What’s the Purpose of Writing for the Web? Original ideas, Resnick’s Learning Spiral, and P2PU

Digital media asks all instructors, in all disciplines, what the core goals are for their instruction. If we’re deploying technology well, it’s in the service of those goals. I would argue that’s why we can use Twitter for character development, and as my friend Zac Chase mentioned, Zeega for elaboration.

So what’s the goal of writing instruction? This is a critical question for those of us in educational technology, and heck, everyone who is a writer for a digital audience.  I was talking to a friend of mine who publishes textbooks in writing instruction, and she said there’s a distinct tension in the pedagogy at the moment:

Old way: writing to craft a 5-paragraph essay
New way: writing to craft an original idea

Got it.  OK then.

But I’ll actually take it a step further.  In thinking about a new Challenge for P2PU: Writing for the Web, and I’d say the goal of web writing is to craft a relevant idea (an idea naturally being an original thing)–an idea that cuts to the heart of an issue.

This new challenge has been influenced by the thinking of Mitch Resnick at the Lifelong Kindergarten Lab at MIT.  I took his class on Technologies for Creative Play last semester, and the following takeaways from his course really stuck (loosely paraphrased):

  • learning needs to be personally meaningful to the learner
  • make learning experiences to accommodate lots of learning styles
  • pedagogy should prompt learners construct instincts to guide them in the future across technologies and across formats

Resnick outlines his theory of learning as a spiral–learners imagine what they might make through brainstorming, tinker with the idea, and then reflect and imagine what else they might make or do.


I’d been thinking about the learning spiral as I worked with rockstar blogger Audrey Watters on this challenge.  Instead of focusing on the consumption of content, or individual skills, this experience prompts learners to reflect upon what style of writing on the web works for them.  

Each task prompts an authentic web writing experience–posting blog posts, engaging other writers, revising ideas in a digital environment.  Then learners reflect on why they made the decisions they did–so reflection is the tether that encourages the imagination and curiosity to move to the next task.

Check it out: the new Peer 2 Peer University Challenge: Writing for the Web is open for sign up now.

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4 thoughts on “What’s the Purpose of Writing for the Web? Original ideas, Resnick’s Learning Spiral, and P2PU

  1. When I was a baby teacher, my profs would often lament the 5-paragraph essay as the killer of thought. I was with them. “Yeah,” thought I, “it does ask students to chain their thinking to a container!”

    Then, I sat waiting for them to tell us what we should do instead (or at least make the question central to our classes). It never happened.

    As a grown-up teacher, I started to see the merit of the 5-graf. It’s a container for thinking like twitter or a blog post. It’s helpful for some people in some cases. It’s not everyone and it’s not all the time, but it’s helpful.

    It took me a while to realize wanting my students to not feel hindered by the 5-graf didn’t mean the same thing as not wanting my students to feel comforted by the 5-graf. To some struggling writers, it was clearly a comfort to know they could pour their thinking into the container and it would help them find the shape of their thinking.

    That’s where my thinking headed.

  2. Zac–I think constraints can be great for creativity. I know you’re a big fan of the 2-pager at SLA, and I think there’s a totally a place for a case that’s richly argued.

    What would be the equivalent in web writing? Is there a difference?

  3. I share that same experience of raging against the 5 paragraph format when I first taught writing. The UO stresses the rhetoric part of comp/rhet, as though that magically makes it easier (in other words, instead of writing a thesis statement, you write an enthymeme… as if it’s then MAGIC to formulate/write the rest of your argument).

    I think, to answer Vanessa’s question, that the equivalent on the Web is an attention-getting headline, a 2 sentence introductory paragraph, and then a bunch of bullet points. 🙂

    • Exactly–also concise and extremely clear writing. I think there’s something to be said for training writers to think about posting ideas in progress, for the review of the web community.

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