Welcome to Writing for Digital Environments! I am Dr. Mary Isbell, and I’ve created this syllabus to communicate what we’ll learn and how we’ll learn it this semester. I’ve tried to present this information as clearly as possible. I’ve also hidden the name of a character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe somewhere on this page. Students who e-mail me the name of the character before the start of the second class will get a congratulatory e-mail from me and, I would imagine, a personal sense of satisfaction.

Contact Me

I love talking to students. Please get in touch often to ask questions, share ideas you’re having about the course, or discuss something interesting you’ve read or watched.

  • E-mail:
  • Office: Harugari Hall, room 300A
  • Office Hours: By appointment (via zoom or in my office). Send me an e-mail to set something up!

Course Description

In this class, we will explore how to communicate effectively through digital media. We will discuss how digital environments may be changing what it means to be a writer and examine how the concepts of collaboration, community, design, search engine optimization, and usability affect our writing practices in online environments. You have the opportunity to learn and experiment with a variety of digital technologies and build a robust website that you can continue working on after our course is complete. No prior web design experience required.

Required Materials

All course materials will be made available through Canvas.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to:

  • Compose rhetorically persuasive and visually appealing digital compositions
  • Employ web writing principles such as Search Engine Optimization, chunking, and usability testing
  • Analyze the effectiveness of corporate and public websites and blogs
  • Acknowledge the similarities and differences between writing for print and writing for the web and effectively employ the appropriate strategies in your own work

Major Assignments & Grade Breakdown

20%Mid-term & Final Self-Evaluations
10%Assignment 1: Author Bio
20%Assignment 2: Template Experiment
20%Assignment 3: Platform Evaluation
30%Semester Project: A Portfolio of Digital Writing

My Approach to Grading

In order to truly learn, I think we all need the freedom to make mistakes. In the past, when I’ve graded student work by assessing its quality, I’ve found myself inadvertently discouraging students who were trying very hard but had made a mistake or gotten stuck on something. While low grades have occasionally motivated my students, I have been troubled lately to find that some students get so discouraged that they stop engaging in the work of the course. I don’t want this to happen ever again.

While I will be providing copious feedback on your work and assigning mid-term and final grades for this course, you will also be evaluating your own work this semester. At the middle of the semester, you will write a midterm self-evaluation that reflects on your work to that point. You will complete a similar self-evaluation at the end of the semester. Having your account of your process is a very big part of how I will assign grades. After you submit each project, I will ask you to decide if you’d like me to create a video responding to your work or if you’d like to join me while I respond to it in person. Whatever you choose, I’ll create a video that I share with you through Canvas Studio (If we meet in person, I’ll record our discussion).

I’ll ask you to watch that recording and insert comments with any questions or responses you have. After doing this, I will ask you to compose a project reflection and to assign yourself a grade for that work. The instructions for each project reflection will be in Canvas and you will submit your reflection in Canvas. As I will mention often, you will not be evaluating what you created, but your writing and revision process. The grade you give yourself is the grade I will enter in the gradebook for the assignment.

You will hear from me if I have concerns about your self-evaluations and project reflections, but I don’t anticipate this will be an issue (if anything, I suspect I’ll have to give higher grades than you’ve given yourself). My intention here is to help you focus on working in a more organic way, as opposed to working as you think you are expected to. If this process causes any concerns, please send me an e-mail.

Open Pedagogy

One of my highest priorities as an educator is to help you all see that a classroom is a space to collaborate in the pursuit of new knowledge. We all bring knowledge and experience to the classroom and, if we put in the effort to build a collaborative learning community, we all benefit. I draw on strategies known as open educational practices or open pedagogy to help me in this pursuit. You will notice that we take advantage of open educational resources in this course (only when absolutely necessary will I assign a copyrighted text that you have to purchase) and you’ll also notice that some of your assignments invite you to create resources that can be used by future students. I will frequently ask you to complete (brief!) anonymous surveys to share how particular things are working for you and make adjustments based on that feedback. I hope you’ll share ideas even when I don’t explicitly ask. This is your class too!

My Course Policies (read carefully!)

