Imagine waking up in the morning, drinking a warm cup of coffee, going to school or work, returning home to enjoy dinner and relax before getting into bed. While this routine may appear relatively standard, it is missing one important factor of a typical day. One of the most significant parts of our daily living was not included – technology. We cannot escape technology; we are engulfed by technology with the use of laptops, iPhones, iPods, and televisions. Over the last decade, profound advancements have been achieved with technology, ultimately changing the way society functions as a whole. It is almost impossible to imagine people using typewriters and sending handwritten cards. We have become accustomed to living in a fast-paced world with continual communication and immediate responses. Our world is a fluid place that is consistently endeavoring to become more advanced. Consequently, it is critical that we as students and future employees are well-equipped with state-of-the art tools. Many schools have taken note of this technological change in society. Classrooms have begun shifting away from the traditional style toward a digital learning style. Naturally, there are people who criticize the use of technology in the academic environment. They believe that technology is distracting and that digital writing is not “real writing” (Hawley). Although it is important to consider both sides of the argument, I strongly believe that using technology helps develop a more engaged student as well as an individual who is better prepared for the real world.
Technology has begun shaping more adept students by moving away from traditional writing toward digital writing. Digital writing is described as “encompassing both the set of skills needed to operate technologies as well as to present a message in a rhetorically sophisticated way” (Hawley, 58). Jen Rajchel, author of Consider the Audience, and Leigh Wright, author of Tweet Me a Story, share how digital writing transforms students’ writing to a higher level. Both authors explain that digital writing comes hand-and-hand with having an audience. Rajchel compares online writing to being “on stage,” which acts as a healthy pressure to produce exceptional writing. Typically, in traditional writing, the only audience the student has to impress is their teacher. Conversely, in digital writing, the audience is limitless; this forces students to establish a style that can appeal to more than a single person. By attracting a wide audience, an online community is established that leads to a “path of discussion.” Wright shows how this discussion can be achieved through Twitter. Some students had to report a school basketball game on Twitter while others developed a plot line based off of characters. By utilizing Twitter in an unusual manner, students successfully created an online community that encouraged conversation.
Several of years ago, the majority of us would not have anticipated using Twitter as a tool to enhance writing. However, due to the progressions in technology, digital literacy now plays a prominent role in our world. By engaging in digital writing, we are able to establish an environment that fosters a diverse dialogue within a large audience. Upon exiting the college “bubble” and entering the real world, we are destined to encounter multiple personalities and learning styles. Understanding how to engage in a diverse, online community will help us reach our fullest potential. Rajchel stresses the importance of digital writing in the classroom setting:
“Fortunately, liberal arts students with an understanding of historicized technological shifts and who are encouraged to recognize their experiences as part of a larger and longer framework of media change, are well-positioned to push the boundaries of their own scholarship and to become sophisticated readers and writers of the web.”
Rajchel and Wright demonstrate how students can take advantage of digital resources to complement our writing in new, unimaginable ways. Digital writing allows students to express themselves while simultaneously engaging an extensive audience. Whether it is through creating a digital poetry thesis or tweeting for a class assignment, embracing technology opens many doors for students.
The new opportunities available to students has changed the mold of the “typical” student. As a result, the term “digital natives” is often used to describe students today. The inundation of technology has changed the way students’ brains are hardwired. It is necessary for teachers to integrate technology in the classroom because the classroom is the foundation for good writing, “…teaching digital writing is an issue of community literacy-one with local and global consequences” (Hawley, 57). One way teachers have started to assimilate technology is through digital storytelling. Digital storytelling is described as “giving expression to old forms of storytelling in a modern way” (Digital Storytelling Association). Digital storytelling develops well-rounded students because it requires an understanding of skills in addition to writing. It adds personal meaning to students work so students develop a greater enthusiasm toward their work.
