Digital Writing from Saskatoon Schools

During the 2013-14 school year, I was invited to work with teachers from Saskatoon Schools via webinar, including teacher-librarian Tamzen Kulyk. She and her students have created videos that document their learning through a digital writing workshop, and I am happy to share them here.

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I appreciate how Tamzen has highlighted the importance of audience and feedback as well as describing her work this year as “transformative.” I am glad to have played a small part in helping her establish a digital writing workshop this year.


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Keynote from Reinventing the Classroom 2014 Virtual Conference

My thanks to Steve Hargadon for an invitation to speak during the Reinventing the Classroom virtual conference last week. The archive of my webinar is available on YouTube.


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Conversation with Carl Young’s Class

Digital Writing Workshop Book CoverLast night, I had a Skype conversation with students of my friend and colleague, Carl Young, who are taking a course on teaching composition and reading The Digital Writing Workshop. It was a robust conversation, and they had really smart questions.

I have, with permission, simply copied and pasted the text from their original wiki page with questions and pasted it here as a resource, without much editing. Hopefully their questions — and my answers — are useful for you, as well as the links.

As a culminating experience to our reading of The Digital Writing Workshop, please add your questions below for Troy.

Questions:

  • How do you reconcile the differences of technique in professional writing and the typical writing seen in digital channels? (i.e., professional vs. entertainment blogs, etc.) – Elisha
    • As with all kinds of writing, I think that this is a good opportunity to talk about audience, purpose, and situation. Clearly, a paparazzi report on a celebrity from TMZ has a different purpose than would an interview on NPR. So, I think that it is valuable to see what digital texts are produced by different individuals and organizations, then prompt students to think critically and carefully about what the writing is and why it was composed in the manner that it was.
    • In a recent chapter I co-authored, we distinguished some of this as a difference between “focused writing” and “writing-by-the-way.” If you are interested in hearing more about this, I can share the chapter with you.
  • What are some tips you have to teach students that good digital writing is similar to that of a well researched paper or report? – Elisha
    • All of us can agree that writing is a process, whether a traditional research paper or a web page or a digital story. So, helping students become aware of their processes — as well as strengths and weaknesses in these processes — is crucial.
    • A great thinking tool to share with them are the Habits of Mind from the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing.
  • Which would you recommend for an upper elementary teacher to use for digital writing a wiki or blogs? – Amy
    • Honestly, it depends on what task you are hoping to have your students accomplish. I’ve seen teachers and kids do great work in both spaces, and we can talk about the advantages and disadvantages of both. For blogs, you might want to look at Kidblogs as a tool and for wikis I am a Wikispaces fan.
  • How can we use digital writing workshop in mixed classrooms where tiered or scaffolded instruction is necessitated without creating numerous lesson plans? What pedagogical value does it add? Lee
    • In a very real sense, writing workshop is all about differentiation. You are teaching mini-lessons that are responsive to the general needs of the class and then conferring with individuals or small groups of writers. Layering in the digital writing component opens up additional choices for students in terms of producing and publishing their work.
    • One way to do this work without going overboard would be to, quite literally, have students help you find resources based on the tool they are learning. There are, for instance, there are at least 15 tutorials for using Kidblog that show up in a search on YouTube. As you work with your students through various digital writing projects, I would ask them to help curate a list of high quality resources, and then organize one wiki page with links to all of them.
  • Does digital writing technology appeal to various individual’s natural or habitual pattern of acquiring and processing information, allowing students to augment knowledge and information, not just utilize digital writing, and how can we predetermine if it will fit a classes learning abilities? Lee
    • If I am understanding your question here, basically you are asking if we can figure out ways to engage students in authentic work and not simply using technology for technology’s sake, right? I would encourage you to watch Joel Malley’s video about how he teaches in a digital writing workshop. It is highly adaptive, yet he still has clear objectives for what he wants students to accomplish.
