Special issue


Isolation is a consideration for many writers and is a term that has become synonymous with the pandemic. Perhaps this explains why the focus for much practice and research on writing development from a learning development and academic literacies context has traditionally focussed upon in-person support. Digital writing practices offer alternatives to in-person support and opportunities to address writers’ feelings of isolation. The research question for this case study is, therefore; to what extent have changes in writing development through the pandemic refocussed how we engage students in community-focussed digital writing practices, in a learning development and academic literacies context? This case study seeks to answer this question by critically reflecting on the University of Manchester Library’s ‘My Learning Essentials’ approach to digital writing during COVID-19 isolation. During this period, the team launched a range of community-based digital writing development initiatives. These include the peer-led Writing Together workshops and innovative uses of shared Digital Notebooks in embedded writing workshops when teaching within the curricula. Community-based digital writing development has enhanced My Learning Essentials’ existing pedagogic principles of peer-learning and student-centred active learning. The ‘What-So What-What Next’ framework of critical reflection will be used to analyse what worked, what did not work and what we learned in delivering these digital writing initiatives. This case study will provide practise-based suggestions and implications for writing workshop pedagogy in the age of COVID-19 and beyond, that will be of interest to learning developers, academic skills tutors and other teachers of academic writing, as well as practitioners of digital writing more generally.

Practitioner Notes

  1. When supporting students’ digital writing online it is more important for students work to be visible, rather than focus on the students themselves.
  2. Presenting students with varied opportunities to engage in community-focused digital writing workshops shifts the power balance encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning.
  3. Utilising shared, open workspaces, such as Digital Notebooks, creates opportunities for students to learn from each other and receive feedback on writing in real-time.
  4. Holding a silent space allows students time to think, process and reflect on their writing and learning.
  5. We would also argue that, despite a sense of the contradictory, silence can help overcome feelings of isolation by showing care, attention and respect to students and is essential when moving away from a teacher-centred approach to teaching and learning.

Twitter Handle

@manclibrarian @drcmorley