Digital Inclusion: It’s Not All or Nothing

by Yin Wah Kreher (@yinbk): I’ve lived in 2 continents and travelled to 4. I am a thinkaholic who likes to use multiple languages and modalities to communicate with others. Books, music and art are the best inventions of humankind. Helping someone to read and write is one of the kindest things you can do for someone. Tweet me at @yinbk. I blog at http://yinwahkreher.com (Yin’s #AltCV)

A night photo of Brussels and Antwerp. Two areass of bright light in a night sky

flickr photo by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center http://flickr.com/photos/nasamarshall/13951501927 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Do we have to talk about accessibility? (Again?)

(Since we are talking about digital creations, I’d much rather use the less frequently hyped phrase “Digital Inclusion.”)

From prior experience, workshops on accessible design of online courses don’t go down very well with busy digital content creators. (Sure, it could be me and not the topic!) Accessibility engenders mixed and extreme emotions.

Image of three professors arguing

Text Equivalent (Opens up a Google Document)

To be honest, the first time around I was intimidated by these responses. I wanted to be the cool kid in high school. Not the unpopular accessibility police officer. But what is the point of learning if I don’t share it? It being knowledge that will impact the lives of some 1 billion people in the world (the world’s largest minority)?

Writing a blog post on accessible design of digital media doesn’t make me a better person than you, the reader, on this topic. I prefer to see everyone as being in a potential zone of change. Some may be teetering on the edge of transformative learning whilst others are making strides to improve the accessibility of digital content creation. It is worth emphasizing that accessibility has to begin with us, the digital content creators. Ideally, we cannot and should not wait for web developers or the Office of Disability to fix any problems that arise from the digital content we create.

Accessibility is not an US versus THEM matter. “WE” co-create content together on the open web with all kinds of people; we build on and enlarge our learning experiences together. We can innovate by consulting with accessibility specialists and listening to each other’s views. If we are unsure as to why or how to make any digital content usable by everyone, I suggest we consider a few things as we participate in #DigiWriMo this month:

1. Rethink how we view accessibility.

Disability is a porous state; anyone can enter or leave at any time. Live long enough and you will almost certainly enter it. – Cecilia Capuzzi Simon

We frequently associate accessibility with disabled people, the “other” ones and forget how disability can happen to anyone of us, anytime. Indeed, consider the porosity of this concept and how ability is, maybe, a social construction?

Accessibility is also about inclusion that enriches all of us. I like how Steven Taylor put it when he talked about making accommodations beyond compliance in the context of higher education:

My starting point on the issue of accommodations for students with disabilities is the
philosophy that we do this not for the students with disabilities, not for compliance, and not for diversity for the sake of diversity, but because universities are enriched by the experiences of students with disabilities.

We are ALL richer for the effort we put in to make informative content findable, available, usable, shareable, efficient and collaborative as much as possible on the open web. Doing so, we invite everyone to participate in our conversations and connect with us for deeper learning. Accessibility, someone said, is about the heart, not the law. Lennard Davis reminds us that the Americans with Disabilities Act has opened some doors but discrimination against people with disabilities still exist: economic discrimination, marriage inequality, and “discrimination in more powerful but hard to regulate ways – the job interview, dating websites, social engagements, and the like.”

2. We can learn how to create accessible digital content.

Learning how to make digital content begins with what I would call an awakening to the needs of others around us. This thoughtfulness benefits not just the person with a disability, but also content creators, who then have opportunities to pause and be reflective in their design; to go about acquiring new knowledge and skills on how to include others in their digital craft-making. The web is not short of resources on how to create accessible digital content. I will list a few helpful sites that describe how we can get there, by listening, and by working at our own pace:

The template of guidelines is embedded in the article and can also be found as a viewable article on my Google drive. Benetech, a nonprofit organization with a focus on developing technology for social good, also has a webpage that describes the accessible e-book publishing criteria.

I will highlight a few of the 9 tips pertaining to Twitter that DigitalGov has published because I find that I have a lot to learn to make my tweets more shareable with people on the web. A number of #DigiWriMo participants are also connecting via Twitter. Moreover, I will be creating a #DigiWriMo Make prompt with these tips!

A. If you are posting an image, video or audio file, use these words, e.g. [PIC], [VIDEO], [AUDIO] to indicate that you are linking to any of these file formats. This prepares people using screen readers to know what to expect before clicking on the link. Uppercase letters are recommended to improve clarity for those with visual challenges.
B. Compose your tweet in such a way that it acts as a descriptive caption and provides context for the picture/video/audio file. Then link back to a webpage that hosts a tagged photo [image with alttext], video or audio with full caption.

