Watson Session C.13: Digital Futures: Media, Twitter, and Digital Afterlives


Presenters: Brenta Blevins (University of Mary Washington), Christine Martorana (Florida International University), and John R. Gallagher (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

In the eclectic Watson 2018 panel “Digital Futures: Media, Twitter, and Digital Afterlives,” presenters discussed composing practices in online environments.

Brenta Blevins, “Preparing for Current and Future Composing with Augmented, Mixed, and Virtual Reality”

Brenta Blevins of the University of Mary Washington explored the benefits of embracing new media like augmented, mixed, and virtual reality in the composition classroom with the goals of preparing students to critically encounter and compose these texts in the future. Blevins was clear that she was not advocating for the abandonment of alphabetic writing; rather, she argued that teaching these new media forms is not just about considering future composition practices, but also about helping students understand diverse ways of composing that are already occurring. The presentation defined each of these types of media. Virtual reality is immersive as one’s surrounding actuality is blocked from viewing and/or hearing perception. Augmented reality, on the other hand, is the experience of actual physical space with an overlay of digital data, such as in the popular smartphone game Pokémon Go! Finally, mixed reality is a combination of actual and augmented reality; an example Blevins provided was a photographic image of the Spanish parliament with holographic individuals projected as marching in protest. Blevins then discussed how these new media might be used in the classroom to explore forms like narrative, advertisements, technical documentation, and persuasive rhetorics of protest. Ultimately, Blevins argues that these new forms of media are the newest technologies with which students must learn to critically engage and compose, so they can represent and affect reality in meaningful rhetorical ways.

Christine Martorana,“Twitter: The Modern-Day Ecclesia”

In her presentation “Twitter: The Modern-Day Ecclesia,” Christine Martorana of Florida International University explored how the social media website functions as a rhetorical site much like the ancient Greek ecclesia, an outdoor assembly where people gathered to discuss and debate. Martorana also used Peary’s concept of “textrooms,” or text-based locations for writing instruction, to explore how Twitter can be used pedagogically. Textrooms, according to Peary, do not exist without writers; writers create and constitute the textrooms as they communicate. Also, textrooms are 1) participatory, 2) co-authored, and 3) generative. The use of Twitter in the classroom follows this framework. First, Martorana has students tweet regularly, so they can practice digital writing, sharing with a public audience, inviting others to participate in the conversation, and using Twitter as research. Twitter is also inherently co-authored, as students find as they use hashtags and participate in class discussions over Twitter. Lastly, using Twitter in the classroom can be generative, as Martorana often provided students with guided prompts to navigate the influx of information available on Twitter. Martorana finished by tying her Twitter pedagogy to invitational rhetoric, noting how Twitter functions through accessible and participatory public engagement. Overall, Martorana’s conception of Twitter as the modern-day ecclesia involves teaching students how to maneuver public discourse in online environments.

John R. Gallagher, “The Afterlife of Digital Writing”

John R. Gallagher of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign discussed his five-year project of interviewing digital writers in “The Afterlife of Digital Writing.” His research involves talking to prolific and well-known online writers, a group which includes top 10 Redditors, bloggers, online journalists, and top 100 Amazon reviewers. In his presentation, Gallagher discussed the methodology of his project before focusing on one aspect of the project: the role of the audience in the ongoing composition process of online writing. Online writers can revise their work easily and instantly according to audience feedback, and as such, Gallagher proposed an alternate view of circulation, one that takes into account revisions based on audience response as well as “textual timing.” Textual timing, in particular, requires a deft and sophisticated understanding of one’s audience and genre, with the goal of reaching that audience at the most appropriate time. Components of textual timing include: template timing, or considering how the text appears on a screen/interface; algorithmic timing, or timing writing in regards to experiences (imagined, experienced, gamed); and kairos/chronos fusions, or considering what time of the day is best to post content. Considering the elements of “textual timing” in regards to online composing environments provide a more robust understanding of online circulation and the rhetorical choices made by prolific and consistent digital writers.


Overall, the presentations in this session provided diverse perspectives on composing in online environments that impact and complicate both rhetorical theory and pedagogy in productive and fascinating ways. Some takeaways from this session:

  • Composition instructors should consider using advanced technologies — such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality — to expand students’ composing practices and critical representations of reality.
  • Twitter can function pedagogically as both a modern-day ecclesia and a textroom due to its participatory, co-authored, and generative functions.
  • Studies of circulation in digital environments must take into account the role of the audience in ongoing revision of online writing and the concept of textual timing, which includes template timing, algorithmic timing, and kairos/chronos fusions.

About Author

Sara Kelm

Sara Kelm is a PhD student in Rhetoric and Composition at Texas Christian University.

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