Pondering the Curricular Value of Digital Writing

A few weeks ago in Chico, I was fortunate enough to meet John Bishop from the other RCWP, Red Clay Writing Project located near Atlanta, and we had a splashing good time there!

Since then, I have been following his blog and I am particularly interested in the recent post that he created about exploring digital storytelling for youth. He asks some key questions there, one being:

3. How can we help foster skills/practices that are “marketable” for youth? In other words, how can we acknowledge various economic/power structures youth face as they navigate through (and exit) different stages of their educational lives? How does/should our work interact with public school curriculums?

I find this particular question relevant to me on three fronts this week as I spend time in meetings and workshops for our writing project’s work. Some of it is still up in the air, so I won’t go into detail here, but three additional questions emerge for me based on some things that are happening in Michigan.

First, Allen Webb has compiled a website that addresses the implementation of the new Michigan High School Content Standards. There is plenty more info there for you to get the entire story, but basically it boils down to the fact that many English teachers in MI are feeling pressure to develop common curriculum and assessments, one that are not — in John’s words — developing “marketable” skills or digital literacies. There is also a petition to sign, and I think that it is worth considering the broader curricular pressures that teachers are under in the scope of John’s questions. How, then, do we begin to engage in serious curricular conversations about teaching digital writing when more and more prescribed curricula seem to be coming down the pike that fail to address it at all?

Second, I am currently attending a workshop sponsored by the Eastern Michigan Writing Project on NWP’s Analytical Scoring Continuum, a scoring rubric redesigned from the six traits model. It has been an interesting workshop so far, and his given us lots to think about in our site’s work and what I will be doing with my pre-service teachers in the fall. That said, my colleague Marcia and I were talking in the car on the way home about the fact that this rubric — like all state assessment/six traits type rubrics — seems to be focused on print-based modes of composition and almost inherently neglects the demands of digital writing. For instance, the idea that writing is “clear and focused” can certainly apply to a blog post like this (I hope), but does it apply to someone creating hypertext fiction with a wiki? This is not a criticism of the model so much as it is me raising the concern, again, that schools are not even thinking about teaching digital writing, let alone beginning to understand the paradigm shift associated with teaching it. How do we help make that shift?

Third, we are beginning to plan for next year’s professional development and — besides needing to figure out exactly what we will offer related to tech-based writing PD — we really need to get some info about research in the field and effectiveness of web-based writing practices. I am going to do some searching on the Pew Internet and American Life site, the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Learning site, and UConn’s New Literacies Research Team site to see what I can come up with. So, my final question for tonight is this — if you have an empirical studies on digital writing in schools that you can point me to before Thursday morning, could you please post them as comments here?

Thanks for hanging in there with me on this post. I appreciate all the comments — both online and F2F — that you, as readers, give me about this blog. It is very encouraging as a teacher and writer.

And, just so you know, I am finally thinking about doing a more formal podcast starting soon as I am currently an intern in the Webcast Academy. Wish me luck!

2 thoughts on “Pondering the Curricular Value of Digital Writing”

  1. Troy, I’m thrilled to see this conversation continue. I think it’s relevant to both teachers dealing with similar curricular issues that you mention and others working with youth in out-of-school settings.

    I know I’m past your Thurs morning deadline, but I did a quick search through our GA lib system and saw these two articles. Not sure if they match your request, but they looked interesting. I cut and pasted the abstracts.

    Research on Writing Conventions: U R What U Write
    Nelson, Leah; Feinstein, Sheryl G.
    Online Submission, 2007

    The purpose of this quantitative study is to determine how secondary students use conventions in classroom composition assignments compared to the Internet writing outlets of e-mail, instant messaging, and blogs. Thirty-two ninth grade students were identified to participate in this study. Half of the participants were deeply involved in online communication and half rarely wrote online. The main instrument involved was the 6+1 Trait Writing method rubric, which has enjoyed long-standing use in schools. The study found that students appropriately switched gears when writing in different situations. Students adhered to standard conventions in both classroom compositions and online writing. Students who wrote via e-mail, IM, and/or blogs showed worse usage of standard conventions than those students who did not write online except when it came to thoroughly poor users of conventions. However, online communicators demonstrated a slightly better command of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. The findings of this study indicate that it is important to continue teaching conventions in our schools. Students need to view content, form, and conventions as inseparable.

    Laboratories for Writing
    Leander, Kevin M.
    Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, v43 n7 p662-68 Apr 2000.

    Looks at online writing centers and their multiple relations to cyber spaces and physical places, as well as to institutional and cultural practices. Notes proliferation of online writing centers, hybrid relations of online and offline writing centers, relation of online writing centers to classrooms, transforming space and practice in online writing centers, and how accessible online writing centers are.

    and BTW, I vote pool parties become tradition at Tech Matters.

  2. Hi John,

    Wow, thanks for the resources! The meeting today went well, and I think that they saw value in the fact that we could construct an online writing space that had elements of social networking for peer response and revision, as well as for posting multiple modes of writing including digital stories, podcasts, and other multimodal texts. We also found out that this is very much in the preliminary stage for the 2008-09 school year, so we have lots of time to work on the project.

    Again, thanks for the resources. And, yes, pool parties rock — thanks for starting the diving competition tradition, too!


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