On Tuesday, May 12, I was able to present some ideas on “Supporting Literacy Learning for Secondary Students” with my friend, colleague, and co-author, Jeremy Hyler, as part of Michigan Virtual’s “Keep Michigan Learning” webinar series. Here are the slides (with links) that we shared during the session.
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.
Here is an archived recording of our Wednesday, March 25, 2020 webinar on EdWeb, “Literacy in a Time of Rapid Change: Strategies and Resources for Virtual Learning,” as well as the GDoc handout from the session.
We are now in the midst of a “new normal,” and questions about what virtual instruction will look like — in our own classrooms and across the globe — abound. Join literacy experts, authors, and experienced virtual educators, Dr. Troy Hicks and Shaelynn Farnsworth, as they discuss resources and strategies to best support remote teaching and learning.
In this edWebinar, explore ways to virtually teach and engage students in literacy learning by sharing curricular content, edtech tools, resources, communities, and tips to get you thinking critically and creatively in this time of crisis. As we are working to meet the needs of all students virtually, we’ll also be mindful of issues related to equity, accessibility, and student populations with special needs.
We can do this together. Please watch the conversation.
This recorded edWebinar will be of interest to kindergarten through higher education teachers, librarians, school and district leaders, curriculum and instruction, TOSAs and coaches, assistant superintendents, and tech directors.
About the Presenters
Dr. Troy Hicks is Professor of English and Education at Central Michigan University (CMU). He directs both the Chippewa River Writing Project and the Master of Arts in Learning, Design & Technology program. A former middle school teacher, he collaborates with K–12 colleagues and explores how they implement newer literacies in their classrooms. In 2011, he was honored with CMU’s Provost’s Award for junior faculty who demonstrate outstanding achievement in research and creative activity, in 2014 he received the Conference on English Education’s Richard A. Meade Award for scholarship in English Education, and, in 2018, he received the Michigan Reading Association’s Teacher Educator Award. An ISTE Certified Educator, Dr. Hicks has authored numerous books, articles, chapters, blog posts, and other resources broadly related to the teaching of literacy in our digital age. Follow him on Twitter: @hickstro
Shaelynn Farnsworth is a coach, consultant, and educator for Web20Classroom. She is a leader in the convergence between literacy and technology. As a high school teacher, she redefined her English classroom as not only a place to learn about literature but also explore how technology is shaping the future of communications. She continues this exploration in her role as a consultant focusing on technology, literacy, differentiation, and systemic change. Shaelynn is a staff developer, literacy coach, and supports districts in the implementation of initiatives. She is a MIEExpert, Google Certified Innovator, Apple Teacher, and has training in Project-Based Learning from the Buck Institute, Visible Learning with Hattie, Instructional Coaching, and K-12 Literacy Best Practices.
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.
For my segment, we discussed tools for conferring and responding to student writers. Building from my experience in writing centers, NWP, K-12 teaching, college composition, and mentoring graduate students, I consider conferring to be the single most important activity in writing instruction. In the context of online learning (and our current “remote learning” scenarios), I am referring to “conferring” as scheduled meetings with students, via phone or video conferencing. This involves planning the conference, interacting during the conference, and follow-up after the conference.
Again, building from my experiences, I contend that timely, specific, and goal-oriented response helps writer move forward. When conferring is not an option, responding in an efficient and effective manner is second best. I work from the writing center-influenced ideas of responding first to higher order concerns, yet I am also willing to break protocol and offer directed feedback on lower order concerns. Responding can take the form of text, image, audio, or video and can happen at any stage of the writing process. Here are links to the tools that I shared:
Last night, in conversation with colleagues during a writing group meeting — and, as an accumulation of many ideas, from numerous conversations in the past week — I shared an idea, probably not a completely original one, but one that garnered some conversation on Twitter nonetheless. Forgive the typo, where “it” should be “if”:
Both to encourage online learning in all K-12 settings — and to ensure that all students are equipped and ready — what it schools were required to do one “remote learning day” every two weeks throughout the school year? Then they would have tools and skills for times like this.