I have an example of this on my #VCUTHINK course. I have a mind map which I posted as an image, which will be unreadable to screen readers. Thus, I created another representation of the digital content. I created a text equivalent using a Google document which I posted, shared and linked to the course page. I didn’t post a tweet about this though. I have a lot of learning to do!
C. Use Camel Case for the first letters of compound words used in Twitter hashtags. For example, #DigiWriMo instead of #digiwrimo. [Yikes, slap me for my earlier ignorance with my tweets. #ICanBeWrong]
D. Try to link to accessible digital content (a tagged photo; audio or video with transcript). If that is not possible, or you are unsure, include a brief description of these limitations in your tweet(s). [This is a new one for me to learn!]

3. Inclusive design is not all or nothing.

Ronald Mace first introduced the concept of universal design (UD) as “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design” (1988). My interpretation of UD is that it is about degrees of possibility.

Inclusive design, a related term used more broadly in the UK, incorporates the idea of reasonable-ness.

“The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible on a global basis, in a wide variety of situations and to the greatest extent possible without the need for special adaptation or specialised design”.

Once our senses are awakened to the needs (not wants) of people around us, can our brains lose that empathic understanding? Some research has shown that even toddlers can be primed for empathy. Apparently, empathy can be nurtured throughout life. Yet, the busyness and distractions of life can hinder our desire to be attentive — not unempathic — to inclusion as we create digital content. I want to encourage you to keep on with this practice of digital inclusion and stop beating yourself down that you can’t find the time to do it. We can learn how to create digitally inclusive design, and we can start at some point to make digital inclusion as reasonably possible as we can. Develop an ambitious imagination. But more so, remember, it’s about the heart. Where the heart is, we will find the means and resources.

An Activity: Make Writing Digital
#DigiWriMo Make:

  • If digital inclusion or accessibility were a song, movie, image, book or a short poem, what would it look/sound like to you? Make a short note, tune, video clip or hum a tune using any online app, e.g. Notegraphy, Vocaroo, PicMonkey, etc.
  • Before you share your image/audio/video file on Twitter, create a text equivalent of this note on a web document. (Apply Tip B)
  • Share your digital content on Twitter using the #DigiWriMo hashtag and the #A11y (short for accessibility) hashtag. Remember Camel Case? This way, we show our support to the community or network that’s working towards creating accessible web content. (Apply Tips B and C and/or D)

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.

 

Author, Audience and Parts of Speech

by Sherri Spelic (@edifiedlistener) Educator, Coach and Facilitator at home on the edge of the Alps in Vienna, Austria. I blog at https://edifiedlistener.wordpress.com/ and teach elementary physical education at a PK-12 international school by day. (Sherri’s #AltCV)


flickr photo Captive Audience shared by Singing With Light under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

For much of October I have been mentally wringing my hands over exactly how I want to contribute to Digital Writing Month, especially as a featured contributor. I gladly accepted the invitation to be a part and was flattered to be included among a fascinating cross section of participating contributors. And I kept asking myself – what do I have to share? What’s my angle? What’s important to me? What matters? And going a level deeper – what’s at stake?

Let me start here. I write regularly in public online spaces. I blog, I tweet, I comment. In fact, if I google my name, I get 4 pages worth of results which refer almost exclusively to one of those acts. So foremost in the digital warehouse of frequently accessed data points related to my name, writing pops up as if it were all that I do. So if Google’s main clues suggest “Sherri Spelic writes,” then that must make it so, right? Hmmm…

I realized only very recently that I want to talk about audience here. Because when I write, even when I say I don’t think much about who is going to read whatever I put out there, of course that’s a lie. I often consider for whom my words are intended. I care about reaching certain individuals and groups with my message. This thinking shapes, too, where I choose to publish – on my own blog or on a public platform like Medium.

Digital writing – in my understanding, the act of creating texts or other products through digital tools which are designed to be shared with readers via digital means- diverges significantly from the private hand-written journaling I did for years. From my laptop and occasionally from my tablet I draft texts which I primarily publish immediately. And when I say publish it means that I post it on my blog which triggers a least two separate tweets and sends out about 100 e-mails to subscribers of my blog. If I choose to publish on Medium I can either submit it for review to the editors of a specific publication (like Synapse) or I can post it independently. In both cases, these texts are out there for anyone and everyone with reasonably free internet access to see, read, and also ignore.

