Everyday we sit through class after class with the same look on our face—one that says, “I stayed up way too late watching Netflix, and I’d rather be sleeping.” We constantly think, “How will this class really impact my life?” Basically, what’s the point? How can we change this mind-set about going to classes that may not interest us as students and begin to see the potential value in them? How do we make class exciting? Okay, maybe that’s a long shot, but how do we at least make classrooms a place where students lose that zombie look on their face, and act interested in what’s taking place? And here’s a thought—maybe even become passionate about what they are learning and decide to integrate it into their lives moving forward. The answer, you ask? Digital Writing.
Let’s start with the basics. What exactly is digital writing? The possibilities are endless—a Facebook post, a tweet, a text message, a blog post, a Yelp review, an Instagram. The list goes on. Digital writing is what you want it to be. It gives a writer the chance to be creative, fun and unique. It allows their true voice to be heard. Digital writing incorporates pictures, videos, links and tags to create a multimodal piece of work—one that is captivating, easy to read and keeps readers chomping at the bit for more.
Our generation has become so consumed by social media—always needing to know the who, what, when and where of every person, every event and every story. Is this a bad thing? I’m not really sure, but I will say one thing. Social media has created an alternative form of community. Remember that cousin you have all the way across the country? Well, now you can see her grow up. And the video of your sister’s hour-and-a-half long soccer game last week that your parents posted? You weren’t actually there, but now you feel like you were. These tools available, thanks to social media, create a sense of togetherness that people otherwise wouldn’t feel. Maybe something along the same lines can be created in a classroom setting.
Even at a small liberal arts school like Dickinson, it’s hard to know absolutely everyone in your class. And for those like me, who are a little on the quiet side, it’s hard to feel comfortable voicing your thoughts and opinions to people that you don’t know very well. Digital writing can change that—at least it did for me.
Thanks to blogging, I no longer feel like I’m hiding from the class. With each class and post, I was even encouraged, believe it or not, to raise my hand and participate vocally. Our class blog helped me feel like I was part of the community, and because of it my comfort level increased. Utilizing these aspects encourages all types of students to voice their opinions without the fear of being judged or made fun of.
Let’s consider another valuable point. Digital writing allows students more freedom to explore, engage in and even enjoy the work that they are doing. Over the course of the semester, each member of our class is creating a personal blog project on any topic that their hearts desire. The fact that each student is developing a blog based on something they are actually interested in makes the learning experience so much more worthwhile. In her article, Consider the Audience, Jen Rajchel points out, “When students feel an increased level of investment in their projects and a heightened sense of responsibility to an actual audience, the work becomes less about grades and more about shaping their scholarship.”
This is absolutely true. When I’m writing for my blog, I’m having fun. Weird, right? I don’t find myself stressing about the grade, instead I look forward to creating a new post. This is what learning should be about—not about going through the motions just to get an “A”, but actually feeling passionate about what you are doing. In his article, Start a Reading Revolution: Flip Your Class With Blogs, Brian Sztabnik drives this point home when he refers to his class, saying, “No longer must they be told what to write and how, submitting to another’s power and authority. Blogs provide choice and independence, allowing them to own the learning experience.” Thanks to digital writing, this can happen.
Along with allowing students to immerse themselves in their education, digital writing encourages creativity. Instead of the traditional five-paragraph essay on an 8.5” x 11” piece of paper, students have the opportunity to put their own personal touch on projects and interpret them however they choose. Let’s look at Twitter, for example. Yes, Twitter can be used as a way to keep up with the latest details about your friends and favorite celebrity gossip, but it can also be used as a tool to enhance one’s learning.
Leigh Wright, a journalism professor at Murray State University in Kentucky, has shown with flying colors the effect that Twitter has had on students’ inventiveness. In her piece, Tweet Me a Story, Wright explained to her want-to-be journalists the importance of being able to get to the point of a story quickly. To expand upon this lesson, she assigned her students a “live tweeting” assignment where they attended a basketball game and had to come up with simple, yet informative stories on the spot to Tweet. The outcome was unexpected. “One student developed a snarky tone as he tweeted about the odd chants and cheers. Another student turned her attention away from the game and live-tweeted about the variety of school color fashions.” Each student was able to interpret the assignment in his or her own way. As opposed to being limited to one text-book way of doing something, digital writing allowed students to be original and have fun with it. Wright comments, “The assignment was both difficult and enjoyable to grade because each student found his own style of writing an effective tweet. Tweeting is not like solving a math problem.”
