If the Read/Write Web is About Community…

then this group of students exemplifies what community can be.

Brian Crosby and his students have begun video conferencing with a homebound student using a laptop with a web cam and Skype. Just today, I was talking with a group of academic advisers about how they could connect with their students via Skype, and this example goes to show that these technologies — ones that just a few years ago were cost-prohibitive or extremely difficult to use — are fundamentally changing the ways that we read, write, and interact with one another.

Congrats to Mr. Crosby, his students, and his administration for allowing them the opportunity to use Skype in this way. I look forward to hearing about how they use other read/write tools to stay in touch with Celeste.

The Read/Write Web for Academic Advising

Of the four presentations that I have to do today, tomorrow, and Friday, there is one that I am really developing from the ground up and need to think through quite a bit. In thinking about how Mobile Social Software and other read/write web tools are impacting youth, this question will become increasingly important as time goes on.

So, I will be meeting on Friday with some academic advisers to help them think through how newer technologies can help them do their work. I have been asked to think about how messenging, blogging, podcasting, and social networking could contribute to better relationships between advisers and students. I think that I will start with Educause’s 7 Things article about Facebook, and then move in to a broader discussion about how and why we, as adults, use technology to communicate. Then, we can start thinking about what students might want/expect of us.

In preparation for this meeting, the advisers generated a “top ten” list of questions that students typically ask them in order to help frame the discussion during our meeting:

  1. What do I still need to graduate? When can I graduate?
  2. Are my University requirements done?
  3. What’s a cognate and what should I do for a cognate?
  4. What Study Abroad programs can I go on? How will the credits work in my degree?
  5. What kind of careers/jobs can I get with this major?
  6. How can I find and sign up for an internship?
  7. How long will it take me to graduate if I change my major to ___________?
  8. I want to take classes near home this summer. How can I do that?
  9. A class I want/need is full. How can I get an override?
  10. Do I have to do the foreign language? How can I get it waived?

So, I am trying to think about how all the technologies listed above — and others that aren’t like RSS, Google Calendar, and wikis — could help contribute to helping these students. I am also wondering if these are very Web 1.0 questions. That is, most of these seem like they could be posted as a FAQ on a static web page or, if they wanted to add some interactivity, on a wiki. Thus, I am interested in the deeper questions that these questions are getting at and I am curious to think about how some read/write web tools might help develop better relationships between advisers and students.

As I end this rambling post, here are some things that I am thinking about:

  • Getting everyone signed up for Facebook and learning the basic functions of it
  • Getting everyone signed up for Bloglines or Google Reader
  • Creating a Google Calendar that they can subscribe to
  • Using Skype to carry on a conversation with voice and/or chat

What else makes sense here? What other things might an adviser, or a teacher, need to be fluent with in order to stay connected with their students, answer questions in a timely manner, and develop stronger relationships? Thanks in advance for your ideas.

Of Photography and Five Paragraph Essays

For the past two Mondays, I have been attending a photography class. This was a Christmas present from my wife, and a much-needed break from the regular weekly routine in this cold, cold mid-winter stretch. The award-winning photographer teaching the class, Ron St. Germain, shares a number of tips and tricks while also teaching us the basics about how to operate these fancy (or what we thought were fancy until we realize all the things they can’t do) digital cameras that we’ve owned and never really known how to use.

In the first two sessions, he has basically told us to stop doing everything that we are doing with our cameras. Or, should I say, what they are doing for us. Point and shoot with auto focus? Turn it off and use your shutter and aperture settings. Automatic flash? Turn it off, too, and use a detachable, multi-directional flash. Saving in JPEG? Stop it, and switch over to TIFF or RAW formats because the JPEG may be space-saving, but is also taking out details in your pictures that you may want later. In short, take control of your camera so you can take better pictures. Otherwise, you will continue to get the same type of pictures that you have taken for years on auto pilot and that have never turned out.
As I was processing all these tips on the drive home tonight, I began to recall a conversation that I had with a group of high school teachers during a professional development session a few weeks ago. The topic of the session was “writing with purpose,” and we discussed a variety of reasons and genres for writing. Towards the end of the session we began a discussion about the five-paragraph essay (5PE). While I thought that showing them a video from the Annenberg Foundation and discussing reading a Jim Burke book would open up a conversation about essay writing that would critique the 5PE, what I found was exactly the opposite. Teachers in the session offered all the usual thoughts on why and how the 5PE works for them:

  • The kids don’t understand what an essay is at all and this gives them a model
  • You have to know the rules of essay writing before you can break them
  • When kids are in a testing situation, they need a model that they can rely upon

While I would like to believe that all of these are palpable reasons for teaching the 5PE, I simply can not buy it. As an amateur photographer, my instructor is basically telling me to throw out all the automatic settings on my camera and learn how to shoot manually. As a teacher of writing, I think that I should invite my students to throw out the automatic settings, too.

