Tagged writing

Sculpture (Detail) by El Anatsui / Jack Shainman Gallery / The Armory Show 2010 /

Our Stories of Becoming a College Student: A Digital Writing Project for First Year Students

This blogging assignment serves as a low-stakes activity that encourages students to make sense of the social, emotional, and bureaucratic challenges in their transition to college, and to simultaneously develop digital literacy.

Across the United States students struggle with their transitions to college, with 1 in 3 leaving after their first year (U.S. Department of Education 2016). First Year Learning Communities (FYLC) are one component within a set of broader initiatives aimed at increasing retention rates. The FYLC model is comprised of two or three different courses sharing the same group of students and focusing on a shared theme. FYLCs provide first year students a supportive structure through collaborative learning and peer mentoring to foster better academic achievement (Kuh 2008). In this assignment, we attempted to build community by introducing a common reflective writing prompt into the curriculum of 15 FYLCs at the New York City College of Technology (City Tech), a four-year public college within the City University of New York (CUNY).[1] This blogging assignment serves as a low-stakes activity that encourages students to make sense of the social, emotional, and bureaucratic challenges in the transition to college, and to simultaneously develop digital literacy on a platform that will play a role throughout their college experience.


Based on the work of Daiute (2014) and others who have emphasized the importance of audience, Kreniske (2017a) incorporated digital reflective prompts into a first-year seminar at a four-year school and demonstrated that students used the WordPress platform to make sense of their college transition experiences and to develop a supportive culture of commenting. Further, Kreniske and Todorova (2017) showed how digital platforms can be important spaces for first-year, first-generation college students to share and acquire cultural capital related to the transition to college.

In this assignment we were enthusiastic about the potential for students to use the OpenLab, a campus-wide open digital WordPress and BuddyPress platform for teaching and learning based at City Tech, to develop a digital community focused on writing about and making sense of the transition to college. (For more on the OpenLab see Rosen and Smale 2015.)


Before rolling out the project, one of our main concerns was balancing the benefits of community with the risks of writing on the open Internet. Most WordPress platforms allow for administrators to define their audience, with customizable settings ranging from private (only the author) to completely open to the public. At City Tech the OpenLab platform allowed us to limit the audience to the college community who we envisioned would provide a real and interactive audience for our first-semester students as they developed their digital literacy. Additionally, limiting the project’s site to college users reduced the potential for unwelcome interactions with potentially disrespectful comments and spam.

As August ended and the first-year City Tech students walked into their first college courses, the prompt was live and the project seemed on track to run as planned. Below is a screenshot of the prompt that we adapted from an oft-cited study (Walton and Cohen 2011).

We invite you to tell a story about your first few weeks at City Tech. Research has shown that first-semester students often worry about their transition in to college and how eventually students become comfortable and find a community of people with whom they are close and feel they belong.

Please describe in a short story how you have experienced your first few weeks at City Tech. Aim to write 300-500 words and be sure to illustrate your post with examples from your own experiences in classes, seminars, lectures, study groups, and labs. What happened? How did you and others involved think and feel? How did it turn out?

We hope this process will help you think about your transition experience. Once you have finished writing please take time to read and comment on at least two of your peer’s stories.

To create your first post click the plus (+) sign at the top of the page! (or on the banner at the very top of the page click First Year Learning Communities, then select “add new” post from the dashboard)

Once you have finished writing your post please select your FYLC faculty member as a category.

Then feel free to look around and read and comment on your peers’ writing!
(If you are looking to read stories from specific FYLC select faculty “category” at the bottom of the page)

As part of the current project, we asked Peer Mentors to read all student posts and to contact their FYLC faculty if any students appeared to be experiencing an especially difficult transition, or if any students were using inappropriate or offensive language. We also asked Peer Mentors to write comments on their FYLC students’ posts if the post had not received a peer comment after two to three days. To ensure Peer Mentors were proficient with the process of posting and commenting we held a one hour long training workshop to familiarize the mentors with WordPress and the specific FYLC site and then provided peer mentors a link to some suggested comment examples from Kreniske’s (2017a, 2017b) previous project.

The Successes

Student and faculty participation. Overall, there was a broad range of faculty and student engagement with the reflective writing project, and membership on the FYLC site rose from 37 members in May 2017 to 123 members by December. Students across 9 different FYLCs such as “Life’s Origins, the Earth, & Us,” which included Biology and English, wrote nearly 100 posts and made 169 comments over the semester.

