Digital Literacies and College Writing

Feb 10 2010

Digital Literacies and College Writing

Published by


Supported by CATL and a grant from the Revson Foundation, five College Writing faculty piloted and studied digital literacies innovations in College Writing during the 2009 Fall Semester. Charles H. Revson, Jr. (son of the Revlon Cosmetics founder) had expressed concern that college students were not learning the technology skills necessary for them to be successful in today’s career world.

Rather than focusing exclusively on teaching technology skills, the faculty participants designed innovations that would teach digital literacies skills and strategies central to writing in the 21st century. In other words, the innovations presented here are not add-ons; they are integral to the rhetorically-minded writing strategies we already emphasize in College Writing.

This semester, the research group is experimenting with different versions of the innovations that a range of faculty would be comfortable implementing in their sections of College Writing. The group also is continuing data collection and analysis.

The following materials provide a summary of a preliminary analysis of the project data and then handouts for each of the four innovations. These innovations were designed to introduce students to rhetorically-minded, digital literacy strategies. They also are intended to support writing assignments that foster students’ progress towards meeting the College Writing shared objectives.

If you adopt one or more of these innovations for use in your own class, please consider contributing to our spring semester data collection. Jessie can visit with you more about collecting informed consent from your students to include your class data in our larger data set, and each handout identifies materials you could collect and contribute to the research project.

Digital Literacies Project – February 2010 Update

Jessie L. Moore and Katie King, Co-Leads

Greg Hlavaty, Paula Patch, Jean Schwind, Murphy Townsend, Additional Faculty Participants

The following update is based on a preliminary analysis of quantitative and qualitative data collected in Fall 2009. Deeper analysis is ongoing, and additional data is being collected in Spring 2010.

What technologies do students know how to use when they enroll in college?

We administered a pre-test in 18 sections of first-year writing classes in Fall 2009. While the majority of students were confident users of basic formatting features of Microsoft Word:

  • Most students did not know how to use collaborative writing technologies like track changes and comments;
  • Students struggled to explain how visual elements could strengthen their argument, even though most knew how to add an image;
  • Most students were unfamiliar with using databases for research and identifying scholarly sources; and
  • The majority of students were unable to select the best web-based medium for specific writing tasks, although they are familiar with some Web 2.0 technologies (i.e., Facebook and blogs).

How do the digital literacies innovations support student learning?

Although the first-year writing program saw improvements across all sections on almost all the tested items, students who completed the digital literacies innovations showed greater improvement:

  • Using collaborative writing tools;
  • Explaining why visual elements could support their arguments; and
  • Identifying scholarly sources.

Furthermore, students in the innovation sections were better able to articulate their strategies for using digital literacies technologies. Students had trouble, though, crediting the sources for images and narrowing their database searches. Many students also still struggled to identify the best Web 2.0 technology for a specific writing task, even though they encounter many of these technologies through their daily Internet use. The revised innovations for Spring 2010 attempt to address these shortcomings, while strengthening the gains identified in other areas.

What are the initial outcomes of the project, and what will we do next?

Students showed the greatest improvement when they had opportunities to revisit the digital literacies strategies in authentic ways. Therefore, we hope to work with other program faculty to not only introduce digital literacies strategies to their students, but also support repeated practice with these strategies. Participating faculty noted repeatedly that the innovations did not reduce the amount of time students spent on traditional writing tasks; rather, the innovations updated those tasks and equipped students with additional strategies for enhancing their writing processes and products.

This spring, we are testing modifications to the innovations so that we can help more faculty adopt the activities in meaningful and authentic ways. We also are identifying and creating resources that faculty can use in their teaching to help them become more comfortable using and teaching these technologies.

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.