Monday, June 5, 2017

The Landscape of Digital Writing

"All teens write for school, and 93% of teens say they write for their own pleasure." (19)  This notion also connect with a statement further down the page that ,"Writing, students note, is something they do in school. What they do with computers outside of school is something else."
     It is tough to realize this myself, never mind getting today's youth to understand such a concept. As a student it feels as though academic writing is good writing and what we do otherwise is a form of play.
     The section on "digital revolution" was also intriguing. I enjoy the term for one but I also love the recognition that it "isn't about the tools, but rather how the tools are used." (20) I think we had a bit of a mixed batch about this during our class session. Some people felt as though the tools were an asset or problem and others that it was how the tools are used. It's pretty clear that perspective matters here.
    What really had me thinking was on page 21 about computers making things easier, but in actuality, "by making a host of individual tasks easier, computers have dramatically expanded options for writers and have probably made writing, and learning to write, more complex." I never looked at it that way before. I always assumed the easier portion, because that is the reason for advancing technology, but it does make sense to think about the limitless possibilities that technology brings to writing. Just in Microsoft Word alone there are hundreds (if not thousands) of templates and add-ons to incorporate. Even the built in functions, something as simple as fonts, can add hours onto a project to get it just right.
    Another area of digital composition that can be daunting for those of us that aren't super on the ball with using it, is the immediacy of it. "The nature of digital writing is such that it both invites and, in some sense, demands instant feedback." (23). I still get that feeling of relief when I send in a paper that I'm not super confident about, that, "at least I don't have to worry about it for a little while until the teacher reads and grades it." That relief feeling is embedded in me, but almost every time now I get an email alert within a few hours letting me know that the professor has commented or graded it. That instant communication is amazing and the quicker that information can be turned around, the faster that the discussion can happen, thus leading to potential problem solving or just analytical fun! Of course, as we discussed in class, the spread of fake or junk information can quickly spread too, which seems to be the case more often on social media today.
    Here is where I really want to get into it, some now but probably as a foundation of my classroom discussion. "Digital disconnect." (25). This section really hit home with me. I am of the age group that is generally super tech savvy, but due to financial standings growing up, I fell behind in the digital education. When it comes to technology, I tend to relate more with most of your parents, and maybe even grandparents. However, personality and my general political standings match up more with my age group. I sit in this weird limbo space where I don't relate completely with the "digital natives" nor the "digital immigrants" (26). I often wonder if there is a space for the people who are slow going with technology. I'm not one of those who are opposed to it and think that it is ruining us (though in some ways it is harmful, in my opinion.) but I also feel as though it is coming at us too quickly. By the time I learn one device, one or two more have come out and it's a daunting task to keep up. My daughter is a teenager and has absolutely no trouble keeping up with the latest trends, but I have no idea how anyone can do it. I just got comfortable using my galaxy S5 phone and the S8 is currently out. That's how much of a lag I have on my technology comfort zone. Anyways, I digress, but this subject is on my mind alot.


  1. I greatly appreciate how you provide quotations from the chapter and offer your thoughtful reflections on them in this blog post, Rob. There is much to respond to here, but I'll address your last point about being stuck between being a "digital native" and a "digital immigrant." Ever since Prensky published this formulation, I have resisted it, not just because I didn't think the division was so simple, but mostly because of what I felt was the irresponsible use of "native" and "immigrant." To recast the digital landscape as a kind of digital "nation" risks perpetuating some really insidious forms of prejudice, which are not simply ageist. What I think we were saying last night, about the divide between the haves and the have-nots, is a much better representation of reality and within this context maybe Prensky's formulation could be applied to those who have access and those beyond the educational "paywall." In this situation, the natives are the well-funded surburban districts and the immigrants are the poorly-funded underserved urban and rural populations. This then becomes not merely a generational gap, but a very real socioeconomic gap that we must address with some sense of urgency. If we dismiss it as generational, it's so easy to ignore and just wait for people to catch up. This is not an acceptable solution, in my mind.

