In this article, we offer a history of Florida State’s (FSU) Digital Symposium, a celebration of student work that supports FSU’s first-year, undergraduate, and graduate writing programs as well as FSU’s Digital Studio. In recounting the history of FSU’s Digital Symposium, we show how events like FSU’s Symposium can be a powerful means of institutional change to cultivate a departmental and programmatic culture that values digital writing and multimodal composition.


student showcase, celebration of student writing, research networks, multimodality, digital writing, program sustainability, digital symposium, digital studio


Digital Symposium Poster
Promotional flyer for FSU's Eighth Digital Symposium hosted
March 1, 2017 in FSU's Digital Studio.

On Wednesday, March 1, 2017, Florida State University’s English Department hosted its eighth Digital Symposium, a digital showcase of scholarship, coursework, and pedagogy that encourages digital writing by providing a venue where writers can share and discuss the digital texts that they have created and where teachers can share and discuss their different approaches to teaching digital writing. Beginning in 2008, FSU’s Digital Symposium has been an important source of support for digital writing across three writing programs at Florida State:

  1. the College Composition program (formerly, the First Year Composition program);
  2. the undergraduate Editing, Writing, and Media (EWM) major—a concentration in the English Department; and
  3. the MA and PhD graduate programs in Rhetoric and Composition (Rhet-Comp).

Additionally, FSU’s Digital Symposium has developed a relationship with and has helped to promote FSU’s Digital Studio: a kind of multiliteracy center, operating under the auspices of the English Department’s Reading-Writing Center, where students can receive assistance writing in a range of digital genres like videos, websites, blogs, eportfolios, podcasts, and photo remixes.1

As Linda Adler-Kassner (2008) has argued, public showcases of student work like FSU’s Digital Symposium (for example, Eastern Michigan University’s Celebration of Student Writing) are a powerful means of changing “the stories told about writers that circulate” within institutions in ways that frame student writing and student writers positively (p. 155). We observe that in addition to shifting stories about writers, FSU’s Digital Symposium was instrumental in shifting the culture of FSU's English Department by helping legitimize and support digital texts created in first-year classrooms, in the EWM major, and in the Rhet-Comp graduate program. Put differently, FSU’s Digital Symposium has been an important part of the “infrastructural framework” supporting digital writing at Florida State by: (1) offering a physical and digital venue for the sharing of digital texts among instructors and students; (2) providing an occasion to have conversations about the possibilities for teaching and writing with and in digital media; and (3) establishing digital writing as a signature of the first-year, undergraduate, and graduate writing programs affiliated with Rhetoric and Composition (DeVoss, Cushman, & Grabill, 2005, p. 17).

Despite the success of FSU’s Digital Symposium as a means of helping cultivate a culture invested in teaching, producing, and researching digital writing, we, as former Symposium organizers, recognize that FSU’s Symposium has limitations that we hope to help other organizers avoid. Most recently, we have worked to widen the audience for FSU’s Symposium in an effort to change the local perception that FSU’s Symposium is exclusively for Rhet-Comp-affiliated students, instructors, and faculty. As Michael Neal, a long-term faculty champion of FSU’s Symposium noted in an interview that is cited throughout this discussion, participation and attendance of FSU’s Symposium has most often skewed toward EWM undergraduate students and Rhet-Comp graduate students: “I think in the past, it has largely been a—using a cliché—preaching to the choir. So I think that a lot of folks are people who already know about our services, already know about the consultants, already do digital projects” (interview, February 17, 2015). More recently and especially during David Bedsole’s time as FSU’s Symposium organizer, there was a concerted effort to change perceptions; as Michael Neal states, “We want to include the department. Instead of being hosted by the Rhet-Comp program or being hosted by EWM or being hosted by—You know, we say it’s being hosted by the English Department” (interview, February 17, 2015).

As the history that follows reflects, these efforts to broaden the appeal of and participation in the Symposium have only been somewhat successful. Too often, FSU’s Digital Symposium reinforces disciplinary lines, reinscribing a boundary between two “parallel cultures” within the English Department: one invested in digital work and the other concerned with preserving print-centric literacies (Braun, 2013, p.58). As our history of FSU’s Digital Symposium illustrates, the perception that FSU’s Symposium is exclusively for those in the Rhet-Comp and EWM programs was an unintentional effect of program design and choices made to resolve space and labor issues. At its beginning, FSU’s Digital Symposium had to reach across disciplinary lines, primarily those between Creative Writing and Rhet-Comp graduate students, and there was a collective commitment to cultivating a department-wide culture where print and digital literacies receive shared equal attention regardless of programmatic affiliation.

Thus, given the successes and limitations of FSU’s Digital Symposium, our purposes in developing this history are twofold: first, to demonstrate what value events like FSU’s Digital Symposium may have for different kinds of programs establishing or developing a digital, multimodal focus within programs and departments. As our history of FSU’s Digital Symposium indicates, early in the formation of FSU’s Rhet-Comp graduate program, FSU’s Symposium was integral to providing a disciplinary home for those interested and invested in digital writing. Later, FSU’s Symposium played a key role in promoting the vibrant culture of digital writing that developed within the new EWM major and that was supported through FSU’s Digital Studio. Our goal in providing this history of emergence and evolution is to suggest how events like the Symposium might catalyze change at other institutions, leading to the formation and continuing development of programs that legitimize and value digital writing.

