I. The DALN as Public Space

Since its public launch in 2008, the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives (  has collected over 7000 unique submissions, stories of people’s literacy experiences from all across the globe and from a variety of cultural backgrounds. A collection made up of audio, video, text, hand-drawn illustration, slideshows, and a variety of other multimodal content, the DALN is a rich repository—arguably the only of its kind—that provides a living history of the literacy practices, attitudes, beliefs, and memories of its participants.

The DALN serves many different audiences: the literacy studies researcher, the first-year composition student, the basic writing teacher, the resident of a neighborhood steeped in hidden literacy practices, and more. But this collection is primarily aimed at those who teach, or would like to teach, using the DALN. For teachers and researchers in the fields of composition, rhetoric, and literacy studies, the DALN is a boon, providing first-hand accounts of lived literacy. Rich scholarship on the DALN has emerged within the last several years, notably the edited collection Stories That Speak To Us (CCDP, 2013) and Comer and Harker’s “The Pedagogy of the DALN: A Survey” (Computers and Composition, 2015). In addition, a growing collection of journal articles, online publications, theses, and dissertations—not to mention conference presentations, course materials, and related content—all draw upon the DALN as a site of research, pedagogy, or inspiration (You can find a list of these works on the DALN’s blog space).  

Inspired by and in the spirit of this work, The Archive as Classroom brings together the act of curation and emphasis on pedagogy to highlight perhaps the most significant affordance of the DALN: its critical, theoretically informed pedagogical practice in diverse classroom contexts. This collection provides a valuable snapshot of current practice that highlights the potential of the DALN while engaging central issues in contemporary composition pedagogy, rhetorical theory, and literacy studies, including implications for further research and scholarship.

As we discuss below, the collection is organized around the key terms that make up the DALN acronym, which reflect central threads in pedagogical work. Here, however, we begin with the DALN’s public nature, a foundation that has informed its development, purpose, and trajectory since its inception. The title of this collection, The Archive as Classroom, acknowledges the increasing centrality of archival practices but also questions rigid definitions about what counts as a classroom in our current moment. The result of this exchange, we believe, sets the stage for a more critical and thoughtful conversation about literacy and learning, particularly the importance the public plays by helping extend the space of the classroom beyond the walls of academia, providing rich new sites of study and pedagogical opportunities in the process.

The DALN itself reflects the field’s public orientation and inclusive agenda. The project has worked to connect academic literacy studies with the everyday lived experiences of people all over the world. From its technological infrastructure to the collaborations it has fostered, the DALN is designed for users. It invites teachers, students, researchers, communities, and curious learners everywhere to use the archive: Users contribute to the collection as well as its organization through self-determined metadata; users read and remix others’ literacy narratives as they create their own; users teach and learn through active engagement with these resources.  For some, interacting with the DALN is a matter of identity affirmation, an opportunity to demonstrate profound awareness or new insights about who they are or who they wish to become. Still others see  the archive as a more deliberative or polemical space, a chance to play with persona and test out ideas about schooling, emerging political views, or attitudes about technology.  

Because of its public facing nature, the DALN offers this experience—the feeling of knowing, learning, and exploring—to user-contributors and visitors alike.  In Why School? Reclaiming Education for All of Us, Mike Rose remarks on the effectiveness of one of the many teachers he observes: “She creates the opportunity for students to observe closely and record what they see,” he writes, “to form hypotheses, to report publicly on their thinking, to gain the feeling of being knowledgeable” (2009, p. 41).  Observing, recording, reporting publicly, feeling something—these are the behaviors that sustain the DALN’s continued growth and influence. And according to Rose, with patience and awareness of time, we come to recognize these behaviors as being at the heart of something else: “Over time, you see, you feel something: it’s the experience of democracy itself. The free play of inquiry. The affirmation of human ability” (p. 41).      

The chapters in The Archive as Classroom affirm to the public a broadly defined range of human abilities and identities as they respond to real and imagined audiences. Such affirmations do not come without risks. Contributions to the collection reveal tenacity and a persistent willingness to take pedagogical chances, to take up the call of previous researchers to leverage technology in support of critical pedagogy, to face directly the needs our our students while resisting cynical representations of literacy learners in public discourse, to embrace progressive views of literacy and build programs and pedagogy for the public to embrace and question.  In this way, the DALN teaches us about how educators, students, and members of the public relate to one another when it comes to reading, writing, and learning more generally.  As this collection demonstrates so clearly, pedagogy developing around the DALN reflects back to us facets of who we are as literate beings—who we wish to be as citizens of communities of learning.   

