When AOL gave me my first glimpse of the internet I was hooked. Immediately I created my first AIM screenname (Trexer6) so I could communicate “rapidly” with my friends on this new platform. This marked the first taste I got of the high-speed, technology based world we live in today. Little did I know of the massive technology advances that would occur during my short existence? Never in a million years would I have guessed that during my undergraduate college career I would take a class on how to write specifically for the digital environment. Who knew of all the differences that made writing online unique? I know I didn’t. Up until this semester I would have told you that there are differences between a lab report and a research paper but not in the actual writing itself. To further this discussion, I need to describe what digital writing is and how has it changed the way we write?
Digital Writing: What is it?
Digital writing is almost anything that is written on the web or for the web. For instance, almost every day I wake up and cruise through Twitter and Reddit for anything interesting. If I liked a certain topic, I can instantly tweet about it and pitch my two cents to the world. On the other hand, creating my blog posts require constant revision and critiquing before I will publish it. Digital writing differs from its analog ancestors in its speed of publicity and accessibility. Hit that publish button and BOOM, what you wrote is out there for the world to see. Though digital writing has many characteristics, I am focusing on just a few. Initially, I want to show how it has caused us to rethink the way we have been taught to write, specifically our tone to the audience. Also, we have to address the speed of publication as well as public collaboration. Finally, I will discuss the “digital divide” aka “Back in my day” vs. the “digital natives” (Morgan 2014). Younger generations are fully immersed in technology from the day they are born. Because of this, there is a push to bump up the amount of technology in the classroom but we will get to that later. For now, let’s pull back the curtains and meet our audience.
Who is our Audience?
Ok so I am not actually talking about a play audience but you get the idea. When publishing online the show is our words and anyone with a computer is in the seats. Digital writing differs from analog writing in many ways but mainly in that it is alive. Rorabaugh establishes several differences in his article Organic Writing and Digital Media: Seeds and Organs:
“Digital environments maximized the potential for organic writing in three distinct ways: they rebuild “audience,” expose the organic layers of a composition, and invite outside participation in key stages along the way.”
Expanding on his notable differences between these two forms of writing would be to focus on the difference in audience. When writing in the analog world it is commonly known who you are writing for: whether this is a teacher’s prompt you are responding to or a science-fiction novel that you hope to publish. These two writing pieces would definitely have a different style, tone, and overall feel in the words themselves. A wonderful thing about writing in the digital environment is that it opens a highway of readers rather than a one-lane road.
Yes one could argue that there is still a large difference between the online writings of the New York Times and a start-up blog but that lays more in level of professionalism and expertise rather than audience. Online there is no way to predict who will read your writing. To address this, digital writing has to be engaging in each line. In Sean Michael Morris’s article about the Digital Writing Uprising: Third-order Thinking in the Digital Humanities he comments on the use of famous opening lines in books and how they catch the reader’s attention. While paper writing uses one hook to catch its reader, digital writing tosses out ten hooks to keep you coming back for more. Though the online audience changes, it is important to maintain a specific tone for your specific audience. Writing a cooking blog aimed for broke college students would have a very different tone than a professional chef’s blog. This aspect of understanding your audience and the proper tone separates a great online work from just another essay.
On the Stage: Public publishing
When I finish revising my blog posts there is only one step left, publish it. At this point I stare at the publish button like it is a detonator because I know hitting that button blows up the walls of privacy and lets the world see my work. Once you publish something online there is no going back. Digital writing is a public leap of faith. Rajchel describes this leap in the following, “When students publish online, they assume the responsibilities of authorship.”(Rajchel 2014). One result of public authorship is the comments you can receive on your work. These comments can range from helpful advice to harsh criticisms. Either way, owning your work online is rewarding because it allows for differences of opinions. This is the chance you take when writing online. Public eye can lead to collaboration or harsh critiquing but both of these occur because of writing in the digital world.
Bridging the gap: How do we fight the Digital divide?
Though digital writing is a key piece of the digital age, being able to use technology in general is something that causes problems in current times. There is a major gap in the way our current generation of “digital natives” (Morgan 2014) use and understand technology compared to the generations above and below us. The term for this inequality of digital literacy is coined as the digital divide. This divide is most recognizable between older and younger generations. In the intro of her article Hicks says that “it is estimated that the learning curve on technology doubles every 18 months,” (Hicks 2011). Personally I can already see this difference between my younger neighbors and I with video games and gadgets. Being that it is noticeable for me, I cannot imagine the gap felt by older generations. For instance, my parents were around during the first attempts to use computers in college whereas I cannot grasp the idea of completing assignments without my computer. Because of this divide, teachers and older generations are being encouraged to embrace technology rather than run form it. The digital era is one that is growing exponentially so at least attempting to keep up should be the goal for all of us.