Our second goal in developing a history of FSU’s Digital Symposium is to suggest, as former Symposium organizers, a set of recommendations for other Symposium organizers based on our challenges of organizing FSU’s Symposium and on our shared hindsight about what we would do differently given our experiences. Specifically, to address the issue of the narrow audience of FSU’s Symposium, we discuss the importance of working with faculty champions—particularly those outside of Rhetoric and Composition. Additionally, and in an effort to attend to more practical concerns about sustainability and support, we discuss the importance of being intentional about soliciting institutional support and preserving materials.

To name each moment in the Symposium’s history, we draw on Catherine Braun’s (2014) hierarchical approach to identifying types of “technological ecologies” or “cultures of support for digital media work” in teaching and research relative to the scholarly values, curricular values, and cultural climate of the department (p. 29). Her terminology provides a way to identify distinct moments in the emergence and evolution of a departmental culture invested in digital writing. Based on the cultures of support present in a department for the use of digital media in teaching and research, Braun identifies three department types: (1) the print-centric department, (2) the parallel cultures department, and (3) the integrated literacies department. Each department type places different priority on the use of digital media in the management of professional activities (database research, writing in word processors, classroom management); the analysis of texts (images, films, websites, technologies, etc.); and the production of texts (p. 34). Drawing on Braun’s typology of department types, we identify two distinct eras in the history of FSU’s Digital Symposium, each reflective of the institutional context in which FSU’s Symposium functioned and the purposes of FSU’s Symposium within that context. The first era traces the moment of the Symposium’s emergence within a traditional, print-centric English department. At this institutional moment, FSU’s Symposium provided a home for a small number of interested faculty and students within an otherwise print-centric English department. The second era traces the function of FSU’s Symposium within a vibrant parallel culture where digital writing assumed a prominent role in Rhet-Comp-affiliated programs alongside traditional, print-centric English Studies courses and programs (Braun, p.50). At FSU, a vibrant parallel culture started to gain momentum when the EWM major concentration launched and the Digital Studio opened, and in both cases, FSU’s Digital Symposium adapted and evolved to support these new departmental entities. More recently, as noted previously, there have been efforts to reimagine FSU’s Digital Symposium as a means of cultivating an integrated literacies department. Because an integrated literacies department has not yet come to fruition, we consider how to cultivate cross-disciplinary ties in our conclusion.

Emergence within a Print-Centric Department: The Symposium as Disciplinary Home

Are You Ready to Click Yet Poster
Promotional flyer for FSU's fourth Digital Symposium
alluding to the first "Are You Ready to Click Yet?" event.

To some extent, the origin story for FSU’s Digital Symposium has been documented. In an article outlining her conceptual and methodological approach to rebuilding Florida State’s graduate program in Rhetoric and Composition, Kathleen Blake Yancey (2009) described a groundswell of interest in showcasing digital work among graduate students in FSU’s Creative Writing and Rhet-Comp programs after Katherine Hayles was invited to give a talk in the English Department. This interest culminated in 2008 with the first annual Digital Symposium, titled “Are You Ready to Click Yet?” (Yancey, p. 9).

We also hosted Katherine Hayles, who presented on electronic literature and the role of digital technologies in shaping reading and writing, and her presentation provided unexpected benefits. […] Motivated by Hayles’ presentation, several of the doctoral creative writing students established their own web site to showcase their own writing, and they were eager to work with us to sponsor another extracurricular event, our first annual departmental Digital Symposium. Titled “Are You Ready to Click Yet?” this symposium showcased undergraduate, graduate, and faculty electronic texts—from wikis to video, from mash-ups to electronic portfolios—side by side. Over a hundred students, faculty, and administrators dropped by. Faculty were unanimous in their appreciation, and students wanted to know where they could create these texts. (Yancey, p. 9)

As Yancey writes, Creative Writing doctoral students wanted not only to share their digital texts but also to collaborate with others in the Rhet-Comp program who were interested in digital writing. Programmatically, Yancey also conceptualized FSU’s Digital Symposium as a way to establish the recently renovated Rhet-Comp program’s scholarly investment in digital writing.2 While the initial partnership between doctoral students in Creative Writing and the Rhet-Comp program was important for building community among programs and for articulating the Rhet-Comp program’s investment in digital writing, Michael Neal identifies a more pedagogical exigence for FSU’s Digital Symposium. As Neal recounts in his interview (2015), FSU’s first Symposium, “Are You Ready to Click Yet?” was an important moment in the creation of an occasion for writing teachers interested in digital and multimodal writing to find each other in a large, fragmented, and traditionally print-centric department. In reflecting on the department culture before “Are You Ready to Click Yet?”, Neal recalls feeling isolated as a faculty member invested in digital writing and multimodal composition.

