Conversations and Collaborations from EduCon

We have quite a crew of NWP colleagues here at EduCon 2.3 in Philadelphia this weekend, too many to list right now. As we begin our conversations this morning, for instance, I am in a room with Chrsitina Cantrill (NWP), Meeno Rami (PhilWP), Paul Allison (NYCWP), Chad Sansing (CVWP), Cindy Minnich (CAWP) and probably even more colleagues who I have to meet yet. As I sat down this morning for the presentation, I met Shelley Krause (@butwait), who I had been conversing with about digital literacy via Twitter when at the NWP Resource Development Retreat a few weeks ago. EduCon’s theme this year is “innovation,” and the ideas and connections so far this morning remind me of how creating an environment, a space (both physical and virtual) is so important to creating opportunities for innovation. And, the fact that all the sessions are being streamed, tweeted (#Educon), GoogleDoc’ed, blogged, wikied, or whatever, it is truly an opportunity to help us innovate.

So, speaking of innovating, I know that webcasting isn’t really an innovation (in the sense that people have been doing it for years). But, for me, trying to do a live presentation and a webcast at the same time is something that I haven’t done yet. Also, our local site (Chippewa River Writing Project) and state network (National Writing Projects of Michigan) will be hosting a month-long online book study for Because Digital Writing Matters beginning later this week. So, as a kick off, Sara and I are going to give webcasting for BDWM a try this afternoon when Christina Cantrill and I present at EduCon in Philadelphia from 2:30 to 4:00 EST. You should be able to watch live on EduCon’s site, but we hope that you are able to join us in the webinar to by clicking on this link, launching Wimba, and joining as a participant:

This is a new experience for Sara and me, even as techies, and we hope that we are able to get you as our NWP colleagues to join in the conversation. So, enjoy all the conversations coming out of EduCon this weekend, and we hope that you can join in our webinar, too.

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Catching My Breath After #engchat

So, I just finished hosting the lightening round of Tweeting that is know as #engchat (wiki link).

I sat down sat down at Panera with my bread bowl at about 6:45, thinking that I would have time to eat and follow a casual conversation. An hour later, there were so many great ideas that emerged that I barely lifted my fingers from the keyboard, let alone my spoon. That said, I just want to catch a few of these ideas, and a few bites of my cold soup, before the restaurant closes!

  • Even in a world of hyper-connected English teachers, we are still asking the right questions, both about teaching and technology. About access, both to the net and the tools. About teaching, both the content and the process. About assessment, both how and why. I really appreciated the questions that people asked, especially how they forced me to keep coming back to the writing and the writer, not just talk about tools.
  • No matter how little or how much access we (and our students) have, we need to continue advocating for more. Milton Chen in Education Nation talks about how 1:1 access is a digital civil right, and this conversation on #engchat tonight reminds me of that. Both the chat itself (the skills and processes that I needed to engage in a twitter-based chat with colleagues is both a mental and technical challenge, not to mention how to stay focused) as well as the topics that it raises (when, for instance, do we want students to attend to an online chat as compared to a face-to-face one?) remind me of how incredibly complex this thing called “digital writing” really is. It is both immediate and archived. It is both multilayered/multithreaded/multimodal, yet intently personal and focused. It can enrich our minds and offer us alternatives, or it can drive us to distraction. When and how do we teach digital writing so that it can be useful and productive?
  • There are incredible possibilities. One thread of the conversation spun off into the possibilities of gaming and how one teacher, Carl, uses Scratch with his middle school students. Showing the potential for interactive media as a space for storytelling (even if it is not “gaming” in the sense of programming and designing a full narrative with complex options), this example shows the ways in which a student can work to think through the process of writing in a different form. At one point, someone in the #engchat asked something similar to “what isn’t writing then?” and I think that it raises a good point. Whether spoken, printed, or otherwise designed with media, I think that “writing” is intentional. It involves an act of planning, revising, and producing. This Scratch example, to me, is clearly writing.

