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The 21st Century: Redefining the Classroom and Community

Much anticipation and excitement surrounded finding out who my German exchange student was going to be. The German exchange program was organized by my high school, but I was first introduced to my exchange partner through Facebook. She lived in Baden-Württemberg in Germany and I live in New Jersey in the United States. Before we met in person, we got to know one another through sharing pictures and talking on Facebook. Even thought the exchange program is finished, we still keep in touch to this day through Facebook. The Internet makes physical distance obsolete. Although she lives across the Atlantic Ocean, we are able to stay in contact on a regular bases because of the Internet. Not only does Facebook allow me to keep connected with my exchange partner but also the community of people I met in Germany, such as her family and other students. This concept of accessing communities across the globe no longer just applies to social situations, but also to academics and business. The web has become a platform for individuals to share their work and get feedback from a global perspective. Therefore it is beneficial to learn about what web writing is and how to write in a concise matter for a global audience.

MySpace pioneered the idea of converting social interactions to the Internet but Facebook mastered it. From there, social media sites kept blooming and Twitter, tumblr, and many other sites were founded. These sites although all different in type and aim, all serve the same purpose: sharing ideas with others in a quick, engaging manner and connecting people to communities. These communities can be an online classroom, businesses, or people from across the globe with similar interests. Although social network sites were not founded for academic purposes, they are integrating themselves into the classroom structure. Professor Leigh Wright at Murray State University is using Twitter in the classroom to teach journalism students to be quick and concise in their writing through live-tweeting projects (14 Wright). In web writing, longer blog posts or articles are often glossed over. So a digital writer must be strategic in how much information he or she gives and how he or she presents it. Knowing how to effectively portray an idea within Twitter’s 140 characters limit trains a writer to keep his or her thoughts direct and clear.

Students at the University of South Caroline and the University of Georgia are also applying social networks in the classroom. These students are using Facebook to “improve nonprofit organizations’ public communications” (62 Dyrud). Most modern businesses have online aspects, which provide information and services to “prospective customers” (Kropf). Web writing for this platform needs to be clear and concise because a customer won’t spend much time sifting through information. Students that understanding and engaging in web writing, will be attractive to employers because they can contribute to the business’s online aspect, therefore gaining them more publicity and customers.
Also, social media and the Internet connects students with other students, teachers, or global communities, allowing them to ask questions, receive feedback,discuss topics, or work on projects if meeting in person is not possible. The Internet makes students and faculty more connected because social media encourages interaction on multiple levels. These multiple connections inspire “a new way of thinking about communication, collaboration, and group effort” (61 Dyrud). The web allows for communication at anytime with people from anywhere. This accessibility encourages connections to be made, which form communities and collaborations. Online communal collaborations are not bound by geographical boundaries because work can be shared through online peer review. Student blogging also offers an opportunity “for students to work together virtually in a loosely coordinated fashion”(Alterman). Because students do not need to be in the same place or same time zone to work together, people from different cultures bring new perspectives to enhance the work.

Web writing and online discussions can also help students from different cultures adjust to the new culture, which encourages domestic and foreign students to learn from one another. As an international student and teacher, Holly Oberle finds that non-native students “feel more comfortable communicating on “paper” rather than orally”. (22 Oberle) Online discussions are beneficial because they give foreign students more time to reflect on the topic. Also, because the discussion is recorded online, the “conversation [can] extend throughout the span of the semester” (Alterman). Online discussions then inspire the sharing of ideas and creating conversations from everyone, allowing the students to learn more about a global perspective.

Dickinson College understands and stresses the importance of a global perspective from a liberal arts education. President Roseman’s inaugural address described Dickinson’s goal as a liberal arts college to “prepare young people so they can successfully navigate the mid-21st century” (Roseman). The 21st century is unique in that advanced technology has become an integral part of individual’s lives, communal interactions, and global involvement. I feel the need to be prepared for these important technological aspects of the world today. A liberal arts education is an important place to learn about multiple disciplines and to create a global perspective. My liberal arts education at Dickinson will give me the confidence to approach new concepts or situations and say, “I have no idea how to do that, but I’ll figure it out” (Roseman). For me this concept of the unknown applies to technology. I have always struggled with navigating technology and with using technology to its full potential. So, I decided to face my struggle head on and take a technology-based class: Writing in and for the Digital Environments. This class is unique in its focus on web writing, which means learning to write concisely and for a larger audience. This skill is useful in the modern world because the Internet holds many opportunities for connections and promotions. Every college major and every business has online aspects, so engaging online is beneficial for those looking for information, those wanting to share information and even those applying for a job. This class teaches how to write for the web in a successful manner by keeping in mind the audience, tone, and length of the work. Also, this class fits into the Dickinson liberal arts mission because it crosses discipline boundaries by allowing the students blogs to
be unique in topic, from environmental issues to dance, and also by preparing students for the technological aspects of the 21st century.

As a college freshman, I’m still trying to figure out what major I am interest in and what major would best suit me. Regardless of what major I choose, I know this class will help contribute to the skills I will need for my major because web writing relates to every discipline. If I choose a major in humanities, such as English, then sharing my writing online will be useful in getting feedback and peer review. If I choose to major in Theater and Dance, then web writing will still have a use. I follow the New York City Ballet, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Australian Ballet, and Royal Ballet on YouTube and their web sites. The videos and information they post range from performances to ballerina’s profiles to behind the scenes. When I watch a video I feel like I’m connecting with the dance community by seeing insight into a professional dancers world. Dance blogs such as Dancing Branflakes offer the same opportunity to connect with people of similar interest who may be far away geographically. Although I am just an aspiring dancer and student at Dickinson College, this online access makes me feel like part of a larger dance community. This class made me realizes I can contribute to this dance community. I am no professional dancer or dance company, but I do have a unique perspective that I can contribute through my blog. By engaging in online communities through web writing and multi-modal aspects, I can expand my understanding of dance and my connections to dancers. Whatever major I decide, I know it will be beneficial to apply skills learned from this class, such as concise informative writing and considering a global audience. If I use my web writing skills learned from this class to share my ideas and who I am, I will be involved in communities and a networks of opportunities.

Work Cited

Alterman, Richard, and Johann Ari Larusson. “Participation and Common Knowledge in a Case Study of Student Blogging – Springer.” Participation and Common Knowledge in a Case Study of Student Blogging. Brandeis University, 01 June 2013. Web. 13 Oct. 2013. .
Dyrud, Marilyn A. “Posting, Tweeting, and Rejuvenating the Classroom.” Business Communication Quarterly (9 Jan. 2012): 61-63. Print.
Kropf, Dorothy C. “Connectivism: 21st Century’s New Learning Theory.” Eurodl RSS. Walden University, n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2013. .
Roseman, Nancy A. “Inauguration Address.” Presidential Inauguration. Dickinson College, Carlisle. 28 Sept. 2013. Speech.
Web log post. Dancing Branflakes. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2013. .
“Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning.” Web Writing Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning. Michigan Publishing, n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2013. .

Web Writing as a Globalized Tool of Expression

Digital writing is focused on, if not limited to social media for most students, especially those in high school and early years of college. As Jen Rajchel, author of “Consider the Audience” on Web Wrting: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching & learning suggests, by the time of their freshman year in college, most students are immersed in networked media, forming a connection with friends and family through shared experiences on the internet. These experiences could include pictures, videos, favorite music and more. A change in context of the use of social media, specifically a shift from being focused on high-school students to being focused on college students, and possibly professors provides new ways of using the same media in a different way.

 

For personal, academic and professional reasons, the question of whom to be connected with and whom not to be connected with can be a critical question. Social media is an easily accessible way of reaching out to audiences on the internet through the availability of greater circulation. Rajchel compares web writing to thinking in public. This connotation has both advantages and risks. Web writing provides new writers with the chance to expose their work through a greater audience. This however, also leads to greater chances of being slaughtered by critics in case of mistakes. “Among the most important contours of web writing is the ability to negotiate publicness.” (Rajchel) As a result, the publicity that you get through the internet could be your greatest friend or foe depending on how you make use of it.

 

“When students publish online, they assume the responsibilities of authorship. The consideration of such implications for visibility is crucial for students, especially those who might not have picked a career path.” And so, the impact that your online work can have on your career, really depends on which direction you want to take your own career. Therefore there could be a greater degree of freedom on what you write about for some than for others. “Too often the digital fluencies of incoming students are confused with mastery of platforms and skills. Sophistication with media platforms should not be defined only by the ability to successfully complete a task on an interface” (Rajchel). The ways of manipulating a media platform usually goes much deeper than what most people think such platforms are capable of. Open-source platforms can therefore play a very significant part in the presentation of one’s blog.

Digital writing is, as mentioned earlier, widely used in pursuit of finding larger audiences. Many students who are web writers want their work to circulate beyond the classroom. Rajchel lists the ability to synthesize informaiton, read quickly and deeply, and enaging in discussions with candor and humility, as important aspects of liberal arts education that we learn from reading across disciplines, developing expertise, and delving in to discussions in school environment. These same qualities can be instrumental at improving a writer’s eloquence.

 

Another factor that has major implications on web writing is the issue of glottalization, not just as a result of the boundless nature of the internet, but also, especially in the United States, because of the cultural melting point that it has turned into. As a result, cross-cultural perspectives from a writer’s point of view can greatly attract approval from a wider, global audience. In the chapter “Web Writing as Intercultural Dialogue” in Web Writing: Why & How for Liberal Arts Teaching & Learning, author Holly Oberle mentinos that “according to the Institute for International Education, the 2011-2012 academic year was witness to the largest enrollment of international students in the United States, with nearly 75,000 students from primarily China, India, Saudi Arabia, and South Kore.” Although this too could have a reactionary effect towards “intensifying stereotypes and stifling intercultural dialogue”, Oberle suggests that globalization of education might facilitate cultural exposure and understanding.

 

The turn towards web writing as one of the many teaching tools in a 21st century classroom is an exciting development if appraoached cautiously, and with vigil for opportunity, especially as it relates to cultivating more cohesion among diverse students.” Web writing can function as an influential intercutural dialogue platform as it changes the typical ‘one-person audience’ scenario into an interactive platform where multiple audiences can offer feedback and enhance the writing experience, adding perspective on the same topic from different cultural backgrounds. “ Writing on the web exposes students to a wider audience, and forces them to consider a pseudo-global audience and thus how they may be interpreted, as well as their own political and social biases” (Oberle). Another important part of successfully implementing web writing is to actively converse with the readers and reply to their feedbacks and comments. “What is extremely important to the success of web writing as intercultural dialogue is the active and consistent participation of the instructor.

 

In her article Blogging in the Language Classroom: It Doesn’t “Simply Happen”, Carla arena Refers to blogging as affective tool for conversations, to improve thinking skills, and a way to gathering an authentic audience. As Arena points out, blogging doesn’t “just happen”. It is a great way to ignite conversations on topics of all sorts, and as the conversation starts taking a particular direction based on the voices of the writer as well as that of the audience, it demands and excercises certain thinking patterns. A given topic is bound to attract certain audience groups and not so much other groups. This means that the writer starts gathering an audience with a similar voice or outlook. Arena puts an emphasis on tagging on the success of blogs.

 

Tags simply help readers to recognize the content of an article without actually having to go through it. “Tagging can take a community of bloggers to establishing dialogs on any topic that interests the group and keep them archives in one single online space with the advantage of its being dynamic. Often when you tag, you can get an unexpected feedback and start a new node in the communication network you are building up with others who share common interests” (Arena). Tagging can also provide a network of writers to maintain connection within each other’s blogs and convert audiences, and can therefore be a tool to attract new audiences.

