Digital Mentor Texts Preview

This will be a busy weekend of writing as I prep for our series on mentor texts in the digital writing workshop.

I would like to say that I can write most of these posts as the week progresses, but my past history as a blogger (being somewhat irregular in my posting patterns) as well as the start of the new semester next week tells me that I need to get some things organized this weekend. Also, I want to respond to what Bill, KatieKevinTony and Franki post over the next few days as well, so I am getting as much of my writing done as possible this weekend.

To that end, I have decided to focus my attention on digital mentor texts that are professionally produced videos, readily available on YouTube. I’ve chosen to do this for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that when I talk with teachers about digital writing it seems that the most difficult week for them to make —  moving from traditional, textual form of writing into more multimodal pieces —  is this shift to composing video. I think that most teachers can see the value in creating a piece of writing and having a student read it aloud to be recorded as a podcast, and that all teachers recognize the need for our students to become public speakers and to be able to prepare a slide deck for an oral presentation. I also think that many of them see value in using particular tools such as screencasting or Prezi, although the projects that get created sometimes did not go through an entire “writing process” in the way that we would expect the traditional essay, book review, or research paper to go through.

Yet, creating videos, good videos — whether they are live-action, a series of images either digital or hand-drawn, a demonstration via screencast,  or animation —  takes time, energy, and effort that goes above and beyond simply asking students to “make a video” without much direction or support. Many teachers asked me whether or not video production really falls under the purview of English class, rather hoping to delegate it to no luck of course in film production or simply ignoring it altogether. It is one thing to put a flip video camera into a child’s hands and asked them to create something where is this something entirely different to frame that video production process through the lens of writing or, more broadly, composing.

For instance, while I appreciate what Alan Sitomer did with his “digital book report” contest last year, I feel that the production value of the short films could have been much higher had students thought more carefully about the craft of composing video. For instance, the middle school winners who produced the video report on Holes were on target with their general script for the video and the major events they wanted to include from the book. Yet, the video itself moves forward in a very haphazard way, and it is clear that the students are only using the props and locations easily available to them rather than doing any kind of set design or other planning.  I mention these aspects not to criticize the students for what they did, because obviously Alan and the other judges for this contest from the video entertaining and useful. Still, I think that there could be other examples of how students might compose the digital book report that would show more complexity of thought, as well as artistic expression. It’s the difference between handing them a flip camera and giving them an hour to pull something together as compared to spending time talking about the craft of digital writing.

Thus, in focusing on digital video (and on professionally produced digital videos in particular), I want to invite teachers and students to think about how the video was made as well as their emotional and intellectual response to it, yet to also think about how writing —  from brainstorming initial ideas, to creating a script and storyboard, to imagining the types of processes that one must go through to compose a visual text —  plays a major part of the process of creating such a video. I also want to think about some tech tools that we use, like screen casting, and how we might be able to repurpose those tools as a way for reflection and assessment. I will also try to connect the video for each post that I write to some of the larger goals that we have for teaching writing, such as stating a clear thesis, adding appropriate details and examples, and making connections to other texts. Finally, of course, the production of video automatically brings up a number of concerns about copyright and fair use, as well as Creative Commons licensing. since this is a component of our work as English teachers that will only continue to become more and more a part of what we do each day, I think that digital video offers us good opportunities to discuss these issues.

So, those are some thoughts from a Friday morning as I prepare to find some digital mentor texts to write about this weekend. I already received one great lead for my editor at Heinemann, and I have a few other ideas to follow up on.  I look forward to the conversation that will unfold over the next week.

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Fox News HackJam

At the WIDE-EMU Un-Conference, Andrea Zellner introduced us to Hackasuarus and the idea that we can remix websites as a form of digital writing and expression. So, given the very limited time that we had, I wanted to try to make something that was a political commentary. This was an interesting digital writing process, as I had to quickly learn how to use the Hackasaurus “X-Ray Goggles” then identify a website that I wanted to critique, find alternative images to place in that website (alternate logo and alternate ad) and use a photo editing service to hack together two sections of the image (to remove a banner ad) before posting to Flickr.

That’s a heck of a lot to do in just 15 minutes, and it raises questions about what we are able (and should do) with students in our writing classrooms, but here is my final image:

Fox New Hack Jam

Quite a neat idea, and one that I need to consider as I think about teaching ENG 201 next semester…

Post created by Troy HicksOriginally posted on the NWP HackJam blog, 10/16/11.