II. Pedagogy of the DALN, Pedagogy of the Discipline

It is fitting that the title of the DALN is composed of key terms that permeate contemporary composition pedagogy. Scholars and teachers are able to use the DALN to support both best practices and innovative experimentation that engage DIGITAL media, ARCHIVE-based research, LITERACY studies, and NARRATIVE discourse. We have organized the collection according to these terms to explore how the pedagogy of the DALN may deepen and complicate conversations around these themes. This structure has proven an illuminating heuristic for editors as well as authors. In our call and subsequent conversations, we encouraged authors to consider these focused questions as they developed their contributions:

  • Digital: How does the digital platform of the DALN contribute to your teaching? What approaches to digital media prompt students’ examinations of composition and rhetoric?
  • Archive: How do you use the DALN to teach archival (and other) research methods? What approaches to the archive engage students in critical examinations of qualitative research?
  • Literacy: How do you use the DALN to engage students in literacy studies? What approaches to the collection seem to foster students’ critical awareness about literacy?
  • Narrative: How do you use the DALN to expose your students to others’ stories and lives? What approaches help develop students’ critical, ethical responses to personal narratives?

Authors’ contributions proved as diverse and complicated as any students’ responses to an assignment prompt, and their interpretations challenged our assumptions. We expected, of course, that contributions would have overlapping emphases. But as we discussed placement, we discovered that the conceptual lens (of course) shaped our reading of each. At every turn, a shift in section placement would reveal new relationships among the chapters, and therefore new versions of the collection as a whole. Ultimately, we made decisions based on how their structural placement emphasized something unexpected about each chapter, how they played off each other to reflect the diversity of DALN pedagogy.


The digital nature of the DALN influences how every user engages with the archive, from searching and studying to submitting and sharing. This platform foregrounds the various forms, media, and modes that we use to tell one another stories about our lived experiences—as well as how we respond to and circulate those narratives. From simple text files and word-processing documents to richly layered audio files, webcam footage, hand-crafted comics, and more, the DALN comprises a historical record not only of the narrative-as-story, but also of the material, aesthetic, and technological elements that go into telling those stories. The chapters in this “Digital” section examine how the DALN can sponsor diverse students’ and teachers’ critical multiliteracies, offering new classroom approaches and analytic tools.

The first chapter provides an appropriate point of entry, as Lynn Reid and Nicole Hancock explore how the DALN contributes to progressive Basic Writing pedagogy in different contexts and unexpected ways. Their paired narratives demonstrate how the experience of working with the DALN—and the digital literacies that process demands—can foster functional and rhetorical dexterity. Janelle Newman affirms and expands these outcomes in her work with multilingual students in first-year writing. Presenting a three-part assignment, Newman offers evidence that students’ layered engagement with the DALN prompted them to become not only effective analyzers of digital media texts but also enthusiastic producers. Next, Mary Helen O’Connor presents similarly promising results from her work with refugee students in the Atlanta area. In her chapter, O’Connor discusses the affordances of the DALN as a resource that empowers her students to develop valuable digital media composing skills, as well as crucial but under-examined outcomes like confidence and connection to their peers. Finally, Jen Michaels turns our attention from students’ to scholars’ digital literacy practices and offers an alternative perspective on DALN-based pedagogy. Michaels analyzes several scholars’ narratives from the DALN to evaluate the relationship between social media and professional mentorship. The results not only offer insights into social media mentorship; they suggest how much teachers can learn from their own explorations in the DALN, and how that may serve our students.

As this section demonstrates, the digital platform offers productive challenges for teachers and students alike. While some may feel that they are in unfamiliar territory when first encountering the sometimes unconventional nature of multimodal narratives (much less when asked to craft similar ones themselves for the first time), the advantages of the digital medium for a collection of this type—easy access to artifacts, the abundance of models to emulate, the ability to manipulate content in remixes—become readily apparent. Taken together, these chapters demonstrate to readers how the DALN can be used to teach various types of learners effectively when taking advantage of these digital characteristics. 


The chapters in the “Archive” section model innovative evidence-based reflection, yet they are very much in line with traditions and characteristics that define rhetoric and composition scholarship. On evidentiary levels they position student voices alongside established scholars. With respect to tone and execution, they invite readers to pass judgment and anticipate objections about methodology and positionality. On the levels of purpose, discussions of materiality, pedagogy, and modality presuppose a rhetoric of ethics and action in the world. They remind us of the importance of broadening our views of students, classrooms, and the purposes behind archiving while remaining mindful of the empirical, historical, and interpretive tensions shaping research about literacy and learning today.  

