Students as DesignWriters

Mark Amerika (2000) wrote that "[a]s we begin to recognize the more fluid forms of writing being developed on the web, it becomes immediately apparent to us that graphic designers, in particular, are participating in the emergence of more visually-stimulating writerly forms being distributed in cyberspace." Amerika is talking about the inevitable merging of writing and design when it comes to the process of creating texts for the digital environments. Not only are graphics designers becoming more "writerly," then, but writers are becoming more attuned to design questions. Amerika speaks in particular of the notion of "designwriting."

With regard to the Final Web Project created for the Digital Narratives course, "designwriting" was initially more of an afterthought than a conscious activity that needed any significant amount of attention beyond an instructional preface. The first time the assignment was given, students were told that they could include images if they wished and that choosing an image that illustrated some dialogue between the image and text could benefit the grade. But, given the emphasis on the writing, they were told that the absence of an image would not negatively affect the grade.

The result was that many students devoted a lot of time and energy into searching for and selecting images — even to the extent that it was taking some time away from the task of linking in the final workshop. The students enjoyed this aspect of the assignment, and their choices reflected a genuine and enthusiastic engagement with the idea of creating a dialogue between the image and text. The instructor subsequently amended the exercise to allow more time for showing students how to locate and upload images, which represented an organizational change to the assessment. Pedagogically, more time was devoted to discussions of image versus text in subsequent offerings, and the class (including — perhaps above all — the instructor) was able to confront the reality that, in digital environments, "imagetexts are the most frequent mode of representation" (O'Gorman, 2006, p. 41).

See Figure 2 as an example of a complete node illustrating the overall design:

Image of student design

Figure 2. Adam's Argument.

The student's title appears centered over his chosen image, and the title for the type of submission appears in the upper left corner (it links to his Reflection). Another student has added a link in the first sentence of the first main paragraph, which takes readers to "Rob's Annotation." The gloss that appears when the thread icon is rolled-over reads: "This conventional standpoint is elaborated with regard to hypertext here."

The design of the site was thus a combination of a linear hierarchical structure and mutli-linear lateral linkages. The index page provided a title page for the entire site but also multiple points of entry to the submissions of individual students. It accomplished this by using an image of binary digits, which contained a number of "hot spots" that linked to the first page of each of the students' submissions. The instructions above the graphic are to "select a zero or one," and when a user mouses over a number, the first name of a student appears above it.

These links are constructed with the HTML code by (1) making an image map that selects certain areas of the graphic and specifies a hyperlink at that location and (2) adding alternate text that will display when that area is rolled-over. (As most HTML authoring can be done with applications that generate the code, making the image map is a basic process that can be accomplished by drawing boxes and filling in fields in an interface). From the links in the binary digit graphic, readers will arrive at the first of the three nodes for the student selected. These three nodes are linked in order for each student, and the navigational design is set up so that the reader can cycle (in a more linear fashion) through them one after the other and return to the index page after the third node.

Mel - class of 06 Joe - class of 05 Todd - class of 07 Llew - class of 06


You Can Start Here
On the Digital
Threat / Salvation
On English Pedagogy & Contemporary Contexts
On the Course:
Motivation & Inception
Nothing Too New


On the Literary
On the Technical


Students as DesignWriters
Examples and Analysis