While attending the California Association of Teachers of English (CATE) conference in February, I was invited to speak with CNUSDEdChat. My thanks to the entire CNUSDEdChat team — Ivy Ewell-Eldridge, Annemarie Cortez, Kim Kemmer, Jenny Cordura, and Kate Jackson — for welcoming me to this conversation. Follow more of their work via their homepage, Soundcloud and Twitter. Enjoy the podcast!
Dr. Ivy Ewell Eldridge chats with Central Michigan University professor and author, Troy Hicks, a super advocate of ways to teach and enhance the process of writing through the use of digital tools. He encourages educators to nurture our students’ curiosity, openness, flexibility, persistence, engagement, and responsibility as they engage in the writing process.
1. You have titled one of your scholarly works “Because Digital Writing Matters”. What do you mean with digital writing? Is it different from ordinary or academic writing?
As we argue in the book, digital writing can be defined as “compositions created with, and oftentimes for reading or viewing on, a computer of other device connected to the Internet.” While that definition was written just as the iPhone and touchscreen devices were being introduced to the consumer market, it still holds up today. Digital writing, in this sense, is writing that can be composed, stylistically/rhetorically as well as technically, for the screen. Hyperlinks, embedded media, and interactivity are hallmarks of digital writing.
And, yes, while traditional academic writing is typically seen as thesis-driven essays with outside citations from reputable, peer-reviewed sources, we are coming to new understandings — as scholars and educators — about what “counts” as a thoughtful, rigorous argument. Intellectuals can present their work in critical and creative ways, employing the tools of digital writing like alphabetic text, of course, as well as photos, graphs, maps, timelines, videos, and other “born digital” artifacts. These artifacts are created for others to engage with them, and can be effective uses of digital writing tools/skills to support academic goals.
At the International Literacy Association Conference last fall, I shared some more ideas about how digital writing and best practices in writing instruction intersect, and here is the handout for that session.
2. How can we improve interaction over online methods of teaching language?
13. In respect with real classroom environments, how can we make effective use of technology in providing learners with feedback?
There are ways that we interact with individual writers, as well as our entire classrooms.
First, with individual writers, there are strategies we can use. In a recent blog post, I argue that, even in times of remote learning, “we can teach writers. And, we can teach them online. To paraphrase Lucy Calkins’ oft-cited advice, we teach the writer first, then we teach the writing.” I offer, in that post, three main practices that we want to continue doing: connecting, conferring, and responding. In another recent webinar, for CCCC/TYCA, I went into more detail and offered a list of tools that could be helpful in that process.
With entire classes, we need to make sure that we are using synchronous video sessions with our students to their full effect. To do that, we need to think about what happens before, during, and after a video class session. When I consider that I might only have an hour of focused time with all my students — and what I want them to do with one another during that time — I think through the types of collaborative activities they might do to talk about their own writing, give one another feedback, and grow their knowledge about language. I may model a writing process for them, using sentence templates and engaging in effective web search and evaluation strategies, then invite them to do the same.
Finally, as we interact from session-to-session, we can think about tools to build continuity and collegiality amongst our students, outside of the normal learning management systems. This is not just a “discussion forum” in the classic sense, but a space for students to engage around course content in an informal manner. For my adult learners, Voxer has been effective for this, however there are many other options that exist.
3. How can we encourage learners to take online medium as serious as real classroom environment?
4. How can teachers keep their authority over online classroom environment?
6. Many ESL teachers find speaking the most challenging skill to teach online as learners tend to be passive listeners in online classes. What can we do to cope with this issue?
When we remain consistent in our approach — regular announcements, effectively run class sessions, brief and engaging instructional screencasts as needed, timely and goal-oriented feedback — students will know that we are taking our teaching seriously, and this will raise their level of expectations. We model the kinds of behavior that we would expect of them by staying organized and efficient, since we can’t rely on regular, face-to-face class sessions for informal conversation and last-minute reminders.
For our actual online sessions, we need to learn how to be strategic in our use of time, as well as become familiar with controls in our video conferencing software. While designed for business people in training sessions, this guide for facilitating remote workshops has some helpful ideas for helping move online meetings along in productive ways. Also, we can use tools like Flippity to share an on-screen tool that will randomly pick student names, so we can let them know that they will be called on soon to take the microphone and turn on the camera. In a worst case, we can mute them, turn off their camera, or kick them out of the remote room.
