UNIT TWO (HALL) Community Problems – and working toward community solutions
We have spent some time in this course identifying problems in contemporary America—especially in New York City. In this unit, you will be working in groups of four or five to:
- Find out as much as you can about those problems
- Figure out who might be able to impact change on those problems (this will be your audience.) As a group, you may decide that you need to reach more than one audience.
- Develop a document (or documents) that you think will best reach that audience. This might be a brochure, a speech, a video, a magazine article, or anything else that you believe will impact your audience and encourage them to begin making change toward solving this problem.
It’s up to you to decide if you want to do a big final group project, or if you want to do smaller individual final projects. You should make this decision based on, not only your own needs, but also the problem and audience you’ve chosen. In other words– who do you need to reach and how can you best reach them?
I say “begin making change” because the problems we have identified are not simple to solve. If they were, they would’ve been solved by now. Too often, student papers are oversimplified: “Racism would end if people just saw each other for who they are” or something like that. What I want you to look for here are CONCRETE steps that ACTUAL individuals can take, even if they are only steps in the right direction. For example, if we are looking at racial profiling among the police in the Bronx, we might want to address a community group to insist on specific practices for hiring a more diverse police force, or a police force that lives in a borough they serve. We might also want to address the police commissioner to ask for police cameras or training for the police.
Whatever the case, your first step is to research the problem. You might think you know off the top of your head what the solution to your problem is, but you will need to back this up with evidence.
Step 1: Have a group meeting. Brainstorm together what you KNOW about this problem and what you WANT to know about this problem. Go ahead and do some quick Internet research on your phones. What did you LEARN from this research? What do you STILL need to know?
We’re going to go to the library after this meeting, so you’ll need to be prepared with some questions. What do you need to get a full scope of this problem? How are you going to delegate the research? There are four of you, so you should each have your own separate task. This is important– you don’t want everyone looking up the same thing. That way, you can come together and share the info. You may also want to interview some people in the community! You’re going to have a few days to do this research.
After the library research, everyone should write up a memo for the group. What have you found?
Step 2: In your next meeting, look at your research. Do you need to find out more? Also, WHO do you think you need to reach in order to start working toward a solution to this problem? What do you think will be the best genre to reach them?
Step 3: It’s time to define your own project. That is, what are the documents (or what is the document) that you guys are going to make in order to reach this audience or audiences? What I’m looking for here is a document that is enough work for all four of you—so if you are, for example, making a 20 page informational brochure to present to the City Council, that is certainly enough for all of you. However if you are doing a poster, that’s probably a 1-2 person job. In this case, some of you might do a poster, and some others of you may do, for example, a video essay to accompany that poster.
Your finished project should: explain the problem to your audience in a genre appropriate to that audience, using diction appropriate to that audience. It should look like a finished document (a decent-looking brochure, a well thought-out video essay.) I know you’re not all graphic designers, but you do need to present this document, and every document you write (for all your classes) with care. Also– even if everyone is doing separate parts of the final project, they should all fit together!
How will this be graded?
- The thoroughness of your research. In other words, how well do you understand the problem you are trying to impact? I will assess this through your research memos (DUE DATE)
- Your work on audience: have you identified an appropriate audience/ appropriate audiences? Have you identified a genre and tone that will reach that audience?
- The care you put into your project. Does it seem finished? Is it thorough? I can’t give you a word count here, but this is a big project, guys! If you turn in a brochure with 100 words on it, you won’t pass. This is because you can not make a compelling argument in 100 words. You need to have ENOUGH INFORMATION there to make that argument. Remember that you need to write at least 6000 finished words this semester!
Note: this assignment could also be split into both research (Unit 2) and presentation of the research (Unit 3) though I decided not to do it that way
How Can We Develop and Translate Arguments For Multiple Audiences?
- Stuart Greene, “Argument as Conversation: The Role of Inquiry in Writing a Researched Argument,” (course reader)
- Chelsea Harrison: “College Students and Social Media” (course reader)
- Christine Yared, “Don’t Let My Classmates’ Deaths Be in Vain”
- Emma González, “A Young Activist’s Advice: Vote, Shave Your Head and Cry Whenever You Need To”
- “Diane Wolk-Rogers, “A Parkland Teacher’s Homework for Us All,” TED Talk (video)
- Cheryl Ball and Colin Charlton: “All Writing is Multimodal”
Rhetorical Situation, or Your Jumping Off Point for Writing:
What problems or issues within a given discourse community or in its relation to society need to be remedied with urgent action? What can we do to define and address pressing issues for our communities and those around us with less cultural capital or agency? For example, consider issues such as voter suppression, low voter turnout within certain groups, empowerment of different communities, or defining an otherwise highly politicized problem in such a way that a productive conversation can take place.
Your Tasks and the Genres You Will Work With:
You’ll be using two genres to make your argument: a written proposal, and a multimodal genre of your choice (such as a digital, audio, video, visual, or otherwise not strictly verbal format).
