Category Archives: digital literacy

Let’s Uncover the Language Used to Discredit Tesla — #MediaAnalysis

[Note: This post was originally featured on CleanTechnica.]

As I was researching an article about Tesla’s participation in the new EV Drive Coalitionabout a week ago, I came across a source from The Daily Caller on the subject. As I skimmed, this online newspaper’s right wing ideology was quite evident — not my worldview, granted, but didn’t Sun Tzu say in The Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles?” So I read on … and was amazed at how this newspaper, in the guise of reporting on new electric vehicle advocacy, offered its readers some targeted messaging, completely neglected to include many important facts, and chose language specifically intended to discredit Tesla without foundation.

Let’s do a little discourse analysis to uncover the meanings, methods, and messages within the article. It’s really fascinating! And it speaks to how much the fossil fuel industry has to lose by Tesla’s ascendancy in the automotive and energy markets through its model of a sustainable tomorrow for the planet.

The Daily Caller offers the following “About Us” information on its website:

“Founded in 2010 by Tucker Carlson, a 20-year veteran journalist, and Neil Patel, former chief policy advisor to Vice President Cheney, The Daily Caller is one of America’s largest and fastest-growing news publications. … From exposing shocking mismanagement of Republican National Committee funds to exclusively revealing the FBI’s interview with Hillary Clinton, The Daily Caller’s reporting has been thorough and tough on members of both political parties. … The Daily Caller’s reporting is distributed worldwide to over 20 million unique readers each month through our highly-visited homepage, wildly popular newsletters and apps, countless citations from the world’s other top news sites, and our vast social media following.”

discredit Tesla

Courtesy of Media Bias/ Fact Check

From the people (“Tucker Carlson,” “Neil Patel,” “Vice President Cheney,” “Hillary Clinton”), to its topics of interest (“Republican National Committee funds,” “FBI’s interview,” “both political parties”), to its audience (“unique readers”), and its self-congratulatory adjectives (“largest,” “fastest-growing,” “shocking,” “exclusively,” “thorough,” “tough,” “highly-visited,” “wildly popular,” “countless,” “vast”), The Daily Caller self-defines in terms of strongly right-biased story selection and self-aggrandizing exclamations. Noted for conservative media opinion writers and deep-thinking essayists rather than journalists who do original reporting, the news and opinion website has been labeled by Media Bias/ Fact Check as “mixed” for its numerous failed fact checks.

discredit Tesla

Framing the Status of EVs Today in Order to Discredit Tesla

Media texts represent aspects of the world that contribute to establishing, maintaining, and changing social relations of power, domination, and exploitation, according to social linguist Norman Fairclough. In today’s Trumpian world in which immigrants are enemies, the Supreme Court is partisan, health care certainty is tenuous, free trade is under fire, and tax reforms preference corporations and the über wealthy, it makes sense that Tesla would be a target of right-wing conservative attacks.

Let’s look at The Daily Caller article, “Tesla Joins Forces with GM and Others Seeking to Save Electric Car Subsidies.” The title is fairly innocuous, right? “Joins forces” has a sense of strength, and GM is certainly a stalwart Big 3 US automaker. “Save” is accurate to the intentions of the EV Drive Coalition, which says, “Without a modification to the policy, consumer demand will suffer and so will the future of EVs in the US.” And “seeking,” “save,” and “subsidies” are alliterative (repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words), so the article starts out blandly enough to draw in a wide audience of readers.

Soon into the article is the statement, “A coalition of electric vehicle companies led by Tesla is pushing and prodding the federal government to expand a tax credit set to expire that allows customers to undercut the auto market.” Ah, here’s that alliteration again (“pushing and prodding”) which, as a figure of speech, catches and holds the reader’s eye. The connotation is negative, as if a small child is pestering an adult who has more important, mature matters to handle. Then comes the first whammy (“allows customers to undercut the auto market”), which wags an admonishing finger at consumers who want to get more for less at the expense of the kindly, established US automakers. We’re led to believe that these automakers have spent decades establishing themselves through a meritocracy inherent within the American Dream. Forgotten/avoided is the US government’s $80.7 billion bailout of the auto industry that lasted from December 2008 to December 2014. Called the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the program cost US taxpayers $10.2 billion.

