Open with Intention: Digital Diligence at the Moment of Connection

Everytime we touch a device (or activate it with our voice), we do so with the goal of doing something. Maybe it is to look up information. Maybe it is to play a game. Maybe it is to buy something. Maybe it is a combination of these three common uses, and one leads to another in unexpected ways (and, without hardly a thought having gone into it, we wind up with another digital download charged to our accounts or a package that ends up on our doorsteps).

These brief examples, for me, are indicative of what we can do when we approach our interactions with technology — and with one another — from a stance of digital diligence. In addition to opening up our screens with a purpose (which can, to be clear, be for entertainment, if that is indeed our choice at the time given where we are at in our school or work day), we also need to think about what it means to approach with a stance of creating and connecting, not just consuming.

For instance, in thinking about how I interact with my own devices (and invite students to consider what they are doing with their), I wonder: how can we question our own motivations as the screen lights up? While it becomes increasingly faster and faster for our screens to recognize us (from passwords to fingerprints to facial recognition), there is still a split second in which we can move away from a mindless act of accessing the device and, instead, to evaluate the decision that we are making.

One way to do this might be to look retrospectively at what we have done in the past as a way to predict what we might do in the future. With the advent of apps like Screentime, we can quickly see where our time is being used and, as we plan for the day or week ahead, we can look at past patterns and determine when and how particular apps have added value to our relationships, study, and work, and which ones have detracted from them. Assessing our usage of apps can give us insights about what we might want to click, or not, when we activate our phones. Making the choice to stay away from an app that sucks away our time, or clicking on a particularly tempting link, while difficult, is possible.

To be clear, this is not a new idea. As one example, we can look to Manoush Zomorodi’s Note to Self podcast, and the “Delete That App” part of the challenge. We can also look at ideas like Sally Kohn’s TED Talk, where she encourages us to fight the urge to click on clickbait. What I would like to do is extend these ideas as part of a lesson we can teach students, even those in elementary school and certainly those in middle and high school, and as a part of an English language arts curriculum.

In short, I would invite students to set a purpose for using the tech, in much the same way would would invite them to set a purpose for reading. This isn’t a perfect analogy, but it is something that I was thinking about as we look to the common strategy of purpose-setting. Just as we would ask students to use these questions in strategic ways when approaching a text, there are a few questions that we might ask as we approach a use of tech.

Setting a Purpose for Reading Setting a Purpose for Using an App (or Browsing the Web, Playing a Game, or Otherwise Using Tech)
What do you know about this topic?
  • What do you know about this app (website, game, etc)?
  • Have you experienced it before, or is it new to you?
What do you know about this genre?
  • What do you know about the way that this app (website, game, etc) functions?
  • How might it be similar to or different from other apps (websites, games, etc) that you already use?
What do you hope to understand/comprehend as a result of reading?
  • As a result of using this app (website, game, etc), what do you hope to have gained?
    • Is it primarily for entertainment? To learn a new skill? To provide more context/knowledge about a topic?
  • About how long do you plan to use this app (website, game, etc), and why is that an appropriate time frame?
  • How will you know that your experience using this all (website, game, etc) has been successful?
    • How will you feel? What will you come to think about in a new way?

 

Again, all of my thinking on these blog posts in the weeks ahead (as with all blogging, really!) are tentative. I would appreciate any and all feedback, helping me refine what I am sharing so I can translate that into substantive lessons for my book.

How might we be able to use these purpose-setting questions with students to help them open their screens with intention?


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Teaching Digital Diligence: Writing My Way Toward (More) Intentional Technology Use in English Language Arts

As the change in calendar is likely to do for all of us during these first days of the new year, I am looking back (and ahead) at an unfulfilled goal from 2019, and thinking about what I need to do to get back on track with a book project that I first shouted out last July: Digital Diligence. My work on the book has stalled, and this semester affords me a bit more flexibility to write, so I begin here.

