Part I of this post can be found here (I’d recommend starting there for a theoretical background on the issues discussed in this project).
The UnEssays composed by CPN-100-03 can be found here.
The assignment prompt I assigned is located here.
For concrete examples of the conclusions that can be drawn from this Stand Up! project, I’ll now refer to specific student UnEssays. Though students knew throughout the process that their compositions would be viewable to the public both within and outside of our university and were actively challenged to consider this in their formulations, I’ve chosen to change names in the following paragraphs and to only refer to student compositions in course sections that aren’t linked either on this blog post or anywhere else on this scholarly blog. Preparation, discussion and the provided assignment were identical across all of my course sections.
Firstly, a firm understanding of audience was showcased in many, if not all, of the UnEssays. A majority of students entered this project with reluctance. Indeed, half the battle in early weeks as an instructor was simply convincing students that a social media presence can be popular and impactful to the public without taking on a form as pure entertainment. Many students originally expressed skepticism that members of their generation, who constitute a sizable portion of social media users (specifically on Twitter, the most popular choice for an UnEssay platform in our iteration) would give activist accounts a second glance. Considerations of audience turned out to be one of the more fruitful exercises entailed in this project. One student, whom I’ll call Bradley, remembered being challenged to “make the account more appealing to readers.” In this case, Bradley identified negotiating with at least three pressing sets of expectations (though he undoubtedly faced more). Setting aside considerations of formal expectations for the project laid out in the assignment prompt as well as implicit ones he’d absorbed from my own verbal aspirations for the project, Bradley was constrained by a perceived public that he attempted to conform to, cater to and satisfy. As outlined in his “statement of goals and choices,” this involved the incorporation of memes dispersed periodically on his Twitter account in an attempt to catch a viewer’s eye. He carefully spliced these memes, which he considered to be relatively lacking in hard information, with direct statements of fact and statistics that had a bit more intellectual backbone. Another student commented how the project helped her to develop a “voice” that others might respond to. Indeed, when we presented our UnEssay projects to each other in a relaxed, informal final-day-of-class reflection session, it became a bit of a competition to see which account was able to amass the largest number of followers, though I of course stressed that this was hardly an indication of a successful UnEssay.
Secondly, student-rhetors remixed an argument into a new medium, which not only allowed them to experiment with digital media but also encouraged further insight into the nature of persuasion itself. One student reflected on how her Twitter UnEssay seemed to have a “higher potential of convincing or persuading the minds of more than just one person.” The project took on an added dimension for this student, as she worked a minimum wage job multiple times each week while writing about a possible minimum wage hike. While she wasn’t quite sure if her Twitter account would persuade her boss to pay her a fair value for her labor, she did express confidence that her ideas, if they were to be sustained, could have a strong and tangible impact on both local and national communities. A recurring thread among students reflecting on this project regarded their actual, real-world effectiveness as argumentative texts and their potential to truly change what students originally considered to be social conditions outside of their control or influence. Another student noted that working with social media technologies helped him to feel like he had “the whole world at [his] fingertips,” and that in regards to engaging the public, “letting them know what I think and raising questions” turned out to be an exercise that far surpassed what was possible in a standard print essay.
Lastly, I’d like to point to the video scholarship developed for the project as examples of the creative thinking this project is capable of unlocking. Technology is an avenue that opens doors for students to experiment, take risks and probe the limits of their ability to combine, build and forge ahead into uncharted territory.
It seems to me that teaching writing is a valuable enterprise, but teaching rhetoric is perhaps an even more crucial one. This UnEssay project is young, having only been subject to a single incarnation so far. I’ve already begun making changes to the assignment in preparation for this upcoming Spring 2018 semester. It is among my many hopes that my FYC students left the classroom last December equipped with not only the rhetorical tools to speak publicly to their society, but also with a repertoire of critical electrate literacies empowering them to exercise citizenship to a far greater degree in their residence halls, hometowns and the social web avenues they tread upon daily.