Reflecting on Digital English in Taiwan

Screen Shot from Peace's Video Project
Screen Shot from Peace’s Video Project

With a little bit of time in Tokyo’s Narita Airport, I figured I should try to capture some of my thinking about teaching my Digital English Learning course at Shih Chien University (USC) in Taipei, Taiwan. As expected, the three weeks have disappeared already, and we focused conversations and class activities on issues such as online privacy, creating a professional digital footprint, participatory culture, media literacy, and, of course, digital writing.

Because I was teaching a course for the Applied Foreign Languages Department, most of my students were studying English. Yet, as with all students we teach across all contexts, my students in this course came with differing levels of proficiency. As the mantra goes, “we teach the students who are in front of us,” and after a few days and some formative assessments, I was able to adjust my expectations and pacing as I learned from them and they from me.

Having never fully learned another language myself — and having little official training in teaching English as a second or other language — I adapted many of the reading and writing strategies that I have used across the years, from teaching middle school to graduate school, and our shared efforts — me teaching, them learning; me learning, them teaching — seemed to work quite well. They produced more and more writing as the weeks went on, and that led to more participation in class. In hindsight, I am sure that I could have scaffolded more interaction in class, and helped them get to know one another better, so if I had that portion of my teaching to do over again, I would focus more intently on community building in the first few days.

Still, I was able to work with them in class as well as through individual writing conferences with many students (on the weekend, no less), and I modeled the researching, thinking, and writing process for them with Google Docs, Citelighter, WriteLab, resources from the Purdue OWL. This also led to modeling and trying a variety of multimedia tools that they could use to create and share their final presentations. Last night, they shared their projects, with most creating work with Prezi and Powtoon.

Most of the projects were quite good, and a few really stood out. One student, TJ, created both a Prezi discussing the positives and negatives of using social media and, embedded within it, he also produced a short live-action film using WeVideo. Using the example of a friend who got in a fight with his girlfriend via social media, TJ demonstrates the ways that he can compose multiple forms of media and blend them together to create an effective argument.

https://prezi.com/embed/dwciewb6g42e/?bgcolor=ffffff&lock_to_path=0&autoplay=0&autohide_ctrls=0&PARENT_REQUEST_ID=e84402de13f4b43a#

Another student, Emma, took the idea of “remix” that we discussed in the class, and created a mash-up of news stories about Snapchat to complement her brief oral presentation.

As mentioned, many students used PowToon, and Banet’s was one of the most powerful examples. Combining critical media literacy skills with his knowledge of social media and fashion, he effectively blended images of fashion, his own voices, and elements from PowToon to create a compelling description of what the industry is doing — and could do better — with social media.

Finally, Peace found that he could not accomplish all his goals with WeVideo, so he turned to iMovie. Combining his own drawings with screencasting and other found images, Peace creates a thoughtful argument about the ways in which students can, and should, take responsibility for their use of technology in learning.

There are more projects than what I can reasonably feature here in a blog post, yet these four represent a great deal of thinking, writing, and learning that has happened in our brief three weeks together. I’ve enjoyed the experience teaching at Shih Chien, and I hope that you enjoy these students’ projects as much as I have enjoyed watching my students create them.


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Digital Mentor Text #6: Feminist Frequency

One last post here on digital mentor texts for the week, with some time to read and reflect planned for the weekend.

I have to admit, my original plan to end the week was an “oldie, but goodie” (we can we consider 2007 “old,” at least in YouTube terms, right?): The Machine is Us/ing Us by Michael Wesch. It’s still worth a watch, for sure, and maybe I will use it to frame my reflection on this process of writing and thinking about digital mentor texts.

For now, I want to share one in a series of videos that I hadn’t seen before this week. Thanks to Ryan Rish for sharing a link to the “Feminist Frequency” series of videos created by Anita Sarkeesian. Ryan tweeted a link to the first of Anita’s videos in the “Tropes vs. Women” series, and that led me to the FF website, where there are many, many more of Anita’s videos. I watched a few, very much enjoying Anita’s critical, feminist reading of popular culture. She doesn’t hold back in her commentary — either with the critique or the humor — and some of the videos wouldn’t work well in middle, or in some instances, even high school classrooms.

That said, here is one that I think would fit a broader audience, and there are quite a few points/questions about digital writing that can be made from this mentor text.

