Last year, when I first taught EDU 807, “Learning Tools in Education Technology,” one of my goals was to employ a wiki as a learning management system (LMS) so the doctoral students involved in the course could participate in a more open, collaborative form of social scholarship. I have long been an advocate of using wikis as an organizational space for my face-to-face classes and in professional development workshops, and it made sense to me that students involved in a doctoral program about educational technology tools would be able to adapt the wiki for their own uses as individuals and in small groups, and to collaborate in innovative ways.
One of the other elements of this course was that I asked students – both individually and in small groups – to regularly move across a variety of educational technology tools. For instance, we used at least a dozen different technologies including the wiki, Google Docs, VoiceThread, Vialogues, and (the now defunct) Zaption. There was also an attempt to integrate Twitter as a back channel conversation throughout the semester.
The ideal, however, met the reality of teaching an online course to busy professionals, and the struggle to move between spaces began to cause confusion and frustration. For all of us, the management of so many different tools was a challenge: Where are we discussing the readings this week? What is due next? Where is the link for that article?
My end-of-semester course evaluations reflected the types of concerns that students felt as they moved across so many tools in such quick succession. While they generally enjoyed and appreciated the course, it was clear that using the wiki in the way that I envisioned was one step too many, even for students in a doctoral program exploring ed tech. Sadly, our attempts to make use of the wiki on a regular basis quickly fell to the wayside. Also, as an instructor, I struggled to keep a balance with students turning in their work, providing feedback, updating the online gradebook in our normal LMS, Blackboard, and – on top of that – managing revisions and late assignments.
In short, my best efforts at using the wiki as an open, collaborative space for students to generate their own shared understandings of the course material and to create social scholarship became an unnecessary burden. In rethinking the course for this spring, then, I struggled to figure out how I would push back against the practices and discourses of the standard course management system while, at the same time, updating my course for this spring so as to avoid massive confusion on behalf of my students.
Hence, I am returning to our university’s LMS as the “hub” of our course activities. I struggle with this for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I’m trying to teach doctoral students how to employ a variety of educational technology tools – building on collaborative, open source ethos – and yet I must return to an LMS that has a decidedly centered to the tool. I also struggle because I want students to know that social scholarship (openness, collaboration, messiness) does not always work on distinct the context of “taking” a course (modules, assignments, grades).
However, I will keep the idea of being “open” moving forward by asking students to blog on a regular basis, as well as to post additional course assignments as artifacts on their own digital portfolios. Also, we will use Twitter as a way to comment upon one another’s work, as well as to share ideas from other scholars.
I am not particularly pleased about having to give up on using a wiki, and yet at the same time I think by centralizing and streamlining many of the more mundane class activities in the LMS, I will be better able to help my students focus on broader goals of social scholarship and critically evaluating educational technologies. So, wish me luck as I reboot EDU 807 this semester!
Another semester began this week, and I have been updating my syllabus and wiki site for ENG 315. Last semester, I was quite surprised and delighted by the number of you who asked me about my Wikispaces to Edmodo shift. Well, we learn from our failures, right? This is one that taught me a great deal about digital writing and teaching, and I share a few thoughts here.
First, I realized how dependent I had become on using a wiki, both to prepare for class as well as in class. Each week, I would create a new agenda page and share that with my students. While I could share links in Edmodo, I switched to a Google Doc for the agenda, and that was confusing to many students. In other words, I didn’t find an easy way to put a weekly agenda up and — while I had placed a link to the agenda in Edmodo, asked them to save the doc in their own Google Drive, and sent a link out each week — the document itself became overwhelming. There may have been an easy workaround for this, however that was not the major concern that students had.
Second, I populated our course’s feed with two RSS feeds so they could get updates on educational news and events. There were so few posts from class members in between our regular class meetings each week, that these syndicated RSS feeds would essentially “fill” the front page for the class. Students were not interested in or easily able to search for assignments or posts from their classmates. Again, I could’ve turned off the RSS, and I’m sure that some simple tagging and searching skills would’ve made this a moot point, that it was something that bothered students in a way I had set up our Edmodo course.
Finally, when I would go to use Edmodo in class as a way to take notes on course discussions, or invite them to post a piece of writing, again there seemed to be no convenient way to do this. I could take notes in the Google talk and make a link, or in a post, but that seemed to get lost. Also, when I had students write in class and then post to the wall of the Edmodo course, again became quickly filled with posts and made it difficult to see everything directly.
