Denise Comer is an Assistant Professor in the Thompson Writing Program at Duke University, and its Director of First Year Writing. This past summer, she developed an online course entitled “Composing the Internship Experience: Digital Rhetoric and Social Media Discourse.” This course encouraged students to develop professional “digital identities,” through using blogging, Twitter, Instagram, and digital storytelling to reflect on their internships. The students collaborated on a course website, entitled, “The Art of the Internship,” which includes thoughtful posts about the potentialities of social media for both company and personal branding, as well as links to student blogs and digital stories.

The video below is an example of a digital story developed within the class by Aneesha Seghal, who completed an internship with RTI International in Washington DC. It’s entitled, “My Path to Perspective,” and was posted on the course website on July 20, 2014.

Denise spoke to ACCLAIM about how she developed the course, and about the place of writing and digital pedagogy in professional development.

ACCLAIM: Tell us about your educational background and research interests. How did you become interested in digital pedagogy?

DC: My research is in writing studies and writing program administration. My interest in digital pedagogy has been, and continues to be, emerging in response to the changing landscape of academic writing and of higher education more broadly. Academic writers — indeed all writers — benefit from deliberate attention to writing in digital environments and writing for the broader public.

ACCLAIM: How did you develop the idea for “Composing the Internship Experience”? What drove the idea behind asking students to think in more creative ways about their professional experiences?

DC: “Writing 270: Composing the Internship Experience” emerged collaboratively through conversations among several leaders at Duke and within several units at Duke. We wanted to provide students who are engaged in a summer internship or other work experience the opportunity to reflect productively on their experiences and to strengthen their abilities to do so in digital environments such as blogging, micro blogging, and digital storytelling. Doing so can enable students to narrate their experiences, gain increased clarity about those experiences, and thoughtfully consider the ways in which they can participate in framing their own digital identities. The ability to transfer effective approaches to learning, thinking, and writing across contexts is key for any setting. Offering students a chance to think creatively about their professional experiences seems a natural extension of the ways in which creativity already operates in foundational ways across contexts. Many professional contexts now make meaningful use of social media, so we also thought it would be directly beneficial for students to think about social media through the lens of their professional experiences.

ACCLAIM: Do the students receive feedback from their internship advisors on their blogs/ digital stories?

DC: Students receive extensive feedback from their peers in the class and from me as their instructor. We also discussed within the class the ethics involved with any representation of others, be they individuals or organizations, and choices writers make, and ethical obligations they have, along those lines. Some students received feedback on their writing from internship advisors or members of the organizations at which they were interning or working.

ACCLAIM: How do you teach blog writing and digital storytelling? What kinds of resources/guidance do students receive? What models do students look at?

DC: We approached blog writing and digital storytelling by collaboratively gathering and examining open-access guidelines/models and crowd-sourced wisdom, but not so much in the service of compiling a list of purportedly universal criteria but instead as a means of generating reflection on how criteria for effective writing must be contextualized. What makes an effective post for one blog might not be as effective for a different blog, or for a different post within a blog. Learning how to strengthen our approaches to blog writing and digital storytelling involves many of the same approaches writers use in other settings: feedback, reflection, revision, attending to matters of purpose and context.

For a list of resources on digital storytelling and blogging from Denise, click HERE.

ACCLAIM: This course took place mostly online. How did you see the students supporting and advising each other throughout the course, especially as regards to building the website?

DC: Students worked throughout the course as a community, generating ideas together on class-based wikis and then responding to drafts throughout the course. Responses involved a combination of written feedback and synchronous virtual writing workshops through Google Hangout. We had weekly Google Hangout workshops so students could provide and receive feedback on their works in progress and collaborate together on writing projects as needed. We worked hard to establish a meaningful, productive course community. This was valuable to students not only in terms of their writing, but more broadly as providing them with peer engagement during an internship/work experience that they otherwise might have not had. Students were located all over the world throughout our course.

Denise is also currently working as a MOOC instructor at Coursera. She has two books forthcoming from Fountainhead Press in 2014: Writing in Transit: A Reader (ed.) and It’s Just a Dissertation: Transforming Your Dissertation from Daunting to Doable to Done (co-written with Barbara Gina Garrett).

For more on digital pedagogy and Duke’s Thompson Writing Program, check out ACCLAIM’s posts with Denise’s colleagues, Aria Chernik, and Jennifer Ahern-Dodson.