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PWR 1ES: "Writing the world”: A Workshop for Students as Digital Agents of Change

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Catalog Number: PWR 1ES

Instructor: Emily Southerton

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement


We live in a sociopolitical landscape controlled by behemoth tech companies from Meta to Alphabet, Twitter to TikTok. Young people, as well as other groups, question: Do we have agency in digital or technology-enhanced environments? Or are we necessarily the product of such spaces? How will emerging answers affect the way new generations grow up, live, and learn with technology? How do we claim agency and work for change in this world? And to what degree can students re-imagine, hack, and harness technology for good in through writing and design in school?

In this course, we will look at examples of young people who wield tools from the writing and design fields to create change within and beyond technological spaces. For instance, we will consider the work of inaugural speaker Amanda Gorman, who challenges Americans to find “the power to author a new chapter” in history. We will also meet young tech designers who harness critical literacy practices to create alternative social media platforms as counter-spaces for hosting new generations of voices. We will distill practices from these change-makers and apply them to our own efforts with maker-mindsets. Course assignments will serve as opportunities for developing our proficiency in understanding writing and design thinking as skills to create change. Following each assignment, we will explore repurposing student work toward authentic ends, and students will be encouraged and supported to submit their work for digital or self-publication to amplify their own voices as agents of change. 

As a workshop course on student agency, all members of the classroom community will take both teaching and learning stances, contributing readings, tips, and insights to one another to create a more diverse and living course for all. Students will work in writing groups, as professional writers often do, to offer consistent feedback, learn and grow together, and further develop useful writing habits and skills.

Examples of research topics: For this course, you will engage in an in-depth research project spanning several weeks. Sample research topics you might pursue might examine the rhetoric of individual change-makers, like Gorman, while others might focus instead on the digital and physical platforms that she’s used to further amplify her voice and vision. Other researchers might center on a topic, examining challenges unique to Gen Z who inherit and inhabit the metaverse or climate change, and explore the range of related digital projects by young people seeking to create change. 

Major assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1200-1500 words or 4-5 pages): This assignment asks you to analyze the rhetorical strategies of a youth-authored text of your choice which pursues social change. The goal of this assignment is to interrogate and understand how effectively (or not) the young author’s rhetoric moves its audience. 

Texts in Conversation

(1800-2400 words or 6-8 pages): This assignment marks the beginning of your research project. Here, you will research and investigate the larger research question you’d like to explore relating to the topic of how youth use writing and design in change-making projects and how they harness technology to amplify their cause. You’ll analyze how different digital sources, voices, and perspectives inform the larger conversation about your topic.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words or 12-15 pages): Your RBA is the final product of this course where your voice enters into the conversation. Here is where you’ll build on and expand the work you began with the Texts in Conversation assignment by integrating a variety of sources to produce your own complex, provocative argument as it relates to your topic.