And the story I tell is that 9 years ago, when I first came here, I was trying to get into one of the CWCs [Computer Writing Classrooms], and I didn’t know how to get in there. And the office administrator at the time told me, “Oh, the kids who use that space know how to get in there.” I said, “I’m one of those kids.” There were no faculty using the Computer Writing Classrooms, so it was very isolating when you were doing digital projects. It was very much against the culture of the English Department, but people were doing really cool projects. It just wasn’t known. You felt very silenced. (interview, February 17, 2015)

According to Neal, then, FSU’s Digital Symposium provided an opportunity for those teaching and/or practicing digital writing to come together to discuss and share digital texts in ways they otherwise could not because of FSU’s institutional context. He continues:

One of the best things about FSU is that it’s pretty decentralized, so no one is looking over your shoulder all the time, but it’s a challenge as well when there are maybe two dozen people doing really cool projects in the department, and you really don’t know who they are. And so one of the things—The origins of the Symposium goes back to showcase events that are very popular in the field. You can look up showcase literature in Rhet/Comp, and it’s usually for like FYC programs—But it’s based on this idea that people tend to complain about what we’re doing in writing programs: “Why aren’t you teaching students to do this, that, or the other…” And part of it is saying, “Let’s get out there and show them what we are doing and show them that maybe their assumptions about what’s happening in these spaces is different, and so part of that—If we don’t really know digital scholarship or what each other are doing, there’s an opportunity here to say, “Just for one day during the year, let’s come together. Let’s see undergraduate projects, graduate projects, faculty projects.” (interview, February 17, 2015)

In this way, and as Neal articulates, FSU’s Digital Symposium was a way for those interested in digital writing to change the conversation about digital writing—to “get out there and show them what we are doing” (interview, February 17, 2015). In the context of FSU’s English Department, the Digital Symposium was a way to show colleagues in the department what kind of projects students were composing with digital technologies by way of taking some control over how that work was represented.

An Evolving Parallel Culture: The Symposium as Support for New Programs and a New Production Space

After the “Are You Ready to Click Yet?” event in 2008, the English Department underwent many changes: most significantly, the founding of FSU’s Digital Studio in 2008 and the launch of FSU’s EWM major in 2009. These two departmental changes comprised what became a parallel culture operating within English: an active culture of faculty, instructors, and students committed to digital writing. The identity and mission of FSU’s Digital Symposium crystallized in this moment, primarily in terms of its alignment to Rhet-Comp programs within the English Department. In other words, FSU’s Symposium continued to serve its three functions of:

  1. providing a space for sharing, showcasing, and celebrating digital texts;
  2. affording the opportunity to articulate scholarly and pedagogical interests in digital writing; and
  3. facilitating conversation amongst faculty about digital research and pedagogy.

However, the audiences and participants in these activities soon became perceived as existing solely under the auspices of the Rhet-Comp program. Rather than housing and circulating texts produced by students and faculty across the department, texts included in FSU’s Digital Symposium were mostly created by EWM students, and those texts were archived into a showcase by Rhet-Comp graduate students.

Part of the departmental re-alignment of FSU’s Digital Symposium from a department-wide audience to programmatic audience was a result of who was involved in organizing the event. As FSU’s Rhet-Comp graduate program grew, the responsibility of organizing the Digital Symposium began to fall largely on Rhet-Comp graduate students. Early on, when the Rhet-Comp graduate program was freshly re-minted, Frank Giampietro (a Creative Writing doctoral student) and Toby McCall (a Rhetoric and Composition master’s student) spearheaded the FSU’s first Symposium, the “Are You Ready to Click Yet?” event, under the guidance and patronage of Kathleen Blake Yancey. In the following year, Giampietro returned to help formulate the second event, while Matt Davis (a new Rhet-Comp doctoral student) replaced the since graduate McCall in assuming the responsibilities of collecting digital texts and building the website to archive them. For the third and fourth installments of FSU’s Digital Symposium, the leadership shifted to Rory Lee (the interim director of FSU’s Digital Studio and Rhet-Comp doctoral student) and Natalie Szymanski (a Digital Studio tutor and Rhet-Comp doctoral student), both of whom played smaller roles in the prior iterations of the Symposium by soliciting and contributing digital texts as well as advertising and supervising the event.

By the third and fourth year, during Lee’s and Szymanski’s organization, FSU’s English Department featured a redesigned Rhet-Comp graduate program where “new curricular spaces, events, and research” reflected a commitment to digital writing through the founding of FSU’s Digital Studio, new Rhet-Comp graduate classes like “Digital Revolution and Convergence Culture,” and new graduate reading lists attendant to multimodal composition (Yancey, 2009, p. 7). Additionally, these new programmatic commitments to multimodal and digital composition were reflected at the undergraduate level in the EWM major, which after five years touted an enrollment upwards of 700 students within a department serving 1900 majors across three programs (Fleckenstein et al., p. 10). Thus, through these new and re-designed aspects of FSU’s Rhet-Comp programs, the scholarly and pedagogical interests of Rhet-Comp programs were much more developed than in 2008 when “Are You Ready to Click Yet?” provided an introduction to digital writing to a department-wide audience of a hundred students, faculty, and administrators (Yancey, 2009, p. 7). So in this era of the Symposium’s history, when the responsibilities of organizing were given to Rhet-Comp graduate students, the showcase event began to be identified as exclusive to Rhet-Comp and EWM students. Despite the narrower audience of FSU’s Digital Symposium, it took on new functions within the English Department: first, to promote FSU’s Digital Studio, and second, as a part of the “institutional infrastructure and cultural context necessary to support teaching students to compose with new media” (DeVoss et al., 2005, p. 16).

