Changing the Project Assignment for the Post-Election Moment
To do this, I revised the project prompt to create space for the imaginative potential of my students around ethics and social change in web development.
The new focus was on building for social good: playing with, breaking, and remaking a pre-existing social networking site. This new prompt also better aligned this project and its evaluative criteria with a multimodal composition pedagogy focused on play, creativity, and speculative design (Shipka; Dunne & Raby). It was my hope that this new unit focus would enable students to critically assay the technology as it currently exists: tackling media literacy, siloing of information, relationship-building across difference, as well as other issues deliberated during class discussions.
New Project Assignment
In this four-week assignment, students assembled into groups of four and collaborated in team GitHub repositories. The five steps of the project were:
- Read/re-read the articles on design, web development, and the election. Think about ways social networking could work for social good, and how to design and build for this purpose.
- Fork the site files (in your team’s GitHub repository), play, and brainstorm a re-design. You can find discussion of these files in the final chapter of Nixon’s book, your technical resource for the project.
- Create a mood board, wireframes, and a project plan with a timeline for completion of all tasks. Divide the work across your team. Designate a project manager and decide on other roles as suit your particular project needs.
- Create all deliverables and build new or edited SNS files in GitHub. All changes to files must be documented in GitHub as we practiced in class.
- Give a presentation and product demonstration in class.
What might it mean to teach digital rhetoric in a web design course after the election? For us, it meant a heightened and contextualized attempt to bring rhetorical literacy as well as functional literacy to a course in advanced web design. Final projects, and the discussions from the presentations of these projects, generated the following themes:
- Structural changes to SNS sites: Each group challenged the primacy of the News Feed feature in the design of a social networking site, and attempted to create more agency for the user in choosing the content they consume. For them, this largely involved increasing the transparency of what the algorithm does (visibly asking users which media outlets or friends from whom they wished to read their news). Currently, this places the onus on the user to customize their accounts in ways that are onerous and confusing, reading through each and every friend and “liked” organization and placing them in buckets according to the user’s level of interest. This does not, however, always frame the work that this activity is for (choosing what we see as “news”). We discussed how designs could create spaces for users to consciously choose daily news outlets and highlight these in separate spaces on the interface.
- Relationships between researchers, designers, and developers: The web development team approach to this assignment encouraged reflection for those teams who chose a member who would do the programming. Ultimately, the teams saw their success or failure hinging on that one person’s ability to put their redesign into working code, regardless of the dissonance of this with the evaluative criteria for the assignment. They all chose to put the build last, after research and design was completed. The very act of bifurcating theory from practice in these team roles reinforced the importance of the challenge that undergirded the assignment: can builders of software think ethically about structural decisions inherent in that building?
Dunne, Anthony, and Fiona Raby. Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming. Cambridge: MIT P, 2013. Print.
Shipka, Jody. Toward a Composition Made Whole. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2011. Print.
Selber, Stuart. “Reimagining the Functional Side of Computer Literacy.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 55, 2004, pp. 470-503.