Wikispaces announces free wikis for higher ed

For those of you who know my teaching and writing, you know that I am a fan of wikis, in particular of Wikispaces.

From my ENG 315 course to the Chippewa River Writing Project, from my own wiki full of digital writing resources to the wiki for my book, I use their wikis all the times for presentations, workshops, and teaching.

Along with having created a user-friendly and robust product with their wikis, the team at Wikispaces has always been responsive to the needs of teachers, including their free K-12 wikis that now number over 400K. This is not meant to be a straight up product endorsement. Instead, I honestly believe that the team at Wikispaces is working to support K-12 educators in all the ways that they can not just by offering free space, but by offering the time (through email support) and resources to make their wikis pedagogically useful, too.

So, when Sarah from Wikispaces asked me to share a new plan that they will announce next week — free Wikispaces for higher education — I was honored to post the announcement here.  Details of the plan, described by her, include:

  • Our wikis for education are completely private, have no advertising on them, are fully featured, and never expire. And teachers are welcome to sign up for as many of them as they like.
  • The features included in our education wikis usually cost $50 per year — but are completely free when used for K-12 or higher education.
  • We have given away over 980,000 free wikis for education so far, and are committed to giving away at least 2,000,000 in total.
Want more details? Check out this press release (Wikispaces Higher Ed Blog Announcement 2011-02) and watch next week on the Wikispaces blog. Thank you, Wikispaces, for your continued support of K-12 and higher education.

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End of Semester Thoughts: Digital Storytelling, Wikis, and the Changing Conversation

Another semester has zoomed past and, before these thoughts escape me, and I begin a series of summer workshops and our CRWP summer institute, I am going to try to capture a few of the lessons learned in relation to digital writing and digital teaching. Good lessons seem to come in threes, so here goes:

1. Digital storytelling takes time, and a story to tell (larger lesson: any digital writing takes time, and a distinct audience, purpose, and sensibility to craft and design)

I enjoy digital storytelling, both as a digital writer and as a teacher. I appreciate the ways in which a combination of images, sounds, music, and video — coupled with one’s own voice — can create a multimedia work that is truly more than the sum of its parts. Moreover, I continue to be intrigued by new understandings related to fair use of digital media, and the implications that this has for creating digital stories. So, when I introduce digital storytelling to any group, especially my pre-service teachers, I get excited about the possibilities of what can come.

That said, I also get worried, because sometimes what comes when their stories finally premier are not really digital stories in the sense that they have crafted a narrative and supported it with multimedia. Instead, they are slideshows set to music. While one could argue that I am being snooty in this distinction, I don’t think that I am. Let me elaborate a bit.

If we want writers to compose stories, then we have to expect them to begin with the story. I am not sure where I went wrong with this over the past semester, but as I watched the numerous digital stories that my students produced for their final portfolio, I was amazed by the fact that so few included their own voice (literally, by recording it) even after they asked me if they needed to do that. Also, even after we looked at a few digital stories and talked about the ways the authors used transitions and effects, as well as supporting their tale with music rather than letting the music tell it, I still saw many, many slideshows with music.

So, I am not sure what else to say about this right now except to say that I need to reiterate the idea that digital stories need to, well, tell a story. In your voice. With your voice. More to think about with that in the summer institute.

2. Wikis are the most functional space for digital writing to live

After talking with my friend Steve before the semester about how and why to keep using wikis (after almost making an ill-fated decision to switch to Ning), I am more pleased than ever that I use a wiki for the hub of activity in both ENG 315 and in CRWP.

This semester, I asked my ENG 315 students to post almost all their work to the wiki, as well as to respond to the work of their peers. This really extended the conversations that we were having in class and made having a writer’s profile that much more important because they could link all their work back to it to form a makeshift portfolio. As many of them have continued with their work over the semester, the wiki grew and grew. Now, most have very robust writing profiles that also include their multigenre projects.

I like the idea of calling these writers profiles, as that implies something that will continue to grow and change over time whereas, somehow, “portfolio” seems to be more fixed. Given the ways in which the profiles worked this spring, I hope to use the same strategy in CRWP this summer, the WRITE NOW grant workshop in August, and in my ENG 618 research methods class in the fall.