  2. Rob, I agree with your resistance towards accepting the terms: "digital native," and "digital immigrant." These words do not sit well with me either, since they seem to generalize the abilities of two groups of people, and place two different types of people in one group based on when they were born instead of abilities. When I think about digital literacy and skills between individuals, I try to use the terms, "naturally digital" and "learned digital." Instead of defining these groups, as Prensky does, which is by when people are born, I use other criteria. I define those that are "naturally digital" as individuals that have a natural inclination of how to use digital or technological skills and apply them across tools. When I use this term, it is usually in reference to people of different age groups that are able to use and navigate through a platform like Twitch because they have used websites that are similar but not identical, such as Youtube. It has nothing to do with age groups, because there are some people that are born in older generations that have a knack for technology, such as, Steve Jobs; and there are some people that are born in younger generations that do not understand technology, such as, some of my students. As expected, the term "learned digital" refers to people that are more prone to learn the usage of digital and technological tools (when taught), but are unable to translate this knowledge to different platforms. For example, individuals that can be identified as "learned digital" have to be taught how to use Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat and are unable to see the similarities and connections between these different forms of technology. I think that referring to people, across their ages and generations of birth, by these terms allows for those that are older or younger to identify based on their abilities and learning types.

  3. Many of us, although completely untrue and ignorant, are under the impression that writing, in a creative or free sense, is not a proper or stable career path. Granted this has been a widely held idea for millennia (Livy never became rich off of his detailed histories of Rome), I think that we are seeing a switch in our understanding and appreciation of writing. This may be due to such recent successes in creative writing as J.K. Rowling and a few other notable authors, but I think that people are beginning to acknowledge the power of the written imagination.

    As for the use of technology in advancing and making more complex the art of writing, I would completely agree. It is much easier to write now, as I don’t have to pay for expensive paper every time I need to jot something down, and I can constantly be editing my writing, always improving (or maybe not so, in some cases). Suddenly, I have the ability to freely - and I mean that in the monetary and liberating sense - type up my ideas and beliefs on a subject. I don’t need to scribble anything out, nor do I need to mentally and masterfully craft a sentence before committing it to writing. Computers have, in my opinion, made writing easier, no doubt; however, I would disagree that they have made writing more complex.

    Writing has always been complex. Perhaps computers having an “understanding” of grammar and spelling has made it so that people are reminded of grammatical and linguistic rules that they wouldn’t have had to think about before, but I don’t see how writing itself has become more complex. In the case of the various functions now available, I would say that writing has been given more options for presentation and expression, not that it has become more complex.

    To your last point, I completely agree. I am in the same boat as you. As I read, I neither identified with the “digital natives” nor the “digital immigrants.” I, admittedly, have never been up-to-date with technology or what is going on in that part of modern society. Going to undergraduate school as a Classical Studies major, I can safely say that I fit in more with the ancient versions of technology than I do with the modern fads of electronics. However, this does not mean that I am not capable or adaptable to technology. I may still have a Galaxy S5 phone (solidarity!), but that does not mean that I can’t find myself out of a technological issue time and again. I can hold my own (or at least I can try) when it comes to technology and the digital world, but it doesn’t seem to interest me as it does my peers. This is where I run into most of my problems, the disconnect between my own interest in the field and the passion many of my friends and co-workers have for technology. As stated, technology is a rapidly progressing world, is my disinterest truly disconnecting me from it? Is it possible for me to one day pick it up again, or am I cursed to this technology-lagging experience for good?

