Reading (and Writing) the Daily Newsletter

With the magic of RSS and automated workflows, the daily newsletter has become a tool for many businesses, organizations, and individuals to update their followers. There are countless numbers of these newsletters, and just as many opinions about whether or not they are effective. For the moment, I’ll leave those debates to others and say that, for me, a small number of daily newsletters from a few trusted ed tech individuals helps me stay on top of ed tech and literacy trends. (I’ll discuss organizational email updates/newsletters in a later post.)

There are two that I will focus on for this post, one an ed tech advocate (Tony Vincent) and one an ed tech skeptic (Stephen Downes). This brings (some) balance to my daily perspectives on ed tech, and it is interesting to think about how each blogger approaches the task of creating the newsletter. It also raises important questions for me about the diversity of ed tech opinions that I get exposed to on a regular basis, and reminds me that I need to pop my filter bubbles from time to time. Still, these are two newsletters that represent my daily intake, and I want to explain how I read each one.

Snapshot of Tony Vincent's Nuzzel Newsletter
Snapshot of Tony Vincent’s Nuzzel Newsletter

To begin, Vincent’s Nuzzel Newsletter, much like my own, appears to be an automated collection of his own blog posts and other items that he has accessed via social media. According to Nuzzel, the services offers “personalized news discovery and curated newsletters for busy professionals, via web, mobile apps, messaging bots, and email newsletters.”

When I first started using Nuzzel two years ago (first issue: 12/31/16), I took time each night to actively curate my own newsletter, prioritizing specific news items and adding (light) commentary. Since then, I’ve fallen off the wagon, and the issue auto-generates. I do get some feedback from colleagues who subscribe, so I know that what I share matters, and this exercise again reminds me that we are all constantly creating digital identities, and I need to remember that Nuzzel is part of mine.

Back to Tony Vincent’s newsletter as an example… as a fifth grade teacher and ed tech advocate, I do subscribe to his newsletter and have it delivered to my inbox each day. While I could, potentially, go into the Nuzzel app or have a tab open in my browser for daily check-ins, I still live my daily work life via Gmail, so having the newsletter pop up in my inbox makes it real. The snapshot below gives a sense of what the newsletter looks like (though this is the web version, from the link I clicked on the email version). A few points to note, many of which might be obvious, but are important to consider from both UX and “reading strategy” perspectives.

The role of the hyperlink to the original article, the name of the original source, the date, and the image all appeal to the reader in terms of basic reading and skimming strategies. If I were looking at a newspaper or a non-fiction book, these would be the types of things that my eye would be drawn to, and the types of things that we would instruct students to look for, too. By having the date of initial publication for each item, I can make some quick judgments about currency (though “older” does not always mean worse, or better). Also, by clicking on the link (from email at least), a new tab pops open. This isn’t quite the same when reading from the “web” version, as it moves from the Nuzzel page to the link in the same tab. Multiple tabs… yet another strategy that I employ when reading (and something I could force using an extension if I wanted to mess with it).

Back to the content of the newsletter. Vincent sometimes has references to his own blog, and other items are posted without commentary. Again, I can’t throw stones here, because my Nuzzel feed is similar. Sometimes just having the links, without commentary, is enough. When I see that Vincent has posted a link to an article, and then I see that same link coming from others, I can make a judgment about whether I want to spend dedicated time reading it (as compared to just getting the snapshot view of it). So, reading his newsletter is a quick task, and I admit that I often don’t even scroll through it, just peeking at the top 2 or 3 articles mentioned. I am sure that readers of my newsletter may read in a similar manner.

Snapshot of OLDaily by Stephen Downes
Snapshot of OLDaily by Stephen Downes

By contrast, Stephen Downes (personal Twitter and OLDaily Twitter) offer me a different kind of insight on ed tech news. Though the scrolling screenshot here doesn’t really capture it all that well, you can see that Downes posts links to about 5 or 6 articles each day, but the text on the side is not an excerpt from the article itself. Instead, it is Downes’ commentary, which I find to be both humorous and insightful.

