Personal Technology Learning and the Teaching of Writing

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.


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Brief Review of Webb and Rozema’s “Literature and the Web”


Earlier this summer, Allen Webb and Robert Rozema published their text through Heinemann, Literature and the Web: Reading and Responding with New Technologies. I received a copy as a gift, and just got a chance to read it over Labor Day. Besides thanking the two of them for mentioning my blog in the book, I also want to compliment them on the way that they approach the task of teaching with technology.

The text makes the idea of using technology very approachable because they maintain a consistent thread through the entire text, one that focuses on how we ask students to respond to literature and how technology can support that response. So, beginning in the introduction, they ground their discussion of how to use technology in principles that guide good response to literature:

  • Entering the story world
  • Close reading
  • Understanding social, cultural, and historical contexts
  • Responding to the text

Throughout the text, they return to these main principles and discuss how teachers can use newer technologies to support these types of reading responses. This approach encourages me to continue thinking about how to ground discussions of technology and newer literacies in larger discussions of pedagogy, and not vice versa. As teachers design units of study and connect them to state standards, the text boxes in each chapter will help them connect back to these principles of reading response. The projects that they describe in the text all seem very doable, although I do wonder if some readers of the text will want more step-by-step instructions.

One technology that I wonder more about — as a response to literature — is digital storytelling. While I don’t fault them for not covering that topic in the text, as Rozema does a great job of discussing how he invites his students to create podcasts in response to literature as one form of multimedia, it is a question that I have more and more. What is digital storytelling? Is it a personal narrative, or can we call other forms of digital video production “digital storytelling? That is, if it is non-fiction, or a response to literature, does it count as a digital story? Or, does it matter so long as kids are engaged? Could his podcasting project be adapted (relatively) easily to digital storytelling? Also, what are the copyright implications when remixing chunks of literature already present on the web, such as in Project Gutenberg?

That side note notwithstanding, the text is sharp and full of examples. My favorite chapter comes in the conclusion, where Webb and Rozema discuss how to become a “web advocate.” “[B]eing a web advocate,” they argue, “means mentoring those around you.” I couldn’t agree more, and I look forward to learning more from the two of them, as they have been mentoring me for years. It is great to see their thinking captured in this text, so they can mentor others as well.

Reflections on Project WRITE’s Summer Institute

Today marked the end of our Project WRITE summer institute, and there were both smiles and tears to be found amongst the many of us who shared our writing this morning and our professional learning this afternoon. My partner, project leader Liz Webb, structured an amazing week, given all that we had to do from evaluating student work to preparing a lesson or series of lessons for the school year and sharing a piece of personal writing. Each morning began with one of her writing starts, and the teachers are working together to produce a book through lulu.com. Then, we would spend some time evaluating student work with the NWP’s analytic writing continuum, and have time for professional reading groups. Finally, I would introduce a short tech topic each afternoon (digital storytelling, Zotero, and SlideShare, respectively) and teachers had the option to continue working on the new technology, or work on their own curriculum plan.

Needless to say, this semi-structured playtime offered a number of teachers who have felt hesitant, if not a bit resistant, to technology all year the opportunity to create some amazing products. I am impressed with the scope of the lessons as well as the ways in which teachers integrated technology, in small and large ways. A few of the key lessons that came out this week:

  • Continuing to differentiate between a blog and a wiki, as well as the purposes for them. Some teachers were finally able to really absorb Edublogs, digging into the overall design of their site, working with widgets, and figuring out categories for organization. Others wanted to stick with wikis, which worked out well, too, to talk about the overall design and organization of a site. In each case, we talked about purpose and audience, considering who would be doing the most posting, commenting, and reading, and making decisions from there.
  • Digital storytelling catches like wildfire. Always. I introduced it on Monday, beleiving that it might be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Instead, a number of teachers took to it. This raised (and continues to raise) a series of questions for us about fair use, copyright law, Creative Commons, and how to invite students to build on, cite, and ethically use the work of others. We discussed how some uses may be fair within your classroom walls, but how posting to YouTube made it a whole different game. Suddenly, many teachers this week became hyper aware of this, and I think that it will be an interesting thread that continues into our fall PD.
  • Finally, having time, time, time. We were supposed to have this week of intro last summer. For a variety of reasons, we didn’t. And, while I don’t regret the work that we have done or the many successes that we have had, I do wonder what we might have been able to accomplish over the school year if we had been able to kick off last summer with an entire week of work like this. Ah… a lesson for a future PD experience.

All in all, we enjoyed our time together, minus the extreme heat in Brody Hall. I think that a number of the teacher grew in leaps and bounds, and we all grew in some way or another. I was very impressed with the transparency of technology today in our final read around, where a digital recorder was passed from person to person, pages were brought up on the wiki, and images were shown to complement the work being read. And, we hardly had a hiccup.