But here’s the thing: that “out there” business can be misleading. Just because anyone could find my beautifully crafted reflection on ‘the joy of whatever’ does not mean that many, or necessarily anyone will. We kind of assume that because the user base of the internet is so vast, diverse and active, that we who brave the waters of such relentlessly fast-paced media will be showered with attention from all angles, positive and negative. When we write our provocatively snarky think-piece on ‘the rise and fall of you-know-what-I’m-talking-about’, we can be so convinced that the masses will jump up, click and re-click their immediate approval and even the trolls will come marching into our comment stream to illustrate the vital nerve that we have touched. That, however, is so rarely how this digital writing thing actually unfolds, at least in my corner of the internet.

Here’s where I think we can fall into a trap. We want audience. We want readers. We’d like to win over subscribers. We want to feel useful and appreciated and worthy and maybe even important. And audience seems like a way to get there. How many subscribers to your blog before you can call your writing endeavor a success? What’s the critical mass of Twitter followers required to be considered a “thought leader”? How do you get to be listed as a LinkedIn Influencer when you post an article?

Because in digital media we like to let numbers and metrics tell the story – the story of reach, of clicks, of views, visits and referrals. These metrics are then readily folded into narratives about popularity, trends, importance, because in the economy of attention, these things matter. These metrics tell us many things but they fail to tell us as writers and as people enough of what we really need to know: Whom did I reach? What was it that resonated? Where was I misconstrued? Then, going a little deeper: What is in this piece for me? What lessons do I want to keep for myself? What would I do well to let go of right now?

The information that we most often crave about audience reaches us typically through other avenues, if at all: through comments, tweets and retweets, shares across different platforms. And so much of all that will remain unknown. And in digital writing as in other forms expression we need to be okay with that.

So how do we find audience, after all?

If we want audience, then we must first and foremost be audience. We need to read widely and astutely. We need to pause as we read the work of others – and become permeable. Being an audience means letting others into our worlds, leaving space for the sparring and dancing of  ideas. Being an audience means listening – dropping defenses, setting aside our emotional reactivity for a moment. When we do these things, we become an audience of value and increase the likelihood of helpful and constructive interaction. We acknowledge a response within and perhaps also ‘out there’, privately or publicly.  

For me, this slow and steady acculturation of being audience while growing audience has afforded me the opportunity to mature into this writing practice at my own pace. In fact when I examine the bulk of my digital work, I quite simply would characterize it as “writing back.” So much of what I write emerges as necessary and somehow urgent responses – to something I read, saw, experienced, heard. I write back to authors. I write back to my students. I write back to my professional/personal learning network (PLN). I also write back to myself.

When I’m not writing I do many other things: I teach, I coach, I parent, I facilitate, I move, I read, I lead, I follow. And by now these aspects flow freely into my writing. The immediacy of the digital – the risk and opportunity of exposure coupled with the potential speed of engagement and response -for me, this underscores the imperative of being the audience I want to have. Remaining focused on the distinctly human dimensions of our lightning fast communication channels stands at the core of what, why and how I choose to create.

It may seem that we are all born under the sign of algorithms’ ascendency and that the astrology of our common future may be reduced to a handful of branded provider platforms.  Yet it is and will continue to be our choice to uphold and broaden the reach, impact and benefit of the irreplaceably human in each of us whether we are reading, writing, listening, speaking. We need to think about our offer as both/and instead of either/or. Writer and listener. Reader and speaker. Being the audience that makes positive waves requires more from us as writers, educators, activists and contributors and also serves to regularly remind us of what we are in fact here for.

What matters to me in contributing to this year’s digital writing month? Supporting audience in all its forms and iterations; making audience a 30-day verb.

Let’s Launch #DigiWriMo – Your Month, Your Goals

Welcome to Digital Writing Month 2015, which we hope will be an adventure in digital writing. We hope you enjoy the month, a week, a post, an activity, or even just a tweet. Set your own path and allow your goals to emerge as you find daily inspiration from other participants and our guest contributors.

Photo: Deep Creek Autumn Path by Nicolas Raymond under CC-BY 2.0 license https://m.flickr.com/#/photos/82955120@N05/15899694705/sizes/l/

Photo: Deep Creek Autumn Path by Nicolas Raymond under CC-BY 2.0 license

It’s November 1st! (ok, so the day began earlier in Australia and China; still hasn’t begun in America or Brazil but we’re getting there! Which is why our introductions won’t be synchronous.)

Here are a couple of pathways into #DigiWriMo – pick whatever captures your imagination.

