We are living in an era of digital and technological uprise. The Internet has drastically changed how we communicate, learn, educate, connect, network and so on. As the web continues become an integral part of our daily lives, so is digital writing. Digital writing can take many different forms, a tweet, a blog post, a Facebook status, and so on. Because we are constantly surrounded by various types of social media by use of our smartphones, tablets and laptops, we are provided with endless amounts of web writing, wether we notice it or not!
“When we use the term ‘digital writing’ we refer to a changed writing environment-that is, to writing produced on the computer and distributed via the internet and world wide web… Connectivity allows writers to access and participate more seamlessly and instantaneously within web spaces and to distribute writing to large and widely dispersed audiences”(Why Teach Digital Writing?).
The word connectivity is important when thinking about digital writing. Because the internet has provided us with an incredibly large network, every time we post to a social media or web outlet we are connecting with other people. The instant distribution of digital writing to a large group of people can be incredibly useful.
In his essay Why Digital Writing Matters in Education, Jeff Grabill states the two biggest reasons why digital writing matters,
- Digital writing challenges what counts as writing and reveals the gap between how writing works in the world and how we teach it in schools.
- Digital writing platforms and services are ways to innovate instruction and learning
Digital writing provides us with the opportunities to learn and grow. By displaying these gaps that Grabill mentions, and also by expanding our reach via the many digital platforms we now have access to. Traditional academic spaces are often constricting. As college students, we are usually writing for the very small audience of our professors. By incorporating web writing into our courses we are given the opportunity to widen our reach and receive feedback from a variety of people. The challenge that comes with digital writing is learning how to adapt.
“The ability to compose documents with multiple media, to publish this writing quickly, to distribute it to mass audiences, and to allow audiences to interact with this writing (and with writers) challenges many of the traditional principles and practices of composition, which are based (implicitly) on a print view of writing. The changing nature and contexts of composing impacts meaning making it at every turn” (Why Teach Digital Writing?). This type of writing is quite different from the type of academic writing we as college students have been trained in for years. Suddenly we are able to include multimodal elements, such as audio and video, we are able to reach a large audience in seconds and we are also able to change our tone and approach in order to fit our new audience.
In her essay Consider the Audience, Jen Rajchel provides her own definition of digital or web writing as she calls it.
“Web writing is more than writing for the web- including the flexibility of multimodal pieces, the ability to nimbly circulate and the capacity to create a network of texts. Web writing is also inherently about seeding the development of more opportunities to circulate student work while still foregrounding the difficult navigation of the public/private that accompany them”
One way for students to experiment with digital writing is through twitter. Although most people think of twitter as simply as social media outlet used by young people to communicate with friends, twitter provides a great opportunity for learning. Leigh Wright shares her methods on the ways in which twitter can be used academically in her essay Tweet Me a Story. “I have used Twitter to teach students how to write concisely, how to think quickly, and how to take the social media conversation, weave it with their own narration and craft a social media story on a digital platform” . Writing concisely is one of the most important aspects of digital writing. We live in a world were attention spans grow shorter and shorter the busier and busier we get. Twitter is a wonderful way to get a point across, or grab a readers attention in only 140 characters.
Another way to get involved in digital writing is through blogging. In his essay Professors, Start Your Blogs, Dan Cohen tackles many of the negative stigmas academics associate with blogs. He encourages his peers to start their own blogs in order to improve the ‘blogosphere’ and he reminds his readers that “Writing a blog lets you reach out to an enormous audience beyond academia. Some professors may not want that audience, but I believe it’s part of our duty as teachers, experts, and public servants. It’s great that the medium of the web has come along to enable that communication at low cost.” Blogging is an outlet that most might not realize has potential for academic use, but blogs are a great way for professors, students or anyone to acquaint themselves with digital writing.
Digital Writing is important to me because it allowed me to find an outlet for a part of my life I otherwise had a difficult time finding a place for. My project this semester is a memoir style blog about my Dad’s reunion with his birth mother. It is truly a wonderful story, one worth sharing with the world, and I do tell anyone that is willing to listen all about it. My blog has allowed me to document the story and gives me the ability to share it with as many or as few people as I would like to. Blogging gives you the opportunity to write freely. As a busy student I often would think it would be great to write about my Dad and his incredibly life story, but simply never had the time. This class has provided me with a reason to write, and has also reminded me how good it feels to express feeling through words, something we often forget after writing our fourth 8-page research paper of the semester.
One aspect of blogging I have had a difficult time with is the publicness. As I mentioned earlier, as college students we are quite used to our professors being the only eyes on our work. So, for me, I was torn between wanting to share my blog with the world because its such a great story and also feeling anxious about what people will think of my writing. In her post How Public Like a Frog: On Academic Blogging, Natalia Cecire writes about the kind of anxieties I initially felt about blogging,
“Thinking in public is a difficult habit to get into, though, 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. This is particularly a problem for academics, who are, after all, professional thinkers; we have a culture of making it look easy”
I realized that regardless of how nervous I felt about my writing being out in the public, it was going to have to happen. This class helped force me out of my comfort zone and explore my abilities as a writer and a thinker. After publishing my first post, I felt an immediate surge of empowerment and confidence. There is something very satisfying about sharing your work with the world. I feel that more students at Dickinson, and everywhere should be able to share this experience with writing.
Cecire, Natalia. “How Public Like a Frog: On Academic Blogging.” Arcade (blog). Stanford University. 20 April 2011. Web. 30 October 2014.
Cohen, Dan. “Professors, Start Your Blogs.” Dan Cohen (blog). Dan Cohen. 21 August 2006. Web. 30 October 2014.
Grabill, Jeff. “Why Digital Writing Matters in Education.” Edutopia (blog). George Lucas Educational Foundation. 11 June 2012. Web. 30 October 2014.
Rajchel, Jen. “Consider the Audience.” Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning. Eds. Jack Dougherty and Tennyson O’Donnell. Trinity College ePress edition, 2014. EBook. 30 October 2014.
Wide Research Center. Why Teach Digital Writing. Michigan State University. Web. 30 October 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. Trinity College ePress edition, 2014. EBook. 30 October 2014.