Desiree Dighton’s piece “All Along the Watchtower: Some Kind of Way Out of Basic Writing Using Emerging Technologies” takes on some of the primary concerns and accolades for digital literacies’ incorporation into basic writing classrooms. She provides a thorough literature review of scholarship on technology in writing classrooms, citing Yancey, Davidson and Goldberg, Klages and Clark, and others.
“Grammar rules are fairly arbitrary and very particular to cultural groups, yet we still feel justified in enforcing them in nearly all forms of writing done in the academy” (152)
Dighton successfully discusses the role of trauma and fear in many basic writers’ backgrounds: students are often paralyzed by anxiety before they even begin to write. These highly emotional responses are very often connected to educational trauma in their backgrounds, and Dighton works to assert the potential for healing by using digital writing in BW courses. If students can perform the writing “without the fear of making personally devastating mistakes,” there is much more potential for exploration and growth than in a more traditional essay format (152). This low-stakes writing is widely acknowledged as beneficial for students from less privileged backgrounds, as a high percentage of them enter the college writing classroom with trauma, either educational or personal.
This term alone, 10 out of 24 students in my FIQWS class have approached me to admit myriad struggles with mental health, family or housing instability, poverty, or just profound insecurities about themselves as college students, often the first in their families to attend. The widespread nature of these struggles causes me grief, but also demands that I reconfigure some of my own teaching notions and activities. I’ve implemented low-stakes discussion posts on Blackboard, and I’m developing a blog feature for my 210 students next term to track their own progress in a reflective, “‘easy’” digital format (152). My students perceive digital communications with me as somehow more private, and they have shown willingness to discuss their difficulties over email or BB than in person, maybe because the relative anonymity of digital communication is a way to avoid the stigma often closely tied with disclosing mental health struggles.
Dighton sees the “public power” of digital writing as crucial for student agency, especially BW students. Many researchers have demonstrated that the degree to which a student views writing as relevant impacts their level of engagement. To Dighton’s, and my, students, digital writing is “more ‘real’ and valuable… than traditional forms of academic writing” (152). This is fine, and in many ways, understandable. The immediacy of digital composing, of hitting “publish” or “send,” creates a temporal landscape that makes sense to students. This is not to say that students have equal access to these landscapes; in fact, Dighton admits the vast divide between wealthy and poor schools and students in terms of access to these resources. Further, she adamantly refutes the notion of the “digital native” as classist (and, to my view, racist as well) and totally false.
All in all, we all need to know basic digital skills and equip our students with these skills as best we can.
“By failing to engage these students and equip them with digital media skills alongside of composition skills, we place new barriers between them and the academy, and we continue to perpetuate social and educational inequality” (148)