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  5. Rob, great post. I am happy that you foregrounded the issue of the use of technology, rather than the issue technology itself. It reminded me of Tim’s point last class that the new skills of a participatory culture (largely informed by the spirit of the digital revolution), described on 11-12 of BDWM, are useful whether one is composing digital or non-digital texts. Interestingly, the first of these concepts is “play,” which you yourself mention in passing. In this iteration of the composition classroom, it seems that “play,” or “the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem solving,” is seen as an asset. It is not denigrated as your post seems to suggest. I would perhaps expand this definition to include experimenting with one’s compositional platform, medium, genre conventions, or a host of other aspects of the texts produced. This emphasis on play might help to collapse the binary of school versus pleasure writing. The distinction seems increasingly irrelevant. It might be helpful to consider Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “Some Paradoxes In the Definition of Play,” when he says “what distinguishes play is simply that the player is aware that the goals and rules of action he or she is following are freely chosen” while maintaining an “awareness of alternatives” (19). I think in light of this, play emerges as a crucial concept if we expect students to engage critically in sociogenesis and the creation, circulation and valuation of cultural artifacts — whether they be digital or non-digital. I sympathize with your qualm regarding instantaneous feedback. However, if we consider Betty Collum’s composition project for 5th graders, we might rethink who the “audience” and therefore who will be giving “commentary” or feedback to the author. Because of the collaborative nature of the project, and the focus on peer evaluation, I think her approach manages to mitigate issues of anxiety with teacher feedback, while allowing the students to draft and revise — all the while forming their own discourse communities. Again, speaking to Tim’s point from last week, the concepts that Collum stresses — process, drafts, revision, collaboration, purpose, multimodality — are not only hallmarks of the digital, but also the non-digital composition classroom, although, it seems as though the technology holds the potential to facilitate the transfer of these concepts in ways that a non-digital environment simply cannot. I know that discourse community building, and community building more generally, are things of great interest to you, during the conversation in class today I hope to hear you articulate how you think that the digital and community can intersect.

  6. The lag you describe varies greatly. The surveys for instance we did for last weeks class varied widely. We were all introduced how to create and embed a survey into the wiki for the class. Everyone attempted and created a survey. They all varied in questions, style and I couldn't figure out how to embed mine. I don't think I am overly adapt at including new technology, but it was apparent when I was the only one not to embed my survey that I had an area I lacked in.

    The thing I am most excited about from this chapter is the Podcast and Digital story projects. If I am able to introduce these digital writing projects, I believe they can really make an impact on my students. Producing short movies, or podcasts is my favorite thing about the internet. We as people are able to harness the accessibility of the internet and produce. Creativity is something I did not cherish when I was a kid. Now that I am older and realize that being creative and producing work for me is the most rewarding . I hope to be able to create and teach others to create.

  7. Rob,

    To speak to your idea between distinguishing school writing from “play” writing, I have seen this distinction firsthand. I had a student who used to rush through classroom writing assignments so she could use the computer to write Korean Soap Opera fan fiction - in Spanish. I soon realized the difference between her enthusiasm for her “play” writing and her distaste for our class assignments had everything to do with audience. In short, her 50 readers online trumped her classroom audience of one: me. I began to find ways to give students an audience by hanging their poems in the hallway and finding ways for them to publish in free submission online publications. This is something I am still working on.

    DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl, and Hicks write about what they call the “third digital divide...between those who use computers and Internet access to consume - products, information, writing, and more - and those who produce such materials” (31). When we ask students to read non digital texts, the likelihood of them producing and publishing such a text is small. For example, if a class reads a paper version of a short story, to produce something similar the student would have to invent characters a plot, send the story to a publisher, and perhaps get it published if they passed through the gatekeepers. Digital writing, however, gives students a much better chance of produce a text that will reach an audience outside the classroom. Students can publish fan fiction online, submit poems and stories to online publications, or share their writing in other ways over the web. I think the key to bridging in school and out of school writing is by bringing students all the way through the process so they can publish for an authentic audience. This makes classroom writing similar to their “play” writing because “they are writing for real audiences and for real purposes” (35). This may seem obvious, but I rarely see this final step achieved in English classes in my school. Classroom compositions tend to end with the teacher. This last “publishing” piece is what is missing from classroom writing. Once we give students a real audience and purpose, then getting them to pay attention to voice, message, and the importance of revision will be much easier.

  8. Rob, your comment on how writing outside of academic writing is thought of as less than serious (or as “play”) really spoke to me. It’s so true; there is definitely an ignorance that some people have about the arts. As an undergrad, I was in the creative writing program at my university. In several of the courses I took over those four years, students from other departments would enroll because they thought “creative writing” meant “easy A,” and it would be a nice, relaxing break between their physics and political science classes. Needless to say, they were in for a shock. The amount of work and dedication that those writing courses required – reading, drafting stories, revision, preparing feedback for workshops each week – was nothing short of overwhelming, even for students like me, who love to write. If creative writing is not serious, then I don’t know what is.

