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Unit #4: Online Advocacy Project

(Worth 20% of your grade; due on December 17)

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Some of you have heard that statement, attributed to cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, so many times that is has become the ultimate platitude — a throwaway line appropriate for any commencement speech or awards ceremony. (Oh, and by the way, no one knows if Mead actually said that.) But if our readings and our discussions this semester have shown us anything, it’s that Mead’s (or whoever’s) declaration has never been more true than it is today, in the era of social media, online petitions, and crowdsourcing. Digital tools have simplified and accelerated the means by which people advocate for change in their communities, and even traditional causes now rely on Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and IndieGoGo campaigns to communicate their message.

For your final project in this class, you will work with two of your classmates to achieve a simple goal: use the internet to change the world. Sound daunting? It should. But before you lose hope, let’s parse that goal. “Change” and “world” are both flexible terms, so instead of thinking about how to end world hunger or stop human trafficking, consider the problems you encounter every day — right here in Blacksburg, or on campus at Virginia Tech — and start asking, “What could we do to change that?” Over the next few weeks, we will study massive, global campaigns for social change, and if your team wants to tackle a big problem in the world, that’s great, but you do not need to have Bono perform at a benefit concert in order to succeed on this assignment. All of us (your professor included) will need to balance ambition with realistic expectations; if we can find that balance, I have no doubt that the projects developed by this class will, in some small way, change the world for the better.

Developing Your Project

Because each team’s work on this assignment will be unique, your team will draft a Plan of Action that explains your project, outlines your proposed efforts to implement the project, and recommends a set of evaluation criteria for me to use when I assign grades. In addition, we will use frequent conferences to help all teams stay on track. After Thanksgiving break, I will meet with your team to review your plan of action, and once I have approved your project, you can begin implementing it. In class, we will regularly review the progress of all teams to learn what is working and what isn’t.

Submitting Your Project

Your project is due at the beginning of our final exam, on Monday, December 17, at 3:25 p.m. Your team should create a single Dropbox folder titled “ENGL 3984 Team # Unit 4,” place all of your project materials in the folder, and share the folder with email hidden; JavaScript is required. During our final, each team will share its project with the class in a 7–10 minute presentation. This does not need to be a formal, scripted PowerPoint presentation, but it should provide a thorough overview of the work your team has done and make an argument that your team has been successful in achieving its goals.

In addition, you will submit an individual memo of transmittal via Google Docs that critiques your own work on this project and evaluates your peers’ contributions to the project. Please use the Unit #4 Memo Template to complete this part of the assignment. Directions are included inside the document.

Evaluation Criteria

In the spirit of this assignment, I am asking you to help me develop the evaluation criteria I will use to evaluate your project. When we return from Thanksgiving break, be prepared to answer these questions:

  • What qualifies as a worthy cause for students to undertake? Can it be partisan? Can it be controversial?
  • How many different “channels” (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, online petition, mobile app, flashmob) are needed to help a cause succeed in the digital age?
  • If the goal for this assignment is to “change the world,” what constitutes “change”? How will you (and I) know if your team has succeeded? What standards should we use to measure success?

Example Projects

Your team might find inspiration by analyzing the following projects. Some of these projects are massive, ongoing efforts to influence global change; others are hyperlocal projects with small, short-term goals. As you review these sites, consider how they use the affordances of the web to improve the world. If you find additional projects that we might want to emulate in our work, please send them to me so I can add them to this list.

Potential Tools and Platforms

The following is an incomplete list of tools and platforms you may want to use for your project. Please do not limit yourselves to the tools on this list, and if you find additional tools that might be helpful, please send them to me so I can add them to the list.

Where am I?
This is the class website for English 3984: Writing and Digital Media, taught by Quinn Warnick at Virginia Tech in fall 2012.
Worthwhile Reading
The links below are the most recent additions to my collection of bookmarks that are relevant to this course. You can find a complete list of ENGL 3984 bookmarks on Pinboard.