In the opening chapter of this section, DALN founders Cynthia Selfe & H. Lewis Ulman explore how their “Literacy Narratives of Black Columbus” positions students as community advocates supporting local oral history projects. For all their attention to narrative theory and research methods, Ulman and Selfe reveal the fundamentally activist potential of the archive, its potential to serve local communities as well as academics. Shifting focus from archive as community service to archive as self-reflection, Johanna Schmertz examines what happens when the DALN is used in an online writing seminar to prompt identity performances. Schmertz’s archival pedagogy emphasizes the performative nature of literacy narratives and the potential for recursive reflection via archives of the self. In their own reflective chapter, Bill FitzGerald and Brynn Kairis offer interwoven literacy narratives about teaching and learning with literacy narratives. This dialogue emphasizes the transformative potential of the DALN, the serendipitous and surprising ways it changes individuals and our discipline. In the “Archive” section’s final chapter, Deborah Kuzawa shifts gears from practical pedagogy to interrogate the how the DALN’s infrastructure and implicit values effectively queer the archive. Through her analysis, Kuzawa invites readers to explore how archives like the DALN can expand our own and our students’ capacity for progressive research on literate lives.

Throughout this book we contend that the DALN has a distinct impact on discourse and inquiry. Essays in this section support this claim because they seem to mark a shift in conversations about interpretive directions in archival studies. Despite profound differences (especially on the levels of positionality), each study seems to test a controversial claim about how to go about investigating the digital past: archives are not merely repositories of artifacts; they construct knowledge (Gaillet, 2012). Contributions to this section bring this claim to life and pragmatically frame the implications of rethinking archives as sites of activity, blurring the boundaries between the past and present, the public and private. 


Chapters in the “Literacy” section focus on underlying motivations for learning to read and write, the proliferation and growth of various types of literacies, and students’ experiences with schooling and learning more generally. Too often, investigations of literacy and learning operate at a level of ambiguity and abstraction, fueling commonsensical and restricted representations of students, literacy, and classrooms. Grounded in theoretically situated definitions of literacy and relying on specific examples from the DALN and the classroom, chapters in this section offer distinct contributions to ongoing conversations in literacy studies and composition.

The first contribution to this section by Erin Kathleen Bahl takes up a neglected topic within discussions of literacy in rhetoric and composition scholarship: the religious dimensions of literacy. Bahl argues for a multiliteracies-based approach to composition in order to broaden pedagogical discourse and create space for investigation and research about religious literacies. This theme of broadening perceptions of literacy is picked up by Kara Poe Alexander, who addresses a gap in scholarship between undergraduate research and ongoing work on the DALN. In doing so, she positions the archive as one solution to ongoing challenges of raising awareness about the undergraduate research movement. Stacey Anderson raises timely and sorely needed questions about undergraduate research and literacy. In this case study, Anderson investigates ways to increase scientific literacy and address issues of retention at a Hispanic Serving Institution. Finally, in this section’s last chapter, Alice Myatt and Guy Krueger focus on how the DALN offers a participatory approach to teaching students about literacy narratives. They call on readers to rethink the archive as a collection of mentor texts that engages students in powerful and memorable ways.  

Each chapter touches on an aspect of literacy theory, acquisition, or development, but not simply because the DALN is a repository for stories about reading and writing. Because this collection also prioritizes pedagogy, the attention that authors give to definitions, questions, and lessons of literacy is intimately linked to learning outcomes—to the hopes that contributors have for their students. In this way, contributions to the literacy section demonstrate powerfully that developing innovative pedagogical solutions depends on a willingness to question the idea of literacy itself.

If there is one key takeaway from this section, it is that the DALN offers instructors multiple ways for exploring issues that are real and important to their students now. When it comes to addressing challenges associated with engagement, literacy acquisition and development, and technology, the DALN helps instructors to ground lessons in specific examples and provides opportunities for students to join conversations with perhaps the most convincing strategy at their disposal: storytelling.


