Digital Writing: As a Liberal Arts Approach

Digital writing has a lot of stigma associated with it. Society has anxieties related to the Millennial generation being less literate and successful academically because of the close relationship they have with technology. It is quite the opposite, academia and literacy are getting an update, they are  growing and expanding to meet the needs of people today. Today every teenager or adolescent has access or personally owns at least one device that they use to go online and look at social media. “Evidence of reading’s decline in American life might run the risk of blinding us to signs of literary culture’s continued proliferation, including the increasing number of devices and platforms and services through which we read today,” said Fitzpatrick in “Networking in the Field“.  If the Millennial generation is so highly equipped with these devices and are so regularly using them then the means of educating them must change and adapt.

Digital Misbeliefs

“Anxieties about the effects of digital media abound: it’s too often taken as read that the technologies that facilitate such easy communication are causing our actual communications skills to deteriorate.” -Fitzpatrick

The negative stigma associated with digital writing and this digital age that the world is transitioning to stem from a misunderstanding. Society believes that Millennials and students that are constantly digitally engaged are less literate, they have poor grammar, and do not know how to write well.  Fitzpatrick claims that a common belief is that “today’s text messaging is undermining spelling and grammar, and Twitter is replacing critical thought with soundbites. And everyone knows that the kids today are managing to graduate from college without knowing how to write.” People believe that this generation is always multitasking and dividing their attention between so many things that Millennials can not create deeper connections or find distinct meanings within one.

A common misconception that people believe about a digitally connected generation is that technology is only used as social communication. When in reality teenagers and college students are self-publishing scholarly pieces and not just scrolling through Instagram or Twitter. But this creates another stigma associated with self-publications: Who is editing them? How can they be considered credible? People believe online writing is too democratic and easily changed, therefore nothing can be taken seriously or as truth. When in reality online writing creates a community and a networking of editing that may not have been accessed through print. In “Digital Literacy“, Lanham claims that “the new digital literacy is thus profoundly democratic. It insists that the rich mixture of perceptive talents once thought to distinguish a ruling aristocracy must now be extended to everyone.”

Digital Writing as Academically Effective


“More people in the U.S. [are] doing more writing than every before- and the opportunities for such writing, and for sharing this writing with others, have simply exploded.” -Fitzpatrick

Opportunity to Write and Develop

Online writing creates practice. Students who frequently use media platforms to write, other than in conversational terms, become practiced in writing and have the opportunity to develop their skills. In “Writing as Curation,” the authors Coco and Torres discuss types of assignments that are effective for incorporating digital writing in education. They believe that assignments such as blogging “prompts critical reflection about the application of disciplinary knowledge.” This prompts students to critically analyze information, choose what to include, and how to organize it consciously.  Another author analyzed education similarly, in “Tweet Me a Story“, by Leigh Wright, the author writes about using Twitter and other social media as effective means of teaching and social communication. “With just 140 characters, it forces the writer to focus. Every character matters.” This method teaches a student to write concisely and thoughtfully, every word matters. Wright, like Coco and Torres, claims that requiring students to tweet and curate their information for specific media platforms forces them to critically analyze the information and discover how to present it effectively. This development of analytical skills and practice of writing allows these students to relate to the concepts and further understand them. A student who tweets frequently or uses short captions on media often can now relate to lessons and apply skills that they may have already developed through their digital use. Therefore, this means of typical communication and source of stigma for Millennials has now become a tool in teaching and developing proper writing.

Coco and Torres also argue that writing blogs or other digital writings that are easily accessed and commented on allow student authors to find their voice “with a collective sense of shared knowledge that resides in a public sphere….and it require[s] the search for a collaboratively-inclined voice through which we can speak respectfully about others and ourselves.” In this article the authors claim that commentary on each other’s writing demonstrated the potential of digital writing to curate the skills of public scholarship and created “an infinite public community.” This community allows for students to connect and engage in their own writing through commentary  and find their own voice by engaging and critiquing  other’s work.

“One style does not fit every situation.” -Wright

When a student is able to find their own voice through an online community and in their digital writing, they can then begin to use specific voices for certain situations, with practice. “A student might experiment with a more engaging and creative style for an English class but need to develop a more authoritative style for a history  or political science class,” Wright claims. When a student has digital projects and assignments like those Coco, Torres, and Wright suggest they can begin to apply these skills across disciplines effectively.

Application of Knowledge

“Through digital writing we form a new relationship to our words: text becomes functional.”-Sean Michael Morris in “Digital Writing Uprising: Third-order Thinking in the Digital Humanities

Online writing pushes students towards “real world application of knowledge,” as Coco and Torres said. It allows students to analyze digital humanities and understand the learning benefits.

“Media studies, game studies, critical code studies, and various other disciplines have brought wonderful new things to humanistic study.” -Stephen Ramsey in “Stephen Ramsey: On Building

Coco and Torres argue that digital writing allows students to apply knowledge in new ways. When a student builds knowledge online using different tools that are visual, contextual, or create content in other forms they become engaged in ways they can not when just reading from a textbook or writing on a page. When they begin to critically analyze media platforms they apply principles learned in the classroom but differently. Students become “more critical users of digital technology.”