Most academic writing done for school courses tend to be rigid in the sense that they demand a writer’s perspective  (i.e if it is not completely a research paper) on a narrow set of topics, which although does exercise the writer’s skills on focalizing on a theme, can also bog down their creative aspect. Academic papers, more than often, suppress a student’s creative side as the demand is mostly put on specific facts and details, and on a particular style of writing. Although this is helpful in gathering information, it lacks emphasis on insightful knowledge, and limits a student’s ability to explore a subject. Of course, this may not be possible in case of subjects like mathematics and physics, but some room for exploration would definitely lead to students to further understand certain topics through different perspectives. Having said that, it is important for writers on the web to study and understand certain of their own writing and that of their audiences, especially when the internet allows you to target certain groups more easily than traditional media. Digital writing classes can off this freedom to students who not only get to freely express the writers within themselves but also the advantage of sharing those ideas with readers and expanding on their work through the ideas of those readers.

 

The opportunity of reaching an unlimited audience allows the writer to expand on an idea through an almost infinite array of inputs. After all, ideas only expand when shared, and web writing is an excellent platform to do so. Writers have the freedom to completely chose what they want to express and then gather ideas from an audience on the same topic by creating engaging conversations and developing on the idea. Not only does this help further expand understanding on the writer’s part but also that of the audience. As Rajchel and Oberle both suggest, the opportunity for intercultural dialogue, and to choose one’s audience, both raise the potential to do so. Many classrooms which do allow students to explore topics and style of writing of their own choice are often not web based and therefore may limit the exploration of the style and theme. Others, do not even allow that freedom of choice on style and/or theme depending on the course and subject. This could inhibit students from realizing their potential as writers and also at finding their own niche as writers. Therefore, more classes that allow students to freely express their writing need to adopted in order to not only improve students abilities to better express themselves through writing, but also encourage a greater number of students to get involved in writing. As long as students have this freedom but are still guided by teachers at the fundamentals of writing, this would allow new writers to develop proper writing skills while developing their own niche as writers. Once students realize the potential of the vast array of writing, this would encourage students to write even outside classroom environments.

 

References
Arena, Carla. “Blogging in the Language Classroom: It Doesn’t “Simply Happen”. Web log. TESL-EJ. N.p., 2008. Web. 2 Oct. 2013
<http://tesl-ej.org/ej44/a3.html>

Rajchel, Jen. “Consider the Audience” Web log. Web Writing: Why & How for Liberal Arts Teaching & Learning. N.p., N.d. Web. 2 Oct. 2013
<http://webwriting.trincoll.edu/engagement/rajchel-2013/>

Oberle, Holly. “Web Writing as Intercultural Dialogue.” Web log. Web Writing: Why & How for Liberal Arts Teaching & Learning. N.p., N.d. Web 2 Oct. 2013
<http://webwriting.trincoll.edu/crossing-boundaries/oberle-2013/>

Using Electronics in Class?!

Keep Up and Blog On

What is Digital Writing?

Digital writing is as vast and varied as the imaginations of those who compose, create, and craft it.  Digital writing can be anything from Twitter posts about what you ate for breakfast, to theses on urban storm water management, to funny and sarcastic critiques on the world at large.  I want to discuss good digital writing, especially in the context of learning inside and outside of classrooms.  Within its usefulness as a learning tool, digital writing has three main tenents: it is public, is it collaborative, and it is writing to learn.

Writing in Public

Digital writing’s inherent public nature gives students a responsibility to engage the topics learned in the classroom in a thoughtful way.  Though there are ways to make digital writing private (i.e. not publishing your blog, protecting tweets, etc.), writing privately removes this main tenent and does not provide the full digital writing experience.

Writing for a public audience requires an important shift in how students think as authors.  As Natalia Cecire stated in How to Public Like a Frog: On Academic Blogging, “thinking in public is a difficult habit to get into…because public is the place where we’re supposed to not screw up, and thinking on the fly inevitably involves screwing up. Blogging with any regularity in essence means committing oneself to making one’s intellectual fallibility visible to the world and to the unforgiving memory of the Google cache” (Cecire, 2011).  Awareness of the permanence of digital writing forces students to think through their opinions more thoroughly than when they are writing for a private audience.  Though it is fine to be biased as long as you are transparent about your bias, students do not want their opinions to seem uneducated, underdeveloped, or subjective.

Having a public audience, rather than a single-person (the professor) or a small audience (classmates), is especially valuable for classrooms because students “have a greater responsibility to engage more deeply, to understand everything [they] need to understand, because [they] have a greater responsibility to educate and reach out to a larger audience” (Crawley, 2012).  For example, Amy Howard used a blog in her class, “The Urban Crisis in America,” to help students truly understand and engage with the issues that Richmond, VA faces.  She explains that having multiple components (a blog, video project, and research paper) that gave students a “greater responsibility” pushed students to engage and understand Richmond because they had to educate their classmates and the public on the issues they had chosen to study (Howard, 2010).

Writing Collaboratively

Writing collaboratively allows students to learn from each other, gaining an overall deeper understanding of the material presented in the classroom.  Having a student scribe each day who posts the lesson highlights for the other students on their classroom blog is a good example of learning collaboratively.  Using this method, the student scribe, at least for their assigned day, is truly engaged in the material and must figure out the best way to present it so that the rest of the class can understand and benefit from his or her knowledge (Leuhmann, 2009).

Furthermore, writing collaboratively mirrors the professional world that students will enter.  Professionals work together to develop ideas and build off of the ideas of others.  For example, rarely will you see a scientific article with only one author.  With this idea in mind, Michael O’Donnell, a chemistry professor, used wiki’s to allow students to collaboratively write lab reports (O’Donnell, 2013).  Each student wrote a part of the report and made comments on their group members’ sections, with one student acting as the principle investigator to make sure the entire report flowed together.  Professor O’Donnell saw success from this method because students felt they had more help while writing lab reports and better understood the scientific process, even if at times they were frustrated with their group members.  Even within fields in which sole authorship is more common, collaboration with and feedback from peers is an important part of the process.  Blogs can help students get feedback from their classmates and the public through comments on their blog posts.

Writing to Learn

As E.M. Forester said, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”  A blog gives students a chance to find out what they think by writing about topics covered in class.  Students can write to learn rather than learn to write.

During class debates or discussions, often it is difficult for students to articulate their opinions and arguments because they have not yet tried to explain them to others.  Writing on a blog, students can take the time and space to develop their knowledge and opinions on the ideas presented in class.  For example, two high school teachers who used classroom blogs found that writing allowed students to create strong opinions by fully considering counterarguments and having a place to reflect on their learning (Leuhmann, 2009).  Writing to learn is a valuable exercise because students learn more when they engage with ideas by writing about them.

In a world where problems need increasingly interdisciplinary solutions, writing to learn on blogs can help students develop the important skill of drawing connections between fields and ideas.  Teachers and professors can prompt students to draw connections in more typical academic writing, but the blog provides a powerful tool for drawing connections because other students and the public can expand on connections students make and offer connections that students did not previously consider.

Digital Writing and My Experience

In my opinion, digital writing brings immense value to the classroom.  It motivates students to learn, allows them to collaborate, helps them think through and reflect on their ideas, and so much more.  Two of the most important functions of digital writing are the ability to explore ideas and make connections between them.

In my own experience starting a blog about sustainability and livability within cities, I am discovering digital writing’s ability to help me explore my ideas by allowing me to write to learn and inviting feedback from the public.  My blog allows me to develop my thoughts and opinions on sustainable cities as I write them down in a manner that is intelligible and interesting to others reading the blog.  It forces me to attempt to explain my position and to fully consider counterarguments.  Moreover, once I start posting, the audience of interested citizens and professionals will be able to correct me, challenge me to expand my views, and point me to additional resources and information.  Their knowledge will become an invaluable part of my learning.  If my writing were private, I would not be able to collaborate with others to expand and improve my ideas.  I think that this blog will become invaluable to my own learning because it is public, collaborative, and it allows me to write to learn.

Furthermore, using digital writing to illuminate connections between seemingly dissimilar fields would be particularly helpful in interdisciplinary explorations, such as Environmental Studies, which is my major.  I would love to see the environmental studies department at Dickinson College begin using a blog because I frequently make connections between my interdisciplinary classes, but rarely do I formally write them down and strengthen them by examining them.  I think the department would benefit from a blog because professors and students could examine the connections between classes, but also because they could see connections they might not have previously made by reading others’ writing on the blog.

Works Cited

Cawley, Stephanie. “Re:Humanities ’12.” Interview at Re:Humanities ’12. Web. 1 Oct. 2013. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59D2AAQHyYg.

Cecire, Natalia. “How Public Like a Blog: On Academic Blogging.” Arcade (blog). 20 Apr. 2011. Web. 1 Oct. 2013. http://arcade.stanford.edu/editors/how-public-frog.

Howard, Amy L. “Engaging The City: Civic Participation And Teaching Urban History.” Journal Of Urban History 36.1 (2010): 42-55. Social Sciences Citation Index. Web. 27 Sept. 2013.

Luehmann, April, and Robyn MacBride. “Classroom Blogging In The Service Of Student-Centered Pedagogy: Two High School Teachers’ Use Of Blogs.” THEN: Technology, Humanities, Education & Narrative 6 (2009): 5-36. Education Research Complete. Web. 29 Sept. 2013.

O’Donnell, Michael. “Science Writing, Wikis, and Collaborative Learning.” N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning. 15 Sept. 2013. Web. 25 Sept. 2013. http://webwriting.trincoll.edu.

Rajchel, Jen. “Consider the Audience.” N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning. 15 Sept. 2013. Web. 25 Sept. 2013. http://webwriting.trincoll.edu.

Yang, C., and Y.-S. Chang. “Assessing The Effects Of Interactive Blogging On Student Attitudes Towards Peer Interaction, Learning Motivation, And Academic Achievements.” Journal Of Computer Assisted Learning 28.2 (2012): 126-135. Academic Search Complete. Web. 30 Sept. 2013.

 

Public V. Private and Student Authority

The Internet has transformed from a space primarily used to retrieve information to a network for advancing and engaging such information. Moreover, the web has become a space to share ideas; it gives way to open participation, interaction and creative expression. Anyone can write and share ideas on the Internet; alternatively, anyone can read what is put onto the web. Such an open forum raises anxieties of authority: who am I to say what is that I am saying? Similar issues of authority in writing come to the surface in academic environments. In this way, the liberal arts classroom offers an ideal setting for practicing and teaching web writing, sot hat students may experiment with authority in a diverse writing environment. While web writing is a useful tool in academic environments for dealing with authorship and authority, it also brings up the problem of public and private space. How should professors and students decide how public student writing should be online, and what are the advantages to public writing? The liberal arts classroom offers an ideal space in which to grapple with these issues of student authorship and authority, offering a secure medium between public and private spaces.

In her article “Consider the Audience,” Jen Rajchel argues that it is essential to consider web writing in the liberal arts setting in order to take advantage of circulating student work; the tension arises when considering how to negotiate public and private spaces. Although students are familiar with interacting with peers through different forms of web writing – mostly through social media – there is a shift in boundaries when students move into new environments (Rajchel 3). Just as there is a shift in audience and context when students write on the web, there is a platform in the liberal arts classroom, which facilitates a similar environment (Rajchel 6). In these new boundaries of the classroom, new questions are raised: How does one brand oneself on Twitter? Do I friend my professor on Facebook? In this context, we as web writers must consider how public we wish to be with our audience, and how to maintain the amount of privacy that we desire. In order to determine this, we consider the risks and benefits of claiming authorship on the web through the structure of the liberal arts classroom.

