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flickr photo by stewart2710 http://flickr.com/photos/stewartcollinge/16844456272 shared under a Creative Commons (PD) license

It All Falls Apart: Anna’s Transmedia Log

A Collection of Leaves by Anna Smith

A Collection of Leaves by Anna Smith


Anna Smith (@anna_phd) is currently an IES postdoctoral fellow in writing and new learning ecologies at the University of Illinois, Urbana, Champaign. She is fascinated with the learning pathways that people form across their lives. You can find the bulk of her digital writing online at developingwriters.org.

This is a fail log. This is also a process log. It is a reflection point that is full of possibilities. For almost two months, as I worked with video footage, mosaic pieces, dancers, editing software, books, game platforms, words, etc., I repeatedly failed in composing a transmedia piece (itself called ‘pieces’).

And at each juncture, I tinkered, worked around, asked for help, geeked out, threw up my hands and walked away, and/or decided to have the piece ‘say’ something else. I found that transmedia composition required a new degree of persistence, and that these were some of the textures of that persistence.

Transmedia by Anna Smith

Transmedia by Anna Smith


Anna’s Transmedia Process Log: Reflection in Progress

Reflective Practice / Join the Conversation

An Activity: Make Writing … Digital

Has your vision for a digital piece this month hit some expected and unexpected walls, either due to limitations of technology or some other logistical quagmire? Consider sharing out your reflection on that process and help us learn from each other.

We hope you will share your work across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #DigiWriMo hashtag; in the DigiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DigiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.


Pieces: A Study in Transmedia

Pieces by Anna Smith

Pieces by Anna Smith

Anna Smith (@anna_phd) is currently an IES postdoctoral fellow in writing and new learning ecologies at the University of Illinois, Urbana, Champaign. She is fascinated with the learning pathways that people form across their lives. You can find the bulk of her digital writing online at developingwriters.org.

pieces: a study in transmedia

Like our learning, our digital writing stretches across and is informed by the stuff of our everyday lives–the things, ideas, and experiences that we make and which make us. We bring all that we are, were, and imagine ourselves and our world to be to a piece of digital writing, a piece that is dancing along its own pathway across media, platforms, intentions, world-views, etc.

Press play below to weave with me, to bring the pieces that are surfacing in your life in conversation with those that are materializing in mine. As a transmedia exploration, I hope you see the pieces you come across and the pathways you make as materials of/for composing–quite literally.

(Note from editor: be patient with the loading of this file. Anna’s immersive project has plenty of embedded media experiences. It’s worth the load time.)

I invite us to consider how in transmedia, it is not just media across which a piece moves, but also meanings, modalities, motives, persons, processes, pasts, etc. To contribute a piece to this study in transmedia, please add to this padlet.

An Activity: Make Writing … Digital

Tinker yourself with the beta version of the new online version of Twine, a free interactive story/writing platform, and create your own set of wanderings and evocations. How do the branches and connections within and without a story expand the notions of writing? Explore with Twine. Play your story.

We hope you will share your work across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #DigiWriMo hashtag; in the DigiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DigiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.

Digiwrimo: (re)draw the routine

Tanya Lau (@tanyalau)  By day, I am usually implementing online learning initiatives at a large government agency in Sydney. At other times, I can be found exploring and experiencing life with my son, erratically connecting with intriguing people on the internet, facilitating edcontexts.org, and occasionally trying to complete a masters dissertation. I tweet as @tanyalau and blog at explorationsinlearning.wordpress.com

Lights through a rainy window

flickr photo by RichK   shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

When I first started thinking about this post, I imagined I might try to create an activity that explored the use of visuals to communicate in some sort of weird and interesting way, artistic, fun and far removed – a distraction from? – the routine, mundane writing that we’re all required to do, day to day as part of our day to day work, in the office or at home: reports, emails, briefing notes, specifications documents, forms, essays, research papers, dissertations…

Handwritten words: #DIGIWRIMO "visual" theme post[Image: DigiwriMo post header, by @tanyalau]
Doodle of words Creative, Art, Weird and some ???

[Image: DigiwriMo weird art?, by @tanyalau]

But as I started thinking about what that activity might be, my mind kept returning to a tweet from my friend Bruno – something he said when he was deciding whether or not to participate in #digiwrimo:

Handwritten text of above tweet

[Image: Bruno’s DigiWriMo tweet, by @tanyalau]

It’s been nagging at me, because it’s making me think: well, why shouldn’t or couldn’t #digiwrimo help directly with our routine or work-related writing – rather than being seen as a distraction preventing us from getting back to the *real* writing?

Words: Why Not Digiwrimo helps with job work writing?

[Image: DigiwriMo why not?, by @tanyalau]

So I started thinking about the types of everyday writing and communication that I do, and remembered some of the things I’d seen recently from people who are doing inspiring things to make these types of writing and communication more visual, interesting, engaging – and, ultimately more effective:

Words: inspiration. Nick Sousanis, sketchnoting, doctoral thesis

[Image: DigiwriMo inspiration, by @tanyalau]

Nick Sousanisgraphic novel Doctoral dissertation:

Hand drawn male head with scarf round face

[Image from Sousanis, N (2015) ‘Unflattening’ http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674744431 via Studio 99 ‘Unflattened’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5SicXrnOYU]

Hand drawn Mona Lisa

Silhouette of girl

[Images: from Sousanis, N (2015) ‘Unflattening’ http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674744431 via http://boingboing.net/2015/06/21/doctoral-dissertation-in-graph.html]

Conference sketchnoters

Image of sketchnotes

[Image: Twitter search #sketchnote, photos https://twitter.com/search?f=images&vertical=default&q=%23sketchnote&src=typd, retrieved 29th October, 2015]

Visual reports….like this example from Toby Hewitt, who reported the results of his training needs analysis as an infographic.


[Image: Training Needs Analysis infographic by Toby Hewitt https://image-store.slidesharecdn.com/fecb4066-0dec-4ec6-9a88-a3d8f4a730b8-original.png via LinkedIn status update, September 2015 https://www.linkedin.com/nhome/updates?topic=6050060917800984576&]

The question I then asked myself was:

“How could I apply or adapt this type of visual thinking to my own work-related writing to improve communication, learning, engagement or understanding?”

How could I apply this to my own work?

[Image: DigiwriMo how can I apply these ideas?, by @tanyalau]

During digiwrimo, I’m going to take these ideas, adapt and hack them to my own situation; to take a document, a meeting, a conversation, an email, tweet, post, blog comment, report, shopping list, reminder note (anything!) – routine writing or communication that I do on a daily basis – and explore and experiment with it to find new, different and interesting ways to interpret and communicate its message primarily using visuals. (Starting with attempting to sketchnote this post).

Another thing I’ve been wanting to do more for a while is to experiment, play with and explore, and use digital tools for creating sketchnotes, infographics and data visualisation. Seeing as #digiwrimo = digital writing month, I’m going to use this opportunity to give myself the kick up the backside I need to actually Do It – and to share my endeavours and experiments with the #digiwrimo community.

I will try

[Image: DigiwriMo visual thinking, by @tanyalau]

And, in the spirit of digiwrimo, I’d like to encourage you to do the same.

More visual thinking inspiration

Visual notetaking in 3rd grade:


Nick Sousanis’ experiment in visual thinking:


Thinking differently using sketchnotes:


Ideas for creating visual notes:


A story about letting go of fear and sharing ideas visually: 


Digital tools to experiment with

iPad apps for sketchnoting:


Android sketchnoting apps:


10 free infographic tools:


20 free data visualisation tools:


Sounds and Stories

Maha Abdelmoneim @maha4learning : I have an unquenchable thirst for learning and for sharing what I learn, that stems from an ever inquisitive mind, a sense of wonder that I hope I never lose and a genuine, strong interest in people and in helping them find new ways. Currently working as an independent consultant, I’ve been in the field of Learning and Development since 1992 as an instructional designer, trainer and coach. Just a few of the things I love doing and/or exploring are Teaching and Learning in Virtual Worlds, learning and teaching languages, photography, experimenting with Web tools, playing World of Warcraft and making corn cake (this is new).

Frankfurt train station

Frankfurt Airport Train Station By zug55 under CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0

Several weeks ago I saw Laura Ritchie’s tweet announcing her new online course about music.Calling all musicians! Come join is!

I was immediately curious. I decided to take a look at the content of the course and perhaps sample parts of it that I find interesting to me as a music amateur. I don’t think I had really thought about what I expected to find in the course, but the first session had a couple of interesting surprises that changed how I listen to the world around me.

Like many, I already had a general idea about how some places are acoustically better than others. I knew that how a space is built affects how everything sounds within it — I am sure many of us experienced the frustration of not being able to understand a word of what is being announced in some places, like an airport or a train station; but I discovered much more about acoustics and sound listening to the audio file Aural Architecture (a 26 minutes long, very interesting and informative audio. If you are pressed for time listen to the first 5 minutes. and save the rest for later) I learned that everything around us has a distinct sound, that we actually hear our spaces, walls and all, even if we don’t consciously realize it, and that we can learn to hear more of our surroundings. As Laura says:

“Listening is a skill, and just as people may say someone has developed ‘an eye for detail’, being able to hone in listening is a valuable skill that can be developed and refined throughout learning.”

As a first step to train our ears to listen and hear more, Laura has a task that inspired me to pay attention to the sounds around me. I am quoting part of the task here and you can see the complete description of the task on Laura’s blog.

“Task: Capture your experience of the surface of sound around you. Choose a place and create a soundscape using your phone or another recording device. Before you make your recording, take a photo or video of the place and take time to really be aware of what you are recording and how the sounds are woven or collide to form that canvas. Write a full description of the place, including photos or videos if possible, and list all the sounds you have captured – do this right away so you have everything fresh in your mind.”

I didn’t participate in the task online but I got very involved in the experiment for days, and I still do it whenever I remember or notice something new. I went around my apartment and my terrace with my phone, recording different normal daily activities and spaces.

Here are three examples of sounds that I captured from my terrace.

Street vendor 1

This is a street vendor in Cairo calling “Bekkia” . This is short for “Robabekkia” which is not an Arabic word at all. it is originally from the Italian “Roba Vecchia” and means Old Things. Those vendors go around buying and selling any used things — except glass, I discovered. I realized what they are saying because I speak Italian but most Egyptians don’t have a clue where the word comes from, they only know what it means. I wonder how it got to us?

Street vendor 2

Man pushing gas cylinders

Bharat Gas Bike by Meena Kadri under CC Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0


This picture is of an Indian vendor, not an Egyptian one, because I couldn’t find any from Egypt — something that I need to remedy :) , but ours are almost identical. They go around banging on their tricycles to announce their presence to the residents who still use cylinders — most buildings now have piped natural gas.

Early Morning

This is what I hear sitting on the terrace, in my favorite corner, very early in the morning, as early as 5 or 6 am, depending on when the sun starts to come up and the birds start to chirp.  



Chair and plant pots on a patio

This picture is taken later in the day.

Soooo, it’s your turn now.


