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Writing Machines: Computer Programming & Literature

Fall-Winter 2020-2021

Fully online in the Fall (and possible in the winter)

Faculty: Brian L. Walter, PhD & Steven D. Hendricks, MFA

Literature is in part the product of the complex, gooey, electrical buzzing in people’s heads. How writing materializes in the world also depends on the tools at hand: the chisel, the plume…the keyboard. In fact, the computer keyboard reminds us of the enormous flexibility of the alphabet, that words are no more than combinations of some of our 26 arbitrary symbols. Moreover, the power of the computer, the ultimate tool for manipulating symbols, can give us new kinds of access to and control over written language’s way of playing with letters and words, exploring texts, and posing questions about literature, meaning, and knowledge in general.

Combining introductory computer programming with literary study and creative writing, this program is about practical, playful, and theoretical applications of the computer to working with words and narratives. We’ll look for ways in which computing and writing can be informed by one another. We’ll explore the computer’s potential to help us analyze and generate text in a variety of ways, from predictive text schemes to playful textual transformations. For example, there are several schemes for producing new text in the style of an existing text; you’ll learn about ways to generate a new sonnet based on the sonnets of William Shakespeare, a new novel in the style of Dan Brown. You’ll learn to use the computer to experiment with textual analysis and visualization and to formulate rich questions that invite us to utilize the power of data to explore literature with a new lens.

In the fall, students will learn basic skills in computer programming and literary studies. In winter quarter, we’ll further explore applications of the computer to work with narrative structures, building 3D virtual environments that reflect literary ideas and sensibilities, while deepening our study of and conceptual projects with text. The regular work of the program in both quarters will include lectures, literature seminars, computer programming workshops, and creative writing workshops inspired by writers who have used computers and mathematics to rethink the writing process. Students will also sharpen their college writing skills, develop critical reading strategies, and learn to contribute to productive seminars.

This program is intended for students who are curious about programming or who are looking for an entry point into the computer science curriculum and would enjoy exploring intersections of computer programming and literature. This program is good preparation for the Computer Science Foundations program and also for the Literary Arts Foundations program.

Students will have access to live and interactive lessons with the faculty and can also watch faculty-developed videos as needed or as they are able. Online small group work will also be a regular part of the work of the program. The faculty will be available for online office hours and one-on-one virtual support. Students are required to have reliable internet access and regular access to a computer.

Our work will be conducted remotely, using Canvas, Zoom, and Slack. The faculty will work with students to make alternative arrangements, allowing students to earn comparable credit, if conditions prevent students from accessing our synchronous meetings.

Greener Foundations: This program will incorporate Greener Foundations, a holistic course designed for first-time, first-year students. Faculty and staff collaborate to bring study skills, academic planning, health and wellness education, advising, and more into the classroom. More information can be found on the college website at Greener Foundations.

This program will be fully remote in fall and possibly through winter. To successfully participate students should have a reliable internet connection and a computer or laptop. Students should expect to spend 6 hours per week in synchronous meetings using zoom and canvas. Students will have access to alternatives to synchronous (in person or remote) participation if conditions require.