We can also invite students to use tools like Voxer, mentioned above, or Vocaroo to record their voice and share with one another or the teacher. Also, they could use Flipgrid to have one-to-one, or small group, conversations. This can be done at their own pace, and if they make a mistake, they can rerecord themselves, avoiding embarrassment that would happen in class.
5. How do you suggest learners/teachers to use social networks effectively as means of language acquisition?
7. A big problem is that during online classes, some learners confuse the learning process with chatting language. For example, they use the language developed for chatting (e.g. Thx for thanks or L8 for late). Do you think we should worry about the way they are using the language or regard it as a way of enriching the language?
8. Some learners are unwilling to take part in online classes, as they believe this deprives them of socialization opportunities provided in real classroom environment. Is this claim true? Is there any way through which online world improves their social skills?
We can ask students to think about the tone and style that they might use in social networks and how they need to code switch as they move across different online/social media spaces, as well as communicate in more academic settings. Helping them see that they use a different register of language in these different spaces — and to reflect on why they do so — is one step to making these spaces useful.
Also, we can have them think about how they might use these tools and what they offer (like “streaks” in Snapchat) to stay in touch with another person trying to learn the language. They can communicate with one another each day, and try to maintain their “streaks” in the process.
We could also ask them to think about how they would “translate” a message from one social media form to another. For instance, what would a tweet (without an accompanying image, and using hashtags) look like in Facebook (with use of fonts and colors) or on Instagram (an image with a caption). How would you have to change the style (and amount) of words? What about fonts and colors? These conversations can be helpful for them as they think about the audience, purpose, and media being used.
9. How can we reduce distraction while learning English online?
Teaching our students — and ourselves — to self-regulate is a challenge, no doubt. And, different people have different tolerances for working at their own pace (or in a way other than traditional face-to-face schedules), so we all need to figure out ways to manage our time and attention. I think that it can be done, yes, though there is no single answer that works for everyone.
To that end, I would encourage students to adjust some of their web browser settings and install extensions, turning on ad blockers and using tools to block distracting sites. On their mobile devices, they can turn on “do not disturb” settings (or simply put their devices in another room) while studying. Also, they can set up times to study with classmates, holding one another accountable for getting work done and sharing their progress, as well as more intensive studying. They can also use apps like Duolingo, which “gamifies” the process of learning, if that is motivating for them.
Ultimately, our students need to self-regulate. While we would like to think that they are 100% focused and on-task when they are in our classrooms, we know that is not true. The same is true when they are at home, on their devices. They will not be 100% focused for an entire learning session, whether looking at asynchronous material or in a synchronous video class. We need to acknowledge that, plan for interactive and useful lessons (as noted above), and encourage them to self-regulate and stay motivated in the ways that work best for them.
11. Is it effective to devise a mixed/combinatory method with some skills being taught online and some others in real classroom? (If so, what skills do you suggest to work online?
10. Generally do you think it is possible to learn English via online tools without the help of a tutor?
As I have noted throughout, I think that there are times and places, ebbs and flows, in the learning process. Sometimes, we can accomplish a lot by having our entire class work together, sometimes we meet with them individually or in small groups. Sometimes, we provide a video lesson for them to watch ahead of time, and then we work on something together during class time. Sometimes we set up individual conferences with writers. Whether we are partially or fully online, we need to consider the many ways in which we move back and forth between realtime communication with students and other tasks that can happen over time.
To put this in more concrete terms, and from a student perspective, my writing/language class might look like this over the course of a week:
Day 1: My instructor sends me a 10 minute video lesson and the assignment for the week; I start my writing and speaking tasks and communicate with my study parter via Skype for 30 minutes.
Day 2: My instructor hosts a one-hour video chat, and has us working in small groups to share our writing. I give feedback to three classmates as we work together for about 15 minutes in a breakout room, then we come back together and my instructor points out good examples of writing from a few classmates. We ask questions in the last few minutes to clarify our assignment for the week.
Day 3: Today is an independent work day. My instructor asks us to send a screenshot of what we have accomplished on Duolingo, and I share a voice message on Voxer. I work on my paper, and add comments to my partner’s paper.
