From our analyses of girls' practices, products, and stories, we have gleaned two valuable conclusions about the architectures of participation that we sponsored through the structures and tools of DMA. First, it is vital to engage girls in difficult practices over time when learning and struggling with new digital tools. "Over time" includes both within a single day or setting and over the course of the camp. While we had only the span of two weeks to contend with, we still noticed a remarkable difference in girls' comfort and confidence in working with Gimp from the second day of camp to the end of the second week. Second, it's equally crucial not to intervene immediately in digital practices in time, in the moments in which girls are learning and struggling. Both of these conclusions are as applicable to girls' practices as they are to their products and stories.
Both conclusions are also relevant to writing studies writ large. Purdy (2014) maintained that, if we're turning to design in composition, we need to know why we (should) do so. If, as Purdy (2014) contended, "the goal [of writing studies] is textual action," then "Gestures to design construct writing studies as about activity and practice" (p. 633). This paradigm, which he acknowledged is not new to our discipline, requires time—a prospect that is often not valued by many within our discipline and is even more often unsupported by institutional structures of funding and assessment (see also Lindquist, 2012).
In the case of DMA, the activities and practices were mediated by digital design, and girls' products and language were visible evidence of digital practices they did not bring with them into camp. To articulate the value of these practices requires, on our part, an openness to seeing process as a real—and messy—site of learning that requires patience and frustration and does not result in ideal or neat products. In short, it asks us to inhabit our own rhetorics of process and put them into practice: "Drawing on design in writing studies, then, reinforces a focus on meaning making rather than mastery of a fixed body of knowledge. Through the lens of design, writing studies is not defined by what we know but by the ways in which we create" (Purdy, 2014, p. 634). In opening up paths of digital design to young girls, we hoped DMA could serve as one architecture of participation that might help them see themselves as active creators of digital texts.
This does not mean that girls mastered digital practices or problem-solving in two weeks. In fact, like Maya, they may still see digital media as its own problem needing a solution. Instead, DMA fits with Purdy's general claims about the affordances of design that writing studies can, and should, embrace: namely, that the goal is "to describe, explain, and enact the gamut of writing practices and products rather than to judge (or dismiss) them" (2014, p. 632). Our hope for DMA was for girls to engage in a range of digital composing practices and product creation. We did not set out to evaluate their products or practices in relation to any deficiency model of what they didn't (yet) know how to create. In focusing on the process of design, we aimed to render visible—to ourselves and others—girls' practices, products, and stories in relation to dispositions of design, mediated by the toolkits of digital composition.
When we view DMA in retrospect through deeper understandings of the conclusions about design dispositions we offer here—about the value of engagement over time without immediate intervention—we are also able to re-view our own affective responses to the girls we worked with and to DMA as a structure of participation and professionalization for graduate students in English. Just as importantly, we are able to articulate a disposition for ourselves as teachers and scholars of writing that gives us a place to stand to re-envision our own practices. For us, a design disposition calls us to examine and adjust our goals to make room for cycles of engagement and social learning without immediate authoritative intervention. As a disposition, design also asks us to recognize composing as an act that does work in the world—but not always the immediately visible work that we anticipate or intend. In doing so, design enables us to "enact the gamut" of writing processes without dismissing the value of products; thus, we can attune to practices as evidence of available and enacted ways of creation rather than proof of mastery of a single pre-determined way of production.
We offer here a brief overview of the camp and our goals for it. In brief, we wanted DMA to provide girls an opportunity to create—rather than merely consume—digital texts. Twenty rising sixth grade girls participated, from two historically low-performing elementary schools in lower-income neighborhoods in Louisville. Using tablets, desktop computers, and digital cameras, girls learned, used, and played with image manipulation and video editing. We selected technologies that would give girls the opportunity to develop their projective identities, to imagine a technological place for themselves both within their projects and in their futures. We chose two focal technologies: the Mac-standard video-creation software iMovie and the free Photoshop-like image manipulation program GIMP. Since Sheridan and Rowsell (2010) identify strong support for social sharing as key to building architectures of participation for digital media literacy (pp. 46-7), we also asked girls to leave daily comments on the camp blog and share photos with one another on Instagram. Then, during the second week of DMA, girls designed group projects that proposed solutions to problems in relation to the camp's theme, Designing Your Future, and presented their projects to an audience of family, teachers, and university community members.
