Visions of Technology In English

Tomorrow, I will be working with a colleague’s class of pre-service English teachers. He asked me to “offer this group is a vision or several visions of what is possible regarding technology and writing” and I can think of a few, but there are two rolling around in my mind right now.

First, I return to a post that Will had about a month ago introducing us to Mogopop. I downloaded the software and tried to get it to work, but with the holiday rush, I gave up on it. Well, this weekend I finally got back around to it as I began to think about the talk tomorrow. I am glad that I did. This seems like a simple, yet highly effective and web-based tool for producing multimedia content. Some of the examples on the site are very simple — just pictures in a slideshow, basically — but some of them are really elaborate. Moreover, Mogopop basically allows you to use the “note” feature in a video iPod to create an interactive, hypertextual and multimodal text. In short, it seems to be the most user-friendly multimedia creation tool that I have seen in a long time. Now, I haven’t made my own yet, but the possibilities seem quite engaging, with some examples on their site incorporating public domain and open source content (like all of Poe’s poems) into a Mogopop project. To me, this seems like a natural extension and publication tool for student work created in blogs, wikis, podcasts, and digital stories.

The second thing on my mind is one of Paul‘s most recent podcasts: Self-Assessing Blogging. He asks a series of timely questions to his middle school students, all of whom have been blogging all year:

Here are the questions I asked my middle school students to address today.

  1. What makes for a really good blog post — one that others want to read and respond to? * Is it something you care about? Is it about something important? * Is there enough writing? Is there too much? What keeps the reader reading? …

He asks many more questions and, in his podcasts, reads a number of students’ answers. One of the main themes? Audience. All of the students addressed the fact that they felt a real sense of audience in their blogging. I know that Paul has been using a blogging matrix to invite his students to write, and from his podcast it sounds as if this intentional scaffolding of student bloggers is paying off.

So, those are the two places that I will probably start talking tomorrow after a little bit of prefacing. I have other sites to show, but these are the things on my mind this weekend and both seem to be pertinent to our discussion tomorrow about visions.

It’s always nice when the vision can be grounded in reality.

“It’s Not About the Technology…” (Usually)

So, a few things have happened in the last week that have me thinking about my belief that “it’s not about the technology, it’s about the literacy practices the technology enables.” As much as I do believe that, there is a certain point at which the technology has to be functional in order for the literacy practice to take its place front and center. Three cases from the past week…

First, Lansing Schools are (as they should) celebrating a new school opening this week. The interesting move that I think all of the school officials and board members are making is framing this as a move to “compete” for schools of choice students that have left the district. The articles and news reports have been celebrating many things about the school, especially the fact that it has four computer labs (as compared to the previous school’s one) and LCD projectors in each room. Again, something to celebrate.

However, what I am concerned about are the other schools in Lansing — many of which my RCWP colleagues teach in — that do not have the technology that the new Pattengill has. Here is a case where we now have disparity not only between districts, but within a district, too. As we think about digital literacy, and the quality and quantity of access that students get at school, I think that we can’t underestimate how important this part of the discussion is as an equity issue. What happens when middle school students from different locations converge in the district’s high school, some working in highly networked environments and others not? This is certainly something that we need to consider, let alone the disparities between school districts.

The second case was from when Aram and I delivered a workshop on digital storytelling, the first one that either he or I participated in as a facilitator. While I want to say that digital storytelling is about the story, not the technology, I do have to say that we had a heck of a time trying to get Photostory and Windows Movie Maker to do what we know iMovie can do on its own (adding narration to a full time line in Photostory, for instance). Then, there was Jumpcut (and, I am sure a number of other online video editors that I haven’t even found yet), and we considered jumping to it mid-day, but decided to ride the storm out.

Again, this is another issue that we need to consider as we try to integrate digital literacies into schools. We had some resilient teachers and two facilitators working to make this all happen, and we did have twelve success stories by the end of the day. However, I can see–and would likely agree with–a teacher who felt that there were too many hoops to jump through in order to bring a digital story to fruition using these two programs, programs that I am sure most schools are dealing with since they are Windows-based (and, Photostory still needs to be installed separately, assuming you even have XP). Once the technical issues outweigh the benefits of the literacy learning, then it seems as though the project could turn into a “how to” lesson and not a writing one.

Finally, and this is my last gripe for tonight, I joined in the ACE Second Life meet-up the other day. Again, nothing really new there, as people like Rob, Sarah, and others have been writing about Second Life and the implications for English instruction for months and I am just getting on board with it. However, what I found interesting was the fact that of all the things to do in SL, the one thing that you can’t really do is compose and share text beyond simply chatting.