Student reflective writing and supportive commenting. This assignment elicited rich and expressive student posts and peer comments. For example, in the following screenshot of what we would characterize as a typical post, a student wrote about many challenges faced on the first day of college, among them waking up early and making friends:

My first few weeks of City Tech have been okay. I was supposed to have my first day of classes on a friday, but I also had a chess tournament in Virginia that started at 7pm on the same day. I planned to go to class that day and head to Virginia, but I forgot to pack and slept at 3am the night before and missed my first class of college and that’s how my first day of college went, feeling pissed at myself for being irresponsible. The first week I was still getting used to waking up early for classes which caused me to be late to some. Other than being occasionally late, it took me two weeks to finally get my City Tech ID, so every morning before that involved me showing security my schedule on my extremely cracked phone screen. I received more and more annoyed reminders to get my ID as everyday passed. The workload is pretty light so far compared to high school, but college just started so I’m expecting it to get way harder soon. I enjoy all the free time I get now as a college student and have taken it up by working most weekdays or meeting up with old friends to play basketball when I don’t have school work to do. Other than classes, college has been pretty boring. It’s kind of like high school where I went in without knowing a single person. It is the same at City Tech I don’t know anyone here, and I have yet to meet anyone. About three to four of my closest friends have stayed in New York City for college so it’s not that bad, but sometimes life outside of class and work can be boring. The two weeks of college have been kind of a routine. I go to school, then work then home and occasionally meet up with my friends. I’m honestly not sure if I’m having fun or not. I’m really not sure how I feel about not having a single friend in college while all my other friends out of the city have been meeting a bunch of people and partying at their schools. I am glad I’m focused though and I have an idea of what to do with my free time and what I want out of college. Overall, the first few weeks of City Tech has not been bad, my professors are nice and all my peers seem nice too. Someone even pointed out a twenty that was going to fall out my pocket one of the days I was leaving the school. I hope I get to meet people throughout my semester here at City Tech and do well in my classes.

A classmate, who apparently keeps a similar schedule wrote this supportive comment at 1:34 a.m.

Just thought I’d let you know that you’re not the only one going through those feelings. I can relate to you on the fact that most of my friends left to other school and i barely know anyone at City Tech. Anyways, you should open up to people more and see where that takes you. Maybe you’ll meet someone with the same interest as you.

We see potential benefits for the post authors and for the students who read the posts and wrote comments. As in the example above, when the commenter read the initial post he could really “relate.” As instructors, we want to do everything we can to support first year students. However, there are limits to what one instructor can do and the workload for instructors is already high, especially when courses include 20, 30 and often more students. Further, it’s the other students who may best understand their peers’ struggles and therefore be best positioned to communicate empathy through their comments. Future researchers might also consider analyzing how students may feel differently about getting a peer comment as opposed to a comment from a professor. This assignment empowers students with a tool that they can use to develop a supportive culture in the transition to college.

Instructor insights. Instructors also gained insights into the first year experience. Instructors reported that reading through the posts and comments was incredibly useful for learning about the stresses encountered by first-year students. Instructors noted a number of posts about anxiety regarding immigration status and financial aid frustrations. While these issues were clearly important to students, these personal revelations had not been voiced in the context of classroom discussions. It appears that the digital social platform provided students with a space to work through pressing personal and political issues.
While we work to better understand student choices regarding sharing in personal and digital contexts, we were heartened to see that the digital does serve to elicit experiences and challenges that are somehow different than those discussed in class. We see two main benefits of the assignment: First, first-year students are being encouraged to reflect on their experiences and thus to use writing as a tool for making sense of these experiences. Second, the subsequent commenting serves as a tool for offering and receiving peer support and ultimately fosters the development of a digital community.

The Unanticipated Challenges

Unanticipated challenges ranged from issues communicating with faculty to technical challenges with the digital platform.

A clearly defined project. We discovered a difference between our expectations as project leaders and the faculty and student perceptions of the project. We had been careful to respect faculty autonomy and had given general guidelines, as opposed to exact directions, about how to include the reflective writing prompt into the curriculum. However, where we had thought of respecting autonomy, faculty may have felt a lack of guidance and support. For example, during conversations with faculty, it became apparent that some faculty assigned the prompt while others only mentioned the project and writing assignment.