Listening Ears

My Listening Ears by Niclas Lindh under CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0

Put on your listening ears and switch on whatever sound recording device you want. Record some sounds from your daily activities, your surroundings, your world. Listen to them and see what you find. Tell us some Stories with Pictures and Sounds, in text or with your voice or both. Use any tool you like, experiment with a new one, shout out if you want to learn a new tool and would like some company learning or want to collaborate with a bunch of us. Learn, create, enjoy and don’t forget to share. :)

An Activity: Make Writing …Digital

We hope you will share your work across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #DigiWriMo hashtag; in the DigiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DigiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.

Transmedia Annotation with Zeega and Hackpad

My name is Terry Elliott, AKA tellio (@tellio). I fancy myself a ‘learning concierge’, but my job title is “instructor”. I have taught English for ten years at middle and secondary levels in the U.S and ten more years at university level teaching composition and literature both F2F and online. I have been a MOOC facilitator the last three years for the National Writing Project’s connected learning MOOC, CLMOOC. My wife and I have three grown, unschooled kids and we own a small flock of Clun Forest sheep in southcentral Kentucky near Mammoth Cave National Park. In a previous life before teaching I owned my own chimney cleaning and repair business. That was the second greatest education I ever received, parenting being the ultimate. I am very happy to be authoring a four-part series on digital writing and annotation for DiGiWriMo.

Rays of light

flickr photo by Vermin Inc  shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

I make a big point of accessing low barrier to entry tools like the ones I have mentioned in three previous posts here, here and here. The beauty of these is that by building a repertoire of digital tools it is almost inevitable that you will seek out even more expressive and complex tools based nearly always on the skills you have sussed out using Canva and SnagIt and Witty Comics. Take, for instance, Zeega.

Zeega was one of my favorite tools for creating rich digital experiences that had sound, image,moving image, text, texture and color. Unfortunately, like so many of these online, multi-modal tools (Mozilla’s Popcornmaker also comes to mind) the creators pulled the plug on them and they went into long term life support. i.e. open source software at Github.  Luckily, I knew a Dr. Frankenstein who could bring it back to life.

Aside: my holiday project this year is to bring it back for all to use, but for now I can show you a project that jumped out of it just the week before #digiwrimo was set to begin.  This is a work in progress so bear with it, I am extending it every day. Below you will see what I consider a classic example of the translation that I think digital writing can be so good for.

In this case I saw this reference in one of Maha Bali’s tweet to a post from a former student, Ayah Elewa.

I considered her word “listen” and went to the post expecting to hear a voice, but then I realized Maha meant for us to read Ayah’s post.  Happy accident that. I read the post aloud using Soundcloud and imported it into Zeega. Now I am working on a deeper translation of her text with pictures, more text, and animated gifs.  Below is the work in progress. (Viewing advice: go to lower right of zeega box, mouse over, click on full screen view, turn off volume when done.)

Here is one that uses music but is a translation of a post by Susan Watson. Derivative? Yes.  Creative? Yes.  (There is a bonus in this kind of ‘close reading’–you can pay respect and honor the author’s voice.  You can begin to really hear the genius loci in a post and the genius behind it as well.  You can be properly grateful.  Reciprocation is the price we pay in the infinite game of life.)


Here is one that embraces togetherness from last summer’s #CLMOOC

Transmedia Prompt

I have tons of these zeegas from the defunct site. They work but I cannot edit them anymore. My “resurrected” version of zeega is not quite ready for prime time so I have an alternative you might want to try–Hackpad.

Use Hackpad (it’s free) to gather Soundcloud files as well as pix and gifs.  First,  all you have to do to embed a SoundCloud file is to copy the url  into the Hackpad. It is equally simple to insert images either by drag and drop or by using the insert function in the menu at the top of the page.   Once you have enough pix and gifs click on the sound file to get it started, then click on the first image.  That sets up a slideshow which you can cycle through as the Soundcloud file plays.  It’s a transmedia blast.

Check out this sample and play with it as you will.  I have included a jukebox of four songs that you can choose from as well as lots of images and gifs.  Or you can just start your own transmedia Hackpad.

P.S. If you want a taste of the original zeega, let me know and I will see if we can give you an alpha test of the zeega club this week so you can make a transmedia masterpiece (or crash and burn),  Transmedia completely transformed how I experienced digital writing.  For the better.  Here’s hoping the best for you as well.

Go Ahead and Jump: Transmedia Storytelling

A Leaf, in flight

A Leaf, in flight (Image by Kevin Hodgson)

By Kevin Hodgson

If you have been following Digital Writing Month the past few weeks, you may have noticed a progression of themes. We began our first week exploring the concept of writing itself, and of what it means to be a digital writer. We then moved into the use of images as literacy moments, of meaning buried within pixels. Last week, we explored sounds and silence. This coming week, we shift into transmedia for this last full week of November.

It’s OK to scratch your head right now and wonder: Transmedia? What are they talking about now?

Wikipedia describes transmedia this way:

… the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats including, but not limited to, games, books, events, cinema and television.”  

Or, if you don’t trust Wikipedia, you might turn to the ever-insightful Henry Jenkins:

Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.

Or, perhaps this TED talk by Elaine Raybourne will help:

In simple terms, I like to think of transmedia as storytelling with few if any boundaries, and as we continue to explore digital writing this month and beyond, this idea of taking a story for a walk across platforms seems to be right in tune with the possibilities of writing in a digital age.  We should probably clarify: Transmedia storytelling does not require technology. An opera troupe in Los Angeles, for example, is doing an interesting performance called Hopscotch by moving scenes of the opera into the fabric of the real city, coordinating scenes across the urban landscape, with the audience following the dancers.

Closer to home, our impromptu Storyjumpers Project at Digital Writing Month has been a lesson in transmedia collaboration, as more than 25 writers from all parts of the world are passing a story from blog to blog as November rolls on. What strikes me is how much media is being used by the bloggers. We are hearing sounds, watching associated videos, viewing images … all in the name of the story that is always in the midst of transition, even as participants write and pass it along to the next person. That transmedia project has enriched the collaborative nature of this month’s digital writing experiences.

Storyjumpers Map

A collaboration across time and space for DigiWriMo

Unfortunately, in some ways, book publishing companies are at the forefront of much of the transmedia story experiences (as are now many other businesses) we encounter in the wider world. I say “unfortunately” because the books that I see being marketed at my own children and my sixth grade students as transmedia (they don’t often call them that but that is what they are) begin with a book in text that links to a publisher’s website with a game experience of some sort, all in the hope of selling more books and products.

I guess this strategy of “hook the kids” must work because I do see more and more of these book series being offered. In my opinion, the writer for young adult readers that I have seen pull this off with any level of real success is the talented Patrick Carmen, whose Skeleton Creek series, with video links, are creepy and mysterious and go deep when the media elements are connected to the reading experience.

I don’t blame the publishers for co-opting transmedia. Their job is to sell books, and make profits. For them, transmedia is a way to capture eyeballs and open pocketbooks. But my role as a teacher, and as a writer, is very different from that. As a teacher, my passion is bring my young writers into the world of writing, now and into the future, and I think one of my jobs is to get them composing their own interactive, digital texts. As an educator who writes, and one who writes digitally in order to explore the way composition is changing with technology (or not, as is sometimes the case), I also task myself with trying out different kinds of writing to push myself, and to consider possibilities for my students, and transmedia writing is no different.

No different, but certainly more complicated. I’ll give you that.

It’s one thing to write a blog post, with links and maybe even added embedded media on a page. That takes time and thought, but it is not overly complicated. Consider, though, the planning you have to do in order to move a story off the blog, into another medium, such as a podcast, and then into yet another medium, such as a game, and then maybe even into another … and another …

At each juncture, you have to juggle more than the story itself. You have to consider the affordances of the shifting platforms. What works as a video won’t work as a piece of writing. What works as an image might not work as an audio project. You have to weigh the pros and cons of the experience, and wonder, does it help or hinder the story? Always, it is important to remember that the story is at the heart of the matter, not the technology. If your story doesn’t hold together, no amount of transmedia hopscotching here and there and everywhere will save the reader/viewer from the dreaded state of boredom or confusion.

A weak story will remain so, no matter the platform. A good story has the potential to transcend the technology in interesting ways.

There may yet be a day when our technology applications and websites and devices work in seamless concert with each other — where writing a story across platforms is not hindered by the differences of technology, but complemented by the common pathways. It may be easy to write this way. We’re not there yet, are we? Maybe, we’re not even close. So it takes careful planning and writing when attempting transmedia composition.

But when it works? Wow. The experience is incredibly engaging, in ways that can’t quite be replicated off the screen. Composing a transmedia piece is at the heart of writing in a digital age, with all of its limitations and all of its potential. And the only way to understand it is to experience it. So, what do you say?

Are you ready to begin?

(Pssst. That was an invitation.)

Essential Silence

Chris Friend (@chris_friend) teaches first-year writing classes, manages Hybrid Pedagogy, produces the podcast HybridPod, and needs to give his personal website its first facelift in three years. He lives near Tampa, Florida, USA.

flickr photo by Thomas Leuthard http://flickr.com/photos/thomasleuthard/8660104345 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

flickr photo by Thomas Leuthard http://flickr.com/photos/thomasleuthard/8660104345 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

(Audio version by Chris embedded at the end of this post.)

I attended a funeral last month. I wanted to speak, but I couldn’t — not for the lump in my throat or the tears in my eyes or any of the affective, funereal reasons. No, I didn’t speak because of logistics. When the officiant asked for volunteers to step forward and offer their remembrances, she made eye contact with That One Brave Soul who said before-hand that she would talk. Once she was at the podium, the speaker dazzled us by donning a feather boa and a festive costume hat (the deceased loved Halloween). The speaker made us laugh with character descriptions that were just on the truthful side of slanderous. She made us cry with confessions of missed opportunities to share her feelings in time.

Then she stepped down from the podium, and The Silence set in.

We’ve all seen it. We’ve been in rooms that are awkward and pensive, where people are contemplating what, when, and whether to speak. Or we’ve been in rooms where the general noise of chatter inexplicably fades to momentary silence, shattered by shards of tension-releasing self-conscious laughter. Or perhaps we’ve attended a concert where the applause holds off for a moment or two after the final note fades away. That one moment — that pause, that stillness, that calm before the storm — is electric, filled with anticipation, bursting with emotional awareness.

When the funeral service was afflicted by The Silence, the officiant decided to keep things moving. She took the silence as a lack of participation. For many in the audience, it may have been time they needed to build their confidence or their composure. I was waiting for the right moment, and for a couple more ideas to fall into place, before offering my thoughts. But that “right moment” never came; the officiant moved along without me.

And that’s the trouble with group conversations and speech: Timing is everything. The way we build in and work with natural pauses in our thinking and storytelling can help or hinder the audience in profound ways.

Readers can create those pauses whenever they need; they simply stop reading for a moment. One strategically placed finger lets a reader take all the time they want to think, to process, to digest, to respond, to take notes, or do practically anything else before returning to the same spot and resuming the story.

Listeners, though, especially those listening to material being broadcast, don’t have that same ability. Pausing the radio isn’t as simple. And while pausing a podcast is technically simple, it may be difficult — many people listen to podcasts while driving or doing other things that keep their hands busy at the time. Recorded audio is like conversation with an invisible — but very present — audience. We have to keep their needs, their thinking, and their timing in mind. That means adding a pause when the audience needs time to process. Or repeating something if it’s easy to miss on the first go-around. Teachers do this all the time with their live, in-person classes. But authors/composers owe their future audiences the same consideration.

