I’ve been thinking a lot about the capacity of the digital humanities to open up assignments in traditional English and composition classes to more creative possibilities. In my first-year writing course this semester, my students are working on an identity project. The first component was a traditional personal essay, a short 2-page piece on notions of identity. I followed the paper with a second assignment: a digital identity project. This assignment allows the students to transform their original piece into a more creative interpretation of their identity trait, thinking specifically about how their chosen medium contributes to the message they are trying to convey. One of the goals of the assignment is to push visual communication to the forefront and to allow us to discuss visual design and rhetoric. Another goal is to force the students to consider how a given medium contributes to the message it is communicating and to choose a medium based on those qualities. I’ve given them some suggestions for the medium (slideshow, short video, Google Map, photo collage, Pecha Kucha etc.) but I’m hoping they will surprise me with their creativity.
So far, the students have responded well to the assignment and have generated some interesting ideas. However, many of them responded with anxiety at the the prospect of an open assignment that leaves them free to chose the medium and/or technology and the message. I’ve explained to them that part of the assignment is about actually making this decision — a decision they will be forced to make many times in the future — and that selecting a medium and connecting design principles to questions of communication are skills that will serve them well.
But I’m also hoping that the open parameters of the assignment will tap into their individual creativity and encourage them to think outside of “what is required of me for this assignment” and to consider how their skills and interests can best contribute to a successful project. In this way, then, I’m hopeful that the flexibility and openness that — at least in this instance — digital pedagogy provides, will serve to bring that creativity into the classroom.
One thing I haven’t touched on here is the possible clash between creativity and copyright, especially in a digital environment. My students will be discussing this tomorrow, so that might be the topic of a follow-up post.
I will post some sample projects in a few weeks to showcase the students’ work.