Under the auspices of the Norman M. Eberly Writing Center and the Department of English at Dickinson, Sarah Kersh will be offering a brand new course this fall focused on writing in digital environments. Sarah sends along this preview.
Writing in and for Digital Environments (WRPG 211) is a new course designed to encourage students to think about how to convey a thought or point of view using more than just letters and words on a sheet of paper. Of course, there is no substitute for well thought-out and aptly articulated writing, and first and foremost the course uses the electronic environment to challenge and develop students’ writing skills. But it also teaches basic proficiency in WordPress and other common online platforms (Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook, etc.), and course assignments require regular reflection on the writing process, and on the tailoring information to specific audiences and media. Each student will design, build, and begin regularly posting to her or his own blog.
“Multimodal composition,” which is the combined use of text, image, video, and sound to convey meaning or create an effect, is no easy task. In her article “Between Modes: Assessing Student New Media Compositions,” Madeline Sorapure points to the inherent difficulty in rethinking traditional, paper-based composition:
…in writing [traditional] essays students have to worry only about working with text, and this is challenging enough. In new media compositions, students are being asked not only to use several different individual modes, but also to bring these modes together in space and time. (p.4)
But it also means thinking more deeply about communication and the ethics of information. Alongside our work on composition, we’ll discuss and read about questions such as, How does information circulate? How do copyrights work in digital environments? Who owns information? Is there an ethics of the digital age? Brian Carroll’s book Writing for Digital Media (Routledge, 2010), as well as other online articles and resources, will help us think through these fascinating questions.
Because many of our conversations about composition in digital environments will involve integrating multiple voices and forms communication, our class will model this kind of multimodal presentation by integrating voices from inside and outside of the Dickinson community. We’ll be working closely with members of the Academic Technology staff on campus, as well as hearing from specialists in the field: a freelance science writer most recently featured in the Chicago Tribune, a tech entrepreneur specializing in data visualization and online narratives, and others. Finally, part of my goal for the semester is to challenge students in the class to think about and write from new perspectives. We will use Keri Smith’s Finish this Book (Penguin, 2011), an innovative “unfinished” mystery that gives readers the tools to complete it themselves, as a unique and fun prompt for outside-of-the-box thinking and writing.