A proposal is an action-based document that exists in the academy, in research institutions, in business, in the public sector, and in government. The most central aspect of a proposal is identifying a problem, and proposing a solution to that problem through an argument that combines persuasive, pragmatic, and creative evidence together to make a case for the solution’s feasibility. In this assignment, you will be producing a group-written proposal, and an individual reflection on the choices you made in conducting research, defining the problem, and arguing for a coherent and feasible solution.
Then, you will have the opportunity to translate your research-based argument from the previous assignment into another multimodal genre of your choosing to be delivered digitally to a 21st Century audience. As you consider which new audience you would like to reach, you are welcome to choose any genre you want to produce – anything from a podcast, PSA, video, commercial, website, interview, comic, Op-Ed article, photo essay, feature magazine article, poster, brochure, rap album, speech, video game, etc. In addition to the genre that you produce (alone or as a group), you’ll turn in an individual genre translation reflection of 2-3 pages explaining how you sought to reach this specific audience and/or discourse community, and why this genre was the right fit for conveying your message.
The Proposal, in more depth:
In this assignment, you’ll write a research-based argumentative proposal explaining the urgency and necessity of solving a pressing problem that you have identified in a particular discourse community that affects our larger society as a whole. Who has the ability to solve this problem, and who are you calling into action? Consider how to reach these audiences. How are you defining this problem and your call to action for an academic community of educated scholars?
As a group, define a pressing problem, conduct an inquiry as to how it has been addressed up until this moment, and propose an original, research-based solution. You will turn in one group-written proposal of at least 6-8 pages, and will do an oral multimedia presentation presenting this argument your peers.
The written proposal may have a structure of your choice, but it should include the following components:
In which you should give an overview of the problem you are addressing and why you want to solve it in this particular way (what’s the context? What have you researched and become a mini-expert in?), as well as the scope of the audience you are proposing it to (national level, state, local, etc), and an overview of why this proposal is significant. What is the urgency of addressing this type of public issue in the world right here, right now?
Definition of the Problem
In which you should explain the rhetorical situation and detail the specifics of the problem. Why has this not been successfully addressed before? Why did other solutions fall short? Which discourse communities are involved here, and who has the power? Does part of the problem lie in how it was defined or represented? Why address this issue right now, and what has changed? How do you know what you know about the problem? Who did you talk to, and what contextual sources have you used to frame the exigency of the issue?
Explanation of the Proposed Solution
In which you should explain what your solution will consist of, and why it will work. Research here should show the natural means by which your inquiry led you to a solution such as the one you are proposing: why does it make sense, what does your proposed solution offer, and why will it work? Lay out a plan – who would it help, and who are the stakeholders who would be involved? Who is your audience here – who needs to be convinced? (Usually this includes figuring out who gets to authorize the $$ for a public project) Why is this necessary and important, and who will benefit, and how? Integrating sources here is important to show that you have used your inquiry to create a knowledge base about this topic, and that you can support otherwise hypothetical claims with concrete evidence about what is needed and what other similar solutions have worked in the past. Where does your solution rise beyond what came before to do this work better?
In which you will want to leave your audience with a lasting impression about the significance and value of your proposed solution. Instead of simply re-iterating your points, you may want to expand outward, and consider how your solution will squarely address this important problem in the near future.
The Oral Multimedia Presentation should do the following:
Describe the proposal to your peers as a work of researched writing in progress, using the medium of an oral presentation with visual aids to suggest several of the points that you will make in your written proposal (visual aids like Powerpoint, a video, or handouts are highly recommended).
Explain the above components to your peers as if they were the intended audience who were able to approve the proposal, and justify your choices. You are also welcome to describe your research process and the design process, if these will help us understand the significance of the proposal to you, and where the work is headed. You will also watch and evaluate your fellow peers’ presentations, and suggest how they may develop their rhetorical position or augment the features of their proposal. In the presentation, feel free to make use of both visual/multimedia and written components—be creative, and use each form in a way you think will be most effective!
Each group will do one presentation and turn in one proposal, and will be evaluated as a group. You will also turn in an Individual Reflection Essay (1 per person), in which you will reflect on how you made writing and research choices to build this inquiry-based argument, and how collaborative writing affected your own individual process.
The Multimodal Translation, in more depth:
How can you reach audiences in the public sphere (outside of the academy) through different genres and media that reach audiences in different ways? How does your argument or call to action change when it is translated into new media? How does a given genre change the voice or persona of a writer? Consider what it would take to transfer your argument to situations beyond this class, like into other academic, social, civic, or cultural realms.
In a group or individually (whichever you prefer), you will choose a digital/multimodal genre that incorporates visual, audio, video, multimedia, interactive, or digital elements, and “translate” the argument from your group proposal into a new genre for a new audience. You could write and perform a rap song, make a video or commercial or public service announcement, create a website, or produce a brief podcast—transmitting the content of your research and the strength of your argument into an engaging piece of rhetoric for a new audience. How do you want to choose your genre, and who is this genre for? How will your translated argument affect your new audience?