Referring to the newly formed EV Drive Coalition as “so-called” is quite strange in a subsequent sentence. Usually, “so-called” means something that is alleging to be something you are not sure it is. That is the Coalition’s name, so the implication is that it’s really not a coalition in actual practice — it’s a convenience for press releases and governmental advocacy.

“Tesla CEO Elon Musk has previously mentioned that the company can survive without government assistance” combines 2 notions — 1) survival and 2) federal cash injections to prop up a faltering business model. Now The Daily Caller has a rallying cry that the far right can grasp. Using long-debunked myths about renewable energy, the article echoes sentiments from the Heritage Foundation: “Conservatives believe in free markets, not central planning. They believe in fiscal responsibility, not waste.” EV companies and customers, by extension, that require tax credits as major purchasing factors of electric vehicles are wasting taxpayers’ money. So the right-wing website asserts.

discredit Tesla

Soon the article states that “the market for inexpensive electric vehicles will dry up without the extension.” Actually, that’s not what the EV Drive Coalition says on its website. Instead, it argues, “Without a modification to the policy, consumer demand will suffer and so will the future of EVs in the US.” Both use existential propositions, suggesting that such a concept is absolutely going to happen. Now, you and I who understand that the future must have zero-emissions transportation might have suggested slightly different wording to this Coalition sentence. Yes, losing the tax credit may hurt sales in the short term. But once more people learn that 59–62% of the electrical energy of an EV is converted into power to turn the wheels, as opposed to a gasoline engine, where only 17–21% of the chemical energy in the fuel is turned into useful work — and once they realize how that relates to their bank accounts — EVs will be more in demand. (Source: Designing Climate Solutions, Chapter 8.)

Then The Daily Caller article turns specifically to Tesla and its CEO, telling its audience that“Musk frequently assures people that Tesla does not require government help.” The article cites a 2015 interview with CNBC where Musk says of tax incentives, “None of them are necessary; they are all helpful.” Essentially, the claim that alternative energy entities like the Tesla network exist because of government subsidization is not really true. The reality also is that even without the existence of such programs, the companies in question could very well have remained viable simply by expanding more slowly than they have — the support programs are mostly a means of increasing the rate of development/growth. Governments provide help (“government subsidies,” “government loan,” “heavy government support”) in order to stimulate economic activity, maintain technological stature with other countries, and, in the case of Tesla, lower pollution levels. (If you want to learn more about Tesla and its government subsidies, check out this CleanTechnica article.)

Moving back — finally — to the title topic of EV Drive Coalition launch, the articles cites unnamed “analysts” who argue that Musk’s companies are “particularly sensitive to the whims of legislators.” If dialogue is rich communication between people as social agents and as personalities, then we absolutely need attribution to know to whom it is we are speaking when we refer to such “analysts,” presumably smart people who decry Tesla’s viability as “particularly sensitive.” How else could we ask them questions and learn more? How could we judge their expertise?

Moreover, by describing US representatives as conceding to “whims,” the article is lambasting both sides of an entrenched partisan Congress. Even the Koch brother-funded candidates are under attack here — stand your ground, you who vacillate with your conscience!

Noting that “Californians made up nearly 50 percent of Tesla’s customers” reminds rural audience members that those who buy EVs aren’t really in your tribe, anyway, so do you want to even consider purchasing an EV and being associated with those tree-hugging socialists?