Clearly drawing from his critical and philosophical stance on ed tech, Downes shares his thoughts on almost anything even tangentially related to educational technology, including commentary on a commentary about the Netflix sensation, Bandersnatch:

Netflix’s Bandersnatch is an example of the branched scenario format that has been in use in e-learning for a number of years. They’ve done a very nice job of it, adding some new twists (such as remembering earlier chances to add variability (cereal choices, music choices) in later scenes. On the other hand, a lot of the choices felt forced, as the program kept directing me back to the main storyline. The article says there are five outcomes; maybe, but I would imagine we’re all getting more or less the same experience. Anyhow, good article on an interesting experiment.

Needless to say, I spend a bit more time on Downes’ newsletter each day, often popping open multiple tags in the process. How he is able to read — and write — so much each day is a bit beyond me, though it is aspirational (as I am aiming to reach a goal here in 2019!). Each newsletter does feel the same in the sense that the format remains consistent, but they are each unique. Because of his commentary, you can tell when he is feeling optimistic… and when he is feeling ornery.

In each case, I find value in the newsletters. Some days, even when opening the tabs to read later… well… I just don’t get a chance to read everything later. But, in conjunction with other reading that I will describe in my next few posts, these two types of newsletters provide me with  a sense of the ed tech zeitgeist on a daily basis. I trust the sources, for different reasons, and value what each can offer.

With that, I am curious… what are the ed tech/digital literacy related newsletters to which you all subscribe?

What am I missing that I should be getting in my inbox each day?


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A Snapshot of My Daily Digital Reading Habits

In order to rethink my relationship with ed tech, I need to start by thinking about what my current relationship entails. My goal is to blog for about 30 minutes a day, so this creative constraint/daily deadline will keep me focused. For this week, I want to focus on how I read about educational technology (and, by extension, digital reading, new literacies, and other related topics). Of course, I try to stay on top of the normal news, too, and sneak in some pleasure reading from time to time. Yet, I am going to focus on the aspects of my daily patterns, mapping out an arc of what I do in a typical day in order to stay on top of ed tech news. In short, my reading patterns look like this:

  • Wake up/breakfast time: Quick scan of social networks, especially if I have been tagged, and to see what Nuzzel has automatically generated in my own daily newsletter (which is intertwined with my Twitter)
  • Daily triage of the inbox: here, I parse out email updates that I want (as compared to the countless promotions sent by the companies and services I use). There are three general genres of email updates that I pay particular attention to. While the amount of time I spend on any one of these items on any given day may be small, they each offer some insights that are useful and often having me clicking open anywhere from 2 or 3 to 8 or 10 new tabs for later reading.
  • I then usually attack the day’s email, which, for purposes of this series of blogs posts, I will not count as “reading,” since it is quite utilitarian.
  • Later in the day, depending on the academic work that I have at hand, I will do additional reading, returning to the tabs that I have opened and diving into Google Scholar or my library database. Sometimes those tabs stay open a long time. I’ll write through that problem more, too.

Over the next week, I will explore each of these sources in a bit more detail. I will also describe some reading strategies that I use, hearkening back to a series of posts that I did while Kristen Turner and I were working on our Connected Reading book (here, here, and in a six-part series: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6). I also want to make a concerted effort (as I have many times over the years) to get back into RSS reading, and to think about how I use Zotero to keep track of my reading. I am thinking that there must be a better way to do all this, and perhaps I can think through it with a concerted effort in January. And, with that, I have hit my 30 minutes(+). So, I will look forward to writing a bit more, later in the week, about how I am using these reading practices and what I may be able to do different in the year ahead to be more focused and efficient (at times), as well as more substantive and with intention (at other times).


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Rethinking My Relationship with Ed Tech

So, with 2019 officially underway, I am hoping that today is the first day of a year that I spend (at least some) focused time blogging. I’ve been at this since 2006, and I’ve had good years and bad ones, productive blogging periods and deep fallows. While I am making nothing even close to a resolution that I will blog 365 consecutive days in 2019, I am hoping that I can increase the overall volume of blog posts by about 50%.