As I noted in that post last summer, I define digital diligence as an intentional and alert stance that individuals employ when using technology (apps, websites, software, and devices) for connected reading and digital writing, characterized by empathy, purpose, and persistence. This is clunky, and needs reworking. Yet, it is what I have for now, and it is the core argument of the book, which will be designed as a professional resource for teachers of English language arts.

I want to explore the idea that we, as teachers of literacy, need to interrogate the ways in which our students are using — and are being described by others, including the news media, as using — their devices. Or, to play on the common trope, we should consider the ways in which our technologies are using us and work to help our students push back against these models. The past few years have been dominated by stories of device addiction, a loss of privacy, and (continued) lack of thoughtful technology integration into teaching and learning. What I hope to do, then, is use this book project as a way to re-center the conversations about students’ uses of technology in a more proactive, purposeful manner.

For instance, we often see headlines about technology addiction and the negative influences that social media, smartphones, and gaming are having on our (and our students’ lives). Also, in preparing my materials for promotion, I revisited the 2017 supplement to Pediatrics, focusing on “Children, Adolescents and Screens: What We Know and What We Need To Learn,” in which I co-authored an article. The titles of the articles alone, in addition to the arguments made in them, are all still pertinent. Yet, they all tend to skew toward negative connotations and a fear-based approach to exploring the topic. Even a search on this New Year’s Day for “technology addiction” has yielded a number of recent articles, including a year-end NYTimes piece from Kara Swisher noting that “a lot of tech is still addictive, and digital hate will continue to travel halfway around the world before the truth gets out of bed.”

I don’t deny that these challenges are real (I face them myself, and with my own teenage children). Nor do I deny that there are significant problems with educational technology, as Audrey Watters’ summary of the past 10 years worth of failed ed tech shows us. There have been, are right now, and will continue to be many, many problems with all things related to ed tech.

Yet, I do want to push the conversation about how teachers teach with these technologies (as well as how students can create and learn with them) into a slightly different direction this year. Whether we say we are beginning the third decade of the twenty-first century or closing out the second decade, the simple fact is that we can’t ignore teaching a more active (and activist?) stance of digital citizenship/literacy in our schools. As noted above, a stance of digital diligence will continue to push our thinking, helping other educators become more aware of the ways in which we talk about and, in turn, teach toward a more robust view of educational technology in our classrooms.

Thus, to motivate myself to work on the project, to stay focused, and to gain insight from colleagues, I have decided that I must create and share a brief blog post about one key concept from the book each week for the next few weeks. I need to do this to stay on target with my writing, and I might as well share some of my thinking along the way in hopes that it can foster a broader conversation.

In talking with some colleagues over the holidays, I had thought about doing these as “live” video sessions on FB or YouTube, yet I know that my schedule is likely to remain busy in the weeks ahead and, instead, I will commit to a regular goal of producing one blog post per week, and seeking feedback. I will see how this works through January, and then move forward from there. 

To that end, this is entry one of this digital diligence web series. Nothing fancy here, just some initial thoughts on what I mean by “digital diligence” and how I hope to explore this concept more in the weeks and months ahead. I am always seeking feedback from colleagues, and if you are willing to try some of these ideas in your classroom and provide some feedback on what you and your students experienced when using the technologies and lessons, I would greatly appreciate it.


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Saturday Morning Sessions for NYSRA 2019

This morning, I am honored to facilitate a two-hour workshop at the New York State Reading Association’s annual conference, “Creating Your Digital Writing Workshop,” as well as a one-hour session, “Research Writing Rewired: Examining Multimedia Non-Fiction as a Mentor Text.”