Reinforcing its premise that “elimination of the tax credit could seriously hobble Tesla” (with “hobble” as an allusion to rugged individualists whose lives depend on mobility), the article says that Tesla still has an “inability to mass produce vehicles at the scale of its larger competitors.” Yes, that’s true in a literal sense. Tesla hasn’t sold the numbers that much older automakers have, and it’s still ramping up its robotic assembly lines for optimal manufacturing.

Then again, Tesla was incorporated in 2003 and now, 15 years later, sells the Model S, Model X, and Model 3 vehicles, Powerwall and Powerpack batteries, solar panels, solar roof tiles, and related products. But Tesla’s strategy is to change the automotive industry by fitting innovative pieces together in a “complex coordination” that’s really different in marketing, production, sales, and technology from its competitors. Perhaps that’s what’s more important right now than Tesla’s current scale — the possibilities for Tesla to reinvent what manufacturing looks like in the US at a time when disenfranchised voters have turned to an avowed racist to lead the country due to their ennui about a loss of US manufacturing.

Final Thoughts

Discursive strategies can be used in the media to produce particular effects and contribute to the construction of social realities. The narrative that The Daily Caller drew upon to question EVs, generally, and Tesla, specifically, supports biases or points of view that were transmitted by an informative discourse conveyed by conservative media.

Media exerts strong influence in several domains — social, political, economic, legal, and behavioral, and it operates from a symbolic perspective. Symbolism can lead us to consider the information transmitted as a “view” of the event, a construct, rather than as the clipping of a given reality. Anytime we can slow down our reading of the media and look at political discourse as the process of production and interpretation of a text in meaningful political, social and cultural contexts, we all benefit.

Misinformation Site, Breitbart Offers Nod to Tesla’s Elon Musk; What Purposes Do Musk’s Tweets Serve?

[Note: This post was originally featured on Teslarati]

Breitbart News Network featured a story recently on its website called “Elon Musk’s Tesla Stock Up $2 Billion Since Joining Trump’s Team.” The story argues that, as a result of recent Tesla stock increases, Musk owes allegiance to Donald Trump. Attention from the far-right Breitbart website, which is the most viewed U.S. conservative news, opinion, and commentary source in the U.S., comes at a time in which Elon Musk’s reputation has been questioned by his once-loyal following.

Breitbart

Why is the Breitbart story such bad timing for Musk?

Breitbart is known as the most significant misinformation site on the Internet. Privileging one set of representations over another, discourses like those typical within the Breitbart publication tend to claim the status of truth. Their discourses, which work as truth statements, make it difficult for many readers to identify how reality is shaped. Breitbart’s executive chairman, Steve Bannon, aligned the site so specifically toward a Trump vision of the world during the 2016 Presidential election that employees began to raise concerns about it being little more than a “fan club” for Trump.

Moreover, the right-wing outlet has been accused by some as being a hate site.  Breitbart engages in coordinated plans to bring their particular brand of intolerance to the political realm in because their style of propaganda works well. Linked to relations of power, the Breitbart stories tend to be constructed and reinforced by those in professional positions like Bannon who hold a particular authority and, thus, create knowledge about certain subjects like climate change, health care, and trade.

In the article about Elon Musk this week, Breitbart referred to individuals who seek equality for all as “the left’s social justice warriors” and described Twitter reactions to Musk’s collaboration with Trump as “vicious colorful language that cannot be reported.” The implication here is that Musk followers are immoral, disreputable people whose language is so coarse that it is would clearly offend the enlightened Breitbart readership.

Yes, this was a week in which the Tesla Motors, Inc. CEO found himself defending his position on Trump’s executive order that limits immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Musk has become a target of malaise due to his role on Trump’s manufacturing council. Disgruntled fans tweeted about how Musk could design a Mars mission but fail to retract a “BS Muslim ban;” what ownership of the competitor’s Chevy Volt would be like; and, his position on AG Sally Yates’ dismissal over the immigration issue. Some tweets, on the other hand, also supported Musk and implored him “to make a positive impact.”