Day 4: We have our second, one-hour video chat of the week, and our instructor demonstrates how to revise our thesis statements. We watch as he shares his word processing screen, and talks about how he is making revision decisions. We then go into breakout rooms to rework our thesis statements with our small groups, and give one another feedback.
Day 5: My instructor has asked us to sign up for 20 minute video conferences, and I shared my draft with him the day before. On the video chat, I tell him about what I am doing with my thesis, and he recommends a few changes. I leave with a good idea of how to revise, and spend the rest of my study time making changes.
As you can see, the student is moving back and forth between synchronous and asynchronous learning, with the whole class and a partner, as well as independently. Having the consistency — yet flexibility — is powerful, and keeps students connected, motivated, and on track to complete their work with support and feedback.
12. Except for saving time and energy, does online teaching/learning have any privileges over real classroom environment?
Well, honestly, I don’t know that teaching online saves time!
As you can see from the example above, my week as an instructor would be spent planning the two, one-hour synchronous class sessions so they are highly engaging and useful. I am also creating a weekly video lesson, and pointing my students to other resources. I am providing written and audio (and, perhaps, video) feedback, and meeting with students in brief video chats. So, I am spending quite a bit of time being intentional about making connections and supporting students.
We can rely on the thousands of things that are already out there to help our students understand grammar and engage in basic writing skills, including websites, videos, online games, flashcards, AI built into word processors, and other resources. They can use those resources, if we guide them in smart ways.
What they need from us is our time and encouragement. That is what we provide when we teach in a manner like the one that I described above. Students have consistent schedules and expectations, and are accountable to us, as teachers, as well as their classmates. They feel connected and valued, and are likely to stay engaged.
This is about more than just pointing them to pre-recorded lessons, online quizzes, and correcting their papers. This is about building relationships, and making their voices heard as writers. It is difficult work, but it is possible if we rethink what it means to be an online teacher of English and to invite our students into meaningful language learning.
Everytime we touch a device (or activate it with our voice), we do so with the goal of doing something. Maybe it is to look up information. Maybe it is to play a game. Maybe it is to buy something. Maybe it is a combination of these three common uses, and one leads to another in unexpected ways (and, without hardly a thought having gone into it, we wind up with another digital download charged to our accounts or a package that ends up on our doorsteps).
These brief examples, for me, are indicative of what we can do when we approach our interactions with technology — and with one another — from a stance of digital diligence. In addition to opening up our screens with a purpose (which can, to be clear, be for entertainment, if that is indeed our choice at the time given where we are at in our school or work day), we also need to think about what it means to approach with a stance of creating and connecting, not just consuming.
For instance, in thinking about how I interact with my own devices (and invite students to consider what they are doing with their), I wonder: how can we question our own motivations as the screen lights up? While it becomes increasingly faster and faster for our screens to recognize us (from passwords to fingerprints to facial recognition), there is still a split second in which we can move away from a mindless act of accessing the device and, instead, to evaluate the decision that we are making.
One way to do this might be to look retrospectively at what we have done in the past as a way to predict what we might do in the future. With the advent of apps like Screentime, we can quickly see where our time is being used and, as we plan for the day or week ahead, we can look at past patterns and determine when and how particular apps have added value to our relationships, study, and work, and which ones have detracted from them. Assessing our usage of apps can give us insights about what we might want to click, or not, when we activate our phones. Making the choice to stay away from an app that sucks away our time, or clicking on a particularly tempting link, while difficult, is possible.
To be clear, this is not a new idea. As one example, we can look to Manoush Zomorodi’s Note to Self podcast, and the “Delete That App” part of the challenge. We can also look at ideas like Sally Kohn’s TED Talk, where she encourages us to fight the urge to click on clickbait. What I would like to do is extend these ideas as part of a lesson we can teach students, even those in elementary school and certainly those in middle and high school, and as a part of an English language arts curriculum.
In short, I would invite students to set a purpose for using the tech, in much the same way would would invite them to set a purpose for reading. This isn’t a perfect analogy, but it is something that I was thinking about as we look to the common strategy of purpose-setting. Just as we would ask students to use these questions in strategic ways when approaching a text, there are a few questions that we might ask as we approach a use of tech.
