Category: Digital Literacies

Archive for the ‘Digital Literacies’ Category

Feb 10 2010

Digital Literacies and College Writing

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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.

Oct 08 2008

Assignment Showcase: Rhetorical Analysis and Wikipedia (Paula Patch)

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Rhetorical Analysis and Wikipedia


Assess the reliability—the accuracy, credibility, and usefulness as a research source—of information included in a Wikipedia article. Write a formal essay in which you argue for or against the reliability of the article, making sure to tailor the argument to a particular audience (see below)


  1. Select and locate a Wikipedia article related to a subject covered in class this semester: writing, technology, current event, Wikipedia, etc. Determine your selection by carefully considering what information you would like to find out about one of these subjects.
  1. Conduct your analysis of the article to determine (a) if it is reliable and (b) to what extent (i.e., how reliable or unreliable it is).  Take care to make this an honest assessment based on the information available; that is, do not try to make the information fit a preconceived notion you have about Wikipedia.

Annotate the article using the following plan and criteria:

  1. Read all of the information on the main (“article”) page.
    1. What information about the topic is included? What information is missing? What information seems unnecessary?
    2. How is the information organized? Is this an effective way of organizing the information? Why not?
    3. Does the entry include references?
      1. i.      Where does most of the information come from (books, other Wikipedia entries, popular articles, scholarly articles, etc.)?
      2. ii.      Click on one of the references (choose one that interests you): Does the link work? Is the reference reliable (does it provide accurate, expert information)?
    4. Does the entry include hyperlinks to other Wikipedia articles?
      1. i.      If so, click on one of these (choose one that interests you): Does the link work? Does it take you to a “good” article?
      2. ii.      Assess the linked article based on the same criteria you are using on the main article.
    5. Are there any errors on this page: grammar, spelling, content, or otherwise? If so, make note of some of the worst errors. How do these errors affect the trustworthiness of the author(s) or information?
    6. Has the entry been “flagged” in any way (for being incomplete, biased, unreferenced, etc.)? This flag may appear on the main page or on the “discussion” page. How does this “flag” affect the article?
  2. Read the information on the “history” page.
    1. Who wrote the article? Do any of the history listings include usernames? If so, what information is available about the user? Do you trust this information?
  3. Read all of the information on the “discussion” page.
    1. What are people discussing? Is it related to content? If so, is it about the actual content (what to include and where) or is it about the subject (opinions about the topic)? Is the discussion related to organization? What are some of the comments?
    2. Is there anything controversial about the entry?
    3. Is there anything stated on this page that makes you question the reliability of the entry?

Assignment requirement: You must submit your annotated article by class time on Wed., Oct. 31.

  1. Determine your audience. Based on our discussion of your experiences with Wikipedia and, now, your analysis of the article’s reliability, decide who would benefit most from your new knowledge. Some ideas include student writers, college professors, high school teachers, the authors of the assigned texts about Wikipedia.
  1. Write the essay. Based on your analysis, decide if the entry is reliable or not and to what extent. This will be your argument, which you will present as your thesis.

Reflection includes questions specific to Wikipedia

  • What assumptions did you have about Wikipedia prior to beginning this assignment? Did these assumptions change? Why or why not?
  • How and why did you choose the particular audience you address in your essay? How well do you think you met the needs of this audience?
  • What did you learn about Wikipedia and other source material? How can you use this information in future situations, both inside and outside class, and both in ENG 110 and in other classes?
  • What did you learn about writing? How can you use this in future assignments, both in ENG 110 and in other classes?

Critical Analysis and Argument: Wikipedia

Does Not Meet Expectations Meets Minimal Expectations Exceeds Expectations
Summarizes information contained in the article

Includes relevant information about context for the article and/or purpose for the essay


Indicates a clear position on the topic

Acknowledges complexity of analysis by including a discussion of the extent to which the article meets or does not meet the evaluation criteria

Refrains from a simple good/bad evaluation

Claims, Reasoning, and Evidence

Analysis used to explain/support thesis.

Uses textual evidence from Wikipedia article to support discussion of analysis.

Uses evidence from assigned reading to support analysis of Wikipedia article.


Argument focuses on one audience and for a specific purpose.

Argument is appropriate and effective for intended audience.


Discusses the implications of the essay findings.

Style and Organization
Paragraphs and sentences organized effectively and coherently—the reader can follow your thinking. Sentences are clear and correct. Vocabulary is precise and appropriate. Tone is formal and academic.

Research Document (10% of course grade)

Rough draft due Wednesday, May 7; Final draft due Friday, May 16 by 2:30 p.m.

In a twist on the traditional research essay or research paper (there is a difference), the final component of the research project will be a public document:

  • A letter to the editor
  • A business letter
  • A memo
  • A speech
  • A blog post
  • A Facebook group
  • A presentation: could present to class
  • A newspaper or magazine article
  • An audio file
  • A brochure or pamphlet
  • A Web page

The benefit of creating a public document (as opposed to a purely academic argument) is that it makes your writing real and relevant—and, perhaps, creative. The genre you choose will reflect your unique personality or accommodate a unique perspective or topic (something most research essays don’t or can’t allow for). Crafting a public document also requires you to use many of the rhetorical skills you have practiced all semester: understanding the rhetorical situation and making decisions about when, why, and how to employ rhetorical devices.

