Digital-Literacy and Composition - National Council of Teachers of English
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Digital-Literacy and Composition

onlinewritingThis post was submitted by Mabel Khawaja, an NCTE Higher Education Policy Analyst who teaches literature and composition courses at Hampton University, Virginia.

If we are to blend creative thinking and critical writing skills, students must be afforded opportunities to synthesize information they already have with knowledge acquired through higher education. Composition courses can provide this link.

NCTE has helped me in considering a new approach to rhetoric and composition through a “plurality of literacies,” especially digital-literacies that are constantly evolving and influencing the processes of reading, writing, research, and interpretation of data, creating new knowledge within varied disciplines.

For me, a compelling reason to explore this connection was the decreasing numbers of English majors and my university’s increasing emphasis on recruiting students—especially women and minorities—for STEM disciplines.

In the summer of 2012, a pilot project was conceived in partnership with the help of School for Science faculty who envisioned a digital-literacy interdisciplinary collaborative model that would empower students to link complex concepts included in their STEM courses to their composition assignments. I agreed to use digital-literacy as a pathway to refresh our writing across the curriculum program by introducing e-portfolios and digital media.

The topics studied in this project, suggested by partner faculty, afforded my students an opportunity to practice communication of complex concepts that they encountered in their science and math courses. Using digital tools (e.g., Blackboard and mobile devices), students demonstrated their comprehension and interpretation skills through presentations, blogs, reports, and discussion forums.

Their composition was enriched by the familiar rhetorical modes of definition, comparison, contrast, and classification, but the emphasis shifted from passive communication to interactive research and delivery underscoring performative language. Students shared responsibility for explaining complex concepts to peers through digital storytelling and flipped classroom assignments that were followed by interactive digital forums and instructor feedback.

In addition to learning somewhat elusive concepts, students learned that delivering inaccurate information is dangerous. It’s not enough to be connected; we need to be accurate in our knowledge through these connections. Unfortunately, the pilot project remains in its infancy due to a lack of funds. Our plan to integrate digital tools for assessment and measurement of student outcomes has yet to materialize. Still, we are confident that students’ digital stories provide an important emotional link between humanities and the STEM disciplines.


This post was submitted by Mabel Khawaja, an NCTE Higher Education Policy Analyst who teaches literature and composition courses at Hampton University, Virginia. She is a former International Programs Coordinator/French Translator for the US government and a recipient of the 1999–2000 Fulbright Award as senior scholar to Tunisia, North Africa. She is also the chair of the NCTE Standing Committee on International Concerns and editor of the publications of the Assembly on American Literature.