Relatedly, there was some confusion among students too about the intended audience for their writing. While many students posted and commented to their peers, others appeared to be directing their writing to peer mentors or other staff. In a few cases students who were receiving extra credit were expecting their instructors, who they knew would be viewing their responses for assessment, to comment. In the future we plan to offer clear direction regarding the intended audience, the role of faculty and peer mentors, and guidelines for description and inclusion in the course syllabus.

Technical challenges. As with any new technology, students struggled to find the specific site, log-on, and author posts. However, by mid-semester, many students seemed to have learned the basics of the site and were able to post and comment. Overall, this challenge captures one critical aspect of the current project: Not only is the actual reflective writing important, but the project served as a relatively low stakes entry point into the college digital community. In addition, with WordPress serving as the content management system for approximately 30% of all websites (W3techs 2018), the skills developed during this assignment will prepare students to succeed within and beyond their college studies.

The research process. Some students were ambivalent about granting researchers permission to analyze their writing. As detailed in the study Institutional Review Board (IRB) protocol, we needed to follow a specific consent process. This process involved reading aloud an extensive consent form verbatim and the formal language may have caused concern for some students. While a challenge, we found it encouraging that students were thoughtful about and even skeptical of the consent process. We hope that this project, and in particular the consent process, encouraged students to think more broadly about their digital presence, and specifically how their online writing and other social digital activities on platforms like Facebook may be used for research purposes.

Next Steps

After considering the results of this current model, we realize there are certain steps we can take to increase faculty and student involvement.

    1. Be more explicit with faculty about how to incorporate the writing prompts into their courses and how they might incorporate the writing project into their syllabus. We are going to ask faculty if they will refer to the reflective writing project on their syllabi. While we discourage any type of grading or correcting of student posts we will encourage faculty to give students credit for posting. We will also likely ask for only two posts per semester.
    2. Go “old school” and ask faculty to devote 15 minutes of their first class to students writing a response to the prompt with pen and paper. Drafting the prompt in class will help students engage with the project and overcome their initial anxieties about writing. Further, the in-class activity will introduce the concept that reflective writing is an important part of developing the critical thinking and writing skills required of college students. Though the task may appear “informal,” their response to another student’s college experience facilitates critical thinking about another student’s experience and the ways that experience does or does not reflect their own.
    3. Consider issues of physical and technical access. We are in the initial stages of reviewing student posts, and we have noted numerous students describing their struggles to access resources and even to find their way around campus. To address this, we will encourage FYLC faculty to take 5 minutes on the first day and walk their students to the college’s student computer labs. We also hope to engage Peer Mentors in helping students to join the OpenLab, join the FYLC OpenLab site, and post the reflective responses they first drafted in class. Finally, we are considering making the FYLC site completely open for public viewing. This will make it easier for students to view peer writing and ultimately may encourage increased participation in the project.

We hope this assignment inspires other instructors to create digital spaces for reflective writing and supportive commenting in their first-year courses.


Daiute, Colette. 2014. Narrative Inquiry: A Dynamic Approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/narrative-inquiry/book240491?fs=1#tabview=toc.

Kreniske, Philip and Todorova, R. 2017. “Using Blogs to Engage First-Generation College Students.” In How We Teach Now: The GSTA Guide to Student-Centered Teaching, edited by Rita Obeid, Anna M. Schwartz, Christina Shane-Simpson, and Patricia J. Brooks. http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/howweteachnow.

Kreniske, Philip. 2017a. “How First-Year Students Expressed Their Transition to College Experiences Differently In Two Writing Contexts.” Computers and Composition 45, 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2017.07.001.

Kreniske, Philip. 2017b. “Developing a Culture of Commenting in a First-Year Seminar.” Computers in Human Behavior 72 (July): 724–732. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.09.060.

Kuh, George D. 2008. High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Rosen, Jody R., and Smale, Maura A. 2015. “Open Digital Pedagogy = Critical Digital Pedagogy.” Hybrid Pedagogy. January 7, 2015. http://hybridpedagogy.org/open-digital-pedagogy-critical-pedagogy/.