  • In your book you reference particular web sites that help support Digital Writing Workshops. Given how quickly technology changes, are there any new sites that you would recommend which were not available when the book was published? (Guen)
  • How do you manage a digital portfolio for your students? Since we do expect students to type and compose using computers now, is there a system that is best to track changes and keep all of a student’s writing in one place? (Shannon W)
    • Personally, I am a huge fan of Google Apps for Ed, and students can produce a portfolio using Google Sites. If you are looking for a tool to specifically track changes in writing, Google Docs has a “track changes” plugin now. In a broader sense, I would encourage you to think about how students could reflect on their writing by using screencasting to give you a virtual “tour” of their digital portfolios, reflecting on their growth.
  • How do you assess your students? Rubrics? Final product or during the process or both? (Shannon W)
    • If I had it my way, I would only assess process, and only in formative ways. But, I don’t, and grades have to be earned eventually. So, I do try to use lots of feedback while in process, very little at the end. I work with students to develop criteria for writing projects and, yes, those often turn into rubrics. Still, I do try to balance out the final product grade that I assign with a students’ own reflection and, sometimes, self-evaluation.
  • Do you advocate a balance between digital writing and traditional print writing, or do you feel they require the same process? (Jen H)
    • If anything, I am pragmatic. Sometimes, it is simply easier to have students pull out pen and paper to write me a quick note in class rather than have them turn to the computer and send me an email, if it means that they need to get logged in, boot up a web browser, etc. However, if they are already online, then sending an email or sharing a Google Doc could be easier. So, I generally lean digital, but I am pragmatic, too.
    • In terms of the debates about whether we should still teach handwriting/cursive, and the effects that has on the brain as compared to word processing, well… I will leave that for the neuroscientists to decide.
  • How much time should a teacher spend teaching the technology aspect of digital workshops? (Jen H)
    • Just like any other element of craft, I think that you teach the technology in small bursts, as mini-lessons. Or, again, look to the resources that exist online, especially screencast tutorials, and help students figure out their own tech support questions. While you have time with them in class, you want to talk with them about crafting their writing in effective ways, which may include some technical components, but you don’t want to get hung up on tech support.
  • Not all students have access to technology at home. Do you feel this puts them at a disadvantage in a writing workshop since others have time in class as well as at home to work on their writing? (Jen H)
    • Yes, of course, there are varying levels of privilege in our classrooms. Still, when looking at the most recent reports from Pew Internet, the vast majority of people are online, and I feel that the responsibility we have to teach digital literacy is significant. As I have heard many times before, it is terrible that we have a society where some kids don’t come to school with breakfast, or proper clothes, or other needs (like internet) met. But, we still have a responsibility to teach the masses, and being digitally literate is a huge part of that.
  • In our study of teaching writing, we have used Twitter as a tool for connecting with a community of writers and writing teachers. What other digital tools do you use to stay connected to the community of writing teachers? (Shannan K.)
    • So glad to know that you are using Twitter! I really enjoy using Flipboard as a tool for reading and sharing all kinds of news, especially related to education. I am pretty fond of a few key “hubs” for educators, too, including EdutopiaBAM Radio, and TeachThought. I try to stay on top of the ideas discussed in these spaces, and follow links to educators that they recommend. Also, watch for “events” that happen, whether a regular Twitter chat, a face-to-face EdCamp, or some online happening like the Slice of Life Challenge. Get involved with other educators online and they will reciprocate.
  • What criteria do you use to evaluate the effectiveness and usefulness of a digital tool as a teacher and as a writer? (Shannan K.)
    • The tool has to fit into my teaching/writing life in a seamless and useful manner. Seamless and useful doesn’t mean that there won’t be a learning curve, because there always is, no matter what the tool. The cut that the tool has to make for me is whether or not it will fit into my workflow and, ultimately, make my digital life more productive and useful. If it is just something gimmicky, then I generally steer clear. I can talk more about some of the tools that I use in both teaching and writing.

Other sites/tools that we discussed:


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Open Letter to Educators: (Re)Defining Digital Learning Day

Dear Educator:

Tomorrow (well, technically today by the time I am done writing this) is the second annual Digital Learning Day.

Cool. I’m all for digital learning, as the title of my blog implies.

