February 2012 Update
Writing in Space
In early November, faculty, students, and staff from Vanderbilt University, the University of Iowa, and Monmouth College convened for a discussion about innovative practices in digital writing. But they didn’t meet in Nashville, Iowa City, or Monmouth, Illinois. They met in “space,” and simultaneously at all three institutions, using the online technologies that are becoming more ubiquitous every day, changing the landscape of communication and altering the spaces of our interactions.
Beginning several hours prior to the panel discussion, audience members and participants began a Twitter backchannel. The backchannel was live during the event, with audience members offering commentary and asking questions throughout the panel discussions. The backchannel continued to offer a forum for conversation for several days after the event, with audience members and panelists continuing to exchange questions and comments, as well as links to related projects and information.
Panelists and audience members from each institution joined the others via Skype. Responding to the question, “how do networked technologies open new, collaborative possibilities for the way that we write?”, each campus showcased a project that facilitates community-based writing.
Jon Winet, a New Media artist from Iowa City and Director of the University of Iowa Digital Studio for the Public Humanities, spoke first. Winet described a project called Novel Iowa City that he directed during the 2011 Iowa City Book Festival. Novel Iowa City is a community-based collaborative writing project in which participants created a novel using Twitter. Winet read aloud the opening and closing tweets of the novel, which had over 70 authors and more than 400 different possible permutations. A postmodern form of community art, Novel Iowa City was at once a crowd-sourced book and a community-building project.
Derek Bruff, the Director of Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching, discussed the use of social pedagogies in the classroom. Bruff described how he used student blogs in his history of mathematics course on cryptography. He emphasized the value of having an authentic audience for student writing, offering the example of a student whose blog post had prompted a response from one of the researchers he cited. The same day as our discussion, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article by Bruff about social pedagogies in a special edition on technology in the classroom. Click here for Bruff’s article “A Social Network Can Be a Learning Network”.
Finally, Rob Hale and four students from Monmouth College presented their work in the SOFIA program, a summer research project aimed at helping students write more effective essays about literature. Under Hale’s guidance, seniors Mary Grzenia and Leanna Waldron and freshmen Cassie Burton and Carli Alvarado collaborated to design a web resource on literary analysis that faculty and students at Monmouth might use when writing, or assigning, essays in literature courses. Underscoring Bruff’s earlier point, they focused in particular on the ways that the project helped them to think about questions of audience. Click here for their website Writing About Literature.
After the discussion, each audience had the opportunity to ask a question for the panelists via Skype. In addition to questions for the panelists from each of the audiences, there was also a smaller discussion at each institution.
Writing in Space was moderated by Bridget Draxler, Assistant Professor and Director of Communication Across the Curriculum at Monmouth College, and John Morrell, a Vanderbilt graduate student and consultant at the Writing Studio.
Writing in Space was hosted by the Vanderbilt University Writing Studio, the University of Iowa Digital Studio for the Public Humanities, and the Monmouth College Communication Across the Curriculum Program. The event was co-sponsored by the Digital Humanities Seminar at the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, the Vanderbilt University English Department, “American Lives: Literary and New Media Research,” a University of Iowa undergraduate course team taught in English and Intermedia, and the Monmouth College Writing Center.