Beginning to Think About Fall 2008 Courses

It is just barely spring break here (well, break at least, if not spring) and I am already turning my attention somewhat to the fall. I have been asked to adapt two existing CMU courses into ones focusing on digital writing. Here is what I have come up with so far:

ENG 460 – Current Issues in English: 21st Century Literacies

The study of English continues to evolve in the twenty-first century, based on changes in information communication technologies and the underlying social relations that they allow. Students in this course will explore print, oral, visual, digital, and critical literacies such as blogging, social networking, web-based collaborative writing, and multimedia authoring in relation to their own inquiry projects.

For this course, the main goal seems to be that students create a final research project, a capstone to their English major. So, I hope to attract students who are moderately interested in technology so that we can hit the ground running. I imagine that this group would go through many of the same steps that I am going through with my ENG 315 students this spring (starting a blog, wiki, and social network) and that they would quickly organize themselves around affinity groups. I would take special care to teach them about tools that would be useful in researching (social bookmarking, Zotero, Google Notebook, Scribe Fire) and the topics would largely remain their own, although I am sure that they would be influenced somewhat by the readings and technologies.

I am not sure what to use as a reading collection for this course (or the one below, for that matter). Right now, I am leaning towards only using open access journals and other web resources. Somehow, I want to use the MacArthur series on digital learning, although that could come in to play more in the other course.

Also, the main goal for students is to develop a quality research project, and I would act as a coach for that project. Thus, I need to think about a book that talks about research, yet in a way that makes it engaging and interesting. Right now, I am leaning towards The Craft of Research, although I don’t know if that is too “grad studentish” and if their might be something better for advanced undergrads.

ENG 402 – Rhetoric and Argumentation: Digital Rhetoric

By examining the histories, communities, and designs of digital spaces, this course will relate the rhetorical tradition of argumentation to contemporary rhetorics enabled by information communication technologies. Students will develop multimodal arguments based on issues such as online identity, the digital divide, intellectual property rights, gaming, civic engagement, and online communities.

For this course, I am going to build off the work of my dissertation director and mentor, Danielle DeVoss. She has an outstanding course in Digital Rhetoric already designed, and I would like to follow her lead in terms of the general direction of the course and the overall outcomes. As I mentioned above, I feel strongly that as much of the course material as possible will be open access, so I want to use the MacArthur series as touchstone for the units in this course.

I am also thinking about doing a digital literacy autobiography in this course, utilizing digital storytelling as a means for accomplishing that goal. Bonnie Kaplan and I are already talking about that. Also, I think that it will be important for this class especially (and maybe the 460 group, too), to be thinking about design issues. I just got the third edition of Robin Williams’ Non-Designers Design Book (with color!), and I am leaning heavily towards having my students investing in that text for this course.

Clearly, I will have to do some additional thinking for both of these courses in the months to come. If you have ideas about how I can make these courses stronger, I would really appreciate hearing them.

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The Next Economist Debate: The Promise of Technology

Info on another Economist debate:

Thanks for your previous support of The Economist Debate Series – so far thousands of readers have joined in our lively debates around global topics in technology.

Today, The Economist Debate Series presents another debate proposition that is highly relevant to educators and students. The debate proposition states: “This house believes that if the promise of technology is to simplify our lives, it is failing.”

What do you think? Does technology make life simpler, or does the connected nature of our modern lives keep us in a constant state of information overload? Are students suffering because of the presence of technology? We probably all remember simpler times before our lives were saturated with text messages, emails and Google alerts, but were those better times?

We invite you and Digital Writing Digital Teaching readers to weigh in with your personal experiences and points of view on the topic.

Click here to read the opening statements for the PRO and CON side of the debate, as well as an opening statement from our Moderator, Daniel Franklin of The Economist. An expert group of debaters and guests will square off on the issue over the course of the next two weeks.

