CFP: Better Practices: Experts and Emerging Instructors Explore How to Better Teach Writing in Online and Hybrid Spaces

those that teach high school students preparing for college, as well as those at two- and four-year institutions — continue to extend and adapt their teaching practices in a post-pandemic world, we know that there are still no “best” practices, yet we continue to get better. We want to learn from you! http://bit.ly/better-practices

Better Practices FlyerAs online literacy instructors — including those that teach high school students preparing for college, as well as those at two- and four-year institutions — continue to extend and adapt their teaching practices in a post-pandemic world, we know that there are still no “best” practices, yet we continue to get better. We want to learn from you!

In this edited collection, we invite co-authors to propose chapters that explore on-the-ground practices anchored in research and expertise in online writing instruction, delivered in formats that are easy to read and immediately applicable by new-and-aspiring online teachers. We ask that all contributors draw from the OLI principles as outlined by either GSOLE or CCCCs and are informed by at least one other guiding document of your choice that fits the theme of your chapter and your teaching context (e.g., CCCC Principles for the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing, NCTE Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing, WPA/NCTE/NWP Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing, ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, etc.). 

Each chapter within this digital publication will include course materials, accompanying text where authors narrate their experience and reflect on course content, and video interviews. Each chapter will be co-authored by an expert in online writing instruction specializing in the particular theoretical approach alongside a colleague teaching the approach for the first time. This parallel view offers readers expert knowledge of research-based practices as well as insights into the questions and challenges new instructors will encounter as they apply this approach for the first time.

Topics/themes to be explored could include: 

  • Ungrading/Contract grading
  • International/Global Contexts
  • Support for Multilingual Writers
  • Design and Accessibility 
  • Social Justice and Anti-Racism
  • Culturally Responsive Teaching
  • Reading/Literacy Support
  • WAC/WID Initiatives
  • Multimodal/Digital Composition
  • Bridge or Accelerated Learning
  • Or, other writing-related topics

Proposals, submitted via Google Form, should include the following:

  • Contact information for both co-authors (name, institutional affiliation, position, email)
  • The broad topic(s) or theme(s) of online literacy instruction better practice(s) that will be addressed in the chapter
  • Brief overview of theories/scholarship that inform your teaching and this practice (apx 250 words)
  • A description of your online teaching context and students (apx 250 words)
  • A description of the “better practice” and how you implement it (apx 250 words)

Proposals due May 31st with editors notifying authors by July 15, 2021.

Authors of accepted proposals will be invited to participate in an iterative, inquiry-driven process of chapter development throughout the fall of 2021. Instead of drafting chapters in isolation, the community of contributors will regularly meet to discuss practices, draft chapters, and give feedback. Attendance is, of course, voluntary, though highly encouraged. At the end of this process, authors should have a complete initial draft of their chapter. 

Please submit by entering the necessary information into this Google form.  

Please contact editors Amy Cicchino (atc0057@auburn.edu) and Troy Hicks (troy.hicks@cmich.edu) with any additional questions. PDF Version of Flyer

Two Views of the Fall Semester, New Hopes for the Spring

This week and next, many students head back to college here in Michigan (though, for at least the first week, those classes will be virtual due to an order from the state department of health). Even without a consistent, real time video class session, inviting students to connect at least a few times in the semester can be powerful.

This week and next, many students head back to college here in Michigan (though, for at least the first week, those classes will be virtual due to an order from the state department of health).

So, as I am posting my syllabi for my (long-planned and prepared) online courses this spring, and with some encouragement from Bryan Alexander, I share a few insights from two students I know well — my daughters — and their experiences last fall.

From what I understand about the ways that many colleges and universities operated last semester, I think that their experiences offer us some insights into how we might better prepare for spring.

Student 1: Sophomore at a Residential University

Our eldest daughter was, in the fall of her sophomore year, able to live on a residential campus that offered a “concurrent” or “hy flex” model for all regularly-scheduled face-to-face classes (allowing students to attend in the socially distanced classroom or join via live video stream). For the early part of the semester she (and, from what she described) most students (which I would imagine is about 50-75%) were making a regular effort to attend class face-to-face. This concurs with what I learned from one colleague at that same university who was teaching face-to-face, as she watched attendance in face-to-face sections dwindle, moving more and more online (though all of this is anecdotal). Still, it did suggest that the option for being in person was working well for some time, for some students, yet their enthusiasm to go to a physical classroom faded, even when they were living on campus.

In particular, as my daughter described it, from mid-October until the end of the term (at Thanksgiving) things began to change. She (and from what she said, her friends) would play the trick of “attending” class (with their camera off, of course, paying partial attention or working on other tasks entirely), and would then watch the recording later, at 1.5 or 2x speed to go over notes. Having the slides ahead of time was, in many ways, a disincentive for being fully attentive during the real time class sessions.

The colleague that I talked to who were teaching on campus expressed similar drop-offs in attendance. This colleague talked about teaching to a webcam, and at least a few times, standing in front of an empty classroom (she finally chose to move the class entirely online, after confirming with students that it would be OK with that). Since she had a classroom structure that was very much discussion-centered, this was challenging for her, but she adapted and was able to use virtual breakout rooms effectively.

My eldest daughter’s single class that was scheduled to be all online anyway, a second semester composition corse, was not a very good experience… but would have been without the pandemic. It was a series of highly scripted assignments, with little room for exploration or inquiry. The class was supposed to have opportunities for peer review, yet the entire class was asynchronous and comments from peers were perfunctory. Feedback from the instructor, too, was less than desirable. So, this was a case of a poorly designed and taught online class, and not just an effect of pandemic pedagogy.

A few other elements of campus life were strange, too. Grab and go food, socially distanced public spaces, and other accommodations did become more normal by the end of the semester. There was a quarantine dorm, and a strange system of notifications that students and instructors would get if they had potentially been in contact with someone.The university’s regular “rah rah” types of emails and daily health checks felt a bit repetitive to her by the end of the semester. Still, somehow the campus stayed open as long as it had planned, and even with the Michigan health order to close and go virtual right before Thanksgiving, the semester that had been pushed up by a few weeks came to a close as planned.

She was glad to have been on campus, even if not “in person” for most of the time she was there.

Student 2: First Year Student at a Residential University that Went Fully Online

Our second daughter — having gone through the strangeness of the graduating in the spring of 2020 — was beginning her first year with hopes of moving into the dorm, and all that campus life would offer. Yet, that was not to be, as the university made the decision to be fully online. Even with a full summer of “prep” time for faculty to know that they would all be online, there was not a very robust set of remote teaching practices enacted for her.

Only a few live class sessions happened for her four classes, and one course was completely asynchronous. One instructor kept sending out announcements over and over about how difficult it was for him to teach at home, and only did two live Zoom sessions (where it was really about having students find their new group mates for a “collaborative” project, that was not very well scaffolded). On a bright note, her math class (which had regular Zoom sessions each week) was one of her favorites, and she took advantage of office hours, too. She felt connected to that instructor, which was key.

Considering the entirety of her semester, she felt OK about it though — as has been noted in more scholarly and research-based ways — she felt the clear lines that were drawn around an online experience as compared to being on campus. She is a kid that was primed to go to campus and begin her life at college. The emotional let down of an online fall, and the lack of opportunities to socialize with new classmates, was palpable.