That said, when we come out of this crisis, I don’t think that educators, in general, and educational leaders (at the district, state, and national levels) as well as policy makers (again, at the local, state, and national levels) have any more excuses for NOT embracing digital learning.
Some have done this well in the past 30 years. Some have done OK. Most, let’s be honest, have done poorly with embracing technology that can support high-leverage teaching, substantive learning, and meaningful reform in education. Many other scholars and critics make this case much more eloquently, and their work is worth reading (Larry Cuban, Neil Selwyn, Stephen Downes, and Audrey Watters, among others, are all good voices to begin listening to right now).
Moreover, if the trend holds, and more employers encourage/allow for remote work, we could argue that a move like this would also help prepare our students for their careers. That “career-readiness” thing always seems to get politicians’ attention.
At any rate, what are your thoughts?
Should the state legislators — when rewriting the rules on seat time requirements, waivers for weather-related (or pandemic-related) days off, and the ways in which K-12 education should prepare for a digital future — require schools to have at least one “remote learning day” a month during the regular school year?
Let me know what you think, in the comments, or by sending me a note.
Critical and Creative Teaching in Response to the COVID-19 Crisis
A Series of Online Workshops for Educators sponsored by Ed Tech Faculty, Students, and Alumni from Central Michigan University
Sunday, March 15, 2020 | 4:00 to 9:00 PM EST
Update: Monday, March 16, at 11:45 AM EST
Thanks to all who attended live. We will have all the videos broken into smaller segments and reposted soon.
For now, here is the link to the full video stream: https://youtu.be/h7jyeNaXs80
Agenda with links to slides: http://bit.ly/38M9wOI
Shared resource doc: http://bit.ly/2INHTKH
As K-12 schools, colleges, and universities are closing their campuses and moving, temporarily, to a fully online model of teaching and learning, we know that our colleagues approach this daunting task with varying thoughts, feelings, and teaching strategies.
Faculty, students, and alumni of Central Michigan University’s educational technology programs are, in response, offering a series of free online workshops designed to help educators move quickly — yet critically and creatively — into online spaces as the COVID-19 crisis unfolds.
Join us for a series of webinars, each with substantive strategies and time for interaction.
Who: All interested educators
What: A series of five, one-hour virtual workshop sessions
When: Sunday, March 15, 2020, from 4:00 to 9:00 PM EST
To provide timely, specific, and practical online learning strategies for educators, K-college
To build community and establish a network of colleagues that can continue our work in the weeks and months ahead
To create a series of archived resources including video recording and digital handouts
Session 1: 4:00 to 4:50 PM EST
Truncating a Syllabus to Accommodate Online Learning
Karrah Zuziak, DET Student
As we work to move quickly from face-to-face (F2F) to virtual learning in the final weeks of the semester, we can explore effective strategies to help determine how to transition content from F2F to online without losing substance or relevance in the absence of physical space. In this session, we will discuss ways to encourage interaction and communication to ensure learning objectives are being met; assuage student fears and inhibitions of learning online including preparation techniques such as meeting rooms, chat, recordings, and screencasts.
Session 2: 5:00 to 5:50 PM EST
To-dos (and a Not To-do) When Teaching Online
Dr. Melissa Vervinck, DET Alumna
Good teaching is good teaching in any environment. This presentation will focus on five quick and easy ideas to-do and one idea not to-do when creating and teaching online. From the organization of the class to the presentation of assignments and more, simple tips to help you move towards developing your own online teaching pedagogy will be shared including approaches to creating short videos, low-stakes assignments, and ways to be more available for your students.