Slowchat about #DigiWriMo
Use the #DigiWriMo hashtag to tweet about your hopes for the month, or the challenges you face in your writing, or any interesting thoughts or questions you have about #DigiWriMo – and/or respond to others’ tweets. Easiest way to follow the tweets is to have a column for #DigiWriMo on Tweetdeck or Hootsuite (worth a try if you’re new to these). If you’re not on Twitter, you could post your thoughts on the roster Google Doc.

Unofficial CV Introductions #altcv
We kinda cheated – we posted this activity prompt a couple of days ago (to introduce yourself using what you value about yourself rather than what is traditionally counted on CVs, and to use whatever media you prefer). We posted it early so you could take time to think about and prepare this throughout the first week (add yours to the hackpad and see others’ – it’s editable). Tag your post #altcv and tweet it. If you’re not on Twitter, post a link in the comments here, on Googe plus or Facebook, or add a link beside your name on the roster.

Collaborative Story
This idea was suggested by participant @Brunowinck on Twitter. It is built on the model of the Exquisite Corpse, where one person writes part of a story and passes it along to the next person. This version will use individual blogs to move the story around the world. There is already a Google Doc where people have signed up to write this story collaboratively. This could take 2 days or all month – it’s up to you!

And if you’re not ready to participate yet, feel free to watch and appreciate what others are doing. Comments, faves and retweets can go a long way to support other writers.

What else is happening this week?
We have guest posts by Sherri Spelic, Yin Wah Kreher, Rusul AlRubail, Keith Hamon and Kate Bowles coming your way for daily inspiration about digital writing, audience, identity, collaboration and more. These will come out the morning of the author’s timezone, you’ll find posts from Austria, Singapore, Canada, USA and Australia, respectively. We also look forward to contributions by YOU. Whether you’re inspired by one of our guest contributors, one of our activities, or something else entirely – we hope you’ll share.

We are also merging with the #DigPed Twitter chat on Friday November 6 at noon ET to discuss digital writing. The chat announcement will be out on Hybrid Pedagogy sometime during the week.

(Photo: Deep Creek Autumn Path by Nicolas Raymond under CC-BY 2.0 license)

Welcome

This year (2016) the Young Writers’ Project have grabbed the reins and suggested some weekly topics for Digital Writing Month. Head over to their web pages to check out their ideas.

Later in the month there will be some pop up make cycles facilitated by some of the #CLMooc crew. Follow the hashtag or watch the CLMooc blog for more details.

Update: See the coming soon announcement.

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flickr photo by stewart2710 shared under a Creative Commons (PD) license

Your Story, Your Terms: Unofficial CV activity

We are used to measuring what we can count in terms of learning, but how do we celebrate the things that matter?

Flickr photo Experimentation by Taro Taylor under CC-BY 2.0

Flickr photo Experimentation by Taro Taylor under CC-BY 2.0 license

We are often asked to tell our stories according to someone else’s standards of what counts, but we are not necessarily asked about what matters to us, what we value, even if it can’t be measured. We are even usually asked to express ourselves in some semi-standardized format, like a Curriculum Vitae (CV) or résumé.

What if we could write a CV that was based not on degrees and position and peer-reviewed publications, but on what we think is most important about who we are and what we are genuinely most proud to have accomplished? We know it’s not the first time some of you see an activity of introducing yourself differently – so this might be easier for some than others, but we hope all of you will enjoy doing this.

Here are some examples of things we would include and formats we used to represent ourselves – looking forward to yours!

We are inspired by the thinking of many people who emphasize “all the stuff that matters but does not count”. Lee Skallerup Bessette writes about how service and social media activity and activism are underrated or ignored in academia. Dave Cormier held a week about counting in #rhizo15. Rebecca Hogue challenged the traditional bio. The #clmooc team encouraged participants to do untroductions.

So let’s think of less formal and more formative markers of achievement and personal growth.

Some suggestions:

  • Making a (long term?) friend through a MOOC/ peer review process
  • Being noticed/recognized by somebody REALLY IMPORTANT or someone you deeply respected
  • Doing or writing something that inspires others to remix it (see Tania Sheko’s radio play)
  • Finding an unrelated shared interest (knitting, ukulele)

Some things are slightly more countable, but not usually counted for grades/promotion/tenure (see Bonnie Stewart’s research on influence via Twitter and her post about everybody being a social media guru)

Here are some unofficial CVs:

Tweet yours out to #digiwrimo and #altcv or post it on your blog (or Soundcloud for audio, Youtube for video – wherever you like).  We’ll work on aggregating these here. Don’t have a blog? Create an open Google Doc and share it with us in the comments here or via Twitter.

