Report from RCWP’s WIDE PATHS 2010

This morning, I was fortunate enough to be invited “home” to present my session, “Creating Your Digital Writing Workshop” at Red Cedar Writing Project‘s WIDE PATHS II. Beyond the wonderful feeling of being “home” with about 30 colleagues from RCWP and sharing my book with them, I continue to be inspired by the amazing work that teachers do in their classrooms and schools, despite the continued barrage of criticisms that come both directly from politicians and the media as well as indirectly from the ways that our society and government structure “educational reforms” such as Race to the Top. For more on what these “reforms” mean for organizations such as the NWP, check out Sara’s recent post on IdeaPlay.

At any rate, there were many good parts of the day, and ideas from the conversations in the opening session were captured by Dawn on the presentation page. There were a number of issues that came forward, and the conversation was rich since, as a group, we were talking as knowledgeable peers, many already engaged in digital writing practices. Most notably, we thought about a number of issues related to the actual composition of digital texts, moving beyond the logistical questions that often come up (as important as they are) and into conversations about how and why students compose digital texts. Maggie captured one idea (and I am paraphrasing) in the idea that digital media allow us to create texts that are “long enough to accomplish goal, but also short enough to keep interest.”

Then, throughout the day, there were three strands: social networking, collaborative writing, and visual studies. Overall, I feel like the day was filled with timely, relevant, and useful information, right out of the NWP tradition of “teachers teaching teachers.” We worked together, learned some new ideas, got reminded of some ideas I had forgotten (like using Diigo), and, while I couldn’t attend everything, here are some notes from the other wonderful sessions throughout the day.

Social Networking (Andrea Zellner)

  • Four components of participation in social networks
    • Digital Citizenship
    • Digital Footprint
    • Personal Learning
    • Impact on Writing
  • Thoughts from the discussion, after creating our own personal network maps on paper
    • What does it mean to “know” someone? Be connected to someone?
    • How and when do we connect to someone? To a group? Knowing that we have access to the network at our fingertips, when and how can we leverage it?
    • Thinking about how they are invited to join social networks (Pixie Hallow, Webkinz, Facebook, Second Life) and the commercial/consumer interests that some of these networks have? What about the critical literacy practices that students need to have to understand how they are positioned within and across these networks?
    • Do we create networks that are “echo chambers” where we only listen to others in our own network that do not allow or invite us to think about alternative or opposing ideas?
    • Are we co-opting the purposes of social networks? What are we trying to teach them so that they can be digital citizens? But, are we replicating traditional, teacher-centered practices that would be the same in Blackboard, or are we taking advantage of the aspects of social networks?
    • Resources:
Troy's Social Network Map
Troy's Social Network Map

Collaborative Writing (Aram Kabodian, Heather Lewis, and LaToya Faulk)

  • Heather introduced Etherpad as a tool for collaborative response to an article, then used VoiceThread as another tool for response, too. In using the two types of tools, we were thinking about the ways that text and voice comments can contribute to our own understanding of other texts, including an online article and responding to a video.
    • This got me to thinking more about VoiceThread and how to have students use that as a tool for conferring. I think that the idea of having students comment one another’s work while still “in process” is powerful. Not sure how to embed the comment at the exact moment of the video that it would be pertinent, however. A tool like Viddler‘s commenting feature would work more effectively for that, I think.
    • Lots of time for playing with the tools. Thinking about collaborating across time and space with Skype, Google Docs, VoiceThread, Diigo, and other tools. What is also interesting to me is to think more carefully about the nature of the collaboration…
      • What are the affordances and constraints of the tools?
      • What is the task that we are asking students to complete? How does that enable collaboration, or does it simply require cooperation?
      • Are you asking students to create single-authored, multi-authored, or co-authored products? How does changing the role of the writer change the technology that you are able to use?

Visual Studies (Dawn Reed with Jen Garmon and Reggie Manville)

  • Dawn – Showing a number of examples of images as a way to think about critical literacy, especially with images used in media and popular culture texts, for instance:
    • The ready.gov website and parodies of it
    • Forest Gump, and the ability to visually recreate history
    • Kent State image with fence post removed
    • Asking students to define “literacy” and how they experience misinformation and critically evaluate information and images. Thinking about “photographic truth” and the implications of how images are constructed in an age of easy photo manipulation.
  • Reggie – Thinking about how to fit visual literacy into the already crammed English curriculum with digital storytelling
    • Moving from statements of belief (ala “This I Believe”) to statements of change created as a digital movie. Combining elements of argumentative writing with visuals.
    • Then moving from this digital video project into understanding how to create a traditional text for the ACT. In this example of women’s body image, this includes ways that the student could use the same arguments and refutations used in the movie project and translating them into traditional essay structures (building context, argument, counterargument, rebuttal, etc).
    • Complexity of assessing these texts with a rubric that was already in place. Looking at three examples — one on body image, one on global warming, one on the “open beverage” rule. But, are there some qualitative differences in these works? I think so, and I am wondering how we can help students see that there are some standards of quality in the production of digital texts. One option would be to have a “viewing” day in the class, and then inviting them to revise based on what they saw in other videos as well as feedback on their own.

Final Reflections on the Day

We were going to have a large group discussion to report out on the day, but ran out of time. My final thoughts are that Andrea and the entire RCWP team organized a wonderfully thoughtful day of exploration into these three strands: social networking, collaborative writing, and visual studies. As we continue to think about the future of what it means to be a writer and a teacher of writing in a digital age, the conversations that began today can continue to guide our work into the future. I look forward to this team sharing their insights at the NWPM retreat this summer!


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