Teaching Digital Composition: Tips, Approaches, & Benefits


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These are the notes for a talk I gave at Emory University, for their Symposium on Digital Publication, Undergraduate Research, and Writing in January 2013.

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  • instructor with the PWR since 1999I’ve been the digital composition expert there for many years, helping faculty individually, leading workshops and providing tutorials and other resourcestoday I’ll share with you some tips for teaching composition as well as a few common approaches to consider
  • - will start by sharing some tips I’ve collected over the years as I help faculty incorporate different aspects of digital composition into their classes
  • relevance to their academic, professional, and civic lives; students have been habituated to print culture as the place where “real writing” happenscontinually emphasize the relationship between digital composition and the other forms of communication they’ll engage inif you treat students like they’re already digital natives, they’ll never reveal to you what they don’t know how to dodigital literacy is an evolving skill: be willing to learn new things with your students (and show them how you learn)
  • start with what you’re most comfortable with or what seems easiest (blog or audio essay)don’t start off with the glitzy video projectyou don’t need to be proficient with the digital genres you assign, but you should be familiar with the kinds of rhetorical and composition choices students will need to make in each genredon’t necessarily have to show students your practice attempts (I have lots of random digital projects about my dogs!)
  • part of the reason digital composition belongs in a writing class at all is that the tools to compose for the web and in digital media are now available for free to just about anyone with a computer; if a project requires more advanced software or technical skill, it might not belong in a writing classgive students a choice, but provide a range of options you already know are likely to be appropriate to your assignmentmake sure students know where to go for tech support, but I recommend against providing it because it may undermine your role as the writing instructor
  • will give some examples of tools you might play with in a moment, when I discuss digital literacy activitiesfor example, I set up a class blog that’s used by students in three sections of the same course (two campus and one online)online showcase: gives students samples and also motivates them to produce “featured” work
  • this is the main web site for my upper division courses on the rhetoric of gender, sexuality, and new mediabest projects are featured heresite gets a lot of traffic, so students have a sense real audienceclass blogs are sub-sites of this one
  • Will now cover some common approaches to digital composition, some of which will be familiar to you but hopefully some will be new to you and helpful
  • I’ve organized approaches into these three categories and will say a bit more about each, with some examples
  • depending on their previous educational experiences, some students haven’t really thought about the shift from print to digital literacyFrontline specials: Growing Up Online or Digital Nationlots of videos on the topicwill give some examples for each of the underlined items
  • how writing functions as a tool for conversation, and how knowledge emerges through conversationWikipedia discussion pages illuminate how knowledge is the product of conversations among experts, often with differing points of view
  • interface design is a form of “writing” – communicating with readers through visual cues; bad design is bad writinghelps students start to see how rhetorical analysis is relevant to all kinds of things
  • - why did they use a word for one button and an icon for the other? this is “bad writing” (because it’s not attentive to the needs of the audience)
  • - most web sites follow standard conventions for layout and design for a rhetorical purpose: to make them reader friendly - when items are where readers are accustomed to finding them, they spend more time reading your content and less time trying to navigate- help students understand the rhetorical purpose of each element of the design (how readers will interact with the content)Identifying the conventions of web writing also helps students understand that different types of writing follows different conventions
  • Evernote is one among many tools that allow students to collect information and share it with others (syncs across multiple computers and devices)Comment tool in Word or PDF readers allows for markup of readings without needing to print them - example activity: upper division students annotate a PDF of an academic article to teach lower division students rhetorical strategies for reading them - students are often thrilled to learn they can take notes on articles for research papers
  • Google Docs (now Google Drive)create a folder, share it with all students, everything inside is also shared (all draft work is visible to class members only)students can upload drafts in any format (Word docs, slide presentations, images, audio, video, etc.)multiple students can comment on the same draftDiigo (a social bookmarking tool popular with educators)students can save links to the class group (link roll on class blog)can highlight anything they read on the webcan leave notes for themselves only, for class members, or for public
