This presentation was originally delivered in Philadelphia in November 2009 at a convening for the National Writing Project’s DIGITAL IS… initiative.
My goal for the presentation was to get attendees warmed up for the amazing talking, thinking, writing, and working we did at the convening and to make a few arguments about what digital is.
In the presentation, you’ll find a set of framing arguments, specifically, that digital is: now and then; networked; collaborative; multimodal; re-mediated; remixed; and policed, and requires critical thinking and can be democratic. Also included are lots of examples of exciting digital composing work that students and teachers are engaging in.
If you want to skim through the text of the talk alone, I’ve included it below.
Good morning! I am so delighted to be here today and to talk about DIGITAL IS.
I’m Dànielle Nicole DeVoss, from Michigan State University, a partner in the Red Cedar Writing Project.
My goal this morning is to get us warmed up for the amazing talking, thinking, writing, and working we’re going to do today, and to make a few arguments about what digital is.
What I’d like us all to think about as we explore these arguments together are the ways in which digital, networked technologies have changed writing.
Here’s a situating initial point: digital is now and then.
Any guesses what this is? (CLICK) (the internet, circa 1968) Trick question! The Internet didn’t exist in 1968! In fall 1969, the first message was sent over the system that became the Internet. We celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Internet just a few weeks ago.
Does this look familiar? (CLICK) This is the telnet-based view of the digital world in 1989.
How about this? (CLICK) This is the Gopher system, developed at the University of Minnesota, for browsing the Internet, circa 1992.
The web emerged on the digital scene in 1991, and a handful of us were using it in 1993, when it looked something like this. (CLICK)
And to teleport to today, this is the web, circa this week. (CLICK)
On Monday, President Obama spoke with citizens, students, and others in China. In one meeting in Shanghai, he noted:
“I think that the more freely information flows, the stronger a society becomes…societies benefit when citizens are able to go online, spread information and share opinions.”
Obama’s remarks—and his encouragement that the Chinese government loosen Internet-access restrictions—launched a flurry of debate and discussion on blogs and news outlets world-wide.
So, digital is then and now.
Here’s my first argument: digital is networked.
Jim Porter noted that the true technological revolution isn’t necessarily computers themselves, but sharing, writing, collaborating, and more across networks of computers.
This is Tom.
Some of us are friends with Tom. About a month ago, Tom had 268,880,678 friends. (CLICK)
That number was up almost 4 million since 3 months earlier.
Facebook has more than 300 million active users, and is home to more than 40 million status updates daily.
On LiveJournal, 23.5 million journals and communities have been created since 1999 (CLICK), and more than 173,000 entries were posted in the last 24 hours.
I captured this a month ago. This is a capture of gigatweet, showing about 10 seconds of twitter activity.
In terms of the power these networked spaces can offer our work and our classrooms, Paul Allison, one of the facilitators of Youth Voices, notes that “Elements of effective writing instruction can be amplified in networked spaces. What happens in blogging and in podcasting is these things, like audience, that can seem almost imaginary to students become real.”
My second argument: digital is collaborative.
Okay, a silly example, but I think a powerful one in terms of digital collaboration.
Thousands and thousands of users a day caption pictures of cats on icanhascheezburger.
Using a wiki, hundreds of people have collaborated to rewrite the bible in lolcat.
On flickr, users share photos, add tags, compose comments and, collaborate on building clusters and pools and albums.
A search for writing returns more than a million items. (CLICK)
Joe Bellino, a teacher-consultant with the Maryland Writing Project, who teaches English language learners talks about the affordances of the collaborative writing space Google docs provides. He says: “From my perspective, [digital technologies are] not just something that helps kids improve their writing; they help the teachers be more effective teachers. And that has to have a payback to the kids.”
My third argument: digital is multimodal.
This is a response a writer created when I asked people I was working with to use text design to shape a message: “writing is not a genteel profession. It’s quite nasty and tough and kind of dirty.”
This is a quick kinetic type clip, a digital art form where composers take typically culturally powerful quips and typographically design them, working across color, typography, movement, and more.