Points of interest

  • All of these genres are argumentative, just in different ways. You must make an argument. Do not simply inform.
  • All of these types of documents are, generally, brief. The goal is to craft a solid argument, including supporting evidence, not to write a lengthy report.
  • All of these require support (evidence from sources) and documentation—but require different techniques and conventions to do so.


  • Determine the best genre for your topic and argument:
  • Determine the conventions required for each genre (Prof. Patch will provide guidelines for each during the weeks leading up to the assignment).
  • Write an argument in your selected genre.

Assignment conventions

The document must

  • Include a minimum of 3 sources. There is no length requirement.
  • Adhere to the documentation conventions of your selected genre.
    • According to…
    • Hyperlinks
  • Be submitted by uploading it to the Research Document Assignment page on Blackboard.

Research Document assignment’s relationship to course objectives and experiences

This assignment will help you develop a more sophisticated writing process, including invention, drafting, revising, and editing; an awareness of writing expectations and conventions of public discourse; experience synthesizing source material, and writing to public audiences.

Oct 08 2008

Teaching and Writing with Technology

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Supporting an Instructional Goal

This workshop facilitates the instructional goal to support students’ development of strategies to compose with technology. Based on the 2007-2008 assessment results, students would benefit from more instruction and practice in using technology as they write – both to facilitate process activities and to refine their product. In addition, in recent faculty surveys, College Writing faculty members consistently have asked for more faculty development on teaching with technology. Our goals to support students’ development and to enhance our teaching – using technology – correspond with national movements to integrate digital technologies.

The Council of Writing Program Administrators recently added the following section to its Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition:

Composing in Electronic Environments
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. Therefore, although the kinds of composing processes and texts expected from students vary across programs and institutions, there are nonetheless common expectations.

By the end of first-year composition, students should:

  • 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 (e.g., federal government 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

Faculty in all programs and departments can build on this preparation by helping students learn

  • How to engage in the electronic research and composing processes common in their fields
  • How to disseminate texts in both print and electronic forms in their fields

College Writing/English 110 Faculty Practices

  • Rhetorical Analysis and Wikipedia
    Students assess the reliability—the accuracy, credibility, and usefulness as a research source—of information included in a Wikipedia article. They write a formal essay in which they argue for or against the reliability of the article, making sure to tailor the argument to a particular audience. (Paula Patch)
  • Wiki Assignment
    In place of a traditional literature review, students create a wiki entry for Wikipedia. They learn to use library databases to identify relevant, scholarly sources; annotated those sources to practice identify and summarizing key ideas; synthesize source information using a table in Word (see example below); and compose an essay suitable for Wikipedia, translating the information from their scholarly sources into a wiki entry accessible for a general audience. After revising and editing their entries, students post their entry to Wikipedia or integrate their work into an existing Wikipedia article. (Jessie Moore)
  • Movies as Invention Activities
    Students can draft arguments using media they encounter in their daily lives – images, video clips, and music. Using the drag and drop technology in Windows Movie Maker, students combine these elements into a short movie. Their movie versions of their arguments facilitate discussion about the rhetorical strategies they are using and about the organization they employed. We then can discuss whether these choices are appropriate for a written version of the argument – or whether adaptations are necessary. (Jessie Moore)
  • Revision as Visual Rhetoric
    Students revise an argumentative piece into a 3-5 minute movie using software freely available to either PC or Mac users. Students begin the process by identifying images, sound clips, and other media that can aid them in constructing their arguments.  Assignment requires 2 class periods and about 2 weeks for students to complete. (Michelle Trim)
  • Research Skills for the WWW
    Students are asked to work in teams to first identify and then attempt to answer a question based on some kind of cultural myth or technological process. Questions range from “Where did Halloween come from?” to “How many recyclables really end up getting recycled?” The activity works best when students have computers with them in class. (Michelle Trim)
  • The Research Document
    In a twist on the traditional research paper, students create a public document at the conclusion of this research project. Students could choose from a number of genres, with the exception being an essay. Several students chose to create blogs and one even chose to create a Facebook group. (Paula Patch)
  • Microsoft Word’s Review Tools
    Faculty can use the review tools to provide feedback to students (see February 2006 workshop materials on Teaching in the Computer-Classroom). We also can use these tools:

    • To teach students how to think about incorporating feedback. What it means to literally click Accept Change or Reject Change has implications for revision; we also compare what it “feels”  or “looks” or “sounds” like to receive handwritten versus digital/online feedback. (Paula Patch); and
    • To teach students how to provide feedback to their peers (see February 2006 workshop materials), as well as to provide information directly to their peer reviewers (Paula Patch).
  • Wordle (
    Students can put sample texts or their own writing into Wordle to produce a visual representation of how often words appear in the text. Teachers have used this tool for a variety of activities, from visually mapping key concepts in assignment guidelines or class goals to supporting student reflection in anticipation of revising or editing.

Nov 14 2007

Assignment Showcase: “On Writing Well” Wikispaces Project (Tim Peeples)

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Students investigated writing processes and rhetorical strategies for different rhetorical situations.