The Scholar Electric

News and updates from CCDP

April 23, 2013

Ignoring the Digital Elephant

Contributed by Rebecca Manery

The big news at the 2013 Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference held in Boston last month was the announcement, tweeted and retweeted, that the Zell Family Foundation was donating $50 million to the MFA creative writing program at the University of Michigan. In an Associated Press interview, Helen Zell, in whose honor the program has been renamed, explained the impetus for the donation: “What I’ve watched happen with the introduction of the Internet and media and blogging, I almost feel like this part of our education is under siege. The ability of fiction to develop creativity, to analyze the human psyche, help you understand people–it’s critical. It’s as important as vitamins or anything else. To me, it’s the core of the intellectual health of human beings.”

Ironically, I was at the conference to present, with three other University of Michigan instructors, a panel entitled, “Creative Convergences: Integrating the Arts and Technology in the Writing Classroom.” Each of us showed examples of undergraduate work that used multimedia and genre-blending to create compositions that were aesthetically and conceptually sophisticated. The example I showed, an excerpt from Molly Yaple’s four-part video poem, “Love Poems,” consists of a voiceover of Molly reciting her original text in combination with original and open-sourced video footage, music, and sound effects. The result is an integrated, complex, and moving work of art.

Like Zell, I have had the feeling, when reading responses to news posts or other public forums on the Internet, that literacy is “under siege.” Yet positioning printed literary works in opposition to web-mediated text ignores the potential of digital compositions to not only contribute to our collective intellectual health but to push at genre boundaries maintained by traditional creative writing programs. Of the nearly 500 presentations listed in the three-day schedule of events, less than a dozen included any mention of digital technology in spite of the significant numbers of digital journals registering their presence in the bookfair. If technology integration is part of the pedagogical focus of most MFA programs, you couldn’t prove it by the roster of presentations at AWP.

Any survey of the Web will uncover literary texts ranging from wince-producing to awe-inspiring. The same, however, can be said of a survey of texts in print. Privileging printed texts is a form of literary snobbery that working writers can ill afford to harbor. As digital humanities scholar Cathy Davidson reminds us, “To be valued by one’s time requires making oneself responsible and responsive to one’s time.”

Like many writers, I have a deep and abiding love for books made of ink and paper. But writers who ignore the potential of digital technology for not only distributing but creating texts risk becoming obsolete in their own time.

April 13, 2013

TLL Review: The Reviewers

By clicking on the reviewer’s name you will be directed to a reviewer’s position statement that explains his/her method for reading and reviewing TLL.

Megan Adams is a second-year PhD student. Her research interests involve exploring literate practices in rural communities.

Nick Baca is a second-year PhD student. His scholarly interests involve queer theory in composition and rhetoric and issues concerning gender and identity.

Kerry Fial is a senior studying Middle Childhood Education. An advocate for adolescent literacy, she presented at the National Convention for Teachers of English in 2012. Her teaching and researching interests center on appreciating student diversity and sparking student interest in learning about the English language.

Mariana Grohowski is a second-year PhD student. Her research examines the cultural ideologies and literate activities of servicewomen of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Ken Hayes is a second-year PhD student. His current research interests focus on the understanding and use of social networking sites and the impact such sites have on academic writing and critical thinking skills.

Lee Nikoson is an associate professor and member of the Rhetoric and Writing faculty. Her curiosity about how we come to know, practice, and study writing drive her research and teaching.

Craig Olsen is a second-year PhD student. Currently, he is researching multimodal and visual rhetoric, which includes digital, comic and gaming literacy.

April 12, 2013

TLL Review: Conclusion

TLL concludes with Hawisher, Selfe, and Berry, in collaboration with Synne Skjulstad, synthesizing chapter findings of this fascinating life-history interview project. The chapter begins by showcasing the digital literacy projects of co-author Synne Skjulstad of Oslo, Norway. This attention to Skjulstad’s scholarship is important to the larger effort of the project because, as Hawisher, Selfe, and Berry admit: Skjulstad’s work “was an inspiration” for the methodology deployed for TLL (“Overview” para. 3). This section offers eight observations which connect the individual literacy narratives featured in the project. Three examples of observations: (1) Participants’ perceptions about technologies depended upon “the cultural ecologies” participants inhabited (Observation. 4); (2) Participants revealed that technological literacies were primarily individually acquired (Observation. 5); and (3) Digital media aided tremendously in the various stages of writing studies research (Observation. 8).

