Submitted by Fiona Beal
What comes to your mind when you hear the term ‘digital writing’?  Is digital writing something we need to take note of or explore in the classroom? The answer is a resounding yes! There is no doubt that in our current digital age, the Internet is transforming the meaning of what it means to write. No longer is writing private and personal, or confined to a learner’s workbook, as it once was – it is now loudly and widely proclaimed and shared and remixed with other writing by means of the tools available on the Internet. The interesting thing is that as a result of the opportunities that digital writing affords, more people than ever before are writing…digitally!

What exactly is digital writing?
A very simple definition is that digital writing is writing that doesn’t require a pen and paper. It is writing that goes beyond text as a result of using technology. Digital writing can become a multimedia experience that includes images, sound and video due to the vast availability of web resources.   Digital writing can take many formats. It can be anything from a text message, an email, a book review, a comment on a news article or blog post, a tweet, a Facebook update to a blog post or self-published novel.  It often contains hyperlinks which link it to other writing. There is even some blur starting to emerge between the written and the spoken word with the advent of voice typing.

Digital writing and traditional schooling
Digital technologies have made it easy to “write” in all sorts of new ways which are different to traditional writing at school.  The truth is that young people are writing more than they ever did and school mostly doesn’t take into account the digital reality that our learners live in daily. Educators are being faced with the challenge of changing and adapting their traditional teaching of writing practices to ones that are more relevant.

Here are ten ideas to get you started with digital writing
The following ideas relate both to you personally and to your learners if you are a teacher. We encourage you to try some of them.

1) Note-taking or reflection apps

How do you currently take notes on your phone or tablet? How do you write a quick reflection on an event using a digital device? How can your learners take online digital notes in your classroom? It’s all about apps and digital writing! Digital notes offer multiple dimensions—text, images, drawing,  audio, and even video—that paper notes do not.  Some even allow handwriting! There are many apps one could recommend, but why not try Microsoft’s OneNote online for an interactive note-taking experience? Another popular free tool, Google Docs, allows voice typing – this way of typing takes place at a much faster rate than normal typing. When it comes to reflection apps, a favourite off-line reflection app on an Android device is Memoires which allows one to add text, images and audio.

2) Annotate PDFs digitally

Have you ever tried annotating on a PDF on your phone or on a tablet?  Instead of printing out the file, filling in answers in pen and then scanning and re-uploading the document as a PDF, all you need for annotation is the free application Adobe Acrobat Reader to open and display the PDF. You can add your comments. You don’t even have to save – it does it for you!  The Android and iPad app versions are available from their respective web stores free of charge.

3) Mind mapping

Mind mapping and brainstorming often go hand in hand. There are a number of great free tools one can use.  Brainstorming is a great way to get all those ideas down whilst thinking out of the box. Use a mind mapping app to display your brainstorm as a mindmap.  Four favourite, free mind mapping tools are, Simplemind Free, Connected Mind, and Spiderscribe.

4) Virtual  Collaborative Boards

There are a number of free, virtual ‘bulletin’  boards, where learners and others can collaborate, reflect, and share links and pictures in a secure location. One such board which is popular in classrooms is Padlet.  For example you might ask your learners to write a quick book review of a favourite book. You could ask them to reflect on the lesson they have just completed. You can share out the Padlet link with your learners – they don’t need to login or register. All they do is double-click the board and add their ideas and their name.

5) Create visual text

Canva is a free graphic-design website. It has an easy to use drag-and-drop interface and provides access to over a million photographs, graphics, and fonts. Canva is a favourite in the classroom and with professionals as it has so many great design and text possibilities. Many of its offerings are free to use.


6) Virtual White Boards

A virtual whiteboard is great way to make one’s thinking visible.  A person can write, draw or sketch their thoughts in an uncluttered way. Some virtual whiteboards allow you to add colour. Some can be shared with others. Take a look at AWWAPP which is a simple, free, easy-to-use virtual whiteboard.

7) Twitter

Twitter (and ‘tweeting’) is a way of broadcasting short messages to one’s followers on Twitter in 140 characters. A picture can be included. Some high school teachers use a class Twitter account for getting their learners to improve their writing skills. A popular trend with teachers is for their learners to write a novel using Twitter. Take a look at some examples from well-known authors.  These Twitter novels would include the plot, pacing, character development, theme and an obvious story arc.

8) Collaborative writing

There are several online digital programs that allow users to write on the same canvas at the same time from different devices. This is great for collaborative story writing in the classroom. Primary Pad is such a program, and it is free. Each learner’s writing shows up in a different colour so that you can identify who wrote what.   You could give groups of three some writing prompts to choose from and they could discuss this as a  group and create a story from it. They then decide who will write the beginning, the middle and the end of the story and they do so individually on the shared primary pad program on their own devices at the same time. From there the draft can be edited and transferred to a PowerPoint for example to display. Learners enjoy these types of activities,

9) Story writing programs and e-book creators

Do you like writing stories? There are a number of lovely, free story-writing programs available on the Internet. A great favourite is Storybird which provides a beautiful selection of art to go with the e-book story. Book Creator is another very popular digital e-book creator that can be used for making all kinds of books, including children’s picture books, comic books, photobooks, journals, textbooks and more. Students can not only record audio narration onto the pages of their books, but also include video. It can be sued across subjects and students love using it.

10) Blogging

Have you ever thought of creating a blog for yourself, or for your class if you are a teacher? Best is if your learners can each create their own blogs and use them as digital portfolios. Blogs are a space to share and reflect, and others can comment on the posts. Learners can write for a real world audience depending on how private you wish to make their blogs. The most popular free platforms for are Blogger, WordPress and Edublogs.

There’s so much to explore with regards to digital writing – the list of useful tools is endless. Think about trying out some of these ideas, or introducing them to your learners if you haven’t already done so. Digital writing will take us all to greater heights – much further than pen and paper ever could.