Framed as an extension of the English Department’s Reading-Writing Center (RWC), the Digital Studio opened in the fall of 2008, one semester after the first Digital Symposium. The Digital Studio provided a space where students and faculty could work with digital technologies, learn how to negotiate the affordances and constraints of digital writing tools, and receive feedback on work in progress (Davis, Brock, & McElroy, 2012). Prior to the development of the Studio, student support was limited to the English Department’s Reading-Writing Center (RWC), “a tutoring space keyed to alphabetic texts” and to computer labs on the other side of campus, which “offered little assistance in terms of how to use new online digital technologies” (McElroy et al., 2015). Despite the perceived and justifiable need for the Digital Studio, traffic was negligible the first year; however, interest in writing and teaching with digital technologies gained more curricular traction and cachet the following year, in 2009, with the implementation of the EWM major and FSU’s annual Symposium event. In this new programmatic formation, the Digital Studio, as a space, presented FSU’s Digital Symposium with a new home, and in return, FSU’s Digital Symposium became a useful opportunity to market FSU’s Digital Studio to Symposium attendees.

Image of the Bulletin Board outside the Digital Studio
Bulletin board posted ouside of FSU's Digital Studio announcing FSU's 6th Symposium
hosted in 2015 alongside announcements of Digital Studio events and services.

Hosting FSU’s Digital Symposium within the Digital Studio provided an opportunity to introduce students to the Studio as a place where they could receive technological and rhetorical assistance and gain access to expensive software like the Adobe Suite. The close-ties between FSU’s Digital Studio and Digital Symposium is reflected by the home screen of the 4th Digital Symposium website wherein the projects showcased are accessed within an interface that explicitly highlights the Digital Studio.

Screenshot of 4th Symposium Homescreen
Screenshot of the FSU's fourth Symposium's homepage, an interface reflecting
the symbiotic relationship between FSU's Digital Studio and Digital Symposium.

Launched a semester after the second Digital Symposium and in the fall of 2009, the EWM major, a concentration in the English Department, included coursework in rhetorical theory, visual rhetoric, media history, and theories of writing wherein students not only examine writing technologies and their effects but also use digital technologies to compose multimodal projects (Fleckenstein, Yancey, Davis, & Bridgman, 2015, p. 18-20). Given the sorts of analysis and creation EWM students engage in, the major offers a rich resource of potential digital texts for the Digital Symposium to exhibit, so the Symposium and the EWM major were linked almost immediately. As part of the infrastructure supporting and enabling digital writing at FSU, the Symposium provided an audience for EWM students’ “new media work,” showcased the “purposes and uses of new-media work” as demonstrated by EWM students, and, perhaps most importantly, articulated different “classifications and standards” about what counts as writing and what counts as good writing for EWM students and instructors (DeVoss et al., 2005, p. 21-22). The examples of student-created digital texts curated on the Digital Symposium website also offered additional pedagogical benefits, as teachers could use them as heuristics—that is, as generative examples of what former students have produced when responding to particular class-based rhetorical situations—and as a defense to students, teachers, and other stakeholders for the importance and effectiveness of digital writing. Additionally, through its showcase of digital writing produced by EWM majors, the Symposium also helped market the EWM major by showing undergraduate students the kinds of texts they would have the opportunity to create if they declared EWM as their major.

Despite establishing a more distinct identity through its cross-pollination with the EWM major and the Digital Studio, FSU’s Digital Symposium took an unexpected hiatus in 2012 and 2013 due, in part, to departmental reconfigurations and to the emergence of DigiTech, a campus—rather than department—sponsored event that shared digital texts created by students and faculty across disciplines. When the Digital Symposium was revived in 2014, the English Department assigned the responsibility of collecting and curating entries to a graduate student administration position: the Computer Writing Classroom (CWC) Coordinator. As Neal recounts, this decision was driven by the need to justify the value of the GA position and recommit to making the Symposium a priority after a two-year hiatus (interview, February 17, 2015).

Jacob Craig, the CWC Coordinator at the time, spearheaded the Symposium during that revival year, 2014. As was the case for past iterations of FSU’s Digital Symposium, it functioned as an opportunity for students to share their digital texts and to foster a community that values digital writing. While carrying forward the purpose and vision established in past Symposia, the 2014 Symposium needed to address the possibility of the Digital Studio closing. As Neal recounts, in the 2013-2014 academic year, the Digital Studio refocused its mission to distance itself from a 1:1 tutoring model, emphasizing instead its value as a collaborative workspace and as a research space for faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students (interview, February 17, 2015). To emphasize the Studio’s refocused mission as a collaborative production space and research space as well as a student resource, the 2014 Symposium included graduate research, which was intermittently present but not overtly so in past iterations, and faculty research, which was not present in any past iteration.