Breitbart recounted that Musk’s attendance on “an official White House committee” (i.e. the Strategic and Policy Forum) on January 27 generated controversy. Breitbart characterized the comments as “mournful,” which cast Musk as leader of a losing battle to limit anthropogenic climate change through decentralized energy, especially the remarkable Tesla electric vehicle line. Breitbart noted Musk’s reply,  which included, “It’s getting me down. I’m just trying to make a positive contribution & hope good comes of it.” Interestingly, the publication allowed Musk’s empathy and altruism to shine through the otherwise negative narrative.

Breitbart also added in the article that, “when it comes to U.S. employment and manufacturing, Musk’s companies are near or at the top as the fastest-growing players.” It seems clear from this statement that the Trump administration recognizes the power that Elon Musk has to create U.S. jobs and further the country’s emergence from the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression. Breitbart’s care in recognizing Musk’s wherewithal suggests that the Trump administration is looking down the GNP road and wants to keep Musk close by, regardless of Musk’s opposite political beliefs and progressive values, just in case.

Musk’s use of Twitter to inform, educate, and empower

Twitter can be a site where democracy, messy as it can be, is at its best. Twitter’s multiple viewpoints allow for rich, if sometimes uncomfortable discourse. Musk understands this and engages in conversations with the public as a means of communication, education, and empowerment. For example, he wanted his followers to be intimately knowledgeable with the immigration order and to let him know “specific amendments,” which he would then bring to the advisory council to seek “consensus & present to President” Trump.

Indeed, Musk asked his followers to read “the source material” of the immigration ban; it is a way to infuse voices of reason and expertise rather than emotion and hyperbole into the conversation. That request, in turn, fostered a conversation about the importance of reading original documents and reports, rather than relying on tertiary sources for deconstruction and explanation. It was a lesson that many could have learned during the 2016 Presidential campaign, which was rife with fake news.

Rather than the “Trump / Musk charm offensive” that Breitbart suggests is the reason for Tesla’s rising stock prices, perhaps we should look to the Trump effect as just one of multiple reasons why Tesla is on the rise. The acquisition of Solar/City, the announcement of solar roof tiles, the 2017 production of the new Model 3, production at the Nevada Gigafactory, SpaceX series of successes… the list of recent accomplishments is quite long. Investors like to back a winner, and, even if Musk must hold his nose as he negotiates with Donald Trump and his advisers, the value of Tesla will continue to be robust.

It’s just not the White House that so many of us, Musk included, envisioned just a few months ago. And Breitbart’s entry to the field is scary enough for many of us to take notice. Be strong, Elon; you’re going to need tenacity to stay a step ahead. We know you’ll probably have to step up more than you originally anticipated when you agreed to serve. Thanks for taking on this huge responsibility on behalf of U.S. progressives.

Photo credit: Goat4421 via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

Elon Musk Becomes the Latest Target of Fake News

[Note: This post was originally featured on PlanetSave]

A mixture of Trump insiders, Alt-Right supporters, the fossil fuel industry, and climate change doubters have combined forces to create and propagate fake news about Elon Musk with the intent of undermining his influence in the automotive and energy sectors. Attacks on Musk and his companies have intensified since the Electoral College results were announced after the November 8 election and a surprise win by Donald Trump returns the Republican party to the White House.

fake news

Florida-based fact-checking outlet PolitiFact found that, of a set of 158 things Mr Trump said during his campaign, 78 per cent were false.

Musk inspires strong admiration for his industry-disrupting companies: Tesla, SolarCity, and Space Exploration Technologies (i.e. SpaceX). Each has been instrumental in fostering a significant shift in the way that consumers think about transportation and energy sources. The fake news attack on him is part of what many people fail to fully acknowledge: echo chambers — spaces in which ideas, information and beliefs are enforced through repetition and outside or opposing views are unable to penetrate — have a way of turning bad information into facts.

