our time in class:

  • On Tuesday, we will quickly review the results of the first exam, then we will spend the rest of class working in WordPress. Please read “Technology vs. Content, or Why Teaching WordPress Is Frustrating,” by Tom Johnson, before you come to class. In addition, please make sure that you have installed at least three viable themes on your WordPress site and be ready to show these themes to your classmates.
  • Since we’ve been neck-deep in CSS for the past several weeks, I thought it only fair to spend some time on Thursday with our greatly neglected friend: the table. Tables have fallen out of vogue in recent years, but you shouldn’t leave this class without understanding why they’re used less than they once were and, more importantly, how to use them effectively for displaying tabular data. Please read Hour 7 in the Sams book and “Bring on the Tables,” by Roger Johansson, before you come to class.

As you can see, both of our class sessions will be packed next week, so much of your work on the print-to-web conversion project will need to take place outside of class. Due to a commitment with the ENGW program, I need to cancel my office hours on Monday morning, but if you would like me to give you some one-on-one feedback on your project, I will make time to meet with you at a time that’s convenient for both of us. Just drop me a line if you’d like to meet.

February 17, 2012
by Quinn Warnick
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Week 6: Information Architecture; WordPress Workshop; Exam #1

This update will be short and sweet, but feel free to contact me if you have any questions about our plans. Here’s a quick overview of how we’ll spend our time in class during Week 6:

  • On Tuesday we will briefly discuss the importance of information architecture as it relates to your Unit #2 projects, then we will conduct a review session for our first exam. This review session will be as short or as long as you need it to be, so please come to class ready to ask any questions you have about the exam. Whatever time is leftover after our review will be spent in a WordPress workshop. Before you come to class, please read “Introduction to Information Architecture,” by Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville. In addition, you have two short homework assignments that need to be completed before you come to class on Tuesday:
    1. Create all of your pages in WordPress for the Unit #2 project. (Translation: copy and paste the text from your original document into WordPress, breaking up the text into individual pages.)
    2. Find and install at least three different themes on your WordPress site. You will show your themes to your classmates at the end of class on Tuesday.
  • On Thursday we will have the first exam of the semester. Please arrive on Thursday ready to spend the entire class period on the exam, which will consist of three sections: multiple choice questions, short responses (definitions and mini-essays), and a coding exercise.

As always, you can stop by my office (211 Premont) during office hours (Monday 9-12, Wednesday 1-4) if you need help with any of these tasks.

February 10, 2012
by Quinn Warnick
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Week 5: Working with Media; Advanced CSS Techniques

Now that each of you have your own WordPress installation on our new “sandbox” website, you should be getting familiar with the WordPress dashboard, the difference between posts and pages, and the process of installing themes and plugins. If you run into problems or find yourself confused, you’ll probably be able to find help in the WordPress Codex or the WordPress Forums. (Bookmark those two sites! They will be your best friends during Unit #2.) Of course, I’m available to help out during office hours, too, so come see me if you’re feeling lost.

During Week 5, we will catch up on the image workshop that got postponed on Thursday, then we will spend some time reviewing CSS techniques for positioning content. Here’s the day-by-day plan:

  • On Tuesday, we will review Hours 10, 11, and 12 in the Sams book. (You already read Hours 10 and 11 last week, but you may want to quickly skim them again.) In class, we will practice finding and adapting images and videos for use on the web. Your only other homework assignment for the weekend is to finalize your choice of document for the Unit #2 project. If you plan to use the default document (the SEU Undergraduate Bulletin), you don’t need to do anything special; however, if you want to use another document, please submit it to me via email before you come to class on Tuesday.
  • On Thursday, we will review Hours 14 and 15 in the Sams book. For some of you, these chapters will feel like a basic review, but if you are fuzzy on any of the concepts, you’ll need to spend some quality time with the textbook and your computer before you come to class. For some of you, it won’t be enough just to do the readings; you’ll need to download the source code and follow the step-by-step exercises in the book. When you come to class on Thursday, you should have a firm grasp on the “box model” and CSS positioning.

If you want to talk about any of these plans, just let me know. Otherwise, have a great weekend!