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Quick Thoughts on the State of Tech Ed

Earlier today, I was sent a request for an email interview from a CMU undergraduate. I only had a quick turnaround time to reply (so she could get enough info to write her paper about technology in education), but her deadline encouraged me to be brief in my responses. With her permission, I share her questions and my answers here. As I prepare for many professional development events coming up in the next few weeks, this was a good time to capture some of my thoughts in such a succinct manner.

What are some specific topics you have researched in technology?
My research focuses on the ways that teachers integrate technology into writing instruction. In particular, I am interested in how K-12 teachers blend a writing workshop approach to instruction with specific technologies such as blogs, wikis, collaborative word processing, digital stories, and other multimedia to engage students in meaningful writing and learning.
What are the “hot topics” right now?
Given President Obama’s interest in STEM and the new national educational technology plan, I think that the main focus on technology use in education is for science and math instruction. Also, with the push towards more student engagement, paperless classrooms, increased wireless broadband access, and tablet computing, I think that we have an interesting opportunity to change the ways that teaching and learning takes place inside and outside of school.
Describe the current debates of using technology in the classroom
I think that the main debate centers less on why we should use technology, as that is more or less a given, and more on why to use it. On the one hand, we have advocates for online/virtual learning that acts as a supplement or replacement for instruction. On the other, we have advocates who suggest that students should be using the technology to communicate and create, not just for remediation. As we continue to push for technology in schools, I hope that we invite students to be collaborators,  communicators, and creators, and not just to reinforce old models of instruction with newer, shinier tools.
Have you read any informational journals or books on technology?
I do read journals and books, and those are helpful resources, but get most of my news comes from educational bloggers/tweeters and eSchool News.
How do you conduct research?
For the most part, I do research with teachers as we co-design curriculum and instruction that is technologically-rich and pedagogically-sound. This involves time talking and planning with teachers, working with them and their students, doing follow-up interviews and surveys, and then integrating my thoughts and ideas into the existing literature and knowledge about technology in education and writing.
Where do you get funding to support your research?
Mostly from grant dollars which allow me to have release time. For instance, we currently have a grant from the National Writing Project for our local CMU site, the Chippewa River Writing Project. Also, I am working on a Title II Professional Development grant, WRITE NOW.
If I were to look for sources to write grants, where would I go?
For your own classroom, you would look most likely to local sources like community or school foundations. For the district or regional level, you would look to other agencies such as the Michigan Department of Education or National Writing Project.
What are the most enjoyable parts of being a researcher?
For me, the most enjoyable part of being a researcher is working with teachers to help them develop their own passions and ideas into classroom practice. The second most enjoyable part is being able to write and talk about those ideas in my own CMU classes and in professional development sessions that I lead around the country.
Do you ever work with a partner? How?
I am almost always working with partners. From the teachers that I meet with and plan projects to other CMU staff and faculty who help me develop and implement grants, I am working with partners all the time. Especially with writing, I am constantly working with colleagues to do grant applications, human subjects research applications, chapters, articles, books, and presentations.
What are the frustrations of being a researcher?
My main frustration is that I have to divert my attention away from research, writing, and collaboration to write reports and attend meetings that have little to do with my research. Yet, I understand that this is how the university works, and I really do enjoy being a researcher so I am willing to put up with the frustrations.
What do you think will come with the future of technology in education?
That’s a huge question. While I am not 100% sure of what will come, what I would hope will come is something like this: all teachers and students will have ubiquitous and uninterrupted one-to-one access to a tablet or other computing device, high speed wireless internet, and numerous online, open educational resources. This would allow for anytime, anywhere learning that truly pushes us to be instructional coaches and leaders for our students, since the answer to simple questions will only be a Google search away, and we can spend our time answering the bigger, more complicated questions through project-based learning.
Are there are connections to other disciplines? Or opportunities for interdisciplinary research?
Yes, there are many, many opportunities for this when you think about writing and technology. I think that you could connect to any discipline given the interest that you can generate from working with colleagues in that discipline. In particular, I am interested in how English teachers and librarian/media specialists could work together to address concerns about information literacy, copyright, and plagiarism.


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