Indeed, some of these fake articles have been written by fake persons. An entirely falsified article titled “Elon Musk Continues to Blow Up Taxpayer Money With Falcon 9” was tagged with author, Shepard Stewart. Earlier the same week, Stewart had written “Here’s How Elon Musk Stole $5 Billion in Taxpayer Dollars.”

“Definitely a fake,” says Gavin Wax, editor-in-chief of the Liberty Conservative. That publication took down the article, as did the Libertarian Republic. Only recently did The Federalist site remove authorship information about Stewart from its website.

Sam Jaffe, managing director of Cairn Energy Research Advisors, says there are several reasons that Musk has become a fake news target. One is that whoever is behind the attacks fears Musk could enter U.S. politics. “There’s a portion of the political spectrum that is scared to death of Musk as politician. They see him as a threat. They’re starting that process.”

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Budweiser’s “Not Backing Down” Ad: Corporate and Political Parallels

[Note: This article was originally published on PlanetSave by Carolyn Fortuna.]

In a divisive year in which the U.S. Presidential and multiple Congressional seats are uncertain, candidates have drawn upon large pools of corporate support to fund campaigns. The messages within the commercials we see during our favorite screen shows contain many of the same themes that have emerged in the 2016 elections. Research-grounded climate change continues to divide political parties, and it scares big corporations who produce the largest carbon footprint of all. The messages of campaigns and corporate products have a significant common element: they use embedded messages to divide their audiences into groups. That division reinforces the wishes of corporate sponsors, who seek to maintain their power and influence, regardless of the effect on society and our world.

corporate

Budweiser, that “King of Beers,” has been strategically advertising its products since 1852 when salespeople provided beer trays for taverns. Throughout its long history, Budweiser has reflected the times through specific social messages that connected beer drinkers with its products. That advertising expertise is evident in a 2016 Budweiser commercial which recently aired during the World Series.

As we analyze this commercial, we not only see the marvel and complexity of marketing; we see how international corporations embed messages within their texts to perpetuate systems, institutions, and structures that privilege some and diminish others, such as those of us in the world of sustainable living, who threaten the status quo. This is often referred to hegemony at work.

The commercial is titled “Budweiser’s Not Backing Down.” Iconography of large scale brewing machinery, hands of hard-working employees, people drinking Budweiser hungrily, bands, athletes, dancers, and the ubiquitous Budweiser Clydesdales appear in a montage. The overt theme is that Budweiser will not allow craft beers to surpass it in popularity, and it places this theme within the idea that Budweiser is not for everyone, but this Bud’s for you.

The commercial is divided into sections, and each section has a marker phrase that encapsulates the message within that section. Let’s look at these sections and deconstruct how Budweiser moves beyond a superficial theme about product competition to see how it has Othered certain individuals and groups within society. Sustainability initiatives, by definition, fall into these Othered categories.

NOT PONIES

Budweiser’s message: The Clydesdales are the biggest and most formidable of all horses. If you want to be on the side of power and dominance, stick with us at the Budweiser Corporation. We’re on the side of Big Horses and Big Business.

Oppositional reading: Budweiser — and other international corporations — can exert power in ways you haven’t even imagined. Don’t even think about siding with the little guy, um, I mean, horse, or you’ll regret it.

NOT A HOBBY

Budweiser’s message: Budweiser is a full-time, established brewery with over 150 years of experience. Why would you want to choose a craft beer to drink when its makers are little more than homebrewing hobbyists? The 3,500+ craft breweries in the world comprise only about 12% of the market, although Anheuser’s U.S. sales have declined for the third time in four years.

Oppositional reading: Craft breweries and other innovative startups are slowly yet incrementally gaining a market share of a huge and formerly closed industry. If craft breweries can do it, what’s next? Vegan restaurants? Almond milk in every refrigerator? Cleantech startups?

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What’s Cycling Got to Do with Digital Literacy?