For each of these problems, I’m sure that I could’ve figured out a way around them, and I know that Edmodo recently released an update as well, so perhaps on these issues would be less of a concern. However, for me and the preservice teachers with whom I work, it just wasn’t the right fit. So, this semester I am definitely going back to a wiki and I will be more intentional about the times we use the wiki as compared to when we choose Google docs.
The other good thing about my “fail” is that it has coincided nicely, or at lease given me a great deal of material for, my experience in the High Impact Teaching Academy that I have then participating in at CMU. Once a month, a group of about 10 faculty, graduate students, and a facilitator from our faculty development center have been meeting to discuss issues related to syllabus design, assignments, implementing writing, assessment, integrating technology, flipping the classroom, and a variety of other topics.
The chance to talk with like-minded colleagues from disciplines across the university has been very valuable. Part of the work that we are doing this year is to create a product that demonstrates substantive change in our teaching practice. I am approaching ENG 315 with a renewed focus the semester, and have created two artifacts over the break that I shared during our first week of class: a “visual syllabus” and this Prezi that outlines my vision for the course. And, I will be moving back to a wiki… so I will share more about thinking later in the semester.
Good luck with the new semester and thanks again for sharing your feedback. A number of readers have told me that the comment features on the blog have not been working properly, and I ever moved a number of plug-ins so hopefully commenting will be much easier.
For the first time in five years, I am starting an ENG 315 course without using a wiki and, instead, will be relying on Edmodo as the primary space for communicating with my students. This is a big pedagogical shift for me, one that (to be honest) invoked a little bit of healthy anxiety when I started teaching a few weeks ago.
Healthy anxiety is good for me as an educator, and since I want to use Edmodo (or educational social networking tools) in smart, creative ways — as well as think carefully about why I have made the shift away from the wiki — I am capturing some of my thinking here.
My ENG 315 wiki has served many purposes including weekly agendas and assignments, writer’s profile pages, and discussion forums. I appreciate the flexibility that the wiki allows, inviting students to create, share, and comment on work. Also, I encourage students to go back and look at the work submitted in earlier semesters, including a gallery of exceptional work. I would use the wiki to take notes in class, invite responses to discussion prompts, and serve as a space to organize links and other resources. They are able to create links to their Google Docs, but that sometimes works and sometimes (when they forget to make the Docs public) doesn’t work.
The main downfall of the wiki — despite the amount of time that I spend in class to show students how to create new pages, upload files, and find information that I have posted — is that students (at least a few) report that they get “lost” on the wiki. In short, they don’t really know how the architecture of the site works, and they sometimes write over the pages and files of other students, let alone just having trouble getting things posted in the first place. Now, granted, these concerns are usually allayed by the end of the semester, but the general feelings of angst at the beginning of the semester still haunt some of our activities, and I hear about it in my evaluations. They like the wiki, and the integration of technology, but I get the feeling that things could be better.
Switching to Social Networking
So, this past summer I have been thinking quite a bit about how social networks, specifically Edmodo could work as a new pedagogical space. In particular, because it has a mobile app and we can integrate files from other web sources (namely, Google Docs) with ease, I wanted to give it a try. Of course, there is the whole “it looks like FB” approach, and that is something that my students noticed right away as we began last night. Also, their requirements as a part of their teacher ed program have shifted so that they are putting a portfolio online using Mahara, and I think that they could make a link to that easily, too.
I am a bit hesitant, however, because I don’t want to be seen as simply jumping on the social networking bandwagon, nor do I want to give up the viable collaborative features of the wiki so easily. I do worry that the scrolling home screen, with posts disappearing, could cause some difficulty in trying to keep things organized. But, I also think that I will be able to see student work laid out more efficiently by clicking on their name, knowing that they will have attached assignments from their own library to the posts (rather than potentially forgetting links or writing over other files on the wiki). Also, I think that they will be able to share their writing, especially their field notes, in a space that is more comfortable which will, I hope, prompt them to read and respond to one another’s work.
So, as I go into this mini teacher-research experiment, I wonder:
Will the switch from wikis to social networking have a positive effect on my students’ sense of themselves as technology users?
Given my initial nervousness and limited understanding of the Edmodo interface, will I be able to do everything that I have done in the past with wikis in a similar, or at least compatible, manner?