Creating Your Digital Writing Workshop

Guiding Student Writers as They Work with Digital Tools” post on Middle Web

GDoc Handout (Force Copy)

During the first session, we will be delving into a number of digital writing tools such as blogs, digital stories, and infographics that can contribute to what you are already doing in your writing instruction as well as appeal to a new generation of students. In this interactive session, we will explore how new ways of thinking about well-established practices in the writing workshop—student choice and inquiry, conferring on writing, examining author’s craft, publishing writing, and broadening our understandings of assessment—can be updated for the digital age. Tools might include:

Research Writing Rewired: Examining Multimedia Non-Fiction as a Mentor Text

GDoc Handout (Force Copy)

In the second session, we will explore how, in our networked world, the research writing process that we once learned has become obsolete. 3×5 cards and outlines are giving way to bibliographic management tools and mind mapping software. Moreover, students are now able to engage in the research process by reading and evaluating the work of others while simultaneously using the technology in their pockets to do their own primary research. By exploring a Pulitzer Prize winning multimedia piece from the New York Times — “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek” — we will think critically and creatively about how students can combine media to create an informative, engaging work of non-fiction using tools such as Adobe Spark.

Also, we will draw from resources from my co-authored Corwin Literacy book, Research Writing Rewired, and the book’s companion site.


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Summer 2019 Publications: RRQ and English Journal

While they both require individual or institutional subscriptions to read, I am pleased to share my two most recent co-authored publications:

Turner, K. H., Hicks, T., & Zucker, L. (Advance online publication). Connected Reading: A Framework for Understanding How Adolescents Encounter, Evaluate, and Engage With Texts in the Digital Age. Reading Research Quarterly, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.271

From the Abstract

Since the emergence of the World Wide Web and e‐reading devices in the late 1990s and early 2000s, reading research has focused on issues of website credibility, search and navigation strategies, and the ability to comprehend text on‐screen as compared with in print. What has been missing, however, are data about the specific texts that adolescents are reading in these digital spaces, what devices they prefer, and the strategies that they employ… The authors propose a new framework of connected reading, a model of print and digital reading comprehension that conceptualizes readers’ interactions with digital texts through encountering (the ways in which readers seek or receive digital texts), evaluating (the ways in which readers make judgments about the usefulness of digital texts), and engaging (the ways in which readers interact with and share digital texts)…

Canady, F., & Hicks, T. (2019). Reconsidering Student Inquiry through Digital Narrative Nonfiction. English Journal, 108(6), 25–31.

As an alternative to the traditional research paper for an English 11 class, a digital narrative assignment positioned students as multimedia storytellers.

Thanks to my colleagues with whom I have collaborated on these pieces, and for everyone who has shared continued words of encourage and support upon seeing these new publications.


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Recent Post on The EdCollab: From Wonder to Writing

Lighbulb/idea image from the Ed CollabPlease enjoy my most recent post, “From Wonder to Writing: Invite Students Into Inquiry Through Online Articles” on the EdCollab blog.

Our best literacy teachers, especially those of you engaging with the TheEdCollab, have known for a long time that we must provide students with mentor texts in order to help them better understand the genres in which they write, the audiences for whom they write, and the purposes that their writing can serve. We have also known—and continue to make clear for our students—the idea that various text types have specific features to help the writer stay organized and to cue the reader in the process of making meaning. As we consider the possibilities for digital reading and writing, we need to make these moves for writers and clues for readers equally as explicit as we do in print.

Read more


Image from the EdCollab blog

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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Preparing to “Build a Better Book”

As often happens in my professional life, earlier this year, I was invited to lead a session broadly related to teaching writing and digital literacy, specifically for middle school students. Unlike my previous experiences, however, this particular opportunity came from CMU’s Center for Excellence in STEM Education‘s partnership with the Build a Better Book Project. In short:

The Build a Better Book project, based at the University of Colorado Boulder, works with school and library Makerspaces to engage youth in the design and fabrication of accessible picture books and graphics… Through the Build a Better Book initiative, middle and high school youth develop technology skills and learn about STEM careers as they design and create accessible, multi-modal picture books, graphics and games that can be seen, touched and heard!

