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Unit #4: Online Advocacy Project

(Worth 20% of your grade; due on May 13)

“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 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 you decide 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 (myself 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. 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

Our project will conclude at the beginning of our final exam, on Monday, May 13, at 2:05 p.m. Before you come to the final, please submit a short memo (300–500 words) to me that describes your contributions to the collaborative project, critiques the effectiveness of those efforts, and evaluates your peers’ contributions to project. In addition, you might want to address questions such as, What would I do differently if I were starting this project again? or How could future classes of Writing and Digital Media students have greater success on projects like this? Place your memo in your personal Google Drive folder that is shared with me and title it “Your Name Unit 4 Memo” (e.g., “John Doe Unit 4 Memo”). During our final, each student will share one or two experiences from this project and offer one or two suggestions for improving this assignment in future semesters. This does not need to be a formal presentation, but you should plan what you’re going to say before you come to the final. Your presentation will not be graded as a separate assignment, but it will help me determine your individual grade on the larger collaborative project.

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.