The Digital Uprising in the Classroom

Part I: the Revolution

Technology has lately become the closest human kind has to a physical manifestation of God. No matter we are, regardless of we are doing, we cannot escape it; it is an omniscient and omnipresent force. Whether we are toiling away at work, scribbling notes in the classroom, or relaxing at the beach or in the park either ourselves or someone around us is using some form of technology or is carrying it on their person. The internet and the electronic devices meant to utilize it are every day changing the way we live and interact with one another, and it will inevitably alter the way we learn as well. Aaron Hess, Assistant Professor of Communication at Arizona State University explains in his article titled, “You Are What You Compute (and What is Computed For You): Considerations of Digital Rhetorical Identification”, that, “Technology has progressed to the point where everyday users carry around and have access to massive amounts of data in their very pockets… Consequently, we have become more than just “attached at the hip” with our digital devices; we have become one with them,” (Hess).  As a result of this, we are witnessing one of the most momentous changes in how writing is created and distributed since the rise of the printing press. With a few strokes on the keyboard and the click of a mouse, anyone anywhere can change the lives of people around the world in places they may not even know exist through their writing. The future of writing lies not in the bound book, the magazine, or the newspaper but on online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and in blogs like this one.

The question now becomes not whether we should integrate this technology into the classroom, but how? Many classrooms are already going online, especially those dealing with topics such as writing and journalism. As Mary Hocks tells us in her article, “Understanding Visual Rhetoric in Digital Environments”, “With access to digital technologies increasing (or simply assumed) in our college writing courses, interactive digital media have increasingly become part of what we analyze and teach when [instructors] teach writing,” (Hocks 631). As technology becomes more and more a part of the classroom and the world at large, drastic changes in writing will inevitably take place as well: “We would argue that we are in the very late age of print, well into a world of writing and document distribution that primarily happens digitally,” ( Students across the curriculum should be prepared by their professors to have the skills necessary to communicate effectively online, lest they be left in the dust by their more tech-savvy peers. Gone is the old world of academic discourse in which intellectuals would publish their thoughts in journals and books. Scholarly discourse can now take place in an online chat room or in a Google Hangout in front of large audience from around the world. This new arena also affects how ideas and arguments are written, as the audience for an article published online is global. Due to the fact that, “Networked devices create a new kind of writing space, and this space changes not only writing processes, but also communication dynamics between writers and readers, and between writers and the devices themselves,” writers must be able to write not only for their peers at their university or in their chosen field of work, but for those on the outside looking in (


“April: Technology Industry Update.” N.d. Web. 29 October. 2015.

If and when instructors teach their students to be ‘digitally literate’, that is, equipped with the proper skills to fully utilize new forms of digital technology, this new crop of writers will be able to take advantage of the most immensely powerful tools the internet can provide: the ability to make their stories, articles, and manuscripts multimodal, that is, to integrate images, texts, sound, and even video into their writing in order to enhance the experience of their readers. Not until now, “have writers had at their fingertips the tools to almost seamlessly integrate text and graphics… and to dynamically publish and widely distribute the products of that convergence to virtual spaces,” ( Suddenly, online authors have the opportunity to engage their readers with videos and sounds that can illuminate the topics about which they are writing like nothing ever has. If a writer doesn’t think he or she can quite explain the subject matter well enough to his or her audience, he or she can simply insert a video onto the webpage of someone who can. Or if an author thinks he or she will have trouble keeping his or her readers’ attention, he or she can take a few seconds to insert some colorful images or graphics that make the subject matter more palatable for his or her audience. Online authors can use and are using these multimodal tools to transform writing as we know it.

Part II: Obstacles

There are, however challenges we must face when attempting to integrate technology into  the classroom as well as the rest of society. In his article, “Digital Rhetoric: Toward an Inegrated Theory”, James Zappen, Professor of Communications and Media at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, explains that while the advent of digital writing is exciting , there are difficulties that will have to be dealt with in, “adapting a rhetorical tradition more than 2,000 years old to the conditions and constraints of the new digital media,” (Zappen). It will be a very long and arduous task for writers and writing to adapt to the digital age as it is the most monumental change in written communication in the millennia of their existence. Another consequence of the new world that the internet has given us access to, along with the anonymity provided by it, people often develop new identities when writing online. This online identity may end up altering a person’s real-life persona, or it may develop into a kind of separate personality altogether. As Zappen writes, “a complex negotiation between various versions of our online and our real selves, between our many representations of our selves and our listeners and readers,” is constantly taking place on the internet (Zappen).  Writers in the digital realm must be careful not to lose themselves online as they could find themselves so caught up in writing for their worldwide audience that they lose focus on what their message or topic was in the first place. Sherry Turkle, Professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, goes on to say that, “Tethered to technology, we are shaken when world ‘unplugged’ does not signify, does not satisfy. After an evening of avatar-to-avatar talk in a networked game, we feel, at one moment, in possession of a full social life and, in the next, curiously isolated, in tenuous complicity with strangers. We build a following on Facebook or MySpace and wonder to what degree our followers are friends,” (Turkle 88). At the same time that we think we are making personal connections with people we also feel alienated from them as they are miles and miles removed from us. Online authors will have to figure out how to deal with being alienated from their readers and how to balance their writing between their peers and their global, digital, audience.


“Addiction to technology may cause a disconnect to nature”. 14 November. 2014. Web. 29 October. 2015.

The advent of the internet is not the first major revolution in the history of writing. Other massive changes in writing in history such as the invention of the printing press have led to gargantuan alterations in culture and the course of human development. How will the digital age change us and our ways of writing about and thinking about the world? Only time will tell.

Part III: Perspective

As an English major, digital writing affects my academic life greatly. This goes beyond books and other assigned reading being transferred onto sites like Moodle and being able to go online to check which assignments are due when. Since my major leads me to pursue a career in writing in one form or another, it is an inevitability that I will have to be ‘digitally literate’ if I want to have a good chance at landing a job in the future. However, this is mean more than just basic Microsoft Word or social media skills. I will have to know how to write for an audience of people who, for the most part, has been a part of the online world for most of their lives. I will have to know how to integrate multimodal aspects into my writing and know the ins and outs of how to spread what I write throughout the web. Having a class that teaches me how to write for digital environments and audiences, or any class including an online writing aspect in general, is important to me because it can help me be prepared for the job market that I will have as a writer in the future.


“American College of Management and Technology”. 30 June. 2012. Web. 29 October. 2015.

Luckily for myself and other students, there are courses offered in my major that can equip with the skills I need, a prime example being this one, ‘Writing in and for Digital Environments’. The case is much the same for students in other departments at Dickinson, as friends of mine who take classes in the sciences do nearly all of their homework with the help of a computer. Doing things like molecular modeling or writing about their lab experiments online are helping students become properly equipped for the job markets of the present and future. One can only hope this upward trend in digital literacy continues so that the next generation of workers help spur on the digital revolution and perhaps even start the next one.


Sources Cited

  1. “Teaching Digital Rhetoric: Community, Critical Engagement, and Application.” Pedagogy 6.2 (2006): 231-59. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.
  2. Hess, Aaron. “You Are What You Compute (and What Is Computed For You): Considerations of Digital Rhetorical Identification.” Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric 4.1/2 (2014): n. pag. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.
  3. Hocks, Mary E. “Understanding Visual Rhetoric in Digital Writing Environments.” College Composition and Communication 54.4 (2003): 629-56. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.
  4. Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
  5. Zappen, James P. “Digital Rhetoric: Toward an Integrated Theory.” Technical Communication Quarterly 14.3 (2005): 319-25. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.
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