By Scott Lloyd DeWitt, Associate Professor of English, The Ohio State University
“Digital media? In an English department? That must be fairly new.” We still catch people by surprise when we talk about the nearly twenty-five years we’ve been working with technology in the Department of English at The Ohio State University. If you consider how much has changed with digital media technology during that time, not to mention how our vision of literary/writing/cultural/textual studies has expanded, our story covers a lot of ground.
We formally began working with technology in the 1980s when we designed the Apple Project, in honor of its initial benefactor. We received a sizeable grant to equip two classrooms with locally networked student workstations where we taught composition using word processors, emphasizing drafting and revision. (Remember, at that time, many students were still using typewriters, a desktop computer cost over $2000, and a basic laser printer cost over $4000.)
In the 1990s, the Apple Project morphed into the Computers in Composition and Literature Program (CCL) in an attempt to broaden its base of involvement within the department. In addition to composition, we offered introductory American and British literature courses where students read early hypertext literature and compiled small websites featuring their research.
The early years of the new millennium signaled a shift to multimodal composing (and yet another name change), expanding our definitions of text and writing to include digital images, video, and audio. Today, the Digital Media Project serves as the research and teaching laboratory for our robust digital media and English studies curriculum for undergraduate and graduate students. Students enrolled in first-year writing courses serve as authors and editors for Commonplace, an online journal and idea-networking site. Undergraduate courses in digital media studies, which appeal to students in a variety of majors, ask students to create audio and video documentary shorts, remixes of American poetry and popular music, visual redesigns of classic novel book covers, and electronic annotated editions of materials in the OSU’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Library. Graduate courses prepare future scholars and college professors for the quickly changing digital landscape in the study and teaching of film, folklore, literature, disability studies, composition and rhetoric, and professional and technical writing.
Projects growing out of and supporting digital media studies in the English Department include Harlot: A Revealing Look at the Arts of Persuasion, a digital magazine dedicated to exploring rhetoric in everyday life. The Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives is a publicly available archive of personal literacy narratives in a variety of digital formats that together provide an historical record of the literacy practices and values of worldwide contributors. Students enrolled in an undergraduate writing course worked with the Archive to create The Literacy Narratives of Black Columbus Project, an ongoing effort designed to collect, preserve, and share the rich history of individual Black citizens' literacy practices and values in their homes, families, churches, and community centers within Columbus, Ohio. Finally, the Digital Media and Composition Institute sponsors a visiting scholars program and invites graduate students and faculty from across the country to attend a two-week seminar on using digital media effectively in the teaching and research of composition.
Regardless of the decade or the technology, our aim remains the same: to re-examine and re-imagine new forms of composing, literacy, and communication in our scholarly endeavors and learning environments. To view a Flash text about Digital Media Studies in the Department of English at Ohio State, click here.
Scott Lloyd DeWitt currently directs the First-Year Writing Program at The Ohio State University. He was the director of the Digital Media Project from 2002-09.
Top: An instructor consults with her student about a paper in the department's new computer classroom (1987).