Collaborating, Cooperating, and Co-opting

So, I have finally caught up on my RSS reading. Sort of. I keep getting side tracked and have been looking at two collaborative tools — Zoho Writer and ThinkFree — that I’ve known about for awhile, but came up in my reading tonight. (To digress for a moment, my goal this next week is to read my feeds in Google Reader every day. We’ll see how that goes…).

That said, I am interested in thinking more about the entire notion of collaboration that the discussions of the read/write web and school 2.0 have generated in the past year, and especially in the last month or so. It seems that every podcast that I listen to or blog that I read points to “collaboration” as one of the “new literacies” and that social networking (as a proxy for collaboration) holds such great promise in schools for rethinking the teacher student relationship, curriculum and instruction, and just about everything else.

What I find lacking in most of these conversations is a discussion of what would happen if schools do/are already co-opting some of the collaborative and social tools that students are using outside of school for classroom use. Now, this is not to say that I don’t think that we should try (or else I wouldn’t blog about these topics on a regular basis). However, I do think that we need to carefully consider what it means to “collaborate” as compared to just “cooperate” and what happens when we try to use tools in school that students gladly use on their own, but may (or may not) like to see in schools.

My concern stems partially from the many, many curricular documents that seem to be touting 21st century literacies and, inherent in those literacies, the idea that students collaborate. To the extent that we see collaboration happening, all the better. Yet, I don’t know that schools encourage collaboration (where the sum is, indeed, more than the total of the individual parts) so much as it promotes cooperation (hey, let’s get along so we can finish this project). There are many power structures in schools — from the community to the school board to the administration to the teachers to the students to cliques and types of students — that may say they want collaboration, when in fact what they want is cooperation.

This becomes problematic. When we teach under the guise of collaboration, yet all students are not expected to contribute meaningfully to the project, then we shortchange all the students working on it. We have all been a part of a group or taught a group of students who foist the work upon one or two students (or, contrarily, choose to take it upon themselves as martyrs). Moreover, there are times when group work is meant to be busywork and cooperation, not collaboration is the goal.

I don’t know that I have a strong thesis for this argument so much as I just want to express some thoughts and concerns about the current discourse surrounding the word “collaboration.” I would be curious to hear how others are interpreting that term in different contexts and to know whether or not I am thinking clearly about it. That, I feel, would be a powerful, collaborative discussion.

The Read/Write Web for Academic Advising

Of the four presentations that I have to do today, tomorrow, and Friday, there is one that I am really developing from the ground up and need to think through quite a bit. In thinking about how Mobile Social Software and other read/write web tools are impacting youth, this question will become increasingly important as time goes on.

So, I will be meeting on Friday with some academic advisers to help them think through how newer technologies can help them do their work. I have been asked to think about how messenging, blogging, podcasting, and social networking could contribute to better relationships between advisers and students. I think that I will start with Educause’s 7 Things article about Facebook, and then move in to a broader discussion about how and why we, as adults, use technology to communicate. Then, we can start thinking about what students might want/expect of us.

In preparation for this meeting, the advisers generated a “top ten” list of questions that students typically ask them in order to help frame the discussion during our meeting:

  1. What do I still need to graduate? When can I graduate?
  2. Are my University requirements done?
  3. What’s a cognate and what should I do for a cognate?
  4. What Study Abroad programs can I go on? How will the credits work in my degree?
  5. What kind of careers/jobs can I get with this major?
  6. How can I find and sign up for an internship?
  7. How long will it take me to graduate if I change my major to ___________?
  8. I want to take classes near home this summer. How can I do that?
  9. A class I want/need is full. How can I get an override?
  10. Do I have to do the foreign language? How can I get it waived?

So, I am trying to think about how all the technologies listed above — and others that aren’t like RSS, Google Calendar, and wikis — could help contribute to helping these students. I am also wondering if these are very Web 1.0 questions. That is, most of these seem like they could be posted as a FAQ on a static web page or, if they wanted to add some interactivity, on a wiki. Thus, I am interested in the deeper questions that these questions are getting at and I am curious to think about how some read/write web tools might help develop better relationships between advisers and students.

As I end this rambling post, here are some things that I am thinking about:

  • Getting everyone signed up for Facebook and learning the basic functions of it
  • Getting everyone signed up for Bloglines or Google Reader
  • Creating a Google Calendar that they can subscribe to
  • Using Skype to carry on a conversation with voice and/or chat

What else makes sense here? What other things might an adviser, or a teacher, need to be fluent with in order to stay connected with their students, answer questions in a timely manner, and develop stronger relationships? Thanks in advance for your ideas.