Will students feel as invested in creating and maintaining their own “writer’s profile” given that it won’t be as accessible in Edmodo as it is on the wiki (or, at least not as accessible as I imagine it could be)?
Will the social network provide more “authentic” opportunities for reading and responding to one another’s work, or will it still be seen as “school” space, only to be used for purposes of class?
Anyone else using Edmodo? Got some tips? Pitfalls to avoid?
Let me know what you are thinking and I will keep coming back to this topic over the course of the semester.
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.
Recently, a conversation on our department’s listserve sparked me to offer a rare response. Most of what you need to know about the conversation on the list is embedded in my comments below, and I would welcome ideas for how you help students use technology during class in productive, ethical, and responsible ways.
This conversation about student technology use comes for me at an interesting point in the summer, having just a few weeks ago finished our summer institute with the Chippewa River Writing Project (which was a four-week, laptop intensive experience for participants) and as I plan for teaching and professional development work this fall (in which computer labs and internet access will be a critical part of the work). Having been on vacation and just now catching up on the conversation, I have a few thoughts on this. While I surely sympathize with all of you who have students using laptops for off-task behaviors in class (and have had similar experiences myself), I am quite disturbed by the general tone of this conversation in regards to students, their social skills, and technology uses. To me, the suggestion that we “selectively shut-off the WiFi in the classroom” or “forbid in-class use of laptops and any of those smaller things” is akin to something like censorship, an act that we would rally against.
While I am not condoning the use of Facebook during class time or other types of distracted behavior, I think that there are two aspects of this issue that haven’t been addressed — the ways in which we invite students to be academics and our own pedagogical styles, both in relation to technology. For the first, I find the suggestion that students not use the internet during our classes or outside of class to be ridiculous, as it is our responsibility to teach them how to use it productively, ethically, and responsibly for many purposes, not the least of which is communicating with us, engaging in research, and creating digital texts. For the second, I think that we all have a responsibility to think about the ways that we ask, even encourage students to use technology in our classrooms, above and beyond simply taking notes.
My experience — having taught in labs for the past three years and with the writing project this summer — is that simply setting norms for technology use and, periodically, revisiting these norms will eliminate most of the problems and help you learn from your students how best to employ technology. If you want them to take notes, why not have an interactive Google Doc with the day’s agenda posted for the all to take notes, post questions, and add links to pertinent web resources? If you are worried that internet searching and instant messaging is killing their critical thinking ability, then why not engage them in online discussions and model the types of responses you would expect them to give? In other words, don’t blame the technology causing bad behavior when you have opportunity to employ it in productive ways.
As I have done with undergraduates, graduates, and teachers in professional development settings, when we were having trouble with off-task behavior this summer, I simply paused in class one day to ask everyone to brainstorm with me in a grid about the positives and negatives that the laptops had for us as teachers and learners. Many people expressed great appreciation for the fact that they could be connected to one another in class through our wiki, Google Docs, and other collaborative technologies. Some were concerned that these technologies could be distracting when they couldn’t get the right log in password or find the right settings to make changes on a website. Many admitting to quickly checking their email or Facebook during class time, and agreed that it should not be done while others were presenting their teaching demonstration or when we had a group discussion. In fact, we agreed to make an effort to ask for “lids down” moments when we really wanted everyone to attend carefully to what was said in this face-to-face setting and “lids up” moments when we wanted them to do something hands-on with their computers.
In short, I fear that this discussion about limiting students’ technology use in class treads on very dangerous water, as we are fortunate enough to have the computer labs that we do have and making broad claims that we would want to turn off the internet or ban technology all together seems, at best, anti-intellectual and, at worst, a violation of students’ right to learn in whatever manner they see fit.
My hope is that we can continue to talk about productive uses of technology, both for our students and for our teaching while not simply resorting to the “kids these days” kinds of comments that have been evident in the earlier threads of this discussion.
From School to Screen: Why Digital Writing Matters (9:30 – 10:45)
Without question, writing continues to change in the twenty-first century. Teachers, administrators, parents, and other stakeholders value the teaching of writing — and see that our very notion of what it means to be literate is evolving — yet continue to wonder how best to teach writing in a digital age. Based on work with the National Writing Project, we will discuss practices that hold promise as we develop understandings of what it means to write digitally, create spaces for digital writing in our schools, and extend assessment practices that account for the complexities of writing in a digital world.