Screenshot of 5th Symposium Homescreen
Screenshot of the FSU's fifth Digital Symposium, reflecting the inclusion of undergraduate,
graduate, and faculty research in the showcase.

Although the 2014 Symposium featured a more diverse set of texts and composers, all of the projects included were nonetheless produced by undergraduate and graduate students affiliated with the Rhet-Comp graduate program and by Rhet-Comp faculty. Despite this limitation, the fifth FSU Digital Symposium was attended by people out-of-program and out-of-department, suggesting that there was still interest in digital writing across program and department lines albeit not represented in the Symposium itself. This attendance hinted toward a potential shift in departmental culture about digital writing from a largely print-centric department with one program, Rhet-Comp, invested heavily in producing and consuming digital texts.

In 2015, the following year, David Bedsole continued Craig’s work with FSU’s Digital Symposium with the goal of greater inclusion and greater visibility. To foster more inclusion, the Studio staff who assisted Bedsole in putting together the Symposium personally approached key composers in the Literature and Creative Writing programs, as well as in Rhet-Comp. Ned Stuckey-French, an assistant professor in the Literature program, recruited several former students to showcase projects from his “Reading, Writing, and Speaking in the Digital Age” honors course for first-year students. There were also submissions from graduate and undergraduate students in programs across the department.

Screenshot of 6th Symposium Homescreen
Screenshot of the FSU's sixth Digital Symposium, reflecting the mission
of including a wider range of projects and participants, particularly beyond
those submitted by first-year writers and undergraduate writing majors.

To foster greater visibility, a speaking component was added to the sixth FSU Digital Symposium in 2015; after projects were accepted and added to the website, submitters were invited to come and give a short presentation and to participate in a question/answer session. The presentations were conceived as similar to the nascent CCCC Digital Pedagogy Posters, and 11 presenters discussed their intentions, challenges, and choices with a dynamic audience. In this respect, FSU’s Digital Symposium began a return to its beginning: a cross-program collaboration of faculty and students that provide a venue for the sharing of digital texts, offer an occasion to have conversations about digital writing, and reinforce the importance of producing digital writing.

Promotional poster for 7th Digital Symposium Schedule of 7th Symposium presenters
Pictured left, the schedule of speakers slated to present on their projects
in FSU's seventh Symposium, continuing the tradition begun by Bedsole
as the sixth Symposium organizer. Pictured right, a promotional flyer for the
seventh Symposium.

But as Neal recounts, attracting new attendees to FSU’s Digital Symposium—and relatedly, FSU’s Digital Studio—is an ongoing project involving a range of strategies and approaches.

I was so thrilled [in 2014] when a big group of the faculty librarians came over. I would love it if people—We tried to have video games in here one year just to try to—We wanted undergraduates just to come in. They walk by down this hallway. They see the door open, and I don’t see people looking in and asking very often like, “Who are we? What do we do?” I hope that maybe with the projector outside tomorrow, it’ll cause people to pause and say, “What is this space?” You know, we’re always trying to get our message out that [the Studio is] here, that we’re available. But how do you do that in a decentralized department […] I’d love for graduate students and faculty in Lit and Creative Writing to show up tomorrow and say, “Oh, we can use this space for the journal that we edit or this project or that project.” Anyone who comes in is like, “Oh, great, I’m glad we have this space,” and, “I didn’t know you had all these programs.” We’ve been trying to tell people this for a long time. So, there’s a barrier to this. Inasmuch as the Digital Symposium is designed to raise awareness, I’d want it to be raised with people who don’t use the space and who don’t know about it. It’s great to support the 50-100 people who I see coming in here regularly, but it would be great to support the other 1000 who are not in and out of this building all the time and don’t know about it. (interview, February 17, 2015)
Placards for different texts assembled in FSU's seventh Digital Symposium hosted in 2016
Image of placards created to highlight what materials were included
in FSU's seventh Symposium hosted in 2016. Placards, from left to right, read:
"Code and Coding," "Digital Journalism," "Undergraduate Digital Work,"
"Graduate Creative Writing," "National Day on Writing #fsundown14," "ePortfolio,"
"Undergraduate Creative Writing," and "Graduate Digital Work."

Subsequent Symposia, the seventh (2016) and eighth (2017) FSU Digital Symposium, have continued this work of cultivating ties across programs and the institution at large in an effort to move from a parallel cultures department to an integrated literacies department. As was the case with the initial emergence of a parallel culture, redeveloping ties across programmatic lines based on a shared interest in digital writing has taken—and will continue to take—reflective planning and action. This shift, like the one from a print-centric to a parallel culture, occurs incrementally and develops alongside of and intersects with other departmental changes.


