In the past few decades, technology and more specifically digital media have been evolving in such a fast pace that often people cannot follow. These new technologies are affecting our daily lives in so many different ways, that’s why we need to and must adapt to technology and everything it embraces, keeping up with changes it brings.
If we consider schools and worldwide education, not much has been done to include these changes in a new and evolved environment even if students are way more comfortable with it than anything else: “these young people are among the first to grow up with an expectation of continuous connection: always on, and always on them” (Turkle 92). Even though, nowadays, digital media are so important in students’ lives we still need teachers to guide them through these new possibilities, and class blogs are the best way to do it: they help communication, education, and social relationships.
Schools and the whole education system do not believe or trust in these digital technologies, but we are actually in a “new age” where knowledge must be widened to digital media too, because it is a means to learn, read, and write in a different – not wrong – way. However, there is “hope” and this is thanks to the National Writing Project (NWP) which is a United States professional development network that serves teachers of writing at all grade levels and which has as its aim and mission to improve student achievement by improving the teaching of writing and improving learning in the nation’s schools (DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl e Hicks 15-16).
During thirty-five years of hard work, the NWP improved the quality of learning and writing in American schools. In particular, one of the last book conceived by the NWP is specifically about writing through digital media, Because Digital Writing Matters (2010). It focuses its attention particularly to the irreducible importance of writing in this new changed and always evolving environment. The previous edition of this book was about writing in general, Because Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Our Schools (2006): after just four years it needed a slight editing because as the authors states “much has changed in the landscape of what it means to write and to be a writer since 2003. Social networking and collaborative writing technologies have taken hold, if not always in our schools, certainly among our students” (DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl e Hicks 1). It’s also clear from this text that “young people today have an unprecedented level of access to a wider range of content and connectivity than ever before, yet access [alone] does not ensure that reflection and learning take place. Student writers still need thoughtful and well-prepared teachers and mentors. Computer will not replace teachers, nor should they” (DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl e Hicks 2). The importance of teachers and their mediation are the key for the students, teachers still have and have to keep their role as guides through the learning process. After the relationship between teachers and students towards the digital environment, the authors focus their attention on another important relationship, that between parents regarding digital writing. Through different charts and surveys, they demonstrate that “families are interested in seeing schools take advantage of new digital tools to help students learn and compose. But parents are not interested in students simply being turned toward technology indiscriminately, and they are sometimes conflicted about whether these tools help or hurt” (DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl e Hicks 9). They also give a very concise and pragmatic definition of digital writing that sums up and even clarifies parents’ doubts: “Digital Writing is not simply a matter of learning about and integrating new digital tools into an unchanged repertoire of writing processes, practices, skills, and habits of mind. Digital writing is about the dramatic changes in the ecology of writing and communication and, indeed, what it means to write – to create and compose and share” (DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl e Hicks 4). Now, they also exemplify by showing different approaches on how or what digital writing might look like in the classroom, one of them is about regular blog postings on a school-hosted social network, commenting on their peers’ blogs, and participating in peer response. This example not only stimulates students to have fun while studying, but also allows everybody to “see new opportunities for creating, collaborating, communicating, and especially learning; and with these new opportunities come new challenges in supporting students to navigate the digital landscape wisely and well” (DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl e Hicks 11). Digital writing finally matters because, as Henry Jenkins found out in 2006, “participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement. The new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking. These skills build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom” (DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl e Hicks 11).
From another point of view is Margaret C. Hagood’s New Media and online literacies: No age left behind focuses. She focuses her attention on four major issues, concerning primarily the reading and the research in this new environment. In “Issue 1. Who is affected by new media and online literacies”, the author explains why new media and online technologies are not to be considered just for youngsters’ lives anymore, “because new media and online literacies are part and parcel our day-to-day lives, reading researchers and educators need to begin to view them as central aspect of literacy research. This means that new media and online literacies can no longer be considered only what youth do to the exclusion of what adults do or as an add on to the field of reading” (Hagood 387). She also wants to make clear that we need to evolve our way of thinking and go beyond our limits because “these literacies and their related practices should be recognized as literacy venues that have evolved concurrently with broadened definitions and understandings of terms such as texts and reading in the field of reading and in relation to other disciplines that study reading behaviors, including media and communication studies and cultural studies” (Hagood 387-388). In “Issue 2. Affecting the researched and the researcher”, Margaret Hagood compares the old way to the new one in order to exemplify how forms and functions of these new media are propelling changes for the way the research is conducted. “In short, the shift toward views of media and online texts as dynamic and indeterminate have forced researchers to begin to examine both production and consumption of texts in order to understand better how media and online literacies assist readers to facilitate particular ends” (Hagood 388).In “Issue 3. Conceptualizing the medium in the media”, she notes that “literacy educators have begun advocating for and researching an expanded notion of text that extends beyond traditional print-based reading and writing. These more expansive views of text and of reading have in the past decade or so become more central to the field of reading research and literacy studies” (Hagood 389). Finally, in her last issue “Crossing fields and media”, the author simply concludes her statement by noting that “in an age when adults and youngsters are concurrently learning how to use new media and online technologies, research on the topic needs to address multiple perspectives of users and uses” (Hagood 390).