Instead of talking about a particular form, the 5PE, — just like relying on the settings that come installed on my camera — we need to talk clearly and carefully about audience, purpose, and situation of a writing task. Just as I no longer point my camera at a subject and let it do all the work, I don’t think that a writer should put a mold into place and then try to fill it.

This will only become more important as students compose multimedia texts. Beyond the many connections to composing that I could make with this digital camera example, I want to keep thinking here about the ways in which I should control the camera (or the form of the essay), and not how it should automatically do things for me.

Perhaps I am extending the comparison between my camera and the form of the 5PE essay a little far. Yet, I do believe that writing teachers need to consider the ways in which they frame the writing tasks in their classrooms. I want to make sure, especially with digital writing — which is by its very nature non-linear and multimodal — that we do not offer templates or pre-set notions of what a digital story, blog, wiki, or other composition should be (having X many links or images, for instance). Like the automatic settings on my camera limit me as a photographer, these preconceived notions of what a composition can be limit what a writer can attempt in his or her essay.

Thoughts on “All Things Google: Thinking Across Software Modules”

Today, Andrea and I are presenting at the annual MSU Tech Conference, and we are both sitting here in the kiva, Macs at the ready, to listen to the following panel discussion:

All Things Google: Thinking Across Software Modules

Google recently released a number of powerful, free tools that are very useful for classroom teachers. This presentation will showcase some of these tools, in particular: Calendar, Blogger, Reader, and Personalized Home Page. Panelists will provide brief overviews of each tool separately and its implication for educational practice. In addition, we will look across all four tools and envision how they might be used collaboratively for teaching purposes. There will be a follow up workshop on this topic presented during the afternoon session.

CTT > Center for Teaching & Technology

So, here are some notes and thoughts on the session…

Intro: Two Learning Tasks

  1. A new framework for evaluating technology
  2. Four particular tools that are important for your work

Key Principles for Evaluating New Technology

  • Free — we are looking for technologies that are freely available to anyone
    • Having a hard time getting technologies that cost money
    • Parents and students can use these technologies outside of school
    • State funding is dropping for K-12 education
    • Paying for a site license is expensive, whereas web-based tools are usually free
    • This will be important as students apply technologies in their lives outside of schools
    • Given the number of computers that are available in home and school, free web-based tools are critical
  • Future — what are the prospects that the tools that we are looking at will be around for the long haul
    • Technologies change rapidly, so knowing whether a tool will be around is important
    • Does the company or tool have a history that suggests it will be around?
    • For instance, Google has a high future potential in terms of stock, for sure, but the fact is that almost everyone is using it in some way, shape, or form
    • If you can find tools from good companies that are free, then they are likely to be around for a long time
    • Also, what support is available? For instance, Google has help centers for each of its tools.
  • Friendliness — how does the tool work on its own and how does it partner with other technologies
    • Traditionally, when we pick a tool it does one thing well. Now, we need to have technologies that synthesize and expand its purpose and functionality
    • Technology report card:
      • Works to capacity
      • Works well with others — does it add value as a tool in your life?
    • Does it work across populations that we serve: teachers, students, and parents?
      • The more it works across these populations, the better the tool

Four Google Tools for Educators

  • Calendar
    • What happens when your calendar can talk to other calendars and the people that you serve?
    • OK… I got off on a tangent trying to install “Spanning Sync” for awhile…
  • Blogger
    • What are blogs and why do they matter?
      • 50 million blogs worldwide
      • That number is doubling every 200 days (6.5 months)
      • Over 100 times bigger than just 3 years ago
      • Approximately 1.6 million posts per day
      • 11 of top 90 news sites are blogs
      • Tool for education that enables reflection, activism, and social transformation
    • Blogs allow for easy linking to other websites, blogs, pictures, and other content
    • They differ from basic websites because they allow comments
    • Tagging and allowing readers to go back through and look at themes that develop over time
    • Profiles allow students to fill out information, safely, to share info about themselves
      • We can create a class profile and highlight personal interests with tags
    • Blogrolls allow you to create links to other blogs that you are reading
    • Can use blogs for multiple purposes
      • Personal reflections
      • Taking notes
      • Class blog
      • Students posting their own work
    • Blogs can engage students in particularly powerful ways
      • A student who is writing about a tree in his backyard and how that can expand into other areas of science and inquiry
      • They can become engaged in the aesthetics of the work
      • They can become creatively invested in the work
      • They are engaged in a shared experience that contributes to the classroom community
    • RSS Feeds (Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary)
      • You can choose what continuous information to receive in your RSS feeder, for instance, from your students
    • But, can my students do that?
      • Yes, the interface of Blogger is very clean and highly usable
      • It is highly customizable
      • Blogger also allows you to make things as public or private as you want
  • Reader
    • Google Reader works as a friend to some of the technologies that we have discussed already
    • If you go to a web page that doesn’t have an RSS feed, what do you do to find out if there is new information?
      • You can look for a “last updated” note, but you don’t always know what is exactly updated
    • One of the things that an aggregator allows us to do is to pool information from multiple feeds
      • It pulls in content that you haven’t read so that you do not have to go back to each individual page to figure out what you have, or haven’t, read
    • What does Google Reader look like?
      • It shows you all of your feeds, what you have read, what you haven’t
    • All of this is based on RSS
    • You can connect to students’ and teachers’ blogs, link to news sites, calendars, and anything else that is RSS subscribable (sp?)
    • Students might have a number of things that they can bring into their Google Reader, some related to official academic or news sites, other blogs (including the teachers’), items of personal interest, and friends
  • Personal Homepage
    • Ran out of time to talk about this