    Similarly, we shouldn’t dismiss the writing that students do outside of English or history class as unimportant. I, for one, am amazed by the writing that young people do. I’ve come across several blogs written by high school and college students written about mental health issues and social justice; they have a following, and they are connecting with others to address very serious problems in our world. Writing isn’t always “writing” per se, either. A few of my high school friends were fans of anime, and spent a lot of time creating AMVs (anime music video) which combine clips of animes and music to tell stories and conjure emotions. Kids today do a lot of this “remixing” as well. To me, memes are brilliant. They combine visuals, words, and pop culture, and communicate an idea so simply. I don’t remember anything similar before memes became a thing. The question is, how can we integrate this kind of writing into our English classrooms? Or, at the very least, show students that the writing they do outside of class matters?

  9. I found the section on the immediacy of feedback equally interesting; it caused me to reflect on some ways technology has improved my practice, but it also forced me to consider areas where my current approach could improve. I’ve found that because writing “at every stage of the process…can now be shared across time and space instantaneously,” the ways in which I can provide formative feedback and that students can provide comments for one another have vastly improved (23). Peer editing is no longer a “worksheet-driven” exercise where students fill out a form; it’s a constant, always-on activity driven by tools like Google Docs. Likewise, I can provide more immediate and focused feedback in conferences by merely pulling up a student’s paper and leaving a brief digital comment.

    Where I feel somewhat stuck in the stone ages is in my summative assessment and feedback on “final drafts.” At the end of the day, despite the myriad ways the process of writing has changed, I find myself ultimately grading the same way I always have; I take a printed copy, I scribble down a bunch of comments, and I leave a grade. Though I usually offer some revision opportunity past that to earn back credit, that’s simply adding one more iteration of the traditional drafting process. In fact, most of our grading policies and procedures—progress reports, quarterly report cards—seem stuck in a pre-digital mindset. Are quarterly progress reports even useful when parents and students can access a constant, up-to-date log of grades? I suppose, at the end of the day, what I’m interested in trying to figure out is a more useful, streamlined, and modern way of grading writing that reflects the technological changes we’ve experienced over the past twenty or so years. Even “real” news outlets and other major publications have taken to updating articles throughout the day as a story develops, so is the notion of a final draft obsolete? How do we reflect those changes in our classrooms without facing a flood of grading?

  10. "Writing, students note, is something they do in school. What they do with computers outside of school is something else."

    I, too, find myself quite often differentiating the two. In reality writing in any form is still writing. Yes, there are different forms for different tasks but sometimes I forget to appreciate the fact that technology has increased both reading and writing for people in general. In fact, my uncle, who could barely read or write ten years ago has learned to because of technologies like texting and Facebook.

    I wonder if emphasizing the fact that computer writing is still writing to our students would increase their interest in writing overall. I have had groups of students in the past collaborating on Google Docs to create stories on their own time outside of school. I wish I knew how to encourage this in more students but I find it extremely difficult due to the fact that most of the writing that is pushed for in school is analysis and argument. Unfortunately, I think students don't think of themselves as writers so they generally don't consider anything they do outside of school as actual, purposeful writing. In reality though, many of them are creating hilarious, insightful, and/or beautifully worded Facebook statuses, Tweets, and Instagram captions. I would love to have the opportunity to incorporate these things into the classroom as a way to try to get my students to see themselves as writers but I also feel that there would be a lot of push back with administration.

  11. For me, the cumulative effect of Chapter 1 of Graphesis and “The Art of Data Visualization” was one of feeling entirely overwhelmed—not in a helpless way, but more the sensation one has when first setting eyes upon a daunting challenge. The title of the video is somewhat misleading in the sense that Graphesis poses that the graphical presentation of information is far more than art; I found it challenging to track the various schools, movements, and individuals that Drucker includes in the brief, dense, and “relatively recent” history of moving towards the graphical equivalent to “rule that govern language structures,” but I think the key take-aways are clear (Drucker 28). Our attempt to first develop a system for analysis of graphical language and then to apply that system both in analytical and creative tasks, which Drucker identifies as the goal of Graphesis, will combine formalist rule, semiotic elements, and Gestalt psychology. And here I thought I was merely teaching language.