Smith, Cheryl C. 2008. “Technologies for Transcending a Focus on Error: Blogs and Democratic Aspirations in First-Year Composition.” Journal of Basic Writing 27(1): 35–60.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) (2016). “Table 326.30. Retention of First-Time Degree-Seeking Undergraduates at Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions, by Attendance Status, Level and Control of Institution, and Percentage of Applications Accepted: Selected Years, 2006 to 2015.” Last updated October 2016. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d16/tables/dt16_326.30.asp.

W3techs. 2018. “Usage Statistics and Market Share of WordPress for Websites.” World Wide Web Technology Surveys. https://w3techs.com/technologies/details/cm-wordpress/all/all.

Walton, Gregory M., and Cohen, Geoffrey L. 2011. “A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention Improves Academic and Health Outcomes of Minority Students.” Science 331 (6023): 1447-1451. March 18, 2011. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198364.


[1]We were inspired by previous and ongoing models, such as the first year seminar at Baruch College (Smith 2008), and a first year seminar for Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge (SEEK) (Kreniske 2017a, 2017b).

About the Authors

Philip Kreniske is a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies, and an adjunct at New York City College of Technology, CUNY.

Karen Goodlad is an Assistant Professor at New York City College of Technology, CUNY in the Department of Hospitality Management.

Jennifer Sears is an Assistant Professor in the English Department at New York City College of Technology.

Sandra Cheng is an Associate Professor of Art History at New York City College of Technology.


Draftback to the Future: A Tool for Writing Process Analysis

Elizabeth Chamberlain, Arkansas State University

An analysis of how the Google Chrome Extension Draftback can be used to inspire metacognitive reflection on students’ writing processes.

As a writing professor, I often ask students to reflect on a writing assignment, trying to reconstruct in some way the experience of writing: How did it go? What genre conventions were you following? What went well? Where did you struggle? Where did you get stuck? When did you get “on a roll” — and how might you make that happen sooner next time? 

I ask because I know that fostering metacognition about writing is among my most meaningful charges. Reporting on a study of skills that transfer between writing contexts, Elizabeth Wardle contends that “meta-awareness about writing, language, and rhetorical strategies in FYC [first-year composition] may be the most important ability our courses can cultivate” — because these strategies are portable across contexts in a way that specific drafting processes often are not (Wardle 2007, 82). Even more important than asking students to write, in other words, is asking students to think and write about their own writing.

Yet students often seem to experience a kind of writing amnesia, struggling to recount anything but bland broad-strokes evaluations of experience (e.g. “I procrastinated too much,” or, “I didn’t like the topic I picked,” or on rare occasion as specific as, “I got some writer’s block, but when I came back to it after a nap, it was better”). Though such insights may encourage students to start writing sooner or select topics that excite them, I am always looking for ways to add depth and specificity to students’ reflections on writing.

Thus, when I encountered James Somers’s Google Chrome extension Draftback, I was all but ecstatic. Draftback uses Google Docs revision history to play back a short movie of the writing of a document; when it’s installed, a button appears at the top of every Google Document enabling a writer to click and show the document being written. Finally, a way for students to reflect on the moment-by-moment reality of the writing process, unencumbered by the fickleness of memory. Even better, it would run in the browser, didn’t require any require special hardware or software, and could work on any document that had been composed in Google Docs (which I require of students anyway). Because it is simply a way of animating change-by-change revision history that already exists in Google Docs, Draftback saves no data outside the browser.

When I first tried Draftback on an article I had written for a copywriting job years before, I saw evidence of many tenets of writing studies scholarship: nearly every concise sentence hid another two or three sentences of deleted meandering prose; my process was recursive and iterative. The first sentence of the final product was first born at the top of the second page; I was writing to discover. I can imagine the tool being used to demonstrate a wide range of writing theory, in any courses that involve editing or otherwise engage the recursive process of writing.

Thinking Aloud

I wrote the tool into the syllabus for my Fall 2017 Introduction to Writing Studies course, a junior-level course that aims to give students experience with rhetoric and writing studies methodologies. One section of the course examined “think-aloud protocols,” in which researchers ask writers to “think-aloud” into a tape-recorder as they write. We read, in this portion, think-aloud protocol studies including Nancy Sommers’s (1980) “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers” and Peter Smagorinsky et al.’s (2010) “Bullshit in Academic Writing: A Protocol Analysis of a High School Senior’s Process of Interpreting Much Ado about Nothing.” 

