NMS 509/WRD 530: Interactivity (WQ 2013)

Course Description

This is a course about why and how to design interactivity, or the capacity for user input and engagement, into texts and systems. We will focus on the rhetoric of interactivity, including both the explicit arguments made by designers and theorists about the value of interactivity, and the implicit arguments that interactive texts and experiences make to their users.

While critics have argued over the precise definition of “interactivity,” we will use it as an inclusive term, which describes texts and systems that facilitate a range of social and physical interactions, including those between

  • an individual user and a screen-based interface;
  • multiple users, with their interactions facilitated by a screen-based interface;
  • an individual user and a screen-based interface, plus his or her surrounding physical environment; and,
  • multiple users, plus their surrounding physical environments, with interactions facilitated by screen-based interfaces.

This four-part taxonomy will structure our exploration of interactivity; for each mode, we will explore case studies to test rhetorical claims about interactivity and better understand why and how to both engage with and participate in the creation of a variety of interactive texts and systems. After we build a theoretical foundation, you will try your hand at applying what you’ve learned, by proposing or executing the redesign of an existing text or system in ways that add meaningful interactivity. In this applied work, we will explore how an understanding of both the digital medium and the rhetoric of interactivity can inform the design process.

Learning Outcomes
Upon completion of this course, you should be better prepared to

  • Articulate a range of claims that have been made about interactivity and use this knowledge to assess specific interactive texts and systems.
  • Use/engage with interactive texts and systems with an informed and critical awareness.
  • Participate on professional teams that may create interactive texts and systems (not necessarily in a production role) and contribute to the work of these teams with an understanding of what is possible, what technologies can be used to design different kinds of interactivity, where to look for model texts and systems, and how to use humanist design values and rhetorical frameworks to structure particular projects.


Bogost, I. (2007). Procedural rhetoric. In Persuasive games: The expressive power of video games (pp. 1–64). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Carnegie, T. A. (2009). Interface as exordium: The rhetoric of interactivity. Computers and Composition, 26(3), 164-173.

Diehl, A., Grabill, J. T., Hart-Davidson, W., & Iyer, V. (2008). Grassroots: Supporting the knowledge work of everyday life. Technical Communication Quarterly, 17(4), 413-434.

Kraut, R.E. & Resnick, P. (2011). Encouraging contribution to online communities. In Building successful online communities: Evidence-based design (pp. 21-76). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Lovink, G. (2011). Introduction: Capturing Web 2.0 before its disappearance. In Networks without a cause (pp. 1-23). Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Manovich, L. (2001). Excerpt from The language of new media (pp. 55-61). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Murray, J.H. (2012). Inventing the medium: Principles of interaction design as a cultural practice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Rainie, L. & Wellman, B. (2012). Networked: The new social operating system. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Ryan, M.L. (2001). Hypertext: The functions and effects of selective interactivity. In Narrative as virtual reality: Immersion and interactivity in literature and electronic media (pp. 204-224). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Silva, A. & Frith, J. (2012). Excerpt from Mobile interfaces in public spaces: locational privacy, control, and urban sociability. New York: Routledge.

Simon, N. (2010). Principles of participation. In The participatory museum (pp. 1-32). Santa Cruz, CA: Museum 2.0.


  1. Case Study Write-up and Presentation, done with a partner, in which you present an interactive text or system to the class.
  2. Refined Taxonomy of Interactivity and Paper, which classify various types of interactivity and situate your professional and/or research interests within this taxonomy.
  3. Redesign or Proposal for Redesign of a Text or System, with the aim to add meaningful interactivity.