Jack Dougherty’s article “Public Writing and Student Privacy” similarly grapples with ideas of negotiating authority in public and private spaces, and offers a perspective of the benefits of writing publically. Like Rajchel, Dougherty values the notion of extending the liberal arts education to the web, which allows for students to engage with ideas and conversations that are occurring outside of the classroom. Dougherty contends, “One of the best ways to improve critical thinking and writing skills is to post work in public, beyond the four walls of the classroom, and to invite others to respond” (Dougherty 4). He further asserts that prose has a greater potential to improve when the writing is aimed at a real audience, beyond simply the eyes of the professor. In the same sense, a true audience offers practical and diverse feedback, as well as alternative points of view (Dougherty 6). Dougherty and Rajchel are in agreement that writing for a more public audience gives way for more constructive and relevant criticism, which ultimately produces a stronger claim to authority.

Inevitably, writing in the public sphere directly intersects with issues of authority. The public sphere is a place in which we are not supposed to make mistakes, which makes writing publically more intimidating, particularly when there is a lasting record. Rajchel argues that when students are writing something that goes beyond the classroom, students feel greater responsibility to engage deeply and understand everything, because what is written will educate and reach a larger audience (Rajcel 13). Rajchel writes, “When students publish online, they assume the possibilities of authorship, which has online archival record long after its publication” (Rajchel 14). In this sense, there is more of a pressure to write well and knowledgably when writing is shared in the public sphere, and students are less inclined to claim full authority for their writing.

Alternatively, while Cheryl C. Smith agrees with Rajchel that students are likely to feel insecure as they transition into college classrooms with new expectations and audiences, she argues that error and fear of error should be used as a learning tool (Smith 36). Smith cites blogs as a “straightforward way to negotiate tensions of error” (Smith 37). Smith describes blogs as a platform for writing that supplement more traditional forms of writing without detracting from them, while also increasing opportunities for student expression, collective brainstorming, and community (Smith 37-8). Further, Smith states that when writing publically, students must be given a comfort zone, where they are able to examine their own experiences, while still encouraging them to venture beyond the familiar. Blogs do exactly this; they offer a place to negotiate the tension between making students comfortable with their own writing, and pushing them outside of their comfort zone to a place where they may take risks and interact with people in new ways (Smith 38-9). Ultimately, Smith argues that blogs create a safe place for risk-taking and error, which gives them the ability to empower students who are developing their own authorial voice.

Dougherty further raises the issues of students’ rights to privacy with their writing. He cites that “all students deserve – and are legally entitled under U.S. law – to some degree of privacy in our educational institutions, and ownership over the words they have authored” (Dougherty 16). Dougherty identifies that the root of students’ fears of publishing in the public sphere under their full names is that the writing that is published lasts much longer and is widely circulated; fears of error affects students’ decisions to write publicly online under their own name. Further, the anxiety of whether or not people will actually read what is written affects web writer’s validation that their words have been seen and have value. Nevertheless, he maintains the opinion that he wants all of his students to publish writing on the public web under their own names; however, he also encourages his students to retain control over their words. This offers a version of blogging as a “safe place” that Smith proposes.

In her article “Authority Issues In Online Instruction,” JoAnne M. Podis questions how the relationship between instructor and student shifts in an online forum. Podis asks the question: “How do the students’ contexts – social, educational, and personal – influence the authority relationship online as opposed to within the classroom?” (Podis 170). Although Podis argues that the authority of the professor lessons in an online environment, she also asserts that the professor becomes a point of security; because the professor is a source of familiar criticism, his or her criticism in a public space is readily accepted. Podis argues that her students are more sensitive to online criticism of their work. She believes that this could be for two reasons: first, that her students are accustomed to having only one audience – the professor – or, that her students’ experience with online communities where comments are commonly mean-spirited and aggressive (Podis 174-6). Ultimately, although Podis agrees that online writing fosters a more intimate relationship between professor and student, publishing in a public space raises anxieties for students. Alternatively, Julie Frechette asserts that allowing students to write and express themselves using a communication tool that they are familiar with and that is native to their generation enriches learning experiences and authorship. She argues that using familiar technology actually encourages authorship because students begin to see themselves and producers of knowledge who can “secure and legitimate cultural space to represent their world view and the fruitions of their education” (Frechette 23). In this sense, Frechette is arguing that writing in digital environments actually increases authority in writing, as opposed to increasing anxieties.

Rajchel ascertains that when it comes to negotiating public space, audience becomes the most difficult aspect. The web allows fro a diverse audience, but it also permits a broader dialogue between the readers and writer. Through writing, we engage in performance. In this sense, Rajchel determines, “liberal arts degrees can be thought of as training in the art of the audience. We are constantly being asked to articulate the role of rhetoric, the position of the speaker, and the effect on the audience” (Rajchel 23). Ideally, web writing offers a platform through which the liberal arts classroom can be expanded.

In terms of encouraging students to claim authorship of their work, I believe that there is a valid place for instruction on web writing in liberal arts classrooms. When it comes to issues of public and private publishing, Dickinson College has a useful medium to negotiate this space. Many Professors at Dickinson use Moodle forums as a kind of class blog. Moodle serves as an online extension of the liberal arts classroom, where conversations can continue and evolve in a different forum. In my own experience, the ways that Professors choose to use Moodle vary; some professors use Moodle to ask specific discussion questions, while other professors offer it as an optional space for continued discussion. In my senior seminar, my professor uses Moodle as an outlet for us to post our completed assigned papers if we choose to, although it is not required. In this instance, we are given the option of how public we wish to make our writing amongst our peers. I find Moodle beneficial in terms of expanding and articulating ideas that I was not able to say in class discussion. Further, Moodle is useful in terms of getting an understanding of what my classmates are thinking about; it offers a visual connection between different ideas. Moreover, Moodle makes it easy for peers to respond to one another and relate ideas. Writing in an online environment certainly implies a level of casual writing that is still insightful and conversational, which offers a useful break from formal academic writing.

However, although Moodle is meant to be a more casual space for student writing and discussion, there is undoubtedly a level of self-consciousness and anxiety when it comes to writing online. Professors are not necessarily always actively a part of the conversation that takes place on Moodle, however they do view the discussions; further, depending on the situation, they grade what is posted on Moodle. In this respect, I still feel pressure to write formally on Moodle with the knowledge that I will be graded on what I post. In other words, Moodle still feels like a high stakes environment for publishing writing. However, what I am most conscious of when posting on Moodle is that my peers will also be reading what I post; my writing is typically kept between myself and my professor, so opening it up to people in my class often changes the way in which I write.

The assigned blog project for Writing in and for Digital Environments has offered an ideal medium for writing in a public space; though people outside of my peers and professor will be reading what I write, this type of writing is less formal and more natural. Further, this blog project serves as a kind of connective tissue between my academic interests and allows me to apply what I have learned about academic writing in a different context. Blogging is the first opportunity I have had as a student at Dickinson to truly connect my academic interests. As an English and American Studies double major, I do a lot of analytical writing and critical thinking. However, this kind of writing and thinking does not always easily translate to every day conversations. This blog project allows me to create an intellectual conversation about issues that are discussed in the classroom, and revise them so that they are more approachable and relatable to everyday life. Admittedly, I have always struggled with issues of authority in my writing, so this blog project has raised some anxieties about publishing my writing in a public space. However, having the opportunity to write about something that I am passionate about makes writing in the public sphere less intimidating.

Ultimately, I believe that the liberal arts classroom offers an ideal space in which to deal with these issues of student authorship and authority. Tools like Moodle offer a space in which to publish publically with lower stakes and a limited outer audience. In some ways, this offers practice in both conversation and receiving criticism online, and claiming authorship over writing. Student blog projects offer a progression of these practices, ultimately allowing students to publish in a public space, that offers control of how much they wish to publish and identify with their work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Dougherty, Jack. “Public Writing and Student Privacy.” Web Writing: Why & How and for Liberal Arts Teaching & Learning. 15 September 2013. Web. 3 Oct. 2013.

Frechette, Julie. “Learning Beyond the Classroom Walls: Keeping Students Engaged in Class 2.0.” The Journal of Media Literacy. 3 September 2013. Web. 6 Oct. 2013.

Podis, JoAnne M. “Authority Issues in Online Instruction.” Working with Student Writers169-178. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

Rajchel, Jen. “Consider the Audience.” Web Writing: Why & How and for Liberal Arts Teaching& Learning. 15 September 2013. Web. 3 Oct. 2013.

Smith, Cheryl C. “Technologies For Transcending A Focus On Error: Blogs And Democratic Aspirations In First-Year Composition.” Journal Of Basic Writing 27.1 (2008): 35-60. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 13 Oct. 2013.

The Education Network

Education Network

The digital world is always shifting and we all know it. Myspace, once the king of social networks now finds itself clawing for any slight bit of relevance. Meanwhile, it’s successor, Facebook, is looking for every way imaginable to cement itself as a permanent force of the internet by providing convenient social systems (i.e. commenting, sharing, “likes”) that other websites are eager to employ. In slightly over 5 years, one service toppled another transferring millions of users. This is just a brief mention of how quickly the digital world shifts. In the meantime, education still has not fully embraced the digital age. Citation systems still are not sure if URLs should be required, teachers are hesitant to allow electronics in class and most courses have little to no content available online. This is beginning to change as schools realize the convenience and power of the digital world in educational systems.

A common sentiment made about writing digitally is that it removes students from the pressure of a class. This is both good and bad, Amanda Hagood and Carmel Price note in their article Sister Classrooms: Blogging Across Disciplines and Campuses, that having discussion over the internet is liberating for students. It allows them to write out their thoughts, rewrite them, fully flesh out their idea before they publish the idea. Hagood and Price note that students give superior answers online, where they can use writing as a way to learn, rather than being a product of learning. (Sister Classrooms) In a standard classroom, the student is pressured to know the answers at a moments notice, to formulate opinions and answers in seconds. It’s an incredible amount of intangible pressure, something that can often get results, but the results are consistently less thorough than those produced in online writing. When writing in a standard classroom setting, the teacher will usually assign a topic and the student will produce a paper directly on the topic. There will be a revision and a final draft, but the paper is designed to prove that the student understands the concepts taught in class. But often, a student will learn more from writing the paper than he or she will from the actual reading and lesson. (Writing Analytically, 6)

Digital writing is very different; a blog is asynchronous. In the words of Hagood and Price there is an, “absence of faces, voices and other non-verbal cues that help us understand face-to-face conversations.” We understand this to be detrimental in discussion groups, that speaking and discussing through digital means produces less efficient results because the extra effort must go into writing to be clear. It also requires the participants to be incredibly clear about what they mean, often at the expense of prose. This means that digital writing and commenting can simply confuse the student, unless the class is instructed in how to write a useful and clear critical analysis of the original work. (Hagood and Price)

While usually detrimental to prose, this lack of physical presence can be beneficial. Eric Zhi-Feng notes in his paper Using Peer Feedback to Improve Learning Via Online Peer Assessment, that students often feel anxiety during peer review of their work and that peer review through digital means (i.e. commenting systems, forums and Twitter interaction) actually reduces that anxiety by providing a distance between students and their peers. It is both a literal and metaphorical glass wall between students and criticism. It means that students are more relaxed and accepting of criticism, in fact, students reported back that they actually had a positive attitude towards the feedback. The students also reported that they had a much higher quality and quantity of feedback. (Zhi-Feng; Grabill) This feedback comes from an online community; ones who read and care about the subject that a student writes about. It can be other classmates, professors, perhaps just an engaged stranger. It changes the landscape of who the student’s audience is, taking what was previously just an assignment and putting the student in the shoes of an educator. It gives a student a sense of agency over their work that is lacking from standard assignments.

