How can we help students see that their writing can have real outcomes in the world? And how can students’ writing help community partners do their work? These are the questions sitting at the center of Leah Cassorla’s course, RHET 125: Writing for a Digital World. In this class, students learn about multimodal composition and digital rhetorics then use their new knowledge and schools to collaboratively design print and digital compositions for their partners.
“My students read a lot of rhetorical theory in this class, and I use this as the culminating project for this course so they can take the theory and combine it with the design skills they learn so they can make an impact. I want them to see rhetoric and themselves as rhetors as having power in the world to create change” – Leah Cassorla
Students partnered with HARC, Kamora’s Cultural Corner, and Hartford PD Not Safe for Women (HPDNSFW), and Trinity’s VITA Tax Clinic at Trinfo Cafe. After initial meetings in October, students spent the second half of the semester designing, revising, and finalizing their products for their partners. These included: websites, social media posts, flyers, brochures, bookmarks, and more. Each group spent time considering the audience their partner wanted to reach before deciding on web and print genres for their products and thinking carefully about the design choices they were making.
At their final presentations in December, students spoke about the intricacies of designing documents to do work in the world. The group working with VITA discussed the complexities of deciding on what information should go in their brochure about other nearby community resources that people coming to the tax clinic might also be interested in. It was especially important that they figure out a way to link people quickly and easily to online resources, which they ultimately did with a QR Code. Professor Serena Laws who founded and runs Trinity’s VITA site said that students’ work with her was extremely valuable: “This is not something I would have had time to do before this year’s clinic, and it’s going to be a really helpful resource to give to the people we work with.”
Other groups talked about working within pre-existing branding styles and condensing large amounts of text to make their texts easily understood by readers. The HARC student group took several steps to ensure the volunteer brochure they created was consistent with other branding by getting HARC-specific colors and fonts from their partner, Marlisa Smith, as well as access to an online photo album of volunteer pictures. Other groups, like HPDNSFW, were more focused on streamlining text. Students said that the amount of information available through their organization was great, but it was hard to navigate because there was so much of it. They focused on creating a cohesive website that made it easier for people to find information, possible solutions, and how they can get involved.
One student in the course, Wendy Schon, who partnered with Trinity’s VITA Tax Clinic, says that “Working with a non-profit organization on a physical piece that the organization values was the highlight of this course. We were able to implement design principles learned in class to make something visually appealing. Positive feedback from our contact person at the non-profit organization made us feel that our work had a useful purpose.” Through this project, students put into practice what they learned in class and were able to see how their rhetorical work made a difference for these organizations.
Leah explained that most of her students are not from Hartford, and they were “choosing the groups they work with for personal reasons,” often because they connected with the mission. This project “allowed them to assist in an organization’s mission that they align with in a community they don’t necessarily belong to and see the impact of their work.” Students in Leah’s course and others like hers are able to learn more about good work happening in Hartford and see how they can directly make an impact as part of that work. They learn about different ways to engage with communities and do good work in the world, no matter where they are.