Creating Your Digital Writing Workshop (1:30 – 3:30)
Digital writing tools such as blogs, wikis, digital stories, and social networks can contribute to what you are already doing in your writing instruction as well as appeal to a new generation of students. Building on the principles discussed in the first 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—could be updated for the digital age. With examples of how to teach digital writing throughout, this session will help you create your digital writing workshop. Join the Ning!
For both of these presentations, I want to acknowledge and thank my many colleagues from the National Writing Project with whom I have been able to collaborate in my research, teaching, and professional development work.
As we prepare to head to the NWP Annual Meeting and NCTE Convention in just about a week, I am also plugging away at our Chippewa River Writing Project Continued Funding Application. I have come to one of the most compelling parts of the report, at least for me… the point where we reflect on the summer institute and think about what that means for our site. So, here is where I am at right now and, in the spirit of collaboration, I look for any insights that you might be able to offer me here as I try to articulate my vision of our “digital writing project.”
Thanks in advance for your feedback and I look forward to seeing many of you in Philly next week! — From the CRWP CFA — Troy’s Reflections on the Summer Institute:
Our summer institute, from its inception, focused on a clear integration of literacy and technology. In seeing ourselves as a “digital writing project,” we began our work with the intent that a “web 2.0” ethos of collaboration, creativity, and commitment would infuse our work. As we reflect on our experience as leaders in this first summer institute, and review the comments of TCs, we see that these elements were present. In terms of collaboration, we relied heavily on the wiki and Google Docs as spaces to share all of our work, from our initial writer’s profile to our responses to teaching demos to our own personal writing. Teachers began the institute with the expectation that they would, indeed, become part of a collaborative and connected group, largely enabled by the technologies that we chose.
In terms of creativity, we invited participants to engage in literacy and technology not just from a functional perspective (although, getting the technology to simply function was sometimes a problem!), but from critical and rhetorical perspectives as well. Our use of digital storytelling, for instance, highlights this perspective. While inviting participants to create their own digital stories, we also analyzed the stories that others had created to get a sense of what worked, what made the digital stories more than simply a collection of images set to a narration. By constantly moving back and forth from the technical to the critical and rhetorical aspects of composition – both analog and digital – we feel that participants were better able to articulate what was creative about their work, as well as why that approach worked.
Finally, we look at the commitment or level of engagement from participants. While we are happy to report that participants in our summer institute, like participants at countless other institutes, reported that their summer experience was, to use an oft-quoted phrase, “life changing,” we were also surprised to see the level at which they believed the digital aspects of our work influenced them. For instance, one participant may sum it up best by responding to the “most important thing” question from the final SI survey conducted by Inverness:
The most important “thing” I gained is confidence with some interactive technology to implement in my classroom. I think implementation of the Wiki will benefit my students. Their mindset is that school work isn’t “real” work, and I’d like to change their mindset. Use of the Wiki will assist, I believe.
Simply stated, we “wikified” our teachers’ beliefs about what it means to be a writer and teacher of writing. Like Wikipedia, where many contributors create a collective whole that is, indeed, much more than the sum of its parts, we feel that our summer institute, with its focus on “collaboration, creativity, and commitment” allowed participants to see writing, and digital writing, in an entirely different perspective. We hope, like all NWP sites do, that this new vision will help inform the ways that they teach writing in their classrooms, especially in the ways that they integrate technology.
From our site visit earlier this winter, the media and public relations team at CMU has put together an article and podcast about the Chippewa River Writing Project. I find it fitting that as we pursue digital writing within the project that the way in which it was announced to the CMU community comes in the form of a web-based article and podcast.
The National Writing Project, a federally funded professional development program with nearly 200 sites, provides over 7,000 programs for K-16 teachers across the country, reaching more than 135,000 participants in 2008. The CRWP was one of ten new sites established in the U.S. this year.
“We aim to develop programs unique to CRWP that will distinguish us in the state and nation by addressing the issues that face us in northeastern Michigan. We will do so by utilizing technology for distance learning and building on the strengths of the English department and interests of local teachers,” said Troy Hicks, a CMU English faculty member and director of the CRWP.
Hicks is optimistic about the impact the writing project site will have on teachers in the area.