Educational research is not the only field that has noticed the trends that digital writing produces better results. In his TED Talk, Dan Pink, an author and expert on business and management, examined evidence showing that extrinsic incentives for accomplishing tasks caused a negative impact on any task that required even basic cognitive skill. This is completely counter to the way education currently works, the “carrot-on-a-stick” model of creating a better portfolio or writing a better paper for a better grade. Instead, what improves creative performance are three things: autonomy, mastery and purpose. (Pink) Autonomy is the idea that a the student is given the freedom to direct their own work. Mastery is simply the desire to improve in a topic or subject that matters, something echoed by students at Haverford who started the group RE: HUMANITIES. RE: HUMANITIES is an undergraduate conference on digital media run by Haverford College students, currently in it’s fourth year and showing a vast amount of growth. One of the students who helped organize the conference in 2013 commented saying that, students “feel like you understand everything you need to understand because you have greater responsibility to educate and to reach out to a larger audience.” (RE: HUMANITIES, 2:28)

Finally, Dan Pink cites purpose as something that motivates people to work creatively, the idea that what they are working on has “a larger meaning.” Digital writing takes the ideas in class and makes them applicable on a larger level, allowing students to take the lessons they learned in class and make them relevant to the average person. Writing with purpose means that the student’s work isn’t just written for a professor, it’s written for other experts, or possibly for those who have no background in the subject.

These are all properties of writing in a digital environment that aren’t possible in the same manner via a standard classroom setting. Digital writing allows the student a measure of autonomy in their work, while still remaining on topic with their class and learning far more than what they would have learned had they been assigned a topic.

Digital writing allows the student a chance at mastery of their topic, by writing to learn and then move on to educate, rather then using writing as a way to simply prove that learning has occurred. It also gives students a sense of purpose, that what they are writing can be seen by other students, used to educate others. Having students write in this manner requires that they attain a more specific knowledge of their subject matter so that their writing, which now has the purpose of educating a worldwide audience, is the best quality it can be. When a student is writing in a digital environment, their work is no longer within the four walls of a classroom, their work is global; it has meaning.

This global outlook is a key point of digital writing that comes back to community. Leigh Wright, an assistant professor of journalism at Murray State University, has been one to fully embrace digital mediums, going as far as to use Twitter (an online microblogging service) as a major platform for class writing. He has used projects such as “live-blogging” school basketball games and lectures from Spike Lee to teach students to tell a story in a concise manner. Let me rephrase that: you have 10 tweets, 140 characters each and a 2 hour lecture to tell your story. This project does not produce the same endless, mindless, pointless spam that Twitter is often criticized for. It’s a project that produced fantastic results because the students involved were given the three things that Dan Pink cites as being essential to creative solutions. The students were given autonomy to tweet about whatever they wanted within the event they were live-blogging. They were given a chance at mastery of writing quickly, concisely and in developing their own writing voice. And because it was live, online, viewable by the entire world, they had a sense of purpose. These live-blogging projects weren’t just for an assignment, they were for the world to see. (Tweet Me A Story)

The students in this experiment were thrown into a global community where ideas could build on each other, where they could combine all their tweets into one story, organized by a hashtag (a method of “tagging” a post on Twitter to make it easy to find). Where some students tweeted about the game, others tweeted about the fans or the food. There were no repeat observations, the students painted a picture of the entire event they attended, regardless of if they understood it. It allowed the students to engage a wider audience because their voices were so disparate, while still writing about the same events.

This is why digital writing is so powerful. It creates an environment where students care about what they write about. By giving them a measure of autonomy over their work, students have the freedom to expand their project in directions that might not have been thought of up until that point. It makes student work, suddenly of relevance to someone besides a professor, who already has a vast knowledge of the topic. The student is responsible to gain an additional level of mastery over the topic, for the purpose of educating their audience. It puts the teacher in the role of an educated critic, one who can encourage the student to move in a new direction or expand on a sentence they don’t realize has potential.

Digital writing also creates a system where in-person discussion is vital to the creative process. Because there is a lack of interaction via digital writing, the early stages of the writing process, that part where ideas are just beginning to form, are some of the most important. In person discussion allows students to build ideas and expand on them, growing those ideas in directions that wouldn’t be possible without running commentary from peers, bouncing ideas back and forth until the student has a starting place that they’re comfortable with. From there the student can move forward with research or writing, having the benefit of feedback as they write as well as when they are finished.

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My own experience with digital writing has been one where I know my writing improves vastly when I’m given the opportunity to write online. Mine and my partner’s blog (www.gastropermaculture.com) will be going live in about a week. We’ve been hard at work, not just for a semester or even a few weeks, but for months, developing ideas through face-to-face discussion and over the phone. We’ve had to figure out what we mean by specific words, how we feel about a certain post or if we should move the blog in a specific direction or not. It was a long four months of discussion and early planning, but now we are posting.

Our blog has taken ideas from sustainable agriculture and brought them together with gastronomy to create a project about sustainable food systems; how to source, shop, cook, eat and clean both sustainably and happily. The ideas we expanded on are based off of the principles and ethics of Permaculture, an ideology that is normally applied to agriculture. The definition was our prompt, just like we would get when in a class, but we had to find it ourselves and look for the connection between our own ideas and Permaculture. We had to research definitions and opinions, find out if our ideas could fit within the confines of Permaculture. There was one particular night where we took a definition of Permaculture by it’s originator, Bill Mollison, and rewrote it to have the same principles but with food in mind. It took hours and we worked long past when we normally would have slept, but we had to figure out the idea.

There are still some early posts that we are working on that are best approached by working in the same room, discussing ideas as we write and by visiting places together. But there are countless other posts that we’ve scheduled out what we want on the blog simultaneously, so that there isn’t an influx of similar content, that we can work on separately, using the ability to work at a distance, while still working together. Almost all of this would be impossible with a normal form of print media. Digital writing allows us to incorporate video, podcasts, limitless color photos and interactive media. And because the digital world is always changing and evolving, we have the ability to evolve our content with it. A lot of research will have to go into creating this content and so we are tasked with sorting through mass amounts of information, between Permaculture documents, food documents and nutrition documents as well as connecting all these ideas for different posts, there is a lot of education for ourselves before we even begin to educate others.

And so this is an illustration of how digital writing can create an ideal learning environment. My partner and I were self-motivated (autonomous) with our topic, deciding how to approach it, what to write about, our audience and how to integrate to normally disparate ideas into something entirely new. We are required to master our subject matter, having to learn an entire new field, both technically and how to communicate some rather lofty ideas to those who have little to no experience in either Permaculture or cooking, while still retaining the attention of those who are well-versed in both. Much of this learning will happen as we write, sometimes requiring multiple drafts. And we have purpose. We passionately believe that what we are learning about, writing about and educating people about. We believe that it can make a difference for people, to give them a freedom over one aspect of their lives and make a positive change in the world.

Digital writing allows us to do that and it allows other students to do that as well.

 

Bibliography

College, Haverford. “Re:Humanities ’12.” YouTube. Haverford College, 26 Apr. 2012. Web. 13 Oct. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59D2AAQHyYg>.

“Re:Humanities.” ReHumanities. Haverford College, n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2013. <http://blogs.haverford.edu/rehumanities/about/>.

Wright, Leigh. “Tweet Me A Story.” WebWriting. TrinColl, 15 Sept. 2013. Web. 14 Oct. 2013. <http://webwriting.trincoll.edu/engagement/wright-2013/>.

Hagood, Amanda, and Carmel Price. “Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning.” Web Writing Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning. TrinColl, 15 Sept. 2013. Web. 14 Oct. 2013. <http://webwriting.trincoll.edu/communities/hagood-price-2013/>.

Palloff, Rena M., PhD. “Online Learning Communities Revisited.” 21st Annual Conference on Distance Learning (2005): 1-5.Http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/resource_library/proceedings/05_1801.pdf. The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System, 2005. Web. 14 Oct. 2013. <http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/resource_library/proceedings/05_1801.pdf>.

Grabill, Jeff. “Why Digital Writing Matters in Education.” Edutopia. The George Lucas Educational Foundation, 11 June 2012. Web. 14 Oct. 2013. <http://www.edutopia.org/blog/why-digital-writing-matters-jeff-grabill>.

TED Talks: Dan Pink: The Puzzle of Motivation. Dir. Daniel Pink. Perf. Daniel Pink.TED Talks. TED Conference, LLC., Aug. 2009. Web. 14 Oct. 2013. <http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.html>.

Rosenwasser, David, and Jill Stephen. Writing Analytically. Boston, MA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2009. Print.

Why Blog in the Classroom? A Personal Journey

Why Blog in the Classroom?

Emily Burton

The purpose of my research is to shed light on how blogging can be a useful tool in the classroom. Pulling from my personal experience as well as my research, I have come to the conclusion that blogging and microblogging in the classroom can develop literacy and writing skills, promote a sense of community inside and outside the classroom, and a sense of purpose in the students.

In a practical sense, classroom blogging is closely tied with an improved literacy in students. Web writing is a valuable tool for students that can encourage good writing for the 21st century. While some professors tend to shy away from the integration of the internet and scholarly writing, the public format of a blog forces students to make clean, concise, and timely pieces. Web writing is also “fundamentally incorporated with the reading comprehension process” (Zawilinski, p. 652). In the article “Sister Classrooms,” Amanda Hagood and Carmel Price discuss that in a course blog, students have more time to think about class materials and give thoughtful responses to prompted questions, making it a better thinking environment than a class discussion. Blogging enables students to absorb class work on their own time, allowing them to truly engross themselves in the subject at hand (Hagood & Price, para. 5). The time that students have to write on their blog gives them space to enhance their writing and critical thinking abilities for the digital medium.

However, keeping a blog does much more than develop students’ reading and writing abilities. Class blogs break the boundaries that separate in-school literacies, such as classroom skills, and out-of-school literacies that require exposure to the world outside of the classroom. From a class blog project, students are given a sense of purpose and fulfillment as they write for an audience beyond just their professors. When asked, “Why should educators take the time to blog?” Ms. Kreul, a teacher at Richards School in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, replied, “I think the biggest advantage to blogs is that they provide an authentic audience for student writing and work in general…with a blog, student work can be read by classmates, parents, extended family members…anyone around the world who locates the class blog” (Zawilinski, p. 652). The fact that their writing is capable of affecting a larger audience lets students have ability to fulfill a purpose beyond just their letter grade.

The sense of community in the classroom is one of the most remarkable outcomes of a class blog or microblog project. Class blogs give students an opportunity to read their peers’ thoughts concerning material they post and bounce ideas off one another instead of having the professor be their only audience. “Collectively, students work to create meaning and thereby are involved more actively in the learning process” (Pearson, p. 209). Because the blog posts are public and because students are responding to each other’s ideas online, the role of the professor is more holistic. He or she is a facilitator and fellow participator in the students’ conversation, not just the correcting force who stamps grades on their work. One teacher says of her role in a class blog project, “I don’t find myself pulling my hair out over the careless mistakes they make in formal papers” (Lampinen, para. 5).

In the article “Tweet Me a Story,” Leigh Wright assigns multiple microblogging assignments for her class. Microblogging is defined as “blogging done with severe space or size constraints” (Merriam-Webster). The class would live-tweet during events such as basketball games and lectures from guest speakers. Using a common hashtag allowed the class to form their own community and work toward a common goal. The social aspect of blogging keeps students interested and creates a virtual community in which for them to interact. The fact that students are encouraged to bring their own voice and viewpoint to their schoolwork is not only an exciting change of pace, but also improves the class’s social dynamic. “Benefits extend beyond the classroom,” says high school teacher Michelle Lampinem, “introverted students tend to share more online than they do in person; blogging is an invaluable way for me to get to know them better as people and students.” The authors of “Sister Classrooms” agree that a class blog bolsters the social structures that are naturally a part of learning in a classroom setting (Hagood & Price, para. 4).

