I’ve been intrigued with the idea of a “digital essay” ever since Jim Burke posted an example of one awhile ago. When I asked him what his assignment sheet included, Burke said that he didn’t really have a “formal” one and just told the kids to create. I think the biggest reason I’m drawn to the idea of a “digital” essay and what that “format” might encompass (beside my love for rhetoric and comp!) is the fact that I see this format as one that would be more real-world applicable in many ways versus a traditional essay for English class.
When I tried it out with my students though, it didn’t quite turn out as I thought it would. They wanted to know exactly what I wanted to see. They wanted to know exactly what I wanted them to use. They wanted me to tell them how to do it. Thus, I really tried to emphasis that I would be looking at very different examples of essays as everyone would have something very different from another (or at least what I would assume). In other words, what works for one may or may not work for another. It was up to them to come up with the design/tools they would need to convey their information.
In the end, most of the examples I received were more traditional research essays thrown on a ppt. Don’t give me wrong, they contained the information that was needed, were correctly formatted, etc. but I was still surprised at the fear of branching out and using anything they wanted to as long as it served the overall purpose of the assignment (to inform the audience [class] about a controversial scientific project that took place in the past [tying into Frankenstein]).
This fear also ties into this point that kids aren’t as tech savvy as we think they are. When we discussed what they thought about the assignment, my students all liked it. Yet when we talked about why they all choose to use only ppt, they said they hadn’t thought about how using [insert name of other tech suggestions, hyperlinks, etc.] might work in this context. Again, they’ve all used those tools, but not in the critical ways I was asking them to do for this assignment, so they stuck to what they were comfortable with to complete it.
I’d like to try this assignment again in the future and wonder if others have played with a digital essay assignment, too. (If so, I’d love any suggestions on what you found worked well!) Also, be sure to check out this and this…two more great examples (also shared by Burke) of digital essays.