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Empathy and Elaboration: Using 21st Century Tools to Enhance Creative Writing

Written by Rebecca Itow
September 08, 2011

So often in my teaching career – and as a student, actually – I have seen and heard teachers forbid the use of the powerful computers inside students’ pockets, scold a student for having consulted Wikipedia, restricted Internet use to sites they approved, and regard the online writing and social networking the students conduct as a “waste of time.” I have also faced opposition from these same teachers when I use wikis, social media, and encourage the use of laptops and cell phones as tools for the classroom. What I try to explain is that the students carry with them and engage in valuable tools and activities every day that can enhance classroom discussion and overall learning. Not only can we enhance our lessons, but we teach students how to use the technology in their hands effectively, and take away the taboo of these devices.

Originally titled “Tweeting in Character,” this module was developed by a collaborative team of teachers and Indiana University researcher Dan Hickey and graduate students in an effort to teach writing and character empathy through the use of Twitter and FanFiction. This was implemented at Eastern Greene Schools with Gail Finn, in conjunction with the Monroe Eastern Greene Network (MEGN) project. The project was organized by Terry Daugherty and Lori Richmond, then Director of Learning for Eastern Greene Schools and now Superintendent of Greenecastle.

Collaboration between teachers continues today.

Empathy and Elaboration: Using 21st Century Tools to Enhance Creative Writing focuses on appropriation and remixing – drawing tools and ideas from a text and “remixing” the stories in a new way. In this case, students explore and take on the personality traits of a character in Homer’s The Odyssey and, after developing sufficient understanding of and empathy for that character, extend their story in the medium of a fanfiction piece. In addition to students practicing skills related to character analysis, plot development, and creative writing, they also learn to use social networking sites productively and safely, as well as to publish their story to a closed site on the web.

Define Fanfiction: The encyclopedic ambitions of transmedia texts often results in what might be seen as gaps or excesses in the unfolding of the story: that is, they introduce potential plots which can not be fully told or extra details which hint at more than can be revealed. Readers, thus, have a strong incentive to continue to elaborate on these story elements, working them over through their speculations, until they take on a life of their own. Fan fiction can be seen as an unauthorized expansion of these media franchises into new directions which reflect the reader’s desire to “fill in the gaps” they have discovered in the commercially produced material (Henry Jenkins).

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