Editor’s edit: we started curating your #AltCV contributions here – add yours!

(Photo: Experimentation by Taro Taylor licensed under CC-BY 2.0)

Make Some Noise: Voicing Our Written Words

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Writers should talk more. We write to make ourselves heard. We use writing to tell a story, contribute to conversations, add our voices to a chorus, raise the alarm against injustice, call for help. Readers, then, look for a strong voice from authors or get emotional over a text that speaks to them. In each of these cases, text evokes a sound. Indeed, the very word audience originates from the Latin word meaning “to hear”, same as audio. Writing allows us, in a fashion, to hear words and language. As we read, we recreate what the words might sound like, rather than exactly how they sounded to the writer. Reading transforms print into sound, even if it’s all internal.

This is a call for authors to make more noise with their writing. I mean that literally: Use vocal sounds to convey words, not just text. Let readers become listeners. Tell your story to their ears—spoken word demands a synchrony of attention that written words cannot duplicate. When confronted with written text, we can skip, skim, scan, and speed-read. With audible speech, we can skip to a different spot in a recording, but we lose all the content we skipped; there’s no way to get an overview of spoken text. While at first this may seem a limitation, I believe the opposite: Spoken text offers an opportunity for a richer involvement with the text than the printed word can. Jonathan Sircy will discuss this idea in the context of teachers reviewing student papers in an upcoming article on Hybrid Pedagogy. In it, he will explain how listening to student work creates a more genuine appreciation of student texts.

Writing teachers, especially those in K-12 schools, often work to help their students develop a voice in their writing. (I would argue that academic writing is often specifically intended to eliminate that voice, but that’s an issue for another time.) Writers who express their voice use words distinctly and purposefully, crafting a unique style recognizable as their own. But why do we limit ourselves like this? Our perception of writing should expand to include the spoken, not just the written, word. We deserve to hear one another’s meaning.

The sound of language helps readers. I’ve been an avid fan of audiobooks for decades; my blind grandfather got me hooked on them, often bragging that he could read a book while doing the dishes while those who used their eyes to read couldn’t pull off the same trick. Audiobooks take the written word back to the oral tradition of storytelling, allowing the narrator to infuse the text with expressiveness and emotion that, for all the wonder of written language, is nonetheless challenging to capture in print. Think how much texture and richness are added to poetry when it’s read aloud. The sound of words endows language with beauty and meaning. Those of us who read books with our ears hold a dual-layer appreciation for the text, and it baffles me when people claim—as I often hear—that listening to an audiobook isn’t “real” reading. Listening to text is more real than reading it.

I’m also a huge fan of podcasts, listening to them in my car any time I don’t have an audiobook queued up. Unlike traditional radio programs, which require an audience to listen at the same time as the program is broadcast, podcasts allow the audience to listen to a program on their own schedule, with a caveat: The program still takes the same amount of time to listen to regardless of when it is played back. Timing is integral to audio programs; good programs captivate audiences with well-timed narrative and keep listeners involved in the audible world they present.

Speaking of timing, silence is underrated. When we tell stories to our friends, we pause at certain points and rush at others, to help deliver the story the way we intend. Audible storytellers need to keep in mind that their audiences might need a moment for something to sink in. Silence is also a foreign concept for people who work in text. While paragraph breaks or visual dividers do a little to affect the speed at which readers experience writing, there is no way with the written word to force readers to stop and ponder an idea. Audio, though, needs to account for necessary time to think. Audio storytellers need to embrace silence on occasion so that listeners can digest.

Audible texts create an intimacy that doesn’t exist in print. This document is a call for more of that intimacy. The spoken word works because the speaker makes vibrations in the air, which then tickle follicles of hair in the listener’s ear. Even if that sound is recorded by microphone, translated to 1s and 0s, saved as an audio file, transmitted over the internet, and played back through a set of headphones, whoever first spoke the words in that recording ultimately affected the listener in a physical way: Spoken words move people. As Anne Fernald put it in an episode of Radiolab, “sound is…touch at a distance.” I challenge you to do more to touch your audience more intentionally. Let’s get intimate with our words.

Take out your microphones, raise your voice, and make some noise.


[Photo, “Abstracted”, by Fio licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.]

Painting with Light Weekend Challenge

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This weekend, we’re leaving words behind. In what will be our most hybrid digital writing challenge yet, we will be painting with light and posting our successes, flubs, and creative failures on Twitter. The goal here is to get outside our comfort zones as people who are accustomed to creating, producing, and writing on computers, tablets, phones. This challenge asks us to stand up, take a place in the world (at night, or in a dark room), and make art using light.