I know from personal experience that the online community created by a blog has the potential to incredible impact. In December of 2011, my younger brother Charlie was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma. This is a rare form of childhood bone cancer, and the doctors had discovered a tumor in Charlie’s right arm. The news was devastating. In the weeks following the diagnosis, I felt lonely and scared, not knowing what to do with myself. I came home from school many days to an empty house while my parents and Charlie were at Children’s Hospital for chemo treatments, and found myself desperately searching for a way to be a part of his journey although I had a jam-packed Junior year to deal with on the side. That’s when I discovered Caring Bridge. Caring Bridge is a website that allows people to set up a free blog for a loved one who is struggling with illness to keep friends and family updated as the patient goes through treatment, and also to receive words of support when the gestures are needed the most (Ojeda-Zapata para. 2). Each blog includes a photo gallery, a guestbook, and an option to make a tribute donation to Caring Bridge in honor of the patient. I delightfully seized the opportunity and became the author of Charlie’s Caring Bridge website.

(http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/charlieburton2)

We shared the site’s link to close friends and family after I made my first post.

 

Dec 29, 2011:

Hi Everyone,

Charlie’s first day of chemo went well. We expect to have him home later tonight or tomorrow, yay! He is currently on three different types of chemo. One takes only one minute to administer and another only 15 minutes. One is red and makes his tears and sweat red! We now have a better understanding on how the future looks for him at this point. His current schedule will be 2 days of chemo followed by 12 days off, then 5 days of chemo followed by 9 days off. That will continue for 12 weeks. At that time, he will have surgery on his arm to remove the infected bone. After recovery from surgery, he will go back to the chemo schedule for another several months or so. Charlie hopes to go to school next week for at least a few hours depending on how he is feeling. I have really enjoyed reading all the postings in Charlie’s guestbook. Your kind words mean so much! Thank you for all the support!

–        Emily

 

As Charlie’s site gained more and more of a following, I began to let my guard down and let the blog become a not only a window into my brother’s journey, but a window into my personal journey as a sibling of a cancer patient. I used multi-modal features such as the photo album platform to visually document Charlie’s story. The blog became not only a useful tool for my family and friends who cared about Charlie’s health, but also a necessary outlet in which I could find clarity in the scary and often confusing new chapter of my life.

 

Dec 31, 2011:

Hi Everybody,

This is Charlie’s second day at home after the chemo. While we are all happy to be out of the hospital, things have been a bit challenging as Charlie adjusts to his chemo drugs. He is tired, nauseous, and can’t eat much. The usual smells of home (candles, Christmas tree, food) make him nauseated. We know that Charlie has been having a little bit of a tough time, but he continues to be brave and face these new challenges with a good attitude. While my parents wouldn’t normally encourage it, playing Call of Duty on the Xbox with his friends (we call this activity “going killing” in our house) is a good distraction for him. It will be a struggle having to adjust to all of Charlie’s new medical needs at home. My parents have to administer his IV antibiotic three times a day. This is given through his central line and takes an hour and a half to run its course. After the hour and a half, the line then needs to be flushed. A visiting nurse came yesterday to teach my parents how to do all this. Needless to say, it will keep them busy. I often come down to the basement in the morning to talk to Charlie about life. This morning, he was telling me about some boys he met in the cancer wing at Children’s who he hopes to befriend. I love how Charlie continues to make the best out of his situation. Despite the difficulties, we are fortunate and happy that we are able to celebrate New Year’s at home and not in the hospital as we originally thought. We know that 2012 will be a year of healing for Charlie, and for that, we celebrate. Thank you for continuing to surround our family with love! Have a very happy New Year!

-Emily

The link to the blog eventually got passed along the grapevine to friends of friends across the country, and even to my Spanish exchange student’s family and friends all the way in Madrid. My little blog project for Charlie had suddenly given my family and I an invaluable support system that practically spanned the globe. From the overwhelming response to my Caring Bridge site, I felt the same sense of accomplishment that students get from their class blogs. Writing for the public eye helped me become a confident author, which is something so special and necessary for college-aged writers who are trapped in the mindset of “will my professor think this is good enough?” After the 36 weeks of chemotherapy and the major surgery to remove Charlie’s cancer site were through, the Caring Bridge garnered just shy of 10,000 total hits, 8 tribute donations, and countless entries in the guestbook. I had no idea that by making a blog I could find confidence in my own life and in my writing, lift up my loved ones, and rally a wider audience around my brother’s cause. My journey with blogging ties together the writing skill, sense of community, and personal accomplishment that students similarly experience while blogging in the classroom.

In a small liberal arts college like Dickinson, I firmly believe that blog projects can be both a useful tool for writing but also a perfect way to get students involved in a community cause. I envision a community service club sponsoring a blog project like the Caring Bridge, where each student is assigned to make a blog for a child who suffers from disease or disability. The students can go out to their homes and spend valuable bonding time with the child, then post on the blog after each meeting. The students would be encouraged to share their blog with their friends so they can generate a community dedicated to their specific child. This blog project can make a suffering young one feel extremely special, and help others support the child and his or her family. A blog post doesn’t have to take up a lot of time in a busy college schedule, yet it can create a powerful impact.

Highlights from Charlie’s Caring Bridge Photo Album:

 

 

Why go multimodal?

As I sit here today and write this essay about the importance of digital writing, it seems almost silly to even question. I’m writing on a laptop, while I simultaneously research sources online only to post it online to our class blog at the finish. College students of today, like myself, rely on digital devices for our news, homework, entertainment and communication. It can be overwhelming to think of how reliant we are on screens, but this essay is not a rant on technology. This is a celebration and study on how the integration of technology into classrooms is proven to make connections and engage students in a new way. Before we get ahead of ourselves to a world of digital takeover, let’s look at the evidence that supports pragmatic uses of social media and digital means in the classroom.

The textbook, Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning, is the first of its kind to explore this field. The chapters vary in scope and for the purposes of this essay; I have studied chapters “Tweet Me a Story” and “Sister Classrooms: Blogging across Disciplines and Campuses.” “Tweet Me a Story,” describes how the micro-blogging platform of Twitter can be useful in an academic setting. “Sister Classrooms” defines how blogging can be best integrated into classrooms and how this provides a new sphere of class engagement. I have found other peer-reviewed sources that enhance and compliment these chapters. A Swedish teacher noted in his study of social media as a teaching tool that, the “multimodality in social media also brings the possibility of experiencing variation in the learning situation in the school and at home, both in terms of the way you can produce the content and in the way you communicate it” (Akerlund, 4). There is a line between using social media at home and school students must be taught how to use social media in an educational context (Abe and Jordan, 18). This essay will inquire on how to define that line, especially related to the platforms of blogging and Twitter.

First, let’s delve into the world of Twitter. Why is Twitter a helpful learning tool? The textbook I reference theorizes that engaging in Twitter teaches students a new way of voicing their ideas. Because each tweet is limited to 140 characters, it requires thoughtful, short and sweet writing. “You have to focus on the key point for a good tweet,” notes Leigh Wright, the author of “Tweet Me a Story” (Wright, 9).  While long prose and theses are still relevant in academia, tweets are also powerful tools of teaching how to write well. Wright found many successful ways to integrate Twitter into her pedagogy. She instructed her students to set up a Twitter account solely for class purposes and monitored the class’s tweets via hashtags specific to the class. She found that using Twitter was an influential way to engage students in ways she hadn’t before. The article “Integrating Social Media into the Classroom Curriculum” supports her findings. Using social media platforms provides a way for educators to speak to students in a way they are likely to be reached and the majority of student perceptions regarding this integration is positive (17). Now, instead of checking Twitter as a means to escape homework assignments, students utilize it as a part of their learning. This speaks to students on a personal level and shows us that teachers are committed to adapt to changing times. According to Paige and Jordan, we millennials are “tech savvy, have short attention spans, and multitask on everything” (17). Tweeting in the classroom perfectly speaks our language.

Social media in the classroom excites students and lights a spark of creativity in us. Showing blogs, twitter feeds, and videos can really spice up and elevate a lecture to stir our attention. Wright assigned her to students to live-tweet a school basketball game and found that they took the assignment in all different directions. Some focused on the game itself; the score, the key players etc., while others ended up tweeting about the fashion of the students in attendance. The unexpected freedom of the assignment created a colorful class twitter feed (Wright, 18). Personally speaking, I know that many students feel restrained by academic essays: a Twitter handle is one way to quell this restraint. Wright has developed other Twitter assignments and used it as a cornerstone of her teaching methods. Wright’s examples show that Twitter is a new tool to encourage peer feedback and interaction, like how she asked her scriptwriting class to write dialogue back and forth on Twitter (38). This not only fosters community in the classroom, but also helps student think on their feet, an important skill in today’s instantaneous society.

Lastly, Twitter helps writers to hone in their craft. Because of the limited characters, you have to develop a unique style and tone. Twitter is a fresh way to find one’s voice as a writer. One could develop a sassier tone, a la the Twitter of Lena Dunham, or a journalistic tone like that of Anderson Cooper.

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Twitter is a way to keep the teaching of writing fresh and relevant to the tools of society. “By using tools such as Twitter and Storify, we can embrace the twist of technology by giving students the tools to develop their voice, tone, and unique writing style” (Wright,44). Twitter is a new way to teach writing through writing.

Next, let’s turn to the world of blogging. “Blogging across Sister Classrooms” describes a unique approach to utilizing the blogosphere in college classes. First, it considers why blogs are powerful teaching tools. Hagood and Price argue that asking a student to blog is a way that “invites students to learn through writing” (Hagood & Price, 3). When a student writes a blog, they feel less pressure to be entirely perfect. The authors note that “the relative freedom of a blog post may also encourage students to take intellectual risks that feel less possible in the high-stakes, rigorously evaluated context of a formal paper” (5).  Blogs are spaces where students develop their digital writing style and articulate ideas. I believe this happens more fluidly on a blog because blogging is fun. We students associate blogs with leisurely reading and it therefore produces a different type of writing than we would normally produce in an academic setting. Blogs are a format where students can bring in other sources like websites and tweets and comment directly on them. Additionally, asking a student to blog gives them more time to formulate a response to something than in during a class discussion (5).

Blogs are also a new form of collaboration. Class blogs are collaborative documents. In our class, I have really benefitted from the feedback and comments I receive from my peers. Some courses come and go without ever engaging peers to give feedback on others’ work, but a class blog ensures that will never occur. A recent study found that using blogs in a classroom setting “allows students to gain a sense of empowerment and personal identity while learning how to interact with other’s online” (Courts, Bari, and Tucker, 124). The practice of blogging resonates with today’s students because it is instantaneous, like much of social media. Blogs create a space for students to give and receive peer feedback and affirmation of ideas immediately.

Now, let’s back this up with some real-world examples. Our class is fortunate to be one of the first on our campus to solely focus on digital writing and the integration of the digital world into our classroom. Personally, I have some amateur experience with tweeting and blogging for an audience other than myself. Over the summer, I worked as a student tour guide and was asked to also tweet for the Dickinson admissions office to offer a behind the scenes look at my life here. I have had a personal Twitter account for a few years, which as of late is overrun by an obscene amount of Parks and Rec references.

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Creating my Dickinson “professional” (ha) twitter account provided some challenges at first. My tweets read as boring to me. I haven’t yet found the balance between informative and witty.

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The Chronicle of Higher Education created a list of Ten Twitter Commandments that all tweeters should abide by. It’s a good list that all should read, especially those tweeting in an academic setting. It provides advice like “it’s okay to crack jokes” and “don’t just make statements, ask questions too.” These are good things to keep in mind as I continue to strive to find my Twitter voice.

Although this hasn’t quite taken shape on my Twitter account, it has helped me be more critical and conscience of the web content I read. Every morning I check Instagram, Facebook and Twitter before I even get out of bed. However, after studying these platforms, I have found myself a little bored by what I’m reading. This class has opened my eyes to not only what I want to sound like on the web, but honed in what I like to read online as well. Creating a distinct online voice can take time; it’s like a fine wine. Takes practice and time to refine.