Besides the topic itself — the gendered way in which television advertisements for toys position our sons and daughters — the video itself helps me think about a number of issues:

  • First and foremost, how Anita employs techniques from and pushes against the styles of  the typical format of television news and Hollywood style talk shows. What are the moves that she makes — as a newscaster, as a producer, as a video editor splicing together elements from commercials — that make this an effective digital mentor text?
  • In her framing of ads for  boys vs. girls, Anita talks about how boys are able to “make” or “construct” things, and how that is the foundation for creativity and a fulfilling adult life. She then juxtaposes that analysis with comments on the girls’ commercials, ones that she describes as __. However, the girls are making something, albeit snow, hairstyles, cupcakes and the like. Yet, one could argue that the boys’ act of “making” — following the directions to build a Lego set, for instance — is actually conformist, not creative. This could make for an interesting discussion in, you guessed it, a student-produced video essay/response.
  • Clearly, and without hesitation, Anita has an agenda is these videos. From the logical sequence of the segments to her word choice and tone of voice — “How fun!” with a sarcastic tone and giddy shrug of the shoulders — she makes her concerns known. This is both a strength of these videos (making them emotionally engaging and compelling to view) and a weakness, in that there is no viable counter-argument.
    • That said, the argument that she makes is persuasive, relying on ethos (her appeal to authority, in that she is certainly knowledgable, and has taken considerable time to produce the video), pathos (her appeal to the audience’s emotions, in that she is a passionate speaker and picks pertinent examples), and logos (her appeal to logic, in that she uses both actual examples of commercials aimed at children and statistics from the advertising industry to back up her claims).
    • She also extends her argument to the video game and technology industry, not just television commercials.
    • She makes a strong claim, too, towards the end: All advertising towards young people needs to stop, no exceptions.
  • Finally, there are significant issues surrounding copyright and fair use — because she uses so many clips from popular media — and she includes a disclaimer at the end of each video describing how she meets the standards for fair use. As an example of how someone can employ copyrighted materials in service of commentary and critique, Anita’s work provides a great example, even though she has suffered take down notices, too.

All that said, Anita’s work with Feminist Frequency is amazing, and leads me to think about how we could also invite students to do feminist critiques of Disney films or other pop culture icons. That would provide better fodder for a persuasive essay or research paper than the old stand-bys of school lunches, uniforms, and vacation lengths.

And, with this being my last official entry in the digital mentor text series, I want to send a hearty thanks to my colleagues, BillKatieKevinTony and, especially Franki, for inspiring us to do the series. I have many posts to read, review, and reflect upon, and I have appreciated having some company this week in the edublogosphere.

Until next time…

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Digital Mentor Text #3: “The Power of Words”

My third contribution to the digital mentor text series centers on the idea of creating a short, live action film. As I mentioned in my post last week, and Franki reiterated, so many times in video production we give students the camera and simply hope that something good comes from it. As (digital) writers, we need to help them become much more intentional about their storytelling.

This short film, “The Power of Words,” went viral (I first saw it from a forwarded email). Sadly, the concept was not original, yet this short commercial gained more traction than the original short movie, “Historia de un letrero, The Story of a Sign.” Yet, that is part of what makes this digital mentor text — an imitation or, more artistically stated, an homage — so interesting. Matt Eventoff has outlined a number of key points related to the construction of the film (as well as implications for public speaking and advertising), so I won’t repeat all of them here, and Lou Hoffman interviews the filmmaker, who acknowledges the influence of the original film. Take a moment to view the video, then let’s think about how we can watch this as a digital mentor text.

There are times when we ask our students to imitate published authors, and to do so quite intentionally. We recognize this not as an act of plagiarism, but as a way for them to study and learn technique. It is interesting to think about the different teachable moments that could come from this conversation about the idea itself — and whether it is “unique” as an intellectual property — as well as about the media employed in the film, thus raising questions about copyright, fair use, and Creative Commons. In academia, it is so ironic that we are all about enforcing the idea that students come up with original writing and that they don’t steal the words of someone else, yet we cram five-paragraph essays and scripted research papers down their throats. If we invite them to imitate a digital mentor text, we need to help them learn how to do it appropriately, and do it well.

I think that this film, as an imitation of another Cannes Festival short, can tell help us generate a number of important questions about when, how, and why we may want to use imitation. Obviously, there are so many examples of what we could want our students to do ranging from movie trailers to PSAs, yet the idea of creating a short film, especially one that imitates an existing film, could be useful for a variety of reasons.

  • What are the decisions that the digital writers will have to make about the characters, setting, dialogue, framing, pacing, and other related elements of the film itself? How might you adapt this to your own context?
  • What is the main message from the original film and how is that message conveyed? Are there elements in the original film that could be replaced? What must stay the same?
  • In what ways can you construct a complete narrative to fit within a certain timeframe, both in terms of the time you have to film it as well as the total length you want for the film? (This reminds me, in some way, of creating a six word story).
  • What are the rhetorical techniques at play in this film? Why did the filmmaker(s) construct it in the manner that he/she/they did? What can you, as a digital writer, learn from that construction?

So, those are some thoughts on this short film, one that was created in the image of another short film. If the film itself doesn’t raise some questions for you, then I at least hope that this idea of imitation — when, how, and why to use imitation — certainly does.

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