Allow me to introduce Emily Phillips, a 58-year-old who loved cycling when she lived in Europe. New to Philadelphia, she couldn’t quite afford to buy a bike. She had heard about Indego, Philadelphia’s bikeshare program. With Indego, 700 bikes are available at 70 stations throughout the city. To locate a bike, a rider accesses an app or an online station map for bike and dock availability. There are several ways to check out a bike with Indego. You can purchase a pass with credit card or cash, and you then use your electronic Indego Key to check out a bike. Or you walk up to any bike at any station and use your credit/debit card to pay for a one-time trip.

cycling

Sounds easy, right? Well, for a digitally literate individual, navigating the Indego app or website is a snap. But for Emily Phillips and other individuals who aren’t technologically savvy, using the bikeshare program can be too complicated. Forget it. Curiosity shutdown.

Back in 2014, it didn’t take long for the new grant manager of the Better Bike Share Partnership, Carniesha Kwashie, to figure out that internet access was a barrier to many individuals who wanted to sign up for Indego. “I found out that you couldn’t apply anywhere else but online,” she said. But she had a plan. Voila! Soon Philadelphia had a Digital Skills and Bike Thrills (DSBT) program, and lots of people were signing up to learn digital skills at their own pace.

Their assignments relate to Indego and bike sharing. In Digital Skills and Bike Thrills, individuals participate in a month-long workshop where they learn basic computer skills at the same time as they become familiar with local bicycle law and best practices. And they can join in a group ride and learn safe cycling skill at the same time. That’s all anybody can expect, right?

Actually, the DSBT program also includes a free six-month pass to Indego to anyone who completes the course. That means no hourly fees or passes to buy while learning to gain confidence as a city cyclist.

And how did Emily Phillips do? She completed the program and says she’s been riding in Philadelphia through Indego most everyday. She getting used to Philadelphia’s particular biking culture — “How drivers drive, how bicyclists bike, how many potholes there are in the road.”

What are digital learning and digital literacy?

Digital learning is not about technology. It’s about being able to access the right tool in the most efficient way to accomplish specific goals. To be digitally literate, a person needs to know how information is processed, delivered, and received in today’s highly connected world.

Here’s a typical digital learning standard: “Select digital tools or resources to use for a real-world task and justify the selection based on their efficiency and effectiveness, individually and collaboratively.” The Digital Skills and Biking Thrills program meets all specifications within this standard. It allows real world application of digital skills.

Internet access itself just wasn’t enough for everybody to join bikeshare

As reported by Anderson on Better Bike Share Partnership, Indego’s marketing team “knew by the end of the last season that the cash pass by itself wasn’t sufficient” to reach its full potential audience. Indego knew that many Philadelphians who have the most to gain from bike share access were unable to afford Indego’s prices.

So, over the winter of 2015-2016, they brainstormed ideas about a manageable and appealing discount program. The team knew that most low-income Philadelphians had already proved their income status to the state government. They had state-issued cards. Looking back, the next step seems extraordinarily easy, but it was quite new and innovative at the time of implementation. Indego gives a 67 percent discount on bike sharing memberships for anyone whose income is low enough to qualify for food assistance. So far, 687 Philadelphians have taken up the offer. Called Indego30 Access, it is the fastest-growing bike share discount program in the country. People who signed up for the Indego system this way now account for 10 percent of the system’s monthly membership rolls.

Biking beyond Philadelphia

There are so many good reasons to commute on a bike. In times of fluctuating gas prices, cycling clearly wins out: the daily cost amounts to little more than pedal power, with an equipment occasional tune-up thrown in. Lepore at Levo suggests that cycling boosts energy. You can skip the gym. And it is part of a larger picture to save the earth by limiting fossil fuels.

Looking back to his college years in Chapel Hill, NC, CleanTechnica’s director, Shahan loved being part of bike culture. Exploring small, tree-lined streets. Experiencing the seasons as they change. He even found a solid ranking system for the most bikeable cities in the U.S.

