Digital Literacy in the Composition Classroom
In “From a High-Tech to a Low-Tech Writing
Classroom: You Can’t Go Home Again,” Charles Moran
(1998) described his experiences adapting from a
technology-rich classroom to a traditional classroom.
Previously, Moran had spent nearly a decade in a computer
classroom, and after entering the low-tech classroom, he
kept a running journal of his thoughts and experiences
during the semester. Moran sought to understand how this
new, low-tech classroom might affect his teaching and,
consequently, his students' learning.
Utlimately, he found that the changes were significant. In his mind, the “traditional classroom” came to represent a “new technology" (p. 17)-- one which was extremely difficult for him to acclimate to. Moran noted his extreme reluctance to adapt to this new technology and his longing to return to the computer-assisted classroom with its unlimited printing capabilities and simplified gradebook.
Besides disliking the additional time and money spent
photocopying, Moran also observed a shift in his student's
focus. Specifically, his students seemed to concentrate less
on their relationship with each other, and more on their
relationship with him, as the instructor. The mixed results
of his semester caused him to conclude that this new
classroom (with old technologies) required “a new pedagogy
that [he] was unable to develop in one semester” (p. 17).
I have experienced firsthand many of the problems that Moran describes in his article. After graduate school, I spent several years as a part-time lecturer before landing a full-time position. I have had to adapt to many different classrooms, sometimes with little notice. Often these classrooms were distinctly lacking in technological support. This has repeatedly caused problems for me, since my pedagogy includes a strong digital literacy component.
In recent days, I have been spoiled by the resources at my
current institution. Our department has access to
computer classrooms with Smart Boards, computers, and
printing stations. We also have a Mac lab with the
Adobe suite installed on every machine. If I want to
show a new media project or listen to a podcast during class
as a prompt for a writing exercise, the process is easiy
facilitated by my classroom resources.
I have not always been so lucky and generally have had to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. Since graduate school I've been applying Daniel Kolb's experiential learning model (1984) to digital literacy in my composition classrooms. I fundamentally believe that my students need to learn by doing, and that means that they need to actually write in a digital environment to best understand the discourse of that world.
Even before reaching my classroom, many of my students could already be considered “Digital Natives” as defined by Marc Prensky (2001). More than ever before, Web 2.0 technologies are affecting my students' lives and careers. With this in mind, composition must meet the demands of a changing world and in this regard I agree with Pamela Takayoshi and Cynthia Selfe’s (2007) assertion that “if composition instruction is to remain relevant, the definition of ‘composition’ and ‘texts’ needs to grow and change to reflect peoples’ literacy practices in new digital communication environments” (p. 3).
As an answer to this call, I have tried to make use of what J. Elizabeth Clark (2010) describes as the “greatest hits of the current digital world”—blogs, wikis, Twitter, social networking. In recent years, I have wanted these “greatest hits” to not simply be a novelty in my composition courses—a brief stop-over before heading back to more traditional course work—but rather a major component of my course design.
Although my students already exist in a digital world before entering my classroom, this does not necessarily mean that they are comfortable with their dual role as author and audience. In "What Web 2.0 Can Teach Composition and Collaborative Learning," Chris Gerben (2009) detailed the troubles many students face as they try to shift roles from audience to author of digital texts. Additionally, Gerben articulated how Web 2.0 technologies can help students learn about collaborative writing for a digital space, copyright issues on the web, and process writing.
Blogs can also create a unique opportunity for students to experiment with audience and engage in written discussion. In 1990, Michael Spitzer suggested that online discussion communities have the ability to "transform student writing from listless academic drudgery into writing that is purposeful and reader-based" (as quoted in Krause, 1995).
Blogs can be used in a composition class to engineer this
sense of community and readership. J. Elizabeth Clark noted
how the “very notion of authorship and authority is changing
as writing and publishing in new forms becomes possible for
anyone who can access the Web” (p. 29). It is here
that my students often need to learn and grow. Despite
living and writing in a world that is brimming with
technology, my students still need a safe space to grow as
audiences, authors, and publishers of digital texts.
Truly embracing these technologies in a composition classroom can have several benefits for my students:
- It can introduce the concept of authority while also
creating a natural environment for collaborative writing
through the interactive nature of Web 2.0 applications.
- It may bring individuals to a digital world who may not
already be a part of it. According to a recent PEW
study only 77% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 use
the internet (Lenhart et al, 2008), which leaves 23% still
needing a chance to explore these technologies.
- Additionally, the creation of an individual blog may
encourage students to “take ownership of their own
writing” (Clark 2010, p. 29).
- Also, since a student’s interest has a direct impact on their learning (Hidi and Renninger, 2006), using these technologies in the classroom (blogs, wikis, Facebook) may also result in increased class interest.