  • encourage a sense of exploration and play: how does this technology impact how I write?for example, how does Prezi change the way we read and compose presentations?new tools becoming available all the time; K-12 educators are good at discovering and writing about these
  • Defined as: writing in alphabetic text for distribution on the web or through social media
  • wikiHow article: first year students and technical communication loved that project- particularly proud to have “published” something on the webWikipedia has a whole section on projects for college classes - editing a Wikipedia page takes good rhetorical awareness (hard to get edits to “stick” if the writing doesn’t meet certain standards)how colleagues use forums and social media
  • lots of free, easy to use tools available. Best wiki site: wikispaces.com Best web site builder: weebly.com Best blog: Wordpress or Tumblrwikis can be good for collaborativeresearch projects (sample assignment: reviews or comparative analyses of digital tools for college students)I strongly recommend the value of a class blog, esp. across multiple sections
  • My WRTG 3020 students did primary research into messages about gender and sexuality conveyed in popular culture and presented their research in this wikiI installed a wiki engine called Dokuwiki on my own domain name
  • - Class blog for Fall 2012, shared by students across three sections of the same course.Students posted 767 original blog posts and 1,843 commentsclass blog powered by the custom version of Wordpress multisite
  • - Sample student research project published on Weebly- She did her own research, identified a need, then designed the web site to meet the needShe wrote all the text, created the structure, and also made all the imagesStudent not particularly digital, but ease of use of Weebly inspired her to try more
  • Goes by different names, but typically refers to composition that communicates through modes beyond alphabetic text (appeals to us through sight, sound, and so on)
  • “This I believe” activities available on the TIB web siteGreat place to start: easy shift from print-based writing to a form of digital writing (sound and voice become part of your communication strategies)
  • A favorite among my students is digital storytelling (a personal narrative accompanied by photos)relatively easy in terms of technical skillimmediately accessiblepotentially very powerful (esp. when exploring how they came to understand their gender and/or sexual orientation)draws on many of the same principles as print-based writing
  • PSA: mix of clips from movies, documentaries, and news stories along with facts and real stories about violence against transgender peopleAudio essay: explore how you came to understand your gender expression or identityThese can be embedded in a course blog or web site
  • - presentations certainly aren’t new, but emphasize the concept of stand-alone (meant to be explored online, not as notes to accompany a live lecture)
  • Student research project on how transsexual people experience embodimentPrezi allows students to incorporate images and YouTube video clipsgood choice for stand-alone presentations because embedding digital media is easy
  • Consider how different visual formats impact the kinds of messages you can convey (what can you communicate in cartoon format that you can’t write as text?)again, the reason to teach these in writing classes is that the tools for composing them are available to everyone nowAll my students compose one new header for the blog and have option to compose more for extra credit, which many do
  • - these are just 2 pages from a longer “graphic short story” – short version of Graphic novel- works well for personal narrative or for raising awareness about an issue (like how parents and other adults inadvertently gender police children)
  • (from the Tufts web site)**** END AFTER NEXT SLIDE FOR EMORY PRESENTATION ***
  • The following slides show benefits in light of common goals for writing instruction
  • MY EXPERIENCE“writing as a process” is hard to teach, esp. the value of drafting, getting feedback, and revisingneed for process becomes much clearer with digital media projects (which also involve lots of traditional writing)
  • Again, the concept of enabling students to become producers, not just consumers - reflected in the NCTE goals for teaching writing and many other places- studentslearn the “inside scoop” on how media messages persuadethat’s partly why we teach essay writing: give students the inside scoop on how knowledge is composedcan’t really understand what you can’t compose
  • STORY:Students engaged in digital media composition often “discover” the rhetorical purpose of conventions like transitionsarticle by professor whose students spent 20 minutes debating the rhetorical value of a particular transition in a video project - students often have intuitive understanding of the value of transitions in video projects - when we point out what they’re doing with the video, students then say they finally “get” the point of using transitions in essays
  • “greater awareness of component parts” – for example, structural elements that help guide readersIn their research into the pedagogical benefits of digital storytelling for college students, Oppermann and Coventry (2011) found that:Being asked to communicate in the ‘new language’ of multimedia brings students a greater awareness of the component parts of traditional writing. Digital storytelling helps students develop a stronger voice and helps students more accurately and firmly place themselves in relationship to the arguments of others.