3. Something is changing in the conversations about literacy and technology

I am really not sure when and how this happened, but Sara and I were talking about the fact that, in the past year or two, the ways in which people talk about technology and education seems to have changed. Even as recently as the workshops I was doing for PROJECT WRITE in 2007-8, it seemed as though participants kept asking “why?” when a new technology was introduced to them (and these were people that volunteered to be a part of the grant). That said, it really seems to me that in the past two years, the question has shifted from “why?” to “how?”

In other words, there really isn’t a lot of time spent on arguing for technology use in education anymore, at least not when I go to a school or conference. Maybe it is because many people have laptops and internet-ready mobile phones. Maybe it is because of a backlash to NCLB. Maybe it is because of the many curriculum documents and reports about 21st century literacies. Probably some combination of all of this, plus a shift in the skills and attitudes that children now bring to school.

All the same, I have begun to find it refreshing that I can start the conversation with a group of pre-service or in-service teachers now and not have to justify technology use so much as I need to talk about the literacy practices enabled by technology. I get my first chance of the summer to have that talk tomorrow with teachers in Littleton, CO, as they work to integrate laptops into their writing courses.

So, considering my approach to digital storytelling, the use of wikis, and the ways in which we talk about technology will continue to be on my mind this summer. I look forward to the continued learning as I participate in the many upcoming PD events I have scheduled for the summer and hope to share more of my thinking here.

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Notes from Alfie Kohn’s Talk at CMU

Alfie Kohn, an outspoken critic of traditional schooling and standardized testing, spoke at CMU on Wednesday, March 17, 2010. Here are some notes I captured from his talk, “Overhauling the Transmission Model: An overview of traditional versus progressive teaching”

