A (Somewhat Surprising) Survey of Digital Natives

Inside Higher Ed shares some results from a recent survey of college students about their uses of technology. Among the more interest findings:

Instead, students appear to segment different modes of communication for different purposes. E-mail, Web sites, message boards and Blackboard? Viable ways of connecting with professors and peers. Same for chat, instant messaging, Facebook and text messages? Not necessarily, the authors write, because students may “want to protect these tools’ personal nature.”

Jobs, News and Views for All of Higher Education – Inside Higher Ed :: Students’ ‘Evolving’ Use of Technology

This trend reflects what I have been seeing in my classes this fall — many students are used to doing online research, will email me, and participate in Blackboard to the extent that I require it. The other tools for communication are popular amongst them, and I do not “invade” those spaces (for instance, even though I know nearly 100% of my students are on Facebook — because I asked them in class — I have not looked them up or tried to make them my friends).

What I find more compelling though is that many colleges and professors are not responding to the “sea change” (noted later in the article). Our digital natives may be able to use Facebook, but the article notes that using a tool like Google Docs is still seen as innovative for both students and professors. At risk of sounding a little self-congratulatory (but noting that much of what I do in my classroom comes from my colleagues in the NWP), I don’t understand how professors can not be using Google Docs or other read/write web tools. For instance, I have students (some of them at least) submitting papers to me through Google Docs and, later in the semester, will be composing collaboratively written papers in there. None of my students knew about Google Docs at the beginning of the semester, and I hope to have them all proficient at using it by the end.

At any rate, the final note in the article from the report was this:

The report also finds challenges in addressing skills gaps for using spreadsheets and CMS software, highlighting the need for colleges to provide instructional technology to bring students up to speed.

Indeed, this skills gap needs to be addressed in all classes, not just a Computers 101. We need to continue to offer contextualized and useful technology learning. For digital writers, at a minimum, that should include tasks like blogging, collaborative word processing, creating and collaborating in a wiki, tagging, social bookmarking, online citation managers, composing multimedia including video and audio, and giving and getting feedback in multiple formats (written and aural). I look forward to continuing to teach these skills in my courses and hope that the ECAR survey, like the annual Horizon Report, continues to push us in that direction.

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“YouTube Studies” vs. “College Credit for Watching YouTube”

A media professor has begun teaching a class on YouTube. Not so unusual that this would happen, given the fact that YouTube has been around for awhile now. In fact, it is kind of cool that it is finally happening.

What I have found more interesting is that as I have been catching up on my RSS reading, I see that two different sources are reporting it in slightly different, yet noticeable ways:

Jobs, News and Views for All of Higher Education – Inside Higher Ed :: YouTube Studies
“It’s a class like I’ve never taught before and a class like I’m not certain has ever been taught before,” Juhasz says during her introductory video.

You’d expect that a professor teaching a class on and about YouTube would be a huge booster of the site. But not Juhasz. She says she is “underwhelmed” and “unsatisfied” by much of the content, which she describes as spoofs of pop culture references that she just doesn’t understand.

Juhasz’s main critique of the site is its architecture. Academics strive to make connections across disciplines, she says, but YouTube makes it difficult to provide context (often in the form of links), and to carry on complex conversations beyond the small space given for comments below the video.

Still, as a professor of media studies, she says ignoring the site is impossible. Instead, she wants students to draw their own conclusions after spending a semester working entirely within the framework and constraints of YouTube. She wants them to think about cultural references, what makes a great work of art and how to define a truly democratic medium. Is YouTube the latter? Juhasz says no — in large part because of its corporate ownership.

An academic take, to be sure. But also a balanced one. Here is the take from my local paper:

YouTube goes academic: Calif. college offers class about video-sharing site
CLAREMONT, Calif. – Here’s a dream-come-true for Web addicts: college credit for watching YouTube.

Pitzer College this fall began offering what may be the first course about the video-sharing site. About 35 students meet in a classroom but work mostly online, where they view YouTube content and post their comments.

Class lessons also are posted and students are encouraged to post videos. One class member, for instance, posted a 1:36-minute video of himself juggling.

