Student Examples and Analysis

For English instructors tasked with facilitating students' achievement of various learning outcomes or objectives, critical thinking and composition skills span disciplines and serve as a universal goal. As Manuel Perez-Rivas (1999) wrote,

We live in such a media- and technology-rich society that education has to really get our students to apply the same kind of critical thinking that we use in history, in English, and in science. If we don't . . . we're doing [our students] a disservice.

The challenge, then, is engineering experiences that engage students beyond simple regurgitation of established facts or ideas or, worse perhaps, arriving at the conclusions favored most by the teacher and recreating those. Thus, with this course on digital narratives, not only was the material seen as important, but in order to fully engage the students, they were invited to become immersed in the process of creating it.

For example, in one submission, a student named Rob annotated a passage regarding "conventional" view of narrative versus a "hypertextual" view. He made an analogy using our everyday understanding of navigating roads:

The presence of hypertext in a digital fiction gives rise to potential for the reformatting of narrative pathways depending on how a reader navigates. To make an analogous claim: in a hypertextual story (links to more resources) the reader is handed a map and told to explore, where as a conventional printed text would simply take the reader along state highway one. (Rob's Annotation)

In another example, a student named Melissa reflects on the iconic article by Julian Dibbell (1993) about a rape in cyberspace and confronts her technophobic past as well:

Reading the Dibbell article on the virtual rape particularly interested me as it made me realise just how real MUD's can be and that often the people who use them become so wrapped up in their characters. It made me wonder if the alias's people take on in these MUD's spill over into real life? For instance if Mr Bungle in the Dibble article took on such an aggressive/sadistic persona in the MUD, is it likely this alter-ego of his makes appearances in his life outside of Lamdamoo? This idea is something I have often wondered about. This course has changed the way I think about technology and has definitely helped me understand aspects of digital culture I knew little or nothing about before studying them in this course. In [the] future I will now have a wider perspective on digital narratives and less of a phobia about all things technological! (Melissa's Reflection)

As is demonstrated in the excerpt from Rob's Annotation node and Melissa's Reflection node, not only were they using the literary conventions of annotation and reflection as a method for making meaning of digital narrative content, but their use of technological conventions put them in the roles of both consumer and creator of technology-driven media. In those dual roles, Rob and Melissa explored ways in which writing in this media is different than if they had been assigned to submit essays about the same content and in the same literary conventions.

By having the ability to layer their responses with direct links to supporting materials, they also had to consider how best to make use of these resources without leading their readers astray. The additional parameter of this assignment of having students link their responses to other students' responses adds the communal element that emergent technologies encourage us — and challenge us — to exploit. Specifically, through the practice of linking, students learned more about intertextuality and how it can become more visible in digital environments. They saw their own texts being woven into a broader network of texts, and not just the network of texts contained by the Web Project but also — through the permeations of external links — that of the World Wide Web itself.

The students were not troubled by the specific task of linking — of locating the sites of possible interconnections. That is, they did not need further guidance on what sort of discursive links to transform into digitally mediated ones even though the instructor and teaching assistant were prepared to do so. One pattern, however, did emerge: Students were more likely to link to and from the Reflection section of the Web Project than the other sections. This section housed personalized (micro)narratives of the student's experience of engaging with the topics and the technologies in the course, and the fact that it likely provided a comparably more immediate and perhaps more emotional point of identification for peers would explain its tendency to attract proportionally more links.

More generally, as a result of the linking exercise, the students' knowledge was triangulated in an significant way: Instead of the more common albeit not always functional feedback loop that runs from teacher to student and ideally back to the teacher, the students saw their work in relation to the work of other students, and, once online, even in a sense on the same level as the critics and theorists whose texts comprised the course reading list. They were, in a material sense, writing with other writers.

While the students could have been asked to demonstrate the critical practices of Annotation, Argument, and Reflection in the more traditional manner of an essay assignment in the isolation of their individual word-processing workspace, their work demonstrates the ways in which this particular task differs in both process and product. By viewing their learning products through the framework of English pedagogy as an engagement with contemporary contexts, it is apparent that this task provided students the opportunity to study about the web environment while at the same time working in it. Further, the context of the course — a study of digital narratives — provided a clear rationale to the students as to why they were using the technological tools they were asked to use.

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