Digital writing spaces such as websites, blogs, forums, and wikis most clearly resemble the writing spaces students traditionally use (paper, word processors). In the case of social media platforms, these likely are the writing spaces students most commonly use. Although these various digital spaces differ from word processors in their emphasis on multimedia and collaborative writing and online publishing, they typically present writers with the same interface metaphor of the page. These spaces allow students to engage in traditional writing activities (such as research, analysis, and argumentation) while foregrounding different concerns (such as collaboration, multimedia composition, and the question of audience), or at least old concerns in new ways. The following links offer specific resources and assignments for writing in various digital platforms.
Assignments in which students design and produce websites lend themselves both to more traditional writing objectives and to new modes of expression. Perhaps the most straightforward website assignment would involve asking students to remediate a traditional paper through a website: the introduction would appear on the first page, and other pages could be created for different sections of the paper. Students would also be able to incorporate links, images, and videos throughout the paper so that it can more fully engage with existing conversations and resources. Such an assignment would help students attend to concerns of organization, audience, and multimodality. The challenge of website design lends itself to other course objectives as well; what sort of website would help to organize and share knowledge and resources within your discipline? Shifting the purpose of the assignment gives students an opportunity to reflect on ways that digital spaces shape our relationship to the discipline. The following links cover helpful resources for website design.
- WordPress. WordPress is a blogging platform, but it can easily be translated into a platform for producing a website by making the home page a static page rather than the space for new blog posts. (Of course, if you want your students to blog, WordPress is a great option as well.) This platform does not require an ability to code; you incorporate content into a page through a WYSIWYG interface (What You See Is What You Get) that allows you to add text and stylize it and also to embed links, images, and videos. Students can choose from a range of themes and incorporate various widgets as well.
- Other Free Platforms. WordPress comes recommended, but there are a number of other free and relatively easy to use platforms for producing websites, including Wix, Weebly, Webs, and Webnode.
Wikis are similar to blogs and websites in their emphasis on multimedia writing and audience, but they place more emphasis on collaboration and organization. Wikis allow multiple writers to collaborate on site content, and they also confront students with the challenge of organizing various class pages and folders. Like WordPress for website design, wikis do not require an ability to code; you incorporate content into a page through a WYSIWYG interface (What You See Is What You Get) that allows you to add text and stylize it and also to embed links, images, and videos.
In terms of assignments, you could maintain a class wiki as an ongoing resource where students can aggregate helpful materials. Wikis can serve as a repository of notes, drafts, and different documents that students compile while working on individual or group assignments. They can also serve as a forum of sorts; for example, each student in class could set up a page that embeds a relevant image or video clip and then analyzes it, and other students could respond in the comments section. In this sense, wikis function less as final products and more as open-ended collaborative spaces that can continually be revised and added to.
If you would like to use a wiki in your class, you can do so in Moodle by adding the wiki as an activity/resource on a class page. If you would like to work with a separate wiki platform, try PBworks or Wikispaces.
Social media networks have been used for a wide range of learning objectives and activities. At this point, we primarily want to recommend Twitter, perhaps the most useful and relevant network for academics and teachers. Twitter provides a space for microblogging, an activity that includes sharing links and commenting on them, developing conversations around a particular topic or question, and otherwise sharing condensed content. Twitter’s hashtag feature allows users to follow a particular conversation regardless of whether they follow the specific users participating in the conversation. A class hashtag (for example, #c110 for Clare 110: Composition and Critical Thinking I) would be a great way to organize class conversations and to share class resources.
Other possibilities for incorporating Twitter into your class include asking students to follow academic conversations, creating characters, and creating bots. Most disciplines have academics using Twitter to share relevant links and blog posts and to maintain conversations. Having students identify and follow such users would be a great way to expose students to academic conversations as they unfold in real time. If you want to go down a more creative path, have students create characters based on imaginary or historical figures relevant to your discipline and “perform” as them on Twitter. Go a step further and have students program bots whose function resonates with your field. Students could also analyze existing bots.