You Can Start Here

Like any progressive convergence of the digital medium and English pedagogy, the course and its Final Web Project moves beyond the conception and application of the computer as simply a faster calculator, a better archive, or a more efficient delivery mechanism for existing teaching materials. At the same time, the example that it sets is not designed to be a radical one in terms of literary theory and practice — what Marcel O'Gorman (2006) described as the invention of "new discursive practices suitable to an age of computing" (p. 66).

Rather, the Digital Narratives course and the "fabric of digital text" that is the final assessment might be more a case study illuminating transition above reinvention. It illustrates a transitional moment in the face of great inertia — for students individually and an institution collectively — where existing discursive practices of reading and writing texts are brought into play in the context of a (digital) difference.

Broadly, such a transition refers to the "the ways that reading and writing practices and the dynamics between writers and readers change when text moves online" (WIDE Collective, 2005), and we would like to explore the student web project as it exemplifies this change in two sigificant ways.

The first takes place not when students and teachers simply use digital tools but when they learn to use them reflexively, which is to say whenever they become aware of the peculiar affordances (and limitations) these tools entail in relation to other and/or older media.

The second grows out of the rhetorical and navigational stucture of the web project itself, which is intended to incorporate two ways of organizing and presenting information — two ways of writing — simultaneously and toward mutually enhancing ends. Specifically, it places an associative or lateral linking texture over (or under, or in between) a linearly directed (albeit looping) one.

For the authors, one a lecturer in English and one in Education, the web project yielded results that were predictable and unpredictable in equal part. For instance, the practice of having the students include images with each of their textual submissions proved to be a challenge for the lecturer designing the assignment. After all, the practice of selecting and uploading images might seem extraneous to conventional essay writing (. . . and what would the department head think if she found out the students of the new lecturer were spending all their time looking at pictures during their alotted final exam?).

The students, however, were remarkably well-versed in terms of a visual rhetoric that allowed for a meaningful interplay between what they wrote and what they displayed. In short, this is one skill for which they did not require much instruction. Even those who were not technically proficent in preparing the images for the Web were rhetorically proficient in creating their digital texts in this regard.

Another observation involved the effect of a collaborative digital composition on the writing itself. The submissions were not co-written; that is, individual submissions were interlinked and glossed collectively after the fact. But one concern was the students' potential reluctance to have their writing not only read but also interpolated and glossed by the links of other students. Instead, not only was there no reluctance, but there was also a marked improvement in the quality of the submissions (compared to the more conventional essays they submitted in "confidence" earlier in the term); it was evident that more care was taken in creating a final draft for this collective text.

The results drawn from this observation are inevitably limited and anecdotal. But both the fact of having their writing "peer-reviewed," so to speak, and the reality of having their works published on the Web are factors that may have contributed to this improvement.

These are just a few of the observations we made after being involved with the project, which is one example among many proliferating in what has come to be called the digital humanities. Other observations follow in the sections to come, and we hope that our observations will be followed by those of the reader in turn.

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