Students also read an article by Draftback’s creator, Somers, introducing the tool and describing its creation. Somers explains that he intended the tool to help demonstrate “the ‘archaeology’ of writing,” especially to show new writers “vivid evidence that a good writer actually spends most of his time fighting himself” (Somers 2014).

Finally, students conducted their own Draftback experiment: they installed the extension and recorded audio of their thinking as they wrote a weekly reading response. Once they had audio and Draftback recordings of their writing, they listened to both and developed a qualitative and/or quantitative coding system modeled after the protocol analyses we had read. Their papers reported on that experiment, describing their methods, explaining the value and difficulties of “thinking aloud” while writing, and analyzing what they could see in their Draftbacks.

A Record of “Writer’s Block”

The responses I received offered so much more detail about the writing process than I had ever seen in student work before: Students recorded their length of pauses, sometimes down to the second. They counted the number of times they deleted things, sometimes breaking up those deletions by length or type — single word, whole sentence, more than a sentence. They counted moments of distraction, including the number of times they had received text messages and the time between receipt of a text message and beginning to type again. This kind of coding emulated and built upon the writing studies research methodology we had been reading; students were thus enacting mixed-methods writing studies research.

Suddenly, their “writer’s block” had a record: The sentence started and deleted a half-dozen times. The supposedly short interruption that ended up meaning a day passed without returning. The constantly-fought impulse to divert attention away from the task at hand. While this assignment fell near the end of our course, several students returned to the exercise in their final projects. Others expressed an interest in using such studies of their own writing to improve their future writing in and beyond the classroom.  In future courses, I will likely assign the exercise earlier in the semester, asking students to reflect several weeks later on how studying their own Draftback changed their writing.  

Trouble with Embeds

Of course, not all went well. I had asked students to post their Draftbacks to the class Blackboard Discussion Board as embedded objects. Draftback has a somewhat tricky procedure for creating an embed (first, watch through the whole Draftback; then, click “Begin Extraction for Embed” at top left; next, drag the slider back to the beginning; click play, and watch the Draftback again through the end; finally, click “Finish and Publish X Revisions”). I did not anticipate how tricky that procedure would prove to be for students and ultimately did not articulate it well in class or on the Blackboard instructions. Thus, the vast majority of student Draftback embeds did not properly include the whole document. Additionally, Discussion Board did not appear capable of supporting a Draftback embed. In the future, I may ask students instead to post to a class blog or other website that allows embedded iFrames.

The Google Panopticon

Though Draftback makes use of cloud services, it stores nothing in the cloud. Draftback does not store any user data outside of the browser, and unless students publish embeds somewhere public, they should only be accessible to people with access to the file. 

However, Google Docs itself is less protective of user content. Any instructor requiring students to write in Google Docs should be aware that although the Drive Terms of Service assure users that intellectual property rights of any Doc remain with the original creator, Google also explains that use of the service gives them “a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works […], communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.” 

I am not aware of any case of Google making public a private document, and some analysts indicate (Smith, 2014) that this Terms of Service line is purely intended to enable services like Docs (which is, strictly, “publishing”) and Translate (which is, strictly, a “derivative work”). Yet the notion that Docs has an open license to “publicly display” any private Google Doc is clearly concerning. Nearly as concerning, in late 2017, many authors temporarily lost edit access to their Google Docs for purported violation of the Terms of Service (Fung, 2017). While Google restored access promptly, the incident served as reminder both that Google is automatically scanning documents stored in its service and that the company may revoke access at any time. Given Google’s willingness and obligation to cooperate with governments where it operates, the potential for censorship is obvious and, again, concerning. 

Though I continue to believe that the benefits of the collaborative writing tools in Docs outweigh the risks of granting Google access to that data, the decision merits careful consideration. 

Access and Adaptation

My class had regular access to a computer lab, where students could install Chrome and Draftback and prepare their documents. Also, in 2016, Arkansas State began an iPad initiative requiring each entering freshman to have an iPad. Although Draftback will only run on the desktop version of Chrome, it can make use of revision history from any Google Doc written on desktop or mobile. Students without regular Internet access could approximate the effect with screen-recording software; one student in my Fall 2017 course made use of this option.