As I think about this session and the few times that Joe and Cherice asked the audience, “Have you heard of __?” or “Are you using ___?” — and see how many people were, and were not, using certain tools, I realize that the amount of knowledge that teachers need to have to be able to stay connected. It is a different mindset, and I think that for all the technology professional development sessions that I have done and how starting with a conversation about that mindset (and how it changes literacy) makes the most sense for educators who might ask, “Why should I do this?”

That is the question that I hope Andrea and I can speak to in the sessions that we have coming up next.

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Engaging Writers with Interactive Genre Samples and Peer Review

The folks at UofT are at it again, and this project looks to be quite useful for writing teachers who are beginning to think about how technology can be useful for more than just web searching:

iWRITE is web-enabled courseware developed at the University of Toronto by Margaret Procter and colleagues to support the use of written assignments in courses across the disciplines. Each iWRITE site is course-specific so that it reflects the expectations in your discipline and your emphasis in teaching and grading. Thus its advice is relevant and credible.

By showing samples of past student papers along with detailed instructor annotations, iWRITE sites demonstrate the qualities of structure, coherence and style expected in written work for specific courses. The course grading criteria are included for viewing at any time. An interactive module (the Prompter) can be created to take students through the process of planning and drafting their next papers. A Peer Review function is also available for online exchange of papers.

iWRITE Web-Enabled Software

This kind of reminds me of the Model Bank examples, although the depth and breadth of classes and genres represented here seems much richer (mainly because this is college writing, not middle school). Moreover, I find the explicit focus on looking at other writing as models a great focus for this site, especially since so much concern about writing on the Internet is about copying and plagiarism. For the iWrite site, the focus seems to be on examining author’s craft in order to make one’s own writing better.

In other words, the teachers here want students to be looking at other writing, analyzing it, and learning to write better because of it. The interface allows them to do this in an interactive way, thus taking advantage of the technology to move beyond simply sharing a piece of writing but actually being able to engage with it.

I already emailed them for my temporary login and password.

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(Re)Imagining the Writing Workshop

Today, I invite you to think about what the writing workshop model offers for teachers and students and how it relates to Michigan’s ELA High School Content Standards.

Differentiating Writing Process from Writing Workshop

  • Quick write: What is Ray’s argument that she is trying to make for teaching writing? Do you agree or disagree with it?
  • Pair and share: Discuss your response in relation to your own experience as a K-12 student. What is your experience as a writer in school?

Examining the Writing Workshop in Action

As you view the video, please take note on how you see Ray’s “essential characteristics” of the writing workshop and what the teacher and students are doing:

  • Time for writing
  • Teaching
  • Talking
  • Periods of focused study
  • Publication rituals
  • High expectations and safety
  • Structured management

As you see the writing workshop enacted, and realizing that this is just one lesson, to what extent do you see these essential characteristics coming in to play? What did the teacher do? The students?

Examining Michigan’s High School ELA Content Expecations

Get a paper strip with a single content expectation. On the back of this strip, please write a one-sentence description of what you think this would look like in a classroom. What would the teacher be doing? What would students be doing?

Understanding the expectations: As you walk around the room and network with your colleagues, discuss your expectations in light of Ray’s “essential characteristics.”

To what extent do Ray’s characteristics and the content expectations:

  • Overlap and support each other?
  • Oppose or contradict each other?
  • Seem completely unrelated? Why?

Combining Theory and Practice

Get a full version of HS ELA Writing Expectations.

  • Where do you see evidence of a “writing process” approach in the content expecations?
  • Where do you see evidence of a “writing workshop” approach?
  • What specific skills do the content expectations demand that may or may not align with Ray’s vision of teaching in the writing workshop?
  • How do the different genres and media (especially media related to technology) map on to Ray’s understanding of the composing process?

Exit Slip

Begin to draft a response to Ray that takes the new HS expectations into account. You may respond by answering any of the questions that we have explored today or one that you now have in your mind. Please post the final draft of this response to your blog.