a book proposal
I have taught web design and development since 1995, as part of my work in rhetoric and cultural studies at three R1 research universities. During that period, also teaching traditional English courses, I have participated in award-winning digital humanities projects, served on committees which defined protocols and standards for web content, and directed websites which have hosted more than 2.5 billion ‘hits.’ But in this past year I have heard, more than ever, students asking why web design is being taught in an English department?
In this book, I will argue why this question must be taken seriously—why students, colleagues, and administrators need to understand how English departments are (and should be) central to online cultural production, and why the tacit but unsubtle insult within such queries represent a danger to the future of the study of English.
Since 2004, I have directed the Studio for New Media at a large midwestern R1 university. In this role, I have worked with faculty and grad students who wished to improve their skills with multimedia and online document design, many of whom had poor foundations on which to begin learning practical tools. Without help, understandably, they often failed. My Studio provided nonjudgmental help, to assist academics produce better modern, interactive and responsive projects.
But people like my colleagues need a book to help them understand why they have not been taught such skills in the past, theoretical rationales why multimodal online work should be part of contemporary academic work, and a foundation upon which they can build practical skills, such as web design or multimedia development, which they can incorporate into their teaching (as much as they like).
In my experience, the audience for a book which provides this is large, growing, largely untapped by current book series, and specifically more interested after COVID to begin such work. That is the primary audience for this monograph. Because this book will not focus heavily on time-limited technologies, its longevity should make the book viable for at least ten years' of sales.
Since COVID, I have been increasingly approached by faculty who have felt an urgent need to increase their skills (1) to produce these media for online classes, or (2) to teach students to be able to produce such media themselves. This book will help both emergent needs.
In my experience, online training such as LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com) or Udemy video training or YouTube videos do not work well for faculty audiences who are not specifically ready to learn digital tools. Professors are notoriously difficult to teach, in part because they tend to need repeatedly balanced explanations which include both theoretical justifications and practical benefits from each tool studied. This book will provide exactly this, for academics both within and interested in joining the digital humanities, from a scholar with well-credentialed experience.
Table of Contents
1. Why English Departments Must Teach Web Design
Students sometimes ask why web design is taught in English departments? This chapter argues why it should, and why this question must be taken seriously.
2. Usability Ruins (Traditional) Clarity
Traditional arguments for clarity imagine a ‘pure,’ minimal text — one pruned of unnecessary adornments. But usability research contravenes minimalist rhetoric when it comes to online works.
3. The Web is More Complicated Than You Probably Think
Though HTML, CSS, and JS constitute web content, modern document production involves newer tech, too. Just knowing three acronyms is no longer enough. We must undertand, use, and teach writing technologies which enable publishing engaging content. Our students deserve to learn these.
4. Juggling Containers
The innovations of virtualization and containerization (the tools of cloud computing) help web design/development students do so much more in a semester than ever before, and do so whatever computer they have. But that means we must learn, understand, use, and teach 'containers.'
5. Multimedia Labs as Content Incubators
Teaching online documents often means collaborative work. Students hate that; some faculty do, too. We need new, better spaces (especially computer labs/classrooms) than we had in the past. Modern labs help modern content.
Some conclusions to help academics create meaningful changes in their composition and teaching, to use these examples for their own work.
Chapters 1, 2 and 4 are already drafted, and ready for substantive editing. Chapters 3 and 5 are both in early stages, and a concluding chapter (Chapter 6) presently only consists of notes, but will be written to draw larger lessons from the points of the five chapters after these are complete. The project can be delivered in 2023.