Monday, May 24, 2010

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?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting concept! I am planning on using blogs in my College Composition class next year, so I will be thinking about this a lot!