Practicing What I Preach: Digital Writing Month

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For a while now I’ve been preaching to my students about the importance of learning how to create and develop a digital presence and the essential role that writing plays in doing so. I was one of the first in my department to adopt blogs as the main form of writing in my classes. Once my First-Year Composition classes became hybrid, I also began to require students to use Google+ to create digital profiles and communicate, network, curate, and share information. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly practicing what I was preaching. Oh, I was building my digital presence on Twitter, but that was about it. I didn’t blog (didn’t have time, I argued) and I didn’t actively and consistently participate in other kinds of digital writing (didn’t want to juggle too many social networks, I demurred). This past summer, I saw the error of my ways and began this blog. It has been a life- and career- altering experience in several ways that I won’t go into here and now. Suffice it to say that it has been the single best professional decision I have ever made and it has also provided me with much first-hand experience that I can now pass along to my students without feelings of hypocrisy.

But I’m a firm believer that complacency leads to stagnation. As teachers, as soon as we become too comfortable with what we’re doing, we’re in danger of becoming irrelevant. Just as we encourage our students to do more than the minimum requirements and to push themselves beyond what’s easily attainable, we should resist feelings of confidence and certainty. It’s only when we’re pushing the envelope and testing the waters that we’re resisting the temptations of “good enough.”

When I was first invited to participate in Digital Writing Month, my immediate instinct was to pass. I’m in the middle of a hectic semester: I’m teaching five classes (three of which are composition classes and all of which are in the throes of Challenge-Based Learning projects), maintaining my blog, serving on a very active committee (under whose auspices I am spearheading a summer technology camp for local K12 students), keeping ten hours of office hours each week, and helping my nine year-old to adjust to fourth grade. The last thing I need is one more thing to do. Yes, the project sounded exciting. But 50,000 words in one month? Bananas!

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized what an important project Digital Writing Month is. Many of the reasons why I think it is so important will become evident in the article that I’ve submitted as a featured contributor to the project. My reasoning has much to do with the political and artistic power that I see digital writing embodying. But some of my reasoning is more personal. Right now, I’m feeling a little too digitally complacent for my own good. I’m happy with a blog post every other week or so and an occasional smattering of tweets. I’m comfortable with what I can do digitally. I haven’t tried anything new in a while and I’m not sure that I’m feeding my networks as well as I should be in terms of promoting pedagogical disruption. It’s time I made myself a little uncomfortable.

Some of the things that I’m planning to do as part of the project are:

  • Blog at least once each week (potential post topics include: designing a blogging workshop for students, unplugging the classroom, teaching bento-style, hashtags as exquisite corpse, using Google+ as an LMS, using Stephen King’s On Writing to teach FYC, Challenge-Based learning in the introductory speech class, screen casting feedback on students’ blog writing)
  • Live-tweet my notes/thoughts on pedagogically-relevant books and articles that I read during the month
  • Create a webcomic (I’ll be giving students in my upcoming graphic novel class the option of doing this, so in the spirit of never asking students to do something that I haven’t tried to do myself, I’ll be giving it a go; however, I don’t expect a contract offer to come my way as a result of my efforts)
  • Comment on all of my students’ blog posts (normally, I only provide feedback to students privately via Word or screencast, but for the month of November I’ve decided to switch to only providing comments publicly on each of the students’ blog posts, shifting my focus from teacher-centered comments on organization, style, and grammar to reader-centered comments on content and ideas; I already require students to read and publicly respond to each others’ posts, so again, I’ll be walking the walk)

Since project participants are encouraged to curate their digital writing for the month in one place, I’ll be publishing, Storifying, and linking to my work here.

I’m hoping that if there are others who are feeling that the project is just not easily attainable for them right now, you’ll reconsider. If you’re not sure why you should, then I hope that you’ll at least follow the project on Twitter (@digiwrimo) and consider adding your voice when and as you can. You may end up inspired to push yourself beyond what’s comfortable.

It’s going to be a wild, unpredictable, organic, collaboratively-driven ride!

6 thoughts on “Practicing What I Preach: Digital Writing Month”

  1. Way to go. I suspect that you are not alone as a teacher who gets students to take on the very things the teachers don’t take on. But we need to, and we need to share our writing and digital writing practices in the classroom — make the process and experiences visible.
    Thanks for sharing

  2. I have often heard that if you want to get something done, then ask a busy person. And it certainly sounds like you have a lot on your hands. By doing DigiWriMo and NaBloPoMo, I’m setting a high bar, but I am eager to be more digitally active and this is a great opportunity. It’s all about timing right? I look forward to reading you and learning from you. Thanks, Sharyn

    1. It is about timing. Sometimes we just need a kick in the rear to get something done. I don’t know that I’ll make the 50,000 word goal, but I’m okay with that because, for me, digital writing month is about more than the word count–it’s about exploring, collaborating, learning new ways of writing, and being a part of something bigger than myself. Thanks for the comment and I look forward to seeing what the month inspires you to do!

  3. “It’s time I made myself a little uncomfortable” — I love that line! I share your motivations for joining DigiWriMo — to explore and experiment. My off-line obligations are also crowding in on me this month, so I’m less invested in reaching the 50,000 word goal than in getting the chance to use some new tools and actively reflect on the way I use digital resources as a writer and a teacher.

    I’m very interested in your use of Google+ as an LMS / the decision to make comments on student blogs public. At my current institution, we’re operating under a fairly strict / bizarre disclosure consent requirement, which effectively discourages any such activity. Online components cannot be absolute requirements for any class, and even if all students elect to participate, 1 student voting against making blogs public can effectively shut down the entire component. I’m working under just such a restriction in a current lit class, so all of our online projects are going to be kept under lock and key which is too bad. I’m curious as to whether you’ve faced similar restrictions, and if so, how you were able to get students to participate in Google+.

    Looking forward to seeing how your month goes!

    1. Thanks for the feedback and for sharing your motivations for participating in Digital Writing Month! Like you, I’m less focused on the word count than on experimentation and engagement.

      The class I use Google+ for is a hybrid class, so 50% of it is online. We use G+ to communicate with each other and share resources and writings outside of the physical classroom and to have virtual class meetings via Hangout. Since only class members are in each student’s class circle, it’s a private learning environment.

      I’ve been using blogs for student writing for much longer and I did have some reservations at first about making student writing public. But the experiences that I’ve had have all been positive. The students love it and tell me that it makes them work harder and really think about their audience when they know that their writing is being published online. I think it also gives them a sense of pride that their ideas are being heard outside of the classroom. I have not had to deal with any issues regarding student privacy. Fortunately, I work for an extremely supportive and forward-thinking provost. She is currently spearheading an initiative to transform our university into a 21st century learning environment, which includes a switch to open educational resources and a central location for instructors to share ideas and methods openly. She encourages us to have students create and engage in work that reaches beyond the university.

      I hate to hear that it is not the same for you. We can only hope that more administrators realize that knowledge and intellectual engagement are now open commodities and no longer the hoarded possessions of the ivory tower.

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