Reflection on the course title

Lately I’ve been thinking about how appropriate the course title of ENG 708 is: Teaching Writing in a Digital Age. The emphasis is still on writing and its central importance to critical thinking. I don’t think we need to be taking on the teaching of aspects of all new media, nor do we need to be concerned about ways new media may be supplanting written language, nor is it that we must now teach new media composition instead of English composition. But written language and the service it performs as vehicle for critical thinking certainly must be examined in its application to new media (as we are doing). In reference to Ong, just as language adapted to technological evolution like the printing press and the computer screen, writing will, I believe, always play the central part in how understanding is gained and knowledge is conveyed. This is because language is the primary medium for thought and composed language is still the optimal manifestation of that medium. We still need to teach English composition, but the medium of language will be applied to blogs or games or digital videos, as well as the printed page. Composed language will remain the underpinning, if not the central core, of the thought involved.

Certain species of flora and fauna, it is understood, have been with us for eons. The same may be true in the future for topic sentences and 5-paragraph essays, even as ever more highly evolved forms of media make their way into being.

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3 comments on “Reflection on the course title

  1. I thought I might carry on this argument with myself by copying an excerpt from an earlier post:

    There are some other interesting, non-traditional approaches to the composition process which digital storytelling opens up: I’m thinking of the common initial process of pouring over photos or artifacts from one’s life and reflecting on them. This seems to me to present a useful perspective on the ideation process which is materially different from sitting down to a blank page with the presumption that one must immediately begin writing in order to have thoughts or form meaning. I think this might help us to remember that alphabetic language is but one symbolic system for both generating and communicating thoughts–but written or spoken language is not the sole ground of thought or meaning. I’m thinking of Watson and Crick’s 3-D modelling of the double helix, or Newton’s sitting under the apple tree, or free speech protesters who wear duct tape over their mouths. Then of course there is math, music, dance, the visual arts, cooking, flower arranging, and the waving of flags that sailors do to communicate with fighter pilots on the decks of air craft carriers, etc. etc.

    We write, or we don’t write and do something else. It’s the thought that counts.

  2. I agree with your post about how the appropriateness of the course title of “English 708: Teaching Writing in a Digital Age.” And I strongly agree that the emphasis was on writing and also on critical thinking, though it was great to learn the other features in this course. I agree that we didn’t have to focus on all “the teaching of aspects of all new media,” but I do think it was good to get exposure to all the new media and to get our feet wet.

    And you are right about not worrying about “new media…supplanting written language” They say that language is always evolving and it will change. We can see this in oral language not only in generations but of people just a few years apart.

    I see this at work where a lot of my fellow workers are young college students, some former military like myself,some just back from Iraq or Afghanistan, and some former police officers. When using radio communications, I have heard a couple of examples that the language has been modified by the younger, should I say trooops? One example is the word afirmative, which means yes, correct, I understand…which has been modified by the younger members of our estblishement to “afirm.” Another modification of language is intead of saying, “I am giving John Smith a break.” What is transmitted over the radio is, “I am breaking John Smith.”

    And I take this instride with your comments “This is because language is the primary medium for thought and composed language is still the optimal manifestation of that medium.” I am in total agreement with you, we still need to teach English composition… composed language will remain the underpinning, if not the central core, of the thought involved.”

    And I also agree, “The same may be true in the future for topic sentences and 5-paragraph essays, even as ever more highly evolved forms of media make their way into being.” Richard, I enjoyed being in class with you and I hope to have you in another class.

    Joe R.

  3. Richard, I have the same dilemma that you have regarding writing in the digital age. I embrace new media, but I have an ambivalent feeling towards the aspects of new media that do not include writing. I’m not quite sure how much compositionists should embrace new media texts that are visual. I feel that way not because I don’t think new media texts are unimportant or insignificant but because composition teachers are already trying to squeeze so much in a curriculum as it is.

    But there is a debate in the use of digital storytelling that you mentioned in your presentation. The digital storytelling can be used as a hook to more alphabetic literacy. I wonder if there are any other kinds of hooks for students rather than digital storytelling. This opens up another debate in that composition teachers need to get trained in how to do digital storytelling.

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