Teaching Digital Writing

Digital writing is a phrase much bandied about but lacking in definitional clarity. Early approaches to this topic looked at the technological aspects of the digital creation of text, including hypertext. More recently, following the rapid changes from the mid nineties to the present day, the discussion about digital writing has expanded to include many more forms of digital composition and interaction as subjects of study. Scholars are beginning to explore the ways in which the widespread use of online networks lead to different ideas about authorship, what constitutes a text, and how rhetorical communities are formed and exist in both virtual and physical spaces.

Cummings, Robert and Matt Barton, eds. Wiki Writing: Collaborative Learning in the College Classroom. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. (2008).
This collection of essays falls into the transitional phase of scholarship on this topic. The essays range from discovery (fascinating new technology to share) to implementation (ways in which specific authors employ wikis). Even the articles on Wiki “taxonomy” and communities of learning focus on examples from specific classrooms rather than addressing a more theoretical concepts. This book has some useful examples of ways to incorporate wikis into your course work. Many of the examples feature wikis created by entirely by students as their collaborative rhetorical projects. Another example requires students to create or edit Wikipedia articles in a way that shows their ability to create such digital work. Two of the primary benefits of wikis mentioned by many of the essays are the way that wikis can make the process of revision more evident and the ease of collaboration what that means for student work.

Johnson-Eilola, Johndan, and Stuart A. Selber. “Plagiarism, Originality, Assemblage.” Computers and Composition 24.4 (2007)
Johnson-Eilola and Selber address the question of plagiarism in light of the collaborative and non-unique way that much composition takes place outside of classrooms. They point out the irony of plagiarized descriptions of plagiarism in syllabi, for example. However, they also go beyond that to look at the ways that newer technology make recombining other works into new works easier and more common. Although not limited to digital creations (their first example of assemblage are audio mixtapes), the article makes the argument that assemblage is a crucial form of creativity in digital writing that is overlooked by privileging sole composition. They suggest that judging by outcomes (does this work solve the given problem?) – rather than uniqueness (did you write it all yourself?) may be a more productive strategy for composition classrooms in the long run.

Porter , James E. “Recovering Delivery for Digital Rhetoric.” Computers and Composition 26.4 (2009): 207-224.
Porter wants to use the rhetorical term “delivery,” which has traditionally been associated with the vocal and bodily aspects of rhetoric, for the ways that networked computers deploy rhetoric. In doing so, he hopes to leverage existing rhetorical theory about delivery while providing an overall category for discussing some of the features of digital writing that are different from earlier forms of rhetoric, especially print rhetoric. Porter suggests five components of digital delivery: body/identity, distribution/circulation, access/accessibility, interaction, and economics. His discussion of the first category could be expanded beyond the focus on online embodiment to look at online identities which are not always associated with even digital representations of human bodies.

Porter, Jim. “Why Technology Matters to Writing: A Cyberwriter’s Tale.” Computers and Composition 20.4 (2002)
Porter describes his personal journey from using a pencil with no eraser to networked computer interactions and shows the limitations of its date. He sets himself in opposition to Baron’s article “From Pencils to Pixels” and says that there is a significant difference made through technology. He acknowledges, however, that Baron is speaking of computers as isolated word processors and agrees that computers used in that way are not as different. Porter’s focus on the way that technology can affect the process of composition is useful, but limited by the autoethnographic nature of the article.

Turnley, Melinda. “Toward a Mediological Method.” Computers and Composition 28.2 (2011) 126-144.
Turnley starts with Régis Debray’s theories of “mediology” in order to explore ways of understanding digital writing as it is variously performed and consumed. Turnley uses Debray’s theories while setting aside his transhistoricism. She identifies seven dimensions of a medium: technological, social, economic, archival, aesthetic, subjective and epistemological. Turnley not only discusses the theoretical utility of these categories, she also gives examples of how she has used them in her composition classroom.

Writing in Digital Environments (WIDE) Research Collective. “Why Teach Digital Writing?Kairos 10.1 (2010)
This issue of Kairos seeks to provide resources for teachers of digital writing who attempting to answer the question “why teach digital writing?” This standpoint results in attention to such questions as resistance to digital writing. They also look at the question of physical as well as virtual composition environments. Oddly, the extensive reference list has nothing dated after 2006 (although there are some items listed as “in press”). It could serve as a good starting point for exploring the history of scholarly discussions of digital writing, but not for the current scholarly conversation.

Zappen, James P. “Digital Rhetoric: Toward an Integrated Theory.” Technical Communication Quarterly 14.3 (2005) 319-325.
This short article analyzes digital rhetoric in terms of characteristics, affordances and constraints and with respect to identity and community formation. Zappen concludes with questions for further research. Although his specific examples are now outdated, his general question about the the transformation of traditional rhetorical theories remains a topic for discussion.


One thought on “Teaching Digital Writing

  1. I would recommend considering Scott Warnock’s *Teaching Writing Online: How & Why* as well. Warnock’s book is a practical guide for both setting up and facilitating an online writing course, for it covers topics ranging from developing syllabi to discussion board conversations, writing assignments, file management, and course assessment in an online environment. Each chapter combines research in writing pedagogy and composition theory with practical guidelines. Warnock attends in particular to bridging writing teachers’ experiences with teaching writing in face-to-face classrooms with his discussion of teaching writing online. Warnock’s text serves as a useful, though, broad overview to teaching online, and would thus be ideal for those just beginning to teach writing in either online-only or hybrid courses.


    Posted by Clay Walker | January 13, 2012, 3:27 pm

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