“My goal is to establish the CRWP as a site that partners with teachers in suburban and rural settings throughout northeastern Michigan, utilizing technology to both support their professional learning as well as to become a key component in their own teaching,” Hicks said.
My journey with the National Writing Project began in 2003 with my participation in my first summer institute at Red Cedar Writing Project and has continued to take me in places, personally and professionally, that I could not have imagined. To say that beginning a new writing project is a dream come true, despite the cliche, would be an understatement. So, it is with great anticipation that I look forward to our summer institute that begins in a few short weeks.
As a key component of the summer institute, we have created a wiki to organize, share, and archive our writing, teaching demos, and discussions. My hope is that by working with a digital writing space as our main point of contact in the summer institute, we will establish the habits of mind that will make collaborating and communication with digital writing tools a part of the fabric of our writing project. Because our service area will cover so many rural communities in northern Michigan, my plan is to engage teachers and students in digital writing so that they have opportunities to connect outside of their classroom, school, and district in meaningful ways, with technology being a part of an equation that focuses first on the writer and then on the mode and media of the writing.
So, as the summer institute gets closer and I have more opportunities to think about how we are engaging in digital writing, my hope is to capture some of that thinking here. In additional to having human subjects research approval and media releases from all the participants in the summer institute, my plan is to blog more regularly so we can really document how a digital writing project unfolds in its first year.
Wish us luck, and feel free to join the wiki and contribute, too!
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.
Apologies in advance for what will be a long post here, as my “reflection in action” during the conference consisted more of trying to find free wifi and navigating the Riverwalk than it did of actually having time to sit down and think. I tried to break my thinking up by day, for what that’s worth, and hope that these thoughts are useful for all my readers, especially all my colleagues who were unable to attend.
That said, NWP/NCTE2008 was a wonderful week of connecting and collaborating with colleagues, and there is so much to think about it is hard to know where to begin. So, I will organize it by day.
One thing that I will note here and throughout the rest of this post is that I sensed a definite shift, a change in the tone about how people are talking about newer literacies and technologies. In a sense, it is as if we no longer had to begin every conversation, every presentation with a disclaimer: “let me tell you why I use technology in my teaching of writing.” Instead, the conversations simply began with the premise that we simply are using technology to teach writing.
And that is darn cool.
Now for a summary of the week.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Wednesday brought me in early to work on a book project with NWP, and we had some great discussions about the state of digital writing as well as the Letters to the President Project. Having been in the process of interviewing a number of educators this fall, getting this day to work with Danielle and then meet with Elyse
and Christina from NWP brought some clarity to my thinking (something that has been sorely lacking as I have been digging through loads and loads of data). I feel very confident in the work that we did and that the book will be useful for educators in a variety of contexts.
I was able to interview someone from Google about the use of Google Docs in education, and that conversation (among the many I have had with NWP colleagues) reminds me that things are definitely changing. Yes, there are still issues of access and the digital divide. Yet, I think that students and teachers are finding more and more opportunities for thinking about how to teach digital writing because the tools are (almost) all online and (almost) all free. Not to go overboard on the idea of the conference theme, but I could finally see the revolution in action over the course of this weekend. Teachers are beginning, across the board, to make the shift.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
On Thursday, the NWP Annual Meeting kicked off and, for me at least, the best part of the day was the new site meeting. I enjoyed the Writing in a Digital Age session, but then got caught up in other things all afternoon, in particular some great news… Last week, on my birthday, I was pleased to learn from NWP’s Executive Director that Central Michigan University had been awarded an NWP site! Thus, this was my first official meeting as a new site director. When asked how I was feeling, all weekend long I repeated the “excited, but terrified” mantra. Attending the NWP Annual Meeting as a site director was a new experience, and again I was amazed at the ways in which technology and writing were simply a part of the same conversation now. As I begin to think about how to frame the work of our new site, I am encouraged by
the fact that being digital will be a major part of who we are. A talk with Bud Hunt later in the weekend reaffirmed this belief that our site should intertwine our web presence with our core work, and I look forward to tackling that when I get home.
Also, another cool aspect of Thursday was that I was interviewed by Paul and a crew from the Pearson Foundation about how writing is changing in a digital age. They were getting interview with a large number of TCs throughout the annual meeting, and I can’t wait to see how the videos they will be producing turn out.
Here are some of my thoughts from my preparations for that interview:
Why is writing important now?