Alexandra Juhasz, a media studies professor at the liberal arts college, said she was “underwhelmed” by the content on YouTube but set up the course, “Learning from YouTube,” to explore the role of the popular site.

So, what’s better for students? “A dream come true?” Or, “working entirely within the framework and constraints of YouTube?”

The different approaches don’t surprise me, as media has always shown its biases based on the publication, the audience, and the goals the editors have in relation to the two. As I saw the two drastically different introductions to this story from the two publications, it made me doubly aware of how critical media studies can be portrayed in the popular media.

And, given Michigan’s budgetary crisis this fall, how teaching anything beyond the “basics” could be up for criticism (much like other topics such as film, gender studies, and the like have been in the past) make me wonder:

  • Will we be able to design courses in digital writing that aren’t seen as frivolous?
  • Do students see digital writing as a kind of fun add-on to (or replacement for) the types of writing that we expect in traditional academic settings?
  • Will composition classes be able to invite students to create digital videos as a means of argumentative writing, or will people only worry more because some students are posting clips of themselves juggling (which could have been a legitimate part of the professor’s first “getting-to-know-you and learn-how-to-post-to-YouTube type of assignment)?

This is an interesting pair of articles that I might share with my students next week, since our next assignment is a critical text analysis (and I have yet to share anything on YouTube…).

So Long, Writely (Banner)

Well, it had to happen someday.

Out of curiosity, today I upgraded my Word Press install, against the sage warning from Fantastico that I shouldn’t if I had messed with any of the CSS or themes on my blog.

I ignored the warning.

As you can see, however, I was able to find a nice new theme, and I think that WordPress 2.2.2 has some nifty features, including a widget-style interface for controlling your sidebar and easily adding in RSS driven widgets from places like Flickr, Twitter, Google Reader, and the like.


So, if you are viewing this in your aggregator, I hope that you hop out to take a look at the site.

(There’s no advertising there, so this isn’t like a bait and switch. I promise).

And, if you don’t want to see my site, well, jump out and subscribe to the K12Online Conference instead because it starts in a month and they are sending out teasers for the presentations.

Even cooler.

More soon. Have a great weekend.

Google School Interview and Mapping a Composition Course

Digital Planet, and excellent program that is on the top of my podcast playlist each week (subscribe to it here), offers us some insights from Google about the future of their work with education:


Could Google expand its empire into education as well?

Google is expanding into many fields such as advertising, mapping and television. But recently, the search giant’s head of research, Peter Norvig, also talked about plans to educate children.

Speaking at the Learning Technology for the Social Network Generation conference Peter Norvig proposed setting children free to develop their own learning, with a teacher taking on the role of assessor at the end of the project.

Google see their search engine as the primary search for this new free self education, but there are warnings about the use of unmoderated and undirected searches across the internet.

This couldn’t have popped into my podcast playlist at a more opportune time. As I have begun teaching at CMU this fall, I have been relying heavily on Google’s tools for running my classes, especially my Intermediate Writing course. (Why they don’t have their reader and notebook listed on that page, I don’t know).

At any rate, in thinking about how my course is structured and what I hope for students to learn, I ended up drawing a concept map of the course and then created two screencasts: one describes my overall vision for what they will do and learn in the course while the other demonstrates how a particular student interested in a topic (I chose marketing as an example) might do his/her work in the course.

ENG201 Course Map

This whole process — taken in context of the Google interview — has been an engaging intellectual exercise and makes me think that I should have done a course map at the beginning. Since I am asking them to both use technology and examine its uses at the same time we are writing and examining how writers write, I think that some of their concerns, questions, and confusions are warranted. I hope that this diagram, as well as my screencasts, help them think through the possibilities for the course. Some that I am think of, in relation to Google tools, are:

  • To use Blogger to post critical responses as well as give and get feedback on their responses
  • To use Google Docs to share drafts with me and peers; to develop parts of their final group project
  • To use Google Notebook as a way for me to comment on their blogs in a private space and keep a running list of comments
  • To use Google Notebook as a way to document their own research
  • To use Google Scholar to find articles for their research
  • To use Google Reader to identify blogs, news sites, and Google news alerts about their topics

Of course, there are tools other than Google’s that we will be using, like Wikispaces, del.icio.us, and Zotero, but this is where my thinking is at right now for the beginning of the semester. I am hoping that this multiliteracies approach to reading, researching, and writing will help scaffold students into writing within their disciplines as well as learn how to use digital tools for productive purposes. I feel that they are starting to understand what I mean when I say that I define “composition” broadly, and all the groups are developing some great topics (check out their brainstorming from our wiki homepage).