Yet again, we have another example of how digital writing positively influences education. With the pressure to tweet quickly, digital writing promotes students to think out of the box and write concisely to summarize a moment, while at the same time encourages them to go with their gut. It’s all about overcoming an inhibition—the fear that what they say, do or in this case write will be “wrong.” Sometimes this concern clouds students’ initial thoughts and instead they end up writing for the professor and not for themselves or their readers. Digital writing gives students the freedom to take that leap of faith and write what first comes to mind, while also being succinct. Not only is this idea important in the classroom, but it is also important in the everyday world. Where would we be without impulse ideas and actions? Probably nowhere near where we are today. The fact that students are being exposed to this idea now will help them to carry it over to their professional, and even personal lives as “grown-ups.”
So there you have it. Digital writing at its finest. Let’s take a step back and think about where we would be without digital writing. Probably typing out a five paragraph research paper droning on about Abraham Lincoln’s role in the Emancipation Proclamation. Don’t get me wrong, Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation totally rock, but instead of half-heartedly going through the motions, how about we at least make it a little enjoyable? Perhaps an interactive timeline leading up to the events of the Emancipation Proclamation that incorporates audio and pictures? Digital writing allows us to do this. Digital writing makes school more than just sitting at a desk with the “I watched too much Netflix” look. It makes it interactive, productive, thought-provoking and even, dare I say it, fun.
My Personal Journey with Digital Writing
“What does a liberal arts education mean to you?” This is the loaded question that eager parents of prospective students are craving an answer to on tour. For a while, this was the question I dreaded because I didn’t have an answer, but now it’s simple. To me, a liberal arts education is learning about things you didn’t know you loved. Professor Kersh’s class, Writing for Digital Environments, has taught me that.
As a biology major, I’ve always known that I loved science. It’s my “thing”, as people say. So, as you can imagine, I was a bit surprised when I absolutely fell in love with blogging. There was something about the way the words flowed and the way my voice was heard that kept me wanting to write more and more. I’m hopeful that like it did for me, digital writing has the power to spark a passion in people that they didn’t even know they had.
There are so many aspects of digital writing whether it is covering an event via a blog post, tweeting a simple thought, or even telling a story through an Instagram. There is something for everyone, and this is what students should remember about digital writing—the possibilities are endless.
Let’s look at a specific example of digital writing—my personal blog. It covers the happenings of the Dickinson Equestrian Team—the shows, the stories, the people, the places—everything you need to know.
With this blog, my goal is to engage the Dickinson College community—those on the team and those not on the team. Digital writing has taught me to focus on who I’m writing for and not necessarily what I’m writing about.
Because of this, I try to write in a way that is informative, yet conversational and fun so as to appeal to those that know absolutely nothing about collegiate competitive riding. Writing for your audience is so important. It’s something that we don’t really spend a lot of time fussing over in other classes, but it’s something that is completely core to digital writing. After all, without an audience, who would we be writing for anyway?
So, what am I trying to say with all of this? First, I love digital writing, but there’s more to it than that. My newfound passion has inspired me to potentially use digital writing in my future life endeavors. Right now, the goal is to go to dental school, specialize in orthodontics and then eventually start my own practice. I could use blogging as a way to tell the story of being a graduate student and even as a way to promote my own practice. Who would have thought that something I learned in school outside of my major would actually relate to my life outside of college. Crazy, right? But it’s not. This is what a liberal arts education is about—sparking passions in people to carry with them through life.
Dougherty, Jack. “Public Writing and Student Privacy.” Web Writing: Why & How for the Liberal Arts Teaching & Learning. Web. 20 October 2014. <http://epress.trincoll.edu/webwriting/chapter/dougherty-public/>
Cecire, Natalia. “How Public Like a Frog: On Academic Blogging.” Arcade. Web. 20 October 2014 <http://arcade.stanford.edu/blogs/how-public-frog-academic-blogging>
Rajchel, Jen. “Consider the Audience.” Web Writing: Why & How for Liberal Arts Teaching & Learning. Ed. Jack Dougherty. Web. 20 October 2014. <http://epress.trincoll.edu/webwriting/chapter/rajchel/>
Sztabnik, Brian. “Start a Reading Revolution: Flip Your Class with Blogs.” Edutopia. Web. 28 October 2014. <http://www.edutopia.org/blog/flip-ela-class-with-blogs-brian-sztabnik>
Wright, Leigh. “Tweet Me a Story.” Web Writing: Why & How for Liberal Arts Teaching & Learning. Ed. Jack Dougherty. Web. 22 October 2014 <http://epress.trincoll.edu/webwriting/chapter/wright/>