  • You may know if you have been a student or teacher that learning is not simply a process of absorbing information throw at you, but if that is true then it makes sense for this presentation to not be about me just talking at you
  • What I am going to describe for you is a first grade classroom in New England, where kids were studying the Mayflower, and the kids showed up to see that the chairs and tables were pushed to the edge of the room and the floor had an outline of a ship made in masking tape.
    • A classmate comes in and unrolls a scroll from the king — we cannot sail on the ship until we know how big it is. Teacher asks — any ideas for how to figure this out? Figuring out how tall a student is, using him as a measure, then with hands, etc. The king doesn’t know how long the child, the hands, etc are.
    • They don’t get it that day, but they return to it the next day… measure it with the classmate’s feet… he knows the king!
    • Finally, on the third day, the teacher finally introduces the concept of standard units of measurement, and gives them rulers.
    • What distinguishes this lesson, makes it unusual?
      • She took three days to let the students discover this concept; “covering” material makes you feel that you don’t have enough time — this is about “discovering” material
      • There was a rationale, not just “open wide” and here come the facts
      • Basis for life-long learning and problem solving
      • It was connected and inter-disciplinary
      • It was generative and collaborative
      • Invited the children to use their imaginations
      • Both hands-on and minds-on — they were inventing the idea of a ruler and figuring out standard units of measure
  • How might we find teaching and learning more generative if we were involved in these types of classrooms?
  • Middle school example — what questions do you have about yourself? What questions do you have about the world?
    • Looking at questions together to develop themes, then the teacher takes themes from each of the groups and to synthesize what students are saying to look at some overarching themes to intrigue them all. Examples: conflict and war, the future, etc. This becomes the overarching curriculum for the entire school for the entire year. Teachers in this school see them as generalists first, then content area specialists second.
    • The teaching is organized around questions that the kids themselves have asked. The students themselves become scholars, far more engaged in what they are doing than in traditional school settings.
  • High school example — Harvey Daniels and Best Practice High School, Chicago
    • Cross-disciplinary unit on fast food and how it connects to health, economics, popular culture, etc.
    • Read Fast Food Nation and connected it to content in biology related to nutrition, digestion, etc.
    • Students then chose from magazine articles about the fast food industry — animal cruelty, locations of fast food in low-income neighborhoods, etc.
    • Went to restaurants and kept anthropological observation journals of patrons and employees
    • Some became activists around the issue
    • Did they test at the end? No… they kept portfolios of letters, pamphlets, and other materials that they created
  • What can we do in classrooms to make this happen?
  • Setting up a false dichotomy… but one to use as a way to compare/contrast…
    • Traditional — skill and drill (although, “traditional” models in the sense of being “old” is multiage learning and apprenticeship models)
    • A new, progressive way… as exemplified by the examples I offered
      • Differences:
        • Traditional — the purpose is to get the “right” answer and spit it out on demand to the teacher who has all the power and will determine who talks when (the point is not to have an intellectual conversation, but to give the one answer that the teacher wants, the one that she is fishing for)
          • What to Look for in a Classroom (from
          • I want to see stuff from the kids on the walls… but what does it look like? I don’t want all the pumpkins on the wall in a kindergarten room to look the same.
          • How to teach kids to read — a teacher thinking about phonics may look at the phonemes, the progressive teacher will focus on meaning
          • Standardized tests measure what we need least; efforts to improve tests scores lead to less authentic learning
          • Mom asks “what did you do in school today?” Kid answers, “nothing.” He is probably right — he may have had a lot done to him.
        • Old school — bunch of facts and skills. Worksheets to learn how to add, but not applying it.
          • Progressive school — facts and skills are taught in a context.
          • It is easier, not just more interesting, to make sense of this if there is a context… “I think that I could read this if I knew what it was about.”
        • Traditional — no good reason for learning
        • Progressive — create a lesson with and for your students that will engage them
  • When I talk about this in terms of context, problem-based learning, etc… I am referring to the idea that teachers have a collection of facts to but into students’ heads ala Dewey, Freire
    • When the kids have nothing to say about the course, the curriculum… consider the “ten year” question. What is left of your course after a decade has passed? We are creating elaborate snow structures on the last day before spring… it drains right out again if we are not helping students learn in real ways. We are meaning-makers, and we work from a constructivist approach. The best learning is a process of reconstructing ideas.
    • When people talk about making things more “rigorous,” we should be worried about that…
    • We often think that AP courses are the best courses in the high school because they are “accelerated”
    • It almost always works out that when we are trying to “raise the bar” and “close the gap,” we have kids who are poor who are being given more drill and skill while the rich kids are doing more real learning.
  • Last effect of traditional education is the loss of curiosity
    • As kids move into school, their intrinsic motivation dies off as a response to traditional instruction
  • Final question — if everything I have said is true, especially if progressive schools are proven by research to be effective, then why is the traditional approach still so common?
    • It is difficult to do well
    • Not given training in college
    • We teach how we are taught
    • “Any idiot can stay one chapter ahead of the kids”
    • Top down leadership; lack of autonomy
  • Q/A
    • Books: effects of grading, negative effects of homework, negatives of standardized tests, bribes and threats of disciplines
    • Check out Diane Ravitch‘s “Death and Life of the Great American School
    • Question to ask at schools — How do you hope these kids will turn out? Happiness, problem-solving, ethics — these are the things that we care about in the long run and these are the criteria we should set as “standards”
    • Ted Sizer‘s work on the Coalition of Essential Schools
    • The teachers who were glad to have me didn’t need me; the ones who didn’t want to talk fit the model of traditional education


Alfie Kohn certainly stays on message, despite his “digressions.” I first started reading him over a decade ago, saw him speak about five years ago, and have been influenced by his ideas in many ways. There are some points that I disagree on, especially the idea that assessment is — in and of itself — an almost evil force, because I think that we can do assessment in responsible ways that help kids learn and help teachers teach. But, overall, he reiterates the negative data (and anecdotes) about testing, grading, skill and drill teaching, and awards for kids that he has been discussing for years. As I think about writing instruction, especially in an age of technology, I think that we can take some of these ideas and look at how a writing workshop approach can foster student learning in a constructivist manner, one that values the context in which students work and the authentic inquiry that they choose to pursue.

I think, too, that we have to recognize the overwhelming forces that teachers face — it is not just about individual choices inside our own classrooms, although that is important; it is about the structural aspects of schooling and the expectations of our society that place particular demands on schools, teachers, and students. At the end, he began to talk about the socio-economic and political influences on our system of education, and I think that we really need to talk more about these influences because they permeate our classrooms. Teachers can be progressive within their four walls, or their school, but that is not going to create substantive change in the system. It is a start, indeed, but will not change the entire system.

