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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Announcing TimeRime.com

Announcing TimeRime.com

A note from Jermaine Lievendag of TimeRime.com

We have launched a website called http://www.timerime.com. TimeRime.com is a website that allows visitors to view, create and compare timelines. These timelines can be illustrated with pictures, text, YouTube movies and MP3. On our website, you will find timelines about music, movies, history, politics, art et cetera. As the website is very educational, so our site is very popular among teachers and students.

Next to this portal, we offer our software as a service to companies and institutions. Our timeline application can be fully integrated in the website of that company or institution, showing its own content via the TimeRime software. Educational publishers use this software as part of their history learning methods. As a result students are using TimeRime.com in the classroom very frequently.

If you want more information about the website or about us, please contact us at:

info@timerime.com
www.timerime.com

This appears to be a highly interactive way to make a timeline. As some of the students in my ENG 460 class consider ways that they can represent their projects through timelines, I think that TimeRime could be one way for them to develop multimedia representations of their work. I am not sure if users can collaborate on timelines, but if anyone gives it a try, please let me know.

Correction on 10/8/08: Jermaine let me know that, yes, you can invite collaborators to your timeline. Very cool!

Naming and Knowledge-Making

This recent article from eSchool News caught my attention and gave me pause to think about the course I am designing for the fall, ENG 460.

Top News – Google unveils online reference tool

For better or worse, Wikipedia–the online reference site that lets anyone add to its ever-growing body of knowledge–has changed the nature of internet research. Now Google is taking the wraps off a free internet encyclopedia of its own, designed to give people a chance to show off–and profit from–their expertise on any topic.

The service, dubbed “knol” in reference to a unit of knowledge, had been limited to an invitation-only audience of contributors and readers for the past seven months.

Now anyone with a Google login will be able to submit an article and, if they choose, have ads displayed through the internet search leader’s marketing system. The contributing author and Google will share any revenue generated from the ads, which are supposed to be related to the topic covered in the knol.

My interest here is in trying to figure out what value “naming” the author of a “knol” has in comparison to the “anonymous collaborators” that compose Wikipedia entries. I am not so much interested in talking about the authority question, as the one knol that I read on toilet training (a topic of conversation in my house right now!) seemed to be authoritative — and it cited sources — but I couldn’t figure out anything about the author. Also, the main author can open up a knol to collaborators, but not just anyone can chime in. It seems like you retain copyright, too. Finally, one of the stated purposes of the project is to get different people posting knols on the same topic, so having the one, authoritative knol is not necessarily going to happen.

Oh, and it looks like you will eventually be able to serve Google ads on your knol to, I assume, make money.

So, I wonder what this new form of knowledge production will do to the idea of open content. People are free to spend their time and energy wherever they want, be it Wikipedia, Knol, or some other online community. But, I wonder what this idea of sharing one’s knowledge by authoring a knol will do for authors, readers, scholars, and others. By “naming” the author, and being able to verify their credentials, will we feel better about the information presented? Or, does the process that a Wikipedia article goes through still provide more of a peer review process that checks facts and clarifies ideas?

It will be interesting to see how Knol unfolds in the next few months. I may make it part of my students’ final project — post a knol on your topic of independent study. We’ll see how they react to that idea…

Beginning to Think About Fall 2008 Courses

It is just barely spring break here (well, break at least, if not spring) and I am already turning my attention somewhat to the fall. I have been asked to adapt two existing CMU courses into ones focusing on digital writing. Here is what I have come up with so far:

ENG 460 – Current Issues in English: 21st Century Literacies

The study of English continues to evolve in the twenty-first century, based on changes in information communication technologies and the underlying social relations that they allow. Students in this course will explore print, oral, visual, digital, and critical literacies such as blogging, social networking, web-based collaborative writing, and multimedia authoring in relation to their own inquiry projects.

For this course, the main goal seems to be that students create a final research project, a capstone to their English major. So, I hope to attract students who are moderately interested in technology so that we can hit the ground running. I imagine that this group would go through many of the same steps that I am going through with my ENG 315 students this spring (starting a blog, wiki, and social network) and that they would quickly organize themselves around affinity groups. I would take special care to teach them about tools that would be useful in researching (social bookmarking, Zotero, Google Notebook, Scribe Fire) and the topics would largely remain their own, although I am sure that they would be influenced somewhat by the readings and technologies.

I am not sure what to use as a reading collection for this course (or the one below, for that matter). Right now, I am leaning towards only using open access journals and other web resources. Somehow, I want to use the MacArthur series on digital learning, although that could come in to play more in the other course.

Also, the main goal for students is to develop a quality research project, and I would act as a coach for that project. Thus, I need to think about a book that talks about research, yet in a way that makes it engaging and interesting. Right now, I am leaning towards The Craft of Research, although I don’t know if that is too “grad studentish” and if their might be something better for advanced undergrads.

ENG 402 – Rhetoric and Argumentation: Digital Rhetoric

By examining the histories, communities, and designs of digital spaces, this course will relate the rhetorical tradition of argumentation to contemporary rhetorics enabled by information communication technologies. Students will develop multimodal arguments based on issues such as online identity, the digital divide, intellectual property rights, gaming, civic engagement, and online communities.

For this course, I am going to build off the work of my dissertation director and mentor, Danielle DeVoss. She has an outstanding course in Digital Rhetoric already designed, and I would like to follow her lead in terms of the general direction of the course and the overall outcomes. As I mentioned above, I feel strongly that as much of the course material as possible will be open access, so I want to use the MacArthur series as touchstone for the units in this course.

I am also thinking about doing a digital literacy autobiography in this course, utilizing digital storytelling as a means for accomplishing that goal. Bonnie Kaplan and I are already talking about that. Also, I think that it will be important for this class especially (and maybe the 460 group, too), to be thinking about design issues. I just got the third edition of Robin Williams’ Non-Designers Design Book (with color!), and I am leaning heavily towards having my students investing in that text for this course.

Clearly, I will have to do some additional thinking for both of these courses in the months to come. If you have ideas about how I can make these courses stronger, I would really appreciate hearing them.

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