Brainstorming Focal Topics

Often when students take a multimodal composition course, particularly one at the 200-level, they create these cool looking digital projects, but upon closer reading/viewing, the projects lack substance, depth, and rhetorical complexity. Other times instructors will ask for a research, content-based final project but not give students enough time to do the research and learn the multimodal rhetorics and technologies for producing the project, which then leaves students stressed out at the end of the semester as they try to do two huge tasks in a short amount of time. In this course I have tried to avoid these two curricular pitfalls by integrating research and rhetoric throughout the course.

Rather than imposing a topic I’m interested in as the theme of the course, I am asking each of you to design your own focal topic for the course. Then, each major assignment/each argument you create in this course will be about this topic in some way.

Often when students think of topics to research and write about, they think very broadly–affirmative action, healthcare, immigration reform, etc. But your focal topic should be specific–try to think of questions that interest you. For example, what is the effect of online social networking on U.S. society? Are we becoming less caring and connected as a culture? Or, for another example, should coal mining practices in the U.S. be changed, and if so, at what cost? Or are “clean” energy alternatives really all that “clean”?

As I hope is clear, choosing a topic for this course is very important. Have fun brainstorming and then deciding!

Here are some questions to spark and guide your thinking

  • What would you like to change if you could? What problems or policies do you think should be addressed — whether something global, like climate change, or something closer to home, like a later start time for your high school classes? Make as long a list as you can.
  • What issues, topics and fields are you passionate about? Make a list. Your list might included fields as broad as “music” or as specific as “the early days of hip-hop.” What questions or controversies in these fields do experts or fans often argue? Where do you stand?
  • What do you do outside of school? What are some things you’re an expert on? What aspects of those hobbies or interests do you find yourself having to explain to others? Why?
  • What issues or ideas do you often find yourself discussing or arguing about with friends, your family or online?
  • What issues or controversies have you followed recently in current events? What are your opinions about them? What might you need more information about?

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