Imagining a New Course: Our Digital Selves

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Public Domain Image from FirmBee on Pixabay

One of my relaxing and still intellectually engaging tasks for this holiday break is to write a proposal for an honors course at CMU. Designed as a first-year seminar for freshman honors students to get them engaged in critical thinking, inquiry, and sustained writing practices, each seminar must tackle a major issue relevant to students’ lives. I am proposing a class entitled “Our Digital Selves: Building and Blending Our Personal, Professional, and Practical Digital Identities.” Here are the details, and I would definitely be interested in getting feedback from other educators about what topics, terminology, and technology I might explore with my students. If the proposal is accepted, I would teach the course in the fall of 2017.


Our Digital Selves: Building and Blending Our Personal, Professional, and Practical Digital Identities

Without question, we live, work, and play in a digital world. Though a divide still exists in terms of skills and access across demographics, it is reasonable to argue that the increasing ubiquity of mobile devices connected to the Internet as well as broadband in our homes, schools, libraries, and workplaces means that all of us – especially young people coming of age in the present moment – are now blending our personal, professional, and practical digital identities across multiple networks and with a variety of tools. However, the ability to upload a picture or post on one’s timeline does not, in and of itself, assure us each a place in digital segments of academia, the workplace, or civic life. In fact, a recent Rasmussen College survey showed that 37% of millennial students see the internet as “scary” and are not confident in their digital literacy skills. This first year seminar will challenge students to critically examine what it means to lead a digital life – personally and academically – and to rethink our understanding of what it means to be mindful, productive, and responsible users of technology.

This seminar would be designed with both face-to-face and hybrid components.

  • In the face-to-face sections of class, we would be engaged in small- and whole-group conversations about articles, chapters, books, videos, and other pieces of scholarship related to digital identity; we would also be examining case studies of digital literacy practices considering current professional standards (such as the ACRL Information Literacy Framework); and, ultimately, we would be producing students’ initial online portfolio using a social networking tool such as About.me or LinkedIn.
  • In the hybrid/online sections of class, we would be exploring a variety of digital tools to help students develop personal, professional, and academic skills including, for instance: shared document collaboration (Google Docs, Microsoft Office 365), bibliographic management (Zotero, Mendely, Endnote), presentation and publication (Infogr.am, Atavist, Adobe Creative Suite), and workplace communication (Slack, Yammer). We might also involve students from outside of CMU as part of our inquiry.
  • Across both the face-to-face and hybrid meetings, we would also be using our time to reflect upon the experience of being engaged in these various exercises with specific tools. In short, we would be metacognitive, critically thinking about our use of digital devices and social practices.

I welcome thoughts, comments, and questions… as well as knowing if anyone else with students from upper elementary school through graduate school would be interested in collaborating on this course to make it an open, immersive experience for everyone involved. If it gets accepted, I will put the call out there again in the spring, but I would be happy to hear from interested educators at any point.


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Citelighter Releases New Features

Citelighter LogoAs I have stated before, I generally don’t do product endorsements, but once in a great while there is something that comes along that I think has great value for teachers and students as digital writers.

Citelighter is one of those tools.

I found out about Citelighter last summer, and used it as a tool in various presentations and workshops. Last fall, they contacted me and I’ve been in touch with their development team, mainly Kevin West, and I think that they are in this for all the right reasons: to help teachers teach and students learn.

Just to be clear up front, I have received an upgrade to a Pro account from Citelighter, as well as some other goodies like bookmarks and post-its to pass out at conferences. Beyond that, I am am not a paid endorser.

So. with that out of the way, what is happening with Citelighter that makes it a nifty tool? First, it is a web-based bibliography management tool, easy for students to install in a browser and to use across various computers. As the video shows, it is quite easy to use Citelighter as a way to document and reflect on web-based research.

Second, they just released some great new features, mainly a PDF Capture & Storage Function for Pro customers. Lastly, they are starting a pilot project for teachers with Citelighter Analytics.

Check out the details in this PDF: Citelighter Analytics Pilot Study Invitation. Needless to say, I think that Kevin and his colleagues are on to something very useful for students from upper elementary school into college. At the very least, I encourage you to sign up for the free account and to get familiar with the services.

