In Dr. Pfannenstiel’s ENGL 318 Web Writing course, Kyle Steffish wrote an essay from the International Policy Conference about English majors in the digital world.
How do you engage with media? This was the big question behind Millersville University’s 11th Annual International Policy Conference held last month. It’s certainly a big question; but one the English Department and its students are primed to tackle.
The second session on the first day of the conference was presented by the English department’s Dr. A. Nicole Pfannenstiel. The session asked visitors to consider topics like technological empowerment and digital citizenship.
Placed around Lehr Room in Gordinier Hall were stations where session visitors could participate in interactive tech demonstrations. One demonstration allowed visitors to play The Stanley Parable, a video game with heavy existential overtones, questioning free will and the illusion of choice.
Visitors were asked to think about their time playing The Stanley Parable – to think of themselves as an audience and how they interacted with the game, the aim being to decide if the player was making their own decisions or if the game was making decisions for them through an algorithm. In other words: how much control do we have when interacting with digital media and how much are we influenced?
While the individuals who visited the session were certainly engaged, it was clear ideas like digital citizenship and empowerment were not questions many people pondered while twiddling on their social media, posting to their blog, or shopping on Amazon.
We live in a digital world. A world where leaving our house and realizing we forgot our phone causes panicked patting of pockets and a cold sweat. Most people engage with technology and act as digital citizens every day – including, of course, Millersville’s English students and English professors.
Yet, as writers, as rhetoricians, as composition instructors both present and future, are we engaging enough with these ideas and questions?
How do we engage with media?
Does technology empower us or entrap us?
What is digital citizenship?
And maybe the most important question of all: are students prepared for an ever increasing digital world?
Millersville’s English program is an excellent place to try to answer these questions and, better yet, empower students as digital citizens.
English classes like the recently introduced Web Writing (ENGL 318) offer a place to start for engaging students with and preparing them for a digital world. Classes like Web Writing encourage students to think about rhetoric and composition in ways they rarely do. Rhetorical thinking – like purpose, audience, and kairos – is shifted from the purely academic space to the digital space – a space where rhetorical thinking is especially critical. This space is quickly becoming ever important to all levels of our society. Having the tools to understand and create compelling content within this space is a necessity.
As English majors graduate and enter careers, it becomes clear the landscape has changed. There is a need for writers savvy with Search Engine Optimization, with social media platforms, and with creating multimodal content for websites and blogs.
Take a walk through any career fair and you’ll quickly see copy and content writers are in high demand. More so, regardless of career, you’ll see the importance for the skills needed for digital readiness – skills that are already being taught right here in Millersville’s English department.
We are on the frontier of the digital age. It is clear technology shapes how we write and how we think of writing. Yet this is still also new. It is exciting. We are trail blazers, explorers, carrying rhetoric and composition forward. Though classes like Web Writing are a great beginning, it is only the start.
Events like the International Policy Conference show we are only just scratching the surface of how we think about and engage with media, how we can empower ourselves through it, and how we can become digital citizens prepared for a digital world.
I believe the English department is the best place to push this frontier forward. The English program not only needs classes like Web Writing, but classes that emphasize digital rhetoric, skills, and citizenship.