    “The Art of Data Visualization” added urgency to engaging with that task as a language instructor. The three considerations that Julie Steele outlines—the designer and what he or she wants to communicate, the reader and his or her context or biases, and that data or subject—perfectly map up with the traditional rhetorical triangle of speaker, audience, and subject; and as her tiger comparison illustrates, we are apt to make snap visual decisions. Students recognize that a political speech has argumentative effect, but they consume countless visual representations on a daily basis without having that same awareness. Even if they have the rhetorical knowledge (which many do not), they will be ill-equipped to unpack the argument of a visualization unless they have the language and skills necessary to analyze. As Thorp notes, we are now dealing with “data systems that are larger than anything humans have ever built or experienced before”; written language is no longer sufficient to express arguments based on the deluge of data at our disposal. Visualization is becoming a cornerstone of composition, and to adequately address that fact we are going to have to significantly rethink the role of “the English teacher.”

  12. Rob, I also agree with you when you say that the text attempts to oversimplify the identities of various technological users, this is clearly not a black and white scenario, and like Alex said, adaptability to technology is based on much more than generational experience. I definitely prefer Jamilla’s distinction (naturally digital" vs "learned digital) which does not attempt to oversimplify the reasoning behind individual, technological understanding. This gap, however, does exist. On the brightside, as the years go by, our kids will likely enter the classroom more and more equipped with flexible technological skills, and so this should make our jobs a little easier (provided that we ourselves can keep up)!
    You also mention the convenience of instant communication, and while there are many benefits to this, I think that there are some drawbacks as well. With this stream of constant information at our fingertips we are constantly multi-tasking, and the result of this is impatience, as well as a new-found inability to concentrate for extended periods of time. While this immediacy is efficient in relation to productivity, it is equally unproductive if it prevents us from adequately comprehending the constant flow of information we encounter. I am equally caught up in this lifestyle of immediacy and impatience, and while I would like to consider myself a talented multitasker, I know for a fact that I would inevitably be gaining more from the experiences I encounter if I had the ability to devote my full attention to each individual task.
    You mention the increasing complexities in the classroom due to technological advancements, and while I agree with Brandon’s statement that ALL writing is complex, I also think that this complexity is drastically increased by technology. Writing is rhetorical and language is evolving, but technological communication includes even more rhetorical context and also a faster evolutionary rate. We are being given the opportunity to work with more information, tools, and genres than ever before. While writing itself is incredibly complex, technology has created new combinations of communication with new forms, new structures, and new expectations. It is true that a lot of these conventions are easily adoptable, however, these forms are infinite and always changing. Thus, we ourselves must adapt at a quicker rate and with a more conscientious mindset while in the digital world.

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  16. Rob, I also am really intrigued by the idea that students separate out their in school writing as academic and the outside writing as play. I really like Erin's exploration through DeVoss of ways that digital writing offers a way to make school writing more engaging and like play by creating an authentic and public audience. I have had two grad school assignments that required content to be presented on public digital multi-modal platforms. One was a digital companion to a novel maintained by the professor and the other was a website I created. Both digital writing pieces are available online, and I can easily reference them for professional purposes. I noticed feeling more engaged in the assignments than I was when the audience was solely my professor. I also enjoyed thinking about the ways the images and hypertexts could support the writing.

    On another note, DeVoss discussed how public multi-modal digital writing encourages more authentic and engaged revision both because the stakes seem higher when there's a larger, authentic audience and because the process of working across modes requires it. I've often struggled with getting my students to engage wholeheartedly in the revision process with traditional writing assignments, so I appreciate how multi-modal digital writing can help to address this. DeVoss writes about digital storytelling that "The writing process itself moves from being a fixed set of steps to a more open and recursive journey" (37).

    I'm also interested in Collum's discussion of the third divide --- "the divide between consumers of media and creators of media"(31) and the ways introducing this concept to students could be a motivating factor for them to produce more in public ways -- and even see it as a responsibility! Teachers can compare the access digital divide to the ways primarily white men had their writing published in book form. The only way to ensure that Internet accessible digital writing isn't only representative of the privileged is for students themselves to begin producing.


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