You can create dynamic pictures, drawings, ecstatic images, and more. Anything that takes advantage of technology to make the world around you — and the very air itself — into a digital canvas.

For information on painting with light, check out this video. And this one. And this one.

And if you’re painting with the camera on your phone, check out Lightbomber or LongExpo, or search your local app store for more options.

Plan to post your first attempts Friday night, your second attempts Saturday night, and your very best-in-show before the end of the weekend on Sunday. As always, be sure to use the #digiwrimo hashtag.

This weekend, we’re leaving words behind. Unless, that is, you can paint them with light.


[Photo, “Here’s the message, do you care about the medium?“, by Kevin Dooley licensed under CC BY 2.0.]

DIY Zines: Not Too Trivial

Tiffany Kraft teaches English Composition and Literature at Clark College. Her research interests include 19th-century British Literature, creative writing, Rhetoric and Composition practice and pedagogy, and adjunct advocacy. “I teach in a way that leads to an awareness and appreciation of the craft of writing.” You can find more at tiffanykraft.me.

2512983749_ee38b41e0d_zDIY Zines: Not Too Trivial

by Tiffany Kraft

In The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), Wilde subverts social, intellectual, and sexual paradigms to expose the ethos and materialism of the age. In title and intention, my zine takes its cue from Wilde’s playbook, and attempts something similar, though on a smaller scale that is fit for the digital maker (author, editor, self-publisher, and promoter) of the 21st Century. In the Preface, I come out in character:

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Writing to Connect: Knowing the “Other” Outside Time & Space

Maha Bali is Associate Professor of Practice, Center for Learning and Teaching, American University in Cairo. She writes at blog.mahabali.me and is one of the facilitators of edcontexts.org.

7757863298_88953dd7fb_zWriting to Connect: Knowing the “Other” Outside Time & Space

by Maha Bali

I write and blog like crazy now, and people might be surprised to know that as of November 2014, which is #digiwrimo, I will have been blogging for only 10 months. I am amazed to be asked to guest-write a post for this event, given that I did not start seeing myself as a “writer” until around July 2013 when I was nearing the submission of my PhD dissertation and gaining confidence in myself as an academic. I started writing for magazines first, then realized I sometimes wanted to write my thoughts about something that felt a.) urgent and b.) not necessarily relevant to any particular magazine’s focus. So I first started blogging for myself, blogging to think, to give myself space to think aloud without imposing on others by flooding them with emails. But then I started using my blog for MOOCs, and soon, blogging became a way to connect with others. Here are some ways I write with and for others:

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Digital Writing Prompt: Listening with New Eyes

15672488976_318098c854_zThis week, we’re going to pull back the curtain a bit and twist around our methods. We’ve been working on projects in different media, with those media in mind. What can happen when we look at those projects with the wrong medium?

At some point this week, take a few minutes to examine your work with a tool you’ve not been using much. Look at what you’re doing from the vantage point of a different medium. See what you find/create by changing your perspective.

  1. Choose a different medium. For instance, if you’ve been working with text, pick audio or video.
  2. Look differently at what you’re doing. If you’re usually using audio or video, consider looking at the things you’ve written as a product, rather than just as supporting material. If you’re usually using text, consider vocalizing or recording your process, or consider adding images or sounds to your creative process.
  3. Document the difference. Record something about the change of perspective. What do you see that wasn’t there before?
  4. Share what you saw. Publish the off-the-norm text, audio, or video, and tweet a link to it with the #digiwrimo hashtag.
  5. Watch what others create, and comment on the perspective, the work, and/or the discoveries.

[Photo, “safety“, by Fio licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.]

Message in a Bottle Prompt

Close up of black dogOver the next several days, much of the nation will be gripped in a polar vortex. Flights will be cancelled. Snow will pile up; bitter cold and ice storms will wreak havoc. Loved ones will be stuck inside. There’s no better time to practice sending messages — of humor, support, wisdom, frankness, or love. And there’s no better way to send those messages than through the digital tools at our fingertips.

This weekend, November 15th and 16th, your challenge is to create unique audio messages that you can or would broadcast. Use Soundcloud or another recording app. Or push even further using Highlight (for iPhone and iPad) to annotate your audio messages with text and image. Record spontaneously, script yourself, sing a song, read a favorite poem… Choose whatever sort of message you want to send, and who you’re going to send it to.

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Digital Writing, Paywalls, and Worth

Lee Skallerup Bessette is an English Instructor at Morehead State University in Kentucky and writes regularly at Inside Higher Ed‘s College Ready Writing.

