why teach digital writing?

How Technology Changes Writing Practices

When we use the term “digital writing,” we refer to a changed writing environment—that is, to writing produced on the computer and distributed via the Internet and World Wide Web. We are not talking about the computer as a stand-alone machine for writing; although that particular technological development has indeed changed the writing process, the computer itself as a stand-alone machine is not revolutionary in the sense we mean. Rather, the dramatic change is the networked computer connected to the Internet and the World Wide Web. Connectivity allows writers to access and participate more seamlessly and instantaneously within web spaces and to distribute writing to large and widely dispersed audiences.popup

Many writing technologies have streamlined the writing process (the typewriter is one example), but only a few writing technologies have had truly dramatic social impact. The printing press is one; the networked computer is another. It is the networked computer, the spaces to which networked computers provide access, and the public ways in which individuals are writing that are together changing the cultural landscape. These elements, taken together, are truly revolutionary.

The revolution of connectivity is not just a network or machine revolution. It is primarily a social and cultural revolution. The way that people are using the Internet and the sheer numbers of people writing on and with the web is having significant social and cultural impact. A February 2004 Pew Internet & American Life study reported that “44% of U.S. Internet users have contributed their thoughts and their files to the online world” through posting written and visual material on web sites, contributing to newsgroups, writing in blogs, conversing in chat spaces (such as instant messaging), and via other digital means.popup Wireless, broadband, and satellite technologies are further expanding and accelerating the means of communicating. (For example, using your cell phone you can post a picture and a text message to the web in just a few minutes.)

Writing instruction must equip students with the tools, skills, and strategies not just to produce traditional texts using computer technology, but also to produce documents appropriate to the global and dispersed reach of the web. This change requires a large-scale shift in the rhetorical situations that we ask students to write within, the audiences we ask them to write for, the products that they produce, and the purposes of their writing.popup

Resistances to Teaching Digital Writing

We expend a lot of effort at MSU justifying the teaching of digital writing, trying to reach faculty colleagues, mostly (but not entirely) in other fields, who do not see technology as necessary to writing instruction. These resistances have surfaced when we have tried to develop new digital writing courses and curricula; when we have requested resources to support computer-based writing instruction; and when we have tried to expand the scope of digital writing instruction in the required first-year writing curriculum at MSU.

Resistance takes various forms. Below is a range of comments we’ve heard from those opposing computer-based writing instruction. Click on the star to see our response to each particular form of resistance (well, not in every case our actual response -- for several it’s what we’d like to say but can’t).

Scope, Identity, and Mission Resistance

  1. “We shouldn’t be teaching technology in a writing class. That’s not part of the art of writing. Back in the old days we didn’t teach TYPING in writing classes. Why should we teach computing now?” popup
  2. “We already have too much to do in the first-year composition class. We can’t add MORE.”popup
  3. “We are writing experts, not computer experts. Computer specialists should teach technology, not writing instructors.”popup
  4. “Students have problems writing for print environments. If they write poorly in print, I don’t see how moving them online is going to help their writing abilities."popup
  5. “Students won’t learn how to write for academic or disciplinary contexts if we teach them writing online.”popup

Humanistic Resistance

  1. “We should be teaching writing as a humanistic enterprise, not as a technical skill. Writing should be taught as part of liberal education aimed at expanding the intellectual capacities of students. Liberal education should not succumb to vocational training.” popup

  2. “Teaching computer-based writing contributes to the takeover of the university by corporate interests whose aim is to produce uncritical workers rather than critically and creatively minded citizens.”popup

Cost Resistance

  1. “Computer classrooms are too costly. We can’t afford it.”popup

Passive Resistance

  1. [Silence.] popup

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