Comments on Teachers Teaching Teachers Disucssion of “Appropriation”

Although I wasn’t really able to join the conversation tonight through Skype, the Teachers Teaching Teachers crew asked a great question tonight:

Do our blogs have a student-sponsored life of their own? Have our blog sites moved beyond Fisher’s “new literacy practices as sugar” to allowing students to “combine their concerns and self interest with the common good?” Sometimes, and it remains a goal to make our elgg spaces — our students blogs in social networking sites — into places online where they can truly express, question, explore and research subjects that matter to them.

Teachers Teaching Teachers

One of the ideas that I wanted to take up in this conversation was that of genre. It seems to me that Paul, Susan, Teb, and the rest of the TTT crew are getting at the idea that blogging and social networking could be seen as appropriating online teen culture, as Clarence Fisher seems to be arguing here. I feel that blogging, social networking, and podcasting don’t so much appropriate teen culture as they represent new genres and, because of that, the ways that we think about teaching them in school matter a great deal as to how much, if at all, students learn how to utilize these genres.

In thinking about teaching new media genres, then, I want to share a quick example of how this is, perhaps, a very difficult concept to even wrap one’s head around, let alone teach, if you are not a part of the edublogger community. I had the good fortune of working with a class of pre-service teachers the other day, and we were talking about new literacies and technologies. One section of the article that we read discussed the five-paragraph essay as the typical model of school literacy and how technology threatens to change that genre. This caused a great deal of discontent. Suffice it to say that the pre-service teachers with whom I work came up with a question that essentially boiled down to this: if not a five-paragraph essay, then what else instead? I was taught the five-paragraph essay, I succeeded, I know that kids need to know it (or, at least that is what I believe because I haven’t seen convincing evidence to the contradict my own personal experience), and that is what I will teach them. It is a hard cycle to break.

So, how are blogging, wikiing, podcasting, and other new media writing — and the genres that they enable — different? Paul wrote extensively about what blogging can be in the TTT post, so I won’t reiterate it here. What I do want to say, however, is that I think we need to help our colleagues and those that we mentor to understand how writing on a blog or wiki, or creating a podcast, is still writing at its core (creating a text for a specific purpose and audience), but the affordances of the media and the genres that you can create with that media are very different from what we have traditionally conceived as writing. We can move beyond the five-paragraph essay because we can now talk about — and in compelling new media deliver — texts like we never have before. I don’t think we can give up the old genres, but we also have to think about how to compose with the new ones, too.

Do I want to see students’ five-paragraph essays on a blog? No. But, I think that we need to help our colleague envision what is possible in these new media. Is that appropriation? I don’t think it is. If we ask students to collaboratively write with a wiki and only one student does all the work, then we are reinscribing all the bad practices of that genre for teaching writing. Appropriation gone bad. If we ask students to post a book report to a blog and then offer feedback to others, not allowing for uses of hypertext and the natural conversations that will bubble up, then we are reinscribing all the bad practices of that genre, too. Appropriation gone bad, again.

Instead, we need to help teachers see the potentials of these new media and the genres they allow. Then we won’t need to worry about appropriating. We will need to think more about invention, discovery, and creativity, traits that we would wish on all our writers.

Justifying Digital Reading and Writing

Before the NWP Annual meeting, I had three separate conversations (one by email, one by phone, and one in person) with colleagues from the local, state, and national level about why and how to use digital reading and writing in their classrooms and for professional development. I had many more of these conversations at the NWP Annual Meeting and the ACE Workshop. What I will try to capture here is a basic outline of my response to them, and why I feel that these are critical literacy skills.

I hope to return to this post and update it, both because it is very rough right now and it will always be able to grow. Please feel free to help me out if you have ideas I should add, OK?

Frameworks

First, to conceptually frame digital reading and writing, there are a few places to begin:

Teaching tips and things to do

I know that this is not the most organized or coherent list of stuff. Also, I am thinking of turning it into a page on this site so it remains static. But, for now, I think that it is the beginning of something worth capturing and beginning to build as a more comprehensive resource about how and why we want to teach with these technologies.

Teachers Teaching Teachers Webcast

Just a quick note to say that I’ve been enjoying the Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast for the past few weeks. Here is a piece of the write-up from last night’s episode. Check it out.

