Not so much teaching digital writing as teaching digital literature…

I spent yesterday at the Teaching Digital Writing day at the Phoenix Digital Square in Leicester (yes, again – I seem to spend more time in Leicester than anywhere else, which is probably because Sue Thomas is a gravitational force in digital lit). I had a small role in it, in that I contributed in a teensy way, via my students, to Astrid Ensslin and Alice Bell et al’s poster on teaching digital writing. Other than that, I pretty much came to network and soak in the discussions on digital writing in the classroom.

The day started off with Tim Wrightand Kate Pullinger demonstrating their recent projects, Kidmapped! and Lifelines (available only to schools), respectively. I hadn’t seen Tim’s work before, but I’m determined to explore it, as it pulls in nonfiction, classic fiction, as well as ideas of trespass, transgression, and participation. Kate’s Lifelines, as a collaborative storytelling teaching project, would be a great thing to look at for me in my collaborative storytelling project. Unfortunately I likely won’t get a chance, as it’s only available for purchase by schools, not individuals. ¬†Eventually there may be an online collection of what’s produced in the project, and I can take a look at that.

Tim also gave a bit of a workshop that reminded us to consider our digital readers’ contexts, as far as place and platform, when creating digital work. Interesting, in that there were essentially no digital aspects to the workshop itself. It seems to go straight back to my discovery that even when writing digital texts, I still rely a lot on pencil and paper (or in this case, marker and butcher paper).

Lunch gave us an opportunity to chat with Astrid and Alice about their two-part poster, then we moved on to practical aspects of teaching digital writing. It seemed to me, however, that the entire session was centered on teaching critical evaluation of digital writing, not the writing itself. My honest opinion is that the designers and teachers in these courses, at least those who presented, aren’t actually comfortable with the front end of the platforms they teach digital literature on. They can’t work with them, so they don’t teach them.

Sue Thomas brought up the point that English departments don’t actually study literature or the creation of literature, but rather the history of literature. I agree, and the problem is that the majority of digital lit scholars are coming from a traditional literature academic background, rather than pulling from or collaborating with practice-based creators and writers. It’s why there may be such a heavy emphasis on the actual text, and negligence of the visual storytelling, or even the consideration that if it doesn’t have enough text, then it is not literature.

We moved on to a talk from Henry Volans, Director of Digital Publishing at Faber & Faber Publishing. He’s one of the few publishers not super skeptical of the digital publishing world, and will soon be looking for print-digital and digital works. There aren’t many resources online yet, and he was a bit vague on what he’s looking for or expecting, and even more vague about possible business models, so we’ll just have to keep an eye on Faber and see what comes out of this new digital division.

And now I’m going to sign off of here to go scan family photos for my genealogy-obsessed father.

P.S. To induce extreme jealousy for all my geek friends, these last two blog posts were composed entirely on my new iPad. Rad. 

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