She, too, will be back online for the winter/spring. She is hopeful that she will get to have a first-year kind of experience this fall when (and if) campus reopens and, in the mean time, did look for classes this semester that will have regular Zoom meetings scheduled (which she found two out of four). While the campus has opened up a few courses for face-to-face instruction — and she was hoping to drive from our home to campus a few days a week to attend them — she found nothing available for students in their early years, as most are upper division courses. My hope is that she can get some of those connections through these Zoom classes, and encourage all higher ed faculty to keep this in mind as they consider when, how, and why they will offer (at least a few) real time class meetings.

Moving Forward in 2021

As I consider the design of my own online courses this semester, I am again made aware of how important instructor presence is to students. Both my daughters reiterated this, in slightly different ways. The takeaway for me is that the sense of presence that an instructor projects is crucial. If you set reasonable expectations, communicate with regularity, provide opportunities to connect with you via email, phone, chat, and/or video calls, and get feedback to them in a timely manner, those practices provide a kind of consistency that makes the entire online learning experience better.

Even without a consistent, real time video class session, inviting students to connect at least a few times in the semester can be powerful. For instance, in one of my eight week courses, I will offer an opening “welcome webinar,” and then have students work with “accountability partners” throughout the abbreviated semester. They are not working on the same project as collaborators; rather, they are planning at least two phone/video calls to provide one another feedback. They will also plan one phone/video call with me to discuss their project. Finally, in the last week, students will have the option to present their work in a “closing webinar,” or record a screencast to share. These are small moves — in addition to participation in a discussion forum — that I think helps us build community.

In sum, as we all head into this semester, I know that the challenges remain constant (as summarized recently by PBS NewsHour, among others). Instructors who are working to make their teaching timely, relevant, and engaging are also still figuring out the nuances of fully online, concurrent/hy flex, and socially-distanced, in-person practices. Students are still figuring things out, too, working to maintain their academic, professional, and personal lives.

Let’s continue to think strategically about our teaching through continued conversation, such as through this webinar next week that I am co-hosting with my colleague Kristen Turner, “Cameras on… or off? Engaging Students through Conversation, Writing-to- Learn, and Relationship-Building in Remote Learning.” Also, I encourage readers to review my post from last August, “Designing Breakout Rooms for Maximum Engagement.” I encourage us all to think about how we can work effectively to build connections with our students.

All the best for a strong start to the new semester.

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Cameras On… or Off? Engaging Students through Conversation, Writing-to- Learn, and Relationship-Building in Remote Learning

What does it mean to engage students in real time, video class sessions? During the hour-long webinar, we will model active learning strategies that can be implemented in middle school, high school, and higher ed remote learning contexts.

What does it mean to engage students in real time, video class sessions? Some people think that simply having “cameras on” is the answer to student engagement. However, engagement comes when students are cognitively involved, emotionally connected, and participating actively.

Join Kristen Hawley Turner and Troy Hicks as they model strategies for building relationships with learners, implementing writing-to-learn strategies, and prompting breakout room activities with effective protocols for discussion, collaboration, and accountability.

During the hour-long webinar, we will model active learning strategies that can be implemented in middle school, high school, and higher ed remote learning contexts.

Register here: https://tinyurl.com/cameraonoroff

Examining Instructional Models for Online Instruction

Depending on the course that I was teaching, I was flexing the kinds of time I was spending (and asking students to spend) in Zoom rooms, with online discussion forums, and in various forms of partner and group projects. How many hours of video class sessions are you hosting, each week, for a typical three-credit course and what, in addition, are you asking your students to do as part of their on-going participation?

Image by Simon Abrams on Unsplash

As has been said, many times and many ways, this was a semester like no other.

With many campuses facing what Bryan Alexander called “toggle terms,” and many more being fully online, it has been a unique moment in the history of higher education. As we close 2020, I am finally at a point with all other projects where I can pause and reflect on some of the comments that my students provided me from the spring, summer, and fall semesters.

Given that all of my classes in spring and summer were scheduled to be online to begin with — and with the one class I was scheduled to teach face-to-face in the fall I was granted permission to move online — the experience of online teaching is not new for me. And, as Larry Cuban reminded us all earlier this fall, “pandemic-driven remote instruction” is something different from what has been variously called “online” or “virtual” instruction. In fact, that is part of what I wanted to capture in writing this post. Depending on the course that I was teaching, I was flexing the kinds of time I was spending (and asking students to spend) in Zoom rooms, with online discussion forums, and in various forms of partner and group projects.

So, let me begin by offering a few models of what my courses look like, in either 8- or 16-week terms, and then share some of the student comments that are guiding me as I look to the semester ahead. To keep it simple, I am following a simple “5Ws and H” format, though I may want to do some more thinking about how to accurately represent these ideas in a graphic of some kind or another.

Model 1: Full Semester, Undergraduate First-Year Seminar

  • Who: 19 first-year honors undergraduate students
  • What: 3-credit course, “Our Digital Selves: Living and Learning in a Multimodal World”
  • When: In lieu of a weekly 2 hour 45 minute course meeting in-person, we moved to a 1 hour 45 minute session and ~1 hour of participation in discussion forums and peer reviews.
  • Where: Synchronous meetings in Zoom each week; discussions in Packback; peer review in Writable.
  • Why: Because the goal of the first-year seminar is for students to develop the habits of mind toward scholarly inquiry and build community with one another, I felt that the weekly class meetings were an essential component of the overall experience. Also, I had at least two 30-minute meetings with each student during the semester to help guide them on two separate projects.
  • How: Class sessions generally moved in three to four chunks of 20 to 30 minutes each, including mini-lectures, collaborative tasks in breakout rooms, and time for writing-to-learn activities; guest speakers presented during three separate weeks of class sessions.
  • Comments from students: While I haven’t received formal end-of-class reports yet, anecdotal comments from students suggest that they appreciated the interactive nature of our video-class sessions (even though most kept their cameras off in the main room). Because the writing-to-learn activities led to more in-depth assignments, some students noted that they appreciated the time and space to talk with classmates during our class sessions, too.

Model 2.1: Abbreviated Semester, Masters Ed Tech Class

  • Who: 15-25 masters students, most of whom are K-12 educators
  • What: 3-credit courses in our ed tech program, each condensed into 8 weeks
  • When: No expectation of synchronous meetings, though I would offer at least one “welcome webinar” and would have open office hours as well as optional appointments.
  • Where: Across various platforms, mostly Blackboard (for announcements and grades) and Google Docs/Sites (to share content and invite collaboration). Also, we used Voxer for an on-going, informal backchannel conversation.
  • Why: Because these educators are preparing to infuse ed tech into their own classrooms, I wanted to provide them with a very UDL-like experience that integrated the ISTE standards in thoughtful ways.
  • How: Each week, students would explore a series of “pathway tasks” that they could then select from. In any given week, students would choose three shorter activities, or one short activity and one longer one, resulting in products that they could use in their own classrooms.
  • Comments from students: “I liked being able to explore and play with new learning materials each week. As a learner, I felt like actually practicing working with materials I could use in the classroom was a lot more beneficial than just reading and doing a reflection every week.”
  • “I appreciated how you structured the course shell. It was organized by weeks. Teachers in the past made the course shell more like a scavenger hunt, which is super irritating when you have to spend so much time and energy just trying to locate an assignment. Also, I really like using Voxer. It was nice being able to ask questions and receive immediate feedback.”
  • “I really enjoyed that I could chose each week which pathway I wanted to complete. I liked that the work could be tailored to what I needed.”

