Start the Conversation: Why Does Digital Writing Matter?
In early 2011, I noticed an increasing buzz in social media about the National Writing Project book Because Digital Writing Matters by Danielle Nicole DeVoss, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, and Troy Hicks. Educators were discussing it in online book groups, using it to jumpstart professional development in their schools and districts, and presenting ideas from the text at conferences around the country. In creating this resource for Digital Is, I hope to highlight a few of the ways educators are engaging with the ideas presented in this important book and to provide a space for further discussion on teaching and learning in the digital age.
The authors of Because Digital Writing Matters argue that digital writing is a complex activity; more than a skill, digital writing is how we interact with the world. Their definition emphasizes connectivity, a feature of the digital landscape which enables writers to draw from and distribute to a global community.
Guiding this exploration of digital writing are these core questions:
- Why does digital writing matter?
- What does research say about the teaching of digital writing?
- What are some features of an effective digital writing classroom?
- How can digital writing be used to develop critical thinking?
- How does digital writing fit into learning across disciplines?
- What kind of professional development prepares teachers to teach, create, and distribute digital writing?
- What does a schoolwide digital writing program look like?
- What are fair ways to assess digital writing?
This resource begins with a compilation of documents and media from Troy Hicks, director of the Chippewa River Writing Project, to show how he uses ideas from the book to spark conversation at regional and national conferences. Jeremy Hyler, a teacher consultant at the Chippewa River Writing Project, describes the extensive book discussion he facilitated for the National Writing Projects of Michigan Network, which included live video chats with the authors and online discussions. I present a glimpse into the work of Melissa Shields of the Jacksonville State University Writing Project and Etowah County Schools in Gadsden, Alabama, with a look at how she used Because Digital Writing Matters for a district-wide professional development program. Finally, I close the resource with thoughts on how each of these programs intersected with social media to create a global audience, and I open up the floor for more discussion on how we can further these conversations in our own professional communities.
Melissa Shields, director of instructional technology for Etowah County Schools in Gadsden, Alabama and co-director of the Jacksonville State University (JSU) Writing Project, facilitated a district-wide book study of Because Digital Writing Matters for middle and high school English Language Arts teachers. The book study was part of the district’s Reading in Engaging Authentic Disciplines (READ) Initiative, which received a 2010-2011 Enhancing Education Through Technology Grant. The goal of the READ Initiative is to improve performance in English Language Arts (ELA) and reading comprehension across the disciplines. The district partnered with the JSU Writing Project to provide 21st Century ELA professional development through book studies (including BDWM), technology training, vertical teaming, and hands-on workshops.
In a summary of the READ Initiative, Shields discusses the value of the Because Digital Writing Matters book study,
The book study “Because Digital Writing Matters” provided classroom examples to help teachers envision and create digital environments for learning. This book explored everything from how to arrange the physical space in a digital writing classroom to how to craft an acceptable use policy – all necessary to transform the writing classroom. The text further explored what educators, parents, and policymakers can do to help equip students with the technology-related communication skills they need to thrive in school and in the global workplace.
Read more about the READ Initiative in this December 19, 2010 article from the Gadsden Times.
The ideas presented in Because Digital Writing Matters are a rich resource for professional development. The authors of the book, as well as other educators, are using the text to spark conversation about digital writing at local, regional, and national education conferences.
Michigan Reading Association Annual Conference, 2011
In March of 2011, co-author Troy Hicks of Central Michigan University led a session at the Michigan Reading Association Annual Conference titled “Teaching the iGeneration: Because Digital Writing Matters.” In his presentation, Hicks addressed what it means to write digitally, and how to extend assessment practices to account for the complexities of writing in a digital world. Hicks made his slideshow from the presentation available (below).
Troy Hicks, along with Christina Cantrill of the National Writing Project, facilitated a presentation titled “From School to Screen: Because Digital Writing Matters” at the 2011 EduCon 2.3 in Philadelphia. Hicks and Cantrill organized small group discussions among session participants to address the big ideas presented in Because Digital Writing Matters:
- What does it mean to write digitally?
- How do we create spaces, physical and virtual, for digital writing?
- How do we extend assessment practices to account for the complexities of digital writing?
The facilitators anchored the session conversation to real classroom practice by showing a video profile of students in Oakland, California engaged in a digital writing project: Literacy, ELL, and Digital Storytelling (video embedded below).
After viewing the video, session participants connected ideas from Because Digital Writing Matters to the work presented in the classroom profile. Hicks and Cantrill distributed a “Condensed List of Traits and Actions” for digital writers, excerpted from Because Digital Writing Matters (pp. 100-2). Participants reflected upon this list in their discussion of the classroom work presented in the video.
Online Book Groups
In the winter of 2011, I helped facilitate an online book discussion of Because Digital Writing Matters (BDWM) at the Chippewa River Writing Project at Central Michigan University. We used the book group as an opportunity to involve teacher consultants and other professionals in reading and collaborating online. Book group participants talked about writing, technology, and ways the NWP supports 21st Century Skills and shared their thinking about digital writing.
One of the main digital tools we used for this online collaboration was the National Writing Projects of Michigan Wikispace. Participants in the book group used the space to view discussion topics and post responses. Book group facilitators posted new questions each week throughout the five-week program.
Discussion topics from the text included:
- Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPAK)
- Networked Environments
- Writing Process Strategies
- Classrooms in Transition
- Ethical Issues
- Standards for Student achievement
- Professional Development
To begin and end the book discussion, we hosted an interactive, live chat using Wimba, a virtual classroom environment with many features, including audio, video, application sharing and content display, and MP4 capabilities. Besides making it easy to collaborate with other Writing Project colleagues, the Wimba classroom gave the book group participants a chance to interact with the authors. During the kick-off session and wrap-up sessions, Troy Hicks, one of the co-authors, was present and created an audio archive of the discussions (click “download mp3 audio” in right column to listen). Furthermore, Danielle Devoss and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, the other co-authors, participated in a session.
iAnthology Book Group
Our book group is only one of many discussions that have focused on Because Digital Writing Matters. Mary Meyer, from the Prairie Lands Writing Project, led a discussion around topics from Because Digital Writing Matters on the iAnthology Ning. The iAnthology Ning is supported directly by the NWP and was created to connect Writing Project teachers through shared writing and learning. The discussion topic on the BDWM group changed on a weekly basis, but participants could always go back to a previous topic discussed in the book. Some members posted videos to show their thinking. The BDWM book group remains open for any iAnthology member to join.
Discussion topics include:
- Standards and Assessments
- Digital Poetry
- Professional Development
Thinking About Digital Writing
The book groups profiled in this resource helped the participating educators become more aware of the changing nature of writing and written expression in the digital age. The teacher-participants came away from these discussions with new ideas about what it means to write digitally and about what digital writing could look like in their own classrooms.
Social Media and Beyond
Digital writing was the avenue through which I learned of all this great work. In social media spaces such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, educators are sharing with each other the work they do in their classrooms, schools, districts, and professional organizations. By clicking a link on the Because Digitial Writing Matters Facebook page, anyone with Internet access can drop in on the National Writing Projects of Michigan book group and participate in a live conversation with the authors. A professional development event that once would have reached an audience of twenty or thirty teachers, now has the potential to involve a global audience. Connecting across state lines and national borders, our conversations broaden as we consider the diverse experiences of students and educators.
Why does digital writing matter? And how does it matter? Consider sharing your own experiences with these conversations by adding a discussion to this resource.