  • Support: I work closely with students on digital projects, and they often confess how little they know -every semester, I have at least one student who didn’t know she could copy text from one app and paste it into another one - most have never done anything more than check Facebook, watch videos on YouTube, send email, and look up a few things on GoogleRegardless of the digital skills they may have learned in high school, by the time they get to my class, as juniors and seniors, they’ve been thoroughly conditioned to the demands of old school print literacyMany know the basics of navigating digital environments, but not how to participate in them
  • Enables students to move from consumers of multimodal content to producers
  • students who make projects for real audiences tend to work on them long after they’re “due”
  • SOURCE:Digital Storytelling Multimedia Archivehttps://commons.georgetown.edu/projects/digitalstories/https://commons.georgetown.edu/projects/digitalstories/social-pedagogy/
  • We owe it to students to help them develop writing skills of the future, not the writing skills of the pastHow will academic writing change in the future?
  • you can also find a link to my main web site here as well as my contact infohappy to add more help resources by request!
  • Teaching Digital Composition: Tips, Approaches, & Benefits

    1. 1. TEACHING DIGITALCOMPOSITIONA Few Tips & ApproachesAmy GoodloeProgram for Writing & RhetoricUniversity of Colorado at BoulderJanuary 29, 2013
    3. 3. Help students understand therelevance of digital literacy Forget what you’ve heard about so-called "digital natives”Dont worry about your own levelof digital literacy
    4. 4. Start small Scaffold digital activities to help students build confidence Allow enough time to account for technical difficultiesTry composing in digital genres yourselffirst, when possible
    5. 5. Encourage students to use "everyday"digital tools Recommend a range of digital tools for specific projects and provide help linksSupport students using your expertise inwriting and rhetoric, not tech support
    6. 6. Give students opportunities for low-stakes"play" with digital composing tools Create online communities for students across multiple classes to engage with each otherProvide an online showcase for strongestexamples of student work
    8. 8. • Digital Literacy Activities• Writing Online• Multimodal Composition
    9. 9. Digital Literacy Activities
    10. 10. Discuss the changing nature of literacyEngage in rhetorical analyses of digitalcompositionsExperiment with current and emergingtechnologies for research, reading, andwriting
    11. 11. Rhetorical AnalysisStudy the • Blogs, wikis, orrhetorical forums onpractices of an relevant topicsonline discourse • Discussions oncommunity Wikipedia pages
    12. 12. Rhetorical AnalysisStudy rhetorical • What is the rhetorical purposeprinciples for of interface design?web and • How dointerface navigationaldesign elements impact readers?
    13. 13. Understanding the rhetorical purpose of typical blog layout
    14. 14. Technologies of Writing Experiment with • Social tools that bookmarking enhance reading, • Google Docs • Evernote writing, research, • Annotation collaboration, tools (Word, and peer review PDF)
    15. 15. Google Docs “comment” featureDiigohighlighter &sticky notes
    16. 16. Technologies of Writing • Blogs Experiment with • Wikis different • Web site builders platforms for • Social media web publishing • Prezi • Glogster
    17. 17. Writing Online
    18. 18. Contribute to existing blog, wiki, forum, orother digital environment• Edit or compose a new wikiHow article• Edit a Wikipedia entry• Enter a forum conversation and inspire a response• Make strategic use of social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
    19. 19. Build a blog, wiki, or web site individually,in groups, or as a class• Create or redesign a web site for a service learning partner, to raise awareness about an issue, to showcase research, etc.• Work collaboratively with students in other sections of the same class (or in class taught by other faculty members)
    20. 20. Sample class research wiki
    21. 21. Multimodal Composition
    22. 22. Audio and Photo Essays• “This I Believe” exploratory essay• Personal narrative (audio only or with photo slideshow)
    23. 23. Video projects• Public service announcement• Animations• Digital storytelling• Flash talks• Interviews• Mini-documentary research video• Episode commentary or scene analysis• Strategic remix of digital media content
    24. 24. Sample PSASample audio essay
    25. 25. Sample animation to explore an insight inspiredby research (made with Xtranormal
    26. 26. Re-mediation• Composing the same message in multiple modalities to study how the message changesPresentations• Stand-alone PowerPoint or Prezi with text, images, and video
    27. 27. Sample research project on Prezi
    28. 28. Visual projects• Comic books or cartoons• Infographics• Digital posters (Glogster)• Mind maps• Blog headers
