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Student Digital Activism as Rhetorical Advocacy/Analysis

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Social media logos juxtaposed with solidarity fists
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Brief Assignment Overview: 

This assignment challenges students to become digital activists/advocates for a cause of their choosing, and aids them in developing a portfolio of work in the service of that cause.

Type of Assignment: 
Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Literature: 
Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

This ambitious assignment challenges students to become digital activists/advocates for a cause of their choosing, and aids them in developing a portfolio in the service of that cause. Students begin the class by researching a cause to advocate for such as vegetarianism, marriage equality, or gun rights. Students then produce a series of compelling “media artifacts” for that cause such as social media websites, blog sites or websites, an image or infographic/meme, an “anti-artifact” in the form of information deletion/lockdown, a digital map or timeline, and finally, a collaborative project. Instructors can also ask students to “justify” their artifacts by theoretically analyzing them and by comparing them to other analogous artifacts.

Note: Many other options for artifacts exist such as games, videos, and more.

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

Not for the faint of heart, instructors who wish to employ this assignment arc must familiarize themselves with a number of different technologies including, for example: Facebook, Twitter, Wordpress, tumblr., Wix,, Wordle, quickmeme, Storify, and many other applications. However, instructors should not fear discovering and learning new technologies alongside their students as it encourages a more “horizontal” classroom structure. An instructor who attempts such an assignment will learn much!

Instructions For Students: 

In this course on digital writing/humanities, you will become a digital activist in the service of a cause. You will develop a portfolio of work in the service of this cause that you will present at the end of the semester. You are also responsible for theoretically analyzing the “media artifacts” that you create by applying course readings as well as comparing the rhetorical strategies you have employed with other similar (or different) media artifacts.

Step #1: Research a cause to advocate for across the arc of the semester. You have a lot of options, so make sure you care deeply about the cause for which you are advocating. Students in past courses have become digital activists regarding, for instance: body image, disability, cheating in sports, net neutrality, vegetarianism, cyber-bullying, women’s health services, marriage equality, and much more!

Step #2: Once you have an exciting/fulfilling cause to advocate for, you will now begin producing and analyzing “media artifacts” in the service of that cause. In this particular course, you will produce six different types of digital media/humanities writing: a social media website (or sites), a blog site or website, an image or infographic (which can include a series of memes), an “anti-artifact” in which you will delete or lock down information online, a digital map or timeline, and finally, a collaborative project with others in the class. You do not have to have any prior knowledge of the technologies that you employ to develop your artifacts—a big part the assignment is just exploring! So take a look at the following examples, create accounts on whatever sites you think will work best, and go to town!

P.S., It’s a big help to find others in the class who are using similar sites/technologies or advocating for similar causes at any given time. Start collaborating as soon as you can, and you’ll find it eases your classroom tasks immensely!

REMINDER: Every artifact is accompanied by a 1-page theoretical analysis. For example, one might discuss one’s Twitter feed in reference to, say, Denis Campbell’s Egypt Unshackled: Using Social Media to @#:) the System. Likewise, all deletions should engage Viktor Mayer-Schonberger’s Delete: The Virtues of Forgetting in a Digital Age. Analyses are also encouraged to include comparisons/contrastings of rhetorical strategies with other similar artifacts, whether those of student colleagues or “outsiders.”


            Artifact A (Social Media—Facebook, Pintrest, Twitter, etc.)


            Artifact B (Blog or Website—tumblr., Wordpress, Blogspot, Jux, Wix, etc.)      


            Artifact C (Image—, quickmeme, Photoshop, Paint, etc.)


            Artifact D (Deletion)

Note: The deletion is in some ways the hardest artifact to produce. Essentially, your goal is to “become-imperceptible” by removing yourself from the Web, or by blocking access to content that’s related to you and/or your cause. You can also find a website or application to analyze that “deletes” something for you. Be creative and try your best! (See also:


            Artifact E (Map or Timeline—Google Maps, Text2MindMap, Storify, Zeega, Tiki-toki, ManyEyes, Wordle, etc.)!date=2012-01-04_21:28:09!


            Artifact F (Collaboration)

Note: The collaborative artifact can be approached in a couple different ways. One is to use a familiar technology but in tandem with others. Another is to find a wholly new technology and try it out. It’s up to your group—what matters is that you’re writing and advocating/analyzing with others!       


            Other (Video, Reddit, etc.)


Step #3: Now that you have produced a series of sophisticated media artifacts (that is, various forms of digital media/humanities writing), it’s time to show off your work to your classmates in the form of a presentation. Keep in mind that this presentation isn’t merely show-and-tell, but yet another opportunity to rhetorically advocate for your cause. Aim to persuade!

Note: Your instructor will be extra impressed if you use a presentation platform other than Powerpoint!

            Presentation Examples:

Evaluation Suggestions: 

There are many ways to approach evaluating the above assignment(s). The simplest is via “completion” grades, but what “completing” the assignment means may vary widely from instructor to instructor. I would recommend developing a rubric for evaluating each artifact. For instance, one might have a ten-point scale where the following criteria are considered (I use the following rubric myself):

Does the artifact make a clear argument (or series of arguments)?

Does the artifact provide evidence for any claims it makes (e.g., by citing any and all sources)?

Does the artifact respectfully engage an opposition and an audience?

Is any written text on/in the artifact clearly and carefully composed?

Is the artifact accompanied by a theoretical analysis/comparison that is sophisticated (that is, considers/cites either the readings for the course or similar artifacts)?

How well does any analysis grasp the theoretical texts it employs?

Does the artifact employ good design (for instance, color, arrangement, etc.)?

How persuasive is the artifact in terms of rhetorical appeals? Does it contain any fallacies?

Has an “appropriate” amount of effort been exemplified by the student (e.g., number of posts on a social media site, number of pages on a website, and so on)?

Has the artifact been peer-reviewed twice?

Have peer and instructor comments been integrated following peer review?

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

This assignment arc has been employed to great success at the University of Texas in a “Writing in Digital Environments” course. The students seemed to really enjoy the work, though were sometimes frustrated by how surprisingly hard it is to get outsiders interested in what they are/were producing. However, whether a particular student project is getting feedback from outsiders is often an opportune moment to discuss kairos. If I would recommend anything, it would be: get students to really think about and research their topics, make sure to show students lots of examples, don’t be afraid to let a student use a technology no one is familiar with, encourage theoretical analysis of artifacts, assign whatever media types you like and don’t be confined by what I’ve listed above, stick closely to a rubric and encourage students to pay close attention to whatever rubric is provided. This will better the life of all involved!

Course Description: 

Writing in Digital Environments/Writing for the Digital Humanities

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