Shout Out to Aram Kabodian

And, finally for tonight, a quick shout out to my friend and RCWP colleague, Aram Kabodian, who is getting back into the blogging business this holiday season.

Mr. Kabodian’s Blog

Well, I took the plunge and let people know I’m playing with pageflakes and bustin’ out this blog. And people actually responded!

It was nice to hear that there’s a world of readers out there. The message board on the pageflakes site is active, I had my first comment on this blog, and the emails are rolling in too. It makes me feel like the time I spend on this tech stuff is worth it. People seem interested — though maybe it’s just the novelty of the whole thing — which makes me want to keep at it.

I’d like to think that I’m not just doing this to play and impress myself and others. I want to make it a meaningful place to think things through and improve my teaching.

Keep those cards and letters coming 🙂

You heard the man — check out his blog! He has a great sense of humor, many insights into teaching middle school kids, and some other fun things thrown in. And, while you are at it, his class’s wiki, too!

Glad to see you blogging again, Aram!

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Thinking Rhetorically about Language Learning

Here is a post that got lost in the end-of-semester rush in my Firefox’s ScribeFire plugin.

Boy, it’s fun to find something you thought you had lost, especially on a computer.

I never really finished it, so it trails off at the end, but I think that I get the point across.

USA Today posted this story about Mandarin immersion, a topic close to my heart since my daughter is in one of these programs. The lead quote? From an educator in Chicago… “‘Chinese isn’t the new French–it’s the new English.'” More on the “world is flat” rhetoric in a minute, but here is a slice of the article:

As China booms, so does Mandarin in U.S. schools –

The number of elementary and secondary school students studying Chinese could be as much as 10 times higher than it was seven years ago, says Marty Abbott, spokeswoman for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

When the council surveyed K-12 enrollment in foreign language classes in 2000, there were about 5,000 students of Chinese, Abbott says. The council is collecting data for another survey, but Abbott says early figures suggest the number of students now studying Chinese has “got to be somewhere around 30,000 to 50,000.”

As I’ve written before, I feel that we need to move beyond the argument that language learning — especially “critical” languages that are being taught for business and defense purposes — is simply utilitarian. There are other benefits, besides having a business edge.

For instance, I would like my daughter to understand how a country that affects our own — economically, politically, culturally, and in other ways I can’t even imagine right now — works, from the insides of the language to the way it is perceived in the world. Enjoying another language, another literacy, another rhetoric, has benefits far beyond just having a job. It offers a global perspective that will help her become a better person, a better citizen, not just someone who can cash in on a second language in a future career…

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OLPC: Helpful or Harmful?

Over the holiday break, there has been an interesting discussing on the TechRhet list about the OLPC initiative. Aaron Barlow has been leading the con side of the debate, and outlines the argument in his blog, here, and points to articles about failed development projects such as the one here; the pro side generally gives the opinion that we should at least be doing something, both at home and abroad, to close the digital divide.

One of the elements of the pro side of the argument comes from the idea that this is a program built on open-source ethos, and that makes it an honorable project, despite a history of failed development efforts. This is a valid point, yet I think I agree with Barlow’s point that we are still imposing our technological values on other cultures in that sense (having a word processor and other office tools installed, for instance).

What I find lacking from the conversation that would refute his point, however, is the explicitly constructionist approach that the OLPC team has taken in developing software and collaborative properties of the laptops. For instance, the OLPC News Page had a recent post about how the program is designed around constructivist principles, and teachers and students are reporting the benefits of collaboration, such as in Digital Planet‘s 12/21/07 story.

As I reflect on the ideas behind OLPC, and the fact that I donated in to the program for my children and children somewhere else in the world, I still feel that this was a worthwhile cause. I agree with Barlow’s main point — that western countries need to be conscious of what we “give” when we give aid. That said, I feel that we all need to be critical consumers of any technology given to (or purchased by) us, including the OLPC. I see this as the basic literacy issue involved — to what extent are the users of this, or any, technology able to compose their own thoughts with it? For the OLPC, I think that the options are wide open.

I look forward to continuing this discussion and exploring the potentials of the OLPC initiative, both with my own kids and in the larger educational communities that are forming around it. So far, we have figured out some of the basic options, individual and collaborative, in the writing, chat, browser, draw, and tamtamjam programs. More soon

OLPC – We Did It, We Got It

Pulling into the driveway this afternoon, I saw the box perched on our porch. Like the many other holiday packages that arrive, I didn’t give this one much of a thought until I got it inside and began to look at the address label. Pretty quickly, I realized that the computers we ordered from the OLPC program had arrived, and in time for Christmas.