Being that digital technology is constantly improving and evolving, there has been a push to integrate more digital aspects into learning environment from kindergarten to college courses. This idea is captured in Morgan’s article in which she discusses the idea that teachers should use all of the technology around to their advantage. Specifically, the use of electronic storyboards to increase writing, creativity, as well as reading was highlighted. Morgan goes to explain that, “Students also gain awareness of purpose and from because an audience usually views the digital story upon completion.” (Morgan 2014). This use of digital accessories in the classroom proved to be successful in unlocking creative writing skills that might not have been opened up through conventional English teachings.
Whereas Morgan shows the effect of using electronic storybooks in the classroom, Hicks calls upon teachers to make a genuine effort to use technology while teaching. “Classroom expectations and education standards have also changed because of the integration of technology in the classroom, resulting in technology becoming a classroom necessity rather than a luxury.” (Hicks 2011). This article goes on to describe the multitasking attention span of the “digital natives”. An experiment showed that 5 year olds who played with toys while watching TV retained the same amount of information as those who were undisturbed. Being that our minds have grown up in this “instant” environment, many of our generation have trouble learning through old practices. They are too boring for the fast pace of how we live. Hicks also quotes a neuroscience institute that shows “the brains of digital natives were more actively engaged while navigating a web-page, as opposed to reading a book” (Herther 2009). Though sometimes afraid of making mistakes in front of the class, teachers need to attempt to make their lesson plans more multimodal to appeal to the younger generations.
Though not mentioned above, there are other aspects of the digital divide other than age. A major factor is also socioeconomic status. Many schools that are located in areas of poverty struggle to educate their students on new technology. Inner city and rural areas are commonly in this group. Because of this these areas go out of their way to fully embrace the technology they own. The Department of Education released an article called Feature: Writing and Learning in the Digital Age – “Digital Is” in which they discussed technology in classrooms. In this article there were several groups that were highlighted for their efforts in digital collaboration. Some of these groups went above and beyond with what they were able to accomplish. My personal favorite (biased because I am from the area) showed 4th graders in Philadelphia that conducted research and wrote scripts in order to post a podcast. Throughout this experience they were encouraged to work together and the result was many proud students that could call this their own work. Below is a video documenting the work they did
Impact of Digital World on My life
Digital writing and the digital world in general have had huge impacts in my life and will continue to do so in my future. The advances in technology in many fields allow for more sustainable practices as well as increases in efficiency.
At Dickinson, technology has aided my ability to communicate with others. I am currently the president of the Pre-Dental society at Dickinson and our club has used the digital world several times for meetings and learning situations. For example, last year we had a Skype session with one of the members of Cornell’s dental school admissions committee. Without digital communication sources such as Skype this event would have never occurred. Also, this summer my family and I compiled a large collection of required classes and general information about many dental schools. I emailed this compilation to the younger students in the dental society so that they would have quick access to this information. Not only was this method faster, it was more sustainable because I did not have to print these packets. Even something as simple as being able to group the members of this society into one email list is a time-saving practice that often gets overlooked.
While pursuing a career in dentistry I have seen major increases in digital models for learning about dental anatomy. This digital movement allows dental schools to increase their class sizes because of increased accessibility with hands on equipment. For example, when I had my dental interview the school had added a new floor solely for the purpose of digital models. At every chair there was a skull model that digitally appeared on the computer screen. In addition to this, each seat was equipped with the newest and best dental equipment in order to familiarize current students with the tools they would see as a current dentist. Greater work areas allow this school to take on larger amounts of students with each incoming class without sacrificing their academic standards. The use of these digital models also greatly decreases the use of materials, saving the school money and being more sustainable. Technology is rapidly changing for the better and like the education field, dentists need to jump on board or get left behind.
Hicks, Stephanie Diamond. “Technology in Today’s Classroom: Are You A Tech-Savvy Teacher?” Clearing House 84.5 (2011): 188-191. Web 28 October 2014.
Melendez, Margarita. “Feature: Writing and Learning in the Digital Age – “Digital Is””U.S. Department of Education. United States Government, 25 Apr. 2013. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.
Morgan, Hani. “Using Digital Story Projects to Help Students Improve in Reading and Writing.” Reading Improvements 51.1 (2014): 20-26. Web 26 October 2014.
Morris, Sean Michael. “Digital Writing Uprising: Third-order Thinking in the Digital Humanities.” Hybrid Pedagogy. N.p., 8 October 2012. Web. 22 October 2014.
Jen Rajchel, “Consider the Audience,” in Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning, ed. Jack Dougherty and Tennyson O’Donnell (University of Michigan Press/Trinity College ePress edition, 2014), http://epress.trincoll.edu/webwriting/chapter/rajchel.
Rorabaugh, Pete. “Organic Writing and Digital Media: Seeds and Organs – Hybrid Pedagogy.” Hybrid Pedagogy. N.p., 21 June 2012. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.