Metacognitive Results

Much of the writing theory we had been reading complicated the “three stage” vision of the writing process, and in class we discussed how students’ Draftbacks bore this out. Few of them had distinct “prewriting” or “revising” sections of the drafting process. Rather, idea generation happened throughout the writing process, and most students edited in both small and big strokes as they wrote instead of reserving editing for the end.   

One student used Draftback later in the course in writing an autoethnography of a first job in journalism and was able thus to return to the very first assignment in that job, watch it develop word by word, sentence by sentence. Though she remembered having spent several days mulling over the article until an editor prodded her to let go of it, Draftback let her see the long-tail shape of that mulling: most changes occurred early on, and by the third day, she was not making significant changes.

Some students suggested that coding their own writing record was challenging because they were so close to it. Though I see great metacognitive value in students researching their own writing this way, I also see potential in asking students to watch and code each others’ Draftbacks. In future writing studies courses, I may ask students first to examine their own Draftback and then to examine another student’s.

Draftback proved a worthy tool for conducting “think-aloud protocol” analysis. Student writing and feedback suggested the exercise effectively helped me achieve my goal of prompting greater detail in reflection and process-based metacognition. I highly recommend it—with the small caveat of technical difficulty in embedding—as a method of writing process analysis. 


● Prompt: https://docs.google.com/document/d/17RP-UdnUax1iqArzyWRTGtyV07O1Jk2Niqrrq33a-rI/edit?usp=sharing 

● Rubric: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1jDraDT1-6o0NsWWBiARTHmJTRIHvmZGUOX_HeS0zrgQ/edit?usp=sharing 

● GIF of Draftback working: https://gfycat.com/gifs/detail/FatherlyFlakyArgentinehornedfrog 


Fung, Brian. 2017. “A Mysterious Message Is Locking Google Docs Users out of Their Files.” Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/10/31/a-mysterious-message-is-locking-google-docs-users-out-of-their-files/.

Somers, James. 2014. “How I Reverse Engineered Google Docs to Play Back Any Document’s Keystrokes.” JSomers. http://features.jsomers.net/how-i-reverse-engineered-google-docs/.

Sommers, Nancy. 1980. “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers.” College Composition and Communication 31 (4): 378. doi:10.2307/356588. 

Smagorinsky, Peter, Elizabeth Anne Daigle, Cindy O’Donnell-Allen, and Susan Bynum. 2010. “Bullshit in Academic Writing: A Protocol Analysis of A High School Senior’s Process of Interpreting Much Ado about Nothing.” Research in the Teaching of English 44 (4): 368-405. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25704887.

Smith, Matt. 2018. “How Secure Are Your Documents In Google Drive?” MakeUseOf. https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/how-secure-are-your-documents-in-google-drive/.

Wardle, Elizabeth. 2007. “Understanding ‘Transfer’ from FYC: Preliminary Results of a Longitudinal Study.” WPA 31, no. 1/2: 75-6.

About the Author

Elizabeth Chamberlain is an Assistant Professor of English at Arkansas State University, where she teaches writing studies courses and writes about the intersections of digital media and culture. She is also an associate editor of the born-digital journal Kairos.


Finding Voice in the University Bridge Program: Online Audio Publication and the Personal Narrative

April 3, 2018
Ben Spanbock
Online audio publication can be used to strengthen the writing and speaking skills of students transitioning from high school to college, while also instilling in them a sense of ownership and belonging within the sphere of academic discourse. Read more… Finding Voice in the University Bridge Program: Online Audio Publication and the Personal Narrative

Featured Image "Nucleus cochlear implant Graeme Clark" courtesy of Flickr user adrigu.

This Week: Issue 9 Submissions: Calling All Cyborgs!

Each week, a member of the JITP Editorial Collective assembles and shares the news items, ongoing discussions, and upcoming events of interest to us (and hopefully you). This week’s installment is edited by Carlos Hernandez and Tyler Fox.


Michael Chorost’s memoir Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human is no cyborg valentine to technology. Chorost describes how, after he lost his hearing completely in 2001, he decided to undergo a radical surgery that would install a computer interface in his head that would interact with a computer he clipped onto his belt. With these, he would be able to hear again.