Setting a Purpose for Reading
Setting a Purpose for Using an App (or Browsing the Web, Playing a Game, or Otherwise Using Tech)
What do you know about this topic?
What do you know about this app (website, game, etc)?
Have you experienced it before, or is it new to you?
What do you know about this genre?
What do you know about the way that this app (website, game, etc) functions?
How might it be similar to or different from other apps (websites, games, etc) that you already use?
What do you hope to understand/comprehend as a result of reading?
As a result of using this app (website, game, etc), what do you hope to have gained?
Is it primarily for entertainment? To learn a new skill? To provide more context/knowledge about a topic?
About how long do you plan to use this app (website, game, etc), and why is that an appropriate time frame?
How will you know that your experience using this all (website, game, etc) has been successful?
How will you feel? What will you come to think about in a new way?
Again, all of my thinking on these blog posts in the weeks ahead (as with all blogging, really!) are tentative. I would appreciate any and all feedback, helping me refine what I am sharing so I can translate that into substantive lessons for my book.
How might we be able to use these purpose-setting questions with students to help them open their screens with intention?
As the change in calendar is likely to do for all of us during these first days of the new year, I am looking back (and ahead) at an unfulfilled goal from 2019, and thinking about what I need to do to get back on track with a book project that I first shouted out last July: Digital Diligence. My work on the book has stalled, and this semester affords me a bit more flexibility to write, so I begin here.
As I noted in that post last summer, I define digital diligence as an intentional and alert stance that individuals employ when using technology (apps, websites, software, and devices) for connected reading and digital writing, characterized by empathy, purpose, and persistence. This is clunky, and needs reworking. Yet, it is what I have for now, and it is the core argument of the book, which will be designed as a professional resource for teachers of English language arts.
I want to explore the idea that we, as teachers of literacy, need to interrogate the ways in which our students are using — and are being described by others, including the news media, as using — their devices. Or, to play on the common trope, we should consider the ways in which our technologies are using us and work to help our students push back against these models. The past few years have been dominated by stories of device addiction, a loss of privacy, and (continued) lack of thoughtful technology integration into teaching and learning. What I hope to do, then, is use this book project as a way to re-center the conversations about students’ uses of technology in a more proactive, purposeful manner.
For instance, we often see headlines about technology addiction and the negative influences that social media, smartphones, and gaming are having on our (and our students’ lives). Also, in preparing my materials for promotion, I revisited the 2017 supplement to Pediatrics, focusing on “Children, Adolescents and Screens: What We Know and What We Need To Learn,” in which I co-authored an article. The titles of the articles alone, in addition to the arguments made in them, are all still pertinent. Yet, they all tend to skew toward negative connotations and a fear-based approach to exploring the topic. Even a search on this New Year’s Day for “technology addiction” has yielded a number of recent articles, including a year-end NYTimes piece from Kara Swisher noting that “a lot of tech is still addictive, and digital hate will continue to travel halfway around the world before the truth gets out of bed.”
I don’t deny that these challenges are real (I face them myself, and with my own teenage children). Nor do I deny that there are significant problems with educational technology, as Audrey Watters’ summary of the past 10 years worth of failed ed tech shows us. There have been, are right now, and will continue to be many, many problems with all things related to ed tech.
Yet, I do want to push the conversation about how teachers teach with these technologies (as well as how students can create and learn with them) into a slightly different direction this year. Whether we say we are beginning the third decade of the twenty-first century or closing out the second decade, the simple fact is that we can’t ignore teaching a more active (and activist?) stance of digital citizenship/literacy in our schools. As noted above, a stance of digital diligence will continue to push our thinking, helping other educators become more aware of the ways in which we talk about and, in turn, teach toward a more robust view of educational technology in our classrooms.
Thus, to motivate myself to work on the project, to stay focused, and to gain insight from colleagues, I have decided that I must create and share a brief blog post about one key concept from the book each week for the next few weeks. I need to do this to stay on target with my writing, and I might as well share some of my thinking along the way in hopes that it can foster a broader conversation.
