Platform Swap

Platform Swap 1One of the easiest ways to bring digital/multimedia writing practices into the classroom is to require that students complete a regular class assignment via an alternative media platform. Meaning, instructors might take a traditional, text-based writing assignment and invite students to produce it in Adobe Spark instead of Microsoft Word. Or instead of an introductory essay, they might ask for an introductory video or podcast. The goal in this approach is to put students into contact with multiple modes of representation and expression: i.e., an approach of exposure and experience. And thanks to the extremely user-friendly interface of Spark and the ubiquity of mobile technologies (which allow for quick audio/video production), instructors can often do this while have little-to-no technical know-how for the programs involved. Just swap the platform and see what students are able to produce. But critical to the success of this approach is that instructors temper their assessment and adjust their expectations. As Collin Brooke argued in his book Lingua Fracta: Toward a Rhetoric of New Media, a webtext version of an essay assignment does not merely yield a more visually oriented essay, and thinking in this way ignores the complexities of webtext representation and engagement. That is, webtexts (whether scrolling Spark pages or otherwise) are not inherently geared toward the production of “the essay,” nor should they be. This is not to say that webtexts cannot be essays, but rather that the affordances of the media come to bear on far more than just visual representation.

Now, simply switching Microsoft Word or Google Docs for Spark as a writing platform will, to be sure, introduce students to the added considerations of image and video elements as part of their writing ecologies, but Spark on its own does not (and should not be expected to) carry the weight of developing rhetorical sophistication with digital media in students. Of course, if instructors wish to introduce students to other modes of expression—to playing within the affordances and constraints of digital, networked, writing/creating culture—then adopting a Platform Swap approach is a solid starting point. But instructors should do so, at least initially, with low stakes assignments, which will allow both the instructor and the students to adjust. In this regard, I recommend basic learning elements for these initial forays: i.e., having students provide a summary of a course reading via video post (e.g., vlog) or, using Spark page, having students create a critical analysis/close reading of a course artifact. These introductory activities work best, in my experience, as completion assignments with a key instructor-selected obstructions (i.e., requiring a certain number of digital elements/techniques appropriate to the platform). What this yields, as a starting point, is (1) a low-stakes introduction to working in different media and (2) an engagement of course content in altered ways. When done well, the Platform Swap provides exposure with measured expectation, which can lead students to having positive orientations going into later digital writing assignments: i.e., future activities that require increased levels of rhetorical sophistication with digital media/digital creativity.

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