Up to this point, we have historicized FSU’s Digital Symposium within the context of an evolving department by focusing on the Symposium’s role in two moments of stability in a changing institutional context. In the first part, we articulated the role of FSU’s Digital Symposium—specifically, the “Are You Ready to Click Yet?” event—in forming a disciplinary home for digital writing in a department rooted in and reflective of a print-centric culture. In the second part, we discussed the role of FSU’s Digital Symposium during the emergence of a parallel culture wherein digital writing and multimodal composition became valued and was considered central to teaching and research. It is our hope that these two parts in our discussion suggest how an event like FSU’s Digital Symposium can be useful to faculty working to initiate an interest in digital writing and digital pedagogy or to those faculty trying to make digital and multimodal composition a signature of their writing program. We also hope that our history may help faculty developing showcase events like FSU’s Digital Symposium avoid or mitigate some of our limitations, particularly those perceptions that digital writing, pedagogy, and research is exclusively the domain of Rhet-Comp.

Thus, to conclude, we provide four recommendations for those planning and administering a Digital Symposium-like event. In discussing each recommendation, we provide some practical guidelines for programs and departments that do not have FSU’s resources, which include a steady population of graduate students, opportunities for funding, and multiple writing programs supporting FSU’s Digital Symposium through a constant stream of student writing.

Faculty Champions

As former organizers of FSU’s Digital Symposium, we recommend first seeking out faculty champions—that is, powerful departmental figures who will support the event and its mission. This is especially important at other institutions where invested TAs are not available to help organize or drum up support for the event. As our history suggests, faculty champions such as Kathleen Blake Yancey, Michael Neal, and Kristie Fleckenstein were integral to the continued success of events like FSU’s Digital Symposium. Furthermore, and especially so if a primary goal is to help foster an integrated literacies culture, it’s beneficial to reach across programmatic and disciplinary boundaries in identifying faculty champions. At FSU, forming relationships with allies in other programs like Ned Stuckey-French and Stanley Gontarski in Literature proved invaluable in our efforts to recreate cross-program ties to broaden the audience of FSU’s Digital Symposium. And given this relationship, both faculty members have begun (or have resumed) assigning digital projects, have made regular use of FSU’s Digital Studio for their own work, and have encouraged their students to do the same. Through these programmatic relationships, our allies in Literature have bolstered the validity of digital pedagogy and scholarship to those outside of the Rhet-Comp and EWM programs who still hold print-centric views of textuality. Thus, as our own history developing and sustaining FSU’s Digital Symposium has suggested, encouraging and maintaining faculty buy-in across multiple programs benefits events and the stakeholders involved, helping ensure a more sustainable future for the Digital Symposium. In addition, cross-program participation provides a diverse and varied set of texts to showcase within the Symposium, therein offering a richer and more complete representation of the possibilities for digital teaching and digital scholarship. And through that more complete representation, events like FSU’s Digital Symposium can create opportunities for a more inclusive and varied conversation about the possibilities of including digital texts as part of teaching and scholarship.

Programmatic and Institutional Support

A more immediate set of concerns is that of resources and support. In addition to faculty champions, we’ve found that certain kinds of support are necessary for FSU’s Digital Symposium to continue to exist: funds, space, and personnel. In the early years of the Symposium, the English Department chair would try to find a small stipend for advertising. In recent years, departmental funding has mostly vanished, and as a result, Symposium organizers have had to be more creative in finding ways to promote the event. Because the Symposium is linked to the Digital Studio, Symposium organizers have used the Studio’s social media accounts—Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—to promote the event for free via digital color flyers and social media blitzes.

Image of posted social media accounts used to promote participation and circulate information about the Symposium
Image of FSU's Digital Studio social media account information used to encourage
Symposium attendees' engagement with Digital Studio staff during the event,
facilitate meaningful conversation about pedagogy and digital writing,
and help students make connections to artifacts in the showcase.

Combined with word of mouth, this approach to promotion has been effective especially in combination with Bedsole’s approach of inviting students to present on their work included in the Symposium. Thus, we have found that the availability of funds doesn’t necessarily hinder or ensure the success of a Symposium, especially when entry-level—what Daniel Anderson has called “low bridge”—document design web apps like Canva and Piktochart as well as social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook can be made an integral part of promoting the event.

In terms of space, and as mentioned previously, FSU’s Digital Studio provides a space to host FSU’s Digital Symposium and the labor necessary to solicit work, compile the online showcase, and promote the event. Because the Digital Studio comes equipped with five computers, a laptop station, and a Smartboard, there are enough screens to display and invite attendees to click through the Symposium website. This relationship is mutually beneficial, as the Symposium functions as a promotional tool for the Digital Studio by showcasing the kinds of people who do digital work (often in the Studio), the kinds of programs involved in digital pedagogy and scholarship (ones tutors offer assistance in learning how to use), and the kinds of projects the Studio can help clients to produce. While making FSU’s Digital Symposium a responsibility of a rotating group of graduate students working in the Digital Studio has helped bolster the sustainability of the Symposium, this approach has indicated to us the importance of creating documentation to guide new organizers through the event rather than relying on descriptions from past organizers and local lore.