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Digital Writing, Paywalls, and Worth

by Lee Bessette

I’m tired. Scratch that: I’m exhausted. I’ve been writing for my life, like my life depended on it, like somehow if I could find the right words, my life would finally be what I wanted it to be. Words, the public kind, done in all sorts of digital medium, were my lifeline, my lifeblood. I wrote once on Twitter that “You can write yourself into existence. The person you are and the person you aspire to be.” But what happens when you stop?

It’s strange for me to be invited this year to contribute to Digital Writing Month; my digital writing, compared to previous years, feels like it has slowed down. I write “feels like” consciously, because if I were to actually look back at my writing from the past year, it would probably match, if not exceed, last year, but with one significant difference:

Much of it is behind paywalls.

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Half-Baked Writing Tips From The Cake Wrecks Lady

Jen Yates used to be a Jungle Cruise skipper, a cash office accountant, a children’s book inventory expediter, a house painter, and a clown — not necessarily in that order. Today she’s a blogger, which she says is kind of like “clown” and “expediter” mashed together. You can find her writing at Cake Wrecks and Epbot. Today Jen lives in Orlando with her hubby, John, and their cats Tonks and Lily. She enjoys dessert first, as well as quoting Ghostbusters and The Princess Bride. A lot.

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Half-Baked Writing Tips From The Cake Wrecks Lady

by Jen Yates

About two months after I started my “funny little cake blog” back in 2008, it went viral. In a single day, Cake Wrecks went from less than 200 readers a day to over 50,000. It was the kind of thing every blogger dreams of: immediate, overnight success.

But after a day of being internet famous, I didn’t feel like celebrating. I just felt like crap.

I never set out to be a professional blogger. Heck, the only blog I’d read with any consistency up to that point was Cute Overload, and the only online writing I’d done was for a private journal – which my mom assures me wasn’t half bad. I didn’t understand online culture, I’d never heard of a meme, and I was completely unprepared for internet notoriety.

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Digital Writing Prompt: Revealing the Play, not the Polish

Typewriter hammersFor this challenge, we’re getting vulnerable.

When working in the familiar medium of text, many of us are used to having our not-quite-finished work reviewed by others to help the process of editing and revision. While it can be intimidating or revealing to hand over imperfect material to someone else, we do it with the expectation of improvement.

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The #prompt Prompt

Day 241 - Into the sunset

Over the last few years, DigiWriMo has thrown lots of crazy digital writing prompts at the web, like this one or this one or this one. We’ve co-authored a novel in a day, a multimedia novel in two days, and we even unleashed a few hundred zombies. Sometimes the rules of a prompt have been followed. And sometimes breaking the rules became the most imaginative and the most delightful response to the prompt.

Now, it’s your turn to wreak your own brand of havoc upon the Web.

The Challenge:

  1. Compose a prompt, your own digital challenge that you’ll set loose.
  2. Your prompt can be any length. You can write a blog post that sets the stage. Or you can craft a prompt that fits into a single meticulously-composed tweet.
  3. Consider making your prompt multimedia — a picture, a sound file, a video, a computer game. The more compelling the prompt, the more likely you are to lure unsuspecting participants and the better their results will be.
  4. Whatever its shape, wherever it lives, make your prompt beautiful. Assignments/activities/prompts have their own artistry.
  5. Don’t get too caught up in predetermining outcomes. Sometimes the best result is something you couldn’t have anticipated.
  6. Keep the instructions as simple as possible. Inspire, incite, encourage, and maybe even constrain (which can encourage improvisation). But don’t overwhelm or too narrowly control.

Once you’ve written, composed, drawn, filmed, or recorded your prompt, send it out into the world. Share it on Twitter with the hashtags #digiwrimo #prompt. Post it to the Digital Writing Month Facebook page. Link to it in the comments below. Send it to your friends and family by e-mail. However you can best drum up some excitement about it. Don’t be afraid to wave your digital arms around a bit. Sometimes people skip readily onto a playground, and sometimes you have to do some jumping up and down to get them there. And if and when folks start to do your prompt, show off the results by retweeting, linking, sharing, liking, favoriting, +1ing, etc.

And, now, the most important part: Rise to the challenge of someone else’s prompt. Check Facebook (posts to the page are on the bottom left), search #digiwrimo #prompt on Twitter, look in the comments below. Skip merrily onto the playground someone else has built.

Lastly, share this post and the prompts you find especially imaginative to get more folks involved. While this is officially our weekend challenge, we encourage you to repeat this activity throughout the rest of the month.