Last month, I mentioned that we might order these for our kids and, in doing so, make the donation to the OLPC foundation to send two other computers to children somewhere else in the world. We debated for a day or two, and with the deadline looming, we ordered them. Since then, the deadline has been extended, which is great, and I’ve heard from others who are thinking about purchasing one or more computers, too, including Kevin Hodgson and a post on Helen Barrett’s blog.

For a number of reasons, I am so glad that we ordered them. I feel very fortunate that 1) we are in a position to be able to purchase two of these machines for our children as tools to enable their digital literacy and 2) that we have them right now, in time for a Christmas gift. Moreover, I also look forward to explaining how the OLPC program works, so our kids will know that we are helping other kids, too. In so many ways, this program epitomizes what I value about education, and I am glad to have been a part of it.

Lastly, the are green and white after all, so how could we resist?

Heather and I took them out of the box tonight, set them up, and got them running in just a few minutes. We only played for a few minutes (so I could write this post), and not nearly as extensively as David Pogue did. I admit, I did check the OLPC Getting Started Guide (which is all online, so as to save paper), to make sure I could connect to our password-protected home network. That was a snap, and in minutes we had figured out how to get online (above, on the left, see one machine with the web browser pointed at the NYT home page) and (on the right) create a brief video for our children saying, “Merry Christmas!” I took a quick tour of some of the programs just to get a sense of the interface, and I think that my 5-year-old daughter is going to pick up on this machine immediately. My 2-year-old son may just enjoy tapping at it for awhile, but my daughter will be able to utilize much of the functionality including a journal, web browser, painting program, and music making program.

So, now that we have the machines, the question is what to do with them: personally, professionally, collaboratively? I am extremely interested in hearing from other educators who have purchased these — for your children or your school — and to begin thinking about how we can use them in productive ways for teaching digital writing. I will be curious to see what the OS on this machine, as well as the apps, can do as I learn how to use it along with my kids.

When you get your hands on one of these incredible machines, please let me know what you are thinking about. Perhaps we can continue to add to the Learning Activities page on their wiki. Or have a meet-up of OLPC users/bloggers at an educational conference somewhere in the near future, perhaps at SITE in March?

At any rate, please let me know what you find out as you begin to explore this fascinating machine and how students learn to compose with it in the broadest sense of text, voice, image, video, and more.

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Social Networks, School Policies, and Surveillance

My colleague Rob Rozema from GVSU has invited my students and I to participate in a new Ning social network, Teach English. I am very excited about the opportunity to be involved in this project, and we will also have students from Allen Webb‘s course at WMU join in, too.

As we consider what we will do with this network, I think that we have to ask ourselves a key question about its implementation and potential for use: how do we account for and respond to the contradiction in local, state, and federal policies regarding internet use (for instance, no blogging or social networking) and the call to teach these skills in our schools?

In other words, if we teach students how to use social networks, will they be able to use those skills once they are teaching?

Moreover, this raises another issue that my best friend Steve Tuckey and I were discussing a few weeks back — does taking a technology and reappropriating it for use in schools undermine the excitement and potential uses for that technology?

As an example, we talked about the idea of a “cheese sandwich blog,” one that tells basically accounts for the mundane happenings in everyday life. (If we build 20 million blogs, will the readers come?). Contrast that with the more substantive kinds of blogging that many edubloggers are calling for and teaching; that is, a more “academic” form of blogging. Steve asks, what’s wrong with the cheese sandwich?

He asks this not to be sarcastic (well, OK, maybe a little bit), but more to take a critical approach to how we use blogging. From an email conversation, he says, in part:

by trying to call for highfalutin standards of rigor in what our students blog about, we are essentially trying to colonize one of the most democratic spaces with the self-important hierarchy of academia. We try to set up the same old benchmarks for “good writing” in a new environment, all the while touting the greatness of its promise as something “new.” Seems schizophrenic to me. And don’t get me started on how real-time authoring serves to feed the dragon of continuous assessment…

In other words, if we reappropriate “blogging,” into an academic setting, is it blogging anymore? Or, is the definition of “blogging” (or, perhaps, edublogging), such that a higher level of discourse is now becoming expected above and beyond the typical diary/journal/update blogs of the past. And, with microblogs in Facebook and Twitter, are we going to have to think about how to make that academic blogging, too?

Steve was interested in seeing me raise this point with the other edubloggers that are thinking about similar ideas, perhaps in another forum beyond our blogs, too. Perhaps I will write a letter to EJ or something like that. If others have an idea about where and how we might discuss this issues — the appropriate use and reappropriation of blogging for academic purposes — let me know. It will certainly be on my mind as I prepare for next semester.