At institutions where there is not a steady stream of TAs responsible for organizing and hosting such an event, faculty—possibly in the context of a department events committee and/or a first-year writing committee—would need to supply the presence and effort necessary to solicit work, develop the showcase, and promote the event. Given the difficulties Symposium organizers have had appealing to a department- and college-wide audience, we imagine that, in a different institutional context where promoting a Digital Studio is not a key function of Symposium events or where spaces like the Digital Studio don’t exist to provide a venue, hosting in a more public space might be beneficial. Doing so provides an opportunity to circulate a story about writing as always-mediated and always-multimodal to a broader audience, and as noted previously, FSU’s Digital Symposium predates the launch of the Digital Studio, so access to a space like the Digital Studio is not prerequisite for launching and sustaining a showcase like the Digital Symposium. If hosted in well-traveled common areas like libraries, student centers, and meeting rooms, other digital symposia might draw a larger audience and mitigate the difficulties we had as Symposium organizers in changing the narrative that the Symposium was strictly a Rhet-Comp event, which can assist the attempts to foster an integrated literacies culture. If hosted outside of departmental spaces, we recommend that organizers structure their events like a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) digital poster session—one similar to the Digital Pedagogy Poster sessions at CCCC—where writers whose works have been included in the showcase are invited to present their submission on a device they bring with them.

FSU’s Digital Symposium has benefited over the years from the steady stream of graduate students whom faculty members could recruit to organize the showcase event. Most recently, organizing FSU’s Digital Symposium has fallen to a graduate student in the role of the CWC coordinator, adding to that person’s responsibilities of working in FSU’s Digital Studio and supporting new TA’s teaching in one of FSU’s CWCs. Acknowledging the reality that the presence of graduate students who can and want to organize an event like FSU’s Digital Symposium is a resource that is unique to a relatively small cross-section of institutions, we imagine other institutions might take an interdisciplinary approach to organizing an event like FSU’s Digital Symposium in order to secure a sustainable future for the event.

Recently, we have seen calls in the field for attention to sustainable digital research networks (Eyman, Sheffiend, & DeVoss, 2009; Selfe, Hawisher, & Berry, 2009), with special attention to building, growing, and assessing technology-rich graduate programs according to recognized frameworks and benchmarks. Among these calls, Patricia Ericsson’s (2009) “three-legged stool” approach to developing sustainable and technology-rich degree programs is especially useful for imaging how a digital symposium might take shape and what functions it might serve at institutions without a steady stream of graduate students. Among her three legs—the economic, ecologic, and social—the ecologic and the social suggest potential ways forward when an institution is not economically poised to dedicate a graduate student appointment to the organization of a digital symposium. As Ericsson notes, the ecologic, broadly considered in the context of a university, refers to an ecology of knowledge that is most readily seen through interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary approaches to program design. In her discussion of the founding of a state-wide Electronic Media and Culture (EMC) program at Washington State University Campuses, Ericsson supplies a list of programs affiliated with the EMC programs:

such areas as language and culture (anthropology, writing, the history and theory of rhetoric, linguistics; cognition and learning) psychology, linguistics, education; language and society (anthropology, sociology, communications, rhetoric, political science); design and visual communications (fine arts); and information science. (8)

In addition to those disciplines Ericcson identifies whose interests overlap with the study of digital rhetoric and culture, we anticipate that disciplines like library sciences—especially where there is a public history and digital humanities focus—and marketing may be useful partners in developing a digital symposium event. Further, given the difficulties of FSU’s Digital Symposium to develop a broad appeal, recruiting stakeholders from a range of disciplines and departments from the beginning to organize the event may be beneficial for tapping a rich body of knowledge, interests, and experiences. Said otherwise, our first two recommendations potentially inform one another: that is, securing faculty champions, specifically from outside one’s program and/or department, can also be a gateway to securing programmatic and institutional support in terms of funds, space, and personnel.

In terms of the social leg of the sustainability stool, Ericsson imagines the social as referring to the ethical imperative of universities to create a socially just society:

It follows that the goals of a socially just university are to provide access to a diverse student population, to provide that students of all types have the opportunity to succeed within the university, and to equip students with the background and knowledge to succeed outside of the university.

A feature of FSU’s Digital Symposium has always been that organizers benefit from a marketable opportunity to work in a role complementary to WPA-work: working with faculty, students, and other administrators to collect artifacts; developing the showcase; and hosting the event. We imagine that undergraduate students—whether as part of a class, club, or internship—would likewise benefit from such an opportunity by providing them an experience that can be readily translated to prospective employers. Thus, while FSU’s Digital Symposium has benefitted from Rhet-Comp graduate students—and those graduate students have, to some degree, also benefitted from organizing the Symposium—we imagine recruiting students from across the university to organize an annual digital symposium will be of benefit to both the showcase through the inclusion of a rich and diverse set of materials and to the students organizing the Symposium. Particularly for those obtaining professional degrees like marketing or computer science, experience organizing an event like FSU’s Digital Symposium offers students the opportunity to develop “the analytical, expressive, and organizational abilities that a liberal arts degree can impart, along with a deep awareness of technology’s influences on contemporary communication” (Ericsson 2009, p. 7). And for those in humanities and the arts, that opportunity can be a marketable experience reflective of how liberal arts education transfers beyond the university.