What is actually digital or web writing about, though? “At one level, web writing is about writing on the web: the flexibility as a multimodal piece, the ability to nimbly circulate, and the capacity to create a network of texts. At another level, the practice is about writing for the web and situating ourselves as readers and writers within its evolving architecture. […] Web writing is about more than [simply] 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. ” (Rajchel). Jen Rajchel in his Consider the Audience gives an exhaustive explanation on what digital writing is and also makes it clear through his own experience. He also writes about the relationship between the students and their audience: “Audience is perhaps the most difficult negotiation of web writing, especially as we manage the circulation through various social platforms and code-switch for several interested parties. Audience is also the most exciting” (Rajchel). To make his own students realize the audience interaction, he then added Twitter to the class as an experiment and “for the first time, everyone in class talked, and for the same length of time. We began to consider the economy of a medium that allowed for a variety of voices and how such a constraint could helpfully influence engagement. The flow of replying and attributing became conscious, and the act of thinking aloud stimulated the collaborative shaping of an idea”. He made his point! But as he states: “There will never be a perfect schema for writing for the web. Interfaces are reconfigured regularly. Platforms wax and wane. From one day to the next, the conventions of how we interact online from reading and writing to connecting with friends, family, and employers rapidly shifts. Fortunately, liberal arts students […] are well-positioned to push the boundaries of their own scholarship and to become sophisticated readers and writers of the web” (Rajchel).
After Rajchel’s experiment, we saw that the bond between Twitter (social media) and an average college class just increased its students’ participation, interests, and learning skills. Now, what about blogs? But first, what is a blog’s function? In Blogging- It’s Good for You, Jessica Wapner, freelance writer, simply exemplifies that blogging (but also writing in general) is a way to self-medicate: “scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery” (Wapner). But, still, is it academically speaking worth to be add in a class? Journos and Bloggers: Can Both Survive? is actually an online article (more similar to a blog post) written by journalist, writer, and editor Staci D. Kramer. In this text, Kramer reflects upon the nature of journalism and blogging, if one can live without the other or if one is more important than the other. She concludes by stating that “journalists who write about blogging need to remember that a single blog or a kind of blog doesn’t represent all blogs, just as one journalist or media outlet doesn’t represent all journalists. And we all need to keep in mind that whether we are bloggers, journalists or both, our readers, viewers or users will judge the rest by what we do” (Kramer).
According to my personal experience, now, I can tell that I never had the chance to be in a participatory environment where blogs, social media or digital media were used in class since this semester. In my past, I always found myself dealing – or struggling – with books, notes, and books again. I never actually realized how easy studying and learning could have been by simply using, watching, studying, or reading media contents. In one of the class I’m taking, the professor asked us to write a blog about what we wanted or liked most. So we did, we are just at middle of the class so I can’t tell yet the final results of this “personal” project – because it actually becomes your own personal journey, something that belongs to you but, at the same time, a personal challenge. But, still it is an amazing adventure from which you never stops learning. When you write on a class-based blog, your first reaction is “I can’t be honest with my self, or with my audience because the Professor will be judging each attempt I’ll make” but, as a matter of fact it isn’t like this: it is actually a safe environment. You learn day by day new things, improve your writing skills, address your posts to an audience which you forge by simply using a topic and a style (of writing), you then learn how to relate to these particular readers, and finally you grow as a person through other peers’ point of view: sharing, commenting, and giving their own experience to you.
DeVoss, Danielle Nicole, et al. Because Digital Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Online and Multimedia Environments. Wiley, 2010.
Hagood, Margaret. “New Media and Online literacies: No Age Left Behind.” Reading Research Quarterly 38.3 (2003): 387-391.
Kramer, Staci D. “Online Journalism Review Focusing on the future of digital journalism .” 12 November 2004. USC Annenberg: School for Communication and Journalism. 21 October 2015 <http://ojr.org/ojr/workplace/1100245630.php>.
Rajchel, Jen. “Consider the Audience .” Dougherty, Jack and Tennyson O’Donnell. Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, n.d.
Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Basic Books, 2012.
Wapner, Jessica. “Blogging–It’s Good for You The therapeutic value of blogging becomes a focus of study.” 19 May 2008. Scientific American. 21 October 2015 <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-healthy-type/?print=true>.