With both text and audio, the pacing of what we say has to be carefully crafted to help the audience process what we’re saying. Marks of punctuation serve critical roles in helping readers understand the flow of our words and ideas, providing stage direction and speed limits for our inner voice to navigate. Working with audio, though, the speaker has almost exclusive control over that navigation, and we cannot forget that responsibility.

Audio is far more intimate than text. The vibrations of our vocal chords shake the air that shakes a microphone. Recreations of that sound through speakers or headphones then shake the air that then shakes listener’s eardrums. As Anne Fernald explained in the “Musical Language” episode of the podcast Radiolab, “sound is kind of touch…at a distance.” The more we talk, the more we share that touch with our audience. But sometimes, we have to slow down, to back off, to give our audience space.

This is something I often struggle with as I create episodes of HybridPod, the podcast extension of Hybrid Pedagogy. (Coincidentally, HybridPod grew from an experiment I conducted during DigiWriMo 2014. But I digress.) When I interview people for the episodes, our conversations follow a natural rhythm, pausing and accelerating as needed. But when I edit the conversations together into a single story, I have to consciously include the right amount of time for where breaths and thoughtful contemplation should go. When I create an audio story, I have to create space for the audience’s reaction. I really have to attend to the timing needs of my future listeners.

Even though I still struggle to create the right pacing, I want to provide a simple example of how quickly silence can draw attention to itself and how effectively it can be used.

In an episode of 99% Invisible (a podcast about design, architecture, and the built world around us), producer Roman Mars helped a reporter describe the structure of CitiCorp Tower, a building that was the centerpiece of the episode. Mars tells about several unexpected features of the building, making it sound like the thing shouldn’t be able to exist. The design sounds magical…or physically impossible, with structural supports in the middle of walls, rather than their corners, and with massive amounts of open air beneath the solid mass of the building. He ends the setup this way:

“It does not look sturdy. But it’s gotta be sturdy. It’s gotta be safe, or they wouldn’t have built it this way…right?”

That momentary pause, that fleeting hesitation — the one I’ve represented with an ellipsis — lasts only a fraction of a second, but it’s enough time for listeners to stop, take notice, and predict that the worried “Right?” is coming. For a show all about design, questioning the safety of a structure is kind of a big deal. (The episode’s title is “Structural Integrity” for that very reason.) That pause allows just enough time for listeners to reach the kinds of conclusions and skepticism and discomfort that the reporters want at that moment in the story. Basically, at just over two minutes in, they wind us up. Then they spend another twenty minutes bringing us back down again.

Things can unfold in the opposite direction, as well. Audio stories can be so personal, so intimate, and so raw that they unavoidably evoke a visceral reaction from listeners.  Uncomfortable or unpleasant stories take an emotional toll on us, and we need time and opportunity to regain our composure.

I recall one episode of Radiolab — a podcast I respect and admire — that included a segment about “yellow rain” containing a deeply unsettling interview in which the interviewee was brought to tears by difficult subject matter and inappropriately callous interviewing practices, and she called off the rest of the conversation. The producers knew her frustration and breakdown were hard to listen to, so they included five full seconds of complete silence after the interview concluded to help listeners recover. Those five seconds of “dead air” — an eternity for audio producers — were an essential means for showing respect to the anguished voices in the show and to give listeners an opportunity to grieve and recover before moving ahead with new ideas. The audience needed that time to process, and any sounds would have shattered the moment.

Silence isn’t only for emotional recovery. As with the flexible, nuanced pacing of everyday conversations, silence in audio recordings serves a variety of purposes. A few that come to mind:

  • Adds suspense
  • Shows discomfort (say, of an interviewee at a pressing question)
  • Provides transition from one thought/segment to the next
  • Emphasizes intensity
  • Encourages others to participate/speak
  • Allows listeners time to process

That last point can be crucial. It’s a gesture of compassion for listeners if the storyteller slows down for a bit. After a particularly intense moment (emotionally or intellectually), a pause allows listeners to finish their thinking about a segment, reach their conclusions, and “gather their thoughts”. Anyone who has helped another person learn something new has seen the importance of a well-timed pause to allow things to “sink in”. As you write/create, remember to allow for those moments in your audience, too. In whatever you’re writing this month, pay a little extra attention to the pacing, the punctuation, or the pauses. What’s not there can at times be even more helpful than what is. Embrace the silence and let it speak for you.

“No word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” — Mark Twain

We hope you will share your work across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #DigiWriMo hashtag; in the DigiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DigiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.

Your Voice: Another Dimension

Wendy Taleo (@wentale): I’ve got a curiosity that keeps me coming back for more. For DigiWriMo I’m ready for anything. I’m looking forward to connecting with the DigiWriMo community. My guest post is focussed on adding your voice to your writing and my other ongoing investigation is around the human aspect of writing and learning online. I’m happy when trying out new tech tools or new ways of doing things. I have a geeky side, poetry side, crafty side, funny bone and human side (*phew*). Apart from Twitter my blogging is split between here and here.

 Coloured bubbles of liquid

flickr photo by Cyberslayer http://flickr.com/photos/cyberslayer/3757514403 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

What Am I?


by Wendy Taleo 2015



I am made of British Porcelain

Travelled to Australia circa 1870

I hang out on the top of poles

I am a terrible conductor but with me

Your message goes the distance

Incoming Message




I am

an insulator used in The Overland Telegraph
“one of the greatest engineering feats”

Listen to this post here (7 mins)


Early 18th century: from French télégraphe, from télé- ‘at a distance’ + -graphe ‘written’

The Oxford Dictionary definition of the telegraph (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/telegraph) is applicable as I am writing this at a distance, to go a distance. It must have been amazing in 1872 to finally be able to send a message from Southern Australia to Darwin (3,200km) and across the continents to England in a matter of hours instead of months. As I tap this out on the glass like surface of a tablet the digitally enhanced clicking of the keys reminds me of sending pulses down the wire. Some of the 36,000 overland telegraph poles still stand in the desert lands as a silent monument to the lives of many that built and maintained this form of communication.

While we have dulled our sense of wonderment of such things, it’s still incredible to me that this article could be read all around the world from the time it’s published. Digital writing has gone well beyond only the urgent and important messages and now gives our stories freedom to be shared across the seas.

In hospital with a fractured finger and arm [I pick up the phone to record] I wonder how I can do my blog post for Digital Writing Month. I think about Simon Ensor’s post where he decides to record first and then transcribe as a way of making sense.

In order to really grasp what is going on, I resort to typing out transcripts of my audio captures.” Simon Ensor, 2015.

I find that my thoughts are not joined or developed enough (or maybe that was the pain killers working) but it did allow me to record ideas while eating my hospital lunch. I’m recovering at home now and it’s time to put these ideas together.

There are many ways to add sounds to two dimensional writing and to the online learning experience. In this post I’m concentrating on the most available and low tech tool – our voice. The journal article by Ozubko and MacLeod (2010) suggests a concept called a ‘production effect’. This shows a ‘substantial benefit to memory of having studied information aloud as opposed to silently’. They looked at people’s memory recall of items from a list of words after reading half a list silently and half a list out loud.  By speaking the words rather than just silently reading it the brain can recollect these items better. The produced text can stand out from the crowd of words that we read. By using our own voice to read aloud we can activate the words, make them distinctive and add another dimension to our learning.

What happens when we record our digital writing? Is it important to do so?

One benefit is the concentration required as we are aware of the collection of our voices ‘on record’. We can play it back and perhaps read along with it (that brings back memories of broadcast sing-alongs in school). It’s also available to share and our communication net is widened. More than just an accessibility function the recording of texts can play a critical part in developing writing.

Hearing your own writing brought to ‘life’ adds another dimension. In this recent example, Maha Abdelmoneim chose to record a reading of a blog post. On listening to her recording she said:


The sharing of the recording had impact not only on the author but others that listened. I listened to this before I saw the original post and it stayed with me. Kevin Hodgson commented: kevintweet

When I asked the author, Simon Ensor, whether he would change anything of the original piece after hearing the reading he said:

wendy tweet

Remix is another dimension that we can add to our writing. Visual, audio, video, more writing – it’s another way to examine our thoughts from a different angle.

From the forthcoming book chapter entitled “Academic Writing as Aesthetics Applied: Creative use of Technology to Support Multisensory Learning” (Lian, Kell, & Koo Yew Lie. 2015) this quote struck a chord with me.

The way we write is reflected in the way in which we speak written texts. Writing is not separate from the spoken text, nor are the prosodic structures simply pasted onto the writing in order to create spoken text. (Lian et al. 2015)

The study used a mechanism of examining the recordings of students reading their own academic writings as a way of improving their writing. The report concluded:

Students, therefore, are likely to benefit from tools that tap into their multisensory meaning-making systems and enable them to examine, in more than one way the communicative impact of their own texts. (Lian et al. 2015)

This is what we can strive for by using audio in the online context. Make it multisensory, make it more available to the mysterious process of sensemaking for each individual.


In this work I took words from a video transcript and turned them into sound. See the process for this exercise in this post. Does this add any value to the sense making? While it was fun to do and it may have some artistic application, it would need a decoder for this to assist with any communicative impact of the original message (like the Morse code/decoder process). The following examples are more in line with the ability of sound, in particular the voice, to enhance, create and aid sense making.

Mindful: Mary Oliver

In this collaborative work started by Scott Glass, I wrote a poem and later returned to record a number of segments written by others. I also recorded my own poem and linked it on the Padlet wall. The authors that I recorded felt ‘honoured’ that I had spent the time to do this. In the online world we can suffer that all encompassing malaise of silence from our digital writing. By recording the written word I could add another dimension to this already multifaceted work.

Armchair travel


In this example the recordings came first. The #adhocvoices project as part of the Connected Learning MOOC 2015 (#clmooc) encouraged participants to record their voice or environment as a way to connect with others. There were four recordings that I chose. They were immediate, evocative, environmental and from various corners of the world. I used this sensory input and wrote a poem to tie them all together.


A beach at sunset with the words of the haiku

Perhaps my favourite example of multisensory work is Horizon – A Journey in 5 Parts where I take a haiku poem through a few different iterations and collaborate with others to add sound and visuals.

An Inspiration: Make Writing … Digital

I’ve shared the above works as examples of how to add your voice to your digital writing. A mixed bag of ideas, for sure. What you do depends on what you might like to achieve.

  • Do you want to make a piece of writing more memorable? Read it aloud. Do you want to honour the author in some way? Record and share it.
  • Do you want to improve your academic writing? Read your own text aloud, record it and listen to it.
  • Need some inspiration? Listen to a recording or sound track and then write your story.
  • Have a story but not in a place to write it down? Record it and transcribe later.

Until we figure out how to transcribe touch and smell into 1’s and 0’s we can use our voice to tap into our multisensory system and help the learning process. Use your voice and add another dimension to your learning.

We hope you will share your work across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #DigiWriMo hashtag; in the DigiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DigiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.