Those are some brief, initial reflections. I am so thankful for having had the chance to lead the #engchat session tonight, as it gets my new year and new semester off to a good start, helping me rethink what it is that I hope to accomplish in my teaching, research, and writing in the coming months.

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Closing 2010: Summarizing Our Reports from Cyberspace

For two years in a row, Sara Kajder, Bud Hunt, and I have presented Three Reports from Cyberspace. We plan to submit for NCTE 2011, so with any luck we will get to work together again and share in a wonderful conversation before, during, and after the conference. For the moment, I want to focus on that “after” part from this year’s conversation, one that began first in an open Google Doc that generated some initial conversation, led to a Google Moderator forum that we used on the day of the presentation, and now takes us back to the wiki for planning next year’s session. Bud has been posting some videos from our Orlando engagement, the first featuring Sara talking about assessment, and promises more to come.

So, on new year’s eve, I take my time to pause and look back at what we said, what our colleagues said, and what my agenda needs to be for 2011. To begin, a few quotes from that open Google Doc, loosely organized into the categories we discussed at NCTE — teaching, infrastructure, and assessment:


  • Suddenly, though, for the first time, I really worry about approaching the point where the state of the equipment gets in the way of the learning. I’m not there yet. I can just see some inklings of this problem on the horizon, and the fact is: my school doesn’t  have a lot of money to spend on equipment. ~ Kevin Hodgson, William E. Norris Elementary School, MA
  • The great thing is that my district purchased interactive white boards for each teacher in my school, a new computer lab for my school, and netbooks for each kid in 5th-8th grade in the district. They have also installed wi-fi in each building in the district. The not-so-great thing is that none of these things are functional. It is mid-November. The kids haven’t seen the netbooks, the white boards are not yet interactive, and the computer lab tables are empty. ~ Angela Knight
  • The subject of all things tech at my school is a sore one. We have 3 computer labs (2 of which are used for classes) and a mobile lab. Our free lab and library computers are pathetically slow. (We’re talking computers with places for the square 3×5 disks.) The mobile lab is better, but they’re not maintained as well as they need to be so many of our lap tops aren’t functional. ~ April Estep
  • My report from cyberspace is bleak. Two years ago I had a Writing lab to use with my students on a daily basis. Students could research on the internet, compose papers at the keyboard and do various online activities I selected for them to do. Today I need to share that same lab, so my 140 students need to share with 280 others. ~ Joanne Wisniewski
  • I’m at a 1:1 tablet school, so access is excellent. We’re in our second year of all the Middle School kids having their own blogs. Teacher comfort level with them is increasing, and while the new sixth graders take a bit of time to acclimate, they’re pretty much good to go by the second trimester. I occasionally feel guilty that we’re not doing more, pushing harder, since we’ve got the technology available. The good thing is that the tech feels like who we are at this point, so we’re not just pulling out shiny things. ~ Meredith Stewart, Cary Academy
  • In my local district, many teachers and parents are feeling upset because, in the same year, (a) the district had parents buy school supplies like paper, crayons, etc. instead of the school providing it all, (b) the district put iPads in all the 1st grade classrooms.  Not from the same pot of money, but there’s a general feeling that if strapped for cash you should buy paper and crayons first, then iPads. ~ Anne Whitney
  • I use lots of technology in my classroom, and my kids also use technology frequently.  One of the biggest obstacles to participating in authentic tech use in the classroom are the barriers erected by the district to protect students.  Bandwidth is a huge issue, with our upgrade, and the entire system going to a universal login (any building, you can access your documents).  This sounds like a good idea, but has slowed things down too much. ~ Freyja Bergthorson