Like most students at Dickinson, I have the opportunity to go abroad as a student here. I have just recently been accepted to study in Yaoundé, Cameroon for five months. Now I have never been to Africa (yet), but I have heard from friends who also studied there, that the best way to keep in touch with friends and family is through a blog. I will have to severe my ties with my iPhone and morning ritual because chances are my host family’s home will not have Internet. I see this as a golden opportunity. Instead of constant updates, I will have the chance to carefully reflect on my experience and craft thoughtful blog posts. I plan on taking as many pictures as possible and include those on my blog. This class has taught me the power of editing of posts, previewing how they look on a page and helped me develop a more distinct and consistent voice. I look forward to see how that carries over into my Cameroon blog and the feedback I will get from my family and friends. Who knows, maybe friends from this class will read it as well (right, guys?). This blog will not only be a fantastic way to keep in touch with back home but is also a way for me to synthesize and look back on my time there. Blogs take diaries to a whole new level. I can’t predict the future of the Internet but I am assuming that blogs will be longevous. These writings will be a way for me to look back on my time abroad for years to come.

Much like going abroad, Dickinson students have a myriad of opportunities at our fingertips. No student here can be pigeonholed as one way or another. We can be farmers, debaters, athletes, Fulbright scholars, actors and the list goes on. Students with interests as vast as those I’ve met at Dickinson go on to have extremely diverse careers. In this day and age, having experience with digital writing will get us ahead in the job market. It’s imperative that we have this skillset as we go out into the “real world.” We have to know how to tweet, how to blog, how to gain recognition and “likes” on Facebook accounts. These know-hows are expected of our generation. Like it or not, it makes absolute sense that these platforms are now integrated directly into the classroom and woven in with our research of books and writing of papers. After researching this topic and seen how successful it can be to teach writing and communication firsthand, it seems crazy to me that there aren’t more classes at Dickinson that focus on digital writing. I hope in the future to take part of, and to see, a stronger focus on these skills in the liberal arts world. It is the way of the future.

Dear Reader,

Click on the tweets to expand read. Not sure why they showed up so small.

Works Cited:

Abe, Paige, and Nickolas A. Jordan. “Integrating Social Media into the Classroom Curriculum.” About Campus 18.1 (2013): 16-20. ERIC. Web. 30 Sept. 2013.

Akerlund, Dan. “Social Media In the Classrom.” . Karlstads universitet, n.d. Web. 13 Oct 2013. <http://klassbloggarna.se/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Åkerlund-Dan-2011-Social-media-in-the-classroom-Tönsberg.pdf>.

Courts, Bari, and Jan Tucker. “Using Technology To Create A Dynamic Classroom Experience.” Journal Of College Teaching & Learning 9.2 (2012): 121-127. Education Research Complete. Web. 30 Sept. 2013.

Gulliver, Katrina. “10 Commandments of Twitter for Academics.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 09 May 2012. Web. 13 Oct 2013. <http://chronicle.com/article/10-Commandments-of-Twitter-for/131813/>.

Hagood, Amanda, and Carmel Price. “Sister Classrooms: Blogging Across Disciplines and Campuses.” Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning. Michigan Publishing, 15 Sep 2013. Web. 13 Oct 2013. <http://webwriting.trincoll.edu/communities/hagood-price-2013/>.

Wright, Leigh. “Tweet Me a Story .” Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning. Michigan Publishing, 15 Sepember 2013. Web. 13 Oct 2013. <http://webwriting.trincoll.edu/engagement/wright-2013/>.

Navigating the 21st Century: An Exploration of Self and Audience

 

Navigating the 21st Century: An Exploration of Self and Audience

            As we have learned from class in the past few weeks, we must pay attention to numerous details when writing online. To look further into these details and concepts I read two chapters from Web Writing: Why & How for Liberal Arts Teaching & Learning and analyzed the type of writing styles they used as students and how the keywords are connected to more web writing with larger populations. The two chapters I read were titled: “Tweet Me a Story” and “Getting Uncomfortable: Identity Exploration in a Multi-class Blog”. Both chapters discuss the importance of finding your identity on the web and connecting to audience with that particular identity. A liberal arts education allows students to explore these identities in daily life and portray them online to attract specific readers and share their thoughts and ideas to audiences of all different types.

“Tweet Me a Story” in Web Writing was especially interesting because it took a somewhat new concept in the web writing world, Twitter, and explained how students used it for a class project. When students are asked to write blog posts, usually a length is required or students write more than a few short sentences. One interesting point I got from the article was that although tweeting is a microblogging experience and many people associate it with short remarks, which are often silly facts, this resource for online writing is much like writing a paper or a blog. When tweeting about an event, students met with a professor about the lead tweet to catch readers’ attention; this is similar to a title or the first line of a paper that sparks interest. Then, the following tweets vary in information much like paragraphs.

At first people may think that Twitter is easy and thoughtless, but in reality one must take into consideration many things when tweeting to a public audience. That being said, audience is key; many followers can feel a connection to someone who is tweeting about topics they are interested in, and present a tone that they enjoy and think reflects themselves. This is not to say that someone should tweet to please people with a tone that is not their one, but they should come across with a tone that has a purpose. If you want to tweet like a comedian and are looking for followers who enjoy humor, a tone without humor or sarcasm may be one to steer clear of. Twitter also allows you to take a tone that you normally would not and present yourself with a different identity if you wish to do so. The number of followers may provide some information to the Tweeter about the impact that their tweets have on people, and what type of people are attracted to their style of writing taking into consideration both content and tone. Tweets that attract a specific group of followers are what Twitter bases success off of; if you tweet and have 0 followers, you fail to create conversation and connect with readers using an agreeable tone.

An Exploration of Social Identity” written by Herdagdelen, Zuo, Gard-Murray, Bar-Yam is an article that focuses on the characteristics of spontaneous social groups that are formed through Twitter based on self-identification, social priorities and a collective social response. Herdagdelen et al. states that, “The study of social media can reveal how individual actions combine to become the collective dynamics of society. Characterizing the groups that form spontaneously may reveal both how individuals self-identify and how they will act together.” In society today, we have so many options of the kinds of people we want to connect with that are interested in the same topics as us. Students may connect with students in Spain doing a similar project as them, or tweet about a current sports game with someone across the country. Herdagdelen et al. observed how people on twitter flock to a particular news article tweeted about whether it was local, global, or about the US. In the past, before technology, people grouped themselves based on geographic location and interest. People found their identities through social interactions with people around them, but that is not the case anymore. Twitter allows you to connect to almost anyone in the world with an account and,  “research has confirmed that twitter users with similar interests tend to connect to each other”.

As talked about in “Tweet Me a Story”, the content and tone is important to the audience reading what you are writing. Connections and conversation are not just made through small personal talk anymore, but through the Internet and blogging. A good blog post, or tweet, invites readers in with something that is on their comfort level of reading difficulty, is able to create conversation, and includes media to engage readers. An Exploration of Social Identity saw that this was happening simply by looking at one newspaper source being tweeted by many users. Followers felt a connection with the type of article tweeted about, the area it covered, and most likely because they felt they could contribute to a conversation.

The chapter “Getting Uncomfortable: Identity Exploration in a Multi-class Blog” in the Web Writing book addressed the gap that is present between students of different backgrounds in the classroom and how they can tackle this feeling (Wright, 2013). The chapter talks about colorblindness today and how student’s reactions to race in the classroom. Through writing blogs and commenting on others, students developed their own identity and perspective on issues relating to race and other topics. Writing on the web allows for a continuous exploration of identity that engages an audience to respond and create discussion. Someone responding to a blog does not need to have identical interests as the person writing it; controversial questioning and conversation allows both the reader and responder to express their identity even more through taking a side on their particular opinion.

Students in this classroom took part in the “Identity Exploration Assignment” where they wrote on the web and engaged with texts about identity development and reflecting on their own identity position and membership to a particular group. Students were encouraged to respond and were especially encouraged to “write to learn” rather than “learning to write” (Wright, 2013). The teachers hoped that through this assignment students would, “become aware of their own identity development, and [to] understand that developmental growth can be accomplished by feeling of anger guilty, and discomfort.” (Wright, 2013) Activities including web writing help create conversation and to encourage students to write in a public space so that they know that their work is not only public, but also serious. When it is known that an audience is present and listening, work seems more serious and the author knows they must come across clearly with a point to their writing.

An Exploration of the Relationships Between Blogging Practices, Blogging Motives and Identity Exploration” by Williamson and Knowles review a very interesting topic of identity exploration through blogging and blogging motives of emerging adults with a hypothesis that, “bloggers in the emerging adulthood stage of life would be more likely to have self-focused motives and engage in identity exploration than bloggers who had reached adulthood. Additional research has stated that, “The rapid emergence and widespread use of the Internet has prompted numerous studies investigating topics such as the effect of the Internet on individual well-being, online relationship formation, and the exploration or creation of the self identity online” (Williamson & Knowles, 2007). The authors propose that the Internet plays a significant role in an emerging adult’s life, and such an online environment can push an emerging adult into adulthood through identity exploration and then can be seen my an audience. Through tasks of writing about self-identity and well-being, people everywhere are encouraged to explore their thoughts and feelings by consistently posting on blogs. Two categories were identified for social interaction on the web: self-concerns and self-motivations (Williamson & Knowles, 2007).

Bloggers in this particular study wrote about a variety of topics as seen in Figure 1.Screen shot 2013-10-13 at 9.41.07 PM The authors comment that, “Taken together with the blogging topic findings, this implied that while blogs have a personal focus, limits are imposed on the personal information revealed” (Williamson & Knowles, 2007). In the end, research showed that although many people did not find blogging to help with self-identity exploration, many (95%) felt that a sense of self was represented through their blogs (Williamson & Knowles, 2007). With results like this many people may ask, “what’s the difference between a sense of self and self-identity?” I feel that self-identity takes more than blog writing, and the students who participated in the Identity Project in Web Writing did exercises in self-exploration and observing others identity. I think that reflecting just on your own identity creates a sense of self, but to admit to completing an adventure of self-identity formation is a large achievement to say you have completed. A blog is a continuous project; it does not have a one date where it is complete and the author can no longer add more. Like a blog, identity is continuous as well. As bloggers we choose what is published, what we talk about, and about the information revealed through our posts which all reflect some part of our identity.

Web writing is a great place to start to learn about yourself, but it can not end there. Why are blogs a continuous project? The answer is simply because we are on a constant journey to find ourselves. Web writing can be an immediate source of self-identification for some, but just a notification of self in writing topics for others. As seen in Figure 1, there are many topics that someone can write about. If we were to write in depth about each of these on a blog we may only begin our journey of self-identity. At a college with a Liberal Arts education, I have found myself writing for a variety of classes on different topics. As I get ready to graduate in May I can not say that I have found myself, but by writing and learning about a plethora of topics rather than focusing on one I have seen that we can not be one dimensional and find our identities, we must take part in multi-dimensional learning and interacting to form a sense of self.

Identity in Twitter’s Hashtag Culture: A Sport-Media-consumption Case Study” is an article that talks about Twitter as a medium that allows sport consumers to connect in instant conversation and interact over the course of sporting events (Smith and Smith, 2012). People follow sports teams and take part in conversation during games over devices such as Twitter, and through that fans portray a sense of identity based on the team they are rooting for and representing. The author suggests that Twitter helps create new relationships and conversation between fans that would not otherwise be possible (Smith & Smith, 2012). Many people feel that when they identify with a sports team that it is reflective of their character and they become personally invested in “their” team. Twitter may be like wearing a team jersey, you support and root for your team for others to see and make it known to your audience who you cheer for. Writing online during sports events not only helps with identity, but instead of an audience cheering with you at a game, an audience online can state opinions and facts about the current sporting event that in turn creates conversation, whether someone agrees or not. Conversation such as this may create opposing sides to interact more than usual and reflect more about themselves by stating strong personal opinions against a contrasting opinion.