Lian, A.B., Kell, P. & Koo Yew Lie. (2015, forthcoming). Challenges in global learning: International contexts and cross-disciplinary perspectives. Cambridge Scholars Publishers, Cambridge, UK.

Markman, A. (2010) Say it loud: I’m creating a distinctive memory.

Ozubko, J. D., & MacLeod, C. M. (2010). The Production Effect in Memory: Evidence That Distinctiveness Underlies the Benefit. Journal Of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory & Cognition, 36(6), 1543-1547.

The Overland Telegraph

Resounding Silence

Simon Ensor aka @sensor63 aka Dodger (deceased) is an exiled Francophile Blackpudlian who writes wrongs and other  puzzling stories.

His blog is the largely self-composted Touches of Sense

Dark image with some waves of blue across it

image of Bull Inn Pub Gents WC wall by @Sensor

Resounding Silence

Writing aloud.



“How do you like to write?”

This is a question that I’ve been asking myself recently.

“How do I like to write?”

Well, there was a time when I would only really pick up a pen and a scrap of paper and I used to love feeling my weight, on the nib, on the paper, to such an extent that I almost made holes in it…scribbling on it.

Over the past couple of years I’ve found blogging has come naturally to me, which was quite a surprise.

I have a space in which I am comfortable.

There are times when I just sit down and I know that I want to blog.

I open up the laptop.

Words come to me.

At other times, there are pictures that I have in my mind, or a story.

They come either in a rush or they just emerge…but quite recently, I’ve been trying to find other ways to make my life more of an adventure.

Messing around with sound.

That’s what I’ve been doing.

Messing around with sound.

Sound offers all sorts of new compositional difficulties.



The time I am taking to do this…

The pauses…

The breath…to open up the next sentence…to give you…

All of that is quite unprepared….

There’s no writing going on before.

But, being literate, I’ve no question that this is writing.

This is writing with my voice.

It’s a bit more dangerous…writing like this.

You can hear the hesitation…

You can hear the doubt….

You can the frustration…


“I”ve got nothing to say.”
“It’s not going to be profound.”

Somehow with words and bold and italic it seems…it seems to wipe away…the hesitation.

I can just ditch it.

It’s less painful.

“Open mic.”

No space to hide.

I was using Soundcloud. Then, one day…I was trying to go back to Soundcloud with which I was familiar…went to the same old button on the screen…what did I find?

Impossible to log in!

What a bloody nuisance!!

Well, I really had something to say, it seemed…or else I had nothing better to do apart from to speak to an iPhone!

I ventured into Garageband.

Never been there before.

It all seemed a bit worrying: music, musical instruments…

That wasn’t for me.

And yet, as a compositional space, there are all sorts of interesting possibilities.

“What if I recorded my voice in a large room?”

What would that do to your understanding of it?

What would happen if I took your writing and transformed it with my voice? Now that’s a question, I asked myself.

Over a few weeks now, I’ve been delving into the depths, trying to work out…a path, a plan..

Trying to find my voice, in this new…new…new…new…game?

I like that risk.

I can’t put bold. I can’t choose the font. I can’t change the size of the text.

All that will have to come after.

It’s like the first blog.

It’s like the first poem.

I’m an amateur.

I’m fairly sure this is writing…writing anew…writing aloud

I invite you to join me.

I’ve no idea what’s going to come out of it.

Maybe nothing at all.

Maybe I shall continue alone.

No matter, I’m having fun, here, I’m discovering new vistas.

This is my voice anew.

This is my voice aloud.

An Inspiration: Make Writing … Digital

Try one or more sound activities – adapt – remix – invent – play!

Before starting you can take a look at these posts from Flipboard.

And/or listen to these #adhocvoices recordings on Soundcloud.

Hashtag all your recordings with #digiwrimo

Some ideas

1) Use a sound recorder as a writing tool.

Try to treat it as you might a page.

Don’t stop recording. Play with the silence.

Possible Sound recorders – Audiocopy on IOS/Android/Audacity on PC

Upload sounds to Soundcloud.

2) Try using a sound/music editor like Garageband to compose.

Rather than use silence try using a note, a beat, a noise, a piece of music.

3) Try recording somebody’s blog post and share it with them.

4) Play with existing sounds – make transcripts – make collages – make remixes.

In all cases please share your process and reflections with all at #digiwrimo.

Sounds difficult?
Shout for help!!! :-)
Nobody might offer an answer.

We hope you will share your work across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #DigiWriMo hashtag; in the DigiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DigiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.

Creating audio: an interview with Ron Leunissen

Ron Leunissen (@Ronald_2008) has several academic degrees in psychology and medicine. He works as a senior advisor in the Nijmegen University Medical Center in The Netherlands. Ron has over 20 years experience with designing & implementing medical education and integrating education with Information Technology in the form of Educational Workflow Management Systems and E-learning.

A drawing of a gramophone with the Words Audio and DigiWriMo2015

flickr photo by Ron Leunissen http://flickr.com/photos/93065039@N03/22583611066 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Audio recording of the interview (rough transcript text below that)


  • Introduction

    • Sarah: I  asked Ron Leunissen to be a guest collaborator for #DigiWriMo audio week. We decided on a structured interview by me of Ron as a way of introducing him and his work. This is done by Ron and I Skyping each other and me recording it using Audacity. Ron then cleaned it up.
  • Who are we?

    • Ron
      • I work at the University of Nijmegen helping teachers to develop medical education – we train doctors, dentists and health scientists. One of my hobbies is making music, another is making photos and another for the last 2 years is making digital art.
    • Sarah
      • I work in the Learning Technology Unit at the University of Glasgow, but I am not from a technical background – my first 2 degrees are in Philosophy and I still tutor that a little. I was a church chorister as a child and played in school orchestras – all the sorts of things middle class English children do. I really started producing digital art during my 1st cMOOC, #rhizo14, when I found a bunch of really talented, creative people to collaborate with.
  • (Sarah) Why digital art?

    • (Ron) It’s cheap, and you can throw away the ones you don’t want. Later I started making movies with my iPhone and using the dictaphone on my phone to make audio. I started sharing it on the internet about 2 years ago. The first MOOC (massive open online course) was EDC-MOOC: Education and DIgital Cultures, organized by the University of Edinburgh. That was in January – March 2013.  It ran on the platform of Coursera (www.coursera.org) One assignment was to make a digital artefact and that’s how it all started.
  • (Sarah) Tell us about the music you do online

    • (Ron) Well, it started with something Sarah said on Twitter about playing ukulele alone  Kevin and Ron both responded at the same time and that’s how our audio collaboration started – by Kevin singing and playing guitar and Ron doing keyboards, Sarah playing ukulele and singing, and Maha singing.
  • (Sarah) Tell us how that song was recorded.

    • (Ron) We recorded it using Soundtrap, which is a free online music studio that allows asynchronous collaboration. Kevin started by writing the tune, recorded himself singing it and playing guitar and imported it into Soundtrap. Later Ron added some drums and keyboard, Sarah recorded herself playing uke and imported it, and also recorded herself singing and imported that. Maha recorded herself singing and sent it to Kevin to import. Kevin sorted all of the timings and uploaded it to Soundcloud here. We used Soundcloud for our songs in rhizo15 and later I (Ron) used it with Rochelle. In a fairy tale we wrote we had a big fight scene.
    • (Ron) DS106 started as an open online course at the University of Mary Washington in the USA. DS stands for digital storytelling, that’s what the course for the students was and still is about. 106 stands for the code of the course in the curriculum of University of Mary Washington. Every day there is a small assignment that only takes about 20 minutes to do. I share them on Flickr and there is a collaborative community that help each other by sharing hints and tips. We now have an imaginary family – the Burgeron family from Bovine, Texas. We have made animated Gifs from The Prisoner (a UK TV series in the 1960s) and invented a transporter to link to our family.
  • (Sarah) Tell us about John and Mariana’s radio show.

    • (Ron) They do something called the Good Spell show on Sunday afternoons, based on Mariana’s 106 statements about digital art – each Sunday they cover one of these. It’s broadcast on DS106 radio. For example we did a short inbetween project on Goldilocks. We divided the text lines, loaded them on Google Drive as MP3 files and mixed them in Audacity, which is available as a free download.  Sound effects were added last. Even Rochelle’s grandson played a part, the part of the little bear and saying “The End”.
  • (Sarah) Tell us about your collaborative poetry.

    • (Ron) We did something in Rhizo14 that Simon (Ensor) started. The poetry form we used is called Little 11 and we collaborated to make a poem that Kevin mixed together in Soundcloud. It is not difficult – the hard thing is deciding what to do and getting started, That’s where Ds106 helps – doing their daily creates a few times a week helps you to practice – like making up your own version of Happy Birthday. The point is not to be perfect – it’s about sharing a bit of yourself. It is really important to feel safe to try new things – and communities like DS106 are very safe. When somebody shares something I like it, or favourite it – not just because I like it (I always like it!) but to encourage others to go on making digital art. That’s the beautiful thing about these virtual communities.
  • (Sarah) How does somebody get started in collaborative digital art making?

    • (Ron) A good way to start is by getting used to making digital art through participating in online assignments to lower any “fear” for producing digital artifacts and sharing those. DS106’s daily assignments could be a good start. Or the little 11 poems  I mentioned, or to take a fairy tale and collaborate with others to record it.  It might not be perfect, but that’s part of learning. Becoming a member of the open community on Google Plus is good to do too because there one can share artifacts even outside the daily assignments and ask for help from other community members.

An Inspiration: Make Writing … Digital

Write a little 11 poem and record yourself saying it out loud. Share it online (maybe by uploading to Soundcloud).

Can’t write a poem? Why not take one somebody else has written and record it in your own voice? Don’t want to record a poem – why not write one for others to record?
We hope you will share your work across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #DigiWriMo hashtag; in the DigiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DigiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.

Working Out Loud: Listening To What We Write

By Sarah Honeychurch

A close up photo of a Soundcraft Series Five 56 channel mixer at Vineyard Columbus

flickr photo by fensterbme shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

As we go about our day to day lives, we are surrounded by sound. Often we take this for granted, and although we hear the sounds, we forget to listen to them.  And, likewise, when we publish our digital writings all too often we limit these writings to typed words and digital images – we forget to add the power of sound. When an author speaks her words out loud it adds a whole extra layer of meaning to her message; when a musician puts his words to music he gives them a new interpretation; when we select a melody to accompany our moving images we elevate them to a different level.  We are creatures who talk, who listen, who sing, as well as creatures who think and write – and it is important to remember that during our digital explorations.

What We Have In Store This Week

This week, for Digital Writing Month, we are focussing on the ways in which we can use sounds in order to enhance or translate our written words and digital images.

We hope you keep your ears open. Listen to the way that voices help to tell a story. Think about the ways that sounds and tunes can be used to change the ambience of your words. Which sounds form the backdrop to your everyday life – which ones do you love and which to you dislike?  Which ones are so familiar to you that you barely notice them, and which would you miss if you could never hear them again? As I type this the Jayhawks are playing in the background and I can hear my cats crunching on their evening meal – sounds that mean Saturday evening to me. Which sounds define you and what you do?