The fifth and final section of the conclusion offers “Closing Thoughts on Research Methodology,” which reflects on “Local and global ecologies,” “Transnational contexts,” “Literacy narratives,” and “Digital media” as four “assumptions and practices that continue to inform this ongoing research,” (para. 3). The metaphor of ecology acknowledges the many factors which contribute to one’s literacy practices while also yielding the awareness of oneself as a citizen of the world. This idea is complemented by the concept of transnationalism, which identifies the various cultural contexts and identities shaping one’s literacy practices. Literacy narratives as a genre help composers “formulate a sense of self”–a powerful implication for both composers and readers (para. 12). Lastly, the area of digital media intensifies literacy, learning, and meaning-making as digital media affords more than print-based documents–providing a richer experience for the composer and reader (as demonstrated by the contributions of this project).

All four areas present rich implications for teacher-scholars, though as the target demographic, we would like to hear about the authors and the influences of transnationalism on their learning. This concept has important implications for learners, teachers, and researchers to address what transnationalism means for the way we go about researching and teaching writing. TLL illustrates the need for writing scholars to further our understanding of the “trans-” in digital literacy practices across various physical, material, political, and socio-cultural geographies. Examining these and other like concepts allow teachers, students, and researchers provide moments of understand all that more fluid use of technological literacies might mean for writing research and pedagogy.


Fleckenstein, Kristie S. (2010). Vision, rhetoric, and social action in the composition classroom. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP.

Kress, Gunther, & Theo Van Leeuwen. (2001). Multimodal discourse: The modes and media of contemporary discourse. London: Hodden Arnold.

April 11, 2013

TLL Review: Chapters

Digital Literacies, Technological Diffusion, and Globalization,” the first of five body chapters, introduces the thirteen coauthors whose life experiences are the focus of TLL. Representing eleven countries of origin, the coauthors share their experiences through narratives and photographs, creating what Berry, Hawisher, and Selfe describe as a cultural ecology of transnational life experience: “the historical, political, economic, technological milieu” of twenty-, thirty- and early forty-year-olds’ worlds (“Introduction: Overview of Chapters” para. 2). This first chapter provides broad background information about global developments in education, the “lifeworlds” of the coauthors, and trends in communicative technology. The chapter is divided into three easily navigable sections: “The Lifeworld of Students”; “Globalization and Technology Diffusion”; and “Global Ecologies and the Modern Internet.” In the first section, the authors point out the importance of looking beyond the context of the classroom to study the literate activities of students that often inform pedagogy. The statistical evidence in the second section helps illustrate the trends in communication and digital practices as they relate to the life experiences of the coauthors. The third section helps readers understand the historical, political, and economic factors that led to global revolutions in communicative technologies. This understanding nicely situates the ways in which readers view the conversations about the literate activities of the coauthors that are chronicled later in TLL.

Chapter two, “Digital Media and Transnational Connections,” documents the personal narratives and reflections of four participants enrolled at the University of South Wales: Gorjana Kisa and Mirza Nurkic, both from Sarajevo, and Australians Tessa Kennedy and Kate Polgaze. The coauthors share their personal histories with digital literacy, communicative technologies, and how globalization has affected their relationships with others through a rich blend of alphabetic text and participant-produced video clips; each coauthor offers rich insights into the ways such digital technologies have shaped their transnational perspectives.

In exhibiting the narrations of four distinct individuals enrolled at the same university, and by highlighting each individual’s unique experiences, the authors illustrate the importance of communicative technologies, digital literacy, and cultural identifications for understanding how to continually foster new ways to teach and understand literacy and agency. The chapter highlights the coauthors’ lives in a highly networked, global world where emergent modes of literacy and discourse are shaped by movement and interaction between cultures. Readers are provided “glimpses into individuals’ localized literacy practices within particular cultures and their circulation within global contexts, as well as into their uses of digital communication technologies for both local and global exchanges” (“Narrative as a Way of Knowing” para. 1) to illustrate how “narratives are a form of ‘social action’” (para. 4). TLL traces participants’ processes of negotiating identities, and demonstrates various ways in which these narratives enable “educators … immersed in a different domestic lifeworld … [to] glimpse the identities and futures these students want for themselves” (para. 6).