Diversity Statement

I value human diversity in all its richly complex and multi-faceted forms, whether expressed through race and ethnicity, culture, political and social views, religious and spiritual beliefs, language and geographic characteristics, gender, gender identities and sexual orientations, learning and physical abilities, age, and social or economic classes. I respect the value of every member of the class, and everyone in the class is encouraged to share his or her unique perspective as an individual, not as a representative of any category. Multicultural and intercultural awareness and competencies are key leadership skills, and I intend to present material and classroom activities that respect and celebrate diversity of thought, background, and experience.


Attendance and participation in our class meetings will enable a much richer experience in this course. I also understand the unpredictability of the moment. Black Widow. If you are unable to attend class for any reason, please let me know in advance so I can make arrangements to create an audio recording of our class session for you to access after the fact. If I notice you are missing multiple classes and may struggle to complete the course successfully, I will reach out for a conversation.


There is no penalty for requesting an extension for any work due in this course. Send me an e-mail if you need more time. You do not need to give a reason for the request.

How We Might Use Zoom

I hope this doesn’t become necessary, but I can shift to offering this course through zoom. If that happens, here are some things you can expect:

  • Video: There is no expectation for you to turn your video camera on for this course; you can absolutely join with audio only.
  • Audio: For the most part, I will keep everyone muted.
  • Our Shared Doc (a Word Online Document): You will be invited to complete class activities in this shared document.
  • To protect the privacy of you and your classmates, I will only record short bits of class sessions where I am explaining things.


  • Read the syllabus and/or assignment prompt carefully before contacting me with a question about the course. An e-mail that includes some variation on “I re-read the assignment and I still have a question” is a way of signaling to me that you respect my time (this will work with other professors as well!).
  • Include a greeting (Hello, Hi, etc.) and a closing (Thank you, Best, Sincerely, etc.) in all e-mails that you send to me (and all professors!).

Online Tools (to reference as needed)

I will be introducing a number of free online tools for reading, writing, and researching over the course of this semester. I include instructions for each of these tools below and you will see in the course schedule when you should get them set up. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have trouble navigating this technology.

Word Online

Word Online documents are accessible via a link (they live in “the cloud”) and any changes made to them are available in real time. You can use Word Online without downloading Microsoft Office for your computer, but you will need Word when creating formal assignments to be uploaded to Canvas. Instructions for getting set up with Office 365 and downloading the applications for your computer are at this link.


Kaizena is a tool you can use to request and give feedback on papers at any point in the semester. I will sometimes share a paper from a previous class for all of us to review together on Kaizena, but you can also share a draft of your paper with just me or a group of students. I will demonstrate how to use Kaizena early in the semester, but if you need a refresher after the fact, follow these steps:

  1. Go to (make sure you don’t go to…that’s the wrong place!)
  2. Click sign up (I suggest signing in with Microsoft Office–you can then use your university e-mail address)
  3. Choose ‘Student’
  4. Enter the code for our group: [I will share the code in class!]


Zotero is an excellent free tool for gathering, annotating, and citing sources. I don’t require students to use Zotero, but I encourage you to try it out. Most of my students who have experimented with Zotero wind up using it for research projects in other courses. If you want to use a very quick version of Zotero (better than EasyBib, in my opinion), check out ZoteroBib.

If you want to try out the full application and share your items with our class group, check out the video below for instructions on getting started. If you want to figure it out on your own (skipping my brilliant video), you can register for an account at After you have registered for an account, you can download the application appropriate for your computer and (important!) the browser connector at Note that once you’ve got Zotero set up on your computer, you will need to e-mail me your Zotero username so I can invite you to join our course group.

A video about Installing Zotero

The process will be slightly different for each of you depending on your computer and the internet browser you use most often. I am happy to help if you have trouble.


Adding notes in the margins of the texts you read (annotating) is one of the best ways to understand what you are reading and begin to formulate your own ideas in response. Many of you have probably discovered that it is hard to take notes when reading online. Hypothesis is an annotation tool we will use to annotate readings for this class. When you open an assigned reading in Canvas (including this syllabus!), you’ll notice that when you select text, you are prompted to make an annotation. Please annotate actively as you read and respond to the annotations of your classmates. If you run into any technical issues, please send an e-mail to and copy me on the message. 

Note: We’ll be using hypothesis from inside Canvas at the start of our class because it makes things simpler in a course setting, but I will introduce you all to Hypothesis “in the wild” when the time is right. Some of you may find that you want to use it as you begin exploring texts that you find on your own.