Now, you would expect the digital literacy guy to think that it was cool that you could take screen shots and videos and create multimodal compositions. And, I do. That’s cool that people are composing in a multimodal manner.
Yet, I still wanted to see something in SL where people could actually share their writing with one another in a quick and easy way. Sarah talked about this on EdTechLive a month ago: the idea that people could look at an internet browser live in SL. Perhaps they could look at a Google Doc or wiki page and work on it together, in SL. Who knows? Perhaps now that SL has gone open source, something like that might happen. (Also, I won’t even go into the equipment and bandwidth requirements that SL needs in relation to digital writing…)
Well, enough said for tonight. I guess that I needed to just think through my “it’s not the technology” argument a little bit more. Thanks for listening…

Wikipedia links used to build smart reading lists – tech – 02 January 2007 – New Scientist Tech

From the “so cool it is uncanny” department…

Software that generates a list of reading material tailored to a person’s individual interests has been developed by a PhD student in the US.

Alexander Wissner-Gross, a physics student at Harvard University, teaches a course to under-graduates student at his university. While preparing the reading list for his course, he began to wonder about ways to automate the process. (Check out his paper about this topic.)
Wissner-Gross says he saw similarities between the structure of his course and the way information is connected via links in Wikipedia, a free online encyclopaedia written and edited by volunteers.

“Increasingly, a net user who wants to learn more about a subject will read its Wikipedia page,” he adds. “However, for further depth in the subject, there has been no system for advising the user which other [Wikipedia] articles to read, and in which order.”

Wikipedia links used to build smart reading lists – tech – 02 January 2007 – New Scientist Tech

I have often thought about how designing a course syllabus in a digital environment would be a challenge. As the course moves on — and students’ interest in particular topics evolve — and new articles, blog posts, and media items are released, how can the syllabus that you made in January still be 100% relevant in April?

This seems to be a wonderful method for engaging students in continually updated and engaged professional reading.

Thanks, Cherice, for the link.

IM Shorthand Slips Off Computer Screens And Into Schoolwork – washingtonpost.com

Well, guess what is back in the news:

IM Shorthand Slips Off Computer Screens And Into Schoolwork – washingtonpost.com

“They are using it absolutely everywhere,” said Sara Goodman, an English teacher at Clarksburg High School in Montgomery County who has worn out many purple and red markers circling the offending phrases in papers and tests.

Wendy Borelli, a seasoned English teacher at Springbrook High in Silver Spring, finds photo captions for the school yearbook sprinkled with shorthand such as “B4″ and “nite.” A student who left on a brief errand to the office announced he would “BRB.”

In 2004, 16 million teenagers used instant messages to communicate, up from 13 million in 2000, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Students say IM language has become so ubiquitous they often do not realize they have lapsed into it.

The good news with this article is that the journalist goes on to talk about IM as a “teachable moment” and quote Leila Christenbury. She might also have checked out the U of T study that came out last summer about the ways in which IM does, and does not, influence writing.

What I am concerned about with this type of article in a major newspaper is that it continues the whole fear of our language degenerating at the hand of technology. Perhaps I can use this in some way as it relates to the state of English education?

Tag, I’m It

So, Kevin tagged me yesterday, and now I am doing a little self-disclosure. Well, here goes:

  1. In high school, I played the trombone and I was the drum major of the marching band for two years. Geeky!
  2. To continue my love of marching band, and perhaps of geeky-ness, I was a four-year member of the Spartan Marching Band.
  3. I am getting very close to finishing my dissertation, “From Pixels to Praxis: Engaging Teachers in Technology Learning through the Pedagogy of Multiliteracies,” although when my wife asked me just today if I plan to walk in the May graduation ceremonies, I began to panic. I sense “geek” as a theme for this list.
  4. I have three kids. Ages: 13, nearly 5, and 18 months. This is giving me a very broad perspective on what it means to be a parent — still cool to two of them and extra-geeky to the other.
  5. I love Legos. So much so that I have nearly all of the Star Wars Lego Collection (but I got mad when they began to reissue some sets with slightly different designs and/or characters, so I gave up on it after getting everything from Episode 3). And, yes, my kids think that this is geeky, too.

Thanks, Kevin, for tagging me, and to Maria for sharing, too.

Here are my five tags, all RCWP colleagues:

Students Researching Online

Paul has invited me to be part of an upcoming Teachers Teaching Teachers show about students doing research online. Check out the Google Notebook for the show to get a sense of what will be happening and let me know if you have things that you want to add to it.

My interest in this topic goes back to my time teaching middle school and first-year composition at the community college. At the time, I know that asking my students to keep a list of citations with an online citation generator was considered pretty cutting-edge. Now, however, I wonder if that is A) still cutting-edge and B) enough?