This section reflects the prominence of narrative inquiry in literacy studies as well as the DALN’s value as a storehouse and sponsor of literacy narratives. The chapters here examine “Narrative” as both an object and method of study; they complicate our view of popular assignments while offering critical strategies for studying their results. Throughout, teachers and students explore reflection, identity, and representation as they expand their repertoire as narrative rhetors and researchers. This work builds upon and extends the interdisciplinary narrative turn, offering fresh perspectives on its central questions: “What can narratives do?” and “What can we do with narratives?”

Chapters in the “Narrative” section respond to that first question with promising work on narrative as critical reflection and identity formation, and the second with productive innovations on the literacy narrative as genre. Based on her work with multilingual students, Lilian Mina offers a new, expansive understanding of reflection through a mixed-methods study that itself expands conventional research. Mina uses rich data to tell a layered story about how students develop advanced literacy skills while reading DALN narratives and writing about food. This attention to students’ reflective writing also drives R. Joseph Rodríguez’s work as a teacher educator negotiating various borderlands. Rodríguez weaves together his own and students’ stories to demonstrate how creative DALN-based narrative projects can help educators construct both a writer identity and a more responsible society. In the final chapter, Christian Smith complicates our disciplinary valorization of literacy narratives, arguing that these assignments often elicit conventional stories that neither demonstrate critical reflection nor represent students’ literacy experiences. Inspired by Walter Benjamin, Smith offers a convoluted pedagogy that challenges students to compose to remix existing DALN narratives into experimental texts that reimagine the genre itself.

Set in a variety of class settings, from first-year writing to advanced composition to teacher education, these studies demonstrate how the DALN supports a range of pedagogical priorities. At the same time, these studies find common ground in their faith in the power of narrative to engage and even change students. The DALN encourages students to respect others’ experiences as they reflect on their own, to tell stories with intention and influence, and to connect personal and academic discourses. Meanwhile, as this section and the entire collection demonstrate, the DALN encourages teacher-researchers to experiment with narrative pedagogies, to continually challenge our perspective on stories and their tellers.

III. Using This Book for Teaching and Learning

As our brief summaries suggest, this collection highlights just how useful the DALN can be across classroom settings, at a variety of levels, within different institutional contexts, and through a range of pedagogical priorities. That diversity also hints at the range of motivations that brought you to this collection. We have designed this text with readers in mind, offering multiple points of entry. Most apparent is the table of contents’ organization, which invites audiences to engage with the collection through the DALN’s titular terms. For new and veteran DALN users, this structure frames explorations of these core themes in contemporary pedagogy: digital media, archival methods, literacy studies, and narrative inquiry. Within and among these sections, contributors engage an array of concepts and conversations.

Like any archive, however, The Archive as Classroom will invite a range of users who will approach the collection from different points of interests. To facilitate these explorations, we have devised alternative, tag-based routes through the collection. Whereas the Table of Contents organizes the collection conceptually, the Alternative Paths highlight practical pedagogical concerns. These tags—such as #faculty development, #researchmethods, and #reflection—enable users to create their own path through the collection based on their particular teaching interests. If, for example, you are considering how the DALN might factor into a Writing about Writing course, you might consult all chapters under the #researchmethods hashtag; if you are wondering how the DALN can be used to prompt multimodal composing, you might consult those chapters under #multiliteracies.

An immensely practical guide for readers who might be interested in incorporating the DALN into their curricula, assignment designs, and other activities, The Archive as Classroom is especially useful for those new to composition, literacy narratives, or teaching more generally. Regardless of background, training, or research interests, readers will appreciate the robust section of appendices, which includes an assortment of assignment prompts, rubrics, and other resources that readers can reference or adapt as they develop their own curricula utilizing the DALN. It is our hope that these resources will inspire readers to look to the DALN in their teaching practices for years to come.

While the contributors set out to examine practical applications, such moves raise generative questions about pedagogical praxis, particularly in relation to the archival shift and public turn in contemporary composition studies. More than simply a “how-to” guide, therefore, this collection situates these various approaches within pedagogical scholarship—and thereby furthers conversations about best practices, evidence-based pedagogy, and the general state of the pedagogical art as it relates to the DALN.


Comer, K., & Harker, M. (2015). The pedagogy of the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives: A survey. Computers and Composition, 35, 65-85.

Gaillet, L.L. (2012). (Per)Forming archival research methodologies. College Composition and Communication, 64(1), 35-58.

Ulman, H. L., DeWitt, S. L., & Selfe, C. L. (Eds.). (2013). Stories that speak to us: Exhibits from the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press.

Rose, M. (2009). Why school? Reclaiming education for all of us. New York: The New Press.