Networked Conversations and Transformational Technology

CC licensed image from Flickr user Frau Hölle

This past week has been a busy one for me, with professional experiences ranging from face-to-face workshops and two webinars, to our first school-based field experiences with pre-service teachers; additionally I met with my writing project leadership team, facilitated two writing groups and ended last night by helping to moderate a panel discussion amongst principals for helping them secure a job. Whew…

In and amongst all of these activities, I have been reminded of the power of teacher networks. In fact, my entire professional life centers on the idea of teacher networks. Identifying networks. Building collaborations. Nurturing novice and veteran teachers alike. Putting them in conversation with one another. Asking smart questions about curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Creating new networks, and beginning the process again. It’s part of who I am, part of what I do.

In that sense, part of what I am attempting to do with my pre-service teachers this semester to do – through the use of Twitter — is to build a teacher network. I am not simply asking them to “use Twitter.” Instead, I am coaching them in the process of using Twitter as a tool for building their PLN. This happens both online and off. As evidence of this, I spent about 20 minutes of class time last week introducing some of the nuances of Tweetdeck as a tool for monitoring and participating in hashtag conversations.

At the core, what I am attempting to do with my pre-service teachers is about using technology in a way that moves well beyond simplistic integration. As Ruben Puentedura describes it in his SAMR model, I want pre-service teachers to move from technology as a tool for enhancement of teaching practice into an opportunity to transform their practice.

Yet, I find my pre-service teachers, even the most engaged Twitter users amongst them, to be hesitant about using social networking in this manner.

Of course, change is hard, and I am working to ease them into it. I want to provide them with the opportunity, yet not foist Twitter upon them. At the same time, we cannot move fast enough. There are so many conversations, so many ideas that they need to jump into, so many networks that they can learn from.

Indeed, my colleagues in teacher education could take a play from the Twitter/PLN playbook, as I do not often see teacher educators participating in regular conversations. There are exceptions, of course, but when I was in a recent college of ed meeting about reforming our teacher ed program, no one presenting mentioned how we could tap into these existing networks as a way to recruit mentor teachers, build school partnerships, and learn about current trends in the field. Many of my colleagues need to rethink how they, too, participate in networks as a broader component of their own (and their pre-service teachers’) professional learning.

At this point, I am still pushing forward with Twitter outside of my methods class, though I think I might use it in class next week to hold a backchannel conversation, too. I’ve resisted the urge to place any kind of grade on Twitter participation, though I have told students that they will be evaluated on their participation in class, both at the mid-term and at the end of class. So, I will keep working to get them involved, and to get other teacher educators involved, too.


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Contributing to the Conversation: Pre-Service Teachers Get Started on Twitter

“A Conversation” by Flickr user Khalid Albaih.

Over the past week, my ENG 315 students have been joining Twitter and using the #eng315cmu hashtag to start discussing ideas related to teaching writing and creating their own PLNs. I provided them with a few resources to get moving along.

First, to create your own professional learning network and reading list, begin by reading How To Build Your Professional Learning Network Online and Offline and How Do I Get a PLN?

Then, sign up for Twitter. Install a Twitter app on your phone or in your web browser and read What The Tweet? Your Illustrated Guide To New Twitter Jargon. Also, take a look at Edutopia’s  Five-Minute Film Festival: Twitter in Education.

For this week, I am trying to help them “contribute to the conversation.” That is, I want them to begin thinking about how their tweets — while sometimes personal, eccentric, or irrelevant — can generally be about their professional lives, including their questions and discoveries about teaching writing. For instance, I encouraged them to create “substantive tweets” (paradoxical in some sense, I know), that might do the following related to our own class discussions:

  • Summarize a key idea from an article or blog post
  • Respond to a colleague from class in a supportive manner, yet also pushing the conversation forward
  • Provide a link to a resource related to the original idea

Or, alternatively, if entering a broader conversation, they might:

  • Ask a specific question to another teacher on Twitter about his/her teaching practice
  • Ask a teacher that they follow already what some good chats are to join as well as other teachers to follow
  • Share their own observations about working with student writers (not using the child’s name, however!)

Soon, I plan to adapt some ideas about setting professional goals from Jon Hasenbank, a math professor at Grand Valley State University. He asked his students to identify some professional goals and then choose a Twitter chat that would help them reach those goals and, of course, reflect on the experience (such as this one from Holli McAlpine).