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Brown Bag Presentation: Multiliteracies in Composition

Last Friday, I was invited to lead a “brown bag” session for my English department’s composition program. Titled “Multiliteracies in Composition,” we focused our pre-reading on an article about a second-year college composition course developed at Michigan Tech called “Revisions.” Details can be found in the following article:

Lynch, Dennis A., and Anne Frances Wysocki. “From First-Year Composition to Second-Year Multiliteracies: Integrating Instruction in Oral, Written, and Visual Communication at a Technological University.WPA: Writing Program Administration 26.3 (2003): 149-171.

We began by watching the Richard Miller’s presentation: The Future is Now. This presented us with a variety of challenging questions about how we might pursue such a vision of the “new humanities” at CMU, including discussions about professional development, our beliefs about the changing nature of literacy, and how, if at all, a shift in our curriculum would happen in the time frame that Lynch and Wysocki describe from their context.

We then continued in small groups with a jig saw reading, where groups posted 2-3 responses or question in their own page on my wiki. After a watching Wikis in Plain English, they understood the basics of posting and were able to see how using a wiki could allow for multiple groups to post their work and then quickly share it with the class. The conversation continued in a large group discussion, including some emerging questions:

  • What do students need in terms of literacy in a changing world?
  • How do multiliteracies relate to technology and communications?
  • What does the multi-disciplinary approach do for departments? What about specialization?
  • If everyone talks the same language, do we have our own specialties?
  • What does this mean for us in terms of the course? Content? Writing?
  • Faculty-only vs. Graduate Assistants–How is this possible or feasible at our University?
  • What does this look like across the curriculum? Is it sustainable?
  • What about assessment? Individual? Groups? Programmatic?
  • Is there still a need for traditional comp courses? Don’t you still need a first year comp?
  • How does the continuing focus in professional organizations on 21st century lliteracies contribute to this discussion (last week’s NCTE statement on the future of composition), both for college and life?
  • What would the writing center need to/be expected to do?
  • Does this perpetuate a two-tiered society, a Gutenberg in reverse?
  • How do we support faculty in these collaborations?
  • Is the resistance about learning to do old things with new technologies or really coming to understand a new paradigm that the new technologies allow?

We ended with Michael Wesch and his students': A Vision of Students Today, and just in time for a sunny mid-winter drive home. All told, it was a timely and lively discussion for our department, and I appreciated having the opportunity to facilitate the session. Given the release of the 2008 Horizon Report, it seems as though we are constantly reminded that things continue to change. I hope that this session serves as a spark that continues into further conversations about multiliteracies in composition later this semester.

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From Workshop to Classroom: The Problems of Enacting Professional Development

This past week, I was invited to present an introductory workshop on digital storytelling to a group of teachers in Alpena. Minus some minor glitches in figuring out file management with brand new jump drives, the session went well from both my perspective and that of the attendees. Exit comments were generally positive and, since I will be working with this group again, the suggestions will be very helpful, too.

Yet, in the section of the evaluations that asked teachers to rank items such as the objectives of the workshop being met, the organization, and so forth, all the positive responses were overshadowed by one question that received unusually low marks: “The impact this inservice will have on my teaching will probably be…” Responses here were at least one point lower, on average, than every other category.

This struck me as interesting because, throughout the day, we had been having discussions about access in their schools: access to computer labs and equipment, access to certain websites (such as Flickr), and access to time for planning and implementing such a project. As I reviewed these lower scores, then, I saw them not so much as a reflection on the workshop itself as much a reflection on the school contexts to which these teachers would return the next day.

I write this here not to speculate on any particular way to solve this problem, since we know the digital divide is still evident in all of our work, even in the most well endowed schools. Yet, I found it interesting that a group of engaged professionals who found the process of digital storytelling valuable and wanted to do it with their students felt, at the end of the day, as if this wouldn’t necessarily impact their classrooms due to these issues.

Moreover, I shouldn’t sound bleak, because I know that enacting professional development in the classroom is a long term-process. I wouldn’t be doing this kind of work if I didn’t believe in sustainable change over time.

Yet, these evaluations were a concrete reminder of the very real challenges that even the most motivated teachers will face. This might explain why, at a school that has nearly unlimited technology resources, Patrick Welsh explains why teacher morale is so low. He states:

Of course, the big question isn’t whether teachers like spending their time learning one new gizmo after another, but whether a parade of new technologies will help kids learn. From what I can see, that’s not the case.

A School That’s Too High on Gizmos – washingtonpost.com

I disagree with Welsh’s final claim. What I see is that technologies can help kids learn, if teachers are able to think critically about how to use them.

Yet, even with the time for professional development, sustained inquiry, and collaboration, they walk back into their classrooms with incredible demands on their time and attention that may make digital writing and digital teaching difficult, if not impossible, for them.

Apart from the idea that we give teachers more time or get more computers, what this raises for me is the idea that we have to do to shift our professional focus from “using the tools” to “engaging in literacy practices,” and all the subsequent shifts in teaching and learning that will result.

The problem, then, is how to continue that conversation, while still addressing the day-to-day needs of teaching.

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Economist Debate Series: Privacy vs. Security

The next Economist Debate is coming up soon. Here are details:

Timing & Proposition:

Feb. 5 – Feb 15: “Privacy vs. Security – This house believes that security in the modern age cannot be established without some erosion of individual privacy.”

Should people sacrifice elements of our privacy for the sake of making our world a more secure place?

Expert Debaters & Moderator

Two global thought leaders in security and freedom will square off on either side of the issue.

Livingstone is the chairman and CEO of ExecutiveAction LLC, an international business solutions and risk management company. In addition to serving on numerous homeland security advisory boards, Livingstone has written nine books and more than 200 articles on terrorism and national security and has appeared on more than 1,300 television programmes as a commentator on intelligence and national-security issues.

A former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia (1995-2003), Barr now occupies the 21st Century Liberties Chair for Freedom and Privacy at the American Conservative Union. In addition to teaching and practicing law, Barr serves as a board member of the National Rifle Association and heads a consulting firm, Liberty Strategies LLC. Dubbed by the New York Times as “Mr. Privacy”, Barr writes and speaks widely on civil liberties. Previously, Mr. Barr served as the U.S. Attorney in Atlanta, and as an official with the CIA.

· Moderator: Daniel Franklin, Executive Editor, The Economist & Editor-In-Chief, Economist.com & Editor, The World in 2008

Guest Participants

Additional leaders in this field are serving as guest participants through the course of the debate:

  • Thomas M. Sanderson Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, Transnational Threats Project (CSIS)
  • Scott Berinato, Executive Director, CSO Magazine
  • W. Kenneth Ferree, President, The Progress & Freedom Foundation

Literacy alive and well in computer age – Perspectives – Opinion – Technology

From the Google Reader….

It makes no sense complaining about the decline of the printed word. As it becomes just another medium, we are moving to a kind of multimedia literacy, where capability with print becomes no more important, or useful, than capability with image.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. There is no rule that says that the written word is superior to other forms of media. While some of us are print-oriented and will always remain so, there are people growing up to whom print is of comparatively minor importance.

The vast majority of these people will enter adult life as well educated as the generations before them. But they will rely less on books and newspapers, and more on television and the internet and multimedia.

We are not witnessing the decline of literacy, simply a new type of literacy. It is pointless to make moral judgements about the superiority of one medium over another.

Literacy alive and well in computer age – Perspectives – Opinion – Technology

Graeme Philipson makes a compelling argument for how our culture’s artists such as Doris Lessing and Elton John — both who decry the effects of the internet — need to change their perspectives about literacy in the 21st century. As a topic always on my mind, I found this opinion article a fresh take on the topic, especially the connection that Philipson makes between our thousands of years of oral history that has, only in the past few centuries, become replaced with print. Just because things are changing again doesn’t mean that we are in decline, it simply means that we need to adapt to the change.

