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Start the Conversation: Why Does Digital Writing Matter?

In early 2011, I noticed an increasing buzz in social media about the National Writing Project book Because Digital Writing Matters by Danielle Nicole DeVoss, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, and Troy Hicks. Educators were discussing it in online book groups, using it to jumpstart professional development in their schools and districts, and presenting ideas from the text at conferences around the country. In creating this resource for Digital Is, I hope to highlight a few of the ways educators are engaging with the ideas presented in this important book and to provide a space for further discussion on teaching and learning in the digital age. 

The authors of Because Digital Writing Matters argue that digital writing is a complex activity; more than a skill, digital writing is how we interact with the world. Their definition emphasizes connectivity, a feature of the digital landscape which enables writers to draw from and distribute to a global community. 

Guiding this exploration of digital writing are these core questions:    

  • Why does digital writing matter?
  • What does research say about the teaching of digital writing?
  • What are some features of an effective digital writing classroom?
  • How can digital writing be used to develop critical thinking?
  • How does digital writing fit into learning across disciplines?
  • What kind of professional development prepares teachers to teach, create, and distribute digital writing?
  • What does a schoolwide digital writing program look like?
  • What are fair ways to assess digital writing?

This resource begins with a compilation of documents and media from Troy Hicks, director of the Chippewa River Writing Project, to show how he uses ideas from the book to spark conversation at regional and national conferences. Jeremy Hyler, a teacher consultant at the Chippewa River Writing Project, describes the extensive book discussion he facilitated for the National Writing Projects of Michigan Network, which included live video chats with the authors and online discussions. I present a glimpse into the work of Melissa Shields of the Jacksonville State University Writing Project and Etowah County Schools in Gadsden, Alabama, with a look at how she used Because Digital Writing Matters for a district-wide professional development program. Finally, I close the resource with thoughts on how each of these programs intersected with social media to create a global audience, and I open up the floor for more discussion on how we can further these conversations in our own professional communities.