In talking with some colleagues over the holidays, I had thought about doing these as “live” video sessions on FB or YouTube, yet I know that my schedule is likely to remain busy in the weeks ahead and, instead, I will commit to a regular goal of producing one blog post per week, and seeking feedback. I will see how this works through January, and then move forward from there.
To that end, this is entry one of this digital diligence web series. Nothing fancy here, just some initial thoughts on what I mean by “digital diligence” and how I hope to explore this concept more in the weeks and months ahead. I am always seeking feedback from colleagues, and if you are willing to try some of these ideas in your classroom and provide some feedback on what you and your students experienced when using the technologies and lessons, I would greatly appreciate it.
This morning, I am honored to facilitate a two-hour workshop at the New York State Reading Association’s annual conference, “Creating Your Digital Writing Workshop,” as well as a one-hour session, “Research Writing Rewired: Examining Multimedia Non-Fiction as a Mentor Text.”
During the first session, we will be delving into a number of digital writing tools such as blogs, digital stories, and infographics that can contribute to what you are already doing in your writing instruction as well as appeal to a new generation of students. In this interactive session, we will explore how new ways of thinking about well-established practices in the writing workshop—student choice and inquiry, conferring on writing, examining author’s craft, publishing writing, and broadening our understandings of assessment—can be updated for the digital age. Tools might include:
In the second session, we will explore how, in our networked world, the research writing process that we once learned has become obsolete. 3×5 cards and outlines are giving way to bibliographic management tools and mind mapping software. Moreover, students are now able to engage in the research process by reading and evaluating the work of others while simultaneously using the technology in their pockets to do their own primary research. By exploring a Pulitzer Prize winning multimedia piece from the New York Times — “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek” — we will think critically and creatively about how students can combine media to create an informative, engaging work of non-fiction using tools such as Adobe Spark.
Since the emergence of the World Wide Web and e?reading devices in the late 1990s and early 2000s, reading research has focused on issues of website credibility, search and navigation strategies, and the ability to comprehend text on?screen as compared with in print. What has been missing, however, are data about the specific texts that adolescents are reading in these digital spaces, what devices they prefer, and the strategies that they employ… The authors propose a new framework of connected reading, a model of print and digital reading comprehension that conceptualizes readers’ interactions with digital texts through encountering (the ways in which readers seek or receive digital texts), evaluating (the ways in which readers make judgments about the usefulness of digital texts), and engaging (the ways in which readers interact with and share digital texts)…
Please enjoy my most recent post, “From Wonder to Writing: Invite Students Into Inquiry Through Online Articles” on the EdCollab blog.
Our best literacy teachers, especially those of you engaging with the TheEdCollab, have known for a long time that we must provide students with mentor texts in order to help them better understand the genres in which they write, the audiences for whom they write, and the purposes that their writing can serve. We have also known—and continue to make clear for our students—the idea that various text types have specific features to help the writer stay organized and to cue the reader in the process of making meaning. As we consider the possibilities for digital reading and writing, we need to make these moves for writers and clues for readers equally as explicit as we do in print.
In order to rethink my relationship with ed tech, I need to start by thinking about what my current relationship entails. My goal is to blog for about 30 minutes a day, so this creative constraint/daily deadline will keep me focused. For this week, I want to focus on how I read about educational technology (and, by extension, digital reading, new literacies, and other related topics). Of course, I try to stay on top of the normal news, too, and sneak in some pleasure reading from time to time. Yet, I am going to focus on the aspects of my daily patterns, mapping out an arc of what I do in a typical day in order to stay on top of ed tech news. In short, my reading patterns look like this:
Wake up/breakfast time: Quick scan of social networks, especially if I have been tagged, and to see what Nuzzel has automatically generated in my own daily newsletter (which is intertwined with my Twitter)
Daily triage of the inbox: here, I parse out email updates that I want (as compared to the countless promotions sent by the companies and services I use). There are three general genres of email updates that I pay particular attention to. While the amount of time I spend on any one of these items on any given day may be small, they each offer some insights that are useful and often having me clicking open anywhere from 2 or 3 to 8 or 10 new tabs for later reading.
And, from the weekly newsletter genre, I get quite a few, including Monica Burns, Tom Liam Lynch, and Doug Belshaw. There are more, but those are the ones that I still have marked “unread” and want to dig into (which is a problem).