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Open Access to MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning

An email from Leigh alerted me to this great set of resources. Check them out:

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning – Series – The MIT Press

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning examines the effect of digital media tools on how people learn, network, communicate, and play, and how growing up with these tools may affect peoples sense of self, how they express themselves, and their ability to learn, exercise judgment, and think systematically.

Thanks to the generous support of the MacArthur Foundation, open access electronic versions of all the books in this series are available. Follow the links from each title description below to read these editions.

For more on the MacArthur Foundation’s digital media and learning initiative, visit

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Press Release: Open Yale Courses

Like MIT’s Open Course Ware, Yale is moving some of its content online and making it publicly available with a Creative Commons license. As a professor and digital writer, I applaud this move and hope that I can encourage my university, CMU, to move into that direction, too.

Below is a copy of the press release that Tom Conroy, Deputy Director of Public Affairs at Yale, sent to me and asked me to share. I appreciate him inviting me to a bloggers-only press-conference about this event, although I couldn’t make it due to family obligations. So, please contact him directly with questions.

CONTACT: Tom Conroy  203-432-1345

For Immediate Release: December 11, 2007

Free Yale College Courses Debut Online

      New Haven, Conn.—Today, Yale University is making some of its most popular undergraduate courses freely available to anyone in the world with access to the Internet. 

The project, called “Open Yale Courses,” presents unique access to the full content of a selection of college-level courses and makes them available in various formats, including downloadable and streaming video, audio only and searchable transcripts of each lecture. Syllabi, reading assignments, problem sets and other materials accompany the courses.

The production of the courses for the Internet was made possible by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The seven courses in the sciences, arts and humanities—which were recorded live as they were presented in the classroom to Yale students—will be augmented with approximately 30 additional Yale courses over the next several years.

“Information technology allows the knowledge and passion of leading Yale faculty to reach everyone who wishes to explore these subjects,” said Yale President Richard C. Levin. “We hope students, teachers and anyone with an interest in these topics, no matter where they live or what they do, will take full advantage of these free and easily accessed courses.”

Diana E. E. Kleiner, Dunham Professor of the History of Art and Classics and the director of the project, noted that the full content of all the courses is now readily available online and may be accessed at the users’ convenience.
“We wanted everyone to be able to see and hear each lecture as if they were sitting in the classroom,” Kleiner said. “It’s exciting to make these thought-provoking courses available so broadly for free. While education is best built upon direct interactions between teachers and students, Yale believes that leading universities have much to contribute to making educational resources accessible to a wider audience. We hope this ongoing project will benefit countless people around the world.”
Kleiner said the courses reflect the broad liberal arts education provided by Yale College, which encourages critical thinking, intellectual exploration and creativity. She said Yale plans for future Open Yale Courses to include music and the arts.

Hewlett Foundation President Paul Brest said that the availability of the Yale courses has significance far beyond the university.
“Making the talents of Yale’s faculty available for free on the Internet is an important step toward the Hewlett Foundation’s goal of providing access to knowledge and educational opportunities throughout the world,” Brest said. “Truly, all the world is becoming a classroom.” 

       The URL for Open Yale Courses is:
The first courses available through Open Yale Courses are:

  • Astronomy 160: Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics, with Professor Charles Bailyn
  • English 310: Modern Poetry, with Professor Langdon Hammer
  • Philosophy 176: Death, with Professor Shelly Kagan
  • Physics 200: Fundamentals of Physics, with Professor Ramamurti Shankar
  • Political Science 114: Introduction to Political Philosophy, with Professor Steven Smith
  • Psychology 110: Introduction to Psychology, with Professor Paul Bloom
  • Religious Studies 145: Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), with Professor Christine Hayes

To encourage the widest possible use of the courses, the license that covers most of the lectures and other course material on Open Yale Courses is Creative Commons’ Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license. This license permits the free use or repurposing of the Open Yale Courses material by others. Under this license, users may download and redistribute the Open Yale Courses material, as well as remix and build upon the content to produce new lectures or other educational tools. Commercial use of the Open Yale Courses material is prohibited.
The Open Yale Courses project is produced and supported by the Yale Center for Media and Instructional Innovation (CMI2), which promotes the innovative use of technology to enhance learning at Yale and beyond.

Open Yale Courses allows the public, in effect, to audit the Yale College courses for free online. There is no “enrollment” in the courses and Yale does not offer credit for those who use the course materials.
Yale also has developed partnerships to enable these resources to be widely utilized in academic settings around the world.

In India, Yale is working with the Indo-U.S. Inter-University Collaborative Initiative in Higher Education and Research’s Amrita satellite network to broadcast courses to universities throughout India.
In China, China Education Television (CETV) has agreed to broadcast individual lectures on CETV.  CETV broadcasts are viewed by millions of Chinese. 
Individual faculty members at universities around the world will use Open Yale Courses in their classrooms.  Faculty at the following universities are participating:  University of Bahrain, Instituto de Tecnologia de Buenos Aires — ITBA (Argentina), Fudan University (China), University of Ghana, Jimma University (Ethiopia), Tec de Monterrey (Mexico), University of Mumbai (India), Peking University (China), University of Tokyo (Japan) and Waseda University (Japan).