Our Guides On This Audio Adventure

Our guest contributors this week, and the source for each post’s Daily Inspiration, include:

  • Ron Leunissen, who explains how his passion for creating digital media was inspired by DS106.
  • Simon Ensor, who talks about messing around with sound.
  • Wendy Taleo, who talks about how sounds can bring two dimensional writing to life.
  • Chris Friend, who reminds us of the importance of the pause and silence when we write.

And you. You are also guest contributors. We invite you to open your mouths and ears this week and get excited by the power of sound.  Get inspired to share your creations with the Digital Writing Month community. Collaborate with others if that’s something you like to do.

International Working Out Loud Week

By a strange coincidence, as we move into thinking about audio during Digital Writing Month, we discovered that November 16th – 23rd is also International Working Out Loud Week (#WolWeek). I’m not exactly sure what this is – I think it’s actually about sharing work with a community at an early stage and getting feedback about it, but what a lovely bit of serendipity it is that we have found out about it.

On Beyond Writer’s Block: A Graphic Story

By Mahmoud ShaltoutMahmoud teaches scientific thinking, public health and creativity to undergraduate students. A passionate comics fan as well as published comic artist, Mahmoud uses comics often in teaching and blogging. Mahmoud has lived in various places across the Middle East, and in the UK, so he’s basically a third culture kid. Mahmoud loves music, film and art. Tweet Mahmoud at @mac_toot

You can read and access the text of this graphic story here.

Mahmoud Shaltout: Writer's Block Page 1

Mahmoud Shaltout: Writer’s Block Page 1

Mahmoud Shaltout: Writer's Block Page 2

Mahmoud Shaltout: Writer’s Block Page 2

Mahmoud Shaltout: Writer's Block Page 3

Mahmoud Shaltout: Writer’s Block Page 3

Mahmoud Shaltout: Writer's Block Page 4

Mahmoud Shaltout: Writer’s Block Page 4

Mahmoud Shaltout: Writer's Block Page 5

Mahmoud Shaltout: Writer’s Block Page 5

An Inspiration: Make Writing … Digital

Either in a digital webcomic space (see this resource of various online comic creators), or at your table, with pencil and paper, sketch out a story in graphic form. Keep the art simple, if you need to. Stick people? They’re fine. As you draw and write, notice how the visual can help inform the written, and vice versa. What story can you tell?
We hope you will share your work across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #DigiWriMo hashtag; in the DigiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DigiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.

Between Words and Pictures Emerges the Shape of Ideas

By Nick Sousanis: Comics author and educator Nick Sousanis is currently a postdoctoral fellow in comics studies at the University of Calgary. He wrote and drew his entirely in comics form at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and Harvard University Press has since published it as Unflattening. www.spinweaveandcut.com Twitter: @nsousanis

The Shape of Our Thoughts

From Nick Sousanis: Spin, Weave and Cut

I want to share a quick few reflections on the particular way in which I see comics as a powerful way to express and organize our thinking. Defining this collection of practices we refer to as comics (or if you’re at the bookstore “graphic novels”) is a bit nebulous – and depends on who you ask. I think people are most familiar with the idea that pictures and words come together in a distinct way – and that as Marjane Satrapi, the author of Persepolis, suggests, as an author, she uses one mode when the other doesn’t work.

The most widespread definition of comics is Scott McCloud’s from his seminal 1993 comic on comics Understanding Comics, in which he calls them “juxtaposed pictorial or other images in deliberate sequence.” While this takes the emphasis away from word-image interaction, in considering comics a sequential art, they can be seen as a kind of picture-writing, a sequence of images read much as we read text.

I want to focus here on a different affordance of comics that I find perhaps most exciting about the form – that is the way that we do read comics sequentially, but also the way we view each panel, each page all-at-once as we do with visual art. I see the interaction of these dual modes in a single form – sequential reading and simultaneous viewing – as somewhat parallel to the way our thoughts themselves form. That is we are able to focus, stay on a linear task, step-by-step, but at the same time we are also present to reflections of past events even as we are contemplating the future. Even as we are plowing forward in time we are still aware of moments off to the side.

Comics handle these two distinct kinds of awarenesses particularly well. In comics, the parentheticals, the tangential and more straightforward exist together on the page. This affords a unique way to represent the complexity of our narratives and our thinking. And at the same time, I think as a maker of texts and images, it gives us this tremendous arsenal to find a way to contain our thoughts – we can as Satrapi said, move between words and pictures as it suits us, but we can also move between the linear and the not-so. In a way, I’m talking about comics here as somewhat akin to architecture – the way we move directly through the narrative and the alternate routes that are also available as we go. But of course, comics also offer all the ways that images can express things beyond the reach of text as well as being inherently multimodal – which includes the way that words become visual elements within the compositions. These are all of great significance to why comics are so cool – but that is a longer conversation.

Balanced Between Art and Language

From Nick Sousanis: Spin, Weave and Cut

I delved into some of this at length building off of that idea of what do our thoughts look like, what shape do they come in? (This was expanded on later in my dissertation, now book Unflattening.) As a creator, from the moment I start to formulate an idea, I try to get at what its shape would be. The form of the page and how I move the reader through it is essential all along. I don’t start with words or pictures first, I start with both, sketching and writing interchangeably as I set out to get a feel for this idea and how I can best make sense of it. (This is not necessarily typical of how comics are made. In mainstream comics – most frequently there is a writer who provides a script, which is then handed off to an artist who illustrates it. Even some authors who do both roles, may do the same. But my work is much less about narrative and more about finding ways to visualize and embody ideas.)

That play – and it really is play – with my sketches allows my visual system to become part of the conversation and make connections that I wouldn’t see if I were working in a different fashion. I find I’m always making discoveries in my own sketches that take me in directions in how I convey things and what I end up doing further research on than expected. Drawing becomes an active partner in thinking and my work is richer for it.

Spun and Interwoven

From Nick Sousanis: Spin, Weave and Cut

If I had to recommend a few books for people to start thinking about developing their own comics practice – they’d be things I use in my own teaching. There is the previously mentioned Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud – an indispensable guide to thinking about all that comics can do – though, as he says in the final pages – not the last word. Matt Madden’s 99 Ways to Tell a Story, is, as the name indicates, this curious book that tells a completely mundane story on a single page and then proceeds to do 98 different versions of it playing with form, style, genre, and more along the way. While it’s less of a theoretical book than McCloud’s, I think in seeing all these different exercises it really opens up the reader to how story can be approached through form and the tools comics offer in a brilliant way.

Cartoonist Lynda Barry’s recent Syllabus is a look at her class teaching drawing and comics to primarily non-drawers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is much less concerned with form than the other two, but instead deeply concerned with reawakening that natural ability to express ourselves through drawing, through its very movement that all of us had as children. After that, I could list tons of books – but just a few: David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp (brilliant imagery and wonderful for thinking about multimodality), of course Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, David Small’s Stitches, perhaps some wordless comics like Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, Peter Kuper’s The System, or Sara Varon’s Robot Dreams, and really anything you can get your hands on and start thinking about all the decisions the authors made in organizing their narratives. I’ve compiled a ton of resources on my website under the education tab  (http://spinweaveandcut.com/education-home/) including recommended reading lists, articles, and my own course syllabi that should offer some good places to start.

An Inspiration: Make Writing … Digital

The exercise I’m sharing here for you at DigiWriMo to try your hand at is something I made up for my own classes and public talks – trying to find a way to get non-drawers to get a sense of how one might approach organizing stories and idea on a comics page, but very quickly and with zero experience required.

I call it Grids and Gestures, and basically it prompts the participant to consider the shape of their day (that day, a typical day, a particular day, whichever), and organize or carve up a single sheet of paper in some grid-like fashion ala comics that in some way represents the experiences that occurred during the day.

The “gestures” part asks them to inhabit this composition they have drawn with lines or marks that represent their emotional or physical activity. I explain it in greater detail and also lay out a bit more about comics theory in the writeup for the exercise. What I’ve found in doing this with all sorts of groups over the last several years is how it opens participants to thinking in different ways and how much they already know about drawing and working visually than they give themselves credit for. I’d love to see what people who try it come up with, and I’m planning to share student examples and others on my site sometime in the near future.

Grid and Gestures

Examples of Nick Sousanis activity: Grid and Gestures

(This collection of examples come from educators in the 2015 Making Learning Connected MOOC, where Nick led an online hangout of the Grids and Gestures activity)
We invite you to share out your work across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #digiwrimo hashtag; in the DigiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DigiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.


Navigating in the Age of Infographics

By Troy Hicks: Dr. Troy Hicks is a professor of English at Central Michigan University and focuses his work on the teaching of writing, literacy and technology, and teacher education and professional development. Hicks directs CMU’s Chippewa River Writing Project, a site of the National Writing Project, and he frequently conducts professional development workshops related to writing and technology. He blogs at Digital Writing, Digital Teaching, and he can be followed on Twitter @hickstro

Met Office Climate Data - Month by Month (January)

Flickr photo by blprnt_van http://flickr.com/photos/blprnt/4176305484 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

In their book, Everything’s an Argument, Andrea Lunsford, John Ruszkiewicz, and Keith Walters begin with the simple premise: “[O]ne Fact of contemporary life in the digital age: anyone, anywhere, with access to a smartphone, can mount an argument that can circle the globe in seconds” (5).

And, while the world we inhabit continues to take many sides on many issues, we also now have many new forms of media through which to present these arguments. And, yes, while some arguments can be shared through a Twitter message or a quick picture posted to Insta graph, one other form of argument that takes more time to compose, yet can be immediately understood, is the infographic.

Popularized most recently through the entertaining TED talks of Hans Rosling and his Gapminder project, infographics that once took a sophisticated knowledge of multiple programs in order to create can now be developed online with just a few clicks. Their popularity has only increased, according to Wikipedia, as “infographics are often shared between users of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit.”

The first documented infographic was Charles Minard’s “Figurative Map of the successive losses in men of the French Army in the Russian campaign 1812-1813,” which skillfully outlined Napoleon’s march upon Russia, as well as his ultimate defeat. While many of us may not have the skills of Minard, more and more of us are now able to build infographics today with a number of digital writing tools including Piktochart, Infogram, and Easely.

We are always asking students to include details and examples in their work. Infographics can be powerful visual tools to be used as arguments for a number of reasons. But it isn’t all about going digital. As Master designer and scholar Edward Tufte notes,

I think there’s been – obviously, the digital world has opened up more possibilities with visualizations. But some of the most spectacular visualizations were done of all – in 1610 by Galileo, as he made these – made his remarkable discoveries. So visualization is timeless, and the principles for showing information – like nature’s laws – are timeless. So we can – I think I can learn more, a lot more sometimes, from 1610 and Galileo than I can learn from the last five years of looking at visualizations. (NPR, 1-18-13)

Thus, we want students to think about how visualization can lead to new ideas, furthering their own arguments with evidence. It can be powerful tools for expression, both personal and professional. Even though charts and graphs can sometimes be misleading — or, perhaps exactly because of this reason — we need to make sure that our students understand not only how to read charts, but also how to write them. The teaching of visual literacy has never been more important, in fact.

As this example from one of my CMU students majoring in education demonstrates, her personal passion to become a math teacher fits into a broader national agenda about the ways in which math education needs to empower girls.