As of today, I stand at 492 published posts over the years, and in recent months I have been getting pretty skimpy in terms of what “counts” as a post, many of which consist of conference session slides and hyperlinks. That’s OK. Sometimes. So, too, are short missives on a news items. Sometimes. And, it’s not like everything that I write needs to be a long, rambling, philosophical treatise. Nor does it need to be a highly polished, essay-like post. But, it needs to be something. And, it needs to be something frequent.

In some ways, this is a silly goal. In 2019, I am working on three different book projects, at least two journal articles (right now), and any number of other items including a the development of a new course on digital and media literacy and a major report that I am working on for a professional organization. In short, there is plenty of writing to do. Blogging has always been the “enjoyable” writing that I would do once all the “required” writing is done.

But, much like I have reversed course in the past few months and repositioned exercise in my daily routine, I need to fit blogging squarely in each 24-48 hour cycle. Some days, the posts may be more substantive than others, but I can at least share a link to an article with some commentary. Sometimes, it may be ideas I am working through for my books, articles, or courses. Or, whatever. The point is that I need to write and get ideas moving.

A major theme, as indicated by the title, is that I will be making a conscious effort to reevaluate, rethink, revise… re-everything… my relationship with ed tech. To begin, I am introducing a new textbook into my EDU 807 course: Selwyn, N. (2013). Distrusting Educational Technology: Critical Questions for Changing Times. New York ; London: Routledge. Because we will be digging into that text fairly soon in the semester, I will make an effort to share some quotes and elaborate on Selwyn’s ideas.

Again, in order to add 50% to my blog in 2019, I would need post 246 times. Whew. I’ll cut myself some slack and aim for 200, looking at a post about once every other day. So, hooray… #1 (for 2019) is done, and I look forward to getting back into blogging over the next few days, weeks, and months. Happy 2019, everyone!


Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

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Wrapping Up a Semester of Digital Badging

Digital Badges... Still Under ConstructionThis past fall semester provided me with an opportunity to teach an undergraduate honors seminar, focused broadly on the role of technology in our personal and professional lives.

Entitled “Our Digital Selves,” I was able to work with 22 students over the 16 week semester as we engaged in some shared inquiry, some small group inquiry pathways, and a number of writing-to-learn activities that helped them engage with and understand a variety of digital tools ranging from browser extensions to the Zotero bibliographic management system.

Moreover (and more to the point for purposes of this post), we utilized digital badging as a tool for documenting performance, eschewing grades and, instead, relying on lots of formative assessment, peer review, and self-evaluation. Since the National Writing Project first became connected with the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Learning Initiative, I have been interested in badges, and will likely be pursuing the use of badges in teacher professional development this spring.

For HON 206, the purpose of the badging system was, as I documented earlier, meant to be an opportunity for students to reconsider the role of traditional grade-driven assessment practices in their learning, providing them with more flexibility and opportunities for them to work creatively with one another. As with all teaching experiences, this one had some ups and some downs.

On the positive side:

  • Badges held a novelty factor that — combined with the overall topic of digital ethnography that permeated the course — did remain relevant in our discussions and activities.
  • In pursuing the goal of digital authorship across multiple platforms and with various activities, students began to see how multimodal texts (including badges) could expand their thinking well beyond the traditional academic essay.
  • Coupled with the inquiry-based, experiential nature of the pathways, students did begin to identify themselves with the badging pathways. They called themselves “Makers,” “Adventurers,” “Hackers,” and “Writers.”
  • In the end, having some freedom and flexibility was a powerful motivation for learning. While it really wouldn’t have mattered if we had badges or not, talking about the idea of “earning a badge” is more concrete than times in the past where I have used contract grading, which feels much more amorphous.