But, as we prepare for the onslaught of tweets, blog posts, videos, webinars, and other celebrations, it is worth exploring the definition of “digital learning” that the group is promoting, as well as the background of the Alliance for Excellent Education’s president, Bob Wise. Understanding a little more about each of these components for the day should, I hope, give you a better understand of why it is happening.

First, the definition, straight from their website:

Digital learning is any instructional practice that is effectively using technology to strengthen the student learning experience. Digital learning encompasses a wide spectrum of tools and practices, including online and formative assessments, increased focus and quality of teaching resources, reevaluating the use of time, online content and courses, applications of technology in classrooms and school buildings, adaptive software for students with special needs, learning platforms, participation in professional communities of practice, access to high-level and challenging content and instruction, and many other advancements technology provides to teaching and learning.

In this sense, I read the definition of “digital learning” to mean content that can be delivered to students at a low-cost and, presumably, without certified teachers in place to facilitate their learning. Or, as Michigan Governor Rick Snyder calls it, “Any Time, Any Place, Any Way Any Pace.” The fact that teaching is only mentioned twice (one of those times as an adjective) and “teacher” is never mentioned should be of concern.

And, as a number of educational historians, most notably Larry Cuban, have pointed out, when there is no teacher buy-in with technology or technology-based efforts at reform, very little if anything changes. This line of thinking is very much with the proposals that organizations like iNACOL (one of DLDay’s partners) through their federal policy frameworks have proposed to essentially eliminate teachers and fuel public education dollars into private, online corporations.

Also, there are number of buzzwords and phrases in this definition that should raise the eyebrows of anyone who follows educational reforms efforts. Phrases like “online and formative assessments” is certainly a nod to the impending PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments, which will be relying on computer scoring of writing, rather than informed, teacher-led assessments. The phrase “learning platforms” also barely hides a thinly disguised approach to curriculum delivery that is, at best, a type of self-paced credit recovery option coming in the form of programs like e2020 and Read 180. Finally, the euphemism “communities of practice” is code for teacher groups that are formed under the guise of choice and interest, but usually are created to fulfill a school’s need for performance to meet AYP goals, not genuine inquiry through teacher research.

Lastly, it is worth noting that Bob Wise, who teamed with Jeb Bush for the first Digital Learning Day let year, remains the president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, the main sponsor of DLDay. Despite his Democrat party affiliation, it is worth noting that Wise is an advocate for digital learning who has shared his views in conservative forums such as the Mackinac Center. Lastly, and perhaps most concerning, Bob Wise has close ties to ALEC and many other organizations tied to the corporate educational effort movement.

All of this hubbub about DLDay thus raised major concerns for me — as a teacher, teacher educator, author, consultant, and parent. As I look towards tomorrow and the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of educators that will participate in Digital Learning Day, I wonder what we are truly celebrating?

Kids?

Creativity?

Real, authentic learning?

Contrast that paragraph full of edu-jargon quoted above and compare it with what happens when authentic assessment, student centered technology interfaces, and teacher driven inquiry guide digital learning that happens in places and spaces like NWP’s Digital Is and the DML Hub, through conferences like EdCamp and EduCon, or other affinity groups that coalesce through twitter or other social networks like Connected Learning. There is great digital learning going on out there, but not necessarily in the spaces or formats that DLDay actively promotes through their corporate partnerships and special interests.

So, what do you plan to do as you celebrate Digital Learning Day this year?

While I certainly encourage everyone to participate, I also strongly suggest that you think about the message you are sending in relation to digital learning: who has power and agency? Who has access? Who is accountable, and for what reasons? Are we talking about students, teachers, and parents working toward a common goal of universal literacy and civic engagement?

Or, is this just another corporate effort at “reforming” education into another line in their profit ledger?

However you celebrate DLDay, you have the power to show what digital learning is and can be, not just what corporations and politicians tell us it should be.

Use your power — and hashtags — wisely over the next 23 hours.

Update on February 7, 2013: Minor editing/typo changes. 