In this age of hypertext composing and plagiarism detection services, I have to ask whether or not our old means of citing sources is good enough. Clearly, there are cultural norms and rhetorical traditions that we have to meet here, so I am not suggesting that we ask students not to cite their sources. However, I do want to suggest that we begin thinking more about why we are asking them to site their sources and how to keep track of them.

I have put some initial thinking in the “Citing our Sources – How and Why?” section of the notebook. And, as always, I would appreciate hearing what all of you think about this issue — what is happening in your classroom? How has the research process changed in the past few years with the emergence of read/write web tools?

End of Year “Reflection”

Well, I’ve held off on using the “R” word for any tagging on this blog, but I guess that it is the end of the calendar year that causes me to think about reflection, even though it is a term that is fraught with problems, as my adviser, Lynn Fendler, points out.

At any rate, a few things have happened this year that give me thought to pause, one being this blog, so I figured that I would do that here. Besides, I collapsed from post-holiday exhaustion and pre-sinus infection sickness earlier tonight, and now I have insomnia. What else to do but write, right?

So, I want to start with something recent. Wes Fryer talked about digital storytelling and, as I recall, how he has his daughter, a pre-schooler, creating them. When my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year, my supervisor had mentioned how I might be able to use some of my digital literacies to capture some family memories for posterity. Well, though I have yet to make my own digital story, my daughter (age 4) and I collaborated to make a story as a gift to mom this holiday season. Everyone asked, “How much of this did you do, Troy?” and I tell them that I really did very little. I showed her some basic controls in iMovie, helped her look through our family pictures, and then set up the mic. She did the rest. It was amazing, and made for many conversations over the past week. It also cemented the feeling for me that digital storytelling is something worth academic and personal pursuit, a feeling that I had long pushed to the side. At any rate, it is on You Tube, but I have it marked as private (I still feel weird sharing my kids’ images and voices online to the general public), so if you want to see it, send me an email and I will invite you.

Another recent thing to think about has been the “Top 100 Education Blogs” list that came out about a week ago. This has inspired much controversy, and the conversation on Bud’s blog captures some of the other bloggers’ feelings about it. Personally, I am not much of one for lists, just like I am not one for how-to guides, but the recognition was nice. Along with a nod on MSU’s “Blogs for Learning” site earlier this fall, I feel that I must be doing something right with this blog. However, there are many others doing blogs right, too. Maria, for instance, is quite modest about her work and I think that Paul got overlooked, too. But, when it is all said and done, edublogs are official now, and I rememeber that they weren’t when we looked them up at Tech Matters in July.

The other main thing on my mind right now, besides my wife’s health, is that I am on the job market and will be soon giving a job talk based on the following prompt: “Situate your research in terms of the current state of the field of English education and talk about how that research informs your teaching.” If ever there was a time when I am asking what English education is, that time is now. Given the general state of education (which I won’t belabor here), and the palpable sense that some edubloggers like David and Will among others, seem to be expressing, I wonder if this is the year that digital writing becomes a legitimate topic for writing teachers and not just an add-on to an already rubric-packed curriculum of pre-formed essay prompts. There are so many possibilities that I am trying to pursue right now (not the least of which is my dissertation focusing on digital portfolios, although that seems to fall to the back burner every day) that I think are engaging and worth scholarly pursuit at the K-12 level: collaborative writing projects with wikis and Google docs, student blogging (ala Paul’s model), free and open source applications for digital writing, digital storytelling, and podcasting. If the Time cover story about You being person of the year is right, then the time is now to push for these literacies as a part of our English teaching. And, oh yes, the state standards call for them, too, says Time. Given all the attention that these literacies now command, I don’t think that we can ignore, or filter, them in school anymore.

So, what will I say about my research and the field of English education? Well, I think that I will acknowledge that being an English teacher has always been and will continue to be complicated. The interesting new twist to the complicated lives of English teachers — the one that I think encompasses all the other issues of linguistic diversity, challenging the canon, cultural literacy, encouraging citizenship, and other main tenets that came from the 2005 summit — concerns new literacies and the ways that ICTs are changing what it means to be literate. I think that the notions of purpose and audience that teachers using a writing workshop model for the past 30 years have been good, but to be perfectly honest, beyond the school newsletter, the letter to an author or editor, or something else fairly local, they were never fully realized. Now they are. Blogs, podcasts, and wikis enable global conversation. English education needs to prepare teachers and students to be a part of that conversations, and new literacies play a pivotal role in doing so. This requires a major change in the way we think about teaching and learning writing. I will elaborate on this idea more in the next few weeks as the job talk nears, but I felt that I need to get some first draft thinking in this reflective post. I would be interested to hear what you have to say about it.