So, I am happy with the progress we are making so far. If you are interested in following our group and contributing an idea, I know that that my pre-service teachers would appreciate it. You can find a list of them here, and we are using the #eng315cmu hashtag.


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Inviting Pre-service Teachers into the Social Media Conversation

Image from TechFaster

Image from TechFaster

This fall — in fact, tomorrow — marks my return to the classroom after a year-long sabbatical filled with many research projects, lots of writing, and quite a bit of travel. Like most teachers, I both crave and fear the “regularity” of the school; the days become somewhat more regimented, but the overall craziness of our lives seems to intensify.

There are many additional projects to discuss in the year ahead, yet pressing on my mind at this moment is how to invite my pre-service teachers into the broader conversation(s) that happen amongst educators via blogs, Twitter, and other online communities.

Over the past seven years of working with pre-service teachers, I have dabbled with a variety of digital reading and writing tools, consistently returning to the use of wikis and Google Docs as mainstays in my ENG 315 course. Early on, I integrated blogs and RSS, later trying other elements like podcasting, digital storytelling, and social media/classroom management hybrids.

Yet, I haven’t had them fully jump in to the world of Twitter or edchats. Perhaps this is because, first, when I taught my last course in the spring of 2013, the real explosion in edchats had yet to really hit. Perhaps it was because I felt we were crunched for time in an already-crowded curriculum. Perhaps I was having trouble making a clear connection between digital writing and social media.

Well, edchats are here, the curriculum will always be crowded, and I wrote a chapter in a book about the composition processes of social media. So, I suppose that this semester is as good as any to invite my students to jump in.

So, the question now becomes: how and where to begin? This then begs further questions:

  • How do I scaffold and layer their experiences with social media over the course of the semester?
  • What authentic and useful tasks can I ask of them as a part of normal course work (for instance, to discuss readings or find relevant new articles)?
  • How can I encourage more authentic participation in edchat communities that moves beyond what the are “supposed” to do for class?

I know that I can take some of my own social media advice in terms of what I have previously suggested to other teachers, but I think that pre-service teachers are a slightly different audience.

As I mull this over in the next few hours — I teach tomorrow afternoon and I am wondering where to begin — I would be curious to know what my colleagues, especially teachers of high school students and undergrads, have done to thoughtfully, critically, and creatively introduced social media into your classrooms?

Any advice before I stand up to start teaching tomorrow?


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Managing Learning and Assessment in a Connected Learning Environment

Earlier this evening, I participated in a wonderful closing discussion as part of the sixth and final webinar in KQED’s TeachDoNow series. The archived video as well as a summary of my tweets with links from the conversation are below. Broadly, our conversation centered on this big question: How do you manage learners, tasks, resources, and assessment in a connected learning environment?


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Digital Literacy Leadership Dare

Looking to the future of digital literacy (Flickr image from by Schlüsselbein2007)

This morning, on the final day of our digital literacy leadership workshop, we watched Chris Lehmann’s Ignite talk about “School 2.0,” and I borrowed some of his ideas to create our writing prompt: What do you dare to do as a digital literacy leader?

One of the themes that has emerged for me over the week, and especially at our dinner conversation last night, is that I have been doing lots with digital literacy just about everywhere in the education world — through the National Writing Project, in K-12 schools, in partnership with colleagues at other universities — but not much right here, on the campus of CMU. Perhaps a bit too aloof, I have often pushed off my lack of involvement here by saying that “I can’t be a prophet in my own land” or that the bureaucracy of the institution is too much.

Today, I am daring myself to do better, to be better. I am daring myself to be a digital literacy leader here, in my own backyard, on our campus. What might this look like.

  • Well, to begin, I will schedule time to talk with our director of composition and the director of the writing center, perhaps both together, to talk about digital literacy and multimodal composing.
  • Second, as we revise the English education curriculum, I will be more of an advocate for digital literacy in our courses and program as a whole.
  • Third, as I get involved with our department curriculum committee, I will also be thinking about possibilities for professional development as it relates to instruction and integration of technology.

I’m using Letter Me Later to send myself a note for later in the year, asking whether or not I have been proactive on these goals.

I hope you, too, digital literacy leadership dare!


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Response to 2016 MDE Assessment Survey

The Michigan Department of Education has issued a “2016 Assessment Survey” that I encourage every teacher and parent in our state to reply to ASAP.

There is a public hearing on the future of assessment in Michigan that will be held in Lansing on July 30th, but I can’t attend in person… so, I am sharing my thoughts here: Response to MDE 2016 Assessment Survey (PDF).