The primary exigency for DMA was the worsening underrepresentation of women in technology-related fields—and the particular risks for girls from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. A U.S. Department of Commerce study found that in 2009 women held just 27% of science and math jobs, a drop of three percentage points since 2000. Many researchers suggest this gap is the result of adolescent girls' tendencies to underestimate their own abilities and to have higher anxiety in science and technology (Andre, Whigham, Henrdickson, and Chambers, 1997; Britner and Parajes, 2005). Peggy Orenstein (1994) called this the "confidence gap," and her research has suggested that this anxiety and underestimation often begins in middle school. Furthermore, adolescents in low-income schools are also affected by what Henry Jenkins (2009) called "the participation gap"—they are much less likely than peers at wealthier schools to use technology outside of highly restricted academic applications, and thus much less likely to see themselves as participants in digital environments. Jenkins argued that, in our current cultural moment, children have "unequal access to the opportunities, experiences, skills, and knowledge that will prepare [them] for full participation in the world of tomorrow" (p. xii). More equitable digital participation, he argued, is how children and adolescents come to understand interface gestalts and develop creative technological problem-solving skills. Thus, DMA aimed to offer girls going into lower-income middle schools a chance to build technological confidence at a critical age, right before they were asked to make one of their first significant decisions about their educational futures: which elective classes to take in middle school.
We wanted DMA to be a confidence-building experience for girls that offered them two sets of possibilities: one as active bodies on a university campus where they might envision themselves, and another as thoughtful producers of digital texts. To address the former, we chose the theme, Design Your Future, as a way for girls to think about how they might pursue degrees and careers using technology in whatever futures they plan for themselves, whether as a wedding designer, soccer player, or student in an advanced math class in middle school. To emphasize the latter, we borrowed from composition's disciplinary emphasis on text creation as well as reading and critical analysis (see Selber, 2004). As a discipline, we make text creation the center of classroom learning based on a foundational understanding that students learn to write by writing. By extension, many scholars in our field have taken up a similar stance that students learn to compose for a range of audiences and contexts by composing in forms including but not limited to print-based text.
From our initial survey and participant interviews with DMA participants, we discovered girls often associated technology use in school with testing, gaming, or, at most, text consumption rather than any active creativity or design thinking associated with text creation. When asked in interviews about technology use in schools, girls often referenced "computer class," where the main objective was to use computer programs to complement curricular learning (e.g., "Cool Math"), not to engage in media creation. Further, our initial survey results indicated that, while the majority of girls at DMA had watched videos online, only two reported making their own videos. Yet every participant indicated a desire to make videos during camp. It was this fuller participation in digital spaces that DMA sought to encourage.
To help girls imagine themselves as active producers and participants in digital spaces, we turned to the scholarship of Gee (2004) and Selber (2004) as theoretical frameworks. First, we used Gee's projective identities as the trajectory for how we hoped girls would participate in digital design. Gee (2004) characterized projective identities in two parts: as acts of projecting values and desires, and of seeing these projections as projects in the making (p. 112). The goal is for learners to see these acts "as their own project in the making—an identity they take on that entails a certain trajectory through time defined by their own values, desires, choices, and goals" (Gee, 2004, p. 114). For DMA, we hoped that girls would imagine future identities as capable, confident creators in and through digital projects. To trace these identities in the making, we used Selber's (2004) framework from Multiliteracies for a Digital Age. Based on Selber's categories, we developed three objectives for girls: to be users (functional literacy), questioners (critical literacy), and producers (rhetorical literacy) of digital media. We hoped that, through play and collaboration, girls would participate in Purdy's (2014) approaches to design thinking: not only in analysis but also in synthesis, designing their futures in and through digital texts that might "shape the future and motivate the ways in which we (learn to) represent and communicate" (p. 626).
Andre, T., Whigham, M., Hendrickson, A., & Chambers, S. (1997, March). Science and mathematics versus other school subject areas: Pupil attitudes versus parent attitudes. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching. Chicago: NARST. Retrieved from ERIC.
Auer, P. (1992). Introduction: John Gumperz' approach to contextualization. In P. Auer and A. Di Luzio (eds.), The contextualization of language. Amsterdam: J. Benjamins.
Bauer, J. (2000). A technology gender divide: Perceived skill and frustration levels among female preservice teachers. Annual Meeting of the Mid-South Educational Research Association. Bowling Green, KY. 15 November 2000. Conference Paper.
Blair, K.L., & Tulley, C. (2007). Whose research is it anyway? The challenge of deploying feminist methodology in technological spaces. In H.A. McKee and D. N. DeVoss (eds.), Digital writing research: Technologies, methodologies, and ethical issues (pp. 303-17). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Blair, K.L., Fredlund, K., Hauman, K., Hurford, E., Kastner S., & Witte, A. (2011). Cyberfeminists at play: Lessons on literacy and activism from a girls' computer camp. Feminist Teacher, 22(1), 43-59.
Blair, K. L. (2012). A complicated geometry: Triangulating feminism, activism, and technological literacy. In L. Nickoson and M. P. Sheridan (eds.), Writing studies research in practice: Methods and methodologies (pp. 63-71). Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
Brandt, D. (1998). Sponsors of literacy. College Composition and Communication, 49(2), 165-85.
Britner, S., & Parajes, F. Sources of science self-efficacy beliefs of middle school students. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 43(5), 485-99.