Well, I think that I have reflected enough for now (and, I hope, cured the insomnia). Thanks to everyone — friends and colleagues — who inspired me to start this blog and contribute to the ongoing conversation around it. I look forward to continuing the conversations in 2007 and beginning a variety of new projects, many of them in collaboration with all of you. Take care and happy new year.

And Time’s Person of the Year is…

OK, if we didn’t have enough of a reason to teach our students that they are, indeed, producers of digital writing — and that this matters as a skill they need to have — this story might be the final straw that convinces educators that we need to take it seriously:

But look at 2006 through a different lens and you’ll see another story,one that isn’t about conflict or great men. It’s a story aboutcommunity and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It’s aboutthe cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people’s network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It’s aboutthe many wresting power from the few and helping one another fornothing and how that will not only change the world, but also changethe way the world changes.

The tool that makes this possible is the World Wide Web. Not the Web that Tim Berners-Lee hacked together (15 years ago, according to Wikipedia) as a way for scientists to share research. It’s not even the overhyped dotcom Web of the late 1990s. The new Web is a very different thing. It’s a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter. Silicon Valley consultants call it Web 2.0, as if it were a new version of some old software. But it’s really a revolution.

And we are so ready for it. We’re ready to balance our diet of predigested news with raw feeds from Baghdad and Boston and Beijing. You can learn more about how Americans live just by looking at the backgrounds of YouTube videos—those rumpled bedrooms and toy-strewn basement rec rooms—than you could from 1,000 hours of network television.

TIME.com: You — Yes, You — Are TIME’s Person of the Year — Dec. 25, 2006 — Page 1

With that in mind, it might be a bit early for New Year’s Resolutions, but when YOU are the person of the year, you might want to begin thinking about this early (isn’t it weird to talk about yourself in the second person?). So, here are some of my thoughts about what (digital) writing teachers might consider doing in the next year (if you haven’t already):

Well, I am sure there are more, but ten seems like the magic number for these types of lists, so I will stop.

But, I would like to hear from you — what else you might add to a list of digital New Year’s Resolutions? Thanks in advance for your ideas.

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Podcasting with Bonnie, Thinking about Critical Aspects of Digital Literacy

Bonnie asks a good (and loaded) question here:

How could I bring the podcasts onto the team blog?

Well, a few of you noticed that I tried to test a podcast through my blog/feed the other day. I did that to help Bonnie from HVWP to do a podcast for her tech team. Then, Karen challenged her to write up what she did here. Hooray, Bonnie!

I think that what her experience shows is that there are multiple (sometimes overlapping, sometimes conflicting) ways in which we can post podcasts. And, the technical fact of the matter is that you will get a podcast up doing any one of them.

However, the aspect of this that I am interested in is the critical/rhetorical one. Does it matter where we post our podcasts? What service we use? Whether it is on Archive.org or through a site like Odeo? How does that change the “instructions,” especially if you hit a snag? How does it change our understandings of what a podcast is and what it does?

We have struggled with this issue of creating tech guides at RCWP for a long time. I have often been asked to write “how to” guides, and I have only done one. Why? Because the set of instructions that I wrote was out-of-date by the time I did the workshop that night due to a technical change in the site we were using. Sigh… My “how to” guides are usually very fluid and, as of lately, always on a wiki so people in the workshop can help me co-construct the guide as we go along. Here is the pre-NWP trip guide.

To me, learning to be digitally literate is not only about the technical aspects, but about knowing enough to troubleshoot along the way (perhaps choosing a different hosting site because the one you want isn’t working at the time you want to post the podcast) and think about the critical/rhetorical aspects of that choice. Does it matter, for instance, that I post something on Archive.org or Odeo? In a technical sense, no, because the podcast will be delivered if you create the enclosure in your blog post.

However, I think that there is more to it and would answer, yes, it does matter, because the type of license that you can choose for copyright on these sites is different. How the file gets saved (and perhaps streamed) is different, and you need to know where to get the permanent URL if you really want it to be a podcast that is downloadable. Whether and how you “own” your podcast is based on where it is stored, from a critical and rhetorical sense, an important issue. Thus, any “how to” guide that we create has to be tempered with these discussions.

This is not to say that what Bonnie has produced isn’t valuable, because it is for her, her tech team, the TL network, and other readers of her blog. Like the RCWP TCs who created some podcasting instructions a few months ago, these guides are important for our own learning about the technical aspects of posting a podcast. And, despite the many, many help guides that are out there, figuring it out with one-to-one help is always useful. Moreover, we know that these guides will change over time, and it is important that we understand what little changes in the overall process will do to that process.

I just want us to remember that there are a number of choices that we make in any act of digital writing, and many of them have ethical considerations that we should keep in mind as we do it. Thanks again to Bonnie for helping me think through some of these issues this week.

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