Model 2.2: Abbreviated Semester, Masters Ed Tech Class, Cohort-Based

  • Who: 15-25 masters students affiliated with community colleges as instructors or support staff
  • What: 3-credit course as an introduction to ed tech within a general education masters program
  • When: 1.5 hour meeting in Zoom, once per week for eight weeks; additional material to be explored in an asynchronous manner.
  • Where: F2F class shifted to online, across various platforms, mostly Blackboard (for announcements and grades) and Google Docs/Sites (to share content and invite collaboration); Slack for backchannel.
  • Why: With an audience of both community college instructors (from various disciplines) as well as staff (in admissions, financial aid, and other departments), the course needed to be flexible enough to focus on classroom integration of ed tech as well as how to use ed tech for delivering online training to other faculty and students.
  • How: Each week, students would listen to a podcast or webinar (not mine, from outside source) about the topic at hand, as well as read materials from the course text book. During the class sessions, we would engage in “quick fire” style challenges to explore the topics under discussion for the week by using different ed tech tools (Google Sites, Canva, H5P, etc).
  • Comments from students: “Troy provided time for engaging learning activities during class time. The learning activities were well connected to the learning objectives and assigned reading. It helped make the connections from theory to practice. Troy used the breakout method to help us connect in smaller groups and learn together. This was great for building community and encouraging collaboration… Troy’s weekly emails with reminders on readings and what to expect in the upcoming class was also really great for preparing for class.”
  • “The opportunity to learn, apply knowledge and have a hands-on experience was evident in this course. Troy introduced various concepts and tools, explicitly applied them throughout the semester and regularly encouraged students to use various techniques and relevant online tools, including screencast, etc.”

Model 3: Full Semester, Doctoral Ed Tech Class

  • Who: 12-15 doctoral students in an ed tech program, most of whom are educational professionals though some are from other industries
  • What: 3-credit course as an overview of ed tech tools and critical theories of ed tech
  • When: 1 hour Zoom meetings, every other week (8 meetings over 16 week semester); individual appointments to support student projects; meeting with collaborative groups for their projects, too.
  • Where: Across various platforms, mostly Blackboard (for announcements and grades) and Google Docs/Sites (to share content and invite collaboration); use of WhatsApp for on-going, informal “backchannel” dialogue with entire class.
  • Why: To help these doctoral students become more critical consumers of ed tech and to also help them prepare to lead professional learning for others, the course was designed to help them question their (mostly positive) assumptions about ed tech and how it could and should be used in school and training settings.
  • How: In addition to readings and on-going discussions, students went through three cycles of creating a brief review, a full review, and an instructional screencast; they also worked with partners to write a research paper and present a one-hour webinar on an ed tech tool.
  • Comments from students: “I feel that I became stronger at presenting a critical review over various tech tools due to the “workshop” style review process that Dr. Hicks brought us through.”
  • “We had group sessions every two weeks; group assignments via collaboration tools such as Kami, OneNote, NowComment, and others; ongoing discussions held via Whatsapp; additional reading materials for further discussions; and Dr. Hicks was at our disposal via email, individual appointments, and phone.”

Looking Toward 2021

Figuring out how many “hours” should go into a three-credit hour course seems to be a constant challenge for me (and all of higher education, according to the US DOE and this piece from IHE).

So, what I continue to ask what I should do as I look at the “What was the total number of hours you spent on activities related to this course?” stats that my students have filled out in their end-of-course surveys. Most of my students in the past year seem to hit the “sweet spot” (45-64 hours), with some leaning slightly more (65-84 hours). There are a few outliers, of course, on both the high and low end, yet I feel like the idea that most are “in the zone” seems appropriate, given the overall feedback that I get on course design, assignment complexity, and expectations for interaction.

Still, as I consider what I might do for the courses I will be teaching here in a few weeks (two doctoral, two masters), I am again rethinking what it is that I want to do with expectations for video class sessions (as compared to other “seat time” tasks such as discussion forums, partner or group projects, individual meetings with me as the instructor, or similar tasks). I need to puzzle through this a bit more, considering how often I feel students would be interested in/willing to participate in class sessions, as well as the types of activities I would plan for us to participate in during our limited times.

And, perhaps it should go without saying, but I will anyway. I do not record video lectures. I will, on occasion, create a video announcement in the form of a screencast, especially as a tour of the Blackboard shell at the beginning of the semester. Beyond that, any “content” that I deliver comes in the form of other content that has been found online, or in feedback to students (written, recorded, or through conferences). For the classes that do meet on Zoom, I record them and ask that students who were absent watch the main segments and write a brief reflection (this expectation is built into the syllabus).

As I keep telling my colleagues, when we say that “I don’t have time to do X” in my classes, what that really means is that “I don’t choose to use time to do X.” In fact, as educators, it is not a lack of time that should drive our motivations. Instead, I argue that time is, indeed, all that we have. How we choose to use that time is of the utmost importance.

So, as I begin revising my syllabi for the spring semester, I will be considering some new patterns for my courses and would be curious to hear from others: how many hours of video class sessions are you hosting, each week, for a typical three-credit course and what, in addition, are you asking your students to do as part of their on-going participation?

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Designing Breakout Rooms for Maximum Engagement

Despite (or perhaps because of) the pandemic summer, I was provided with numerous opportunities to facilitate online courses and professional development, as well as one chance to work with a digital writing summer camp for middle school students. There were many models for these sessions, from a one-day event where we hosted about 60 participants to a two-week institute in which we worked with nearly 30 educators for just over three hours each morning to a one-week institute with a facilitation team of over a dozen and nearly 150 participants.

For the most part — both because I am a bit of a control freak when it comes to managing webinars and (at least I would like to think) because my main goal for working with other educators is to smooth out the roadblocks and provide space for others to lead — I was in charge of making many, many breakout rooms via Zoom. And, for many participants, being whisked away to (and back from) a Zoom breakout room still feels a bit like techno-magic (mostly, I would assume, because they are usually in the “attendee” role in a meeting, not the “host” role). Throughout the summer I made rooms of 2 or 3 based on Zoom’s random assignment all the way to rooms of 20+ where participants “renamed” themselves with room numbers and chose the session they wanted.

And, with nearly every session, as I collaborated with numerous colleagues this summer, the question was repeated many times: “Troy, how did you do that?”

Preparing to Move to Breakout Rooms: Technical and Teaching Considerations

There are, as with most inquiries about teaching with technology, two answers to that question. The technical answer, once one has had some experience in the “host” role of the Zoom meeting, is relatively straight-forward, and their help desk article (with video) is actually quite instructive. There are also many, many videos on YouTube that show you the logistics of how to set up and control the rooms, from an educator’s perspective, including this one from Simpletivity that shows some of the additional features for hosts as they set up and move from room-to-room (from about 6:00 to the end). For the technical answers, I would encourage you to look to these resources from others who have answered the questions in a much clearer manner than I could do so again here.