Chandler, S., & Scenters-Zapico, J. (2012). New literacy narratives: Stories about reading and writing in a digital age. Computers and Composition, 29(3), 185-190.
Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (Eds.) (2000). Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social futures. London: Routledge.
Cushman, E., Getto, G., & Ghosh, G. (2012). Learning with communities in a praxis of new meida. In C. Wilkey and N. Mauriello (eds.), Texts of consequence: Composing social activism for the classroom and community (pp. 295-315). New York, NY: Hampton Press.
Denecker, C, & Tulley, C. (2014). Introduction. The Writing Instructor. Retrieved from http://www.writinginstructor.com/
Gee, J. P. (2000). New people in new worlds: Networks, the new capitalism and schools. In B. Cope and M. Kalantzis (eds.), Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social futures (pp. 43-68). London: Routledge, 2000.
Gee, J.P. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Gee, J. P. (2004). Situated language and learning: A critique of traditional schooling. New York, NY: Routledge.
Gee, J. P. (2014). How to do discourse analysis: A toolkit. (2nd ed). London: Routledge.
Giddens, A. (1979). Central problems in social theory: Action, structure, and contradiction in social analysis. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Graupner, M., Nickoson-Massey, L., & Blair, K. (2009). Remediating knowledge-making spaces in the graduate curriculum: Developing and sustaining multimodal research. Computers and Composition, 26(1), 13-23.
Halladay, M.A.K. & Hasan, R. (1989). Language, context, and text: Aspects of language in a social-semiotic perspective. Oxford: Oxford University.
Hull, G., & Nelson M. (2005). Locating the semiotic power of multimodality. Written Communication, 22(5), 224-61.
Jenkins, H. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Journet, D. (2007). Afterword. In C. L. Selfe (ed.), Multimodal composition: Resources for teachers (pp. 187-91). Creskill, NJ: Hampton.
Kling, K. C., Hyde, J. S., Showers, C. J., & Buswell, B. N. (1999). Gender differences in self-esteem: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 125(4), 470-500.
Knievel, M, & Sheridan-Rabideau, M. P. (2009). Articulating 'Responsivity' in context: Re-making the MA in composition and rhetoric for the electronic age. Computers and Composition, 26(1), 24-37.
Kress, G. (1999). 'English' at the crossroads: Rethinking curricula of communication in the context of the turn to the visual. In G. E. Hawisher and C. L. Selfe (eds.), Passions, pedagogies, and 21st century technologies (pp. 66-88). Logan, UT and Urbana, IL: Utah State UP and NCTE.
Kress, G. (2003). Literacy in the new media age. New York, NY: Routledge.
Leverenz, C. (2014). Design thinking and the wicked problem of teaching writing. Computers and Composition, 33, 1-12.
Lindquist, J. (2012). Time to grow them: Practicing slow research in a fast field. JAC, 32(3&4), 645-66.
O'Brien, H. L., & Toms, E. G. (2008). What Is user engagement? A conceptual framework for defining user engagement with technology. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 59(6), 938-55.
Orenstein, P. (1995). Schoolgirls: Young women, self-esteem, and the confidence gap. New York, NY: Anchor Books.
Powell, A. H. Access(ing), habits, attitudes, and engagements: Re-thinking access as practice. Computers & Composition, 24(1), 16-35.
Purdy, J. P. (2014). What can design thinking offer writing studies?. College Composition and Communication, 65(4), 612-641.
Rickly, R. (2007). Messy contexts: Research as a rhetorical situation." In H.A. McKee and D. N. DeVoss (eds.), Digital writing research: Technologies, methodologies, and ethical issues (pp. 377-97). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Ridolfo, J., Rife, M.C., Leon, K., Diehl, A. Grabill, J., Walls, D., & Pigg, S. (2011). Collaboration and graduate student professionalization in a digital humanities research center. In L. McGrath (ed), Collaborative approaches to the digital in English studies (pp. 113-57). Computers and Composition Digital Press. Retrieved from: http://ccdigitalpress.org/ebooks-and-projects/cad
Selber, S. (2004). Multiliteracies for a digital age. Urbana, IL: Conference on College Composition and Communication, National Council of Teachers of English.
Selfe, C. L. (1999). Technology and literacy in the twenty-first century: The importance of paying attention. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois Press.
Selfe, C.L., and Hawisher, G.E. (2007). Gaming lives in the twenty-first century: Literate connections. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Sheridan, M.P., and Rowsell, J. (2010). Design literacies: Learning and innovation in the digital age. London: Routledge.
Vygotsky, L. (2012). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Yancey, K. B. (2004). Made not only in words: Composition in a new key. College Composition and Communication, 56(2) 297-328.
Yancey, K. B. (2009). Re-designing graduate education in composition and rhetoric: The use of remix as concept, material, and method. Computers & Composition, 26(1).