So, in this case, I was invited to lead a session on a topic that I had quite a bit of experience with (teaching character development in writing), but needed to think critically and creatively about how to present the idea, taking concerns about accessibility into account. And, as often is the case, I turned to my PLN for help.

Originally conceived as the “Tactile Picture Books Project” at the University of Colorado Boulder, I quickly discovered that another digital literacies scholar, Bridget Dalton, was part of the research team. Reaching out to her, she shared her scholarship about the project and the four core experiences for any tactile book workshop:

  1. “Introduction to the design task and audience”
  2. “[t]actile sensory immersion”
  3. “[t]eams’ making of tactile pages to retell a picture book” (and presentation of that book
  4. “[r}eflection on the experience.”

In the sense that students will already be immersed in the process, I’m fortunate that my lesson will come on the second day of a multi-day experience, focusing mostly on steps 3 and 4. They will have had some experience understanding the design task and the audience of visually impaired readers, as well as some tactile sensory immersion. When I see them on day two, my goal will be to help them think about ways that authors describe and develop characters in picture books. So, I am working on the retelling, but also the annotating. Taking what I learned from Margaret Price at DMAC earlier in the summer about annotations for accessibility, I will ask students to both write descriptions of the character as well as to use tactile materials for creating far, mid, and close-up representations.

The challenge, of course, is that helping them figure out how to create tactile books – as well as annotations – that accurately and creatively represent those characters.

Thus, I wanted to find a children’s picture book that – both literally through images as well as figuratively through language – “zooms in” on a character. I want them to write/create three different perspectives of the character – long shot, medium shot, and close up – both in writing and with crafting materials.

To that end, I again turned to my PLN to find an appropriate picture book, and Colby Sharp suggested Mother Bruce, by Ryan T. Higgins. His suggestion did not disappoint. Mother Bruce is perfect, with images of Bruce the bear from afar, from nearby, and in extreme close-up. Coupled with a flipped lesson from Aron Meyer on “Using the Zoom-In Strategy to Enhance Narrative Writing,” I will use a series of images from Mother Bruce to then have students think about descriptive words for illustrating characters in terms of shape, size, and proximity.

So, these slides represent my general thinking about how I will approach the lesson. We will look at the generic images, do a read-aloud of Mother Bruce, then look again at the images in the book more carefully, with a lens for both annotation and tacitly illustrating them:

Build a Better Book Lesson - Slide 1
Build a Better Book Lesson – Slide 1 (Images from Mollie Bugg)
Build a Better Book Lesson - Slide 2
Build a Better Book Lesson – Slide 2 (Images from Ryan T. Higgins)
Build a Better Book Lesson - Slide 3
Build a Better Book Lesson – Slide 3 (Resources adapted from Sight Word Games and Interesting Things for ESL Students)

So, the lesson focuses on the words…

  • What would a description of Bruce need to include when we “see” him from a distance? At a mid-range? Close up?
  • How can we use different words to describe shape, size, and proximity?

And the tactile elements…

  • What would his fur or nose feel like from far away? Close up?
  • What about the additional features of his body and face? Eyebrows? Snout?
  • How can we change shapes and texture to help the reader know that the image is a far shot, mid shot, or close up?

My goal will be to have them create the three tactile representations, as well as write the annotations for the tactile books as a way to supplement the readers’ experiences. Though we will probably not have time in my workshop to invite the students to audio record these annotations and connect them with Makey Makeys, that would be one extension that could make the text even more accessible, and is in line with the Build a Better Book pedagogy.

In sum, this is an interesting way to cap off a busy summer of professional learning. When the CMU STEM Ed Center invited me to do this work at the beginning of the summer, I had no idea what I would do. Yet, the challenge was given to me, and I kept thinking about the possibilities with each opportunity that I had to learn throughout the summer. I look forward to seeing how students responds to the lesson and, in turn, what they might do to more completely and complexly represent Bruce through both their annotations and tactile pages.


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