These technical steps, however, are not what I think most teachers are asking about. Instead, they are likely asking about how we prepare for, move to, facilitate, and return from the rooms, setting up a brief instructional arc that relies on collaborative learning and protocols to guide group activity and discussion. Many other talented educators are puzzling through this same set of questions, including the Stanford Teaching Commons, Elizabeth Stone, Catlin Tucker, and Tricia Ebarvia. Also, early in the pandemic, I was directed to Mural’s “Definitive Guide To Facilitating Remote Workshops,” which has some good tips. From all these educators, I add to the common theme: before even considering small group work, especially in virtual settings, we need to have clear structures in place, both for the entire class session and for what happens in breakout rooms.

Sometimes these rooms are assigned randomly, especially for low-stakes tasks where I want participants to talk with someone they likely would not choose to work with otherwise. Sometimes these rooms are assigned, strategically, by me, without much input from them at all (and, perhaps, I might even tell them that the assignments were random!). Finally, there are times where I want participants to make a choice and let me know where they would prefer to go, offering them a voice in their learning.

Two quick tips for having participants choose rooms (or, suggest where they want to go). First, you can have a shared Google Doc for notetaking and, when it is time for them to choose rooms, insert a table for the number of rooms you plan to assign, and have participants write their name in the preferred cell of the table. Second, if you have enabled the capability in your host settings, participants can “rename” themselves to put a room number or name in front of their own name. In fact, I would make the case that having participants rename themselves with their preferred number makes the assigning of breakout rooms much easier for the host, and this is quickly becoming my preferred method.

With these logistics for moving them to rooms in mind, we now consider the tasks in which we would want them to engage.

Tasks for Successful Breakout Room Contributions

All of these options require successful teaching strategies to be in place, and two of my go-to resources for finding protocols for getting students to wrestle with ideas include the National School Reform Faculty’s Protocols and Harvard Project Zero’s Visible Thinking Routines. Being familiar with a number of these strategies — and being able to adapt them quickly in virtual settings — is helpful. They can be adapted in many ways, and groups can work in shared GDocs or GSlides, or Padlet walls, or through other collaborative tools, sometimes with some pre-session setup, yet often on-the-fly, depending on student needs.

There are a few considerations that I keep in mind as a prepare to engage learners in breakout sessions. First, please note that  my audience of learners typically includes college undergraduates, graduate students, and educators. So, these strategies would need to be adjusted for younger students, especially elementary and middle school students, who may need fewer, more direct instructions as well as shorter time frames in the breakout rooms.

With all that in mind, here are a few activities that I use as it relates to setting up breakout rooms for different kinds of groups and for different durations. I think that they are flexible, and useful for learners at various age levels with appropriate scaffolding. To keep it simple, I separate them into quadrants, though there certainly can be some flexibility and overlap.

Structuring Real Time Activities in Video Conference Sessions

Structuring Real Time Activities in Video Conference Sessions (August 2020)

Activities for Any Group, with a Shorter Duration (5-8 Minutes)

To get conversations started, you might try:

Activities for Established Groups, with a Shorter Duration (5-8 minutes)

For groups that have some rapport and community established, you can jump right in with:

Activities for New Groups, with a Shorter Duration (5-8 minutes)

For groups that you are trying to build community, you can have them watch a brief video or read a short text, and then engage in:

Activities for Established Groups, with a Longer Duration (10-15 Minutes)

For groups that have worked together and are moving into deeper conversation or inquiry, they can use protocols like:

Activities for New Groups, with a Longer Duration (10-15 Minutes)

And, to continue building community and to engage participants in activities that will help them move into more substantive conversations:

Of course, protocols by their very nature are all designed to be flexible, and could be used for a variety of purposes with both new and established groups, in durations short and long. Still, with the list above, my hope is that these resources are helpful for many educators, especially those working with high school and college students, in real time video chat sessions.

Closing Thoughts

Given the many reasons why it is challenging to simply get us all in the same virtual space at the same time, we need to make the precious minutes that we spend together in these sessions valuable. As Stone notes in her post for Inside Higher Ed,

[O]ur students have made it clear they want to learn, and they want connections with one another and with us as we continue to live through these uncertain and disruptive times. And I’ve found that in classes like mine, Zoom, far from fatiguing, can be both an energizer and a bridge.

Indeed, if we use our time in Zoom (or WebEx, or Google Meets, or Microsoft Teams, or BlueJeans, or BigBlueButton, or even in a face-to-face classroom), to engage students in meaningful dialogue and collaboration, we are in many ways just following the advice of all those who have been promoting active learning strategies for many years.

More than just providing a standard lecture in a convenient, online format, we have opportunities to be more dialogic, collaborative, and engaging this fall than, perhaps, we have ever had before.


Troy Hicks PortraitDr. Troy Hicks is a professor of English and education at Central Michigan University. He directs the Chippewa River Writing Project and, previously, the Master of Arts in Learning, Design & Technology program. A former middle school teacher, Dr. Hicks has earned CMU’s Excellence in Teaching Award, is an ISTE Certified Educator, and 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

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Appreciating Writing Assistance Technologies… Finally?

This post originally appeared on the National Writing Project’s “Ahead of the Code” blog on Medium on August 22, 2020.


Appreciating Writing Assistance Technologies… Finally?

You would think that, as English teachers, we would have been more appreciative.

Even from the founding of our major professional organization, the National Council of Teachers of English, we have been concerned with (or simply complaining about) the overwhelming amount of writing that we need to grade and provide feedback upon.

As Edwin M. Hopkins, an English professor and one of the founding members of NCTE asked on the first page in the first issue of English Journal way back in 1912, “Can Good Composition Teaching Be Done under Present Conditions?

His concise answer: “No.”

Screenshot of Edwin H. Hopkins’ article, “Can Good Composition Teaching Be Done Under Present Conditions” from 1912.
Screenshot of Hopkins’ article, “Can Good Composition Teaching Be Done Under Present Conditions?” with his response highlighted in yellow.

And, this just about sums it up.

Even then, we knew that the work for English teachers was immense. And, 100+ years later, it remains so. Reading and responding to dozens, if not hundreds, of student compositions on any given week remains a consistent challenge for educators at all levels, from kindergarten through college.

Fast forward from Hopkins’ blunt assessment of how well any one English teacher could actually keep up with the volume of writing he or she must manage, and we land in 1966. It is at this moment when Ellis B. Page proposed in the pages of The Phi Delta Kappan that “We will soon be grading essays by computer, and this development will have astonishing impact on the educational world” (emphasis in original).

There is more history to unpack here, which I hope to do in future blog posts, yet the mid-century pivot in which one former English teacher turned educational psychologist, Page, set the stage for a debate that would still be under discussion fifty years later is clear. English people started taking sides in the computer scoring game. And, to be fair, it seems as though this was mission-driven work for Page, as he concluded that “[a]s for the classroom teacher, the computer grading of essays might considerably humanize his [sic] job.”

