How We Should Teach Digital Writing
Most university-level writing instruction has yet to catch up with the dramatic changes we are talking about here. Most college composition courses are still taught exclusively from a print perspective. While we think the print perspective should continue to be taught, it is not sufficient by itself. But what does it really mean to teach from a digital perspective?
For the past 10-20 years, those in fields like computers and writing have been making arguments for teaching writing with computers that have become commonplaces of institutional discourse: because students need to be effective writers with computers after the university; because students use computers for coursework across the university; because the computer changes writing processes; and so on.
These arguments are all true. In fact, we do believe that all writing courses should be taught with computer technology to prepare students for their future professional lives and for their civic lives as participants in an increasingly digital and global world. However, these arguments are clearly insufficient, and in some respects, not precisely relevant for the pedagogical practices that we think are necessary. Think about these two common counter-claims:
So what does it really mean to teach digital writing? Given that our argument is that digital writing is different because of the network and the deep and broad changes in writing that networks afford and require (e.g., think of standards), then we begin our pedagogical thinking with the network. Consider this typical scenario from our classrooms:
There are a number of issues embedded in this example, but the basic pedagogical imperative is to teach writing in places that afford students the technological choices that they need. Those choices certainly entail computers because eventually students need to make their writing into something persistent. As the writer advances her project, the artifact she has created will need to be moved, shared, and revised, all practices that need networks. And the practices of using networks change writing—they are acts of invention.
The point is not teach writing with computers. It is to teach writing in spaces that also allow students to write with computers. Why? The answer is fundamentally pedagogical in nature:
We imagine a pedagogy based on these principles:
How We Should Train Digital Writing Teachers and Support Their Work
As we have noted throughout this piece, digital writing requires attention to context, to rhetoric, to networks, and to our romance with print conventions and theories. One factor that umbrellas all of the considerations we’ve thus far put forth, however, is faculty development.
Digital writing can’t happen without faculty development, and by this, we do not necessarily mean random and irregular workshops with no pedagogical or theoretical scaffolding and no follow-up. Faculty development means truly cultivating an ecology of digital writing through a commitment to regular training sessions; mentoring approaches; sustained software, hardware, and other support; and honed conceptual frames.
As we’ve argued, teaching in a computer lab is not necessarily teaching digital writing. Faculty development should thus be guided by the philosophy that technology should be carefully and thoughtfully integrated into the writing classroom in ways that supplement pedagogical principles and curricular goals. The outcomes of faculty development are to create a space for faculty to practice hands-on skills with a wide variety of writing technologies (e.g., specific software, hardware, use of campus server space and networks) and to foster and sustain ideas for classroom activities and digital writing assignments or exercises.
An ecology of digital writing means starting and sustaining discussions about approaches to integrating different technologies in writing classes for different tasks and goals. Fostering an ecology of digital writing means faculty having the technology and tools they need to think through or to teach with at their disposal in a timely matter. Sustaining an ecology of technology means having human and material means available to faculty—appropriate machines, money, protection of time, rewards for the work we do, and more.
Furthermore, professional development efforts must be offered to graduate teaching assistants, who are often an untapped resource (or, on the other hand, an overworked commodity) in terms of technology use, and often the most progressive technological/digital thinkers in a particular department or institution. Thus we must anchor theoretically sound and technically smart approaches to digital writing in our teaching preparation classes, in our technology theory classes, and in our graduate student training and continued professional development (Barb Blakely Duffelmeyer, 2003; Jude Edminster & Joe Moxley, 2002; Holdstein, 1989; Takayoshi & Brian Huot, 2003; Taylor, 1998).