As it has always been, writing remains a key mode of communication. It is important today because writers in a variety of personal and professional roles are being asked to produce a greater variety of texts, for a greater variety of audiences.While many teachers — especially those involved with NWP initiatives — continue to build on the principles of good writing instruction, we need to continue our efforts and supporting the teaching and learning of writing in all of our classrooms, K-12, and across content areas. As writers adapt to new situations for composing texts, they need to be adept in a variety of writing skills and genres.We, as educators, are the ones who introduce them to these skills and genres when we keep our attention on teaching writing with intention.
Writing in a technological world means what?
In an increasingly networked world, writers need to adapt to different purposes, audiences, and contexts for writing that have been enabled by newer technologies. This also involves a shift in how we think about who writers are, how texts are produced, and where texts are distributed.
Regardless of how “digital” we think our students are — and, no doubt, most of them are more adept at particular digital skills like using Facebook, Twitter, or text messaging, they do not necessarily come to those tasks with the capacities that make them critical and creative digital writers. Not only do they need to understand the technical aspects of creating hyperlinks, posting to a blog, or collaborating with a wiki, but they need to have the intentional focus as a writer to understand the audience and purpose for which they are writing. Who reads your Facebook updates and why? Can you write to that audience in the same manner as a you can when you produce an academic paper, even if it is posted on a blog?
Moreover, they need to consider the ways in which we can compose with multiple modes and media. For instance, one can argue a position through a traditional essay, a 30 second public service announcement (either an audio or video), or in the form of a single-page advertisement with an image and few words, or no words at all. Understanding when, why, and how to use different forms of media to convey a particular message requires a working knowledge of the mode — that is, what does an audience expect in order to be persuaded — and how to effectively manipulate the media.
So, writing has always been a complex act, and newer technologies offer writers numerous opportunities to get their message across. Writing in a technological world means that we, as writers and teachers of writing, need to be aware of these choices and how we can best utilize them to have the intended effect on our various audiences.
One disappointment… no more Tech Matters. That institute, more than anything else I have done, has shaped my thinking on teaching digital writing. I will miss it dearly, but understand the choice that was made to go to a more site-focused technology retreat. So, while I am sad to know that Tech Matters is no more, I am encouraged by the work that is happening across the NWP network related to digital writing. There are some promising things on the horizon, one of which I hope becomes this book project.
Thursday night ended with our traditional RCWP dinner. Janet thanked all of us and praised our new site, but I want to say thank you, Janet, both for dinner and for all that you have done to enable teacher leaders to fill entire tables at an annual meeting, reflecting on a year of shared work.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Friday brought breakfast with a friend I hadn’t seen in some time as well as the invitation to be interviewed for NCTE’s Centennial film being produced by John Golden and his colleagues. Wow, what an incredible honor to be invited into that work. He asked me to reflect on how the teaching of writing has changed over the past few years with the advent of Web 2.0. What an honor and a wonderful opportunity. In preparation for that interview, I wrote the following:
The read/write web has finally delivered the promise of having a real audience and varied purposes that writing teachers have so long looked to bring to their classrooms. From the beginning of the process writing movement, when Emig first looked at the composing process and Sommers identified revision strategies of experienced and novice writers, teacher researchers such as Murray, Graves, Calkins, Atwell, Ray, Fletcher, Portalupi, and others have been trying to invite student writers to see audiences and purposes beyond the classroom and traditional school genres. While this began to occur in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000’s, there was still something “fake” about this writing. Yes, it was shared with peers in class. Yes, it was read at author’s chair or published in a school anthology. Yes, it went home and made it on the fridge. And, if it was lucky, that student writing made it to a local newspaper or other venue for publication. When the internet really hit big at the turn of the 21st century, writing teachers felt as if they could have a purpose and audience beyond the classroom and school. Some were able to publish their writing online, but things got in the way: FTP, limited or no access to the server, passwords, firewalls, as well as the onerous HTML editors. The promise of the web was to democratize information, and it did — if you could figure out how to create web pages and uploaded them. Even discussion forums — with all their ability to post and respond to writing — hit the scene, there was still something impersonal and difficult about “publishing” one’s writing.