One teacher used book trailers which is the same concept as designing a movie trailer, but for a book. Book trailers are used to encourage reluctant readers to read; they are digital stories that are “designed to persuade viewers to read a text” (Morgan, pg. 23). The process of creating book trailers allows students to engage in a range of skills such as reading and re-reading a text, choosing images to compliment the book, and writing a script that shows the message the student wishes to portray. Digital storytelling makes students more attentive to the media that surrounds them and increases academic achievements by stimulating imaginations and encouraging creativity. Similar to digital storytelling, the use of CD ROM’s is another technique being used to support digital writing. Jewitt explains that often times the image overshadows the word in many texts (317). This idea is known as typography – a visualization of word which contributes to the ways in which students make meaning of a text (321). One class used a CD ROM for the novel, Of Mice and Men. Due to the multimodal aspects of the CD ROM, “the reader [had] to construct a narrative or assert her or his own meaning via their path through a text” (Jewitt, pg. 329). This unique use of technology complements students’ writing by forcing them to think on a deeper and more intellectual level. Although digital storytelling and CD ROM’s are different techniques than those shared by Rajchel and Wright, they all produce a similar result in students. By using digital media, students can take the knowledge acquired and translate it for the complex situations we will inevitably experience outside of the classroom.
How They Really Talk by Ann Amicucci demonstrates how student’s digital writing experiences at school prepared them for real life situations. Craig, a college student explained how his Spanish class allowed his writing to “actually [be] applied in life” (468). Craig used Facebook and text messaging as a method to practice communicating to others in Spanish. According to Craig, using social media allowed him to write in a manner that was more useful than memorizing words from a textbook. The idea of having an audience was mentioned again: “Craig’s idea here was that if academic writing activities were created so that students had an existing audience in mind while writing-other than teacher or classroom peers-students could be promoted to think more closely about how they write” (487). I believe that students pay more attention to their work knowing that their writing will be exposed to the public. Even in this digital writing class, the majority of students revealed that they spent more time rereading and editing their writing than they do for traditional essays. Again, their reasoning behind this was because they are conscious of the online audience and want to leave the best impression possible.
Sarah was another student who talked about “netspeak” – a short-form digital communication marked by abbreviations and acronyms such as u or lol (487). She explained the difference between the “lingo” she uses on social media platforms versus the “proper English” teachers often expect in their classrooms. Critics of digital technology often assume that using slang terms in social media leads to negative consequences in learning however, this is not the case. Netspeak correlates positively with literacy capabilities, debunking the claim that social media lingo has a damaging impact on literacy skills. In the real world, being assigned to write a formalized five paragraph essay is unlikely. It is more reasonable to assume that we will have to write in a way that parallels the way we speak; this is far more natural. Even the top writers at New York Times typically write in styles that use words that are more similar to “lingo” than “proper English.” This is an enlightening discovery because it reveals how digital writing can indeed produce rich literacy skills.
Life Beyond the Limestone: My Time at Dickinson Beyond Graduation
In addition to this digital writing class, my first year seminar focused on the impact of technology on education. Both of these classes have provided a variety of assignments that required me to think outside of my comfort zone. In my first year seminar, we commented on our class blog page, created a Google plus and Twitter account and created our own digital story addressing the question: how technology and digital literacy have shaped who we are as individuals. My first year seminar was the first time I had any type of experience with digital media platforms. I was just getting the feel for what digital platforms had to offer students like me. However, as a senior now and taking this digital writing class, I have developed a better understanding on what digital writing has to offer.
Prior to these two classes, I will admit I thought writing was “just writing.” I am fortunate to say that expanding my knowledge on digital writing has changed my view on what writing is and what it can offer. I believe that digital writing allows something that may initially appear flat, come to life. Because digital writing involves multimodal aspects, it teaches us to view things in alternative ways. Consequently, we are able to partake in “out-of-the-box” thinking which molds us into more successful individuals. Hawley states, “Digital writing is more than simply texting or being able to surf the web; it is a rhetorical and intentional act, and has the potential to empower individuals and communities” (60). I strongly agree with this statement and believe that more schools should offer digital writing classes. The more education people receive on what digital writing has to offer, the more the idea will spread. Consequently, digital writing classes will no longer be an exception and instead become a norm as an offered class.
Personally, throughout my time in middle and high school, I remember asking myself how memorizing a specific date in history or how learning Sine, Cosine, and Tangent in math class would assist me once I left the classroom. To this day, I cannot answer this question. What I do know, however, is that my exposure to digital writing will help me become a more effective citizen and leader in everyday life. Understanding how to communicate in a public setting and expose my ideas to others are vital components to any leadership position. Digital writing forces students to adapt these skills. It is for this reason that I believe that digital writing should no longer be considered a special skill, but rather a necessity.