And, on the negative side:

  • No matter how much you try to dress it up, even with lipstick, a pig is still a pig. Though the ultimate goal was not to gain a set number of points in order to earn an “A,” this still was a class, with homework and expectations for participation. Try as I might, badges didn’t change that fundamental equation. Some students completed their work on time and with a high degree of quality. Some did not. And, for all those who are worried about grade inflation, well, I am part of the problem, since they all ended up with the same grade at the end.
  • Interoperability. Even though I was using the open badge standard with the Badgr platform (read more about how Badgr evolved from the Mozilla Open Backpack, and where it is going next), I thought that it would be easy for students to share their badges on LinkedIn (not at all easy, and only as a “certification”) or WordPress (no embedding of iFrames on the free accounts). They could download the image, make a link, and share it that way, but the ease of a “point and click” transfer of the badge from being issued in Badgr to making it into a more viable, professional space simply didn’t happen.
  • Though there were some other minor concerns, the final major problem is that, even after a semester of talking about badges, showing them how their “evidence” of earning the badge is “baked in,” and that they could easily demonstrate to another instructor or employer, I don’t think that any of them (save for one) really felt like these digital credentials would help them later on.

As with all teaching innovations, I sometimes fear that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I should have opportunity to teach HON 206 again in the future, and I am already thinking about some ways in which I might adapt; I think that there might be some specific ways that I can make things more compelling while also not losing my mind from issuing badges.

  • First, the badges need to be earned for (some) smaller tasks, not just the final projects. In order to earn a badge for say, “Level I” work in a pathway, you need to have the item turned in on time and to a high degree of quality. If not, no badge. You can still turn in the work and get credit for the assignment, but I need to issue smaller badges, faster.
  • Second, in a similar vein, I did about eight in-class, intensive “writing-to-learn” activities that were highly scaffolded as Hyperdoc-like activities. I think that I would have at least five of those (of the students’ choosing) become longer assignments that would include the in-class work as well as an out-of-class extension, probably a brief essay (500 words or so). Those, too, would accumulate into a bigger badge, but would be issued more frequently.
  • Finally, I need a system for them to share the badges. Perhaps, as part of the course, I have them subscribe to WordPress for four months, dropping the text book and paying for that instead. Then, I could build blogging (and reading one another’s blogs) more diligently into the course process, and I could expect them to share their badges more publicly.

So, my first go at badging was compelling and not a complete failure. My hope is that I have opportunity to try this again with undergraduates and — if I get really motivated — with my ed tech doctoral students, too.

For now, I wish that I could give all of my students a digital backpack (ala Mozilla’s original vision) for a Christmas present, so it was easier for them to share their badges and, more importantly, be able to reflect on their learning for the semester. But, that’s on my wish list for next year and, for now, I am satisfied with the gift of a wonderful teaching experience this fall.

I have more to learn about badging, and will continue to reflect on my HON 206 experience, too.


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Slides from “The Circle is Ruining My Social Life”

As a parent, researcher, and teacher educator, I am constantly trying to figure out the ways in which we frame our conversations about screentime.

  • Are we trying to monitor (police, surveil) our children’s online activities?
  • Similarly, are we trying to manage (perhaps even micromanage) our children’s online activities?
  • Or, are we trying to mentor (model, coach, encourage, discuss, and inspire) our children as they create healthy choices, both IRL and online?

The stance that we take — in our classrooms and our homes — will largely define the ways in which our students determine their own relationship with screentime.

Here are the slides and links from my opening talk during our NCTE 2018 session, “Moving Beyond the ‘Screentime’ Debate: The Intersection of Teaching, Researching, and Parenting”

  • Date: Thursday, November 15, 2018
  • Time: 1:00-3:45 p.m.
  • Location: 320 AB

Resources/Links


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Can I Cite That – Drew University (October 25, 2018)


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Digital Literacy Resources (TCW Symposium)

Resources

Activities

  1. See, Think, Wonder with Padlet Wall
  2. Frayer Model/ Definition Map
  3. 4As Activity” – Assume, Agree, Argue, Aspire
    • Wonderopolis: “The excitement of learning that comes from curiosity and wonder is undeniable, and Wonderopolis helps create learning moments in everyday life…”
    • Tween Tribune: “… a free online educational service offered by the Smithsonian for use by K-12 grade Teachers and students…”
    • Examples
  4. “4Cs Activity” – Connections, Challenges, Concepts, Changes
  5. Lightning Round

Photo by Trent Erwin on Unsplash

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