Then, when read/write web tools such as blogs and wikis emerged, and “push button publishing” become possible for anyone, anywhere. Along with the increased bandwidth and access to internet-enabled computers in schools, the ability to post and share writing on a blog was revolutionary. Finally, the goal of “publishing” work for an authentic audience and purpose emerged as a goal for writers, both in and out of school. No longer did a writer need to know HTML (although it helped),
or have a specified program on his or her computer. We could write (and publish our writing) any time, any where.
This has resulted in a shift in thinking that Knobel and Lankshear discuss in their work on New Literacies. In a nutshell, the traditional vision that we have of a single writer, working alone on a piece of writing that has been culled together from a series of authoritative sources has been replaced with one of a collaborator who is able to build on the ideas of others, and participate in what boyd calls
“networked publics.” We can access our documents any time and any where that has a network connection, including on handheld devices and mobile phones.
What this means is that — in addition to being able to write in multiple modalities and media — students must be made aware of the ways in which their writing is distributed and perceived across the many networks in which they participate. What this means for teachers — and NCTE — is that we need to consider the many ways in which students see themselves as writers (and, according to the Pew report sometimes do not see themselves as writers) and invite them to be intentional about how they read and write in a digital age.
We have learned a great deal about revision and how audience and purpose can lead to intentional writing. NCTE should continue to support scholarship and professional development that builds on the principles and research findings that we have, noting the ways in which we as teachers can guide “digital natives” who may know how to send a “tweet,” but may not always be thinking about the ways such a message can be interpreted. In short, we need to continue the professional conversations that we have been having about writing and revision over the past three decades, taking what we know about these processes and moving them into the era of the read/write web.
NCTE continues to move in the right direction. In just the past year, they have adopted the statement on teaching multimodal literacies, and released two research and policy briefs (one specifically on 21st century literacies and the “Writing Now” brief that encompasses a broader view of the composing process). By offering the summer institute on 21st century literacies, webinars, and the “Tech to Go” sessions at the conference this year, NCTE keeps moving ahead with this work in practical manners. The website redesign and Inbox blog offer good examples of how NCTE is trying to stay in touch with members.
Doing that interview really helped me articulate my thinking, and I appreciate the opportunity to have done it.
Friday morning brought me to my first presentation with some NWP colleagues, “Revising the Writing Process: New Literacies in the English Classroom.” Paul Allison, Chris Sloan, Aram Kabodian, and Dawn Reed were able to present their work related to blogging, podcasting, digital storytelling, and social networking to a crowd of over 100 (don’t believe me — check out the pictures below!). I won’t go into detail on the session, as we have all our materials on our wiki, but suffice it to say that the work these four shared is both amazing and timely. Participants left with only a tiny handout — a bookmark with our URL on it — but loads and loads of ideas. I think that my friend and Project WRITE colleague Liz Webb recorded the session as a podcast, and I will try to get a link to it.
Friday dinner brought together friends and alums from MSU, packing a restaurant. A few of us ended up in the Italian place next door when the tables overflowed. Despite missing the conversation with the large group, it was great to spend time with so many people who have ties to the green and white, even if just for a short while.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Saturday brought a meeting with my editor on another book project, on that I will be very excited to return to as the semester comes to a close and hopefully involve some Project WRITE teachers (as well as their students). Then I was off to present at my Tech To Go kiosk for “RSS Feeds and Teaching English.” Again, more of the work of that session can be found on my wiki, so I want to reflect for a moment on the process of presenting that session (thanks to Bud Hunt for the photo).
My thoughts on the Tech To Go session are mixed, but all in a good way. On the one hand, I wanted to have it be a little more formal with a larger screen and some chairs, so people would feel free to linger. On the other hand, that was precisely the point. People were able to move around, or just stop by is something caught their eye. Having to
reexplain RSS got a little repetitive over the course of the hour and fifteen minutes, but I think that people walked away from the session — no matter how long they stayed — having just enough info to go back and try things out. I hope my wiki page helps them do PD in their own school. As for the Tech To Go Sessions, ideally, I would like to see
them working there with computers in front of them, so they could try it out at the moment. Yet, perhaps there is some value in getting these micro bursts of information about newer literacies and technologies. I
will be interested to see how the conference evaluations reflect people’s experiences with these Tech To Go sessions and to think about how we can shape them for next year.