I then usually attack the day’s email, which, for purposes of this series of blogs posts, I will not count as “reading,” since it is quite utilitarian.
Later in the day, depending on the academic work that I have at hand, I will do additional reading, returning to the tabs that I have opened and diving into Google Scholar or my library database. Sometimes those tabs stay open a long time. I’ll write through that problem more, too.
Over the next week, I will explore each of these sources in a bit more detail. I will also describe some reading strategies that I use, hearkening back to a series of posts that I did while Kristen Turner and I were working on our Connected Reading book (here, here, and in a six-part series: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6). I also want to make a concerted effort (as I have many times over the years) to get back into RSS reading, and to think about how I use Zotero to keep track of my reading. I am thinking that there must be a better way to do all this, and perhaps I can think through it with a concerted effort in January. And, with that, I have hit my 30 minutes(+). So, I will look forward to writing a bit more, later in the week, about how I am using these reading practices and what I may be able to do different in the year ahead to be more focused and efficient (at times), as well as more substantive and with intention (at other times).
As often happens in my professional life, earlier this year, I was invited to lead a session broadly related to teaching writing and digital literacy, specifically for middle school students. Unlike my previous experiences, however, this particular opportunity came from CMU’s Center for Excellence in STEM Education‘s partnership with the Build a Better Book Project. In short:
The Build a Better Book project, based at the University of Colorado Boulder, works with school and library Makerspaces to engage youth in the design and fabrication of accessible picture books and graphics… Through the Build a Better Book initiative, middle and high school youth develop technology skills and learn about STEM careers as they design and create accessible, multi-modal picture books, graphics and games that can be seen, touched and heard!
So, in this case, I was invited to lead a session on a topic that I had quite a bit of experience with (teaching character development in writing), but needed to think critically and creatively about how to present the idea, taking concerns about accessibility into account. And, as often is the case, I turned to my PLN for help.
“[t]eams’ making of tactile pages to retell a picture book” (and presentation of that book
“[r}eflection on the experience.”
In the sense that students will already be immersed in the process, I’m fortunate that my lesson will come on the second day of a multi-day experience, focusing mostly on steps 3 and 4. They will have had some experience understanding the design task and the audience of visually impaired readers, as well as some tactile sensory immersion. When I see them on day two, my goal will be to help them think about ways that authors describe and develop characters in picture books. So, I am working on the retelling, but also the annotating. Taking what I learned from Margaret Price at DMAC earlier in the summer about annotations for accessibility, I will ask students to both write descriptions of the character as well as to use tactile materials for creating far, mid, and close-up representations.
The challenge, of course, is that helping them figure out how to create tactile books – as well as annotations – that accurately and creatively represent those characters.
Thus, I wanted to find a children’s picture book that – both literally through images as well as figuratively through language – “zooms in” on a character. I want them to write/create three different perspectives of the character – long shot, medium shot, and close up – both in writing and with crafting materials.
So, these slides represent my general thinking about how I will approach the lesson. We will look at the generic images, do a read-aloud of Mother Bruce, then look again at the images in the book more carefully, with a lens for both annotation and tacitly illustrating them:
So, the lesson focuses on the words…
What would a description of Bruce need to include when we “see” him from a distance? At a mid-range? Close up?
How can we use different words to describe shape, size, and proximity?
And the tactile elements…
What would his fur or nose feel like from far away? Close up?
What about the additional features of his body and face? Eyebrows? Snout?
How can we change shapes and texture to help the reader know that the image is a far shot, mid shot, or close up?
My goal will be to have them create the three tactile representations, as well as write the annotations for the tactile books as a way to supplement the readers’ experiences. Though we will probably not have time in my workshop to invite the students to audio record these annotations and connect them with Makey Makeys, that would be one extension that could make the text even more accessible, and is in line with the Build a Better Book pedagogy.
In sum, this is an interesting way to cap off a busy summer of professional learning. When the CMU STEM Ed Center invited me to do this work at the beginning of the summer, I had no idea what I would do. Yet, the challenge was given to me, and I kept thinking about the possibilities with each opportunity that I had to learn throughout the summer. I look forward to seeing how students responds to the lesson and, in turn, what they might do to more completely and complexly represent Bruce through both their annotations and tactile pages.