Please take time to do the same. The future of education in our state could change if we take this opportunity to break out of the stranglehold of standardized testing and, instead, move toward authentic assessment.


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Social Media, Educational Research, and “Keeping It Real”

#TeachDoNow Logo

Join the KQED #TeachDoNow MOOC this summer!

This summer, I’m participating in KQED’s #TeachDoNow MOOC, though I am just a little bit behind the game. I finally caught up on the week one webcast, and I have been checking out the discussion board on Google+.  Later this summer, the week of August 11, I will cohost a webcast on the idea of “How do you manage learners, tasks, resources, and assessment in a connected learning environment?” There are many things happening in many places with this MOOC, and I am really intrigued how they are using Tagboard as a hub for collecting resources.

So much to think about! This, of course, is both the opportunity and a challenge of social media use in education. For the moment, however, I want to focus on the question of the week: What is the value of social media for your professional learning?

Of all the possible answers to this question that I might consider — such as finding resources that I can use in courses and workshops for preservice and in-service teachers, delving more deeply into the lesson ideas and unit plans of networked colleagues, or simply keeping my finger on the pulse of conversations around education — the biggest value for me, as an educational researcher and teacher educator, is simply making connections with K-12 colleagues.

There are many examples that I could cite, but I will share one that happened just this week. On Wednesday, I was presenting a session about growing your PLN at the Michigan Reading Association‘s summer literacy conference. In my session, one of the participants was an NWP teacher consultant from the Lake Michigan Writing Project, Erica Beaton, whom I hadn’t had a chance to meet in person, though we were connected on Twitter. She acted as a guide and mentor to others in my session as they were learning to use Twitter. I, in turn, then made the choice to attend her session on “creating hype for reading,” and posted numerous resources.

At the end of the session we were talking about possibilities for engaging readers with e-books. Though we only have a few moments, it turned into a lively conversation and Erica offered me an invitation to visit her classroom next school year. What had begun as a collegial, though semi-anonymous relationship on Twitter before the conference quickly blossomed into a new professional connection and, ultimately, will probably result in me visiting her classroom and — who knows? — perhaps even writing an article together or co-facilitating a conference presentation.

This is but one example of how social media contributes to my professional learning, specifically as an educational researcher and teacher educator. I am talking with teachers all the time, and many times those conversations begin on social media and result in sharing coffee or a meal together. As one Michigan colleague, Todd Bloch, recently reminded me, our K-12 colleagues rarely, if ever, actually see university researchers and teacher educators engaged in real conversations with teachers, visiting classrooms and attending the conference sessions. This continues to exacerbate the “ivory tower” divide between educational research and classroom practice, and he was appreciative of the fact that I present at conferences, visit classrooms, write with teachers, and participate in social media.

All of this is to say that social media — to use the popular phrase — “keeps it real” for me as a professor with deep roots in the K-12 classroom. Social media participation is a must for all educators, especially those of us who do educational research and are preparing the next generation of teachers. To do less is a disservice to the educators that we serve and to our own sense of what it means to be a professional.


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Many Thanks to Many Colleagues

Crafting Digital Writing Picture

Image from Janis Selby Jones’ blog “Write the World”

There are a few moments in one’s career where you pause long enough to say “thank you” to all your colleagues for all the opportunities that they have provided you.

So, I am taking one of those moments this morning to say thanks to the many teachers, students, fellow English educators, and friends that I get to collaborate with — especially those who helped me create my book Crafting Digital Writing — and to let them know that it has been selected as this year’s winner for the Richard A. Meade Award for Research in English Education.

I will create a much more detailed “thank you” speech for November, but for the moment I hope that this brief blog post captures my appreciation to the many people who helped bring this book together as well as to the hundreds of teachers who have read it, are reading it, or will be reading it at some point in the future. I say often how I am as busy as ever, but I am doing the work that I love to do — connecting with teachers and students — and I look forward to more opportunities for writing about those connections.


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How I Lead (Professional Development)

Writing about myself is always a challenge (evidenced by the fact that I instinctively wrote “oneself” at the beginning of this sentence, then went back to revise it).

Here on my blog — as well as in my books and articles, and throughout the many workshops and presentations that I lead — I constantly reference the work of others, usually classroom teachers, in my efforts to both raise their voices and, in some type of Midwestern modesty, push my own abilities to the side.