Girls and Math

Infographic by Rachel Stelman

Here, Rachel Stelman uses data that she has found from national surveys as well as an interview that she has conducted with a CMU professor in order to paint a clear picture about the trends related to girls and the study of math.

Hers is just one of many ways in which the writer could compose in photographic to document the experience of women in mathematics and science. A quick search of Piktochart yielded another by Jillian Gaietto that includes much more detail and references. Clearly, infographics can work to augment or completely redefine the task of research and writing.

Visualising Your Thinking

flickr photo by mrkrndvs http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/22431995235 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

An Inspiration: Make Writing … Digital

As you chart your course through Digital Writing Month, scale up your digital writing chops, raise the bar, and tackle the task of creating an infographic. Make an infographic that is a visual representation of some data points of your life … whether it be at your educational institution, the activities of your typical day, or something interesting discovered elsewhere.

What would that look like in visual form?

We hope you will share out your work across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #digiwrimo hashtag; in the DiGiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DiGiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.


Dust to Digits: Writing Our Stories Through Family Photographs

By Michelle Pacansky-Brock: Michelle, partners with her team at CSU Channel Islands to explore the impact of connected and humanized online and blended learning environments. Also known as @brocansky and the VoiceThread Goddess, Michelle is also currently working on the second edition of her book, Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies.

Great Grandmother

Image from by Michelle Pacansky-Brock


Each photograph is read as the private appearance of its referent: the age of Photography corresponds rather precisely to the explosion of the private into the public, or rather into the creation of new social value, which is the publicity of the private: the private is consumed as such, publicly.”  – Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, p. 98

When I was a little girl, my mother often shared her old family photographs with me. The photographs were stored in a tin trunk under my parents’ bed. Kneeling on the floor, pulling out that trunk, cracking it open, and unleashing the musty scent contained inside became our ritual for initiating our travel through time. My mom, a first-generation born American who was born to two German immigrants, would share stories about her family members.

Photographs were especially important to my mom, as she experienced the tragic loss of her sister and only sibling at the age of 39 and the sudden passing of her mother just two years later. Looking at and sharing stories about the images imprinted on the old torn piece of paper was — and still is — her way of visiting her loved ones. There was a palpable connection between my mom and the time and space of the fading figures portrayed in the images, it was as if the photographs had a magical ability to collapse time for her.

We repeated this tradition numerous times throughout my childhood, often with my two sisters. I also ventured into the tin box on my own sometimes, gazing into the fading eyes of relatives who I had never met. Over time, the photographs became familiar to me; yet, there was one that I secretly treasured more than the others. It was a small, sepia-toned image printed on cardstock (known as a carte de visite). It measured about 2” by 3”. The corners were torn and the surface of the image was heavily scratched. On the back, my mother had written the name of my maternal great grandmother in pen, but aside from that there were no identifying marks on the print.

Despite the ambiguity of the photograph’s context, this image resonated with me. “You are my great grandmother,” I used to think to myself, as if she were there in the room with me. My great grandmother lived in Germany until the age of 99 and passed away when I was quite young. I never met her. I would scour the surface of that image with my eyes, in a desperate quest to know her. I wanted so much to find that “something” that would transport me from the floor of my parents’ bedroom to that moment she stood in front of the camera’s lens.

Through this search, I recall admiring her appearance. I wondered if I’d be fortunate enough to grow into the beautiful woman she was. I would gaze at her dress and imagine what the fabric felt like and what color it was. I resented the scratches that removed the details of her face, as I believed that’s where her essence would be revealed to me. Yet, I never found what I searched for in that photograph.

A photograph’s punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).     -Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, pp. 26-27.

Postcard 1915

Image from by Michelle Pacansky-Brock

At some point through the years, however, my mother shared more about my great grandmother that transformed how I related to that photograph and, ultimately, how I understood myself. There was an old postcard mixed in with the photos in the trunk that had a message composed in hand-written script on the back, which I could not read — and neither could my mother. She explained that it was a postcard my great grandmother wrote to her husband (my great grandfather) during World War I, sometime after he left for battle. It was postmarked August 16, 1915. My mother also pointed out a phrase, written more rigidly in red ink in the blank space near the postmark stamp. One word was decipherable: “gefallen” with the date August 25, 1915 just below. Gefallen. The German word for “killed in action.”

I imagined my great grandmother writing that postcard by candlelight, after getting her five young daughters settled into bed for the night.  I imagined the care it took to write in such detailed, beautiful German script (known as Sütterlin). I imagined her taking the time to be sure the ink had dried. And I imagined her slipping the postcard into a cloth mailbag, picturing it arriving in her husband’s warm hands.

While I don’t know the details of how the situation actually occurred, I also imagined how she must have felt upon receiving the returned postcard, a love letter transformed into a death notice. I imagine how she went about her life after that moment. How that experience transformed her, made her reach inside and embrace the strength she didn’t know she had. I imagine how that strength was transferred to her five young daughters, now fatherless, in war-torn Germany. “War hero” meant something very different to me from that moment on.

After learning of that story, I never looked at the photograph of my great grandmother the same again. Her body, once a graceful representation of female beauty, conveyed power and pride. The scratches on the surface and the torn corners were less of a nuisance from that point. Instead, I related to them as footprints tracing a long, arduous journey. I wondered where the photograph had been and who had held it. I wondered about photographs that I didn’t have access to and others that were never taken.

But that wasn’t all that changed for me. I also began to relate to myself differently. As I grew up, I felt the strength of my great grandmother inside myself. Knowing her story and imagining what her life experiences were like empowered me to know I too was strong. I wasn’t just a “pretty little girl;” I was her great granddaughter. And my mother was her granddaughter. And my grandmother was one of those little girls tucked in bed as she wrote that postcard. While I have had many empowering experiences in my lifetime, this story opened a new way of understanding where I came from, who I was, and what I could do.  

Personal photographs are like treasures. They document our past and connect us with those who lived before us. However, the stories we associate with a photograph construct the way we relate to it and the way we remember and value the subject(s) rendered upon its surface.

In our digital age, any photograph — no matter how old — can become a liquid photograph, enabling us to share stories with the world through blog posts, like this one. This is an ideal strategy for engaging students in the process of writing, because the process of writing fades away and becomes invisible when our efforts are focused on sharing a story. Last year, I sent my online community college students on a “Photo Quest.” One of the topics from which they chose was titled, “Who am I?” This topic’s task was to excavate a story from their past through a conversation with a family member about an old photograph (an alternative topic was provided for students who did not have access to family photographs and/or family members). One of my students shared this story about a photograph of him and his sister, each clutching a toy. The photograph led to a conversation with his mom, which unearthed a story about his first day of kindergarten in Tijuana, Mexico. Before that Photo Quest, he had no memory of attending kindergarten in Mexico. That event was, as he wrote, “something that was just swept under the rug, not really a secret, but just never mentioned and eventually just forgotten.”

Connecting our formalized curriculum with our students’ real-world experiences is fundamental to ensure learning is relevant. Using old photographs to connect students with the past is not only a great strategy for engaging students, it’s also way to excavate the marginalized stories from the past that will otherwise be forgotten.

An Inspiration: Make Writing … Digital

Search around those old boxes or file cabinets, and dig out some old photographs. What stories simmer beneath the surface of the visual? What stories do they tell? What stories can you tell about the stories they tell? Consider perusing the United States Library of Congress collections of historical photographs, or find out if your own country of origin has its own collection. What do photos say about the country?

We hope you will share your work across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #DigiWriMo hashtag; in the DigiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DigiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.

Re-Imagining Oneself Through the Lens of the World

By Kim Douillard (@kd0602): Kim is a teacher-writer-blogger-photographer who also directs the San Diego Area Writing Project.  You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @kd0602 and on her blog at www.thinkingthroughmylens.wordpress.com 

Red Leaf

Image by Kim Douillard

A few years ago I noticed a colleague of mine taking photos with her iPhone. They weren’t the usual photos of a group of friends or of your cute child or even the requisite selfie to document a moment in time, instead, she took photos to a prompt…and posted them on Instagram. I was intrigued.

Photography was always something that interested me, but I simply couldn’t be bothered lugging around all that equipment, setting up for perfect shots…or even knowing what made a perfect shot. But with my phone (and camera) in my pocket, it was handy…and I was ready for a challenge.

So I found a photo-a-day challenge with daily prompts and set out to give it a try. Prompts like one, logo, spoon, and inside sparked my imagination and I started looking at my environment through different eyes.  I not only took at least a photo a day, I also posted at least one photo a day to my Instagram account (you can find me @kd0602). I took photos for a month, then a year…and now I continue to take and post photos regularly to Instagram. Somehow the more I took photos, the more I started thinking about the idea of blogging—an opportunity to write and share my writing in a public way.

When I started blogging in July of 2013, my goal was to write a blog post every day for 30 days.  I knew that was ambitious and I also knew that I needed to challenge myself and keep to it to create a sustainable habit.  Even as I picked a theme for my blog, I already knew that making a connection to my photography would motivate me.  I called my blog Thinking Through My Lens–a play on the double meaning of the camera lens and my own perspective on the world. (www.thinkingthroughmylens.wordpress.com). What I didn’t realize until I started to blog every day was the power that the images I was snapping would have to stimulate my writing and help me frame my thinking.  A yellow sign I photographed at a gelato shop featuring locally sourced ingredients became inspiration for a post about the importance of growing and valuing local leadership in writing projects and educational settings. Each image I took filled my head with language as I sorted through my thinking.

When I’m out viewing the world through my camera lens, I find myself thinking…about teaching, about life, about the world.  My photos stimulate my thinking and my thinking sets me out in search of images.  

Recently I was out in the mountains of Alabama, looking for the foliage that represents autumn in so many places–and that is mostly missing in my place (San Diego).  Although the unseasonably warm (high 70s) and cloudy weather made the colors less vibrant, I noticed trees of gold and some touches of red.  As I walked along some forest paths, I spied this brilliant red leaf among the brown, crunchy leaves and stooped to photograph it.

And as I look at it, I find myself composing the writing…about standing out in a crowd…about being different…about risk taking.  It’s not written yet, but it’s brewing.  I also found myself composing the photo, leaning in close to capture the details.  And then later, maybe I’ll crop it, moving the red leaf away from the center of the frame, add a filter to brighten the red and increase the contrast…  As with the writing, composing is a process and the framing, the editing, the balance of color and light all impact the ways the image will be read and understood.  The images speak to me…and I hope they also speak to others, telling them stories that are likely different from mine.

Some images capture moods…the quiet introspection of a traveler with pant legs rolled up and his feet in the surf,

Setting Sun

Image by Kim Douillard


or the somber quality of birds silhouetted in a tree on a cloudy day.


Birds in a Tree

Image by Kim Douillard

And sometimes when it seems that there is nothing interesting to see and photograph, I head outside and explore. I push myself to play and re-imagine possible images. On one of those days not so long ago I picked a dandelion from my front yard (those glorious weeds seem to bring out my playfulness—and oh, does my husband rue their existence in our lawn!) and wondered how to photograph it in a different way. I noticed my car in the driveway and considered how I might capture the image if I blew on the dandelion near the rear-view mirror, but I didn’t seem to have enough hands for that. But as I was contemplating that idea, I noticed the reflection of the dandelion in the paint of the car…and I started snapping. I continued my play with some apps…and created this image.

