Student Digital Activism as Rhetorical Advocacy



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.

Learning Outcomes: As a semester-long project, the pedagogical goals of this activity are extensive. Students are expected to increase their skills with several types of multi-modal writing, develop an eye for rhetorical elements of web-design, and learn to consider various online audiences along with what arguments will affect them.

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.

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!

Student Instructions: 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.”

Student Examples:

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