[Photo, “Into the Sunset“, by Brian J. Matis licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.]

When We Are Writers

Tiny mouseThere’s a thing I want to say. I heard it coming up when I was sitting in Starbucks yesterday. Watching the sun and the people in the sun and thinking this was as good a place as any for a writer and a teacher to be composing his thoughts. And I was imagining composed thoughts — organized and clear and inspiringly meaningful. And instead I was watching a father and his young son have an argument. The four-year-old boy wanted to climb the back of the booth he was sitting on, and then he wanted to lay down on the seat. And the father wanted him to stop. Whichever he chose, just stop and be motionless. The only solution for the father was for his son to sit still, to sit down in the chair and behave as — well, as he himself was. In all his age and sediment. The argument grew to a boil, with the son never quite getting the sitting in the seat right and the father getting more upset each time. Finally at one point he reached over to grab his son’s knee, force him upright, and threatened to take away his cookie. Which he did. Which he did because the boy didn’t obey. The boy couldn’t find it in his small legs and busy hands to sit still. And away went the cookie. And on came the tears.

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Maggie’s Digital Content Farm

Audrey Watters is an education writer (at Hack Education and elsewhere), recovering academic, serial dropout, and part-time badass.

Porcelain figurineMaggie’s Digital Content Farm

by Audrey Watters

Over the course of the last 6 months or so, I’ve felt a real shift in what it means (for me) to write – to work, to be – online. And let’s be clear: this affects me offline too.

I’m hardly the first or the only person to notice that the great promises of the Web – freedom! knowledge! access! egalitarianism! creativity! revolution! – are more than a little empty. I’m hardly the first or the only person to notice that the online communities in which we participate increasingly feel less friendly, less welcoming, more superficial, more controlling, more restrictive.

Online, we seem to be more and more short-tempered and sharp-tongued. It feels less and less sustainable. It’s taking a toll on me, personally – the status updates, the sneers, the threats, the responsibilities, the accolades, the comments, the deadlines. All of it.

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Digital Writing Prompt: Transcending Media

Typewriter keysWhen we tell stories to one another in a physical, non-digital space, we do so across multiple media. We use visual hand gestures to emphasize key points of a verbal narrative. The words we choose matter of course, and we sometimes create illustrations to help. (Many of us resort/default to drawing pictures when giving directions.) Emotional stories might lead us to break into song, or funny stories are resolved with the music of the audience’s laughter. We often transcend media in non-digital spaces, yet we rarely think about it.

Not so with digital writing. When authors sit down to create a blog post, they usually stick with the written word; photos provide occasional support when needed. When video of speakers is dramatically close-cropped, that person’s hand gestures may be lost. And how easily can audio be added to a good photograph? Flickr and many other photo-sharing services provide no means of attaching a song to an image; creating an audio track for a slideshow can be tedious.

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Digital Writing Month Launch Party!

And away we go!

Welcome to the Digital Writing Month Launch Party! From 12:01 to 1:00 AM UTC, we’re gonna spend some time getting to know one another and getting ready for this 30-day challenge… all while mucking about in the digital.

If you haven’t already, open a new window or tab and start following #digiwrimo on Twitter. That’s your go-to spot for conversation, information, and collaboration.

This year’s DigiWriMo has redefined what “writing” is by opening up digital projects to the visual and audio. And so during this one hour romp, we’ll be tromping around in three different media: text, image/video, and sound… not necessarily in that order. Below, you’ll find three micro-projects that will help us get to know who you are, where you are, and what your plan is for Digital Writing Month. Feel free to do these during the first hour of the event, or whenever you happen upon this post and want to get started. Continue reading

2 Days. One Novel. 100s of Writers.

“Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

In November 2013, writers from all over the world participated in the Digital Writing Makerthon, a unique artistic, multimedia attempt to make a text that is more than a text — what we called a “makertext.” Hundreds of collaborators worked together to tell a single story using words, sound, video, hyperlinks, code, tweets, and more, in just 48 hours.

We began Friday, November 15 at 11:59pm EST and ended November 17 at 11:59pm EST.

Digital Writing Makerthon Formula

Concept: A text-image-sound hypertext novel written in 48 hours by multiple authors. More than a simple text novel, this makertext includes all forms of digital media: text, video, audio, animation, graphics, tweets, computer code, etc. As well, the novel exists in multiple places at once. While the narrative is primarily housed in one document, hyperlinks lead readers willy-nilly across the landscape of the Internet. Continue reading