So, thanks to everyone in Project WRITE for a great week. We are looking forward to getting the data from your students plugged into our spreadsheet so we can see, statistically, if there was growth in your writers above and beyond what we would have normally expected. The professional learning was a critical part of this project, and now we need to see if we are “taking it to the kids.”

Next week, RCWP’s version of “Tech Matters.”


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Naming and Knowledge-Making

This recent article from eSchool News caught my attention and gave me pause to think about the course I am designing for the fall, ENG 460.

Top News – Google unveils online reference tool

For better or worse, Wikipedia–the online reference site that lets anyone add to its ever-growing body of knowledge–has changed the nature of internet research. Now Google is taking the wraps off a free internet encyclopedia of its own, designed to give people a chance to show off–and profit from–their expertise on any topic.

The service, dubbed “knol” in reference to a unit of knowledge, had been limited to an invitation-only audience of contributors and readers for the past seven months.

Now anyone with a Google login will be able to submit an article and, if they choose, have ads displayed through the internet search leader’s marketing system. The contributing author and Google will share any revenue generated from the ads, which are supposed to be related to the topic covered in the knol.

My interest here is in trying to figure out what value “naming” the author of a “knol” has in comparison to the “anonymous collaborators” that compose Wikipedia entries. I am not so much interested in talking about the authority question, as the one knol that I read on toilet training (a topic of conversation in my house right now!) seemed to be authoritative — and it cited sources — but I couldn’t figure out anything about the author. Also, the main author can open up a knol to collaborators, but not just anyone can chime in. It seems like you retain copyright, too. Finally, one of the stated purposes of the project is to get different people posting knols on the same topic, so having the one, authoritative knol is not necessarily going to happen.

Oh, and it looks like you will eventually be able to serve Google ads on your knol to, I assume, make money.

So, I wonder what this new form of knowledge production will do to the idea of open content. People are free to spend their time and energy wherever they want, be it Wikipedia, Knol, or some other online community. But, I wonder what this idea of sharing one’s knowledge by authoring a knol will do for authors, readers, scholars, and others. By “naming” the author, and being able to verify their credentials, will we feel better about the information presented? Or, does the process that a Wikipedia article goes through still provide more of a peer review process that checks facts and clarifies ideas?

It will be interesting to see how Knol unfolds in the next few months. I may make it part of my students’ final project — post a knol on your topic of independent study. We’ll see how they react to that idea…

Reconsidering the “Grammar of Schooling” in a Digital Age

Tom Hanson from Open Education recently emailed me and alerted me to a post about technology infrastructure and professional development in schools.

How Do We Ensure Our Schools Are Staffed with Technologically Savvy Teachers — Open Education

Unfortunately, in many schools and for many teachers, the above five suggestions simply are not happening on a regular basis. But the reason that most teachers are not up-to-date on technology is that they are simply too overwhelmed by the day-to-day responsibilities of their existing schedule to be able to stay up with the technological advances that are occurring…

Therein lies the basis of the problem for teachers. While students in other countries spend more time at school than American children do, most teachers in other countries do not have additional instructional responsibilities during that extra time. Instead, time is built into the school day for teachers to collaborate, to prepare lesson materials, and to receive professional development.

This reminds me of discussions that I have been having for awhile now; to take a phrase from Tyack and Cuban,
we need to reconsider the “grammar of schooling” in a digital age. This
is not a completely new argument, yet it merits renewed attention in
this election year and as OLPC machines roll out across the world. If
we are now considering how the grammar of writing is changing in
digital spaces, so too shouldn’t we consider what happens in schools?

Tom shares some insights into what teachers could do in the rest of this post. Also, he has a great deal of other postings dealing with copyright, open source software, open course ware and other related topics. He’s in my Google Reader now, and I encourage you to subscribe as well.

Notes from Three Digital Storytelling Sessions

This week, I am at SITE 2008, preparing for a presentation on Project WRITE tomorrow. Today, I will try to blog from some of the sessions (as wifi will allow). Here are three sessions on digital storytelling that I attended this morning. (I will also cross-post on the Using Technology to Tell Stories Blog):

An Instructional Design Approach for Integrating Digital Storytelling into the Classroom Using iMovie
Patrick Bell, University of Nevada, Reno