Our conversation this evening began innocently enough with Gail Desler, the technology liaison for the Area 3 Writing Project in and around Sacramento, California, describing her work over the past four years with blogging in the classroom. Last year 3 different Writing Projects and 5 schools joined together in a project called “Youth Voices: Coast to Valley.” Given that we have stolen their name, “Youth Voices” in an attempt to broaden our network of schools, we are delighted to include Gail and her teachers in the elgg at http://youthvoices.net! Last night Gail said that some of the same teachers from last year’s work would be joining the new Youth Voices. A great question that Gail has been asking is, “How can we sustain and deepen online conversations on a blog?” And part of this has to do with finding the right balance between personal blogging and common blogging around a theme or text.

Teachers Teaching Teachers

Blogged with Flock

Thoughts on Morville’s “The Sociosemantic Web”

Today for Critical Studies, we read a chapter from Peter Morville‘s Ambient Findability, “The Sociosemantic Web.” This chapter suggests that taxonomies are out, folksonomies are in, yet (given the choice) Morville says, “I’ll take the ancient tree of knowledge over the transient leaves of popularity any day” (p. 139). That was the one line of the text that confused most of us, given his overwhelming support of how links, tags, and other forms of metadata can contribute to our understanding of the web, but that was one of our only concerns.

A few things that the chapter raised, however, related to the ways in which we, as researchers and educators, find, use, and distribute knowledge, as well as what counts as literacy now. First, we talked about the ways in which we “traditionally” did research in school with 3×5 cards, encyclopedias, and card catalogs which then lead to a final, polished paper of regurgitated information. Today, students are (or, at least, they could be) working from Wikipedia, keeping Google Notebooks, checking out social bookmarks and blogs of others working on similar research, and creating collaborative reports with a wiki. In what ways does this challenge the traditional power structures evident in schooling, in general, and literacy education, in particular? Was there ever a “pure and good” way to do research, despite the clear and concise steps that we would like to believe comprises good research?

Second, the idea that the world was built on taxonomies and is now working in folksonomies (although we are not so sure there was ever a dichotomy) makes what we want students to do as literate citizens very different than what it used to be. It is no longer about memorizing one idea sequentially after another, but instead looking for connections — sometimes suggested by experts, sometimes by peers — and trying to synthesize ideas into something new and useful, not just to repeat it for a test. We talked about the list of genres represented in hypertext (p. 146) and the ways in which composing those texts on paper as compared to using hypertext drastically changes the task. In some ways, linking is the new way to create citations (although, looking at a list of someone’s references to see what to read next has been a skill that we’ve used before the Internet).At any rate, it was an interesting read and since Morville might be coming to campus later this year for a talk, I figured it would be good to write a little bit about his work now.

Another Example of Negative Networking

Newsweek has added its thoughts on the negative aspects of social networking:

What happens when the identity you reveal to friends suddenly overwhelms the façade you present to grown-ups? The results can be awkward—or worse. Photos from drunken parties, recollections of sexual escapades, profanity or threats—all these indiscretions, posted online, have gotten students suspended or expelled, or harmed job prospects. In a couple of decades, a presidential candidate may be called on to answer for a college misadventure that he or she impetuously detailed in a blog entry.

Dangers of Social-Networking Sites – Kaplan College Guide – MSNBC.com

I agree with the above example of how someone can represent him or herself poorly online. And, to the best of my ability,
I have tried to manage my own online persona so that I won’t have to deal with
any situations like this when someone Googles my name. However, there is more to the story than this.

First, why is everything about social networking in the media about the negatives? Why aren’t there more stories about the positive interactions that blogs and wikis promote as well as the great examples of online communities like ELGG?

In particular, I want to take up the point – and it only appears as a caption on a photo of a college adviser – that a site like Facebook (or MySpace or any of the other social networking sites that DOPA is attempting to ban from schools) could and should be treated “like a résumé,” or, I would add, a digital portfolio. These snapshots of your life – good, bad, and ugly – are what will represent you online as you prepare for college, jobs, and life.
To me, this just adds to the buzz about DOPA and how, instead of banning social networking from schools (including blogs, wikis, and the like), we as educators need to push harder to help students understand how the types of situations like the one quoted above could happen; in turn, we need to help them become better citizens of the read/write web. Moreover, we could use these tools as digital portfolios – they allow files to be uploaded and shared, right – that could grow and change over time. If done well, these sites could keep a running record of a student’s ideas (through the blog part) and an archive of their work (by uploading files).
At any rate, if you are interested in finding out more about DOPA, visit the Wikipedia entry on it. And, if you want to send a quick and easy email to your senator stating your opposition to DOPA, visit David Warlick’s blog and click on the “Revise DOPA” badge.

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