If you’re inspired by the idea of becoming a cycling commuter, National Bike to Work Week 2017 will be held on May 15-19, 2017. Bike to Work Day is May 19. Pedal on!

Photo credit: d26b73 via Foter.com / CC BY

 

 

Ways that Digital Tools Can Help Students to Read Their Worlds

Sometimes called “affordances,” the digital world offers advantages to students.  Teachers’ repertoires today likely include Twitter, Glogster, Kahoot, Prezi, a comic creator, Ted Talks, LiveBinders, podcasts, Animoto, Quizlet, a class wiki, white board illustrating, screencasting, and blog posting. These and other platforms infuse ways for students to become better readers of their worlds through nuanced textual interactions, inquiry, analytical thinking, and composing.

Textual Interactions 

Source: Wikipedia

Online tools transform students into text detectives who have fun while hunting for clues.  Start with quickly paced e-learning modules that point to key evidence; primary sources offer a wealth of possibilities. A Civil War era journal entry, sheet music from the Roaring 20’s, an eggless-butterless-milkless World War II cake recipe, or civil rights protest photo can spur conversations and engagement— and each can be accessed digitally.  Alternatively, daily digital newspapers and blogs allow students to explore local and global perspectives, and e-readers and audiobooks bring professional narration to  combined reading/ listening experiences.  It’s fascinating how digital book chats, Amazon student book reviews, or one book/ one school programs can foster a school community through common literary experiences.

Student Inquiry 

Source: Greg McVerry

E-learning centers immerse students in appropriately challenging investigations.  Online design tasks might include image-based visualizations that spur language acquisition.  Vocabulary games, multi-level/ tiered questioning, close reading wikis, or online discussion boards introduce new concepts.  Moreover, social justice simulations can unveil lives that have been affected by race, class, language, gender, or religious difference.  Further, a curation tool like Storify can help students to develop critical perspectives and to become more curious about others who don’t fit their own community’s definition of “Normal.”

Analytical Thinking 

Source: NASA

Do science/ English collaborations seem a bit avant-garde? Scientific texts can fulfill various English and literature standards through readings available at National Geographic, NOAA, NSF, NASA,  Sierra Club, and Nature Conservancy websites. Follow up with a computer lab gallery walk, cartoon slideshow, Ted Talk about study skills, sports podcast to spur argumentation, or celebrity media evaluation.  Add in online guided questions, dictionaries, and translation tools to help struggling readers. Visual texts are important in our symbol-based society, so digital classic works of art, stylized comics, minimalist advertisements, and short films can be “read” as balanced, integrated elements.

Composing  

Source: The Abundant Artist

Infuse background and context into writing-to-learn activities then let students blog!  Because blogging is a reflection of identity, student bloggers gain insights into the human side of composing; they discern the complex interplay of words and ideas for an audience, making sense through print, sound, images, and videos.  Digital photography can also bring personalization and purpose to the writing process.  And don’t forget how fan fiction creates an outlet for imaginative mediation of the demands of audience and genre.

Ultimately, it is the richness of the digital world that resonates with students, for, as W. Somerset Maugham said, “The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you.”

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Grand Prize Award for Technology and Reading.  She teaches high school English and is an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College. If you’d like information about workshops in digital and media literacy and learning, contact Carolyn at c4tuna31@gmail.com.

The Digital Writing Process

One of my earliest and richest professional development activities was with the National Writing Project.  As a newly certified English teacher, the NWP’s process approach to writing seemed a whirlwind:  how could I help my students to see the possibilities within all the stages of pre-writing, organizing, drafting, and revision?  Slowly, I came to understand the process approach to writing and became a particular fan of Donald Murray, who made visible the struggles of writers and the joy of discovery through the written word.