Session 3: 6:00 to 6:50 PM EST
(re)Designing eLearning for ALL Learners
Megan Tolin, DET Student
Moving to digital learning in a pinch can be tricky. Changes in assignments, instructional strategies and more can cause things to get a bit…messy. However, it is critical that as we build content for learners in digital spaces, and to ensure that we aren’t putting up barriers for students. Join us as we explore the basic concepts of UDL as well as quick & easy ways educators can work to create user-friendly digital content that is accessible for all learners.
Session 4: 7:00 to 7:50 PM EST
Bringing Group Work Online
Dr. Tammi Kolski, DET Alumna
Working in groups is a challenge for students in any setting, and can be especially challenging online. By exploring existing LMS tools, we can think constructively about ways to move class group projects online. In this session, we will discuss ideas about how to communicate group expectations clearly and how to support students in ways to collaborate virtually, helping them work together in effective, efficient ways.
Session 5: 8:00 to 8:50 PM EST
Engagement for Online Learning
Dr. Katie Baleja, DET Alumna
Engaging students in online environments is important and does not have to be difficult. This presentation will explore quick and simple examples for making lectures and reading assignments engaging in online environments. Working with both synchronous and asynchronous settings, students can continue to be part of meaningful learning experiences.
After conversations with colleagues and family in the past few days — and awkward pauses during a conference on Friday, moments which would have normally been filled with handshakes and hugs — I, too, felt compelled to write about the topic everyone is talking about.
As we (collectively, read “we” here as “the education community”) make decisions about how we might cancel face-to-face courses/school sessions and move them online for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year, I urge a bit of pedagogical caution.
That is, I hope that we don’t simply try to push teaching and learning practices that are often evident in poorly designed instructional settings (both face-to-face and online) in front of students, from kindergarten to graduate school, who may not be interested in, let alone prepared to, learn online.
For those who would encourage me not to bury the lead, here are my three main ideas that we need to keep at the forefront of planning online instruction:
Plan for less time consuming content, and more time for students to create it.
Invite genuine dialogue with students, and listen intently to their responses.
Establish and strengthen relationships with students by communicating clearly and providing feedback in a timely manner.
And, before going any further into this post, I need to acknowledge those who have lost loved ones, and those who are first responders and medical staff on the front lines of managing the crisis. Empathy and appreciation are in order for all.
And, for those who are in positions of power at schools, colleges, and universities (among other institutions), each dealing with COVID-19 in profound ways, both personal and public. The fact that so many universities and K-12 schools around the world (and now beginning here in the US) are thinking about how to continue educating our students in a time of emerging crisis shows their deep dedication to these students and our society’s common good, even in a time when panic could be the default. For that, I thank all of you, and know that we share the goal of continuing to educate our students
Yet, we need to do this in a productive, engaging way.
As we hear announcements (as well as rumors) that some schools and colleges might tell their students to stay home after spring break (and, indeed, some already have), this creates major implications for teaching and learning. If we are going to move our courses, quite literally overnight, from the classroom/campus to the cloud, there are a number of important things for us to consider. Here are just three, all of which deserve more attention as a way to think through what we will do in the days, weeks, and months to come.
Point 1: Poor Teaching in Face-to-Face Settings is Even Worse Online
First, we know that the vast majority of “online learning experiences” are designed to meet only the basic needs of content delivery, effectively keeping students’ learning at the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and not fully engaging them in the critical and creative capabilities that technology has to offer. This is why “lecture capture” technology has always bothered me. If we are just capturing screen recordings of didactic lectures, what are we really doing to help engage students with technology in substantive ways?
Put another way, whether content is created and delivered synchronously or asynchronously, the more important question is this: what do we want students to do with what they are learning? If we might be asking students to sit in front of their screens for hours and hours, consuming educational content, what will we ask them, in turn to do to demonstrate their learning in meaningful ways, possibly employing collaborative learning and principles of effective instructional design?
In other words, we don’t just want us pushing streaming video content, screencasts of slideshow presentations, and multiple choice quizzes at our students. We need to see them create, which connects to point number two.