And, Kevin can be contacted at kevinw@citelighter.com

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Thoughts on Technology and Literacy Professional Development

Last week, a number of RCWP teachers met to plan professional development for the 2007-08 school year. The meetings went well, as we discussed a number of issues about how and why we should be doing technology/writing PD and we all agreed that we needed to make the sessions compelling to teachers in terms of meeting real needs and stay focused on literacy practices, too.

To that end, the group came up with five topics that we will present over the course of the year, one each month from October through March. Here is a list of topics and the technologies that we will explore in each.

  • Why Technology? Exploring New Literacies (RSS and Overview of Read/Write Web)
  • Reading, Writing, and Researching Online (Searching, Evaluating, and Documenting with Social Bookmarking, Google Notebook, and Zotero)
  • Creating a Community of Writers Using Technology (Blogs, Wikis, Google Docs, EZines)
  • Free, Easy, and Legal Resources for Creating Content (Copyright, Fair Use, Creative Commons, Open Source)
  • Communicating Beyond the Classroom (Public and private spaces, Email rhetoric and groups, Flickr)

We are starting to post agendas on our wiki and look forward to hearing what you all think. In particular, do you think that:

  • We give a good survey of available technologies?
  • We move through the ideas in each workshop and over the series in a coherent manner?
  • Teachers would be willing to pay to come to these sessions (once a month on Thursdays, from 6:00 – 8:30 PM)?

Any feedback that you have would be great. I am in the midst of transitioning from MSU to CMU this week, so I apologize about the lack of posts, but I hope to get back in the swing of posting soon.

Engaging Writers with Interactive Genre Samples and Peer Review

The folks at UofT are at it again, and this project looks to be quite useful for writing teachers who are beginning to think about how technology can be useful for more than just web searching:

iWRITE is web-enabled courseware developed at the University of Toronto by Margaret Procter and colleagues to support the use of written assignments in courses across the disciplines. Each iWRITE site is course-specific so that it reflects the expectations in your discipline and your emphasis in teaching and grading. Thus its advice is relevant and credible.

By showing samples of past student papers along with detailed instructor annotations, iWRITE sites demonstrate the qualities of structure, coherence and style expected in written work for specific courses. The course grading criteria are included for viewing at any time. An interactive module (the Prompter) can be created to take students through the process of planning and drafting their next papers. A Peer Review function is also available for online exchange of papers.

iWRITE Web-Enabled Software

This kind of reminds me of the Model Bank examples, although the depth and breadth of classes and genres represented here seems much richer (mainly because this is college writing, not middle school). Moreover, I find the explicit focus on looking at other writing as models a great focus for this site, especially since so much concern about writing on the Internet is about copying and plagiarism. For the iWrite site, the focus seems to be on examining author’s craft in order to make one’s own writing better.

In other words, the teachers here want students to be looking at other writing, analyzing it, and learning to write better because of it. The interface allows them to do this in an interactive way, thus taking advantage of the technology to move beyond simply sharing a piece of writing but actually being able to engage with it.

I already emailed them for my temporary login and password.

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Students Researching Online

Paul has invited me to be part of an upcoming Teachers Teaching Teachers show about students doing research online. Check out the Google Notebook for the show to get a sense of what will be happening and let me know if you have things that you want to add to it.

My interest in this topic goes back to my time teaching middle school and first-year composition at the community college. At the time, I know that asking my students to keep a list of citations with an online citation generator was considered pretty cutting-edge. Now, however, I wonder if that is A) still cutting-edge and B) enough?

In this age of hypertext composing and plagiarism detection services, I have to ask whether or not our old means of citing sources is good enough. Clearly, there are cultural norms and rhetorical traditions that we have to meet here, so I am not suggesting that we ask students not to cite their sources. However, I do want to suggest that we begin thinking more about why we are asking them to site their sources and how to keep track of them.

I have put some initial thinking in the “Citing our Sources – How and Why?” section of the notebook. And, as always, I would appreciate hearing what all of you think about this issue — what is happening in your classroom? How has the research process changed in the past few years with the emergence of read/write web tools?