After browsing books, I was fortunate enough to see Barry Lane heading towards his room with all his gear in tow. After offering a hand to help, and having a quick discussion about when we met in October at the MCTE conference, we were able to walk and talk on the way to his session room. He remembered our conversation in October, reminded me that I needed to send him the podcast (which I finally was able to do
today!), and offered me one of his CDs for helping. When we got to the room with time to spare, he asked if he could interview me for his YouTube channel. I encourage you to watch the video with Corbett Harrison instead!
Video Added 12/5/08
Then, was time for me to sit. Whew…. A session presented by Bill Bass, Melissa Lynn Pomerantz, and Debra Solomon Baker from St. Louis on “Extensions: Using Technology to Extend the English Classroom.” The three of them talked about how they used participatory tools in their classroom, including the use of audio recordings embedded in word docs to give students feedback, a variety of formats for discussion forums, and how to organize your personalized professional development with RSS feeds. It was good to hear Melissa and Debra in particular talk about how very simple uses of technology were having such a profound effect on their teaching.
Later in the afternoon, as PSU was crushing MSU, I was able to ignore the pain of the game by thinking about my third session, “Why Should We Write with a Wiki? Professional Development and the Read/Write Web.” Working with Mary Sawyer and Tim Dewar to frame a session on how pre-service and in-service teachers perceive literacies, I was able to share some of the work of Project WRITE and how teachers engaged in professional learning and collaboration with a wiki. In talking with the two of them, as well as other participants in the session, we were all able to enjoy a thoughtful and engaging close to Saturday. While
Anne Whitney’s Nittany Lions whipped on my Spartans, at least we were able to have a good conversation about how teachers learn digital literacies and we talked about how to continue supporting graduate students in the NWP network.
Saturday night brought a trip down to the San Antonio Market District, and fun night of conversation with RCWP colleagues.
Nacho libre anyone?
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Wow… A “down” day in that I had no presentations to do. Instead, I was able to meet with some colleagues throughout the day to discuss some projects as well as catch a few sessions. One of the more interesting
ones was a panel of British scholars — Julie Blake, Tom Rank, and Tim Shortis — who talked about their work with digitizing texts in the British Library, teaching 21st century literacies to teachers, and understanding the role of txting in our language. All were thought provoking and helped me consider the many ways in which as the nature of literacy continues to change, the ways that we frame the discussions about the change matter as much — if not more — than the changes themselves. The idea that sticks with me most is that we, as educators, can help provide context, in a variety of ways, to the vast bits of knowledge that are out there. The project that the British Library is undertaking to organize and contextualize the texts in their collection is simply mind-blowing.
Also, Kathy Yancey delivered another outstanding address that suggested we reframe the teaching of writing. I can’t even try to capture everything she said, but it was great stuff.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Final day. ACE Workshop. As it has been the past two years, lots of fun to talk with teachers about the use of read/write web tools in the classroom. As always, the sessions were fast-paced and I again talked
about Writing with Wikis. We had fun overwriting each other in Wikispaces, yet it seemed like most participants walked away with some ideas about why and how to use wikis in their classroom. Before we had
to go to lunch, Allen Webb shared his new website, Lit Archives, and talked about a number of ways to engage students in classic literature by harnessing digital versions of those texts and inviting them into virtual worlds.
After eating with my friend Carl Young, I had to catch a cab back to the airport. Finally able to get on wifi for free, I tried to write this blog post but (as you can imagine) ran out of time after checking email and talking with my Michigan colleagues who were about to hop on the plane with me.
So, NWP/NCTE 2008 comes to a close with me writing the bulk of this post (novella?) on the plane heading home towards Detroit. Of all the things that I didn’t do, I feel bad that I didn’t keep up with Twitter via SMS all weekend, as Andrea worked very hard to get that as our networking tool for the weekend. And I missed a lot. A lot. I look forward to reading everyone else’s reflections.
Yet, it was still a good conference. And the talk about technology and newer literacies filled most of the conference presentations and hallway conversations, implicitly or explicitly. I was able to help highlight the work of my colleagues and friends, some who were able to be at the conference and others who were not.
For as much as I did, as many new people as I met and those who I became reacquainted with, I have to say that I am tired. Not looking forward to shoveling snow, although I am looking forward to seeing my kids, my friends, and my family over the holiday weekend.
Happy Thanksgiving to all my students, friends, and colleagues reading this. Thanks for sticking through this post and sharing these reflections, as well as the entire conference, with me.
See you next year in Philly, hopefully with a crew of teachers from our new writing project site.