Writing in the Future

Writing in the future

Everyone knows that old adage, “A picture is a worth a thousand words.” So how much is a video worth? A multimedia presentation? An interactive website? English instructors Monica Hogan and Maureen Fitzpatrick attended a conference on digital storytelling to find out.

The two professors spent three days at the Center for Digital Storytelling in Berkeley, Calif., immersed in how to use technology to best tell a story.

Even before the trip, the two have been on the forefront of technology use in JCCC English classes. Fitzpatrick teaches Writing for Interactive Media, English 140, where students learn to write for web pages, social media and other forms of digital communication. Hogan said her love of technology started with her very first Apple II Plus and has only blossomed from there.

“I have always loved technology,” Hogan said. “Thankfully, we always had technology in my home.

Fitzpatrick began incorporating technology into her English classes, first giving students the option of creating a Powerpoint presentation about seven years ago. From there, she’s added podcast creation and webpage development to her curriculum, and currently, her students are working on a wiki that highlights a department or class on campus.

“What I really want the students to do is break out of the safe formulas they learned in high school,” she said. “The ones that start out, ‘In this paper I will…’ After all, when they’re employed, no one is going to assign them a five-paragraph essay.”

Multimodal essays are the way of the future, Hogan explained. In these types of essays, sound, images, websites and short videos all play a part in the “paper,” which may never even be printed on paper.

A current example is the digital comic “book”, Fitzpatrick noted. Thanks in part to e-readers and the iPad, the digital comic market grew tenfold between 2009 and 2010, according to Comics Alliance, from half a million to a possible $8 million.

Traditional students, ages 18-24, have grown up with the idea of multimodal media, where the click of a mouse gives them a photo and those “thousand words” on the page are unnecessary.

Both Hogan and Fitzpatrick are working on ways to incorporate into their classrooms what they learned at the Center for Digital Storytelling. However, because they still must make sure students can write logical, well-organized papers using words, they’ve been incorporating new technology slowly.

“It’s easy to let the flash of the technology take over,” Hogan said. “There are plenty of beautiful websites out there, but if they say nothing, people don’t come back to them. The message is still important.”

Both agree that multimodal composition cannot come at the expense of the tried and true: spelling, grammar, punctuation and style.

Fitzpatrick still teaches mechanics lessons at the beginning of class, and Hogan said, “The traditional paper is a conservative approach, but you have to be able to do it.”

Fitzpatrick said she has found that technology helps students – especially visual learners – better organize their thoughts, even when writing a traditional paper. By following the techniques used in creating a multimodal piece, they are able to “see” the piece before they write it.

Hogan said she is working on curriculum to explain the concept of multimodal composition to JCCC students. In the spirit of what she’s teaching, she’d like to present the materials using audio and video examples.

She foresees assignments where clips from movies are embedded into a movie review in the same way quotes now are embedded into a paper.

“Wouldn’t that be great?” she said. “You’re writing about a scene from the movie, and it’s right there for you to watch. You don’t have to describe it that way.”

Students may be getting ahead of them, since many of the high schools already are teaching multimodal presentations, like doing a “book trailer” instead of a book report.

“The written word isn’t shared as much as it used to be,” Hogan said. “Media is shared, and that engages students.”