February 3, 2012
by Quinn Warnick
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Week 4: Content Management Systems; Working with Images

I enjoyed looking at the drafts of your résumé projects in class yesterday, and I’m excited to see how they turn out. Some of you are ready to put the finishing touches on your Unit #1 project, while others may need to spend more time revising the structure of your résumé or cleaning up your code. (The W3C Validator is a harsh master!) Don’t forget that Unit #1 is due at the beginning of class on Tuesday. Please review the assignment details before you submit your project, and don’t forget the final piece of the assignment: a one-page memo explaining and justifying the choices you made as worked on your résumé.

After you submit your résumé projects, we’ll be ready to move on to Unit #2, the Print-to-Web Conversion Project. Here’s how we’ll start:

  • On Tuesday, we will discuss the difference between static websites and dynamic websites powered by content management systems. Before you come to class, please read “Why Do I Need a Content Management System?” and “Designing for Content Management Systems.”
  • On Thursday, we will talk about how to find, edit, and insert images into webpages. Please read Hours 10 and 11 in the Sams book before you come to class.

If you have any questions about these plans, or if you want to reserve a time to see me during office hours on Monday, let me know.

January 27, 2012
by Quinn Warnick
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Week 3: Wrapping Up the Résumé Assignment

In class on Thursday we spent a bit more time talking about Twitter than I originally planned, so we’ll need to do some catching up during Week 3. I hope you learned something about Twitter and how we’ll be using it this semester, but if you’re feeling confused, I recommend reviewing the following sites:

We’ll check in on our Twitter adventures next Thursday, so try to do a bit of tweeting between now and then. If you tweet about something related to our class, remember to use the class hashtag: #engw3332

Our main focus during Week 3 will be finishing up the online résumé assignment, which is due at the beginning of class on Thursday. Here’s how we’ll get there:

Before you come to class on Tuesday, please read Hours 8 and 9 in the Sams book. In class, we will review those chapters and cover some of the unresolved questions and problems you mentioned at the end of yesterday’s class. As you complete your reading assignment, please apply the concepts from the book to your Unit #1 project files. By the time you come to class on Tuesday, you should have two completed HTML files and a CSS file that is starting to take shape.

On Thursday, the résumé assignment is due at the beginning of class. Please review the assignment details before you submit your project, and don’t forget the final piece of the assignment: a short memo explaining and justifying the choices you made as worked on your résumé. [UPDATE: The due date for the résumé assignment has been postponed until next Tuesday, February 7. However, Thursday will be dedicated to a "debugging" workshop, so you still need to come to class with finished versions of your project files.] If you’re wondering how to focus your energies during the coming week, here are a few tips to ensure your success on the résumé project:

  • Two of the most basic aspects of style sheets are color and typography, so I’ll be looking for evidence that you know how to go beyond the default colors and fonts imposed by your browser.
  • We haven’t spent much time on CSS positioning (we’ll get there soon!), so I don’t expect to see incredibly complex page layouts. Your résumé doesn’t need to be complicated to be effective.
  • Along the same lines, remember that you’re creating a professional résumé designed to be seen by potential employers. Yes, you should inject some of your personality into the design, but a résumé is not the best place to take big risks with an outlandish design.
  • This first assignment is designed, in part, to see how well you’ve been paying attention to the readings in our textbook. Your code should be clean and well organized, and your XHTML and CSS should validate.
  • The assignment sheet is very specific about what you should name your files and where they should be located. Please follow these directions to the letter.

I know you’ll be finishing up your résumés, so we won’t have a reading assignment for Thursday. After you submit your résumé projects at the beginning of class, I will introduce our next assignment (the Print-to-Web Conversion Project), and we will talk about the basics of content management systems. [UPDATE: We will postpone these plans until next Tuesday.]

Last but not least, I hope that all of you are keeping pace with the tutorials in the textbook. If you’re falling behind, please take some time this weekend to catch up. If you’ve put in the time with the exercises in the book and you’re still feeling lost, please come see me during office hours (Monday 9-12 or Wednesday 1-4) or email me to set up an appointment at another time.