Point 2: Students Must Have a Voice
Second, even though students may not be the ultimate decision makers in this, please take the lessons we have been learning over the past few years about how important it is to listen and invite dialogue from everyone. All voices matter.
Additionally, there is nothing worse than simply inviting dialogue and summarily dismissing it. If you are moving classes online, then consider what students want (and need), which may likely include time and tools for engaging in conversation about the content they should be learning (as well as how they are feeling about the outbreak itself, the effects it is having on society, and the effects it is having on them and their families).
So, while going through the process of making the decision to close schools and move online, at the very least I would encourage school leaders to welcome conversation on social media, to take a survey of parents’/students’ needs and wants, and to think critically and creatively about how to help students and educators who are new to learning/teaching (or reluctant to go) online.
This is a real concern, as I can point to colleagues at my own university who still refuse to teach online, in any capacity, and I have heard many stories that echo this sentiment from my K-12 colleagues. Also, I hear horror stories of students who basically clicked their way through terribly-designed online courses, only to still end up with an “A” at the end and nothing to show for their learning.
Even if the institution has made the decision to go online, then we all need to figure out ways to keep the conversation with students and stakeholders going.
Again, this needs to be genuine dialogue and, eventually, will likely mean that people come together face-to-face as soon as it is safe to do so. While this may not be for everyone, and it may only be for a short time, if the risk-to-benefit ratio for reconnecting is significantly higher than the possibility of illness, then we need to learn all we can about the psychological effects of pandemics and how to mitigate them for our own students.
Going online for learning, if someone really is hoping to be in a face-to-face environment, needs to acknowledge students’ humanity, and respond appropriately.
Point 3: Relationships, Relationships, Relationships
Perhaps as a way to summarize the two points above, I reiterate a theme that I often share when people ask me some version of the question, “What is it like to teach online?” Depending on how the question is phrased, my pat responses are usually something to the effect of “It’s all about relationships,” or “relationships, relationships, relationships.” This is just as true in face-to-face settings as it is online, of course, yet online relationships take a different kind of effort for educators.
No matter what we do as educators, we need to act as leaders and facilitators, helping our students see the goals we have set for them through our activities and assignments while, at the same time, listening to their ideas, needs, and wants. We need to give them timely, specific, and goal-oriented feedback. We need, in short, to be present in all the ways that matter.
Moreover, we know that not all students are interested in or eager to learn online. Even for those who are, they may not know how best to manage their time and ensure that they are staying focused.
To that end, we need to engage in a variety of practices to open lines of communication and stay connected. For me, whether teaching face-to-face or online, I use a few consistent practices to help students know what I am thinking and to invite their questions. Each week, I aim to:
Provide a substantive announcement, pointing to new course content and readings as well as reminding them of upcoming deadlines.
Send at least one individual email or message (using Voxer this semester, though other tools could do the same) to students at least once every two weeks, either providing feedback on an assignment or praising them for participation in class activities. This might also be a “check in” message if I haven’t heard from them.
Update my appointment calendar so students can connect with me (without a series of “are you available” and “how about one of these times” emails). Personally, I pay a subscription fee of about $120 a year for a service like this because my university doesn’t offer it, and it is worth every penny in terms of the connections I can build (and time I can save).
This is all just a bit of thinking on a weekend as I catch up on headlines from the week, scan my education-related newsletters and blogs, see what’s happening on the Edu-Twitterverse, and reflect on conversations with my wife and colleagues.
Of course, I am still learning how to be a better teacher each day, and my hope is that we can use this specific conversation about school and university closures as a means to move broader conversations about what it means to teach and learn in a digital, interconnected world.
We owe it to our students to do this work well, and even more so in a time of crisis and confusion. If we are, indeed, going to move our classes online in response to the crisis, then we still need to engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning, ensuring that we are meeting students’ educational, social, and emotional needs in the process.
Update on March 12, 2020: Typographical error corrected.
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.