Sunday, April 20, 2008

Learning to Write in the Digital Age

I've just returned from NITLE's Learning to Write in the Digital Age conference, a conference I helped put together along with a lot of other wonderful people. We did so virtually, via NITLE's video conferencing software and we also relied on the generosity of attendees to talk about their work. Though some were worried about whether everything was going to come together, it did, and it all turn out fabulously.

Barbara Ganley was our esteemed keynote speaker (link to presentation), who, as always, set the tone for the conference by challenging people's ideas about teaching and writing. In fact, someone asked afterwards if the multimedia work her students were doing could be writing. She essentially said, it just is. I was thinking about this throughout the conference. If multimedia composition isn't writing, then some other department is going to crop up to teach this kind of work. Because this kind of work is being done within businesses, ad agencies, on the web, for museums and even educational institutions. If the writing department doesn't lay claim to it and bring to bear all it knows about rhetoric and the composing process, then the writing department may cease to exist.

Many people began questions and comments with the caveat that they were "skeptics," which I found quite telling, not about the people asking the questions, but about the defensiveness many faculty who are exploring the use of Web 2.0 technologies instinctively take on out of fear of looking "unprofessional" or "not serious enough." Several faculty said they were the only ones in their departments doing anything like using a blog in their classes. They had no one to turn to to share successes and failure or to bounce ideas off of. I encouraged some of them to seek out the "me's" in their schools. Sadly, some said that wouldn't work because their me's were just not like me, either because they didn't have an academic background or because they were too much a part of the IT department (often both).

Speaking of me's, there were quite a few people there who served in a similar capacity to my role. They were both teachers and technologists, a trend I think we will and should see continue. As some faculty told me, they've spent years working on one area of expertise (writing or literature or a combination) and now they had to add the technology expertise and it was proving difficult and time-consuming. I suggested several times that institutions needed to step up to the plate and offer more support for faculty working with technology in their courses. They need more support financially and with a course-release or summer stipend to work on trying out new things. As someone said, they need to feel free to play with some of these tools so they can decide which ones work best. If we see more people like me in the instructional technology department or, gasp, housed within a writing department, that might give faculty more support for this work. It would give them access to a technology expert and also a kindred spirit to talk through things as they're being developed and implemented.

All in all, a wonderful conference. I have a little more to say, which I'll save for later. For now, I will point you to the huge number of resources we (mostly Jen and Rebecca) tagged for the conference.