Dandelions Make Art

Image by Kim Douillard


And by embracing the ordinary, I experienced the exhilaration of exploration and play, which also led me to composing a teacher-artist manifesto using my photographs and my words to express the importance of play in the learning process.  You can see it here.

So what comes first?  The image or the words?  It’s that age-old chicken and egg dilemma…it all depends on how you look at it, and the particulars of any given situation.  And it seems to work that way for my students too.  Sometimes they have a full blown idea that appears in words on a page and other times they see something, maybe even something they have seen many times before, and the image inspires their thinking and words.  Even more fun happens when they start to really look closely at an image and they start to talk with each other and build on ideas presented by their classmates.  

An Inspiration: Make Writing … Digital

Head out with your camera in hand (the one on your phone or iPad or a “real” camera) and take a look up.  Let your camera lens give you “new eyes” on the sky and seek out the extraordinary in the ordinary around you.  Get low, find the light.  Tilt your lens up, try a new perspective.  Watch and wait, take more shots than you think you’ll need.  Then spend some time with your images, let your images release your imagination.  Let yourself soak in them, let them wash over you, splashing you with inspiration and wonder.  Then pick one.  You can let it speak for itself and post it naked.  Or you can let it whisper in your ear, guiding your words and your thoughts–framing an idea that you didn’t know you were ready for.  

For inspiration, we encourage you to add a photograph of your “sky” to a collaborative project we are calling “Our Eyes on the Skies” — which uses an open Google Slide format. To add yours, just take a photograph of your sky. Head to “Our Eyes on the Skies.” Grab a slide. Upload your picture and label it. We hope to create a rich visual documentation of the world above our heads. You are invited.

(Go to slideshow for collaboration)

We hope you will share out your visual work this week across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #digiwrimo hashtag; in the DiGiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DiGiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.


Visual Literacy: The Way We See The World

By Kevin Hodgson

Peephole - Jackie's eye

flickr photo Peephole shared by CVC_2K under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

I’ve been more acutely aware of the world of the hearing impaired this school year, as I have a sixth grade student with significant hearing loss. This student wears high-tech hearing aids and I wear a microphone clipped to my shirt during class. We pass another larger, portable microphone around the room as other students engage in conversations or answer questions. I’ve noticed that I need to be more attuned to my own teaching style this year: to slow down, to make sure everything is accessible as much as possible, to ensure he is actively engaged.

In helping me situate myself with understanding about the world of hearing impairment, I have been thinking about two particular books that I have read that use visual literacy in creative and effective ways and which have helped me to consider my current teaching practice with a hearing impaired student. To be sure, the idea of considering the visual in order to understand audio seems counter-intuitive, but both of these writers/illustrators do just that: they tap into one medium to explain another medium.

Images Help Us Understand

First, there is Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck. Now, if you don’t know much about Selznick’s style of writing novels in recent years, you need to realize that he is a master storyteller and a master illustrator, using detailed pencil line drawings. But Selznick views the world of illustration as more than just an add-on or companion to his writing. The pictures don’t complement the story. They are the story. In fact, in a short documentary I show my students, Selznick explains how he considering his sequences of illustrations (which sometimes run 15 to 20 pages or more with no text at all) to be “miniature silent movies” in the format of a book.

Selznick’s images are integral to his stories — and while this is very effective in his other books, such as The Invention of Hugo Cabret — in Wonderstruck, the illustrations do something magical all on their own: they tell the tale of a deaf girl through the use of only illustrations and no text at all. We are transported as readers into her audio-less world through Selznick’s artwork. If you want the full effect, go into a quiet room where you won’t be bothered for an hour or two, and read Wonderstruck. The balance between the text story (which tells of one character) and the visual story (which tells of another character), and how those stories come together like a tapestry, is proof of the magic of storytelling.

Second, I recently picked up El Deafo, a graphic autobiographical novel by CeCe Bell, which tells of her own hearing impairment as a child, and uses humor and compassion to show how difficult it can be to be different from other children. I was touched by the insights of young CeCe as she navigated both the world of the hearing impaired and the world of the hearing, and how often misunderstandings left her feeling isolated and alone in the world. The story is superb.

What I noticed most, however, is how Bell effectively utilizes the elements of graphic storytelling to bring the reader into the world of the deaf. In the story, young CeCe starts out with normal hearing, but childhood meningitis causes her to lose much of her hearing. How does she let the reader know that young CeCe is losing her hearing? By softly and slowly removing words from text bubbles … by using the visual of lost and fading speech to show the reader that CeCe’s world is in the midst of a profound shift.

As the book progresses, and CeCe uses a hearing device similar to what my student uses with me, the visual storytelling of speech bubbles gives us an indicate of what it must be like to “hear” when you are hearing impaired — the garbled speech, the reading of lips, the fluctuations of volume, the way that something simple like watching television is an act of concentration most of us never consider. Bell’s story and the use of the visual has given me a much broader comprehension of my own student’s world, and given me more ideas on how to make sure we connect and communicate and learn together.

What We Have In Store This Week

This week, for Digital Writing Month, we are focusing on the conceptual understandings of visual literacies, and digging into the ways in which technology and digital composition utilizes visual media for stories and information and more.

We hope you keep your eyes open. Pay attention to the ways photographs help tell a story. What do you notice when you click the button on your camera or phone, and capture a moment in time? Are you “composing” your shots with angles, and filters, and more?

We want you to be attuned to the way graphics tell the story of data and numbers, and to remind all of us to be wary of ways in which the visual might deliberately, or not-deliberately, inaccurately portray the data. How can we trust our own eyes in the world of graphs and maps and more? And we want you to think about storytelling shifts in a visual age, and how image partners with text, and maybe pushes stories to another level of thinking.

Our Guides On This Visual Adventure

Our guest writers this week, and the source for each post’s Daily Inspiration, include:

  • Kim Douillard, whose weekly call for images and photographs across teaching networks has inspired many of us to think visually about the world around us;
  • Michelle Pacansky-Brock, whose historical photos tell stories of personal and connected experiences;
  • Troy Hicks, whose look at how infographics shape our world of data will allow you to view information as readers and writers of the web;
  • Mahmoud Shaltout, who took a request for a piece of writing and used the experience for a graphic story;
  • And Nick Sousanis, whose work with graphic storytelling and comic literacies has us viewing the world deeper and more complexly connected than ever before, and whose “dissertation as graphic story” pushes the edges of what writing could look like in the world of Academia.

And you. You remain our guest writers each week, too. We invite you to open your eyes to possibilities this week and seek out the “visual” and share your own insights with Digital Writing Month companions.

How do you see the world? Open your eyes, and your lens, and join in. Get inspired.



By Kate Bowles (@KateMFD):

a writer and educator working with students who blog at the University of Wollongong, Australia. She writes online at Music for Deckchairs (musicfordeckchairs.com) and is co-editor of the CASA blog for academic casuals and sessional staff in Australian higher education (actualcasuals.wordpress.com).

Network of Marigolds with a lego man in the middle

Flickr photo: Lego Marigolds by Qwen Wan. Under CC-BY 2.0 license

The fact remains that to write is to trace, and to trace is within the reach of any hand

Fernand Deligny, The Arachnean and Other Texts


Digital writing: is it really different from all the other traces made with hands, that we leave in the material world? At one level it feels as though there’s been a decisive break. The writing that you’re looking at right now consists in the continuous act of digital becoming, reassembling itself as it makes and remakes the network that it travels around. It’s stored, it’s over there, it’s immediately here. There’s no shape to it that conveys directly the grip of a pencil, the strength of a wrist. It could have been spoken. And this isn’t trivial: this digital writing comes to you apparently weightless, placeless and cleaned of time.

We’re so used to this, sometimes we can only see it by looking at what is different. So what do we remember now about the feel of a piece of paper that was held in the hand of the person who wrote it, whose fingers pressed the crease, whose tongue sealed the envelope, delicately and skilfully avoiding a paper cut? What can we explain about how long it took for that envelope to reach us, still sealed up and considerably protected in law against falling into the wrong hands.

When was the last time that you held in your hands a piece of writing that was dear to you because of the hand that touched the paper before you?


I’m walking in company, following a trail up into a small gorge of redwoods. I’m using my hands to balance and feel and push myself along. As I’m walking and looking down, keeping my footing among the uneven rocks, I notice that someone has recently placed—with deliberation—handfuls of marigolds in odd places along the path. They don’t call to us, or demand to be looked at. I sense we’re in the presence of a private ritual, no more than a day old.

In 1967 conceptual artist Richard Long created A Line Made By Walking, by walking. He walked along a straight line in a field repeatedly until he had made a path, then photographed the path. He was 22 years old. For the rest of his career he continued to make versions of this straight line, in other places. Sometimes he made small arrangements of stones. His lines made by walking are deliberate and austere, imposed like the boundaries in Africa and Australia drawn by the colonial straight edge. As he describes it, each walk extends the conversation with time and place that he began with the first line made by walking.

The thing is, though, that real human walking is continuously troubled by the ground we walk on. On the ground we detour, swerve and scramble. We take wrong steps, and back up, and try again. And over time we make paths by following each other’s line of thought: that way is the shorter line between points, that way avoids the tree, and so on. Gradually these paths become visible to everyone, and then they tell us something important about the gait, the weight, and the lean of our bodies. We call these desire paths, and many other names—vernacular paths, goat trails, elephant paths—but it seems to me that they’re a kind of collaborative writing of our common selves onto the surface of the earth.

I was just here. We all were.


Noticing the dried marigolds tucked into cracks in the rocks, I found myself thinking about how we write ourselves into places that we understand as somehow shared, even if we experience them alone. Digital writing doesn’t seem to me to be fundamentally different to this. Sure, there’s writing online that’s theatrical, highly polished, and demanding to be noticed. It’s virtuoso digital writing, taking advantage of all the dazzling things the network can make possible, linking and embedding and calling up. It expects a crowd.

But there’s another kind of digital writing that’s the trace of a small private ritual, a pile of stones left in public for someone who might come along. We write alone online in tiny or substantial ways, just as we write our names on walls and trees and stones and desks and in wet concrete. We write to put ideas to the test, and to make sense of things that are hard to fix on. We write to say that we were just here, thinking this thing.

This isn’t the deliberation of writing letters, or even the deliberation of making conceptual art by walking, but it’s deliberate in its own way. And it isn’t quite the privacy of the paper notebook, the bedside journal. We don’t know who will care about what we have written, but we form the sentences and craft the shape. So who are we writing for? Who do we hope will see these traces of our thoughts?


Arthur Frank writes, following a path trod by Levinas, that what is written has a capacity to lay some kind of moral claim on those who come upon it later. I feel this practice of writing as moral claim has to do with the here-I-am of all the traces we leave in the world.

The moral moment is when the text calls on the reader–on me–just as the patient calls on those who offer care. The here-I-am of the writing is a generous offering of self as witness. The generosity calls for a response of here-I-am from the reader. … The dialogue of author and reader is the beginning of other dialogues; in the multiple sites where medicine is offered and received, where care is given, and where healing occurs.