At any rate, I know that many of my CMU students were in the audience, and my sincere hope is that they have gained some insights into some of the perspectives that I bring to ENG 315. I try to alleviate the pressures of grading and invite them to think critically and creatively about what they can do as writers and teachers of writing. I ask them to do authentic writing, both personally and professionally, and I do not rely on tests in any way. Instead, I ask them to write in different genres, for different purposes, and to different audiences. As one student said in class the other night, “This is a lot of work.” Indeed, it is. And, I know that it is overwhelming and that my class doesn’t meet the expectations that they have of what a college course, or a methods course, should look like. Yet, I think that it is valuable work, and I hope that it will encourage them as writers and teachers of writing to be a little more, as Kohn would suggest, “progressive” in their own classrooms.

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Quick Quote in MEA Voice

Just today, a colleague of mine was telling me that I need to be better at self-promotion. So, here goes…

Future teachers (college students now) use blogs and wikis to share their own writing—so they can someday help their own students do the same.

“Teachers are teaching the digital generation,” explained Troy Hicks, assistant professor of English Language and Literature at Central Michigan University, where he instructs preservice teachers.

(MEA Voice, February 2009, p. 10)

Earlier this year, I was interviewed by a reporter for the MEA as a part of their special issue on teaching with technology. The interview was an hour long, and very engaging, so the very short quote here seems to just barely scratch the surface of what we talked about. That said, I am honored to be featured in this publication along with my friend and colleague Dawn Reed.

Given the many conversations that I have had with colleagues over the past few months about the uses of digital writing, and especially with my own pre-service teachers in ENG 315, I am becoming more and more encouraged that this is becoming a part of the discourse in educational circles. For instance, at MRA a few weeks ago, one of the comments about our session on writing across the curriculum was that a participant wished she could have heard more about the digital writing tools I was suggesting in order to support that work.

So, thanks to the MEA for featuring me in their article and to everyone who continues to push technology and writing in new directions. As always, I am enjoying the continuing conversation.

Notes from RCWP Google Day

Notes from Andrea Zellner‘s RCWP Google Day Presentation

  • Reflecting on Google Teacher Academy
    • Thinking about the tools almost exclusively, and we want to focus on literacy practices
  • Writing prompt:
    • What is Literacy? What is Technological Literacy? How are they different? How do they support one another?
      • Literacy — the ability read, write, listen, speak, view, and visually represent texts in print and non-print media. Technology literacy — the ability to understand and employ different tools (pencils and paper, computers, cameras, recorders, etc.) to effectively convey a message to an audience.
      • The ways in which these two concepts, literacy and technology literacy support one another — we have come to understand that being “literate” changes across contexts, thus it is a complicated set of practices that people use to communicate for a variety of purposes and audiences. Adding technology into the mix opens up new opportunities for communication and collaboration that makes us rethink the ways in which we consider what it means to be literate. In other words, technology has the potential to affect our worldview because it changes the way that literacy is enacted. in these contexts. And, in an increasingly digital world, we have to make the connections between literacies and technologies more and more explicit so readers and writers understand how, why, and when to use particular technologies to communicate.
    • We can sometimes forget the fact that literacy is what we are most interested in and can get caught up in the technology itself
  • Framing our thinking about the teaching of writing with the strategies from the Writing Next Report
  • Writing prompt: Portfolios
    • Yes, I use portfolios in my English Education methods class, ENG 315. I think that the immediate benefit of using a digital portfolio, as it has always been with portfolios, is that students see the value in collecting and reflecting on their work over time. The digital portfolio offers them even more flexible ways of presenting their work, as they can create straight-up web pages and they can embed images, video, or audio. This allows for multimedia compositions that wouldn’t necessarily be possible with print-based portfolios.
    • Drawbacks. Well, let’s face it… assessing any writing is tough work, especially when you are trying to assess a collection of writing that has been developed over time. Thus, I have my students engage in self-assessment for their portfolios. This is the only way that I have found really gets them engaged in the process as writers, forcing them to be thoughtful in the selection process and be honest about the amount of work that has gone into the writing and revising process.
  • Playing with the tools — check out Andrea’s site for links
  • Ideas for Inspiration
    • Students with autism using SketchUp
  • Writing Prompt: Think of a student who was challenged to write in your classroom.
    • My most difficult student that I ever had to deal with was one of my seventh graders. Along with all the special education diagnoses that he had been given, he was also just not a friendly kid. Not outright defiant, nor anti-social, but just difficult to connect with. At the time, I tried to offer him some options for writing with technology such as creating a PPT, but I wasn’t really equipped to differentiate instruction or help him grow as a writer. I do wonder how a student like him would react to some of the newer tools that we have been discussing today, as well as to the chance to easily get feedback from other writers and not just me. Taking his writing public might have made a difference (and, simply typing it would have helped, too). All in all, I think that the challenges he faced were partly motivational and partly learning disabilities, and I wonder how these tools might have been helpful for him.
  • How might these Google Tools impact literacy?
  • Our collaborative Google Presentation
  • Final reflection — what was your biggest “aha” and what will you take back to your classroom?
    • The major tech tip that I will take back with me is the Google Scholar setting that allows you to export directly to EndNote/Zotero. That is going to be just so incredibly useful for me. Once Zotero gets set up to share your libraries easily, it will be great. I can create online reading lists of open source readings or readings that can be accessed on campus, and skip the whole process of having to create course reserves!
    • In terms of professional development structures, I really like how Andrea framed the day with the early discussion of literacy and technology. She made it clear that this was a discussion about how to use the Google Applications in the service of literacy instruction and not just about “this tool, that tool, and the next tool.” That was good to make her ideas about that explicit early in the presentation, even though the rest of the day did kind of suffer from the “mile wide, inch deep” problem.
    • Finally, I enjoyed having to articulate my thoughts about a particular tool during the last activity. By comparing Knol with Wikipedia, it forced me to come back to the ideas about literacy practices. That might have been helpful to include as a framework for the final activity — a reminder that we should look at the tool as a way to support literacy practices.