Another example of rich multimodal work is from Reva Potter and her 7th grade language arts students, who write original poetry, then compose digital movies. Students work with textual analysis and representation, and select images and audio to complement their poetry and connect their work to concrete specifics.
Clifford Lee talks about digital storytelling and working with multimodal writing. He notes that “multimedia approaches to traditional subjects enables” him “to tap into the multiple intelligences of his students.”
We’re up to number four! Digital is re-mediated.
I want to show a silly, but illustrative clip of re-mediation, or the act of taking a media object and recreating or redesigning it to move across media.
Renee Webster, a first-grade reading teacher from Michigan has students compose narrative pieces. Students then record the pieces—remediating them from written narratives to audio clips—and upload them to the class web site.
Robert Rivera-Amezola talks about his desire to create a bridge across approaches and modalities. Remediating—having students take pieces composed for one medium and migrate them to another—can provide such a bridge.
Point five: digital is remixed.
Remix is taking bits, pieces, and parts of other media and mixing or mashing them together to create new messages and meaning.
Here’s one infamous example of remix.
Julian Marsano, an elementary school teacher in Brooklyn has his students select among digital materials and remix them to create public service announcements.
Six, and linked to the fact that digital is remixed, is that digital is policed.
So we’re having students download and mix and mash and work with different pieces and media. What if those pieces and that media are owned by someone else?
This might look familiar to you. This is a “video no longer available” message on YouTube.
This is a Digital Millennium Copyright Act or DMCA cease and desist order sent to a YouTube user for posting content the person didn’t own.
This is a pretty compelling example of the over-policing of media. (PLAY VIDEO)
Stephanie Lenz posted a short clip of her kids dancing and playing in her kitchen. The video was forcibly removed by YouTube. Lenz, however, wasn’t going to allow that to happen, and contacted the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF.
As educators, we have a powerful tool that allows us and our students to use copyright-protected work, and that is fair use.
There’s a great project called Media Literacy through Digital Production designed to help teachers understand and work with the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education.
This is a clip from later in the video of Julian Marsano and his students’ public service announcements, created by selecting among and remixing existing media with their own creations.
The policy, in part, informs students that they should treat blogspaces as classroom spaces and as tools for learning.
Two more! And I hedge these a little bit.
Digital requires critical thinking.
Let’s play “one of these things is not like the other.” (Harry Potter)
And again. (Faith Hill)
And again. AP-filed photographs from March 31, 2003. When the fact that the photographer had digitally spliced together two images to create a merged image, he was fired on the spot and sent a airplane ticket home.
And again. This is a photo of a group of University of Idaho students. And this ran as the main page top banner on uidaho.edu for about a week awhile back.
There are some wonderful tools available to help us use these sorts of materials in our classrooms and equip students to be careful, critical, thoughtful users of digital media.
Joyce Valenza, a Pennsylvania high school library information specialist—and blogger and presenter and author—has some fantastic materials online, including her CARRDSS tool, which asks students to assess the credibility, authority, accuracy, reliability, and more of all digital media.
And, finally, my last argument and another hedged one: Digital can be democratic.
(CLICK) During the Iranian election this summer, journalists were told not to leave their offices. (CLICK) The state-run media downplayed claims we were hearing about gatherings and protests. (CLICK) This is a cell phone pic of a crowd in Tehran, posted to twitter. (CLICK) During the fallout after the elections, more than 400 new tweets a minute were coming out of Iran.
In the U.S., back in 2008, CNN and YouTube hosted presidential debates, where folks videorecorded their questions for the candidates.
(CLICK) In 2008, students were invited to write letters to the next president. (CLICK) The project was co-sponsored by the NWP and google. (CLICK) Almost 6000 letters were written. (SHOW VIDEO)
So, phew, digital is now and then; networked; collaborative; multimodal; re-mediated; remixed; and policed, and requires critical thinking and can be democratic.
Finally, writing is digital. And with that, I leave us to continue to explore what… digital… is.