In the chapter “Standards and Assessment for Digital Writing,” DeVoss et. al. try to answer, or at least pose, some difficult questions. Initially I assumed that this chapter would be more about the technology available and the suggested methods assessing digital work. I was wrong. Rather, this chapter made me reconsider what a writing class is, and what it will become. And more general, but still interesting question, what will it mean to be literate person and a functioning member of society in the near future?
To begin, Hodgson uses the example of a student who creates an essay in the form of a podcast, and says that “as the writer, you are controlling what you want the reader to see. So that kind of platform can really change how you persuade somebody” (DeVoss et. al. 91). This, however, will most strongly benefit student if there is “ongoing discussion of the rhetorical choices that digital writers make, and the observation of their effects,” it is only through this that “students begin to understand better how to assess their work as digital writers” (91). Certainly a self-awareness of why students make the decisions they do, and what effects these decisions have on the audience, will go a long towards strengthening their ability as digital writers, but it will also improve their non-digital writing. This then begs two questions: first, is digital writing different from traditional writing? And second, is the benefit of teaching digital writing that the improved writing is then transferable to non-digital writing, or is the benefit of teaching digital writing that the genres/mediums that students will be expected to write in academically, professionally, and personally, increasingly be digital? Eve Bearne thinks the latter is likely, as she outlines what multimodal abilities students should have by way of offering a ‘metalanguage’ to out of touch instructors (104-5). DeVoss et. al. seem to take a more measured approach, as they argue that although digital technology has changed the way people collaborate or design, ultimately “writing is the same as it ever was—a task that requires writers to examine the rhetorical context and craft messages suitable for the intended audience” (105).
With that question out there, the next thing I would like to explore is the, potentially, changing role of the English instructor and the English classroom. Hodgson has developed his own methodology for teaching his students how to use new technologies for digital writing, but is this the future—or at least a future component of English instruction? Put more directly, “will digital writing be seen as part of a larger set of technology standards? Will technology use be seen as an essential part of writing standards? Or both?” (90). I was unaware of the different sets of criteria that determine technological standards, but apparently they do exist. For example, McREL requires a person to “[understand] the nature and operation of systems” or “of technological design” (95), while Ribble and Bailey put forth the requirements for ‘digital citizenship,’ calling for people to have “full electronic participation in society” or an understanding of “the conduct expected by other digital technology users” (97-8). Certainly the idea of literacy is changing, and—though it may seem odd now—the idea of citizenship is now undergoing a change, as social, political, professional, romantic, and academic lives of people increasingly have there strongest presence online. As these shifts occur, whose responsibility is it to ensure that students are becoming technologically literate? Will much of this fall under the realm of instructors like Hodgson, by nature of its tie to digital writing? What of digital citizenship, should this be up to the English instructor (at some grade level) to teach, or will such questions necessitate the development of some digital civics/home-ec hybrid? If I’m not mistaken I think Allen (maybe Brian) said that he is already seeing much of this fall to the English teacher, as these are important things to teach but have no clear home in the current academic structure.