C&W 2011

Although I originally created this blog for a presentation to high school teachers in Oklahoma City last summer, I think the information here could also provide some additional information related to my conversation starter presentation at the 2011 Computers and Writing conference. I hope you find some of the information here useful. I look forward to feedback!


Session Agenda

  1.  Student example: “A Calendar of Degree” digital essay
  2.  Introduction:  Who Am I? Where am I coming from? Why am I here?
  3.  Discussion: Lyric and Digital Essays and potential connections to PASS skills
  4.  Sharing: Sample assignments and student examples
  5. Reflection and discussion: Your reaction to these assignments? How can you integrate these assignments into your course curriculum? What are some of the benefits and drawbacks to using assignments like this in your classroom? What if you try out one of these assignments yourself?
  6.  Wrap-up: final thoughts? Questions? Comments and/or concerns?

What do we mean when we say “lyric essay” and “digital essay” anyway?

In its 30th Anniversary issue, the editors of Seneca Review (http://www.hws.edu/academics/senecareview/lyricessay.aspx) defined the lyric essay as a form or genre that “partakes of the poem in its density and shapeliness, its distillation of ideas and musicality of language. It partakes of the essay in its weight, in its overt desire to engage with facts, melding its allegiance to the actual with its passion for imaginative forms.” Lyric essays often depend on their visual and auditory elements (what it looks like on the page and how it sounds when read aloud) to provide a kind of implicit argument or support for the topic being written about.

The term “digital essay” encompasses a wide variety of texts, most of which are multimodal (incorporating audio, visual, and textual elements) in some way. Examples of digital essays include audio essays (like an NPR story), video essays that use live footage and/or still images with sound (sometimes called “digital stories” or “digital storytelling”), photo essays that blend photos and text, and websites that combine video, audio, images, and/or written text. In addition, some writers and scholars have discussed the ways in which blogs have become a subgenre of digital essays during the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. Digital essays could be informative, persuasive, entertaining, or some combination of these purposes; the key with this subgenre is the medium (or media) used to reach an audience, be it audio, video, still images, and/or written text.

So what can we do with lyric essays and digital essays in the classroom?

Lyric essays and digital essays can. . .

  • Demonstrate the ways in which form and content are intertwined, which can enhance discussions of the connections between print and visual literacies.
  •  Allow students to re-think the characteristics they associate with the essay genre.
  • Open a space for discussions of subgenres and the ways in which different genres inform each other. For example, if you’ve discussed lyric poetry with your students, reading (and/or writing) a lyric essay allows them to continue to fine-tune their definitions of lyric, poetry, and essay.
  •  Ask students to re-see and reflect on some of their writing in different ways by revising a conventional paper-based academic essay into a lyric or digital essay.
  • Scaffold to larger writing projects by incorporating some shorter lyric or digital assignments.
  • Discuss how and why authors might use lyric or digital essays to reach an audience as opposed to other genres.
  • Introduce students to basic digital editing programs and tasks.
  • Evaluate the ways in which lyric essays and digital essays are effective and ineffective genres for different audiences, topics, and purposes.
  • Provide an opportunity to investigate the ways in which these genres are similar to and different from traditional academic essays, leading to discussions about:
  1. Implicit versus explicit thesis statements;
  2. Rhetorical purpose;
  3. Aesthetic purpose;
  4. Integration and citation of sources;
  5. Use of visual elements in both print and digital forms (which can include images as well as use of font type, color, and spacing).

Assignment Examples

  • Click here to find an example of a lyric essay assignment.
  • You can find a digital essay assignment example here.
  • Click here to download a lyric essay assignment that asks students to create a “question” essay.
  • Click here to find an example of an assignment that asks to create a mini-portfolio of work by including a traditional literary analysis and a digital-based or creative writing text.

Digital essay examples

Video and Website examples

  • Click here for an example of a digital essay created by a high school student about his conception of the “American Dream.”
  • A Bookling Monument by Anne Wysocki. The technologies she uses are way more advanced than most classes  have time to learn, but it’s an interesting piece (created for an online academic journal named Kairos), and it was intended for an academic audience in the field of rhetoric and composition (in English).
  • “Days with My Father” is a photo essay in website form. You can click through the essay by clicking on the bottom of the photo on the screen.
  • “Home Movies” is a digital story from the site for the Center for Digital Storytelling in Berkeley. To access the story, click the title link, then click the “Home Movies” icon at the bottom right of the screen. To begin the movie, press the play button on the movie.

Audio essay examples

  • “The Encounter,” which is an audio narrative by Qiao Wen Tan, which was created in a second-semester first year composition class at Miami University in spring  2008 (you can find the narrative at this link as well, if the direct link doesn’t work). Be patient, as it takes some time for the file to load.
  • “Doing What’s Natural” is an audio essay from the NPR program called “This I Believe.” You must click the “listen now” button at the top of the page to hear the essay.
  • “Notes on Camp” is an essay produced for the radio program “This American Life.”
  • “24 Hours at the Golden Apple” is another “This American Life” episode.
  • “A Taste of Success” as an essay from the “This I Believe” NPR program.
  • Nuts and bolts digital essay stuff

    • You can find a post devoted to writing on the web here, which is a blog post from a first-semester first year composition course I taught at Miami University during the fall 2008 semester.
    • Click here for some information on creating screen captures that can be turned into image files.
    • This post provides a list of tips for people composing audio texts.
    • Click here to download some information about Audacity, which is a free, open-source audio editing program that works on Macs and PCs, and click here for some basic steps for using Audacity. This post also provides a little more information about Audacity.
    • In this post, you will find some information, including a video tutorial on Moviemaker (the PC video editing software).
    • This post, which was compiled by a group of my students, provides a basic tutorial for using iMovie, the video editing software found on all Mac computers.
    • This post links to other sites that  could be useful for creating digital essays (as websites or as photo essays/slideshows).
    • This post links to the “Internet Archives,” an online repository of still images, videos, and audio files that people can download and use in their own multimedia work (with citations).
    • Click here for a blog post that links to a discussion of good graphic design principles.
    • This link leads to discussion of audio essays and audio file sources that can be downloaded and used in other projects.
    • This post addresses issues of copyright, fair use, and creative commons concerns, while this post provides a list of creative commons resource sites.


    I created this blog as an additional source to complement my session “Excavating the Essay: Alternative Composition Assignments in English/Language Arts,” which I will present (or have presented, depending on when you read this) on June 16, 2010 as part of the Oklahoma City Regional Curriculum Conference at Del City High School. I hope you find useful information here!

    You can click here to download the handout that I created for this presentation.