The Literary Components of the Web Project

One of the learning outcomes of the "Digital Narratives in Digital Culture" course was to "demonstrate a basic literacy in the use of hypertext and Web applications for the reading and writing of texts." Knowing that many of the students enrolling in the course would be from majors that did not necessarily require a lot of technical knowledge of computer applications and programming, it was important that computer expertise was not seen as a prerequisite for the course (their grades were not dependent on successfully learning any new technical or programming skills). At the same time, it was also important to emphasize that the very notion of "basic literacy" means something different now than it did before the proliferation of personal computers and that this form of basic digital literacy falls within the domain of English pedagogy — and, quite clearly, of this particular course.

The intention was also to go beyond traditional methods of assessment for the course, which would exploit the same medium that provided the basis for the students' study of digital texts and textuality. The point was to make the students conscious of alternatives to the academic essay, not only in terms of its traditional medium (print) but also in terms of its traditional structure, which is resolutely linear and hierarchical in organization. This is also not to mention the fact that the essay, as functional as it has been as a measure of intellectual expression in Western education, is also a remarkably old one, having been around since the 16th century. In this sense, a collaborative web site was a logical alternative to either a final exam or a final essay.

The idea for the project, however, went beyond creating a collaborative assessment and staging it on screen. In designing the web site, there was a desire to identify and incorporate what might be described as rhetorical structures implicit in digital environments. The practice of composing self-contained "nodes" rather than long paragraphs, of reading associatively in order to create lateral linkages between such nodes, and even the process of cutting and pasting text would all gesture toward the sort of digital rhetoric in question here. As Diana Laurillard (2005) wrote,

We use the internet to access information, just as we use books, newspapers and television. But most of us do not use it, yet, to design, or create, or take part in a collaborative creative process that mirrors the traditions of writing.

Exploiting digital writing technology for a collective project that "mirrors the traditions of writing" is an instructive one: The practice of writing in and with digital media does not necessarily entail discovering "new" rhetorical structures. Rather, certain qualities of writing are foregrounded or reified in digital environments.

Furthermore, qualities of the digital text that are inherent to the medium were discussed and portrayed not solely in terms of the technical or technological but also in terms of the literal or literary. For instance, hyperlinks were discussed as something one could "write" instead of simply "program." In this sense, the rhetoric of digital writing was not obscured by the (seemingly) more immediate operational demands of the technology. After all, in a course on "digital narratives" and "digital culture," a course that implored students to think reflexively about the medium in which their primary sources were found, the assessment needed to be more than simply about digital environments; it needed to be in one.

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