Tracing My Own History with Automated Essay Scoring

Over the decades, as Wikipedia describes it, “automated essay scoring” has moved in many directions, with both proponents and critics. These are a few angles I hope to explore in my posts this year for the “Ahead of the Code” project. As a middle school language arts educator, I never had opportunity to use systems for automated feedback in the late 1990s and early 2000s. As a college composition teacher in the mid-2000s, I eschewed plagiarism detection services and scoffed at the grammar-checkers built into word processing programs. This carries me to my more recent history, and I want to touch on the two ways in which I have, recently, been critiquing and connecting with automated essay scoring, with hopes that this year’s project will continue to move my thinking in new directions.

With that, there are two stories to tell.

Story 1: It was in early 2013 that I was approached to be part of the committee that ultimately produced NCTE’s “Position Statement on Machine Scoring.” Released on April 20, 2013, and followed by a press release from NCTE itself and an article in Inside Higher Ed, the statement was more of an outright critique than a deep analysis of the research literature. Perhaps we could have done better work. And, to be honest, I am not quite clear on what the additional response to this statement was (as its Google Scholar page here in 2020 shows only four citations). Still, it planted NCTE’s flag in the battle on computer scoring (and, in addition to outright scoring, much of this stemmed from an NCTE constituent group’s major concern about plagiarism detection and retention of student writing).

Still, I know that I felt strongly at the time that our conclusion: “[f]or a fraction of the cost in time and money of building a new generation of machine assessments, we can invest in rigorous assessment and teaching processes that enrich, rather than interrupt, high-quality instruction.” And, in many ways, I still do. My experience with NWP’s Analytic Writing Continuum (and the professional learning that surrounds it), as well as the work that I do with dozens of writers each year (from middle schoolers in a virtual summer camp last July to my undergraduate, masters, and doctoral students I am teaching right now) suggests to me that talking with writers and engaging my colleagues in substantive dialogue about student writing still matters. Computers still cannot replace a thoughtful teacher.

Story 2: It was later in 2013, and I had recently met Heidi Perry through her work with Subtext (now part of Renaissance Learning). This was an annotation tool, and I was curious about it in the context of working on my research related to Connected Reading. She and I talked a bit here and there over the years. The conversation rekindled in 2016, when Heidi and her team had moved on from Subtext and were founding a new company, Writable. Soon after, I became their academic advisor and wrote a white paper about the power of peer feedback. While Heidi, the Writable team, and I have had robust conversations about if and how there should be automated feedback and other writing assistance technologies into their product, I ultimately do not make the decisions; I only advise. (For full disclosure: I do earn consulting fees from Writable, though I am not directly employed by the company, and Writable has been a sponsor of NWP-related events.)

One of my main contributions to the early development of Writable was the addition of “comment stems” for peer reviewers. While not automated feedback?—?in fact, somewhat the opposite of it?—?the goal for asking students to provide peer review responses with the scaffolded support of sentence stems was so they would, indeed, engage more intently with their classmates’ writing… with a little help. In the early stages of Writable, we actually focused quite intently on self-, peer-, and teacher-review.

To do so, I worked with them to build out comment stems, which still play a major role in the product. As shown in the screenshot below, when a student clicks on a “star rating” to offer his or her peer a rubric score, an additional link appears, offering the responder the opportunity to “Add Comment.” Once they there, as the Writable help desk article notes, “Students should click on a comment stem (or “No thanks, I’ll write my own”) and complete the comment.” This is where the instructional magic happens.

Instead of simply offering the star rating (the online equivalent of a face-to-face “good job,” or “I like it”), the responder needs to elaborate on his or her thoughts about the piece of writing. For instance, in the screenshot below, we see stems that prompt the responder to be more specific, with suggestions for adding comments about, in this case, the writer’s conclusion such as “You could reflect the content event more clearly if you say something about…” as well as “Your conclusion was insightful because you…” These stems prompt the kind of peer feedback as ethical practice, that I have described with my colleagues Derek Miller and Susan Golab.

A screenshot of the “comment stem” interface in Writable. (Image from Writable)
Screenshot of the “comment stems” that appear in Writable’s peer response interface (Image courtesy of Writable)

And, though in the past few years the Writable team has (for market-based reasons) moved in the direction of adding Revision Aid (and other writing assistance technologies), I can’t argue with them. It does make good business sense and?—?as they have convinced me more and more?—?writing assistance technologies can help teachers and students. My thoughts on all of this continue to evolve, as my recent podcast interview with the founder of Ecree, Jamey Heit, demonstrates. In short, looking at how I have changed since 2013, I am beginning to think that there is room for these technologies in writing instruction.

Back to the Future of Automated Essay Scoring

So, as I try to capture my thoughts related to writing assistance technologies, here at the beginning of the 2020–21 academic year, I use the oft-cited relationship status from our (least?) favorite social media company: “It’s complicated.”

Do I agree with Hopkins, who believes that teaching English and responding to writing is still unsustainable. Yes, and…

Do I agree with Page, who suggests that automated scoring can be humanizing (for the teacher, and perhaps the student)? Yes, and…

Do I still feel that writing assistance technologies can interrupt instruction and cause a rift in the teacher/student relationship? Yes, and…

Do I think that integrating peer response stems and automated revision aid into Writable are both valuable? Yes, and…

Do I think that all of this is problematic? Yes, and…

I am still learning. And, yes, you would think that, as English teachers, we would have been more appreciative of having tools that would alleviate the workload. So, why the resistance? I want to understand more about why, both by exploring the history of writing assistance technologies as well as what it looks like, what it feels like, for teachers and students.

As part of the work this year, I will be using Writable with my Chippewa River Writing Project colleagues and, later this semester, my own students at Central Michigan University. In that process, I hope to have more substantive answers to these questions, and to push myself to better articulate when, why, and how I will employ writing assistance technologies?—?and when I will not. Like any writer making an authorial decision, I want to make the best choice possible, given my audience, purpose, and context.

And, in the process, perhaps, I will give up on some of the previous concerns about writing assistance technologies. In doing so, I will learn to be just a little bit more appreciative as I keep moving forward, hoping to remain ahead of the code.


Troy Hicks PortraitDr. Troy Hicks is a professor of English and education at Central Michigan University. He directs the Chippewa River Writing Project and, previously, the Master of Arts in Learning, Design & Technology program. A former middle school teacher, Dr. Hicks has earned CMU’s Excellence in Teaching Award, is an ISTE Certified Educator, and 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

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Pandemic Pedagogy: Some Questions About Being “Successful” and Getting it “Right”

Introduction

With the midpoint of the summer and the July 4th Holiday weekend in the rear view, and states (like our own home of Michigan) now releasing plans for a “safe return to school” in August, we feel it is worth taking time to pause.  

As parents and teacher educators, as well as long-time colleagues and friends, the two of us have had many conversations in the past month as educators in the state of Michigan and around the world have moved to “remote learning” in K-12 and higher education.

In thinking about ways we can productively talk about complicated issues, we have been informed by our experiences in the National Writing Project, and the use of protocols, or guided discussion models, for moving forward through difficult conversations. 

In a recent chat, we used the “What? So What? Now What?” protocol to share our thoughts and feelings related to “pandemic pedagogy,” “getting remote learning ‘right,’” and other phrases that capture the COVID-19 zeitgeist. 