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Teacher Leadership and Digital Writing

Wordle of Initial Thinking from CAWP Professional Development Workshop
Wordle of Initial Thinking from CAWP Professional Development Workshop

This weekend, I began working with teacher leaders from the Columbus Area Writing Project on the hybrid course we are calling “Teacher Leadership in Teaching Digital Writing.”

I’ve been fortunate enough to make many trips to Columbus in the last few years, and look forward to having this opportunity to work with these NWP colleagues as they prepare for their two-week Summer Institute as well as advanced institute for teacher leadership in digital writing.

We began Friday night by looking at one of Clay Shirky’s TED Talks, and in thinking about the implications for our classrooms and professional development work, specifically as it relates to the changing environments and expectations for writing in an era of the common core standards. This initial conversation generated a number of inquiry questions and ideas including thoughts about how we can value the principles of good writing instruction over technology tools as well as how we can invite our colleagues into these broader conversations about the changing nature of literacy.

We then went on to identify a number of our concerns through the “yeah but, yes and” activity used by many theater companies, and more recently as a training exercise for MBA students. We ended Friday evening by generating a list of potential technologies to explore together over the next few weeks, including Google Communities where we had already begun a conversation.

This morning we began by looking a the chapter I’ve been writing about our experiences in the Chippewa River Writing Project end how we have positioned ourselves as an “digital writing project,” embedding a variety of technologies and new literacies into our practices. While generally complementary, we were also able to generate a thoughtful discussion about how technology can have positive — and potentially negative — influences on teacher identity, and how sharing work publicly online can affect the ways in which teachers express themselves and choose to write.

The remainder of the day was devoted largely to a deeper exploration of the technologies that participants identified Friday night as being potentially valuable for our work together over the next few months. In particular, we delved deeper into the possibilities with Google+, Twitter, and Flipboard. Here are some of our notes:

  • Google+
    • Advantages
      • Easy integration with all Google services
      • Easy to add members
    • Drawbacks
      • Conversations get lost quickly from home page/lack of threading
      • No way to upload documents easily
      • Being in real time is a challenge in certain situations
    • Hangout
      • Possibilities for conversing with more than one person
      • Having a much larger group work, writing groups
      • Someone is in their classroom, in their school and they want some feedback from other people who are in other places
      • Documenting and saving the comments and responses
      • Moving beyond Skype to use as a way to collaborate across classrooms
      • Get together on early-release days with cross-school teams
      • Giving an oral presentation and receiving feedback from the chat room
      • Connecting with kids outside the classroom
      • Creating a panel of experts
  • Twitter/Chats
    • Hootsuite
    • EngChat
    • Twitter
      • Constraints of space make you choose what you are going to write and share; gets to the essence
      • Connect quickly with people whom you would never connect
      • Who you choose to follow — finding the educational resources — who am I choosing to follow, and why?
  • Flipboard/RSS

The three books that we are going to read are:

  • Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. First ed. W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.
  • Rheingold, Howard. Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. The MIT Press, 2012.
  • Warschauer, Mark. Learning in the Cloud: How (and Why) to Transform Schools with Digital Media. Teachers College Press, 2011.

Overall, I feel like this initial plunge into digital writing and teacher leadership was a successful one. As we concluded the day today, they generated a number of additional ideas and inquiry questions:

  • What leads to and then feeds thriving digital writing communities for students and for teachers (and are those the same thing)?
  • How do we put everything together in a coherent, usable way?
  • How do I act as a learner and a leader at the same time? What is the balance of teaching and learning at the same time?
  • Where do I find the time to learn it and then be able to teach it? Giving myself permission to be less than expert in it.
  • If you are working with in-service or pre-service teachers, how do you address the tension between the teaching of writing and the learning of the tools?
  • The potential for balancing potential use with triviality — how do we sort out and sift through what is trivial and a waste of time as compared to what will lead to meaningfulness and depth?

Over the next few weeks, we will be meeting once a week via Hangout or Twitter chat to share our experiences, discuss readings, and think about plans for their site as they create future professional development opportunities. At some point in the near future, I am hoping that we will be able to make some of our work public, and this is certainly a rich experience for me as well as I think about future models for professional development and learning and hybrid or mostly online scenarios.

