“Understanding and Creating Digital Texts” (Part 1 of 2)

We were assigned to read just chapters 7 & 8 (pages 135-190) and chapter 7 is the focus of this post.

The preface states: “As was the case with the printing press and the typewriter, the uses of digital tools are transforming literacy learning and instruction in ways that redefine … [our traditional] print-based literacy curriculum and instruction. Rather than simply substituting a digital tool for a print-based tool, such transformation involves augmentation … and redefinition of curriculum.” (xi)  The book aims to explain that digital tools will transform learning rather than stand as a merely tacked-on component of it.

Chapter 7: CO-CONSTRUCTING KNOWLEDGE THROUGH COLLABORATIVE WRITING

The book really pushes a love of digital tools and why they are so wonderful. Why? Because, Beach et al assert that digital tools “mediate collaboration [so that] students can work together virtually on the same text without having … face-to-face interaction.” (135)  Google Docs is an excellent example with increasingly widespread use. However, I do not think this is so great, or at least in my opinion, there may be negative effects. One, I suggest, is a lack of social skill and ease with social situations when in other peoples’ physical presence. It’s easy to be at ease when it’s all done in the cloud and/or in a shared digital setting, but are we losing the ability to connect in person? I think so; the authors seem to think not. To them the digital world is just hunky-dory, the pie in the sky, the bees knees. I differ. Most people text rather than call. Must every conversation be eclipsed? Is there no more value placed on long(er) conversations, in real time, in person? Must everything be digitally-based? I miss landline phones and communication that was not instantaneous. I am a Gen X girl, not old but not young. My generation’s experiences as the first generation with the world wide web, definitely has something to do with it, but while I enjoy my share of modern apps (I got my first smartphone in 2014) I miss a world without CONSTANT bombardment of news, texts, opinions, rantings, and the worse part of our digitally-obsessed culture: the mentality that everyone is an expert. However, back to the book…

Schools grade students individually, so there must be explicit, concise instruction from the instructor to achieve positive results from such collaboration. I just think that it’s unrealistic to think this can happen, the merge of collaboration and the idea of individual assessment. I am not 100% on board. However, I liked the one way the authors suggested that this hurdle be overcome, by perhaps having student assess themselves and the other group members as well as using revision history data on sites like Google Docs. Another way to tackle this new mode of group writing is to divvy up the work between students so each person has a specific task/topic. (139) Since I know almost no one at this school, I feel this clear division of tasks will help negate the advantage of those with friends in the group. It is frustrating to be forced to work with a group of people who are already friends, although I acknowledge that this is often reality in the workplace. I don’t think I’m out of line in suggesting that if I am the odd man out, not in the ‘clique’ of a group, I should have a way to feel more ‘in the loop’ which this delineation of topic would help give me. One more note on this section was that I liked how many links the authors gave for examples of platforms students can use, such as Vimeo, MixedInk, PrimaryPad, and more which I had never heard of before in my life, so that was interesting.

The next section on blogging is my favorite. I only recently jumped on the blog bandwagon. I thought it was cheesy and cliché to have a blog. Who was I to think my musings belonged out there in the ‘interwebs’ for all to see? I now feel that I certainly DO have a voice and just as much right to blog away however I see fit because nowadays, it is almost a must. If nothing else, I surmise that many less talented people share their POV so why shouldn’t I? I am a writer, chef, and photographer and I have lived in many different places in the USA, all of which are at once equally American, yet quite different in pace, climate, and culture. Therefore, I have much to say and I agree with the authors that blogging is a good place for one’s musings. This section talks about different platforms and how some are better for students such as EduBlog and KidBlog and others like Tumblr are good for microblogging. Moodle, a site that my school (Cal State Univ.) uses is more of a combination of classroom and social networking site with blogging aspects built-in. (140) Blogging lets you showcase your writing with multimodal aspects and connect with others in and outside of the classroom. The authors list the main parts of a blog, starting with home page and ending with footers. The authors cite the different blogs (class versus individual) and the uses for blogs. In short, blogs are more about opinions whereas wikis are about info sharing/organization. The downside of a blog is that a voice may give opinions without good support for those views. (143) Regardless, the best blogs are engaging, not mere rants. Also, a topic in which one is very interested may mean that we’re so invested in it we may find impartiality a challenge. (146) QuadBlogging is a site that connects students globally which I think is the way of the modern world. One tool for this is Clib. However, I fear that unique qualities of different countries and cultures will soon be melded (REDUCED?!) into one global identity and that saddens and angers me. I hope we don’t end up with a world that lacks any “alternative cultural perspectives” because everyone has the same, unified cultural personality! (148) I’m interested in this “dual-entry” blogging on sites like Taposé. The idea of two screens piques my curiosity. Would I ever use this? Or is it for kids and/or people new to internet itself? I wonder. The idea of approaching blogging responses to that of not merely restating but interpreting the ideas is what gives me hope that we can still learn in this new digital world. (149) Let us not merely regurgitate what we consume but synthesize it into our own words. As a graduate student in English, and professed grammar nerd, I loved the section on netiquette. Of course there was no such word when I was in college in the 1990s. Netiquette leads us into the idea of “acceptable use policies” which is one of possible negative effects of this super saturated internet sphere our world has become. (150) Multimodal posts is the next step in terms of using insertion of sight and/or sound using sites like SoundCloud as I have for years. (151)

The next major section is on Wikis, another tool in collaboration. It is another way to have different writers edit and revise to integrate content. (155) Some of the platforms to use are Wikispaces, PBworks, and MediaWiki and various apps. One positive aspect to Wiki writing is that it comes with a revision history so that a instructor can assess each student’s participation. (156) The main challenges of Wiki use is to keep in mind the goal is to create “shared knowledge” rather than merely complete it as an assignment. (156) I am not sure I agree that Wiki group work helps you learn to respect others’ work. (158) I also don’t think that the choosing of where and what hyperlinks to use is a big challenge. (159) The biggest challenge I’ve found thus far in my own writing and Wiki interaction is that of staying within Wikipedia’s bizarre, often confusing guidelines. (160) When you have a site where any yahoo can add or edit, I think it makes for frustration, however, that in turn is why I can see why Wikipedia has such guidelines. I just wish they were clearer.

I am still not totally fond of collaborative writing. I can’t shake the orientation within myself of thinking of writing as inherently personal, internal, utilizing my OWN voice. Group work, aka the authors’ beloved word ‘collaboration’ seems like the antithesis to all I’ve ever thought of regarding writing. It’s what I do, me, myself, where I share MY opinions…group work just seems like it waters everyone down a little, dilution, not improvement.

Beach, Richard, et al. Understanding and Creating Digital Texts: An Activity-based Approach. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. 135-61. Print.

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