This week has reaffirmed the work that I do, as well as the approach that I take when leading professional development sessions. For three days, I had the good fortune of working with my friend and colleague Amber White, and we have designed a project that invited teachers to apply to a “teacher technology institute,” where they agreed to participate in three workshop days this June and one more in the fall and, in exchange, they receive their own personal iPad Air, well as a $100 gift card to the iTunes Store so they can purchase apps we are using in the institute. She applied to and was award funds from Literacy and Beyond & the Stebbins Family Fund as well as the Lapeer County Community Foundation to do this work. One of the reasons that Amber asked me to lead this session, I say humbly, is because she feels I have a certain style of presenting and working with teachers that will be highly effective in helping them implement their projects.

It was interesting when, in the midst of the workshop this week, one of the teachers pulled me aside and asked, “How many times have you led this presentation?”

Hesitating for a moment, I wasn’t quite sure how to answer. I’ve never led this particular workshop before, but I’ve led similar ones dozens of times. I always ebb and flow with my audience, asking them to try digital writing activities and, based on their response, allowing more or less time for the activity to continue. That’s my style. No two workshops the same. I was mulling all this over, and trying to think of a way to be humble in my reply. I began to answer, and he could sense my reticence.

“I mean,” he clarified, “how long have you been doing this type of workshop?”

“Oh, about 10 years or so.”

10 years. Indeed, it probably has been a bit longer if I count some of my first presentations while in the earliest parts of my career as a middle school teacher. Yet, as someone who has been a regular presenter and workshop leader now for just over a decade, I can clearly assert that my main goal is to stick closely to the core beliefs of the National Writing Project, which remind us that “teachers teaching teachers” remains the most powerful approach to professional development.

With that in mind, I can say that I have developed a few other principles that help me facilitate sessions with teachers. They seem simple. Maybe even cliche. But, they work for me, and (I dare say) those who are in the audience as I lead a session.

Listen as much — or more — than you talk.

Engage adult learners in meaningful tasks, relevant to their professional lives.

Model the process. Share the process. Help in the process. “To, with, and by,” to use the language of teachers who work with our youngest learners.

Provide opportunities to be creative, bounded with some manageable constraints.

Pause periodically to acknowledge the “pulse” of the room, especially when working with technology, and allow people to vent about frustrations and celebrate success.

“Oh, ok,” he replied, nodding his head, snapping me back to attention. I smiled and turned my focus back to the group.

I recount the first part of the story because it was a moment that made me, quite literally, stop and think about what I do as a teacher and teacher educator. Something I need to do more often, and I appreciate the question that he asked.

The second part of the story takes place later in the evening, as Amber and I were reflecting on the day. She also was answering many text messages and emails from teachers who had attended the workshop, all of which were positive. Amber articulated a number of points: activities moved along briskly, but not too fast; modeling of the many tech processes helped people learn the tools; and we stayed focused on the bigger picture of helping students use technology in critical and creative ways.

Minus some minor technical difficulties on the second day, our colleagues — in three days — were able to create and share wiki pages, Google Docs, podcasts, short digital movies, an Ignite-style presentation, and a Twitter conversation. They also honed a proposal for an inquiry-based, technology-rich collaborative unit plan. Guided by a number of protocols from the National School Reform Faculty, we also offered feedback to one another in pairs, small groups, and as an entire cohort.

And, if I may say it, we had fun.

Amber, her colleagues in North Branch, and our experience together — though not an official event related to either of our writing projects — was imbued with the spirit of NWP. As I write this post, I thank Amber for the opportunity to be part of the work this week, and I encourage you to read the 40for40 blog that NWP is producing this summer.

As I quipped at one point in the week, “My brain is full, my heart is full, and my stomach is full.” Classic NWP pedagogy, and what I hope happens for so many other teachers in their work together this summer. I look forward to returning to North Branch this fall, working with colleagues as they implement their project ideas.


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Connected Learning Webinar

Today, I enjoyed a conversation with a number of colleagues about the “The Digital Influence on Looking Closely at Student Work.” Definitely worth a listen, and be prepared to write down lots of ideas about how to engage deeply with students’ work as a tool for assessment and professional development.

  • Andrew Sliwinski - Co-Founder of DIY.org; designer and engineer focused on improving how we play and learn
  • Kylie Peppler - Assistant Professor in the Learning Sciences Program at Indiana University; Director at Creativity Labs
  • Tina Blythe - Co-author of “Looking Together at Student Work”; Learning Group Leader at Project Zero

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