  • (With an iPad initiative starting next year)… “This will be incredible for kids, but will take a lot of energy. Will I be able to keep up? I’ve never felt this unconfident before.” ~ Sandy Hayes, Becker Middle School, MN
  • First step: learning about the existing knowledge, skills and attitudes that support or inhibit people’s interest in exploring digital media tools for composition. Second step: creating simple collaborative on-ramp activities that help teachers experience success quickly to build confidence. Third step: introducing key concepts that help them connect mass media, popular culture and digital technology to their existing instructional priorities. Eventually, teachers will design, implement and assess their own projects which will be shared online. ~ Renee Hobbs, Temple University, Philadelphia
  • I got a Smart Board and LCD projector installed this year, so I’m enjoying that – but I don’t feel like I’m using the Smart Board as much as I should be. How are English teachers using Smart Boards in an interactive way? ~ Jennifer Sekella
  • For schools with International Baccalaureate programs, in the US and around the world, cyberspace is the most powerful and compelling place ever for their students. They are in the process of activating the largest social learning network in the world, with privacy and safety features and multiple security levels.


  • I am scared that very few teachers that I know really use technology. This is just not good for students! We are all so obsessed with raising test scores, there is no demand at all. Tech is used for Read 180, SRI tests, but not for exploring, researching, creating. That’s a problem. ~ Teresa Ilgunas, Lennox Middle School, CA

And, some active verbs that we generated from the session at NCTE that indicate thoughts about what we can do in our classrooms, schools, districts, and communities:

  • Risk
  • Share
  • Advocate
  • Push
  • Model
  • Motivate
  • Try
  • Fail
  • Do
  • Fail better
  • Fail big, fail better
  • Play
  • Experience
  • Have fun
  • Implement
  • Change
  • Experiment
  • Question authority
  • Engage
  • Revisit
  • Reflect
  • Revise
  • Think
  • Entice
  • Archive
  • Yodel
  • Produce
  • Synthesize
  • Craft
  • Scrap
  • Celebrate
  • Learn
  • Seduce
  • Use what we have
  • Dump the “buts”

So, where does this leave me at in my thinking about our state of “educational cyberspace” this year?

First, I would suggest that we are at the “tipping point” for mobile/1:1 computing and, as educators, we should advocate for nothing less in our classrooms, especially given the web-based tools that we can ask students to use, from office suites to photo, audio, and video editing. Given the reports from above, and what I know about the digital divide that still exists in our schools and communities, I know that there are no silver bullets. Yet, the fact that mobile devices now cost about the same, or less, than textbooks and that we can ask students to live an academic life fully online, there really are no excuses for not moving in this direction. This will take a great deal of work in teacher education and professional development, no doubt, but the fact is that we should start with the assumption that students could and should have 1:1 access, and begin to teach teachers how to work that way.

Second, in terms of where I am going in my own thinking and work for the new year, I want to make sure that we continue talking about digital writing, not just tools. I am thinking about this in all of my presentations and teaching, making conversations about writing as explicit as possible, even when we are caught up in learning the tools. For instance, I will often pause and ask teachers to think about the actions they have performed when they have engaged in a task like composing a writer’s profile or collaborating on Google Docs. We talk about the writing process, the 21st century literacies they used, the common core standards that the task addresses. We need to continue to make the conversations about teaching and learning, no matter how the devices change.

Finally, I hope to continue this conversation with all of you this year, beginning next Monday night, January 3rd, on #engchat. The topic, “What’s happening in your digital writing workshop?” will, I hope, give us a chance to talk about the many examples of good work that teachers and students are engaged in. As we prepare for the conversation, I offer one last report from cyberspace this year… this one from Joel Malley, an NWP teacher, that he created as a part of his testimonial to Congress last fall. I hope that his video offers us some points to consider as we think about the obstacles and opportunities that face us in cyberspace in 2011. I recognize that we aren’t all able to teach in situations similar to Malley’s, but I do think that his take on teaching writing in a digital make for good points to consider as we continue the conversation.

Writing in the Digital Age from Joel Malley on Vimeo.

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