  • Project for Catholic Schools in San Francisco
    • Pre- and post-surveys for teacher indicated interests in storytelling
  • The effective digital story:
    • Uses only a few images, a few words, and fewer special effects to powrfully communicate meaning
    • Flows naturally and is limited to 2-3 minutes
    • Is supported with effective teacher training
    • Focuses on the writing and communication proess rather than just digital effects
    • Is solidly grounded in curriculum and expresses relevant content knowledge (Question: what counts as curriculum? Is this only for expository reports of content?)
  • Goals of the project
    • Implement teacher training on effective and efficient methods of integrating digital video editing technology into the classroom
    • Enable students to creat enhancements to traditional written/oral assignments using digital storytelling
  • Pedagogical concerns
    • Time contra inst on tech access
    • Availability of digital media equipment
    • Copyright issues
      • Technology, Education, and Harmonization Act (Note: See NCSU Library site on the TEACH act for more info)
        • No more than 5 images by a single artist of 10% of a collection of images may be used from an internet or copyrighted source, if attributed
  • Design, Development, and Implementation
    • Curriculum Overview
      • In proceedings paper
    • Teachers
      • 2 hour workshop using a whole group setting with guided practice and interactive group work
      • Printed materials with step-by-step guides
      • Learned on how to import, sequence, an editing music and images
      • Techniques on internet searchers, writing scripts, and storyboarding
      • Saving and rendering digital movies into condensed Quick Time format for presentation and evaluation
    • Student Project
      • Conducting valid research using the internet, books, and materials provided by the teachers (historical perspective on the Holocaust)
      • Writing a script and creating a storyboard of images and text
      • Went through same process of creating movies as teachers did
      • Learning how to cite sources and give proper attribution to collected images and music
      • Movies were presented in a whole group setting for peer review and teacher evaluation on content, flow, and impact of story
    • Evaluating the project
      • Images
        • Limit the amount of images that students collect to 10-15 images
        • Google search for large or extra large images only
        • Choice of images that can be scaled to correct size and aspect ration
        • Images should appear for at least 10 seconds
        • text should appear long enough to be read by audience
        • Images should appear alone long enough to convey impact and meaning
      • Narrative
        • Text narrative is often more efficient than audio narratives
        • Background noise can distract from the quality of the story
        • Use of audio equipment can take more time than can be practical
      • Effects
        • Simple fades and dissolves
        • Basic effect applications for motion
        • Use b/w or sepia tones for image color consistency
      • Music
        • Create own music
        • Get copyright free music
  • Conclusion
    • Effective stories captivate attention, use minimal special effects, and translate relevant content knowledge
    • They are a part of the curriculum and supported by effective teacher training
    • Enhance traditional forms of assessments

Reflections:
As I listened to this presentation, I was struck by the stark utilitarian vision of digital storytelling. In short, this seemed to be an enhanced version of writing the report that students have always been asked to do. By searching for images and creating, essentially, captions for them, then combining them into a very short movie, there is not much of the student represented here. When I think about digital storytelling, I think of the personal narrative or, at least, a much more personal take on an expository topic. This type of digital story would be easy to assess (10-15 images, appropriate captions with facts), which is not necessarily a good thing. The writing process is messy, and this is a sanitized version of digital storytelling.

“I would like to share my final with the class!” – Digital Storytelling for Education Major Students
Amy Eguchi, Bloomfield College (NJ)

  • Bloomfield College
    • Independent four-year institute of 2000 students, in NJ and near NYC
  • Introduction to Education
    • Gateway course for education majors, geared towards technology and is a hybrid course
    • Classroom management, multiple intelligences, lessong planning, inclusion, etc.
    • Self-reflection and life-long learning
  • Why digital storytelling?
    • Introduce new educational technology that students can use in their classroom
    • Introduce alternate way of self-expression
    • Create a wonderful addition to their ePortfolio
    • Make learning “fun”
  • Final assignment
    • “Your Own Journey of Learning” — create a movie that shows your learning this semester about issues in education
  • Research Questions
    • Will student choose digital storytelling as an option to express learning?
    • Whill it help them express themsleves fully?
    • Will it help them reflect on themselves more effectively?
    • Will the introdcution of DS not be helpul to our student, perhaps confusing them or making them feel less capable of themselves (not in the millennial generation, other side of the digital divide)?
  • Results
    • About half of the students choose to create digital stories and wanted to share them within and outside the class

Reflections:
This use of digital storytelling, too, was very functional, but did also show how teacher education students could compose their own stories (in particular, about learning how to teach). It was a different approach than the previous session, in that it discussed how students go through their own writing process to develop their own stories rather than reporting on other ideas. I am a bit concerned about the idea that this was done to be an “addition” to a portfolio or for “fun,” but I understand how that approach appeals to pre-service teachers. All in all, this idea could be a useful twist on the digital storytelling that I am asking students to do this year.

National Writing Project Teacher Consultants Explore Digital Storytelling
Paige Baggett, University of South Alabama

Reflections:
This was an intimate discussion with eight people, including Paige and Helen who have extensive experiences using digital storytelling. We wandered into discussions of the composing process, copyright, personal voice in narrative, uses of different digital storytelling tools, and other related ideas. Another link I forgot about: Educause’s 7 Things That You Should Know About Digital Storytelling.


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