This blog post summarizes our current thinking and, we hope, will serve as a time capsule for questions we need to ask in the weeks, months, and years ahead. 

What? 

Humans, by nature, want to help others. Our willingness to do so is, most often, well-intentioned. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 and both higher education and K-12 schools moving to “remote” instruction, there have been a number of companies that have offered their products for free (or at reduced cost) so that teachers and students can use them.  Moreover, professional organizations have shared K-12 resources through blogs, podcasts, webinars, lesson plans, and countless social media posts. We believe teachers and their students are doing the best they can, given the circumstances. We also trust that parents and guardians are doing the best they can. Humans are navigating uncertain futures and as we do so, we must help ourselves and our children navigate what is, indeed, a brave new world.

That said, in the past few months — and even more so in as we reflect on “remote learning” successes and failures from the end of the 2019-20 academic year — there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of such resources that have been distributed to support a “continuity of learning.” Again, all well-intentioned, and many useful. 

However, when we see headlines like “getting remote learning right” or “successful strategies for online teaching,” we wonder what “right” or “successful” (or, for that matter, “teaching”) even means. While we do have empirical evidence about “what works” for nearly all students in typical school settings (e.g., IES What Works Clearinghouse), which are still in and of themselves contextual, we don’t yet know what works for all teachers and students when teaching and learning remotely. We also don’t yet know the full impact of social distancing on teachers’ and students’ learning and emotional well-being.

We are left with many questions, few answers, and a great deal of uncertainty. 

So What?

Despite the terrible, tragic circumstances in which we find ourselves, one of the silver linings, perhaps even a gift, of this pandemic for educators —  if we dare call it a gift — is the opportunity to re-think what has been considered the standard parts of teaching and learning for decades, if not centuries. As educational professionals, if we want to take advantage of what we’re learning and experiencing in this COVID-19 era, we must be willing to ask (and, eventually, answer) some important questions.  So, as we consider the days, months, and years ahead, we believe that it will be imperative to create time and space for conversations about what we’ve experienced and learned. 

In other words, as the world is experiencing a pandemic,  what is “right” or “successful” for one remote school or class may not actually be “right” or “successful” for another. And, we believe that part of getting it “right” — or achieving “success” —  extends well beyond the immediate needs and outcomes of the upcoming 2020-21 academic year. 

Indeed, the ways we prepare ourselves for 2020-21 matters in many, many ways. Thus,  framing questions for the conversations we have now — both about what we’re experiencing and learning as well as  how we can use what we learn to help us move forward in the future — is critical. 

Now What?

As noted above, there are already countless resources available for remote teaching and learning. 

We are not dispensing more advice or resources in this post. There are so many of us — individual teachers, entire school faculties, district administrators, teacher educators, policy makers, the business community, and, of course parents and caregivers of our youth — all of whom have questions. And, we’re all trying to figure things out. 

Instead, we want to pivot and pose some questions that, right now, can’t be fully answered here as we are still trying to plan for August. Whatever happens in a few weeks, when schools “re-open” for the fall, we know that it will still be an era of pandemic pedagogy. 

In fact, we consider this a “time capsule” of sorts, and these questions, we hope, can guide our own thinking as well as our PK-12 and higher education colleagues as we transition into a post-COVID, socially un-distanced world. Whether we are face-to-face, online, or both — and whether we are talking about one day of instruction, one week, one month, or a whole year — we wonder…

For educators:

  • What is essential for your students to learn, in terms of content and skills? 
  • What is essential for your students to do as they learn to communicate with one another? 
  • What were the “rhythms” of the school week for each of you? What was the workflow? When did you meet with students? How did you support students’ emotional and academic needs?
  • What communication media (text, image, video, audio), methods (through an LMS, via text message, via email), audiences (one student, small group, whole class), and frequency (hourly, daily, weekly) are effective? 
  • What content needs to be “delivered,” asynchronously, and what, instead, might need to be “modeled” and “coached,” synchronously? 
  • What should be the [new] norms of online meetings with students? 
  • In this time of remote learning, what practices have you developed that could be carried forward, in hybrid or fully online courses?
  • What have you learned about yourself, your teaching style, and what you really value as an educator?
  • How might this entire experience frame your pedagogy and practice moving forward? 
  • How much synchronicity is necessary? For full classes? For small groups? For individual tutorials? 
  • What ways did you see students be creative as they developed their thinking and expressed what they learned? How might they have used “old” and “new” technologies to meet these goals? 

For administrators:

  • What worked best for communicating with your staff? For providing feedback and direction? For maintaining relationships and supporting one another?
  • What might have worked well in the past for organizing faculty meetings, curriculum, assessments, PLCs, etc.? How did these change and, perhaps, become more [or less] efficient? 
  • For online meetings with other adults/colleagues, what norms did you establish and how did these facilitate communication and teamwork? 
  • Based on your experiences supporting teachers during remote teaching and learning, what changes do you hope/expect to make when you return to brick and mortar buildings and classrooms?
  • How did you partner with and/or support students and their families?
  • What success(es) should be celebrated?

For business and community members:

  • In our efforts to create a 21st-century workforce — and with the changes that have been made in your places of work over the past two months — what should educators know about what it means to prepare their students for the workforce in months and years ahead? Given potential past efforts connected to volunteerism and mentorship opportunities for employees to work with K-12 students, what might you need to reconsider when planning for future opportunities?
  • Even in light of the economic impact that all businesses are sure to face, what role do we all play in providing equitable access to broadband or mobile internet, as well as low-cost laptops or devices for family use, both for K-12 students as well as their caregivers who may be reskilling for a new job? 
  • What new partnerships could be developed with local K-12 schools to support students’ learning and connect their learning to the community? 

For higher education faculty, administrators, and teacher educators: 

  • How do we effectively prepare preservice teachers for all the realities of teaching and learning, including future remote teaching and learning?
  • How can teacher educators clearly model high-leverage teaching and learning practices for preservice teachers?
  • How can colleges/schools and departments of education more directly support our communities’ schools, including their teachers and students as well as parents and caregivers?
  • How can we better advocate for and partner with local K-12 districts and schools when integrating technology?
  • What new partnerships, programs, and models could be forged to partner universities and K-12 schools (e.g., traditional models of student teaching and field placements, dictating required observation/teaching hours, etc.)?

For parents, guardians, and caregivers: 

  • What are your children passionate about? How did you help them follow those passions in this time of staying home and staying safe?
  • On the flip side, what led our kids to distraction (and/or ourselves)? What did we do to help them learn and/or practice self-regulation and to follow their interests?
  • What kinds of topics, subject areas, and questions did they follow?
  • What did you notice about their use of various learning technologies and modalities such as video, audio, and text, as well as virtual interactions with others?
  • How did you and/or your child[ren] process the “loss” of the remainder of the school year?
  • What do your children need as they head back to a regular school building and schedule, whenever that might be? 
  • What do you, as a parent/guardian, need as you send your child[ren] back to a regular school building and schedule, whenever that might be? 
  • What was most helpful, in terms of the way(s) your school/district responded to the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • What was least helpful, in terms of the way(s) your school/district responded to the COVID-19 pandemic?

