“Re-imagining Revision: The Digital Essay”
In 2014, a group of HASTAC scholars collaboratively created The Pedagogy Project, a series of blog posts, which offer examples of digital or collaborative projects that instructors can implement into their courses. These projects vary in length and complexity, so instructors can browse by category to find ideas for single lessons, collaborative writing assignments, or long-term projects. In an effort to revive this pedagogical conversation, I will offer a series of blog posts this semester to share some of my own digital and collaborative projects. The first, offers a suggestion for a different type of revision exercise: The Digital Essay.
Shake up your revision policy by approaching revision from a different angle. Rather than simply requiring your students to resubmit a new version of an earlier essay, instead, ask them to convert one of their essays from a print to a digital form. I call this the “Digital Essay” and for me, it comes at the very end of the semester. This assignment stresses process over product, so I encourage my students to experiment with the possibilities of their digital platform and think about how arguments unfold in digital spaces differently than they do in print.
For this “Digital Essay,” students will revise or convert one of their previously written essays into a digital format. I offer the students instruction on the use of Google Sites and WordPress as possible platforms for creating the essay; however, I encourage them to use any platform they wish. The overarching purpose of the assignment is for students to demonstrate their ability to explore the ways a digital space might allow them to re-imagine the structure and/or rhetorical moves of a piece of their previous writing. Therefore, the digital essay must demonstrate careful thought and attention to the conversion task and show evidence of significant revision.
Guidelines for Students
I provide students with the following guidelines:
A successful digital essay will...
- Be digital in nature.
- Have a clearly articulated and persuasive thesis that threads itself through both the text of the essay and the digital form.
- Demonstrate careful thought and attention to the possibilities afforded to an essay composed within a digital space.
- Show evidence of significant revision. (Simply rewriting your essay and including hyperlinks to your sources will not earn you a high grade on this assignment.)
- Be well-organized. (Remember that in a digital space non-linear organizational patterns are possible, but the essay should still be structured around some sort of organizing principle.)
- Demonstrate polished style, grammar, mechanics, and proofreading.
- Be creative.
On the day the essay is due, each student presents their digital essay to the class. This short presentation must include the following components:
- Explanation of the platform and navigational strategy used to create and organize the essay
- Comparison between original essay and the digital revision
- Explanation of how the digital platform was used to enhance the original essay
- Commentary on whether or not a digital format might be useful for the student in the future
Because the goal for this assignment is to get students to think critically about the process of converting from a print to a digital medium, projects are graded more heavily on the process itself rather than the end product. As such, I require that each digital essay be submitted along with a cover letter, which offers the student space to reflect upon their methodology, to provide a rationale for the specific digital platform they used, and to discuss any obstacles or limitations they encountered while creating the digital version of their essay.
Re-imagining Revision: A Short Reflection
I have found this conversion assignment to be particularly useful because it forces students to completely re-imagine their essay in a new form. Too often students think about revision as simply editing and proofreading; however, by converting their work from a print to a digital format, students have to truly re-see their argument from a different angle. After completing this revision project, many of my students wrote about how this form of revision made them more aware of things like organization, transitions, evidence, and flow because the digital platform they chose forced them to make these argumentative moves more visible. I am always incredibly impressed with the creativity with which my students approach this particular assignment. Over the course of the three semesters that I have assigned this project, my students have created webpages, Prezis*, choose your own adventure stories, Pinterest boards, Twitter feuds, Tumblr pages, and hypertexts. I always look forward to the new ideas my students will bring to the assignment, and the rich insights about revision that students gain from this particular essay make me want to continue to incorporate it into my classes in the future.
*The photo at the top of this post is a screen shot of a student's digital essay that was created using Prezi.
For the second post in this series see: "Collaborative Creation: Annotated Bibliography"