Thoughts on moving to a digital classroom

The readings I’ve done over the last week have me thinking a lot about moving my own teaching pedagogy to a stronger emphasis on real-world writing. One of the readings that I keep thinking about is Santos and Leahy’s “Postpedagogy and Web Writing.” I love that they have students select and write/blog to a community that matters to the student. Having students self-select always starts a project off with more enthusiasm and engagement. The authors describe a writing intensive class, but they don’t give many details about how they manage it. I got the impression that “postpedagogy” suggests not having set methods that the instructors are applying, but as I read the article I kept thinking about how much management a class like that would actually take. With every student writing to a different community in what sounds like different genres, there has to be a strong, underlying structure set up by the instructors to oversee everyone’s work. I’d love to know more details about how they implement this. It seems like a direct answer to Yancy’s call for more real-world writing with technology in the classroom.

While fan-forums and communities of people with similar interests create spaces for student writers to explore and publish online, it’s interesting that Cadle feels the need to defend her use of a general blog in “Why I Still Blog.” Her defensive title and stance suggest that blogs are a bit of a dinosaur in digital composition, but she makes a strong case for continuing to have students write blogs. One of her points is that blogs are different from the social-media writing done by so many students; blogs allow for the creation of a writer’s identity and extended writing through time that status updates and tweets do not. You may argue that social media allows for the creation of a writer’s identity, but I don’t think an identity on social media carries the same ethos as one students can create in a blog. And the ability to sustain a central focus over time just doesn’t really exist in social media. I particularly appreciate how much information Cadle shares about her methods of teaching. This is the kind of detail I would have liked to have seen in the Santos and Leahy piece.

Like a blog, the EM-Journal at Eastern Michigan University was an interesting undertaking because it created a digital forum for student writing that had a real audience, not just an instructor-audience. Similar to many student publications, it required sustained interest by a group of students to continue. Once that interested group graduated, the journal folded, but I wonder if I could implement something like this in my own FYW classroom. I’m thinking about attempting to create an online journal that would include pieces representing each of my student’s research projects. This is just a preliminary thought, but reading about EM-Journal definitely got me thinking. I have an Honors student who wants to do an extensive project for Honor’s credit, and I think this may be a good project for her.

I began teaching this semester thinking that I would have my FYW students transform their research papers into some type of three dimensional project in the mode of Jody Shipka’s work. As I read more about digital rhetoric, I find myself more interested in leaning toward projects that require the students to use technologies that they are likely to use in their careers after college. The article “Revisualizing Composition: How First Year Writers use Composition Technologies,” by Moore, et al, reminded me of what I see daily in my class: students using their smart phones for the majority of their composing. The research found that students use cell phones for their most frequently composed genres. Besides the obvious genres of texts and social media, I see students take notes on their cell phones and even conduct database research for academic articles on their phones. All of this makes me think more and more about the writing I am asking students to do and the role that writing plays in the real world and even in their own lives. Wouldn’t it be more worthwhile to give them opportunities to explore and perfect the digital writing they do and will continue to do, rather than ask them to practice and perfect genres that only exist in the classroom?

The data generated by Moore, et al’s article is a good example of what McNely and Teston refer to in their chapter, “Tactical and Strategic: Qualitative Approaches to the Digital Humanities.” McNely and Teston mention a tension between data-driven research, like than in Moore, et al, and research based in theory. The humanities have traditionally conducted theoretical research, so it’s interesting to hear the authors discuss methods to collect materials. I think the humanities have suffered from a bit of science-envy, but DH seems to open up a space for the humanities to be more data-driven.

I found that I was able to make connections between all of the readings this week. They all seemed to discuss similar ideas; however there was one, lone article that is sitting outside the connections I’m able to make with the others. The article, “Hacking Spaces: Place as Interface,” by Walls, et al, focuses on how classrooms and computer labs should be set up. I guess, if we are going to encourage DH writing, we need to have classrooms that allow for the effective use of technology. It seems to me that computer labs are becoming obsolete. The majority of students have their own laptops. What we really need are data projectors and outlets that allow students to connect their own computers and collaborate with their classmates on projects that can be projected around the room. As I reflect on this, even this article connects to the others: if we are going to move our students to composing in DH more, than we need to have classroom spaces that allow for the use of digital technologies.

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