January 20, 2012
by Quinn Warnick
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Week 2: HTML and CSS Basics; Résumé Workshop

We dove right in to the deep end of the pool this week, with Tuesday’s vocabulary pre-test and Thursday’s HTML/CSS workshop, but from what I saw, most of you had no trouble staying afloat. Some of you who have experience building websites may find the next few class periods moving a little slower than you’d like, but trust me — you’ll have plenty of opportunities to push yourselves in the coming weeks. And if you feel like you aren’t being challenged enough, please come see me and we’ll find ways to make these introductory assignments valuable for you.

Next week, we will continue our tour of the basics of HTML and CSS, using the online résumé assignment to learn some of web design’s foundational concepts. On Tuesday, we will finish applying basic HTML tags to your résumés and begin to think about how we can use colors and background images to improve their visual appearance. Before you come to class, please read Hours 2, 3, and 4 in the Sams book and try to make some additional progress on marking up the HTML version of your résumé.

On Thursday, we will focus on fine-tuning the typography and spacing of the elements in your résumés using cascading style sheets (CSS). Your only homework for Thursday is to read Hours 5 and 6 in the Sams book. A word of warning: these chapters mark the point at which the textbook begins to get a little more complex, so you’ll need to spend enough time with each chapter to really understand the new concepts before you come to class each day. Yes, the book is arranged into 24 one-hour lessons, but you might need to spend more than one hour working through each chapter. [UPDATE: Here is the in-class workshop for Thursday's class.]

By the end of Week 2, you should have a well-coded résumé and the makings of a well-styled résumé. If you’re doing all the reading and paying attention in class and you’re still feeling lost, please come talk to me. The material in this class will only get more complex as the semester progresses, so if things aren’t clicking for you, now is the time to address the problem.

If you have any questions about Week 2, or about anything else related to our class, leave a comment below or send me an email. Otherwise, I’ll see you next week. Have a great weekend!

January 16, 2012
by Quinn Warnick

Welcome to Writing Online!

Welcome to ENGW 3332: Writing Online. This website will function as the online headquarters for our class this semester. Each week, I will post an update to the website with details about coming week, deadline reminders, links to helpful resources, etc… I plan to use SEU’s Blackboard site to record your grades, but otherwise, everything related to this course will be posted here. And given that this class is about writing online, it seems appropriate that you should help me build this website as the semester progresses. (We’ll talk more about the particulars of that assignment soon.) There isn’t much to see now, but by the end of the semester, this site will look and feel like a collaborative venture.

A bit about me: I’m midway through my second year as an assistant professor at St. Edward’s University. I study how people use rhetoric in online environments, and most of the classes I teach have something to do with technology. I have been building websites since 1999, and I do a lot of web consulting for small businesses and nonprofit groups that need help getting (or getting up to date) online. When I’m not staring at a computer screen, I love to cook, read, and spend time with my wife, a brilliant freelance writer, and our two daughters.

After I gather your input in class on Tuesday, I will finalize the syllabus and bring it to class on Thursday. In the meantime, please complete the following tasks before you come to class on Thursday:

  • Read Hour 1 in the Teach Yourself HTML and CSS book, and come to class with any questions you have about the reading.
  • Sign up for a Twitter account, if you don’t have one already. (We’ll talk about using Twitter in the coming weeks, but for now, you just need to create an account, add a photo, and customize your profile.)
  • Bring an electronic copy of your current résumé to class on Thursday.

Finally, a quick note about this website. Throughout the semester, I’ll be asking you to respond to posts on this website. To help you get comfortable with that process, please add a comment to this post that introduces yourself, links to your Twitter profile, and answers the following question: What is one specific thing you want to learn to do in ENGW 3332? Before you post, a couple of warnings: (1) Your classmates will see what you write, so don’t include anything intended just for me. (2) This website is public, so we will stick to using first names only. Also, please be sure to use the same email address every time you post to the class website. Once I “approve” your first comment on the site, you will be able to post comments for the rest of the semester without waiting for me to approve them.

UPDATE: We will use this file for our in-class workshop on Thursday. (You don’t need to download this until you get to class.)