All in all, a great day with lots to think about. Thanks, Andrea!

Personal Technology Learning and the Teaching of Writing

Today, I will be introducing my ENG 315 pre-service teachers to the idea of developing their “digital teaching persona” and thinking critically about why and how to use technology in their personal technology learning and to become better teachers of writing.

Each semester, I face the act of balancing the introduction of a number of digital writing tools — Google accounts for Gmail and Google Reader, Edublogs, Wikispaces, podcasts, digital stories — and the content of our course which includes principles of the writing workshop, reflecting on a midtier teaching experience, and examining our work as writers.

And, each semester, I find that students initially (and sometimes in their final reflections on the course) say that the first weeks of class are overwhelming in terms of the new technologies.

So, I am thinking about how to make things only “whelming,” not overwhelming, and also articulate why I think that learning how to use these digital writing tools are critical to their success as teachers. Thus, I offer this brief list that I intend to share with my students today:

  • Understanding digital writing tools can be intimidating at first, yet provide opportunities for writers to share their work and read the work of others. This kind of publication ritual is an important component of the writing workshop, and digital writing tools enables students to easily distribute their writing to a wider audience.
  • Understanding and applying technologies to the teaching of writing — as well as understanding concepts associated with them such as copyright and fair use — has become the professionally responsible way to teach writing. Professional organizations such as NCTE, NWP, IRA, ISTE, the Center for Media Literacy and others have moved quickly and clearly in the past few years to show that integrating technology across content areas, including the teaching of writing, is critical for creating students who are literate in a variety of ways.
  • Creating a digital teaching persona — via one’s own blog, wiki, RSS reading, email address, digital portfolio and through other online tools — has become essential for teachers who are increasingly being asked to use these tools as they search for jobs and establish classrooms that use technology in critical and creative ways. By learning these tools in a pre-service methods course, and understanding the ways in which they can be applied as a part of one’s overall approach to teaching, pre-service teachers can enter the profession well-prepared to represent their work to a variety of audiences including students, parents, administrators, and other stakeholders.

My hope is that learning how to use digital writing tools will help my pre-service teachers accomplish these three interrelated goals — providing opportunities for student writers, being a better teacher of writing, and creating a classroom environment that fosters critical and creative writing.