Now, with nearly 20 years of middle and high school teaching behind me, I still respect the writing process approach and its benefits.  I also recognize that the nature of writing has changed tremendously over those two decades due to the significant influence of digital tools and sources.  Of course, today’s composers still must meet the commonly accepted conventions of the genre in which they are engaged, but our visual digital culture creates different demands than did the primarily print text-based world.

Digital environments mediate the navigation, length, and complexity of texts, requiring composers to adapt to audience, tone, and purpose in ways that previous generations were never required. Digital environments have disrupted the writing process as we once knew it due to an interwoven combination of traditional narrative sequencing, hyperlinks to other digital sources, infusions of multimedia texts like videos and podcasts, and interactive response fields.

A new Digital Writing Process SOARS!

Source: Carolyn Fortuna

Source: Carolyn Fortuna

  •  Survey: Have students surf the web and a large body of texts as a way of frontloading concepts and language. One way to ensure that students’ research meets your institution’s guidelines for social appropriateness and keen content connections is to curate a collection of digital models through which students can surf. (Here’s a sample curation from a sports and popular culture course I teach.)  A curation helps to illuminate what works among digital design, multimedia choices, and narrative structure.  And, so they learn to embed a pattern of attribution, it’s probably best for students to grab short phrases of direct excerpts from the sources they find, using quotation marks.  Otherwise, students might find themselves part of a plagiarism controversy.
  • Organize: Students need to sort through the chaos of all the fabulous texts and direct excerpts they’ve gathered from the web. Have students group their direct excerpts according to commonalities, and then have them narrow those commonalities into hierarchies. Students will also benefit from exposure to different methods to code evidence, such as color coordinating, charting, doing in-document keyword searches, or categorizing. Eventually, move students from an integration of patterns into a systematic, theoretically embedded explanation.
  • Address: One of the truly marvelous benefits of surfing the web is the capacity to see how other composers design their ideas and formats.  Commonly called conventions of the genre, these expected ways of adhering to a particular type of compositional style take a bit of scrutiny.  Have students analyze a variety of texts within a particular genre and identify certain predictable characteristics.  As students move into drafting their own compositions, they should practice different approaches to establishing mood and tone through deliberate word choices.  And, because their digital design should be visually appealing to appeal to a targeted audience, they should recognize and incorporate pointed design techniques, a clear message, and a professional look. 
  • Revise: Believe it or not, the revision stage of the digital writing process is the most time-consuming.  That’s because a first full draft of a composition, in all likelihood, lacks depth of ideas, language cohesion, and/or an interrelated design structure.  Moreover, when one aspect of the digital composition is changed, the other areas are immediately affected.  Guide students through a series of directed steps to consider how each part of the digital design process interacts with others.  Provide opportunities for 1-to-1 teacher: student conferencing, small group collaboration, and focus group feedback so that students have a balance of ample creative time and constructive responses.
  • Survey again:  Often, a full and revised draft of a composition still isn’t polished enough. That’s why the digital writing process requires composers to return to the web and to continue to survey mentor models of published digital compositions.  This final step is often lacking in classrooms, although new digital technologies and pedagogical tools have emerged to help teachers in the teaching of revision.  Students need to revisit the digital sources that originally inspired them, study them with a newly formed composer’s point of view, and decide what additional strategies they can adopt to infuse more nuance, voice, and authenticity to their own original compositions.

Many teachers now incorporate multimodal texts into their instruction as ways of making meaning. Because digital realms mediate content and meaning, curricula must also change to address new possible digital composing pathways.  Teachers in a PEW Research Center study report that their students have a broad audience for written material due to pervasive social media production opportunities. It’s time for teachers and cultural workers across disciplines to embrace a new Digital Writing Process as a necessary way to help guide our students to their highest levels of digital compositional excellence.

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Grand Prize Award for Technology and Reading.  She teaches high school English and is an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College. If you’d like information for your school or non-profit organization about workshops in digital and media literacy and learning, contact Carolyn at c4tuna31@gmail.com.