“We applaud Yale for making available their most valuable resource, the knowledge of their faculty, to contribute to improve the quality of the teaching in the world. We look forward to benefiting from and contributing to this effort,” said Patricio Lopez, president of the Virtual University, Tecnologico de Monterrey, Mexico.

Yale Vice President Linda K. Lorimer, who is responsible for the University’s Office of Digital Content, commented, “Open Yale Courses gives us a new opportunity to share our intellectual treasury with everyone and for free.  We welcome other universities, high schools and non-governmental organizations to use these and future courses we will post on the Internet.”
Open Yale Courses will be featured in the more than three hundred American Corners located in libraries and universities abroad. American Corners is a public diplomacy project of the U.S. Department of State, and each day thousands of young people come to American Corners to pick up a book about life in the United States, learn about U.S. colleges and universities, or watch a video about the United States.  American Corners partnerships are often located outside of the capital city or in remote areas of the country.  With Open Yale Courses available at American Corners, students and lifelong learners will be able virtually to audit a class taught by one of the top professors in the world.
Open Yale Courses also will offer secondary school students who are considering applying to study in the United States the opportunity to see how subjects are taught in an American university.  Toward this end, educational advisers throughout the Middle East will be trained in their advising workshop next spring on how to use open educational resources, including Open Yale Courses, to prepare students for academia in the United States.
In addition to Open Yale Courses, Yale provides a growing library of free video and audio offerings on the Internet featuring Yale faculty and distinguished visitors to campus. This free resource includes a large variety of public talks, interviews and musical performances.

# # #

Thinking about Multimodal Assessment

Yesterday, our RCWP Project WRITE team had the good fortune of being able to work with NWP’s Director of Research and Evaluation, Paul LeMahieu, on an analytic writing continuum workshop. In his talk, which was similar to the session that I attended last summer, he talked about how the continuum has been developed, the pedagogical uses of it, and how we, as professionals who teach writing, need to not just tell those who value tests to “stop,” but to also offer them something better to use instead (we hope to post some notes on the session soon on the Project WRITE wiki).

Particularly useful for the Project WRITE teachers, as he talked about the different categories for assessment on the continuum (content, structure, stance, diction, sentence fluency, and conventions — modeled, with permission, after six traits), he also talked about how this structure of assessment works for most kinds of writing, but not all and not the least of which is multimodal writing. He mentioned how there are not really any models that explore how to assess multimodal composition and how, perhaps, we could develop one through this work in Project WRITE. That is a very exciting component of this project that I had not anticipated when we originally started, and I look forward to pursuing it more soon. (NOTE: I do think that Bernajean Porter has got our thinking moving in this direction for K-12 students, and put up some good criteria and an interactive rubric maker on her Digitales Evaluation site.)

Coincidentally, I have been chewing on this idea now for the past few days as I was trying to help my students in ENG 201 come up with criteria for evaluating their final multimodal projects. As I asked them to reflect on what they have been doing and how they have been working over the past few weeks on these projects, we talked on Tuesday about how the categories of the analytic continuum (which we have been using all semester) just didn’t quite line up with what they were thinking about in terms of what to earn a grade on. Along with some criteria for judging group member performance, they went back to our discussions earlier this semester about rhetoric, and we came up with the following ideas for grading this project:

  • Ethos: the credibility of the author is established through professional language, use of appropriate sources, and evidence of author’s perspective (within or in addition to the main multimodal documents)
  • Pathos: the texts make appropriate emotional appeals that both engage the reader and provide insight into the chosen topic
  • Logos: the texts present a clear and coherent central idea, supported with appropriate evidence and argumentative strategies
  • Content and Structure: the choice of mode and media support the message in the texts and elements of multimedia are thoughtfully integrated into the project rather than as a gratuitous add-on
  • Design: the choice of design principles (contrast, repetition, alignment, proximity) as well as rhetorical decisions (transitions, word choice, stance) combine to make an attractive and effective presentation

So, it will be interesting to see how this turns out. Students, in groups, will be assessing the other groups’ work and I will be throwing in my grade with the whole bunch to get an average. I haven’t graded anything multimodal yet, let alone a collaborative grading where students are involved in the process. I’ll write more about it once we are done, and look forward to hearing your ideas about how you are teaching and assessing multimodal writing, as well as any resources that you can point to about this messy, yet engaging, component of the writing process.

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