The third chapter, “Cultural Designs for Writing Digitally,” turns attention to the ways in which digital tools–namely video composing–can help educators understand more about cross-cultural literacy practices. To uncover and make sense of these practices, co-authors were tasked with creating a multimodal composition aimed at documenting their own writing practices. Upon crafting these pieces, participants reflected on the insights those practices reveal: this act fostered an understanding of their individual writing practices.

The three chapter coauthors, Shafinaz Ahmed, Sophie Dewayani, and Yu-Kyung Kang, hail from Bangladesh, Indonesia, and South Korea, respectively. As readers explore the coauthors’ video compositions, they gain glimpses into the ways the writers engage with digital tools that connect their literate activities to the places in which they read and write. The video compositions include representations of each co-author’s writing processes, illuminating how objects and cultural contexts can influence these practices. Each co-author helps readers understand the ways in which composing practices are often nuanced and personal; furthermore, the compositions reveal that literacy acquisition and practice are also situated within cultural ecologies. Conversations beyond these descriptions center on how digital compositions can also inform us about the dispersed, networked character of reading and writing in a digital age. Moreover, the authors argue that digital compositions can be used not only for reflection and a representation of literate activity, but also for research. The authors also provide teachers and researchers ways multimodal compositions could be incorporated into their own work.

Despite the rich descriptions provided by the authors and their video representations about their processes, readers may still raise logistical questions about the practical applications of digital compositions. For instance, details on how these types of assignments might be specifically replicated for pedagogy and research integration are sparse. More information on the actual process of implementing the assignment, as well as the context in which it was executed would be beneficial. Nevertheless, access to video evidence and reflection pieces give insight into possibilities for implementing such assignments.

Chapter four, “Acts of Translation in the Academy and Across National Borders,” provides brief snapshots into three participants’ transnational literacy histories and experiences in higher education, three detailed autobiographical, multimodal accounts of how transnational learners integrate their native language, the English language, and technology to communicate. Masters students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the participant’s experiences demonstrate the challenges of the negotiation of language, identity, and culture as they cross national boundaries to pursue professional and personal goals in higher education. Vanessa Rouillon, who was born in Peru and studied in Chile before moving to the United States, reveals in her video composition the way it feels to use technology for both her academic and personal writing, the former of which she produces in English and the latter in Spanish. Similar to Vanessa, Mexican-born Ismael Gonzalez studies English as a International Language. Readers learn of Ismael’s steadfast reliance on Facebook as a multimodal outlet and as an advantageous tool for code-meshing. Similarly, he uses Facebook to negotiate his personal identity as a transnational citizen as well as a scholarly professional. Like Ismael and Vanessa, Hannah Kyung Lee is fluent in multiple languages. Hannah, a Korean-American who began a graduate program in writing studies and library and information science after teaching in Paris claims a “transnational identity” (para. 1). Moreover, the cultural ecologies Hannah was immersed in allowed her opportunities to use technology to negotiate her transnational identity and communicate across geographic boundaries.

The final body chapter, “Global Digital Divide: From Nigeria and the People’s Republic of China,” is split into three sections. The first two sections review literacy narratives from Nigerian-born Oladipupo “Dipo” Lashore and Chinese-born Pengfei Song, respectively; and focus on how each of the coauthors are able to excel in parts of the world where scholarly excellence is not typical because of a lack of digital education and access. The chapter concludes with, “What These Literacy Narratives Suggest,” and discusses the exceptional nature of the two coauthors’ literacy narratives and the dangers in seeing these examples as typical.

Though each of the literacy narratives offers stories that show the importance of providing similar opportunities to others, because the examples are two clear success stories, the narratives could create a false sense that similar successes are easily attainable, and that issues of opportunity and access are generally not problematic. The authors address the problematics of making any such claim, stating their aim “is not to underestimate the seriousness of the digital divide or to suggest that hard work and determination alone can help individuals and their families close this gap. They cannot” (“What These Literacy Narratives Suggest,” para. 1). Readers who focus solely on the narrative sections and ignore the chapter’s important final synthesis could risk making premature generalizations from the two narratives.

Page 7 of 9 (36 total entries)