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…