Basic Digital Writing Literacies: A Working List

The number ten stenciled in white spray paint on the pavement.Here at my home institution, we’re in the process of redesigning the first-year writing curriculum. We’re hoping to conceive of a sequence of courses more responsive to emerging digital writing technologies and the social networks within which text circulate. You can pretty much guess the usual topics under discussion for inclusion in the curriculum: web texts, audio texts, video texts, YouTube, WordPress, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Soundcloud, etc. As well as including theoretical discussions about traditional writing practices, theoretical theory, research, etc. It’s a rangy discussion that I’ll not go into here.

I’ve been incorporating digital texts into my own writing classrooms for several years now—with varied success. When designing the assignments (audio interviews, video commentary, etc) or classroom practices (blogs, twitter, etc) I have to negotiate several factors within the context of my particular classroom and institution. What access do students have to required software or hardware? How will I contextualize these texts/practices within more traditional notions students (and colleagues, for that matter) have about Writing? How will I fairly and assess these texts and how can I communicate those criteria to students? What role with the students have in shaping the assignment or assessment? These questions are complicated for anyone hoping to use digital and/or social technologies in their classroom. This complexity is one of the reasons I’m so fascinated by teaching writing. But enough about me.

These motivations and concerns—these questions about texts and practices—get even more complicated when introduced into discussions of curriculum design. A writing program which hopes to effectively integrate new media writing tools and practices on a programmatic basis must consider several factors in addition to those I’ve mentioned above. One of the most important is to establish a set of baseline core digital literacy skills which can be expected of all instructors and all students. This isn’t to say that instructors should expect their students to have already acquired these skills prior to entering the classroom. Instead, the list is intended a set of skills which the instructor should feel comfortable expecting as part of the successful execution of a particular assignment. An instructor might dedicate some class time to covering the skills needed for a particular assignment. For instance, if an assignment calls for the students to create blogs, the instructor might offer a live or screen-casted tutorial on how to perform the expected task. Those students who don’t yet have the necessary fluency in those skills would require access to additional resources by way of one-on-one work with the instructor or possibly convenient access to a writing center well-prepared for consultations related to such tasks.

The trick, I think, is to make sure that there is a common set of digital literacy skills across a variety of instructors, assignments, and students. Under these sorts of circumstances, it is most likely for everyone involved to take advantage of rich and varied skill set. Students might assist other students or even their instructors in cultivating such skills. The same could be said for collaborations and shared knowledge among colleagues.

All this is merely to contextualize the list I’m about to offer. The thoughts above in no way reflect the official positions of my home institution, nor do they represent those of the curriculum revision committee. What I’m offering here are some of my initial thoughts on the subject as I prepare to bring them to conference with the committee. As is almost everything with this blog, the positions and assertions are provisional, and thus are open to any feedback or commentary you all might have. I should also note that the fact that this is a “top-ten list” is pretty arbitrary. I do think, especially as part of my own invention process, that having a limit to the number or “essential” skills/practices does encourage a bit more rigorous reflection than a more comprehensive and rangy list. That said, let’s get to that list, in no particular order…

  • Upload a YouTube Video
  • Create a WordPress Blog
  • Embed Media in WordPress Blog
  • Twitter – Follow others, hashtags
  • Facebook – ????
  • Upload and Circulate a sound file (SoundCloud/?)
  • VideoCapture (Jing) –
  • Still Capture (Snippet)
  • Record / Edit Audio File (Audacity/Soundation/Garageband)
  • Upload and Circulate a photo (Instagram/Flickr)

And here are some others I’m not so sure about…

  • Pinterest
  • Vine
  • Capture and Edit a still image (cameras, web cams, smartphones, Gimp, iPhoto, Photoshop)
  • Capture and Edit video (cameras, web cams, weVideo)

So that’s it. My first impulse is to say that a ten-item list seems pretty much right in terms of length. Also, I’m going to have to work on figuring out how to create a balance between the general skills and the specific tools. And that might end up being a little problematic. Because Facebook. Some tools, like Facebook and Twitter, have become the skills themselves. But FB is so much more closed. I’m just not sure how to frame it in terms of a skill. Well, I’ll have to think that through a bit more later.

For now, if you feel like responding with your own ideas, make sure to respond to @trauman via Twitter, or tweet a link to your own blog post, or whatever it is you do to respond to stuff like this.

This article has 2 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *