CMU Podcast Interview on Technology Literacy

Earlier this month, one of my students, Lynette Seitz, and I were interviewed by Heather Smith, CMU’s Assistant Director of Media Relations about technology literacy and our work in ENG 315 this semester.

I appreciate her invitation to record this podcast and it was wonderful to have Lynette’s voice in there, too, as a pre-service teacher who is thinking about incorporating digital writing into her classroom.

You can get the podcast through CMU’s channel in iTunes.

Notes from Steve Graham’s “Evidence-Based Practice in Writing”

Another great session this week, this time with one of the co-authors of the Writing Next report: Steve Graham.

Here is an overview from the MSU LARC site:

Steve Graham, Vanderbilt University

Evidence-Based Practice in Writing – Drawing on Experimental, Qualitative, and Single Subject Design Research for Answers

Wednesday, April 16, 2008
11:30am – 1:00pm
Room 133F Erickson Hall, Michigan State University

This presentation will examine what we know about effective writing instruction, drawing on three recent reviews of the literature. One of the reviews (Writing Next) was a meta-analysis of experimental and quasi-experimental writing intervention research. Another review was a meta-analysis of single-subject design writing intervention research. The third review was a meta-synthesis of qualitative research conducted with outstanding literacy teachers, designed to identify common practices across studies. Advantages and disadvantages to the use of evidence-based practices in writing will also be explored.

About the Speaker:

Steve Graham is the Currey Ingram Professor of Special Education and Literacy, a chair he shares with Karen R. Harris. His research interests include learning disabilities, writing instruction and writing development, and the development of self-regulation. Graham is the editor of Exceptional Children and the former editor of Contemporary Educational Psychology. He is the co-author of the Handbook of Writing Research, Handbook of Learning Disabilities, Writing Better, and Making the Writing Process Work. In 2001, Graham was elected a fellow of the International Academy for Research in Learning Disabilities. He is the recipient of career research awards from the Council for Exceptional Children and Special Education Research Interest Group in the American Educational Research Association.

And, here are some notes from the session:

  • Opening quote: “Kids know the most interesting things” – Mark Twain
    • “It hurt, the way your tongue hurts when you accidentally staple it to the wall.”
  • Writing is nowhere in terms of the educational reform movement in this country
    • The things that drive the educational reform movement are reading and math
    • Now, STEM – science, technology, engineering/economics,math
    • Why is writing out in the cold?
      • This is not always bad, as it sometimes results in school practices that are not good
      • But, we need to make the case that writing is important
        • 1. One of the reasons that people are not paying attention to writing is that there is a general perception that we do not know how to teach writing. Policy makers want evidence, and they want particular kinds of evidence.
          • We do know that there are some things that work for all students 4-12 and younger
          • People don’t think that writing is important. So, we have to look at the effects of writing on content area learning. We make the case that writing can be helpful in terms of the STEM skills
          • Reading gets more play in the literacy discussion. We need to look at the effects of writing on reading. How does writing affect reading?
            2. What are the practices going on in elementary and secondary schools

            • Limitations: survey data that could be rosy, but the data is still not good
            • ELA teachers are doing less than one extended writing assignment a month
            • You don’t wan to go into policy making without good research to make recommendations

            3. Theoretical framework — from Patricia Alexander from moving from knowledge about discourse and enhancing motivation

  • What are three primary resources we can draw from?
    • Professional writers
      • Unfortunately, the advice can be simplistic and only moves confident writers to expert writers; it doesn’t help other writers
    • Effective practices from experienced teachers
      • Talk to effective teachers or observe good teachers in practice and study them
        • Problem: if I go in looking for one thing, I will likely see it (difficult to separate the wheat from the shaft”
        • Problem: Donald Graves and the example that works. Yet, there are times when this doesn’t work.
        • Problem: generalizability. Evidence is often selective.
        • With scientific studies, we collect evidence, presents findings for all participants, replicability, strength of impact — all this leads to something that should be more trustworthy than insight and experience.
  • This presentation, thus, will draw on three sources: experimental, single subject, and teacher practice
    • Other criteria:
      • Four replications
      • Converging evidence (the sun, the moon and the stars align)
      • Recommendations based on higher quality studies are superior
        • Process writing has very poor research, so you need to be cautious about this
        • The more studies, the merrier
    • Effect size:
      • .8 is large
      • .5 is moderate
      • .25 is small, but significant
    • Writing Next looks at overall quality of writing
      • Strategy instruction (planning, revising, editing, and regulating the writing process; 20 studies, .82 effect size (particularly helpful for kids who find writing difficult)
        • Don’t just PEE (post, explain, and expect) students need repeated modeling
        • For instance, the STOP strategy (Suspend judgment, Take a side, Organize ideas, Plan more as you go)
      • Teaching Summarization (systematic and explicit teaching of how to summarize texts); 4 studies, ? (missed it) effect size
        • Teach the six rules of summarization
      • Peer assistance (working together to plan draft and revise); 7 studies, .75 effect size
        • Needs to be a structured in a positive way — having students add questions marks and carats in their peers’ papers
      • Setting product goals (specific goals for the written product to be completed); 5 studies, .70 effect size
        • Need to tell students what you expect without limiting them
        • Product goals and revising
      • Word Processing (using word processing); 18 studies, .55 effect size
        • Some are short studies, but some are up to a year
        • Using the technology which is widely available is important, but it is used infrequently in schools or, when it is used, it is only used for final draft/publication
      • Sentence combining (constructing more complex sentences by combining shorter kernel sentences); 5 studies, .5 effect
        • Work on this together with students, then invite them to apply it back in their own writing
      • Process Approach (extended opportunities for writing, student ownership); 21 studies, . 32 effect size
        • Inviting students to engage in planning and revising is good
        • Bad news: the effect size is scattered all over the place
        • Receiving training from NWP is about a .46 effect, and is insignificant if you did not get that training
        • You can do this in a very poor way, and not get a good effect; this is compatible with a strategy approach that makes the writing more visible
      • Pre-Writing (have students engage in activities such as brainstorming; 5 studies, .32 effect
        • STOP strategy, for instance
      • Inquiry (old research); 5 studies, .32 effect
        • No pre-test done, so these studies may underestimate the effect size
          • Example: set a goal, analyze the data, look at specific strategies, and apply what you learned
            • A student in elementary school looking at conflict on the playground
      • Study of Models
        • Examines examples of specific writers and types of text; 6 studies, .25 effect
          • Model from good readings
      • Writing as a Tool for Learning (writing in the content areas); small but positive effect
        • 26 studies, but I think that it is more effective in science and math than ELA and social studies based on the effect sizes that we see
      • Grammar (explicit teaching of grammar); 11 studies, -.32 effect size
        • Quality of writing is not affected by grammar instruction
        • What this traditionally looks like is that you give a definition, example, and then is used in decontextualized works
        • If we expect it, but do not help students use grammar then it will likely not work
          • Take the kernel sentence: Dog bit mailman

        Recommendations for Struggling Writers (teaching handwriting, spelling, and typing to struggling writers — teaching transcription skills towards automaticity), small positive effect

  • Single Subject Design Recommendations
    • Explicitly teach students strategies to construct paragraph; strong positive impact
      • Showing parts of a paragraph to the point that students understand the goals of writing a paragraph
    • Explicitly teaching students how to capitalize, punctuate, etc. helped
    • Reinforce positive aspects of students writing — social praise, tangible reinforcement or both as a means to increasing specific writing behaviors (small positive effect)
      • Traditional means of grading papers doesn’t work — “we get more with honey than we do with vinegar”
      • Couldn’t draw the summary effect from this, however
      • Need to move the feedback beyond the specific paper and help the student move forward in his/her writing
    • Self-monitoring (students asked to count how many errors they made); might be effective for some struggling writers
  • Individual Teachers
    • Study exceptional teachers and schools
      • Practice had to be applied by the majority of schools or teachers
      • 10 Practices that might make a differences (had to occur in four or more studies)
      • Dedicate time to writing and writing instruction, with writing occuring across the curriculum
        • Get kids in the game of writing
        • Increasing writing by itself is not enough, it also needs to be motivating and give kids tools to be effective
      • Involve students in various forms of writing over time
      • Treat writing as a process
      • Keep students engaged by involving them in thoughtful acticvities such as planning compositions
      • Vary individual, small, and large group instruction
      • Mode, explain, and provide guided assistance when teaching
        • Teachers need to relinquish control
      • Provide just enough supprt so that students can make progress or carry out writing tasks and processes, but encourage students to act in a self-regulated manner as much as possible
      • Be enthusiastic about writing and create a positive environment where students are constantly encouraged to try hard, believe that the skills and strategies that they are learning will help them write well
      • Set high expectations
      • Adapt writing assignments to meet the needs of students
  • Caveats
    • We should not order these practices hierarchically in terms of one being more effective thananother
      • Instead we should order them in a way that we see them working well for us
    • The database is thin
    • Just because a practice has been studied, it does not mean that it will be effective for all teachers in all classrooms.
      • Pay attention and see if it works in your classroom, with your students
    • Little data on those students who are most at-risk: ELL, learning disabilities, struggling writers
    • Lack of data on maintenance and generalization
    • Don’t really know best how best to put all of these things together
      • Think about trying to integrate some of these ideas as part of an overall approach rather than try to fit it into an existing approach
    • Teachers’ views on acceptability of these practices will clearly influence their use — this will include the issue of domain specificity
      • If you don’t accept it as a reasonable practice for you in your classroom it will not work
    • Just because a practices is effective in a study or was used by an exceptional teacher does not mean that it will always work
  • Questions
    • 6 traits
      • Most studies were pre- and post-tests with no control
      • Look at journal article on Writing Next
      • 6 plus 1 looked pretty good for what was there
    • In-Service
      • When we asked ELA, science, and social studies teachers about how well their program taught them to teach writing, 70% said it was inadequate
      • We also asked about in-service preparation — you personally, school, conferences — ELA said that 70% were adequate, but 30% were inadequate
      • Most science and other content teachers didn’t feel prepared to do so
      • Not doing it at pre-service level because most states do not require a course in teaching writing
    • We have been doing this work for nearly 25 years and we have not delivered our work in terms of learning strategies approach and outreach
      • We have a distribution problem — we are not providing what we know in pre-service and in-service ed
    • A lot of this is very complicated, so we did the best practice book to give something for teachers to look at
      • We need to have support materials showing teachers how to do this — if you can see it, you can do it

My Reflections

In thinking about Dr. Graham’s talk, there are a number of salient points that I want to consider. First, he went over the 11 strategies from Writing Next and, even though there is evidence to show that all these strategies are effective, it is the individual teacher that makes the difference in writing instruction.

Second, he talked about how students can use word processing to write and revise, and that is very effective for their growth as writers; however, most of the opportunities that students have to write with the computer only involve typing in a “final draft” of something else that has been written out beforehand.

Next, he talked about peer editing and how students must be scaffolded into the process of giving feedback; just having them give comments to one another is not enough as they must use the language of writing in that talk.

Finally, he talked about the writing process approach and having an authentic purpose and audience for students should happen more often than what it is. Typically, the audience is only within the classroom walls, and students don’t share beyond their friends. Yet, he described a project in his children’s school in which students shared their work more widely and that it could be a goal for many, although not all of our assignments.

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Notes from Margaret Hedstrom’s “The Future of Networked Knowledge”

Notes from Margaret Hedstrom’s “The Future of Networked Knowledge”

Overview Announcement:

Dr. Hedstrom is an archivist who is on the faculty of the School of Information at U of M. Her research interest is digital information. She has done some interesting cross cultural empirical research on user response to various methods of archiving digital files. (e.g. “The Old Version Flickers More:” Digital Preservation from the User Perspective. American Archivist Not just ease of use but also reliability of stored electronic files.

She is also a member of the American Council of Learned Societies Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences. (Their report available at

Notes from the session:

  • Intro
    • Recent feature story from NYT on archiving digital materials
    • We are trying to build networks, facilities, and human capital that takes advantage of the burgeoning world of digital information
    • There are archival questions in every discipline, problems that we encounter in humanities and social sciences, as well as other sciences
    • Today’s talk will be to reflect back on the ACLS Commission’s thoughts on infrastructure for education and the humanities
    • What is the vision and potential of this, as well as the challenges that we experience on a daily basis and others that we can anticipate; then discuss some paths that we can use to move towards this vision
  • The Vision
    • The potential for cyber infrastructure allows for transformative research that were not possible for people to address in the past as well as open scholarship
      • This is the big goal for research cyber infrastrucure
    • Looking from the humanities and social science perspective at a report from science and engineering report on cyber infrastructure
      • What could we do if we had massive amounts of digital data, easy-to-use analytical tools, and networks of repositories, and well-trained people to use it?
    • There must be money out there for the scientists, and the humanists could ride on their coat tails, right? Well… it turns out that when you talk to scientists there are problems with funding for research, and competition is intense, too.
      • Many of us from outside of these science communities think that they are networked and forward-thinking, but there are many questions about what makes legitimate science, peer review, qualifications of researchers, etc.
  • More thoughts on the vision
    • What do we mean by infrastructure?
      • It is about the protocols for moving data, for sure
      • But, it is also about the people who know how to approach these new resources
        • Archivists who are getting data into shape so others can use it
          • There is a lot of technical work in adding metadata that goes unnoticed and, consequently, is different from what has been done in the physical world
        • To take advantage of this potential, we need to learn how to teach and research in different ways, and these are the bigger stumbling blocks that we need to get over
  • There are new ways of addressing research that are happening in a parallel with a move towards interdisciplinarity
    • How do you take ideas that have been historically separated by institutional boundaries that are now coming back together again in a digital convergence?
    • How does an interest in cyber-enabled learning happen in conjunction with this? Is there a dissastisfaction with the compartmentalized visions of scholarship?
    • A goal for cyber infrastructure shifts your way of thinking about research and looking at problems that allows for a new way to think about problems.
  • What would “big” humanities (transformative research) mean?
    • Because of the way that humanities research has been done in the past (single investigator, deep problem, specific set of data resources) — the problems have been scaled down to fit within the scope of work for one human being.
    • Now, we can scale the work across a team of people and apply knowledge to much bigger questions
    • Changing the culture is partly a generational change and partly thinking about not trying to convince those who do not want to change their ideas.
    • Some of the big issues with the humanities is that the early attempts to do quantitative research didn’t fit in with the paradigm of what people were trying to look at.
      • What has happened since then is that the kind of resources available to, say, historians, are richer and more vast.
        • You can get census data, yes, but you can also get images, primary texts, and other items more easily
      • UM and Google’s library project — how does a historian go about mining that data?
  • Resistance
    • You can enable other kinds of cyber science, but don’t take away from my current budget.
    • Is the work empirical? Does it have rigorous tests of validity? What happens when you triangulate it with other kinds of research?
  • Openness in Scholarship
    • Open in both the sense that it is making contributions to research as well as have access to the results
      • The raw materials for the research (documents, data, and even people) are networked and widely accessible
        • In this area, she gives librarians lots of credit for moving forward in this area
        • There are formidable monetary and intellectual property issues to overcome here, though
      • Research becomes much more collaborative
        • It doesn’t mean that the idea of the lone investigator goes out the window
        • Expertise is shared, however, and scholarship is open to new audiences and perspectives
          • Universities have done a disservice by trying to have “quality” through exclusivity
          • What is the line between a free-for-all and a very rich dialogue about the research questions we are trying to pursue?
        • Also, could we engage younger people with a degree of fun? Have we dismissed something that people might find engaging by dismissing it as frivolous?


  • Where do you start with all of this?
    • There is a complex set of interdependent variables here.
      • How do we do research without a critical mass of resources and tools?
    • There have been some areas in the humanities where things have changed.
      • For instance, in the classics, you find many early adopters because the primary resources are finite (there are only so many original Greek texts) and you can get it online; it is the base of data that everyone draws there conclusions from the ancient world
      • On the other hand, what happens when you look at 20th century history and the endless amounts of content that are out there?
      • What happens when all the volumes in the world are digitized? Of all the primary sources out there, we only have so much money to digitize though…
        • What do we bring out that is trapped?
      • Within the disciplines, there is lots of room for advice from scholars on this
        • Someday, can we help make decisions about what is important in the field and what needs to be digitized?
        • Can we help develop the analytical tools to look at the data?
          • Can we do massive text mining?
          • Visualizations?
        • What about stimulating the demand for this new kind of scholarship?
          • Who wants to take a risk as a young scholar when it could fall flat on deaf ears or it could be the greatest thing since sliced bread?
          • Is there an in-between space that we can translate the goals of that vision on a reasonable scale?
        • Where does the money come from?
          • Most of the physical infrastructure in this country came in the early part of this century. The point is that we do no, as a country, invest in maintaining infrastructure. Universities do a little better at this, but there is more to do to mobilize these resources.

          How do we build an ethos of openness and the public good, when the culture and legal structure locks data up and attaches ownership to them?

  • Social and cultural challenges
    • Institutional Roles
      • Incentives and rewards for scholars who take the risk to do research in these new ways
      • There are challenges to the ways of doing this work
        • Conservative, traditional modes of funding
        • Finding others to collaborate with
        • Tenure and what counts as legitimate contributions to scholarship
      • These are all ways of thinking in institutions that are deeply held and may not be antithetical to these newer notions, but certainly don’t jive with them either
        • Everyone’s work will change as a consequence of this shift
      • The role of the brick and mortar university will still attract students from a variety of backgrounds and these interactions will not go away
        • But, what is it that distinguishes one place from another, especially with this notion of openness?
        • What are universities doing to attract faculty?
        • What physical resources does the university have (librar, facilities)?
          • What happens when anyone can get access to these materials? What is the value added by the institution?
        • One of the questions also becomes whether or not we are willing to do something different as well as what we were doing before?
          • Can we teach as much and do elaborate research projects?
            • In libraries, for instance, if we are out there cataloging every web page like we do every book, then there are certain things we can and can not do with every resource.
  • Conceptual Challenges
  • If we want to draw a variety of perspectives into looking at the problems, then how do we maintain scientific rigor and have inclusion at the same time?
    • The wisdom of crowds argument
    • What if everyone in the crowd is wrong?
    • How far can we push this from opinion to educated judgment
    • Universities that have resources as compared to those who do not
    • Digital ivory tower
  • How do we convince skeptics of the potential without solid evidence?
  • Avoiding the “trust me” syndrome and making a case for how to spend money

Where to start?

  • Starting in the schools, doing things in a connected way is good, but they are doing things on a superficial level and we have not done a good job of packaging this information
  • Getting info from 19th century and putting it out there for people to gobble up
  • Getting the next generation of scholars being more insistent on this kind of work
  • Encourage the convinced to talk to those who “don’t get it”
    • Don’t want to be dismissive, but there are some who need to at least not stand in the way for others to bring this work forward
    • There are those who place lots of value in traditional kinds of work and we need to convince them that there are ways to do otherwise
  • Look at pockets of innovation and support that work rather than spread things too thin
    • There are things that people are doing, but don’t contribute to the infrastructure
  • We can stop doing some things if they don’t seem important
    • The world won’t come to an end if the pre-prints don’t come to the mailbox
  • Some kinds of work that might seem frivolous might come to be valuable in the end
    • The gaming metaphor and how there is something profound there
    • If you can learn by doing something with a game, we need to embrace that kind of shift in thinking

My Reflections

As I prepare materials for CMU’s online repository, CONDOR, I have been considering many of these same issues. What “counts” for me in terms of creating blog posts, wikis for my class, opening up content that has been published in “locked” journals? I want to be a young scholar who pushes these issues in my department, college, and university, yet I want tenure, too. I think that I am striking a good balance in doing the types of scholarship that is considered as legitimate by my colleagues and publishing in these types of open forums, yet there are still the nagging concerns that my work will not be understood. So, I continue with the both/and philosophy (publish in books and peer reviewed journals as well as in digital formats such as blogs, podcasts, and other forums).

Certainly, these will be issues that I wrestle with for years to come, if not my entire career, so hearing her talk today helped me see my concerns in a larger educational context.

April Showers Bring Me Back from the Blogging Drought

March was like a lion for me… beginning, middle, and end. I wish there was a better excuse, but that’s the long and short of it. Conferences, prepping my portfolio for my annual review, teaching, grading, etc.

OK, enough of that.

My purpose tonight is to just capture some thinking on a presentation that Rob Rozema and I will give at the Bright Ideas Conference this weekend: Social Networking, Teacher Education, and the English Language Arts.

My main contribution to the presentation will be an annotated bibliography of sources on social networking in education. Here is what I have so far and I welcome any insights that you may have to add to this list. Feel free to comment here or jump right in and add something on the wiki:

Also, I am trying to think about how to discuss the idea of social networking. What I have found with my experiences in using any social technology is that the teacher really is key to making it work. Be it a discussion board, a blog, a wiki, or a social network, if the teacher talks the talk about using technology, yet doesn’t walk the walk, then it is likely that the students won’t follow.

On a related note, I often wonder about our efforts as teachers to adapt technologies that students are using for their own personal purposes and then connecting it to more academic purposes. In what ways does this co-opting of the technology change the use of it, for better and for worse? For instance, in the social network Rob and I set up this semester, I decided not to make it a “requirement” for my ENG 315 class, and I noticed that very few students have been active in the network as an extra curricular activity. What if I had made it a requirement? Would obligatory postings be worthwhile for students? Would the network have grown more in an organic manner, even though I required it to be fertilized?

As I prepare to present this weekend, these thoughts continue to roll around in my head. In some ways, I don’t even know that I consider myself a proficient user of social networks, as I am in a number of Ning, Facebook, and other groups, yet rarely participate in any meaningful way. I am just wondering how the norms of social networking map on to the academic life of a university faculty member, let alone K-12 teachers and students. I know that they can (as the examples above show), but I am still struggling to make it work for my students.

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