I look forward to hearing what they think about the course map, screen casts, and this Google interview.

IMing Back in the News

It’s been about a year since I’ve seen an article like this pop up — perhaps it has to do with going back to school and all the negative ideas that technology can bring in relation to the state of our language and culture:

The walls between the school and the cellphone or computer screen are permeable, and the key is to get students thinking about language so it’s used intentionally and effectively in context, says Florida State’s Yancey. “Language users will take a practice from one setting and take it to another. That’s the nature of language. What I really hope is that people will translate appropriately.

“It’s like flip-flops, she says. “There’s nothing wrong with flip-flops, worn at the appropriate time in an appropriate way. But soccer players don’t wear flip-flops in a game.”

15 years after birth, book’s not closed on textingUSATODAY.com

I find this particularly interesting right now as I am reading Postman’s Technopoly with my ENG 201 class. His basic argument is that technology becomes culture and thus an all-consuming march towards progress that we don’t question. So, I do sometimes appreciate those who question why and how new literacies like IMing are changing our language (even if I disagree with the principle behind the question).

Also, it reminds me that I need to be very conscious of what technologies I choose to use in my teaching and research, how I explain those choices and technologies to others, and to reevaluate them in light of how well they worked for the task at hand. IMing, for instance, is not useful as a genre for the types of writing that we are doing in the ENG 201 class, but is interesting as a subject of research.

You can see more of what my students are writing about related to Technopoly in their blogs, which you can link to from here.

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Back to School (2.0)

Things have been absolutely crazy the past two weeks, but that has been good for me especially as I get back in the swing of teaching. As I begin the semester, there are a few things that I’ve been thinking about that I want to capture here and come back to think about more later.

First, in my writing class, the students have pretty much jumped up to each new technology that we try. On the first day of class, we began a wiki and I had students post some intro material there. This week, we created Google accounts and got set up with Blogger and Google Reader. All this is leading them to create their own research agendas, affinity groups for a multimodal presentation, and to become writers in their professions in the 21st century. Based on their initial surveys, there was a wide range of tech skills, and they are willing to help one another in the classroom, so that is good. Based on what I have seen, this will be a very “school 2.0” type of experience for them.

Second, in my methods class, we began a wiki, too. Unlike my writing class in which things are organized more thematically and students will have some choice about the types of writing that they do, I have to organize this class around a slightly more structured curriculum. That said, there is still lots of room for flexibility and I will be inviting them to do some digital composition as well. They, like the writing class, were a bit apprehensive at first about writing on the wiki, but in an activity tonight, they were doing quite well. In fact, one student synthesized a few lists of responses from separate groups on one page without being asked (as we learned last week that overwriting can be a problem). I also showed them Google Docs, and some seemed intrigued. So, we might go in that direction a bit, too.

All of this is just to say that I have been reminded again and again about taking things in slow, manageable chunks. One student half-joked that she was thinking about dropping the writing course after the first day (she didn’t, thank goodness, and did well today setting up her blog). It reminds me that some students know quite a bit about this and can help others. And, for everyone, it is nice to have reminders and tutorials; thus, I am going to look for tutorials on YouTube for everything that we do so they can go back to it later to be reminded (or, perhaps, I will make my own with Jing).

At any rate, this has me very excited about the semester and the fact that students are taking to the school 2.0 kind of learning. I appreciate all the podcasts, blog postings, and one-on-one coaching that my colleagues have provided to me so I can be at this point — and look forward to sharing thoughts back here. More to come as the semester progresses.

Happy back-to-school (2.0) to all of you!