Morris argues that “there is no value to our writing except as it is made useful.” If writing online is only valuable in terms of readership, we begin to reconstruct our writing rather than just interpret it and our writing changes accordingly. Online platforms allow people to write and be openly critiqued and analyzed which makes people better writers. It allows students to get constant feedback on their work and apply their knowledge to give others feedback. Morris also says that “writing is both compiled and original.” Every writer incorporates their thoughts and opinions within the words they write.  But Morris states that the real caveat to digital writing is that “words are repurposed.. [and] they are reflown, for that is when we begin to detect multiple intentions and, like archaeologists, discover meaning lying below meaning.”


Communal Writing

Online writing allows students to transform their individual ideas and perspectives. Many scholars and writers today are writing a significant amount online, in informal venues or academic venues in order to get feedback and reach an audience more quickly and directly. Coco and Torres said that writing online forces a student to write with an audience in mind. This idea allows students to critically analyze their own writing and continue to rewrite. Cummings and Jarrett state in “Only Typing? Informal Writing, Blogging, and the Academy” that writing for an audience also makes academics more accessible and for a writer “it can provide a much-needed sense of wider relevance.” They continue to say that audiences cause academics to seek to make their writing interesting, whether through blogging or other online platforms. A well kept blog for an academic can create crowd-sourcing. Where the academic can always receive feedback and advice, forming “a kind of collegiality that is no less real for being expressed in type.” As writing becomes more digital, it is easy to see the great possibility of collaboration. The creation of literal networks through social networks make collaboration purposeful, as Morris argues. This also applies to students and not just established academics. Students can create crowd-sourcing within a course or within a specific field which can then attract experts or specialists on matters they may not have previously had access to.

Students have the ability to generate “static drafts…[and] share dynamic versions of a piece as it develops,” said Pete Rorabaugh in “Organic Writing and Digital Media: Seeds and Organs.” This causes writing to become both organic and digital. Rorabaugh argues that specific projects centered around community and commentary allows writers to get feedback as their draft is developing. This community fosters growth of student’s writing through critique and allows the draft to become a paper or a piece by helping it move through different stages of writing.

“Using the digital landscape to frame academic composition allows us to attend closely to that process and encourage research fluency and critical inquiry.” -Rorabaugh


Effectiveness of Digital Writing as a College Student

In past courses I have taken as a high school and college student, social media and online platforms have been considered a “no fly zone.” I have always heard to find scholarly articles from published journals and that nothing else is acceptable. An online article was never to be used as a source in an assignment nor would I ever imagine to incorporate links or media within a paper. But like all the authors above have said writing online and reading online platforms has allowed me to think differently but still academically. When reading something online you must analyze the content carefully and think about the approach of the author, what audience they were trying to attract, what sort of collaboration has taken place to write the piece, etc, things that I do not usually consider when reading a science paper on PubMed.

As a biochemistry major my writing in most courses has been extremely limited. It is centered around lab reports and very straightforward essays that are not open to much interpretation. Not only in my writing, but in my readings as well, the content is very  “cut and dry” attempting to get the exact point across as concisely and to the point as possible. In these pieces, nothing is really to be critically analyzed, sure data and experimental approach are analyzed, but when reading or writing these pieces nothing is to be interpreted or comprehended in the way papers or essays are in other more humanity related departments.

This is what attracted me most to a liberal arts education and to this class, “Writing in and for Digital Environments.” I have always had a passion for science and love being a biochemistry major but I have interests outside of the natural sciences. I find it so important in education to develop all your skills and interests rather than just one. I could have attended the University of Georgia and been a biochemistry major and been isolated to the science department and never have developed any skills other than those needed to be efficient in science courses. But instead I chose Dickinson College where I am required to branch out and develop myself outside of the sciences and become a well rounded student.

Digital writing is a lot like a liberal arts education. People who write know how to write, they can use grammar, spell things correctly, frame an argument, and do all the things necessary to write a good paper. Those who write strictly on paper or for print are like science majors at a non liberal arts school, isolated to this one platform and one way of writing. While those who write in digital platforms are like liberal arts students. Writing online forces you to write multi-modally, incorporating graphics, media, hyperlinks, etc. and learning to write for specific audiences and apply skills in different ways. This is exactly what a liberal arts education prepares it’s students to do; apply knowledge, adjust to different scenarios, and apply skills in different ways.


Works Cited

Coco, Pete and Torres, Gabriela M. “Writing as Curation.” Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning. (2014).

Cummings, Alex Sayf  and Jonathan Jarrett, “Only Typing? Informal Writing, Blogging and the Academy,” Writing History in the Digital Age. (2012).

Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. “Networking the Field.” Planned Adolescence. (2012).

Morris, Sean Michael. “Digital Writing Uprising: Third-order Thinking in the Digital Humanities.” Hybrid Pedagogy. (2012).

Lanham, Richard. “Richard Lanham: Digital Literacy.” Richard Lanham: Digital Literacy. (1995).

Ramsey, Stephen. “On Building.” Creative Commons Attribution. (2010).

Rorabaugh, Pete. “Organic Writing and Digital Media: Seeds and Organs.” Hybrid Pedagogy (2012)

Wright, Leigh. “Tweet Me A Story.” Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning. (2013).

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