Digital distribution challenges
Porter characterizes the distribution/circulation component of delivery as "concerning the technological publishing options for reproducing, distributing, and circulating digital information" (2009, p. 208). In contrast with much digital information, an instructor's recorded audio response to a student's draft calls for only limited reproducing, distributing, and circulating. The instructor is unlikely to distribute such a confidential file beyond the student herself, the student is unlikely to circulate the file, except perhaps to a writing tutor, and neither would have much need to reproduce the file. However, in an age when distribution methods are dominated by fashionable social media, distributing a confidential file to an audience of just one might seem anachronistic and can require advanced planning to be managed effectively across a number of assignments with a class full of students.
Print-based response, for all its apparent shortcomings, gets distributed to even the most passive students when their instructor hands them a marked paper. By contrast, digital distribution channels require that students be proactive in retrieving their response. Such proactivity might be somewhat lacking precisely among the students who would most benefit from listening to a response to their draft.
As researchers and many instructors will attest, today's younger generation of students use emailthe most obvious digital distribution optionmainly for academic and professional communication (e.g., Lenhart, 2012, pp. 17-18; Zickuhr, 2010, pp. 11-12); some seldom check their email accounts, leaving a "distributed" audio file to be like the proverbial tree that falls unheard in the forest. Other digital distribution options include returning a response to wherever students submitted their digital assignment in the first place, such as a course management system like Blackboard, ePortfolio software like Digication, or a cloud application like Google Drive. Some students, however, might tend to monitor these pedagogical resources even less attentively than they do their email accounts. What many do monitor attentivelyFacebookis out of the question.
Ironically, to guarantee its effective distribution, a digital response can require some old-fashioned face-to-face communication. Some computer lab training with the first distribution of the semester can guide students in how and when to retrieve their instructor's response to their work, reinforced by reminders throughout the semester or follow-up activities in computer labs whenever a new response to students' work has been distributed and is waiting to be retrieved.
Yet Porter emphasizes the role of kairostimelinessin the distribution decision (2009, p. 214). In contrast with a print-based response, which must typically wait until the next class to be distributed, a digital response of any kind, audio or written, would have the potential kairotic advantage of being distributed well in advance of the next class, the next draft's due date, or other time-sensitive moment.
A timely alternative option for students who do not frequently check their email is SMS text messaging (texting), currently the preferred one-to-one communication channel among young Americans (Lenhart, 2012, pp. 16-18). It is of course designed for short text-only communication, not heavy file attachments that might be accompanied by lengthy written instructions or comments, yet it could be used simply to announce that a digital response is ready to be retrieved from the class's course management system, cloud, or wherever. Texting does impose extra distribution burdens on instructors who, understandably, read and respond to their students' digital texts on computers, not mobile phones or smartphones. Workarounds are available, such as texting from a computer; a web search on "texting from a computer" will reveal many such services, apps, instructions, and so forth. A beginning-of-semester questionnaire could elicit from each student his or her preferred academic communication channel and, for those who prefer texting and are willing to pay for it, their carrier and phone number. After the initial chore of recording such information in their email account's address book or a distribution list, instructors could fairly efficiently address a text message to multiple students the same way they address an email, or copy and paste a template message to individual students.