Well, “hear.” The interface between hardware and wetware took a long period of learning and adjustment. At the beginning of the process, the world Chorost heard made different sounds altogether: “In my experience,” writes Chorost, “paper made sounds like blap, snip,and vrrrrr, and if rudely treated, szzzzz. It didn’t go bingggg” (73). Different software for his computer-alternative hearing offered varying affordances; in a way, he was able to choose how he heard, which on the surface might sound like a cyber-blessing. But when every sound is a simulacrum, an ersatz version of the Platonic ideal of what you think sounds should sound like, you too might say, as Chorost does, “the implant [was] a tool that would enable me to do something which resembled hearing. It would not be hearing…. How bizarre” (79).

Chorost’s hearing never returned to what it had been prior to its loss. But his computer-assisted audition gave him a kind sound detection, one that proved useful, emotionally satisfying, and in the words of the book’s subtitle, humanizing. His vision for what humanity’s future could be–it’s a hard-one dream, arrived at only after a long katabasis–imagines a Haraway-esque incorporation (quite literally) of technology into our lives:

“When I think of the future of human potential in a hypertechnological age, I imagine a generation of people who have been educated to focus intensely on the world of matter and spirit, while also using powerful tools for mediating their perception of reality. They will bond with machines, but they will not be addicted to them. They will analyze while looking at art, and laugh while reading computer code. They will make exquisite use of floods of information, while not allowing themselves to be stunned into passivity” (181).

But such a thoughtful, critical, considered and salubrious relationship to technology will not happen by itself. Quite the contrary: we can expect Facebook to continue experimenting on its users (and issuing apologies after the fact); governments to continue tracking us through backdoors they pay corporations to create for them; and untold numbers of companies to continue collecting, in ways ranging from ignorant to willfully irresponsible, massive amounts of information from its users, only to have it stolen by hackers–to draw only three examples from the inexorable flood of news reports emerging about how increasingly, and how thoughtlessly, we lead our cyber lives.

As educators, our greatest ethical mandate is to create an informed and thinking citizenry. JITP exists to help us meet that obligation. We focus specifically on the interaction between technology and education, drawing from the educational traditions of critical pedagogy, constructivism, and the digital humanities. We are devoted leveraging both theory (writ large) and experimentation to serve as the twin foundations for best practices in the class. You can read more about our mission here.

We invite you to join us. We have a number of different formats to which you may submit your work to JITP, ranging in length and levels of formality. Full-length articles are peer-reviewed, but we don’t stop there; putting our own theories into practice, we work closely with authors in a pre-publication conversation about their work that our authors have found enriching and beneficial to their intellectual work (and you can see here and here [for the latter, jump to around 22:20 for soundbite!]).

Issue 9 has no theme; we welcome papers from all disciplines and all theoretical/experimental approaches. We promise you a thorough review process, and we seek not only to produce the best possible scholarship but to benefit you personally as a writer and researcher.

At one point in Rebuilt, Chorost reminds us that even chalk is technology. If we don’t believe him, he challenges us to try making our own. To my mind, that moment serves as not only a piece of wit, but a call to action: we are always already awash in technology. As educators, our job is to think critically about the technologies we employ, and to help our students understand our technology-inundated world. That’s why JITP exists, and why you should write with us.

P.S. Here’s an interview Michael Chorost conducted with NPR about Rebuilt.


Stark & Subtle Divisions
Graduate students from UMass Boston curate an Omeka site on desegregation in Boston.

Gender Equality in Science
A recent study indicates that poor nations are leading the way in gender equality in science.

ECDS: 2016 Digital Scholarship Residency
ECDS is now accepting proposals for a 3-day digital scholarship residency at Emory University during the Spring semester 2016. Scholars from any discipline who use and promote digital scholarship methods in research and teaching are encouraged to apply.

Editorial Violence…

Lastly, HASTAC/Futures Initiative is offering an online forum and live-streamed workshop on “Peer Mentoring and Student-Centered Learning,” part of The University Worth Fighting For #fight4edu series. http://bit.ly/peer-mentoring The forum will be open all month, and our live-streamed workshop will be this Thursday @ 1 pm EST.


Featured Image “Nucleus cochlear implant Graeme Clark” courtesy of Flickr user adrigu.


Need help with the Commons? Visit our
help page
Send us a message
Skip to toolbar