“Refreshing the page: Neo-Retro Interventions in Writing Practice”
Based on a grant-funded research project, this presentation explores whether we can disrupt the new normalization of digital writing through a seemlingly retro return to more material/physical composition techniques as a way of providing productive interventions into students' writing practice.
Almost 30 years later after Selfe and Hawisher first suggested the possibilities for “computer-assisted [writing] instruction,” many writing instructors now teach in tech classrooms and our students typically write on sleek laptops, talk about “docs” instead of “essays,” and arrive already versed in Google search strategies. More broadly, from Duke to Michigan State, universities are increasingly offering digital writing courses that translate composition pedagogy for massive online environments.
Relatedly, in my grant-funded research project, I focus on designing online activity modules to be used in conjunction with our writing center and writing intensive classes. My preliminary findings suggest an unexpected consequence of the normalization of digital writing practice. The video modules require students to move back to lower tech modes of writing, from hand-drawn mind maps to multicolumn freewriting. Students have reacted strongly to the renewed materiality of the writing process; while they engage with the learning objectives of the activity, it is HOW they write – pen on paper -- that seems most transformative.
This presentation addresses several questions prompted by this project:
- Have we reaching a tipping point with digital writing so that low-tech interfaces can function as new sites of innovation?
- Can we supercharge invention by defamiliarizing writing practice, re-positioning it off screen and onto paper?
- How has the normalization of the digital transformed our interaction with more “traditional” modes of composition?
This presentation would have significance for both those teaching in high- and low-tech environments.