The Preservation of Symposium Artifacts

Since its inception, FSU’s Digital Symposium has relied on free website building platforms like Wix and Wordpress to collect and curate artifacts included in the showcase, and more recently, given issues of funding, social media and document design platforms have been key in developing, organizing, and promoting the Symposium. While these low-bridge writing technologies have been indispensable to organizers by minimizing the need for technical expertise while creating opportunities for new engagements between attendees and the showcase, it has become increasingly obvious that it is important to consider preservation. Because generating enough interest to host FSU’s Digital Symposium was sometimes difficult, we did not always have an eye toward future preservation of showcases. As a result, many showcases from past Symposia and the artifacts they contained have not been preserved and are therefore gone. We acknowledge that to some extent perfect preservation is not possible because nothing prevents students from revising or deleting their projects after their projects have been included in a particular showcase. In other words, linkrot is inevitable, but this problem of preservation is only exacerbated when individual showcases are not archived from year to year. For several years, it was common practice for FSU’s Digital Symposium organizers to erase and rebuild showcases from one year to the next to abbreviate time spent web developing. Thus, while we continue to recommend the use of low bridge web-building platforms to develop the showcase website, we also recommend building in a procedure for the preservation of individual showcases and artifacts early. We have found that keeping a rolling list of links to past symposium on the departmental website has been a productive step to preserving past symposia, but preservation should go much further to curb to potential for linkrot. However, even this small measure has proven effective; whereas in the past only the most recent symposium has been accessible, teachers now have access to a set of four complete showcases to draw on when developing and teaching assignments.


While multimodal theory and digital rhetoric are now signatures of Florida State’s College Composition, undergraduate, and graduate writing programs, pedagogical and scholarly interest in both began, in many ways, with a graduate student-led showcase that communicated to a print-centric department what is possible in digital spaces. Throughout Florida State’s recent programmatic history, its Digital Symposium has continued to function both demonstratively and diversely, assuming new functions that served the development of new programs and resources like the EWM major and the Digital Studio. To be sure, FSU’s Digital Symposium has played a vital role in cultivating a departmental culture of interest in and enthusiasm about the possibilities of writing with digital technologies and multimodal composing more generally—a culture that transformed from print-centric to parallel and is efforting toward integrated literacies. As past organizers, we hope that other institutions will work to develop, support, and sustain events like FSU’s Digital Symposium as they present an opportunity to support digital writing, teaching, and research, an initiative most important as we move forward in and adjust to the 21st Century and the digital revolution that marks it.


  1. Although we identify the Digital Studio as a multiliteracy center, it is worth noting that the Digital Studio does not provide assistance writing alphabetic essays – a feature of multiliteracy centers as initially outlined by John Trimbur (p. 30). That said, the Studio does help students create multimodal texts—such as flyers and pamphlets—that are ultimately circulated in print.
  2. Unfortunately, the first three Digital Symposium websites are no longer available because the different Symposium websites were recycled or deleted each year. In other words, if a particular Symposium was not deleted, the site was recycled; the 3rd Symposium site was recycled while writing the 4th Symposium site. So, only the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th Symposium websites are available to view.


We are very much indebted to Symposium organizers who came after us, particularly Molly Daniel and Amanda Brooks who thoughtfully posted images of their promotional materials to FSU's Digital Studio's Twitter account @FSUDigiStudio. Inasmuch as their efforts helped insure the continued success of FSU's Digital Symposium, their images helped us better represent this annual showcase and celebration of digital writing. We also want to thank Kris Blair and the two anonymous reviewers who improved this article with their thoughtful suggestions.


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Author Bios

Jacob W. Craig is an Assistant Professor of English at College of Charleston where he teaches courses in digital rhetoric, composition theory, and technical writing. He earned is PhD from Florida State University in 2016. His research examines the relationships between writers and their material worlds: particularly, writers’ technologies and their locations of writing. His work has appeared, among other places, in Literacy in Composition Studies and Kairos as well as in the edited collections Deep Reading (NCTE, 2017), Microhistories of Composition (Utah State University Press, 2016), and The Tablet Book (REFRAME, 2015). You can visit his website at jacobwcraig.com.

Rory Lee is an Assistant Professor in Rhetoric and Composition at Ball State University. He earned his PhD from Florida State University in 2014. Rory specializes in digital rhetoric, multimodality, digital literacies, and undergraduate major programs in rhetoric and writing. He also teaches courses in the Rhetoric and Writing major, the Professional Writing and Emerging Media minor, and the graduate program in Rhetoric and Composition. His recent work appears in enculturation and the edited collection Designing and Implementing Multimodal Curricula and Programs (Rutledge, 2018). You can visit his website at roryportfolio.com.

David Bedsole is an Instructor of English at the University of Alabama and a Ph.D. candidate in Rhetoric and Composition at Florida State University. He studies technology, professional communication, multimodality, and ethics, and writes about those things. He has recently published chapters in The Rhetorics of Names and Naming (Routledge, 2016), and Type Matters: The Rhetoricity of Letterforms (Parlor Press, 2018).You can visit his website at davidbedsole.com.