Writing in Digital Environments — Thinking About Networked Learning

Often at family gatherings, social events, and dinner parties, when asked to define “pedagogy,” I usually offer something generic, like, “um, well, it refers to both the art and the practice of teaching.” I am excited for the opportunity to further develop my working definition of pedagogy as a GEDI in Contemporary Pedagogy as a doctoral student at Virginia Tech.

Although I have a general explanation for how I conceive of my own pedagogy, within my discipline, Rhetoric and Writing, and particularly in terms of teaching first-year writing courses, my outlook on teaching is largely guided by the WPA outcomes. The WPA outcomes, adopted in 2000 by the Council of Writing Program Administrators, and amended in 2008, contains an entire section of learning outcomes pertaining to networked learning, or learning and writing in the highly-connected age of the internet. In terms of “Composing in Electronic Environments,” the council writes, “As has become clear over the last twenty years, writing in the 21st century involves the use of digital technologies for several purposes, from drafting to peer reviewing to editing.” In light of the prevalence of digital devices and the internet, the WPA outcomes contain the following outcomes that after the first-year composition class students should be able to complete including:

-“Use electronic environments for drafting, reviewing, revising, editing, and sharing texts”
-“Locate, evaluate, organize, and use research material collected from electronic sources, including scholarly library databases; other official databases; and informal electronic networks and internet sources”
-“Understand and exploit the differences in the rhetorical strategies and in the affordances available for both print and electronic composing processes and texts”

In light of these outcomes, as faculty and instructors, we are encouraged to help students learn:

-“How to engage in the electronic research and composing processes common in their fields”

And . . .

-“How to disseminate texts in both print and electronic forms in their fields”

These outcomes and faculty guidelines are nothing short of a very, very tall order. As a new educator, they often feel overwhelming. However, my own tactics to address the outcome of writing in digital environments as well as being cognizant of networked learning have in past courses revolved around two techniques: encouraging students to use peer review via google drive and to compose their own reflections and to write publicly within the digital sphere in their own blogs. In reading for GEDI this week, I was excited to see scholars praise blogs as an effective way to engage students in the networked environment. For example, Tim Hitchcock, in “Twitter and blogs are not just add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion underpinning it,” writes the following passage:

“One of my favorite blogging experiences involves embedding blogs in undergraduate assessment. By forcing students to write ‘publicly,’ their writing rapidly improves. From being characterized by the worst kind of bad academic prose – all passive voice pomposity – undergraduate writing in blogs is frequently transformed in to something more engaging, simply written, and to the point. From writing for the eyes of an academic or two, students are forced to imagine (or actually confront) a real audience. Blogging has the same effect on more professional academic writers – many of whom assume that if the content is good, the writing somehow doesn’t matter.”

While I was intrigued about the potential of blogs, I am by no means complacent about my own abilities to train students to think about networked learning and to write in digital environments. I am most excited about furthering my pedagogy in terms of helping students think critically about the internet, especially after reading Gardner Campbell’s piece entitled, “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning.” From Campbell’s work, I was particularly interested in the discussion of how little, in general, students understand about their own web-based presence, and how issues of privacy, surveillance, and intellectual ownership play out on internet platforms. This reading, combined with our class discussion on the parasitic nature of Learning Management Systems already has my head reeling, thinking about how I can integrate “internet intelligence” as a topic / course theme into my first-year writing classes.

Further, Campbell suggests that networked learning can even be a form of experiential learning, a form which admittedly, I traditionally associate with my own interdisciplinary background, which often included kayaking, soil sampling, and well-digging, as well as recording ballads, interviewing musicians, and other highly-experiential forms of learning. Thanks to Campbell, I know think of experiential learning in terms of networked learning and computing, particularly in the following passage:

“Offering students the possibility of experiential learning in personal, interactive, networked computing — in all its gloriously messy varieties — provides the richest opportunity yet for integrative thinking within and beyond ‘schooling.’ If higher education can embrace the complexity of networked learning and can value the condition of emergence that networked learning empowers, there may still be time to encourage networked learning as a structure and a disposition, a design and a habit of being” (Gardner Campbell, “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning” Jan. 2016)

Through this week’s exploration of pedagogy and networked learning, I am both encouraged by some of my early efforts to engage with the networked world, and inspired to extend this pedagogy into new dimensions.

6 Replies to “Writing in Digital Environments — Thinking About Networked Learning”

  1. Savanah,
    I like that you brought in the standards of the WPA. I think that one of the difficult things about forming a teaching philosophy/practice is integrating all of the various ideas, goals and methodologies that we are encouraged to embrace. It looks like in this case your organization’s standards and some of the ideas we are discussing in class complement each other nicely. Also, I liked that you brought up team editing on google docs. I hadn’t thought about this before I began my own blog, but this really is a simple but potentially effective example of networked learning.

  2. Hi Heath,
    Thanks for your thoughtful feedback! I agree, embracing and integrating disciplinary objectives is quite a challenge. Yes, I find google docs a really productive strategy for in-class peer review. I also ask students to invite me to their google docs which helps me understand and observe their peer review process. Thanks for reading!

    1. Thank you for your post The WPA outcomes guidelines was interesting and new to me. We have a lot of activities planned with the backbone of collaborative editing on google docs and I’m excited to see what is everyone’s impression of them .

      1. Thanks for reading! I’ve had a great experience with students using google docs to edit. They also seem to be quite fond of the “suggesting” mode in google docs. That way, students can make a copy of their draft and then compare their original to their peer reviewer’s feedback, allowing them to see the proposed edits as a whole picture!

  3. Thank you for your insightful post. I was excited to learn that you are using blogs in your own classroom. I am curious about the feedback you’ve received from your students. Are their comments generally positive? In my department (Chemistry), writing (and the general communication of science) is not emphasized except in the advanced laboratory courses and the Senior-level writing course. Typically, students in these courses (mostly Juniors and Seniors) struggle to write laboratory reports that effectively communicate the results and conclusions of the experiments with references to the relevant literature. You have me thinking that blogging could be a good way to help introduce the students to lab report writing by encouraging them to reflect on what they did in the lab. I also love the idea of encouraging peer-review through Google Docs. I’m wondering, are the writing assignments and reviewer comments available for everyone to read or is this content shared just between the writer and reviewer(s)? I imagine both scenarios could be valuable to the students.

    1. Hi Kristen, thanks for reading! I have previously served as a laboratory TA in Biology at my undergraduate institution where my entire role was focused on helping students write lab reports and scientific posters. We started with brief summaries of relevant literature that would need to be cited. Next students would draft their hypothesis and experimental designs and other lab groups would provide feedback. Then students journaled in their lab notebooks about their particular methods and any issues that arose during the experiment. So essentially, we “scaffolded” the writing assignments into smaller, more manageable chunks. While I used to grade these on paper, I think a blog would be a great way to go about writing for the sciences! It would also give students the opportunity to see how other classmates / lab groups were thinking through the experiment process, which would be incredibly valuable.

      I have really enjoyed peer review with Google Docs! I ask students to make a copy of their draft, share it with me and their peer reviewer. The peer reviewer then leaves comments and makes edits using the “suggesting” mode within google docs. As a reflection to conclude the activity, students examine both their original draft and the version from their peer reviewer with suggestions to consider what changes they will accept or modify as they continue to revise! I often then ask students to share with the whole class at least one valuable suggestion that their peer-reviewer offered in a discussion to conclude the class period.

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