While it is difficult to jump into new technology learning, and I acknowledge that the learning curve can sometimes be very high for some of these tools, my goal this semester is to help students in their learning by offering more time during writing workshop where they can collaborate and I can confer with them.

If you have other ideas about why personal technology learning and the teaching of writing are important, I welcome additional ideas to add to this list so my pre-service teachers can gain more insights into why and how teachers should learn about these tools and ideas.

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Reflections on the Semester and the Season

Been trying to get focused on writing for the books again tonight, but catching up on RSS reading and some recent posts from Andrea, Aram, and Sara reminded me to take some time with family and catch up on some personal reading (besides RSS feeds).

So, I figured I would reflect on a few things from this semester and then probably not blog again until after the new year, so I can so hopefully I can get caught up on those books and then be able to turn my attention to my kids and family over the holidays. In no particular order, here are three things that have been making me think as the semester comes to a close:

1. Reflecting on the experience of conducting a webinar

As I think about what I consider to be elements of “best practice” in teaching teachers how to integrate literacy with technology, two major points are clear: they need hands-on experience and time to play with technology outside the pressures of the classroom. While preparing for and conducting the webinar, I was continually reminded of the time constraint that we were under (apx. 50 minutes to present) and the fact that all the technologies we would introduce would not only not be played with by the teachers during the session, but would only be alluded to with links to resources later. Part of that was simply the function of the webinar, and I am OK with that. Yet, part of it seems to be that we have yet to fully embrace the idea of play in learning to teach, and especially in learning to teach with technology. My hope is that, given the opportunity to do a webinar again, I will be able to think about how to focus on something specific so that participants can walk away with a clear understand of what to do, as well as why and how to do it.

In short, the experience conducting the webinar — as well as the overall outcomes of the webinar itself — were good, based on the original intent we had for it. Now, I just need to reconsider what my intent for another webinar (or similar web-based presentations) would be. This will be important as we consider the work of our new writing project site at CMU.

2. Reflecting on teaching a senior seminar in 21st Century Literacies

This semester, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to teach ENG 460, a senior seminar where students develop a final research project related to the course theme; in our case, this was 21st century literacies. My requirement for the final projects that students created was that it had to include some form of multimedia, and making a power point was the bare minimum. As I reflect on the final student projects — which included websites, informational videos, hyperlinked slide shows, and one student who created a Knol — I see a variety of topics that all integrated multimedia in some way. That is good.

Yet, it is clear that some students “got it,” and were really able to take advantage of the multimedia component, combining their own original content with links to other resources and/or representing their content in critical and creative ways through audio, video, or multimedia. On the other hand, there were some students who simply delivered a pretty standard presenation and, instead of having a power point, made a basic web page, moving through their presentation with minimal interactivity and effective use of multimedia. Or, they just gathered other people’s multimedia and put it all together into one website.

I say all of this cautiously, for as a teacher I don’t want to offend any of my students or call them out, especially since they have made their work public and most were composing in digital environments for the first time. Instead, I want to say it simply to give myself pause to think about how I will frame projects like this in the future and how I will talk about the effective use of multimedia and design in light of creating a meaningful and substantive presentation.

I’m still learning, too.

3. Reflecting on teaching a writing methods course

ENG 315 gets more fun every time I teach it. I feel like I have finally hit my stride in terms of the content and pace of the course, as well as the technologies that I ask my pre-service teachers to engage with as they develop their voices as writers and teachers of writing. In particular, this semester I had them blogging their professional reading responses, sharing their field notes with my via Google Docs, and creating their own wiki page. I also invited, but did not require, them to make a podcast or digital story.

As I think about what I will do next semester, I am going to continue pushing in these directions and make some slight changes. First, for their portfolio of personal writing, a requirement will be that one of the pieces is digital. It can be an online photo essay, a podcast, a digital story, a piece of hypertext fiction, or a “kiosk” style presentation with hyper links, but I will make the requirement that at least one piece have a digital component.

Also, I am going to require that either their portfolio of writing or their multigenre project be presented as a website.

Finally, I am going to make a more concious effort to have them create a personal learning network, both inside and outside the class, using RSS, blogging, and microblogging. I am not sure if I want to move from a wiki to Ning as my primary means of communicating with students, so I have to give that some more thought.

