The Digital ACT (Action, Consultation, and Training) Studio supports students, faculty, and staff in becoming more digitally persuasive and rhetorically effective designers with written, oral, aural, and visual communication in digital environments.

About the Studio
Leveraging resources made available by a Title III grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the Digital ACT Studio addresses the UNCG’s mission to redefine the public research university for the 21st century as an inclusive, collaborative, and responsive institution making a difference in the lives of students and the communities it serves. The University Digital ACT Studio (DACTS) is the only place on UNCG’s campus that offers support to students, staff and faculty for the creation of stronger rhetorically and aesthetically effective digital projects.

DACTS offers a cutting edge space where designers receive feedback during the composition, creation, and editing phases of the project. Consultants prompt designers to think about rhetorical choices (audience, purpose, and context) as well as visual elements and aesthetic design. The Studio provides support for learning and teaching 21st-century communication skills through collaborative, individualized consultations and feedback during any stage of the composing process, workshops by request for classes, and professional development workshops for faculty and staff.

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Kevin McClain (left) and Matt Carter (right) craft narratives through Legos

Focus on Faculty Development
In the Digital ACT Studio, faculty development focuses on helping instructors create appropriate, pedagogically sound assignments and assessment as well as discuss how to effectively integrate them into the curriculum. Dr. Lindsay Sabatino (DACTS Director) helps faculty understand the complexity of multi-modal composing and the ways to promote critical and creative thinking, active learning, visual composing, and collaborative practices in their assignments and courses. Additionally, instructors can request workshops for their classes to provide their students with the instructional support needed for digital composing.

Faculty, like Dr. Gregory Grieve (Professor and Department Head of Religious Studies) who have worked with DACTS have found the workshops extremely beneficial for their students. Dr. Grieve says, “Their feedback and assistance helped my students to think critically and creatively about video, website and PowerPoint creation. The students were able to greatly increase the rhetorical significance and critical approach to their deliverables.”

Addition of the Discovery and Creation Station
In addition to providing support for digital composing, the Digital ACT Studio space is designed to promote writing studio pedagogy— which focuses on the importance of collaboration, conversation, critical and creative thinking, active learning, creating, experimenting, visual composing, and ownership of design. In Fall 2016, DACTS designed a new space in the Studio called the Discovery and Creation Station that promotes creation, experimentation, active play, and invention. The goal of the Discovery and Creation Station is to have designers see DACTS space as a place that helps facilitate designers in the decision-making process as they brainstorm, experiment, play, and create. During this structured play, designers are prompted to think, make hypotheses, and anticipate solutions, which they can immediately verify. The Discovery and Creation Station includes low-tech manipulatives, such as Legos, K’Nex kits, art supplies, and LED lights in order to stimulate creativity, visually interact with design, and engage in the tactile process of composing. Additionally, tech items such as 3D-pens, iPads, robotics kits, and Makey Makey Circuits encourage designers to critically explore design choices through invention, creativity, experimentation, and reimagining their approach to digital composing projects. Through experimentation, designers will learn how to creatively and critically problem solve, think outside the box, and develop skills that will benefit them beyond the university.

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DACTS Student Consultants and Dr. Sabatino

Students as Consultants
All undergraduate consultants in the Digital ACT Studio are professionally trained through English 391: “Studies in Digital Studio Theory and Practice” to incorporate writing studio pedagogy in their interactions with designers and their use of the DACTS space. In ENG 391, students learn how to collaborate, provide and receive constructive feedback, explore principles for digital composition, visual communication and multi-modal design. The consultants in the Digital ACT Studios and the students in English 391 develop 21st century skills that are transferable beyond the university setting. They learn how to critically think and problem solve, collaborate and work in a team environment, communicate effectively through digital design, critically evaluate written, oral, and visual arguments, provide feedback and have constructive conversations, and prioritize goals.

Providing Valuable Experiences for All
Jacob Pedersen (Communication Studies, ‘16), who is a consultant in the Digital ACT Studio, describes how it has impacted his work outside the Studio: “What I have learned at the Digital ACT Studio helped me with my internship with a congress member. In the internship, I had to design an art competition for the district. Through 391 and working at DACTS, I learned how to brainstorm, storyboard, and critically think about how to best design and create an event that would appeal to many people.” Pedersen’s experience is just one example of how DACTS is creating opportunities for students to apply the skills they have developed as learners and consultants to projects they encounter in their career field. This importance is also acknowledged by faculty on campus, “Their expert advice working with students all semester provides a professional resource students can use as they enter the professional world,” explains Dr. Patricia Fairfield-Artman. Through consultations, workshops, and designing within the space, the Digital ACT Studio is providing invaluable experiences for students, faculty, and staff at UNCG.

For information about the Digital ACT Studio can be found on their website at https://digitalactstudio.uncg.edu/.

(Thanks to Dr. Lindsay Sabatino for contributing this article.)