This connects with a conversation that I was having yesterday with one of our college’s public relations consultants. She and I were talking about my research interests and how to make “literacy and technology” something newsworthy, and both struggling to find an angle on it. On the one hand, it seems that discussions of technology and literacy should be self evident. Yet, we continue to see school infrastructures and policies, teacher, administrator, and parent attitudes not reflecting a shift in thinking about this, and, as this EdWeek article points out, the fact that what doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get treasured.

So, my question today is thinking about how to make technology and literacy — not just tech literacy, but instead the changing nature of literacy — a key part of the conversation that the media reports on with schools. Clearly, when they publish the box scores for the test results, people stand up and pay attention. Without being punitive, are there ways that we, as educators, can engage the media to get the story of technology and literacy shown to the general public in a compelling manner?

To be more concrete, I want the tone of the conversation in the media to change from “Why aren’t students passing the tests” to “Why don’t students have one-to-one access to laptops for use in their daily reading, writing, calculating, observing, predicting, analyzing, etc.?”

Philipson shows us a way to shift the conversation on the opinion page. Can we think about ways to do it on the front page, too?

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An Update on Blogging, Podcasting, and Wikiing with Pre-Service Teachers

January has been a busy month for me as I have been coordinating field placements for my ENG 315 students and we have begun exploring the use of blogs, wikis, podcasts, and RSS in our teaching lives. When we began this work a few short weeks ago, only a handful of these pre-service teachers had heard of a wiki or a podcast, fewer still knew about RSS, some had a general idea about blogs, and none of them were thinking about how these tools would translate into the teaching of writing in their classrooms. So, we started slow, and now things are moving along quite well.

The second week, we downloaded Portable Apps, and I explained my rationale for why would use these tools — both because they are free and open source as well as the idea that they need to be able to take their data with them. We also started setting up our blogs, and discussed the Common Craft video on blogs, thinking about implications for our classrooms and personal learning. The third week, we turned our attention to understanding RSS and reading each other’s blogs. This week, we set up our Google Readers, and I am now challenging them to begin using RSS reading in their professional responses.

So far, this process is going fairly smoothly and I do not feel that I am detracting from the “content” of the course by focusing on the technologies. In fact, I feel that they are helping me get some ideas across even better. For instance, it is one thing to encourage them to read each other’s blogs; it is quite another to provide them with a combined feed of everyone in their class and invite them to read, through their Google Reader, everyone’s posts. I will be building in some time for people to read and comment each week, as their reading of other blog posts will help them activate their brains for our class discussions.

Also, I am finding that they are all having “aha” moments as we move forward. Some are seeing connections to other classes an projects, and I think that they are all starting to see the ways in which we can connect with one another. For instance, one student explained how she immediately subscribed to all her friend’s blogs and, while it wasn’t purely academic, that solidified in her mind the power of RSS to gather information. In a time where we take for granted that all of our students understand so much about the web intuitively, it is good to know that we can talk about these technologies in relation to the teaching of writing and that they can begin to see some new connections.

Next up, we will be working with Rob Rozema’s class at GVSU to post our “This I Believe” essays to a Ning social network and get comments across classes. Then, after spring break, digital stories. As we continue on in the semester, I am looking forward sharing more ideas. It is interesting to compare the snapshots of two generations of teachers that I am seeing this semester — the pre-service students and the in-service teachers in Project WRITE — and compare how they are engaging with similar technologies in different ways. I feel as if with the pre-service teachers, they can pick up on the technology quickly once it is introduced, yet the conversations about pedagogy are still emerging. for the in-service teachers, we are able to talk about pedagogy very easily, but only after very thorough discussions of how and why to use the technology.

The differences are clear and makes me even more aware of the generational gap that must be happening as new teachers enter schools. They are very excited about the technology, yet can’t talk about it in pedagogically sophisticated ways. Veteran teachers are, as they should be, very concerned about pedagogy. This dichotomy makes me wonder how we can get everyone speaking the same language and beginning to think more about the pedagogy and the technology at the same time, regardless of age or experience. Then, we need to layer in discussions of literacy for everyone, because those are not present yet.

More teaching to be done, for sure and it is a great deal of fun in additional to a continual pedagogical challenge.


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