    29. 29. Excerpt of personal essay in comic book format
    30. 30. Sample mind map presenting research (made with VUE)
    32. 32. Meets established goals of writing instruction Composing processes Rhetorical knowledge Critical thinking Discourse conventionsGoals established by WPA, NCTE, CCC, and CCHE
    33. 33. Goal: Composing Processes As readers in digital environments: • Students can more easily view how ideas emerge through a process of conversation and refinement As writers: • Response from real world audiences leads to desire to revise • Digital media composition requires a multi-step process • Can’t produce a rhetorically powerful digital composition project the night before! • Requires planning, research, collaboration, problem- solving, drafting, feedback, revision
    34. 34. Goal: Rhetorical Knowledge As readers in digital environments: • Easy availability of digital environments and genres allows students to study how writers respond to real rhetorical situations and employ rhetorical strategies As writers: • Gives students opportunities to compose for real audiences and purposes, using contemporary genres and publishing platforms
    35. 35. Goal: Critical Thinking As readers in digital environments: • Allows us to study how arguments work in action: types of evidence, persuasive strategies, impact on readers, nature of dialogue and disagreement As writers: • Gain deeper insight into the rhetorical strategies and appeals used in digital formats by composing in them • As composers, students start to recognize subtle strategies for establishing credibility and persuading audiences
    36. 36. Goal: Discourse Conventions As readers in digital environments: • Reading digital texts helps to raise awareness of the role of conventions in both print and digital genres As writers: • Gives students practice at adapting conventions based on their target discourse community • Provides insight into the purpose of conventions that students often struggle with in print writing • Structural elements, such as introductions, transitions, “units” of thought, coherent progression of ideas
    37. 37. Additional BenefitsReinforces traditional writing skillsImproves digital literacy skillsValidates multimodal literaciesInspires greater student engagementPrepares students for the future of writing
    38. 38. Reinforces Traditional Writing SkillsIn their research into the pedagogical benefits of digitalstorytelling for college students, Oppermann and Coventry(2011) found that: Being asked to communicate in the ‘new language’ of multimedia brings students a greater awareness of the component parts of traditional writing. Digital storytelling helps students develop a stronger voice and helps students more accurately and firmly place themselves in relationship to the arguments of others.
    39. 39. Improves Digital Literacy SkillsToday’s college students don’t have the digital literacy skills theyneed to compete against today’s high school students • But many don’t realize it, as they’ve been told they’re “digital natives”Digital composition projects enable students to: • Identify deficiencies in their digital literacy skills • Remedy them while working on a project they find meaningful
    40. 40. Validates Multimodal LiteracyLiteracy researchers have long emphasized the value of multiplemodalities in human communication (text, sound, visuals)• Age of print: printed text is easiest to produce and distribute (multimedia is for pros only)• Digital age: relatively easy and inexpensive to produce and distribute text, audio, images, and videoAssigning multimodal composition projects validates the rhetoricalpower of multiple modalities
    41. 41. Improves Student EngagementComposing for real audiences and purposes inspiresgreater investment• Students have a genuine interest in conveying a meaningful messageRelevance of assignments spurs greater effort• Helps students see writing as having a legitimate purpose beyond “term papers”
    42. 42. Opperman and Coventry (2011) found that digital compositionprojects allow students to: • work on authentic assignments • develop their personal and academic voice • represent knowledge to a community of learners • receive situated feedback from their peers Due to their affective involvement with this process and the novelty effect of the medium, students are more engaged than in traditional assignments.
    43. 43. Prepares Students for the Future of WritingToday, elementary school students are producing multimediaresearch projects• What kind of research projects will they expect to do in college?• What kind of projects will employers expect all college graduates to be capable of producing?What will count as “good communication skills” in the future?
    44. 44. ResourcesPlease feel free to make use of the tutorialsand other resources on digital compositionavailable here: http://digitalwriting101.netSelect the Teaching Digital Writing tab toview resources specifically for instructors.