Media · Pedagogy

Digital Composition: DH and Computers & Writing

For me, digital composition involves the use of various technologies to approach composition within the classroom. This includes the way instructors teach, how students research, and how we all interact with texts—through creation, manipulation, production, dissemination, and even assessment. I think of digital composition as an umbrella term for many concepts, e.g. multimedia, multimodal composition, remix culture, multiliteracies, and the many forms and formats that digital writing encompasses. Of course, there’s a lot of scholarship on multimodality, remix, and multiliteracy, but I’m not well read on digital writing as a broader category. I chose readings for this week’s Digital Humanities class, and I found some good information about digital writing—what it is, how it’s implemented, and why it’s important for the humanities. First is “Why Teach Digital Writing?”, a webtext created by the WIDE Research Center Collective. The WIDE collective defines digital writing as “the art and practice of preparing documents primarily by computer and often for online delivery.” This is a nice, brief definition, but digital writing is slightly more complex both in terms of praxis and theory: “Digital writing often requires attention to the theories and practices of designing, planning, constructing, and maintaining dynamic and interactive texts—texts that may wind up fragmented and published within and across databases.” This more thorough understanding of digital writing focuses on two interrelated aspects of digital writing: dynamism and interactivity. The push for digital writing is necessary for a new writing environment, which requires students to have the rhetorical skills to “produce documents appropriate to the global and dispersed reach of the web.” In a dynamic and dispersed digital medium, students and instructors must recognize that writing is more than written text on a page. Digital writing extends to different modes and media that “allow us to weave and orchestrate multiple sign technologies (e.g. images, voice and other sounds, music, video, print, graphics), layered together across space and time to produce artifacts that can be interactive, hyperlinked, and quite powerful.” In order to be part of a digital culture, students must learn the rhetorical skills to create powerful and effective texts. The second article is “What is Humanistic about Computers and Writing? Historical Patterns and Contemporary Possibilities” by Michael Knievel. Knievel seeks to answer “what, precisely, is humanistic about computers and writing” (92). Tracing the three major phases of humanistic arguments in computers and writing’s history—fear and loathing (1975–1992), moving the social turn online (1990–2000), and digital literacy and action (2000–present)—Knievel makes a similar argument about the rhetorical importance of digital writing.

By helping to shift humanistic conversation and responsibility toward an active, technologized literacy, computers and writing participates in re-imagining the humanities and its “outcome” at this cultural moment: now, a fully equipped rhetor must be equally capable of analysis and production for multimediated participation in the academy, the workplace, and both personal and public spheres. 103

Here, Knievel stresses the importance of an active and productive humanities that acknowledges its students (and its scholars) as effective “citizen-rhetors” (104). Lastly, I looked at Alex Reid’s blog post, “Composition, Humanities, and the ‘Digital Age.’” This post explores the idea that the “future of all humanities is digital.” This idea echoes the idea from the WIDE article that most of the writing that we do takes place in digital environments. Reid makes two important arguments here: 1) Though scholars don’t need to focus on technology as a research inquiry, it is necessary to develop pedagogies that account for technology; and 2) writing pedagogies have remained fairly static, even though writing spaces and technologies have changed significantly. These articles articulate a few themes that are crucial for a digital writing pedagogy:

  1. Pedagogies must be relevant. As our culture becomes more technologically advanced, so should our writing and rhetorical skills.
  2. Writing can benefit from interactivity, which necessitates an understanding of the importance us using different modes and media to compose texts.
  3. Digital composition is more than just writing: it involves consideration of theory, appropriate mediums for composition and production, an understanding of how technology can be used to make texts even more effective, and a new framework for assessment.
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