For legislators: 

  • What laws perpetuate inequality for public education and how can we change these to ensure all students have access, no matter the location of learning and/or the modes/methods?
  • What needs to change, at the state and/or national levels, so that K-12 administrators and educators can quickly and effectively respond to current needs and environments, including the need for remote teaching and learning?
  • What role does technology play in providing “equal access for all” K-12 students?
  • What do you need/want to learn from K-12 teachers as well as their students and families about their experiences with remote teaching/learning during this crisis? 
  • Beyond increasing teachers’ pay, how might we recognize the contributions that educators and schools/districts made to students’ learning, both intellectual and socio-emotional, during this difficult time?
  • What can we do to recruit new teachers to join/stay in the profession, and prepare them for new modes of instruction?
  • What can we do to keep current teachers in the profession and how can we prepare and support them for new modes of instruction?

(A Few) Essential Questions as We Move Forward

These are a lot of questions and necessitate conversations over time. As we conclude, we close with a few questions for us all:

  • What might a typical school day (week) look like in the years ahead? 
  • How might we build remote/online learning into our normal patterns of work?
  • How will we maximize synchronous learning times, whether face-to-face or remote? 
  • What content can be “delivered” asynchronously and what platforms/delivery works best for asynchronous delivery?
  • How will we engage all students in substantive learning, inviting them to create — and not just consume — content?

These are more questions, we know, than can be answered right now.  However, in addition to responding and reacting to immediate needs and contents, we must also deliberately think about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and its impact on students’ learning and development. 

We are, indeed, in the midst of a pandemic pedagogy and while we’re all hard at work, our success and ability to “get it right” depends not only on what we do right now but also what we do moving forward.

We hope you’ll consider joining the conversation that these questions invite.


Erica R. HamiltonDr. Erica R. Hamilton, Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, MI

Erica R. Hamilton works with pre-service and in-service teachers and serves as a K-12 teacher coach and professional development provider. Erica’s teaching focuses on helping teachers support and extend K-12 students’ literacy and learning. Committed to professional service, Erica currently serves on GVSU’s Online Education Council and GVSU’s IRB committee. She is a peer reviewer for various journals and organizations and is active in West Michigan schools. Her research interests focus on teacher learning and professional development, place-based education, literacy, and educational technology. Connect with her on Twitter @ericarhamilton.

Troy Hicks Portrait

Dr. Troy Hicks, Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, MI

Dr. Troy Hicks is Professor of English and Education at Central Michigan University (CMU). He directs the Chippewa River Writing Project and, previously, 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. Since beginning work at CMU in 2007, he has earned numerous distinctions including the Michigan Council of Teachers of English Charles Carpenter Fries Award (2008), CMU’s Provost’s Award for junior faculty who demonstrate outstanding achievement in research and creative activity (2011), the Richard A. Meade Award for scholarship in English Education (2014), the Michigan Reading Association’s Teacher Educator Award (2018), CMU’s Excellence in Teaching Award (2020), and the Initiative for 21st Century Literacies Research’s Divergent Award for Excellence (2020). 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


Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

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(Digitally) Writing New Histories: TPS Grant Project

Digitally Writing New Histories Project Flyer(Digitally) Writing New Histories

A TPS Grant for Michigan Social Studies Educators

With a shift towards disciplinary, digital, and critical literacies, we find that historical documents and artifacts — as well as images, social media posts, and videos created with contemporary technologies — all serve as primary sources. 

We invite Michigan social studies educators, grades 3-12, to join the year-long(Digitally) Writing New Histories: Building Educators’ Capacity to Teach Disciplinary, Digital, and Critical Literacies with The C3 Framework project. 

This professional learning experience will take place entirely online during evenings and weekends (times TBD), through Zoom video conferencing, throughout the entire 2020-21 academic year.  In addition to the countless number of digitized artifacts available through the Library of Congress website, we will invite teachers to examine artifacts through virtual visits to local museums and learn how to use digital writing tools such as Adobe Spark, Sutori, ThingLink, and Zbib. 

Virtual field trips throughout the year will include visits to:

  • Arab American National Museum
  • The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
  • Colonial Michilimackinac
  • Coppertown USA Mining Museum
  • Detroit Historical Museum
  • Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum
  • Grand Rapids Public Museum
  • Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
  • Hartwick Pines Logging Museum
  • Holocaust Memorial Center
  • And more…

Educators selected to participate in the (Digitally) Writing New Histories Project will have the opportunity to earn a $500 stipend after participating in approximately 50 hours of professional learning throughout the year. All content will be delivered online, through Zoom, and participation is expected in all meetings (synchronously or asynchronously).  We expect that participants will:

  • Join (or view a recording of) two 90-minute Zoom sessions per month (2020: Aug/Sept, Oct, Nov/Dec; 2021: Jan, Feb, Mar/Apr, May) for a total of approximately 25 hours
  • Join in individual/small group coaching sessions with facilitators (approximately 5 hours)
  • Engage in additional, required asynchronous learning opportunities (approximately 10 hours)
  • Develop an instructional unit aligned with the C3 Framework (approximately 10 hours)

In this application, you will share basic contact and demographic information, and submit an essay (apx 450-600 words) that will respond to the following:

  1. A description of your work as a social studies educator, including information about your teaching background and current role(s). Additionally, describe your teaching context, including information about the student body and school culture as it relates to diversity and equity. 
  2. A description of your work with The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework, technology integration, and other professional learning that will contribute to your growth as a leader in your school context and other educational organizations. 
  3. A description of how you would benefit from this program, including ways in which you would work with other colleagues in the program to develop an Inquiry Design Model-based unit of study and a webinar to be delivered to other Michigan Council of Social Studies members. 

The application deadline is Friday, July 31, 2020 at 5:00 PM EST.  Please apply using this Google Form. 

We expect to notify teachers who have been selected for the institute by the week of August 17th. Our initial Zoom call for the institute work will be during the week of August 24th (date/time TBD).

Questions? Please contact Rebecca Bush at <rbush@mcssmi.org>. 

Collegially,

  • Rebecca Bush, Michigan Council for the Social Studies
  • Jessica Ellison, Minnesota Historical Society
  • Troy Hicks, Central Michigan University

Pledge to Support #EducatorEquity

So much has been said in the past few weeks since the death of George Floyd that any additional words would be wasted. So, let me get to the point.

As we see protests in America and around the world, I feel the need to act.

To that end, I am personally committing to three items.

I am, as suggested by Cait Hutsell, going to begin doing this work in public. And, I am taking a stance similar to those offered by many professional organizations to which I belong including the National Council of Teachers of English, the Michigan Council of Teachers of English, the National Writing Project, the International Society for Technology in Education, and the International Literacy Association. I also just joined (for free) and made a donation to Teaching Tolerance through the Southern Poverty Law Center.

First, as a white educator who has enjoyed privileges brought from institutional racism, I will join this call to action from my colleagues Shawna Coppola and Kate Roberts to support #EducatorEquity. This echos a similar call from Shelbie Witte, and is imperative as we consider the voices of educators of color.

In all future PD contracts for events that include multiple speakers, such as literacy conferences or webinar series, I will ask the organizers to ensure that they have contracted with at least one other educator of color, and will recommend colleagues from this list, “#POCPD: People of Color in Education PD Directory,” curated by my Educator Collaborative colleague, Julia Torres.

