Digital Writing: Tips, Tricks and Techniques

 In Classroom Practice

“I started incorporating digital stoytelling, and I saw changes in my students. I saw that they were thinking in new ways and writing in new ways and enjoying it. That is when it really started to blossom for me.”  Seth Mitchell – Lisbon High, Lisbon, Maine.

Teachers Are the Center of Education: A Profile of Eight Teachers – National Writing Project

“Schools are in catch up mode” when it comes to digital writing argues Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, co-author of the book Because Digital Writing Matters. She believes school practices are out of date to the extent that “so much of school writing is consciously in the other direction” compared to professional, and social trends.

The notion of writing has fundamentally changed. Outside the classroom, the kind of writing that students encounter is overwhelmingly digital, a direction that all levels of society are moving toward at an increasingly rapid speed.

There are obvious barriers to implementation of digital writing in the classroom, as there are with edtech in general, including: a lack of resources, a lack of training, and the pressure of standardized testing. The ever-increasing march of digital writing in our society, however, makes it more important to be taught to students so they have the skills to match the world they will be entering post grade 12.

A report by the National Commission on Writing described writing as a “threshold skill” in the workforce. In their report Writing: A Ticket to Work they implore “the nation” to invest in “new and emerging technologies” to advance their writing, and for assessment to go beyond multiple-choice, machine scoreable items. “Assessment should require students to actually create a piece of prose.”

Getting Creative with Drag and Drop Multimedia Texts

Creatavist is an online app that allows you to create multimedia text’s using a wide variety of formats including text, audio, images, video, animation, maps and more. Its simple interface has users typing, embedding, dragging, and dropping straight away.

The simple tool can bring reports alive, as students create them in the media-rich format that has become the standard for professional content online. Students can hyperlink text to show references, or expand the discussion on topics, and access the HTML code to learn the basics of web-coding in a hands-on way.

The simplicity and hands-on functionality of the web app encourages students’ creativity and helps to develops the skills they will use outside the classroom and into the future.

Twitter Language Games

The Atlantic took on the question of how much can you say in 140 characters? in 2011, in which they quote Chinese artist Ai WeiWei “In the Chinese language, 140 characters is a novella”. In English however, it is far from a novella, necessitating the rise to new truncated word forms such as ‘2’ for too.

Drawing on the need for concise writing and the spirit of Ernest Hemmingway’s famous six-word story (“For sale: Baby shoes, never used”), the New York Times Learning Network created a learning activity designed to develop students comprehension and ability to convey more with less.

  1. Start by writing or printing out a batch of short stories you like from
  2. Distribute them to the class and give everyone a few minutes to analyze them individually.
  3. Lead a discussion on what they have just read with questions like:
    1. How did it feel to read stories six words long?
    2. Which one caught your attention?
    3. What do these stories have in common?
    4. Do you think it is easier to write a six-word story or a long story?
  4. Have students pair up and re-write a familiar story – be it a classic novel, fairytale, or nursery rhyme
  5. After 10 minutes have students read their stories to the class and wrap up with a discussion based around the following questions:
    1. What skills do you practice writing so concisely?
    2. What is lost, and gained, adhering to a strict word count?
    3. Is this easier, or harder than long-form writing?

Remember digital means more than just the same words on a different canvas. As famed academic Marshall McLuhan wrote, “The medium is the message” – the format that a message is written in implicitly influences how it is produced and perceived.

A pen and paper activity is not necessarily nostalgic if it puts into practice the principles of digital media, like the need to be concise.

A Case for Spellcheck

Language Tool is an online reading program that detects spelling, grammar, and syntax errors. It can be tailored to over 20 languages and specific English variants like UK, Australian, and New Zealand. Using a processor like Language Tool helps students develop style and grammar skills by running their writing through a robust filter picking up the mistakes that a standard spell and grammar check might miss.

It is often argued that spell and grammar checks are reducing literacy, however, it has been found that new words are being produced at a faster rate, and according to a Stanford study, writing more than ever. And with spelling errors becoming increasingly fatal in job applications, we are arguably more literate and less tolerant of errors than ever.

“[A spelling error] says that an individual cannot produce work to a given standard no matter how qualified they might be” says Mencap CEO, Mark Goldring, in WIRED.

As Seth Mitchell observed incorporating digital skills into writing classes is a great way to build a students enthusiasm for writing, and have them engaging in school content in new ways. There are a plethora of tools available to add a digital component to your writing classes, and just as many approaches you could take. We’ve listed just a few techniques and practices to get you started.

If you have any tools and techniques you use or are trying out some of the ones we’ve listed in class, let us know on Twitter @LearningBird

Pair what you’ve learned in this article with our blog posts on:

Blogging as a Cross-Curricular Teaching Tool

Telling Stories with Technology

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