For both teachers and students, the shift from independent departments of history and English toward a successful 3.0 Digital Humanities program began through collegial dialogue and active collaboration both during school hours and through virtual interactions on Twitter, Tumblr, and Blogger. Reconceptualizing essential skills through the lens of the Digital Humanities has strengthened the technical literacies of our students; deepened their understanding of historical and socio-political context; and augmented the overall quality of their expression. Technology tools have proven especially effective in redirecting the learning lens away from a teacher-centered classroom and blurring the distinction between “requirement” and “enrichment.”
I began my teaching career at Syracuse University where I taught undergraduate composition while pursuing my graduate degree. This experience has been fundamental in my understanding of how students learn and the challenges they face when too often they arrive at college underprepared for the rigors of academic writing. I was fortunate that Syracuse had extensive technological resources for the time, but students did not yet have access to personal mobile devices. Thus, my use of technology was limited and mostly didactic as I modeled on an overhead screen how to search library databases and how to use advanced functions on MS Word. After completing my graduate degree, I began a career teaching middle/secondary school in a classroom with one-to-one computing technologies. I incorporated the composition heuristics I learned at the university to focus on writing as a discursive process. Although much has been written about the ways that tech tools provide opportunities for unique forms of publication that deviate from the traditional paper, Web 2.0 technologies invite us to reimagine the entire writing process by creating a more dynamic approach to the development of thoughtful and well-informed expository prose. Revision is constant and this humble approach to argumentation inspires a growth in both intellectualism and character- the hallmarks of a humanities education.
Tech tools are an essential part of the modern classroom because in their independent lives, young learners use mobile devices to compose blogs, tweets, texts, Tumblr pages, and other media. Although the quality of this prose varies tremendously, the desire to write, to publish, and to share is an inherent part of life for our students.
The modes of production may have changed, but the skills to write masterfully have remained the same. Students need to understand: how to identify the audience and purpose for the texts they develop; how to develop an argument; and how to sustain an argument through sophisticated claims grounded in specific textual evidence. When used effectively, tech tools can teach these skills and as practitioners it is our responsibility to model their use for process-pedagogy.
Since our students already know how to publish, the best use of our time together is in a workshop format. Tech tools enable the writing process to become public as students collaborate on Google docs or post comments, threads, and blogs in real time. The public nature of the writing process demystifies the act of writing, highlighting to all students the messiness of the writing process. Everyone makes mistakes, gets frustrated, and experiences writer’s block. To write publicly is to expose one’s vulnerability, but it is also a catharsis that empowers all students to see themselves as writers and to negotiate the fears that often prevent them from putting pen to page in an academic setting.
This emphasis on process encourages students to slow down and to think deeply about the words they compose both in the classroom and in their private lives. As a community of digital humanists, our faculty team is invested in helping students to prepare for future academic challenges, but also to assist students in discovering the person they will become. Words matter. The words we compose shape our identities in both the virtual and real world. Using tech tools to teach process augments the overall quality of student prose.