As a psychology major, I am interested in the way people think. One aspect of digital writing that I truly enjoy is the fact that I am able to see what others are thinking. Because digital writing is online writing, I have access to works produced by classmates, professors and even well-established bloggers. Viewing the perspectives of others allows me to challenge my ideas and pushes me to expand my opinions. Having the ability to understand where others are coming from is a crucial skill to have in today’s world. Keeping our thoughts to ourselves is no longer sufficient if we want to be successful. As Stephen Johnson says, due to the fluidity of today’s world, the best ideas come about through collaboration (TED Talk).
Not only does digital writing help us engage within our own network, but it applies nationally and internationally as well. My cross-cultural psychology class has had several discussions on how digital platforms can bring individuals together who live on opposite sides of the world. Dickinson emphasizes the importance of globalization. Because digital technologies have the capability of making the world a more interconnected place, it is evident that digital writing should receive more emphasis in the world of education. I am thankful that Dickinson has provided me the opportunity to explore classes such as this one as well as my first year seminar. I believe that other schools should include similar classes in their curriculum so more students can experience digital writing. A few days ago I interviewed my first year seminar professor, Liz Lewis who shares similar views as myself in regards to the importance of digital writing.
I enjoyed speaking with Professor Lewis because she brought up several good points. Digital writing is not replacing traditional writing; however: it is a skill that greatly enhances writing. As she says, digital writing has become an expectation in our world; therefore, immersing ourselves as students in all aspects of digital writing, will only help us.
I hope to take the skills I have learned throughout my time in college, especially those from this class and my first year seminar, and apply them to the marketing/advertising field. This past summer, I interned at a company that specialized in brand marketing, specifically by creating online websites. All of the websites entailed multimodal aspects. In addition to the actual writing on the pages, they had engaging photographs and links to several social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
By taking what I have learned in this class and applying my background in psychology, I seek to further advance the ways in which the marketing/advertising industry impacts people. For example, I would be interested in promoting the use of digital writing for autistic children. Most autistic children learn in different ways than their peers. I believe that increasing the use of digital writing among autistic children would stimulate their learning experience. Many autistic children have a difficult time interacting with others in person however, digital technologies would alleviate this challenge. Learning to write for an online environment would allow autistic students to interact with others virtually. Instead of viewing an audience as a threat, autistic children would feel more comfortable with an online community. This would open new doors for them to engage and participate in conversations they may otherwise avoid.
The other day I discovered that my research topic for my criminal procedure class was relatively old and as a result there were very few articles on the topic on the online databases. I found myself checking out books from the library, which I will admit, felt pretty strange. This being said, while it is somewhat overwhelming to watch the world change drastically before our eyes in such a short period of time; I believe that the change we are experiencing will be very beneficial. Through additional research and personal experience, I can say with confidence that because of the wide audience, collaboration, and multimodal aspects involved in digital writing, students will be well prepared for the real world. I remember a speech given by Neil Weissman, Provost and Dean of the College, during my tour at Dickinson as a high school student. Provost Weissman said that Dickinson would provide students with an education “without an expiration date”. Having the opportunity to take several digital writing classes during my time at Dickinson, I can confirm Provost Weissman’s statement. These classes have taught me many applicable skills that will never go to waste.
Amuicucci, Ann. “How they Really Talk: Two Students’ Perspectives on Digital Literacies in the Writing Classroom.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 57 (2014): 483-491. Web. 12. Oct. 2014.
Hawley, Kristen and Hicks, Troy. “ ‘That’s not Writing’: Exploring the Intersection of Digital Writing, Community Literacy, and Social Justice.” Community Literacy Journal, 6 (2012): 55-78. Web. 12. Oct. 2014.
Jewitt, Carey. “Multimodality, ‘Reading’, and ‘Writing’ for the 21st Century”. Discourse: studies in the cultural politics of education (2005): 315-331.
Morgan, Hani. “Using Digital Story Projects to Help Students Improve in Reading and Writing.” Reading Improvement, 51 (2014): 20-27. Web. 12. Oct. 2014.
Rajchel, Jen. “Consider the Audience.” Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning. Eds. Jack Dougherty and Tennyson O’Donnell. http://epress.trincoll.edu/webwriting/chapter/rajchel/. Web. 22 Oct. 2014.
Wright, Leigh. “Tweet Me a Story.” Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning. Eds. Jack Dougherty and Tennyson O’Donnell. http://epress.trincoll.edu/webwriting/chapter/wright/. Web. 22 Oct. 2014.