  • Buffy vs Edward Remix Unfairly Removed by Lionsgate
    A long, carefully documented saga about fair use. Great case study.
  • The Always Up-to-Date Guide to Managing Your Facebook Privacy
    Nice guide from Lifehacker: "First, we'll walk through the basic privacy settings that determine what you share, then look at a few lesser-known settings you'll want to tweak, and finish with a few third-party tools that will help keep your Facebook information private."
  • The enduring mystery of Roberto Clemente's bat
    Great writing by Kevin Guilfoile, but also a beautiful example of multimedia storytelling.
  • tapestry: a new way to write
    John Borthwick explains what tapestry is and collects some examples of great tap essays: "When we started developing tapestry it struck us that there weren’t many native reading experiences on the iPhone or iPad. Our goal is to build such a tool. A space to slow things down and let you create or experience, short, tappable stories in a simple, clean, distraction free reading environment."
  • All You Need Is (Facebook) Love: ‘Compliments’ Accounts Go Viral at Colleges and Universities
    Time magazine reports on an encouraging trend: college students setting up Facebook pages to collect compliments for/from their fellow students.
  • Demand a Plan
    Online effort to improve gun control, started in response to the Newtown school shooting.
  • Causes.com
    "Causes is a free online platform that provides easy-to-use tools for driving change. We help passionate people share ideas, find supporters, raise money, and make an impact."
  • What Ancient Greek Rhetoric Might Teach Us About New Civics
    Ethan Zuckerman: "If we want to prepare people to be effective citizens, we need to think about teaching this new civics as well as older forms of civic participation. Citizens need to do more than watch or read about the issues and then vote. They need to know how to report, to advocate, to coordinate, to propose and test solutions."
  • SPOT Survey - Fall 2012
    Students: If you haven't completed the SPOT evaluation for this course, please do so during class on Wednesday. I take this feedback very seriously, and I use it to revise my classes each semester, so please be specific about the aspects of the course (and my teaching) that you found successful and unsuccessful.
  • Popcorn Maker
    New web-based app from Mozilla: "Popcorn Maker makes it easy to enhance, remix and share web video. Use your web browser to combine video and audio with content from the rest of the web — from text, links and maps to pictures and live feeds."
  • The People's Bailout
    David Rees explains how the Rolling Jubilee works: "OWS is going to start buying distressed debt (medical bills, student loans, etc.) in order to forgive it. As a test run, we spent $500, which bought $14,000 of distressed debt. We then ERASED THAT DEBT. (If you’re a debt broker, once you own someone’s debt you can do whatever you want with it — traditionally, you hound debtors to their grave trying to collect. We’re playing a different game. A MORE AWESOME GAME.)"
  • Understanding Digital Civics
    Ethan Zuckerman: "I’m beginning to think that certain types of civic participation are simply organic to the internet. Once we have the ability to create and share our own information, we create and spread media to promote the causes we care about and raise money to support the causes we value."
  • Google Docs Stories Builder
    Fun little tool to create text-based stories in which various characters interact within a Google Doc. (Sound confusing? Yeah, you kind of have to see it in action.)
  • Twitter Is A Truth Machine
    John Herrman: "Twitter is a fact-processing machine on a grand scale, propagating then destroying rumors at a neck-snapping pace. To dwell on the obnoxiousness of the noise is to miss the result: That we end up with more facts, sooner, with less ambiguity."
  • The Fallacy of Digital Natives
    Amen to this: "Sure, there may be a larger percentage of Millennials that tap into technology first compared to their elders, but oversimplifying the division of generations to suggest one prefers an all-technology learning style whilst the others use it when necessary is preposterous. Learning and technology has nothing to do with generational divides."
  • Click and Drag
    An amazing, endless xkcd comic.
  • Nice piece in Transom explaining Cowbird
    Annie Correal: "Our goal is to build a public library of human experience, so the knowledge and wisdom we accumulate as individuals may live on as part of the commons."
  • Being Online Has Become So Common That Some People No Longer Identify It As Being Online
    Techdirt, quoting a study by Forrester Research: "Our analysis revealed that 'being online' is becoming a fluid concept. Consumers no longer consider some of the online activities they perform to be activities related to 'using the Internet.' In fact, given the various types of connected devices that US consumers own, many people are connected and logged on (automatically) at all times. The Internet has become such a normal part of their lives that consumers don’t register that they are using the Internet when they’re on Facebook, for example. It’s only when they are actively doing a specific task, like search, that they consider this to be time that they’re spending online."
  • Reddit's balance of power: community values are tested as a troll is unmasked
    Links to all of The Verge's coverage of the Violentacrez debacle.