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How do we make Digital Is more "writeable"?

Written by Christina Cantrill
November 27, 2012

Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, speaking to participants of the MozFest 2012 called for the creation of a “writeable society”:

We want to make sure that we live in a digital world where we’re not just readers, but we’re also writers. We think we can make not just a web that works that way, but we think we can make a writeable society.

What a beautiful framework and a beautiful vision, not just for the moment of the gathering but to take away and work with in variety of contexts. For example, Chad Sansing asks, what would it mean if our classrooms were writeable … open?

… afloat in a sea of ambiguity, is the answer – the possibility – that we are all in a position to help one another and our kids write the future.

Paul Oh reminds us that in order to build a writeable society we need to remember that we are all writers:

… we all have the power and obligation to build and create, whether it’s a hackable, remixable tutorial tool, a programmable e-bracelet or a 50,000-word novel

Here, then, in the context of this website and the people, communities and networks that connect and interlaced within it, what would it mean to make NWP Digital Is into a space that is more writeable … more open?

NWP Digital Is grew out of a history of sharing practice among practitioners working in communities of practice. That’s what writing projects do (and did long before the Internet). When the first writing project started in 1974, it was the way that that group of educators, across grade levels and disciplines, began to look at their writing, and the teaching of writing, together. And it is this approach – a writing, making approach (driven by inquiry, ie. what are your questions, your theory of action, the why of what you do?) within a community that shares practice – that informs the way that the NWP Digital Is website is designed today. It is an open website where content is contributed and curated by its community of members.

However, despite all best efforts put forward, we still know that this online design, in many ways, can pale in comparison to some of the ways of working when we are face-to-face, teaching and learning together. Although, the potential and the promise to do this work across time and space, contexts and constructs in ways that never before were possible, makes the face-to-face pale to what the Internet can do.

Jaron Lanier, author of You Are Not a Gadget, when considering similar costs and benefits of digitally mediated experiences (like listening to music, for example) says that the trick “The trick is being ambidextrous, holding one hand to the heart while counting on the digits of the other. “ But then he goes on to ask, in a New York Times article on digital media and education: “How can you be ambidextrous in the matter of technology and education?”

Education — in the broadest sense — does what genes can’t do. It forever filters and bequeaths memories, ideas, identities, cultures and technologies. Humans compute and transfer nongenetic information between generations, creating a longitudinal intelligence that is unlike anything else on Earth. The data links that hold the structure together in time swell rhythmically to the frequency of human regeneration. This is education.

And this is education. And digital “is” the way that we write, learn and teach today. So what does that mean for the way that we design and use forums and online tools together? It is a complicated question.

At MozFest 2012 a small group of people gathered to open a small door to this conversation. We started with the prompt “what are some powerful ways you have of sharing practices with others, either on or offline (or both)?” and then discussed how these powerful ways could inform the design of online spaces we create and/or use. Some initial ideas emerged … building from the ways that developers use “bug tracking” to leave paths and histories of their work; considering ways that readers read in different ways, could reading somehow be tracked and become writing then shared by readers as content or data for  others … or simply deleted; could users grow porfolios that push and pull together content together in ways that allow new and old community members to play with curation and remix while retaining authorship?; how could spontaneous pairings of content prompt unexpected conversations and connections?; What can we learn from games in terms of how new members are welcomed into communities?

It’s a start and a conversation we’d like to continue – who wants to join in?

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