This then is the real weight of digital writing: the persistent and polyphonic dialogue with digital reading. We hardly notice this, fast movers that we are, but in networks we have created astonishing practices of simultaneity, a new form of writing that exists at all because of its willingness to be continually surprised by what it comes across. We write in the first instance to put our here-I-am into some kind of shape. But it’s in the network that we fill our writing with grace, when we become one another’s strangers, coming upon marigolds and small piles of stones, and taking time to think with care about the hands that placed them there.


Fernand Deligny, The Arachnean and Other Texts, Univocal Publishing, 2015

Arthur Frank, The Renewal of Generosity: Illness, Medicine and How To Live, University of Chicago Press, 2004

Tom Lubbock, Richard Long Walks on the Wild Side (http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/richard-long-walks-on-the-wild-side-1694454.html), The Independent, 2009

(Flickr photo: Lego Marigolds by Qwen Wan. Under CC-BY 2.0 license)

We hope you will share your work across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #DigiWriMo hashtag; in the DigiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DigiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.

Online Texts as Hyperobjects

by Keith Hamon (@kwhamon): teaches college composition and literature at Middle Georgia State University, Macon, GA, USA. He has a doctorate in composition and rhetoric from the University of Miami, though most of his professional life was devoted to managing and integrating technology into college and K12 classrooms and programs. He blogs at Learning Complexity and tweets from @kwhamon.

Shadowy image of people walking up and down lines

flickr photo by kevin dooley http://flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/4144148042 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Information technology is changing not only the way we write, but the way we imagine a text, which can no longer be thought of as a discrete, self-contained object that we can hold, analyze, and describe. Rather, texts such as shared Google Docs, blog posts, and tweets are better imagined as hyperobjects in the sense that Timothy Morton uses the term in his 2013 book Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. For the past two years, I have been writing various texts with a swarm of scholars around the world. These texts are not what we thought they were, and I have been forced to rethink what a text is. To my mind, this rethinking holds serious implications for those who write and those who teach writing as I do.

Morton lists several characteristics of what he calls hyperobjects, things such as global warming that are so massively distributed across space and time that they reveal features of objects that we usually ignore on the human scale. I suggest that modern information technology is similarly creating massively distributed texts that make obvious some features of traditional print texts that we have ignored. A Shakespearian sonnet or a student paper, for instance, can seem so self contained: easily held in the hands and readable at one place and time. Such a tidy object.

Or so we have told ourselves. Well-written texts are hard, round, and precise. Like bullets.

Or maybe not. The electronic texts that my swarm of scholars has been producing over the past two years reveal a different side of texts. To get a feel for hyperobjects, listen to Jimi Hendrix’s guitar on Voodoo Child (Slight Return), emphasis on the slight return.

Like other hyperobjects, electronic texts are viscous. They are at our fingertips, in our faces, and sticky. We do not put them down or place them back on the shelf. For instance, a swarm of us wrote The Untext, a Google document that refuses to stay on Google Docs; rather, it squirts out into the margins of the document, and then out through Gmail, text messages, blog posts, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and other channels. Someone in Egypt or France makes an edit, and my smartphone in Georgia, USA, buzzes to let me know. I turn away, and there is The Untext. I cannot put The Untext away, for as Morton notes, there is no away. Rather, the text is massively distributed across all the spaces and times that I inhabit. It is always already there.

Watch your children with their smartphones to understand the stickiness of the texts they are writing with each other. Join a Twitter-fest and let the tweets wash over you. Of course, I’ve been reading The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in print for forty years, which means that even print texts are spread out, smeared across years, decades, or centuries—massively distributed, viscous. However, I can deceive myself about print texts by returning Prufrock to its place on the shelf. I can’t deceive myself about The Untext. It is always just t/here—at my fingertips, in my face. It’s here in DigiWriMo.

2D representation of a 3D slice of a 4D cube

By Tomruen (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Then, electronic texts are nonlocal. Nonlocality is a term Morton borrows from quantum physics to describe the entanglement of quantum particles so that a change in one particle is instantly reflected by a change in the other, regardless of distance—what Einstein called spooky action at a distance. Electronic texts are spooky action at a distance. They are in the cloud, not actually present in any one location, but smeared and smudged across a half dozen Google, Twitter, and Facebook server farms. They occupy all places and time zones simultaneously. They are copresent—here and not here. My students no longer hand in pieces of paper to me; rather, they share their documents with me, or they share access, for they don’t know where their documents are any more than I do.

When my swarm writes on a Google Doc, edits come from elsewhere, nonlocal. My text morphs before my eyes, or behind my eyes. My sense of myself as a writer—once an object like a text—is undermined, decentered, smeared. I become, as Kevin Hodgson says, editable—by forces beyond my ken. Shifts are lateral, from out of left field, obscured. Even as the text zooms into me, at my fingertips, it recedes from me into its inky depths like an octopus. Ink hides as much as it reveals.

Electronic texts go through temporal undulation. Just as a hyperobject stretches across space, it stretches across time, fading away into the uncanny. As we worked on The Untext, I would go to sleep only to awaken to a different document that had emerged in a different spacetime. The Untext writers stretched across half the world and a dozen time zones. The text created its own time, speeding up or slowing down, quite apart from what any one writer did, or didn’t do. Writers faded for a time, returned, phasing in and out, so that at times the document seemed to crawl, at times race, under its own speed.

Indeed, electronic texts are phased, a fourth characteristic of hyperobjects. All texts are distributed across multiple scales, but because electronic texts are seldom reduced to a single printed, handy object, we cannot ignore their multi-dimensionality. The Untext is, in fact, a stream of electrons, at the same time it is a Google Doc, at the same time it is distributed across world-wide networks (the absolute grammar of TCP/IP is important to electronic texts), and it functions through and across all these scales: micro, meso, macro. Thus, The Untext appears to come and go, to phase in and out like the Jimi Hendrix solo. I can never see it all at once, as I imagine I can with a printed text. Rather, it zooms in or out, left or right. At times it is clear, other times distorted. It disorients me, and I must work harder as a writer or reader to interact with it. Anyone who reads The Untext can attest to this disorientation even at the meso-Google Doc scale. I am certain that I am never interacting with all of The Untext. The stream of electrons recede from me, though I am confident that they are somehow important to the text.

Finally, electronic texts are interobjective, a term Morton uses to describe how objects emerge as a system of interrelated objects within a system of interrelated objects, systems within systems. The Untext, then, is not one text, a single thing, in Google Docs; rather, it is an “emergent propert[y] of relationships between enmeshed objects” (Hyperobjects, Kindle Location 1492). The Untext is an emergent property of relationships among electrons, electronic networks, phonemes, morphemes, graphemes, words, sentences, paragraphs, and memes in English, TCP/IP, HTTP, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Keith, Kevin, Maha, Sarah, Simon, and countless more. I can touch the text here and there, collapsing its wave function, so that it appears for a time to be a single thing, a particle, but as soon as I look away it morphs back into a wave and field, smeared into always already there. There is always already more to the text than I see at any given place and time, though what I see indeed acts like a text.

So what does this say about writing and teaching writing? I really don’t know, though I suspect it should change the way we treat a text from our students. We can still collapse a student paper to the few sheets of paper they hand us, put a grade on it, and hand it back. Such behavior still works in a small way in some classrooms, but it does not work so well with electronic texts. That way of thinking about the writing process and about the reader, writer, and text has never been totally accurate, but it did have utility—now it isn’t even a useful fiction. We’ve work to do.

We hope you will share your work across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #DigiWriMo hashtag; in the DigiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DigiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.

The Dilemma of Digital Writing

By Rusul AlRubail (@RusulAlRubail): a writer on education, teaching and learning. Her work focuses on teacher development and training, English language learners, and pedagogical practices in and out of the classroom.

Pine marten peeking out of a log

flickr photo by Property#1 http://flickr.com/photos/manager_2000/3127117533 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

I didn’t become a digital writer until last year. Then I realized that there is more to digital writing than revise, edit and polish. Digital writing is also about digital presence.

I figured this out only after I created my own digital presence on several social media platforms. Before that, my presence as an educator, and as a writer existed through third party mentions of my name and my title: RateMyProf, a college quarterly I helped to edit, and a few other journals to which I contributed to as an editor. But those links lead you nowhere. Other than my name and title, nobody could tell who I was, what my interests were, or even how I look like.

Then I became connected, and my digital presence started to exist.

Does this mean that as a writer I didn’t exist at all because my digital presence did not exist either?

Most of us who live on the digital realm as writers and educators experience two realities. Many might question that their actions, behaviours and interactions online are even considered a “reality”. But I think there’s more to it than us being “online” and “connected”.

People, writers, and educators are connecting everyday to digital realities that are outside their own physical reality. These digital realities come in all forms, shapes and sizes. They are digital hubs, communities, and professional and personal learning networks. They also take the shape of forums, comments, responses, highlights, live conferences, favourites and retweets. They even take form through your bio and profile shot.

Digital Dualism, a term coined by Nathan Jurgenson, speaks about our two separate realities: our digital world and our physical or IRL world. Jurgenson makes an argument that both of these realities are in fact conjoined, and are not separate from one another. So how does writing digitally impact writing?

Writing Platform

Digital writers have to consider the platform they use to display their writing. There are many platforms as well as text editors that quickly become writers’ favourite tools to use when writing. Many digital writers start to feel so connected and acquainted with the digital writing tools they use, they start to have a preference. With platforms like WordPress, Blogger, Medium, and text editors such as Sublime and Ulysses app, digital writing is now about the experience itself. Where do I write? Is it an easy to use platform? What do I like about it? All these questions come to mind for digital writers that are trying to create writing.

Social Media Sharing

When a post is finally published, after a few edits, including images, and citing, digital writers share their work on social media and their local networks. The act of sharing adds an extra layer to digital writing. We share so that our writing is read by others. We also share to start conversations, connect with like-minded people, and get recognition for thoughts & ideas. Most people do not like to admit the last point, for many reasons, but in reality, it holds a lot of truth. A major aspect of digital writing is digital audience. Who is reading my writing? What would they think? should I change something to fit their mindset? Many of these questions might be pondered when writing, but I learned to not worry about what others think when it comes to what I write about. This doesn’t come easy, especially for beginner digital writers, but eventually it’s something to overcome.

Community & Engagement

Another great aspect of digital writing that directly impacts the writer is the community and the engagement that results from writing. As mentioned above, digital presence often accompanies digital writing. When a writer joins a digital community, or professional learning network, they’ll be inclined to share the discussions that occur with the community. These discussions often happen on Twitter and Facebook in the form of posts, conversations, tweeting, retweeting etc. Many writers like to reflect on these discussions by writing their own thoughts.

Digital writing merges traditional forms of writing with the digital world. “Digital” does not refer to the tool. “Digital” refers to our presence on these tools and platforms, how we exist, behave and interact with others using the same space we are.

If you have any questions about digital writing, digital writing tools/platforms, please don’t hesitate to connect with me and ask (@RusulAlRubail)

We hope you will share your work across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #DigiWriMo hashtag; in the DigiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DigiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.