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Miami University
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Miami takes English composition to a digital level

04/21/2011

Miami University students taking first-year composition courses research and write with digital technologies that have transformed these classes into 21st century digital learning environments.

“Our students still learn traditional, academic writing, but they also learn to write in a variety of genres and with a variety of technologies,” said Heidi McKee, associate professor of English at Miami. “Students work with text, images, and audio to compose digital, multimodal projects such as research-based websites, audio essays, blogs, and video public service announcements for audiences beyond the classroom.”

McKee explained that the department’s assessment of student learning, which includes extensive interviews with students, shows that learning increases with access to digital technologies in class.

In 2005 no sections of first-year writing at Miami’s Oxford campus were taught in computerized classrooms. In fall 2011, 100 percent of Miami’s English 111 and 112 courses will be taught in laptop or desktop classrooms, providing students access to the networks and software to help them learn the skills they need to become effective writers in academic, professional and civic venues.

“In addition to learning valuable rhetorical skills for multimodal composing, students can learn and practice in class critical research skills for analyzing the abundance of information and misinformation on the Web. They have opportunities to compose collaboratively using Wikis and Google Docs, and they can make class presentations using presentation software,” she said.

Working with graduate students, faculty colleagues, technology staff, and university administrators, McKee helped to establish the Digital Writing Collaborative (DWC) in 2006 within the department of English with the goal to incorporate technology into the teaching and learning of college writing.

One of the most significant outcomes of the DWC is connecting students to technology directly by providing them with the necessary tools. Dozens of composition courses and a variety of other English courses are offered in two types of digital classroom environments: Laptop classrooms and the Havighurst Computer Classroom.

The three laptop classrooms offer four large plasma screens, headsets with microphones, an instructor station with LCD projector, document camera, and two additional laptops for instructor and student use.
The Havighurst Computer Classroom has desktop computers in it, so all courses held in that classroom are taught using school computers. Students do not have to own a laptop to enroll in the course.

Miami’s King Library circulation desk offers a variety of cameras and sound recorders for student use, including equipment purchased by the DWC. In addition to the equipment available for check-out at the library, the DWC also has equipment available for instructors to check out to support their pedagogical work.

The digital scope is appreciated by students. Most who were interviewed for the assessment agreed that enhancing their writing with different forms of digital tools made the course much more interesting and practical. Students admitted putting a lot more thought into their work because they were writing for different types of audiences using different forms of digital media.

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