Lesson 1.2: How do digital texts differ from traditional texts?

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  • To differentiate between digital and traditional texts.

Activate Prior Knowledge

Abubble2.png What are some examples of digital and traditional texts? What are the key similarities and differences between them?


Watch this brief video in which Joel Malley (National Writing Project) demonstrates how writing remains the foundation of learning in a technology-filled digital classroom:

Questions for Reflection:

  • Where did you see Joel’s students creating narrative, information, and/or argument texts?
  • How do his students use technology to make these genres come alive digitally?
  • What did you see in the video that inspires an idea for writing in your classroom?
  • What are the challenges in creating a digital classroom like Joel’s?


Read this excerpt from Because Digital Writing Matters: A Conversation with the Authors:


What is digital writing and how is it different than traditional writing?

DeVoss: Digital writing can be simple text production using a computer and word processing software, but nearly all writing today is informed by, if not created with, digital writing tools. The true digital revolution isn’t in computers alone; it’s also in the networked spaces computers provide, where we can compose and create and share and publish to the world. It’s not something we do using the tool, in other words, but a way of being and working together as we use the tools.

Eidman-Aadahl: Yes, if you think about it, the nature of digital writing is such that it speeds up and amplifies what we experience as writing. All writers share texts and get feedback. Digital writing can invite feedback in a different way because online tools allow virtually instant sharing of texts with a wide range of audiences throughout the writing process, resulting in a composing process that may be public and interactive from the earliest stages. So a key component of the writing process, such as revision, becomes not so much a “late stage” procedure, but a continuous and collaborative process that students and teachers participate in their own digital communities.

Hicks: I think it’s also important to consider how the core principles of writing are still the same. Digital writers, like traditional writers, choose particular elements that make their writing come alive. Digital composition, like text writing, requires crafting effective leads, adding appropriate details, moving a piece along with effective transitions, and bringing a piece together with a strong conclusion. In that sense, we are still teaching writers, even though the technologies keep changing. Still, digital writing forces us to rethink writing because it involves remixing media, mashing up existing cultural works to make a different story, using images and sounds—all in an interactive way.

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Traditional forms of writing in the classroom include written essays, scripts, stories, poetry, short responses, and anything else your students might produce using a “pen and paper” approach. Wrapped up in these forms are traditional practices within the writing process, such as turning in a draft for teacher feedback before revising. Even when students use technology such as Google Docs to compose, the type of writing they are doing often remains quite traditional in terms of narrative, information, and argument genres. The ability to comment and collaborate in Docs and Slides makes the writing process much more dynamic, but these practices only begin to scratch the surface of what’s possible in a digital writing workshop.

Look at the image showing Author's Craft Elements in Digital Writing. In addition to the multitude of literary craft elements we teach our students to notice, appreciate, and use in their own writing, this list offers new layers of artistry and creativity possible in the composition process. These are the elements that can transform a traditional text into a rich digital media experience, with no sacrificing of writing skill or sophistication. Students have a whole new set of tools to learn how to use to purposely in order to convey their intended message.

Below I share some words from the authors of Crafting Digital Writing and Because Digital Writing Matters with comments on what they suggest about the relationship between traditional and digital forms of writing.

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Deepen Your Understanding


Now that you have completed lesson 2, revisit your understanding of the learning target. Consider what new understandings you now have, and develop your initial understandings based on the lesson materials.

What are some examples of digital and traditional texts? What are the key similarities and differences between them?

References and Resources

DeVoss, D. N., Eidman-Aadahl, E., & Hicks, T. (2010). Because digital writing matters: Improving student writing in online and multimedia environments. John Wiley & Sons.

Hicks, T. (2013). Crafting digital writing: Composing texts across media and genres. Heinemann.

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