Classes about digital writing can offer an endless amount of benefits to students participating in the new phenomenon. Positive benefits could be due to the continuous exploration of identity and non-stop writing possibilities of the Internet; it encourages conversation, self-exploration, web surfing, idea formation, and opinion configuration, to name a few. As stated before hand, self-identity and exploration used to be formed through geographical set groups so ideas and conversation were limited to what was going on in a particular area. Now the web creates many conversation opportunities, encouraging people of all ages to share thoughts, opinions, and feelings.

President Roseman stated in her inauguration speech, “Today, our mission is to prepare young people so they can successfully navigate the mid-21st century” showing the importance that students keep up to date with writing in the 21st century.  Web writing has become more popular recently through social networking, microblogging, and blogging. Our class benefits from discussing these types of contributions to web writing, but also by participating in them. A conversation is happening everywhere online, and to be informed and part of these conversations we must speak our voices. If we want to engage the world we have to start with ourselves through the self-identity exploration and creating conversation with others. By participating in various events, traveling, and talking to people unlike ourselves we get a sense of who we are through others. One may never start the process of self-exploration if they do not talk to others. If we want to contact the world in the most effective and influential way at the moment we must use the Internet.

At Dickinson I have taken a wide variety of classes, majored in Psychology, been a member and captain of the swim team, have participated in multi cultural events both abroad and in Carlisle, and have been a leader in clubs. A liberal arts education is more than just taking a few classes outside of your major, but it is engaging the world and campus. It is about writing about each topic if Figure 1 rather than just exploring one. Engaging the world may mean all of these things, but what we must address is that the world is our audience and through our own exploration we need an audience that too is ready to engage the world and respond positively or negatively to our opinions and thoughts. Web writing is the next big step to engaging the world because of convenience and the potential it has to reach more than our demographic area. As students in the 21st century we must take part in this conversation and use such a broad audience to help continue our exploration of self.

 

 

 

Sources

Herdagdelen, A., Zuo, W., Gard-Murray, A., Bar-Yam. Y., (2012). An Exploration of Social Identity: The Geography and Politics of News-Sharing Communities in Twitter.

 

Smith, L., & Smith, K. D. (2012). Identity in Twitter’s Hashtag Culture: A Sport-Media-Consumption Case Study. International Journal of Sport Communication, 5(4), 539-557.

 

Moore, T. (2013, Sept 28). Historic Inauguration. Retrieved from: Dickinson.edu/about/28thpresident/Inauguration.

 

Williamson, D., & Knowles, A. (2007). An exploration of the relationships between blogging practices, blogging motives and identity exploration. InRecord of the Communications Policy & Research Forum 2007 Retrieved from http://www.networkinsight.org/verve/_resources/CPRF07record.pdf

 

Wright, Leigh. “Getting Uncomfortable: Identity Exploration in a Multi-class Blog.” Web Writing. Web Writing, 15 Sep 2013. Web. 13 Oct 2013. <http://webwriting.trincoll.edu/engagement/wright-2013/>.

 

Wright, Leigh. “Tweet Me A Story.” Web Writing. Web Writing, 15 Sep 2013. Web. 13 Oct 2013. <http://webwriting.trincoll.edu/engagement/wright-2013/>.

 

Web Writing and Student Engagement

Today, professors are integrating web writing into college curriculums as a means of increasing student engagement within the classroom. Twitter, and other online sources like Google Docs, Wiki’s, and blogs are some of major tools professors are using to introduce web writing into their college classrooms. Professors who have seen success with these tools have praised them for their accessibility, their ability to create collaboration, and for their ability to push students to write concisely. Others have however criticized social networks and online tools arguing that they distract students, are too informal, and that they create issues surrounding student privacy. While it is important to understand both sides of this debated topic, I ultimately believe that web writing not only enhances student engagement but also enhances student learning as a whole.

One of the most common tools I have found to be used within the classroom is Twitter, a micro blogging service that has attracted more than 140 million users (Dhir 673). These users include: musicians, reality television stars, actors, athletes, huge corporations, restaurants, newspapers, young children, and adults. All of whom use this service for a variety of different purposes. This platform is often used by people who want to write informally about their day, tweeting thoughts to friends such as:

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News sources like The New York Times use it to give readers quick updates and links to their articles:

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Celebrities use it to reach out to their fans:

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Essentially, Twitter is used by a wide variety of people, and for an even wider variety of reasons, and now, Twitter is being successfully integrated into classrooms as a tool to increase student engagement, and to teach students to write concisely.

Paige Abe and Nickolas A. Jordan authors of “Integrating Social Media into the Classroom” claim that social media can provide professors with a means of speaking to students in a way they are likely to be reached (Abe 17). In 2007 the Higher Education Institute found that 94% of first year college students spent time on social networking sites during an average week (Abe 16). Because of the time that students spend on social media, administrators and other members of college faculty are beginning to argue that these sites may prove to be useful tools to integrate into college curriculums (Abe 16).

But how exactly is twitter being used in classrooms in an academic way? A growing number of college professors are utilizing twitter to keep students engaged in large lecture halls (Kinzie). In large classes it can be difficult to give each student individual attention, but online comments or tweets result in students supporting and challenging one another (Kinzie).  Students are, for example, asked to respond to different aspects of a lecture during class in order to foster an online dialogue among fellow students and to keep students engaged with the lecture (Kinzie). Leigh Wright, a professor and author of “Tweet Me A Story” demonstrates one way in which this “live tweeting” strategy can be used effectively to educate students. In her online article “Tweet Me A Story” she explains an exercise she has students complete that requires them to go on a scavenger hunt around their college campus (Wright). During this scavenger hunt students are challenged to ask people questions and to tweet about their experience while doing so. Wright claims that this exercise allows her to combine learning how to use online technology while also emphasizing the importance of interpersonal communication skills (Wright). In this way Twitter can be used as a tool to keep students on their toes during class projects and it ensure that all students remain active and engaged during lectures, or class activities.

Other professors argue that Twitter allows for a shift away from professor’s simply lecturing students to a much more collaborative learning environment (Kinzie). Twitter and other web writing tools allow discussions to continue after class is over, and it gives students an opportunity to share research with one another, pose questions, and gather more information outside the classroom (Kinzie). Students who might not usually share their opinions in class are given an outlet to communicate with not only their professors, but with classmates they may not have gotten a chance to share ideas with inside the classroom. Amandeep Dhir author of “Tweeters on Campus: Twitter a Learning Tool in Classroom?” supports this claim as she writes that micro blogging sites allow for continuous and transparent communication among teachers and students (Dhir 673). Twitter allows students to get immediate feedback from professors, and it enables professors who teach large classes to quickly and easily respond to students they may not usually have time to give individual attention in class (Dhir 679). Twitter essentially has the ability to connect individuals within the classroom and it provides classrooms with the unique opportunity to bridge the gap between students and professors, allowing professors to engage with students efficiently and easily.

Professor Michael O’Donnel, author of “Science Writing, Wikis, and Collaborative Learning” also emphasizes the benefits of collaborative learning and the ways in which the web can allow for professors to create this kind of democratic learning environment. In O’Donnel’s article he writes about collaborative learning in relation to science education. O’Donnel criticizes the current teaching styles used by most science professors, arguing that it forces students to begin projects in class through collaboration and then finish them independently outside of class. O’Donnel believes that this causes students to believe that the whole purpose of lab reports is to summarize their experiment, report the “right answer”, and receive a grade. O’Donnel emphasizes that students need to instead understand that lab reports and science writing are collaborative processes that are intended to help students engage with the material they are learning (O’Donnel). Science writing is not simply about repeating answers and spitting back information; it is about understanding the whole scientific process, and working with peers. To support this claim O’Donnel states that: “Collaborative writing provides opportunities for peer instruction that promote critical thinking, enhance decision-making skills, and deepen understanding of the scientific concepts being studied” (O’Donnel).

While, Wright used Twitter to create collaborative learning in her classroom, O’Donnel advocates for the use of Google Docs and Wiki’s to successfully integrate this learning style. Wiki’s for example allow multiple people to work together on a document and they are able to store every version of an edited document. This allows instructors to compare document versions and evaluate how each student is contributing to a given assignment. It additionally allows students that have a solid understanding of the assignment to aid less successful students in their writing and understanding of concepts (O’Donnel). In fact, O’Donnel was able to report that students found that this collaborative learning style helped students to understand concepts presented, improve their scientific writing, thinking about their strengths and weaknesses in writing, and increase their confidence in their ability to write scientifically (O’Donnel).

Beyond the collaborative aspects of web writing, professors are also seeing other practical benefits of utilizing social media in the classroom, such as enabling students who are physically, financially, or geographically unable to travel to a classroom to still participate in academic discussions (Abe 18). Professors can hold lectures when they’re out of town, and students can participate in class discussions even when they can’t physically appear in class. Web writing has the unique ability to connect people who in previous decades would not have been able to communicate, or share their ideas in an academic setting.

Furthermore, twitter is also being used as a learning tool for graduate students at Johns Hopkins University; with a restriction of 140 characters writing students are being asked to use this platform to learn to write concisely. One professors states that the, “limited number of characters allowed is a useful way to remember to choose words carefully, cut clutter and realize how much can be said in a small space, like a haiku” (Kinzie). Wright in “Tweet Me A Story” explains that when students complain about the 140 character restriction she tells them: “That’s exactly why I want you to use it…you have to focus on the key point for a good tweet” (Wright). Twitter’s character restriction is thus able to force writers to select their words very carefully and reflect on exactly what kind of argument they want to make. Articles such as Wrights demonstrate that in an increasingly digital world, writing concisely is an invaluable skill that provides students with the ability to clearly, and effectively convey messages to people who are bombarded with information.

There are however still many people that are critical of the use of Twitter and other social media platforms in the classroom, and not all professors are eager to integrate it into their curriculums. A professor of Media Studies and Law at University of Virginia for examples states that, “Twitter is really about instantaneous notification. Class is supposed to be about deliberation and depth….It’s beyond me to imagine a valuable use for it in the classroom” (Kinzie). Others are concerned about privacy arguing that students should be able to express their ideas without a public record of it being displayed online (Kinzie). Some professors also worry that the abbreviations people use to meet the word count restriction of tweets will negatively affect students’ ability to spell and punctuate properly (Kinzie).

Educators have additionally reported that the use of Twitter and other social media websites has made them feel as if they were invading the territory of the younger generation and replacing real relationships with electronic ones (Abe 19). This concern has led educators to worry that social media could lead to misinterpretation of content because students and professors miss out on the nonverbal aspect of communication such as facial expressions, and body language when they communicate solely through online mediums (Abe 19).

Professors also fear that having access to different social media websites during class may over stimulate students (Abe 17). The presence of social media and online resources in classrooms create the risk of student disengagement and many professors believe it risks drawing student’s attention away from lecture content (Abe 17).

While there are many educators that still have reservations about the use of social media, and other online resources in academic settings, the incorporation of digital writing into college classroom can only enhance student learning. We are living in an increasingly digital world, and students need to have an understanding of digital environments if they wish to succeed in the workplace after graduation. As stated in, Keeping the Promise of the 21st Century: Bringing Classroom Teaching into the Digital Age, conducting research, evaluating sources of information, displaying data, solving problems, working collaboratively on written and oral presentations, web writing, and understanding social media–are the new “basic skills” of the 21st century”.  If students do not learn skills such as how to use digital platforms to accomplish tasks beyond just communicating with friends, or meeting other social needs, then they will be put at a disadvantage for lacking what is now considered “basic skills” of the 21st century.

