Pondering the Curricular Value of Digital Writing

A few weeks ago in Chico, I was fortunate enough to meet John Bishop from the other RCWP, Red Clay Writing Project located near Atlanta, and we had a splashing good time there!

Since then, I have been following his blog and I am particularly interested in the recent post that he created about exploring digital storytelling for youth. He asks some key questions there, one being:

3. How can we help foster skills/practices that are “marketable” for youth? In other words, how can we acknowledge various economic/power structures youth face as they navigate through (and exit) different stages of their educational lives? How does/should our work interact with public school curriculums?

I find this particular question relevant to me on three fronts this week as I spend time in meetings and workshops for our writing project’s work. Some of it is still up in the air, so I won’t go into detail here, but three additional questions emerge for me based on some things that are happening in Michigan.

First, Allen Webb has compiled a website that addresses the implementation of the new Michigan High School Content Standards. There is plenty more info there for you to get the entire story, but basically it boils down to the fact that many English teachers in MI are feeling pressure to develop common curriculum and assessments, one that are not — in John’s words — developing “marketable” skills or digital literacies. There is also a petition to sign, and I think that it is worth considering the broader curricular pressures that teachers are under in the scope of John’s questions. How, then, do we begin to engage in serious curricular conversations about teaching digital writing when more and more prescribed curricula seem to be coming down the pike that fail to address it at all?

Second, I am currently attending a workshop sponsored by the Eastern Michigan Writing Project on NWP’s Analytical Scoring Continuum, a scoring rubric redesigned from the six traits model. It has been an interesting workshop so far, and his given us lots to think about in our site’s work and what I will be doing with my pre-service teachers in the fall. That said, my colleague Marcia and I were talking in the car on the way home about the fact that this rubric — like all state assessment/six traits type rubrics — seems to be focused on print-based modes of composition and almost inherently neglects the demands of digital writing. For instance, the idea that writing is “clear and focused” can certainly apply to a blog post like this (I hope), but does it apply to someone creating hypertext fiction with a wiki? This is not a criticism of the model so much as it is me raising the concern, again, that schools are not even thinking about teaching digital writing, let alone beginning to understand the paradigm shift associated with teaching it. How do we help make that shift?

Third, we are beginning to plan for next year’s professional development and — besides needing to figure out exactly what we will offer related to tech-based writing PD — we really need to get some info about research in the field and effectiveness of web-based writing practices. I am going to do some searching on the Pew Internet and American Life site, the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Learning site, and UConn’s New Literacies Research Team site to see what I can come up with. So, my final question for tonight is this — if you have an empirical studies on digital writing in schools that you can point me to before Thursday morning, could you please post them as comments here?

Thanks for hanging in there with me on this post. I appreciate all the comments — both online and F2F — that you, as readers, give me about this blog. It is very encouraging as a teacher and writer.

And, just so you know, I am finally thinking about doing a more formal podcast starting soon as I am currently an intern in the Webcast Academy. Wish me luck!

Initial Podcast from Tech Matters 2007 – Building a Metaphor for Your Site

In this podcast, I capture some of the voices of TM07 as we prepare for our first dinner together and then move through the “Building a Metaphor for Your Site” activity. (Pardon some of the recording problems as I am getting used to my new Sansa Express MP3 Player/Digital Voice Recorder.)

First, I attempt to interview Karen McComas and Paul Allison, and try to find out what Tech Matters is and what it means to them. Then, Peter Kittle, our gracious host, reminds us that we are talking about “geek stuff with like-minded idiots,” at least the facilitation team. For Paul, he talks about community and connection. And Karen reminds us of the transformative powers of TM.

After dinner, we began the activity, led by Chris Sloan and Betty Collum. I first talk to Susan Martens-Baker and Cyndi Dwyer about their ear of corn, who discuss the “golden corny goodness” that is Nebraska, ready to pop out.

I then move over to John Bishop and Paige Cole, who did a very (very) interpretive piece of finger painting. They describe it better than I ever could.

Next, we moved into articulation groups, and I met with Amanda and Garth Cornwell from Lake Michigan as well as Cheryl Canada and Terri Godby from Mid-Ohio. We were asked to come up with our gist (that, gist, G-I-S-T) statement. Amanda discussed how LMWP is on the verge of some changes while Cheryl and Terri discuss how they feel their site is still invisible to local teachers, hidden behind a mask.

Finally, we took a few minutes to interview our teammates and ask questions about things that resonated with them in the larger discussions as well as what they want to explore during the week of TM. So, I was able to listen in with Lavon Jonson and Sonja Mack from Crossroads. They talked about the idea of a statewide tech network in Michigan and finding out more about the many tools that people were talking about.

This was a great introduction to the group and provided a fun start to a busy week. We are looking forward to begining bright and early tomorrow, some earlier than others.

Framing Tech Matters 2007

A little over a year ago, David Warlick blogged about a provocative idea — what would it take to tell a “new story” about education as it is changing in the 21st century. From that post, and our collective understanding of the read/write web, the Tech Matters 2006 team decided to use the three broad themes from his book, Raw Materials for the Mind: A Teacher’s Guide to Digital Literacy to set up the first three days of our institute. The themes are:

  • Rich and Interactive Information
  • Compelling Communication
  • Collaboration with Peers and Experts

We have taken those themes again this year and set up online discussions, writing prompts, and other activities around them to lead participants through a series of questions related to the theme as well as to the work of their site. Paul Allison has been instrumental in setting up our site for the week’s work, a Drupal Ed install that has many features including blogs, a wiki, social networking tools, podcasting capabilities and much more.

To the left, you can see a brief view of what the interface looks like, although this is only a small snapshot that Paul took to illustrate how to make a post. The advantage to a site like this is that everything is there. I think that it is something that many writing projects might consider as they think about creating a web presence.

For the week, then, Betty and I are primarily responsible for organizing Friday morning’s activities and case studies about collaboration. Here is what we plan to do:

Theme for the Day: Collabration with Peers, Experts, and Online Communities