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Opening the Conversation on Digital Mentor Texts

Just about a week from now, a number of us will be blogging about mentor texts in the digital writing workshop. Inspired by this announcement and reflecting on her own experience with integrating digital writing into her work as a librarian, Buffy Hamilton offered me many things to think about in a recent blog post on The Unquiet Librarian. She outlines a thoughtful approach to why and how she is integrating digital writing into her library curriculum, and leads into a series of great questions/points, three of which I will quote from and respond to here because I see them as intricately intertwined and important to our work as teachers of digital writing:

I felt frustrated in the professional books I read this fall in that they never seemed to address concrete strategies for scaffolding the digital composition process or effective assessment strategies.

How do I do better job of helping students articulate the learning goals in these projects and to take on more ownership and involvement in constructive, meaningful assessment of their work?

Ultimately, I think some of these challenges come back to the larger challenge of encouraging teachers and students to take an inquiry, participatory stance on learning…

Buffy raises the key issue here about digital writing that could be said for much of the history of writing instruction; this is the tension we feel between allowing students the freedom to choose topics, genres, and assessments that they find personally meaningful and will help them grow as writers in contrast and/or competition to what we feel we should or must do as teachers of writing. In the simplest terms, it boils down to whether or not we prepare students to write five paragraph essays and to be able to respond to prompts on the test, or whether we want them to be real writers. In practice, this means that we are forcing students to engage in a “writing process” and spend more time focused on using rubrics than actually talking with students about their writing. This is a classic model of teacher driven instruction where we must “motivate” students become better writers. The onus of responsibility — not to mention the topics, word limits, and structures of organization for the writing — fall squarely on the shoulders of the teacher.

What Buffy appears to be advocating for, and what I would completely concur with, is a more student-centered approach that invites students to think carefully about the process of writing, however messy that process may be. Traditionally, we’ve had about three genres in school writing: the (five paragraph) essay, the research paper, and the book report. As soon as you open up any one of those genres for multimedia expression, you immediately expose the constraints of those structures and, in turn, make it very difficult for teachers and students to apply traditional rubrics and language of assessment to the products that they create. What does a “thesis statement” look like in a slideshow or a public service announcement? Thus, Buffy hits the nail on the head when she mentions ideas about ownership, meaningful assessment, inquiry, and the participatory stance on learning. These are not just problems with writing, or with digital writing; these are problems with what my colleague Anne Whitney calls the “schooliness” of school. Writing is normally very “schooly” and, when it isn’t, it’s too “touchy/feely.” We are caught in a trap of either living up to a formulaic model or praising students for their efforts without any substantive feedback.

So, to that end, I really appreciate how Buffy raises points and asks questions that force us to think about the thinking process students are involved in during the digital writing process. More importantly, she clearly aims for students to document their own learning and to have teachers focus formative assessment on that process, ultimately leading to many of the goals that we’ve had for years when employing a writing workshop/portfolio pedagogy.  And, since she asked for some specific advice about how to move forward, I’ll offer a few points here that will also inform my thinking in the next week as I prepare to write about the digital mentor texts:

  • Use the tools at hand. Teach students to use the digital tools at hand in order to become better readers, writers, and researchers. I know that there’s still a digital divide and that not all students have access to smart phones, tablet PCs, and high-speed Internet in their own homes, yet cloud-based services such as Diigo and Evernote are allowing students to capture their own thinking as well as links to websites, audio and video just about anywhere. They need to take responsibility to do that. See a link? A video? A podcast? Save and share it. Since teachers are using the library in a variety of different ways, from a very casual to very intense and thoughtful, help students become digital learners by inviting them to use these tools and share resources on-the-go.
  • Embrace the messiness. The writing process has never been a linear one, at least not the same straight line for everyone. Despite what the posters in our classroom and the programs that people try to sell us may say, no writer worth his or her salt has ever gone straight through a process of pre-writing, drafting, revising, proofreading, and publishing. I’m not even able to do it in this one blog post, let alone for an article or a book. Thus, we need to acknowledge that the writing process is recursive and messy, and that needs to happen both in our instruction and assessment. For digital writing, we can invite students to literally take snapshots or record screen casts of what they are doing, what they’re thinking, and the questions that they have while in the process of researching and writing. Have students create inquiry guides for their peers using social bookmarking, wikis, or some other collaborative tool. Invite students to pose questions to one another about their research, and part of their assessment is based on how well they respond to these questions and concerns that their peers have raised.
  • Make the process public. Whether your school is using wikis, a course management system, or some other type of social network to help students connect online, make sure that they are documenting and describing the process along the way. In addition to the suggestions above about embracing the messiness, they could have periodic checkpoints during a writing project in which they would be responsible for certain things (as, indeed, many students have always been responsible for having parts of projects done along the way). Part of what they might need to do is technical: set up accounts, watch screen cast tutorials, find _ many sources from academic databases and _ many more on the public web.  I am not saying that teachers should have every single one of these tasks are checkpoints set up before the project begins, as it could very well depend on the student, the topic, and the digital writing that he or she undertakes. Yet, holding them accountable along the way can still be done even if it is not tied to a formal quiz or essay test.
  • Make the final product public, as well as the responses. Again, this returns to this idea that students should be accountable not only for their own work, but for their thoughtful critique and commentary on the work of others.  They can use tools like Diigo to annotate webpage products, Jing to record screencasts describing a website, or Video ANT to insert commentary on a video. As they read/view the work of others and respond to that work — in conjunction with their own experience as digital writers — they can then work together to develop evaluative criteria for their projects. Some of those criteria will be shared, and will most likely be focused on the content of the projects, will some of those criteria will be specific for each particular project. For instance, everyone may have to meet the broad goal of finding at least 10 sources and accurately documenting their work, yet individual students may go about this in different ways to the use of social bookmarking, bibliographic tools, or hyperlinks, based on the digital writing that they do.

So, those are some thoughts in response to Buffy’s insightful reflections on this first half of her year integrating digital writing. Sorry that they kind of read like a list of new year’s resolutions, but I hope they are helpful.

Also, as I prepare for the collaborative series, I’m looking for examples of what I would call “professional” digital mentor texts that I can write about. The first one that came to mind for me was Dove’s “Evolution” video. While I know that students would not be expected to create something exactly like this, I do think that it opens up opportunities for many conversations about what digital writing is and could be. If you have other ideas for mentor texts that have been made by professionals yet would still be appropriate to share with students as models of exemplary digital writing, please do let you know.

Until 2012…

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Report from RCWP’s WIDE PATHS 2010

This morning, I was fortunate enough to be invited “home” to present my session, “Creating Your Digital Writing Workshop” at Red Cedar Writing Project‘s WIDE PATHS II. Beyond the wonderful feeling of being “home” with about 30 colleagues from RCWP and sharing my book with them, I continue to be inspired by the amazing work that teachers do in their classrooms and schools, despite the continued barrage of criticisms that come both directly from politicians and the media as well as indirectly from the ways that our society and government structure “educational reforms” such as Race to the Top. For more on what these “reforms” mean for organizations such as the NWP, check out Sara’s recent post on IdeaPlay.

At any rate, there were many good parts of the day, and ideas from the conversations in the opening session were captured by Dawn on the presentation page. There were a number of issues that came forward, and the conversation was rich since, as a group, we were talking as knowledgeable peers, many already engaged in digital writing practices. Most notably, we thought about a number of issues related to the actual composition of digital texts, moving beyond the logistical questions that often come up (as important as they are) and into conversations about how and why students compose digital texts. Maggie captured one idea (and I am paraphrasing) in the idea that digital media allow us to create texts that are “long enough to accomplish goal, but also short enough to keep interest.”

Then, throughout the day, there were three strands: social networking, collaborative writing, and visual studies. Overall, I feel like the day was filled with timely, relevant, and useful information, right out of the NWP tradition of “teachers teaching teachers.” We worked together, learned some new ideas, got reminded of some ideas I had forgotten (like using Diigo), and, while I couldn’t attend everything, here are some notes from the other wonderful sessions throughout the day.