Furthermore, on a smaller scale, digital writing can help to create more conversation within the classroom and a better academic experience for students. For example, digital writing provides students who have trouble speaking in front of classmates an opportunity to share their opinions and demonstrate that they have an understanding of course material. It also allows for discussion to continue after class has ended. Especially in college when classes only meet a couple times a week, this can be a useful way or making sure people have an opportunity to elaborate on class discussions when physical class time does not allow for it. Digital writing essentially gives professors and students the opportunity to hear more voices within the classroom and an opportunity to enhance class discussions.

Additionally, digital writing forces students to think more creatively about the writing process. When students are forced to use social platforms such as Twitter, or Facebook, or a blogging site like WordPress, they must learn to adapt their writing styles to fit these mediums. This means that when using Twitter students must learn how to shorten their writing and get their ideas across in concise sentences. If a student is challenged to use Facebook to share their ideas they must take into account the visual presentation of their post and they must consider their audience. For example, instead of adhering to a rigid style guide like one would usually do for a college paper students would have to consider how to format their posts with pictures, links, or text to make them visually appealing. Also, instead of simply emailing a paper or handing an essay in to a professor students would have to consider an audience beyond just their professor. Students would have to contemplate what times their audience would be active on social media and what kind of content would interest a broad range of people.

Web writing additionally forces students to consider the difference between public and private writing. It is in fact likely to motivate students to write pieces they are proud of if they realize their work will be posted for a variety of people to see. When I was assigned to be a student blogger for the communications department at the school I studied abroad at in Denmark this was something I had to take into consideration on a daily basis. When you are writing content to be posted on a public domain you need to think about how you are representing yourself, and often how you are representing the institution that you are writing for. In short, web writing allows students to approach the writing process in different and challenging ways, forcing them to consider new writing styles, visual presentations, and aspects of audience they are not accustomed to considering.  This kind of creative thinking can only better individual’s abilities to get their ideas across verbally, and in written form.

Lastly, web writing provides people with the opportunity to learn without having to travel or enroll full-time in a higher learning institution. For example, my mom is currently taking a course through Dickinson about former President Lincoln and without web writing and the ability to submit work online she would not have the opportunity to have this learning experience from her home. So while there are still critics of web writing and of the use of social media within the classroom, it is obvious that the potential benefits of web writing outweigh any potential setbacks. At least when used correctly, web writing has the potential to teach students how to write in ways that challenge them and that make them engage more deeply in class discussions and projects. Web writing is an invaluable tool that with continued exploration will vastly improve writing and engagement in classrooms across disciplines.

Works Cited.

Abe, Paige, and Nickolas A. Jordan. “Integrating Social Media Into The Classroom Curriculum.” About Campus 18.1 (2013): 16-20. ERIC. Web. 1 Oct. 2013.

 

Dhir, Amandeep. “Tweeters on Campus: Twitter a Learning Tool in Classroom?” Journal of Universal Computer Science. 19.5 (2013). Web. 10. Oct. 2013.

 

O’Donnel, Michael. “Science Writing, Wikis, and Collaborative Learning.” Web Writing: Why & How for Liberal Arts Teaching & Learning, Michigan Publishing. (2013). Web. 10 Oct. 2013.

 

Inverness, Research. “Keeping The Promise Of The 21St Century: Bringing Classroom Teaching Into The Digital Age. Policy Brief.” Inverness Research (2009): ERIC. Web. 3 Oct. 2013.

 

Kinzie, Susan. “Some Professors’ Jitters Over Twitter Are Easing: Discussions Expand In and Out of Class.” The Washington Post 2009: Academic OneFile. Web. 1 Oct. 2013.

 

Wright, Leigh. “Tweet Me A Story.” Web Writing: Why & How for Liberal Arts Teaching & Learning, Michigan Publishing (2013). Web. 10 Oct. 2013.

 

Welcome to the Digital Era

Welcome to the Digital Era

            The first Printing press was first form of social media. The invention of the printing press burgeoned the first forms of writings such as books and the earliest form of newspapers. Despite this advancement in technology, social media was limited due to the lack of up to date news. As the social media industry progresses through history accurate information is produced more rapidly. However, the social media industry does not just stop with attaining information and producing it faster for their readers. Eventually the industries began to grow larger. Instead of gathering news on just a state or national scale they began gathering information about current events occurring all over the world. These advancements eventually brought on the formation of popular companies such as The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and USA Today.

In the beginning of the early 20th century the social media industry’s labile characteristics rapidly adapted to the digital world. Now information is updated faster then ever, almost making newspapers obsolete. This advancement not only allowed newspaper companies to put up their own web pages but it also introduced readers to blogging and other social medias. Blogging specifically has become very popular, allowing individuals to write and express their own ideologies on a myriad of topics.

Today blogging, and other forms of social media, are being used in classrooms allowing students to gain experience by learning and writing in the digital environment. Classes offered in the digital writing fields have proven to influence quickness and authoritativeness in students writing allowing them to focus on “the big picture” (Carr 29-32). The ability to focus on key points and be concise is an important aspect of a good writer. Digital writing courses have helped students do just that. This is why teachers, over the past decade, have implemented an active blog as a popular assignment (Yang & Chang 126-135).

The digital environment has also promoted free writing. The advantage of using digital media in classrooms provides students with a lot of flexibility in their written works. This provides students with the pleasure of writing, and at the same time expands their knowledge and skills in writing more efficiently. Juxtaposed to blogging, Twitter has also been implemented in the classroom.  Twitter has been around for seven years now and is referred to as a micro blogging site. What makes Twitter so different to blogging is the complex thought process users have to implement in every tweet. The 140-character limit Twitter sets per tweet further encourages student to be concise and to think on their feet. Leigh Write implemented this tactic with her class, she promoted exercises such as live tweeting to help build her students confidence to take notes quickly and accurately (Wright). However, some argue that twitter inhibits the complex thought process as a result of its 140-charcter limit (Ebner, Lienhardt, Rohs, and Meyer 94). Respectfully I would disagree with this claim, the limitation promotes complex thought processes by focusing on saying less and still getting your point across. Being an avid Twitter user, I catch myself on many occasions having to acquit what I want to say using fewer words.

As previously stated, digital writing is about the flexibility of creating a network of texts on the web. This flexibility students are provided allows them to write about topics that interest them, experiment with different tones, writing styles, and portray different voices within their writing. However, when a student is deciding on their motives they have to consider the audience they are writing to. As Fitzpatrick delineated, “through our writing we engage in performance by articulating the role of rhetoric, the position of speaker, and the effect on the audience (Rajchel, Fitzpatrick)”. This might possibly be the hardest concept students could face when it comes to digital writing. However, this can also be the most helpful tool for a student as well.

Whether readers agree or disagree with the blogger’s posts, reader feedback provides the writer with an engagement in discussions. Through discussions students acquire a utile quality to synthesize information, read quickly and deeply, and engage in discussions; qualities that will prove to be useful throughout their lives (Rajchel). The ability to synthesize arguments quickly also encourages the student to be skeptical to influence further discussions. This skill is acquired through multiple experiences and encounters with other individuals. Additionally, over time these experiences allow students to aggregate the ability to think and provide rational responses.

Thus far it has been discussed that digital media in the classroom has proven to be a useful means of education. However, as useful as it can be in the classroom it has also proven to be just as useful in the real world. In the article “Microblogs in Higher Education”, a case study took place were students enrolled in a course to gain practice in using communication, collaboration and documentation during the course (Ebner, Lienhardt, Rohs, and Meyer 93). The course was devised to use the website known as MBlog and Mediawiki for students in grad school working towards success in the real world. Students were required to maintain a proper blog where they would practice communication within their field of interest. Overall results exhibited that the experience students gained from this course helped them in their careers of interest within communication. This demonstrated that microblogs, such as twitter, allow people to explore the world and reach out to their followers sharing their experiences (Ebner, Lienhardt, Rohs, and Meyer 99).

Prior to now, everything stated was a rendition of scholarly articles that support the use of web blogs in an educational setting. Each article also provided case studies where social media had been implemented in a class curriculum of different levels. While all the case studies supported that social media is beneficial to use in the classroom nothing beats personal experience in becoming a good communicator through social use.

Online social media started to become popular in the late 90’s and being a part of that generation I still remember how fast it became popular. To this day I still remember the blogging site “Xanga”. Xanga allowed its users to write about whatever they wanted and was a lot like an online journal entry. Also on the site you had followers and they would read each others posts. Xanga was a popular trend, however, one of many to follow. Shortly after MySpace became popular and everyone had a profile, then came Facebook followed by Twitter. These are just some of the popular examples of social media through its “evolution”.

There is a myriad amount of social media sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. All of these sites had many different attributes that were appealing to so many people. However, despite the differences in characteristics, all of these sites had one thing in common. Each site provided their users with connection to other users. This connection provided users the chance to experiment by taking advantage of all resources these sites offered. MySpace allowed you to change your layout and the music that would play on your page. Facebook allowed you to make albums, statuses, and a layout behind your profile picture. Lastly, Twitter provides users with the ability to favorite or retweet a text that is appealing to share with other followers. All of these resources, along with consistent use, allowed users to experiment with what would draw their follower’s attention. This was the whole point of having any of these sites; this is also the whole point of writing blogs or any other social media.

As I just demonstrated, even outside of the classroom, people still benefited from the use of blogging sites. Like the scholars that wrote the articles presented before, I also find implementing social media in the classroom as a valuable teaching method.

I found the most effective aspect about this teaching method is its application of learning through repetition and interaction. As prosaic of an aspect as it seems, this was the common attribute all of the case studies I presented earlier shared. This is also an attribute that can be used in any situation, not just in school. A pitcher can watch as many YouTube videos on how to throw a curveball, as he would like. However, knowing how to do something and actually doing the action are different things all together. This is why incorporating social media into the classroom proved to be a beneficial learning experience. Like the case studies that implemented active twitter accounts into their teachings, the students enjoyed the course and benefited from it. All the methods included having followers serving as the writer’s positive or negative feedback, this was the student’s source of learning through social interactions. When both of these aspects are amalgamated together its like the students are really teaching themselves. Even if this is the case, all of the articles results showed that the students took away a lot from the courses.

I still stick to my opinion that social media is a valuable asset that should be implemented, or offered as a course. The courses suggested in the articles improved student’s understandings of how to maintain blogs and other social sites. At the same time this teaching methods influenced creativity and considerably improved the writing skills of the students.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Work cited

  1. Ebner , Martin , Conrad Lienhardt, Matthias Rohs, and Iris Meyer. “Microblogs in Higher Education – A chance to facilitate informal and process-oriented learning?.” Computer & Education . n. page. Print. <http://www.cblt.soton.ac.uk/multimedia/PDFs10/micriblogs in higher education process orientated learning.pdf>.
  1. Wright, Leigh. “Tweet Me A Story.” Web Writing. Web Writing, 15 Sep 2013. Web. 13 Oct 2013. <http://webwriting.trincoll.edu/engagement/wright-2013/>.
  1. Rajchel, Jennifer. “Consider the Audience.” Web Writing. Web Writing , 15 Setember 2013. Web. 13 Oct 2013. <http://webwriting.trincoll.edu/engagement/rajchel-2013/>.
  1. Carr, Nora. “Using Blogs to Humanize Our School Leaders.” Education Digest. 74.4 (2007): 29-32. Print. <http://ehis.ebscohost.com/eds/detail?sid=90bb3f63-d869-4f3c-82e8-42d165e72785@sessionmgr12&vid=1&hid=16&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmU=
  1. Yang, C., and YS Chang. “Assessing the effects of interactive blogging on student attitudes towards peer interaction, learning motivation, and academic achievements.” WILEY-BLACKWELL . (2012): 126-135. Print. <http://ehis.ebscohost.com/eds/detail?vid=2&sid=47e90791-22d2-4308-8b16-e823d3a944ed@sessionmgr113&hid=105&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmU=