Monday, September 27, 2010

Transcending the College Research Paper

The standard college research paper is quickly outdating and must be substantially overhauled for the digital age.  

The communication and critical skills that such assignments have been designed to produce are ever more necessary today, yet the research paper, as a genre, artificially and unnecessarily confines how students conceive of, conduct, and present their research. It sustains print-based modes of literacy and inquiry that are out of sync with those modes of learning, collaborating, and communicating that have emerged with the new media. The college research paper is an instrument of pre-digital literacy, a legacy format that can and should be transcended.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Social Bookmarking - Diigo

One of the best ways for writers and researchers to make public their investigation of things is to use social bookmarking. There are several services for this. For researching, I prefer Diigo (which I first learned about a couple years ago when I saw it in action on Michael Wesch's viral video). Diigo allows one to

  • keep bookmarks in the cloud
  • tag bookmarks (so you and others can find them easier)
  • annotate bookmarks (add comments for oneself or others)
  • make bookmark lists (private or public, good for research purposes)
  • join or create bookmark groups
  • share bookmarks with individuals or groups
  • research bookmarks
  • annotate web pages (or highlight passages)
  • share one's annotated/highlighted versions of web pages
  • send a bookmark (or set of bookmarks) to one's personal blog 
Diigo is also a great way to employ social discovery as part of one's research process. That is to say, one can readily find people who are studying (or at least bookmarking) things within one's interests, subscribe to their content stream, or use their connections to deepen social and content research. Like other social networks, one can friend people within Diigo and begin networking that way.

Here is the link to my public Diigo bookmarks. More specifically, here is a link to my Diigo bookmarks tagged as both "diigo" and "tutorial." There you can find intro videos and a slideshow, plus helpful links to get started with using Diigo.

Digital Writing is Different

While I have other blogs (such as Academic Evolution) in which I have been discussing things digital, I've created this one specifically to discuss issues regarding online writing. Here I will keep track of my own evolving understanding of writing within this new medium. I hope for this to be a resource for students.

Digital writing is different from conventional writing. Perhaps the greatest error teachers of writing make is to see electric and online tools as mere complements to traditional writing -- as though they simply made writing faster or easier. That is true, of course, but the nature of writing is evolving along with its tools.

The tools of thought shape our thoughts; they shape our thinking. And ultimately, these tools configure the social practices for which we become literate.  Today's writing tools (unlike the electronic writing tools from prior decades) are embedded in a context of complex online social practices and multimedia. Our very concepts of research, drafting, and publishing are being radically redefined within this dynamic context.

I will go so far as to say that teachers of writing who persist in training students to write in ways that ignore this context are endangering the literacy of their students. Literacy has always been about becoming prepared to communicate adequately within society. Traditional literacy (by which I mean reading and writing skills based on print communication) is ultimately digital illiteracy. That is to say, if teachers of writing condition students to believe that the formation of their thoughts must be done in isolation, or that research is not collaborative, or that publishing is the privilege of an elect few who have their work validated in formal, time-consuming ways -- then they are effectively disabling students, keeping them from the competencies they most need in today's communication contexts.

Digital writing is different because it is published and socially mediated in informal, frequent ways -- like in blog posts. And while there is certainly a place for sustained individual thought, I question how much there is still a place for isolated thought -- at least if we are training citizens and employees. Even scholars, as I've argued elsewhere regarding open scholarship, do their disciplines a disservice if they persist in the traditional, isolating kinds of knowledge production with only limited dissemination of their work through toll-access publishing.

Our thinking processes can be socially mediated and perfected in the easy back-and-forth made possible online. Therefore, they must be. Our research processes can be socially mediated, too. And so they must be, too, in order to be truly current, truly engaged, truly meaningful.

In this blog I will try to model this by making public my own thinking and research processes, inviting students and the public to respond as I go. So, what do you think? Compared to conventional writing practices, how is digital writing different? How the same? How better? How worse?