What I'd Do Differently
Although the role of rhetoric in civic realms has a long history, I don’t think this project could have worked without the web interaction portion. Of course, this is partially because it was embedded in a course that was asking the large abstract question of whether the web could function as a public sphere. But the web also made the public sphere real in a way looking only at rhetorical theory or rhetorical practice in print could never have done. The best part of the project, that is, was trying to engage in public discourse and realizing both its benefits and difficulties. For me, the amazing access to Web 2.0 spaces, and the freedom to not worry about teaching “technology” as I might in other courses (coding, programs, etc.) also provided the additional benefit of being able to focus more on the ideas and rhetorical strategies than the technical formatting of specific kinds of texts.
I do think my exclusive reliance on Web 2.0 spaces may have been one weakness of the overall course in that students desired to learn more about creating web texts than we had time for at the end (something I will change next time)—and they are right as this is an essential part of initiating one’s own publics rather than joining those already formed. But the excitement the students had in getting responses to their posts, the care they took in composing them, and their reflections upon their experience not only made for a realistic context for their texts but also raised questions about what role we play as writers and citizens in our everyday lives that seem essential as higher education focuses more and more on professionalization. Not only would this project be impossible to duplicate without these Web 2.0 spaces and those others the students interacted with who seem to be seeking their own public spheres, but it also highlighted possible uses for the web that don’t always get full consideration in writing courses. My students admitted on the first day of class that they did not write much on the web prior to this course (except with their friends on social networking sites or course-mandated discussions on class sites); their primary web interactions were passive: seeking information or, more often, as consumers. If nothing else, the project asked students to consider their roles as producers of text, and most importantly, what role writing might play in changing their world.