Second, in addition to taking up this pledge, I will begin sessions — even virtual ones — with an indigenous land acknowledgement like this one from my employer, Central Michigan University, and read the introduction from this NCTE blog post, “Being an Anti-Racist Educator Is a Verb.” These two actions will take only moments, yet will continually reaffirm my commitment to social justice education and a stance of anti-racism.

Third, I have signed on to our CMU Faculty Association’s call to commit to anti-racism, led by my English Department colleagues Carlin Borsheim-Black and April Burke. Both of these educators were schedule to deliver talks at a Chippewa River Writing Project (CRWP) event this spring, which was cancelled due to COVID closures, and I will work to get them reconnected with our site’s work as soon as possible.

That’s all.

For now.

We all have work to do, and I need to get started. This morning is our first CRWP event now that I have taken this pledge, and I need to prepare my opening words before we begin writing into the day.


Photo by Joan Villalon on Unsplash

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Book Review: Learning First Technology Second in Practice by Liz Kolb

Learning First, Technology Second in Practice Book Cover (Courtesy of ISTE)
Learning First, Technology Second in Practice Book Cover (Courtesy of ISTE)

In my work with undergraduate pre-service teachers, graduate students in master’s and doctoral educational technology programs, and with teachers through webinars and workshops, a consistent question resonates — “I know I am supposed to use technology in my teaching, but I don’t exactly know how. What can I do?”

And, for well over a decade, Liz Kolb has been trying to answer that question, first with her books about cell phones and in the encouragement to use these devices as learning tools, and then with her innovative Triple E Framework, outlined thoroughly on her openly available website as well as in her 2017 book, Learning First, Technology Second: The Educator’s Guide to Designing Authentic Lessons. For my students, the Triple E framework has become part of numerous class assignments as well as final project evaluations, stretching from undergraduate methods courses to my doctoral seminars. And, they have all found the Triple E to be insightful and practical, helping them think through their choices for when, why, and how to use technology. 

Thus, Kolb’s approach is quite accessible to teachers. Throughout her work, she consistently foregrounds the need for purposeful lesson design, opportunities for student collaboration, and the use of educational technologies for creating content, not just consuming it. This message resonates with educators who are themselves learning how to use technology in a more effective manner, even the most reluctant who fear that students’ learning can quickly be subsumed by glitzy apps, programs, and websites. Her message remains clear: technology should be used to engage, enhance, and extend student learning, and never for its own sake.

She continues this line of work with her most recent publication, Learning First, Technology Second in Practice: New Strategies, Research and Tools for Student Success. In the Introduction, she contends that “this book should open up conversations with teachers, coaches, and administrators around the choices educators are making with technology tools in their classroom teaching,” and I would concur. Indeed, the book will be a conversation-starter among colleagues, coaches, curriculum directors, and others. Set to be released this July, I was afforded the opportunity to preview the book* and offer some reflections on how Kolb’s work with the Triple E Framework – as well as with dozens of educators – has continued to grow in the past few years. 

In the introduction, she describes the ways in which her thinking has moved in the past few years, providing the reader with insights and updates on the Triple E Framework and its many uses. Then, in Chapter 1, following a pattern that I have observed her using in presentations and webinars for educators, the reader is presented with a number of “myths and realities” related to educational technology (e.g., the myth outlined on page 18 that “Computer use in any form will always enhance underserved or at-risk students’ learning experiences,” followed by a detailed explanation of how these myths are not necessarily true. This model appeals to educators, and helps give them talking points of their own for conversations with students, colleagues, and administrators. 

Then, as the reader moves into Chapters 2, 3, and 4, Kolb reiterates many of the key points about the three pillars of the Triple E Framework: engagement, enhancement, and extension. These chapters are centered, as always, on effective learning models (e.g., social, collaborative interactions and bridging school learning to everyday life). My only minor criticism about the book is that — for anyone already familiar with her previous work — Kolb does seem to spend a great deal of time reiterating key elements from each of the three pillars of engagement, enhancement, and extension. Specifically, chapters 2, 3, and 4 of the new book feel very similar to chapters 3, 4, and 5 of her previous one. She even uses a similar model of describing numerous teaching scenarios and analyzing them with the framework, and much of this is also (to her credit) available on her website. 

Still, this book does take the approach that she used in the first a step further by adding a deeper, more thorough analysis (and ratings) of lesson ideas using the Triple E Framework, then describing very specific ways in which an educator could revise a lesson by changing the instructional strategies, the technology, or both. To that end, while some of these three chapters felt a little repetitive, she did work to bring a new angle of analysis using the framework, and I appreciate these new ways for thinking about how to help other educators use the framework themselves. 

The most important contributions from this new book come throughout the second half of it, which includes Chapter 5’s focus on exemplary lessons from K-12 educators, Chapter 6 which articulates fifteen steps to Triple E integration that can be used by tech coaches and instructional designers, and Chapter 7, a model for implementing the Triple E through district-wide PD. In these chapters, there are many gems, including many examples of teachers’ and students’ work and “the fifteen steps,” which I find to be most useful for my own work. 

For instance, she describes ways in which we can crosswalk another popular ed tech framework, TPACK, with the Triple E, and she offers a specific protocol for analyzing an existing lesson using the Triple E Framework. In that practical PD session, she suggests that teachers or coaches use an adaptation of the lesson study model, scoring a lesson with the Triple E framework and offering specific suggestions for improvement. She encourages the reader (who would become the facilitator) to 

[A]sk coaches what advice they would give to the teacher of this lesson for improvement (if it needs it). The advice should either be a tool change or pedagogical changes around the tool. Sometimes a lesson may need both! (191). 

As I consider my own needs — as a teacher educator and professional development consultant — this protocol for discussion with the Triple E (as well as her good-natured advice), is all helpful, reminding me of the power of protocols to help educators move through discussions in purposeful ways. 

And, as one final bonus, Dr. Kolb invites readers to her new Triple E PLN, available as yet another free resource for educators who want to examine — and share — lessons that meet the criteria of the Triple E Framework. Here, “[e]ducators are invited to register, evaluate their own lessons, share their lessons, and discuss ways to improve the lessons based on the Triple E Framework.” Again, Dr. Kolb’s educational ethos leans towards openly-available, immediately useful resources, and she models this through the websites and communities that she creates. 

In sum, and especially with the chapters for coaches and district-wide professional learning models, with Learning First, Technology Second in Practice, Kolb has provided us with another book that can genuinely guide educators as they are “making instructional choices with technology based on the learning goal and the science of good learning practices” (xiv). With many new examples and specific suggestions, Kolb continues to serve the educational community as a leader who models the kinds of teaching and learning with technology she wants to see in classrooms, from kindergarten through college, and in face-to-face, hybrid, and online contexts. It is a worth read, and will help any educator deepen their thinking about teaching and learning with technology.  

*Note: I was invited by ISTE to review this book, and provided a free PDF version of it. Additionally, over the past 10 years, I have worked with Dr. Kolb on a number of short-term projects, invited her to be a reviewer of our master’s degree program and a guest speaker, and have required students to purchase her books for some of my courses. 


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