Social Networking (Andrea Zellner)

  • Four components of participation in social networks
    • Digital Citizenship
    • Digital Footprint
    • Personal Learning
    • Impact on Writing
  • Thoughts from the discussion, after creating our own personal network maps on paper
    • What does it mean to “know” someone? Be connected to someone?
    • How and when do we connect to someone? To a group? Knowing that we have access to the network at our fingertips, when and how can we leverage it?
    • Thinking about how they are invited to join social networks (Pixie Hallow, Webkinz, Facebook, Second Life) and the commercial/consumer interests that some of these networks have? What about the critical literacy practices that students need to have to understand how they are positioned within and across these networks?
    • Do we create networks that are “echo chambers” where we only listen to others in our own network that do not allow or invite us to think about alternative or opposing ideas?
    • Are we co-opting the purposes of social networks? What are we trying to teach them so that they can be digital citizens? But, are we replicating traditional, teacher-centered practices that would be the same in Blackboard, or are we taking advantage of the aspects of social networks?
    • Resources:
Troy's Social Network Map
Troy's Social Network Map

Collaborative Writing (Aram Kabodian, Heather Lewis, and LaToya Faulk)

  • Heather introduced Etherpad as a tool for collaborative response to an article, then used VoiceThread as another tool for response, too. In using the two types of tools, we were thinking about the ways that text and voice comments can contribute to our own understanding of other texts, including an online article and responding to a video.
    • This got me to thinking more about VoiceThread and how to have students use that as a tool for conferring. I think that the idea of having students comment one another’s work while still “in process” is powerful. Not sure how to embed the comment at the exact moment of the video that it would be pertinent, however. A tool like Viddler‘s commenting feature would work more effectively for that, I think.
    • Lots of time for playing with the tools. Thinking about collaborating across time and space with Skype, Google Docs, VoiceThread, Diigo, and other tools. What is also interesting to me is to think more carefully about the nature of the collaboration…
      • What are the affordances and constraints of the tools?
      • What is the task that we are asking students to complete? How does that enable collaboration, or does it simply require cooperation?
      • Are you asking students to create single-authored, multi-authored, or co-authored products? How does changing the role of the writer change the technology that you are able to use?

Visual Studies (Dawn Reed with Jen Garmon and Reggie Manville)

  • Dawn – Showing a number of examples of images as a way to think about critical literacy, especially with images used in media and popular culture texts, for instance:
    • The ready.gov website and parodies of it
    • Forest Gump, and the ability to visually recreate history
    • Kent State image with fence post removed
    • Asking students to define “literacy” and how they experience misinformation and critically evaluate information and images. Thinking about “photographic truth” and the implications of how images are constructed in an age of easy photo manipulation.
  • Reggie – Thinking about how to fit visual literacy into the already crammed English curriculum with digital storytelling
    • Moving from statements of belief (ala “This I Believe”) to statements of change created as a digital movie. Combining elements of argumentative writing with visuals.
    • Then moving from this digital video project into understanding how to create a traditional text for the ACT. In this example of women’s body image, this includes ways that the student could use the same arguments and refutations used in the movie project and translating them into traditional essay structures (building context, argument, counterargument, rebuttal, etc).
    • Complexity of assessing these texts with a rubric that was already in place. Looking at three examples — one on body image, one on global warming, one on the “open beverage” rule. But, are there some qualitative differences in these works? I think so, and I am wondering how we can help students see that there are some standards of quality in the production of digital texts. One option would be to have a “viewing” day in the class, and then inviting them to revise based on what they saw in other videos as well as feedback on their own.

Final Reflections on the Day

We were going to have a large group discussion to report out on the day, but ran out of time. My final thoughts are that Andrea and the entire RCWP team organized a wonderfully thoughtful day of exploration into these three strands: social networking, collaborative writing, and visual studies. As we continue to think about the future of what it means to be a writer and a teacher of writing in a digital age, the conversations that began today can continue to guide our work into the future. I look forward to this team sharing their insights at the NWPM retreat this summer!


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