The challenge for all of this, of course, is making sure that I continually remind them of how this connects to the writing process and will be applicable to them as teachers as well as to their K-8 student writers. But, it is a challenge that I seem to get better at overcoming each semester that I teach.

Well, that is about it for tonight, and for the semester. I really need to turn my attention to writing for the books and we have many weeks of busy family time planned over the holidays, so most likely I won’t post again until the new year. While 2008 has been successful professionally, my hope is that 2009 will prove to be a better year for me personally and for my family, too. So, I need some time to just pause and think about all that lies ahead. Thanks again to my friends and colleagues for reminding me to take some time to do that.

I wish you all a safe, restful, and joyous holiday season. See you in 2009.

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CMU Podcast Interview on Technology Literacy

Earlier this month, one of my students, Lynette Seitz, and I were interviewed by Heather Smith, CMU’s Assistant Director of Media Relations about technology literacy and our work in ENG 315 this semester.

I appreciate her invitation to record this podcast and it was wonderful to have Lynette’s voice in there, too, as a pre-service teacher who is thinking about incorporating digital writing into her classroom.

You can get the podcast through CMU’s channel in iTunes.

April Showers Bring Me Back from the Blogging Drought

March was like a lion for me… beginning, middle, and end. I wish there was a better excuse, but that’s the long and short of it. Conferences, prepping my portfolio for my annual review, teaching, grading, etc.

OK, enough of that.

My purpose tonight is to just capture some thinking on a presentation that Rob Rozema and I will give at the Bright Ideas Conference this weekend: Social Networking, Teacher Education, and the English Language Arts.

My main contribution to the presentation will be an annotated bibliography of sources on social networking in education. Here is what I have so far and I welcome any insights that you may have to add to this list. Feel free to comment here or jump right in and add something on the wiki:

Also, I am trying to think about how to discuss the idea of social networking. What I have found with my experiences in using any social technology is that the teacher really is key to making it work. Be it a discussion board, a blog, a wiki, or a social network, if the teacher talks the talk about using technology, yet doesn’t walk the walk, then it is likely that the students won’t follow.

On a related note, I often wonder about our efforts as teachers to adapt technologies that students are using for their own personal purposes and then connecting it to more academic purposes. In what ways does this co-opting of the technology change the use of it, for better and for worse? For instance, in the social network Rob and I set up this semester, I decided not to make it a “requirement” for my ENG 315 class, and I noticed that very few students have been active in the network as an extra curricular activity. What if I had made it a requirement? Would obligatory postings be worthwhile for students? Would the network have grown more in an organic manner, even though I required it to be fertilized?

As I prepare to present this weekend, these thoughts continue to roll around in my head. In some ways, I don’t even know that I consider myself a proficient user of social networks, as I am in a number of Ning, Facebook, and other groups, yet rarely participate in any meaningful way. I am just wondering how the norms of social networking map on to the academic life of a university faculty member, let alone K-12 teachers and students. I know that they can (as the examples above show), but I am still struggling to make it work for my students.

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Meme: Passion Quilt

Kevin tagged me to continue Miguel‘s Passion Quilt meme.

Cool! Given that I have been reading about memes in Lankshear and Knobel’s New Literacies, this was timely.

So, here goes:

Images from my ENG 315: Writing in the Elementary Schools Courses, Spring 2008

Why these images? Well, they highlight some of the conversations that we have been having this semester in ENG 315 about the teaching of writing. As I view these images, I am reminded both of how much I enjoy teaching teachers how to teach writing and how much these students learn over the course of a semester as they work together in class, assist in local schools, and become writers themselves. I am very much looking forward to their final projects in just a few short weeks of class.

All right, now for the fun part. Miguel provides three simple Meme rules:

  • Post a picture from a source like FlickrCC or Flickr Creative Commons or make/take your own that captures what YOU are most passionate about for kids to learn about…and give your picture a short title.
  • Title your blog post “Meme: Passion Quilt” and link back to this blog entry.
  • Include links to 5 folks in your professional learning network or whom you follow on Twitter/Pownce.

And the five people that I am inviting in to the meme:


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