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Pedagogy 6.2 (2006) 231-259

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Teaching Digital Rhetoric:

Community, Critical Engagement, and Application

Digital Rhetoric, Fall 2004

The authors of this work participated in a Digital Rhetoric course taught in the Professional Writing (PW) program at Michigan State University in the fall semester of 2004. Both undergraduate (from sophomore to senior standing) and graduate students (MA and PhD) attended the class, from fields of study including English; economics; critical studies in literacy and pedagogy; professional writing; rhetoric and writing; and telecommunications, information systems, and media. The focus of the course was to address two questions: What is digital rhetoric? How do reading and writing practices change in digital environments? The course was organized around three main goals: to explore the dynamics of digital reading and writing by examining the rhetorical, social, cultural, political, educational, and ethical dimensions of digital texts; to interrogate issues of technology and literacy; and to examine identity (including gender, race, class, and more), subjectivity, and representation in digital spaces.

Course topics included exploring the history of the Internet and the World Wide Web; doing digital research, searching the Web, and thinking about information literacy; interrogating digital literacies (including a focus on reading and writing in digital spaces, dynamics of print and digital publishing, and video-game literacies); examining issues of access and divides [End Page 231] (specifically focusing on race, class, and economies, and also on dis/abilities and usability); researching the histories of Internet economies; exploring the dynamics of digital ownership and issues of authoring, authority, and intellectual property in computer-mediated, networked spaces; exploring digital culture jamming1 and internetworked politics; examining issues of digital identity (including emphases on gender and online communities); exploring digital visual rhetorics; examining new media; and thinking about cyborg, biotech, and digital bodies. Course topics and readings were designed to equip students to

  • explore and understand digital spaces as deeply rhetorical spaces;
  • understand the sociocultural dynamics of digital writing spaces;
  • better understand the multiple and layered elements of digital writing conventions and digital documents;
  • become more sophisticated navigators of the information available in digital spaces; and
  • become more effective writers and communicators in digitally mediated spaces.2

In this essay, we draw upon our experiences in the digital rhetoric class to first contextualize digital rhetoric, providing a thick, collaborative definition with examples to support our understandings as they emerged in the class and have evolved since the class ended. We build toward a set of recommendations for teachers interested in teaching digital rhetoric or interested in integrating digital rhetoric approaches in their classrooms; these recommendations are generated from recently published literature and from our experiences in the digital rhetoric class. This work engages the conversations of scholars such as Jeff Grabill and Troy Hicks, Cindy Selfe, Gail Hawisher, and the New London Group (among others) by continuing to examine the ways in which digital technologies affect our practices as writers and teachers and to develop approaches for negotiating these influences.

Setting the Stage: Understanding Digital Technologies and Their Effects

The following section describes the ways that digital technologies have shifted how we think about writing and teaching. By examining our approaches to literacy, the ways that digital technologies have converged, the digital divide, and the social and cultural shifts prompted by a growing digital landscape, we hope to articulate the foundational changes needed for writing pedagogies to account for the effects of digital technologies. [End Page 232]

That digital technologies have proliferated in our society is not surprising, given the race to conquer technology-related media and markets; they are obvious, for instance, in the yearly profits of cellular service providers, and in the competition within the Internet service provider (ISP) market. In our classrooms and at our institutions, our friends and colleagues work—and, at times, struggle—to keep up with the tools available, to integrate digital technologies into their writing classrooms, and to gain access to the means and to the professional development required to teach in digital spaces. Our departments and colleges struggle to renew outdated tenure and promotion materials to recognize digital work. The programs...


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