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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School Reform, Digital Learning, Online Privacy, and Food Waste

Here we are with another month having passed us by and it seems like I’m struggling with a number of issues related to digital learning, in some senses, but more broadly on issues of school reform and how we will ever be able to set the ship of education sailing in the right direction again. So, this is a random series of thoughts for a single blog post, and yet I wanted to share them before this week gets underway. I promise that I will try to tie them all together in the end.

School Reform

Over the past month, I’ve been in a variety of twitter conversations with really smart people about the issue of school reform and high school dropouts and, subsequently, on two episodes of Teachers Teaching Teachers. Couple this with conversations I’ve been having with my wife about the future of our children school district which, like many in Michigan, is facing unrealistic budget constraints, declining enrollments, and mounting obstacles to real improvement. all of these conversations are interesting, and there was one recent blog post by John Merrow that captures nearly all of the frustrations I think many educators share. In particular, I found myself tweeting back and forth with Lisa Nielsen, arguing the merits of homeschooling (or alternatives to models of “schooling”). Here’s a clip:

hickstro: @InnovativeEdu Great convo on TTT. Still, what is it schls can/could do well/better than a lone student guided only by his/her own passions?10:12pm, Feb 22 from Web

InnovativeEdu: @hickstro The idea of “lone student” is a fallacy. A student has plenty of resources at their fingertips. Many are blocked/banned by school10:13pm, Feb 22 from Web

hickstro: @innovativeedu I’m happy that my 2nd grader turns to Google for info for his animal report. But he turns to me for advice on writing it.10:16pm, Feb 22 from HootSuite

InnovativeEdu: @hickstro – Why are you only seeing choices as school or Google? Many are learning w/out school & with relevant learning.10:43pm, Feb 22 from Web

hickstro: @innovativeedu I hear you. There is more than school or Google. The best parents are going to provide rich experiences for their children.10:58pm, Feb 22 from HootSuite

InnovativeEdu: @hickstro Or…the best parents will support their children in pursuing & developing rich experiences.11:03pm, Feb 22 from Web

hickstro: @innovativeedu So, is this a school problem? Or a parenting problem?11:06pm, Feb 22 from HootSuite

InnovativeEdu: @hickstro what i am talking abt is a school problem cuz there are PS students that don’t have involved parents so they need school.11:10pm, Feb 22 from Web

hickstro: @innovativeedu I’d like to think more… what can the best elements of home schooling offer schools? What can schools offer home schooling?11:13pm, Feb 22 from HootSuite

InnovativeEdu: @hickstro Many of these questions have been answered. Government won’t fund it. How do we change that? Feb 22, 11:16pm via Web

There were others involved in this conversation including Teresa Bunner, and it came at the end of a very smart episode of TTT, so there’s little bit out of context here in this blog post. I’m not sure what else say about all of it at the moment, that this will be an interesting spring as my personal life —  and education of our five children —  seem to be on a collision course with my professional life and what I truly value about schools, education, and learning.

Digital (Peer) Learning

Speaking of school (or, in this case, not school) and learning, I will be facilitating a course in Peer 2 Peer University, also known as P2PU, beginning next week with my NWP colleagues, Christina Cantrill and Katherine Frank: Writing and Inquiry in the Digital Age.  Focusing broadly on what it means to write in the digital age, my particular interest with this course is thinking carefully about how and why we can use curation tools for teaching and learning. Sure, I am riding on the coattails of the Pinterest craze and advocating for this is one of our foci. Still, I’m trying to figure out how this can be a useful tool after a conversation earlier this semester with Andrea, Leigh, and some others educators. For what it’s worth, I’ve started a board, “Content/Creation/Curation,” and already received my first comment: “I THINK YOU PEOPLE SHOULD JUST LEAVE PINTEREST ALONE! & let people like ME JUST ENJOY IT!”

Indeed. I will try.  Join the conversation at P2PU over the next few weeks.

Online Privacy

In my next seemingly random entry for the evening, I want to mention that I will be speaking this week at one of CMU’s “Speak Up, Speak Out” forums entitled “R They Watching U? Technology, Surveillance, Censorship & Privacy Rights.” Here’s the lowdown:

Date: Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Time: 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM

Location: Bovee UC: Auditorium

Speak Up, Speak Out: The Current Events Series presents “R They Watching U? Technology, Surveillance, Censorship & Privacy Rights.” SUSO is not a lecture series – it’s more like a town hall meeting called to discuss important events and topics in the news. Each forum is an opportunity for all participants to collaborate in thinking through the issues, identify problems, and consider solutions. For more information, visit the SUSO website. The forum facilitator is Justin Smith (SASW). Panelists include: Christopher Armelagos, graduate student; Amanda Garrison, Sociology; Troy Hicks, English; Jaime Humpert, student; Roger Rehm, CMU’s Chief Information Officer; and Ken Sanney, Finance & Law.

If there are enough of my colleagues who might be interested, I’ll certainly start the twitter back channel for this conversation as well, and could even open it up as a video feed on a Google hangout. let me know if you’re interested.

And, Finally, Food Waste

So, in the wonder of all things digital, I was enjoying Netflix this morning during my jog on the treadmill, And ran across this short documentary: Dive! Living Off America’s Waste. Tonight, we have the kids watch it with us, for two reasons. First, there’s the obvious social commentary that I want them to understand  about food waste and all the issues about consumerism, consumption, environmental quality, and related ideas. Second, I found myself fascinated by the production of the film itself as a digital writing process. Jeremy Seifert appears to have produced this film in a manner that could be replicated by middle and high school students with a basic HD camera, a simple movie editing program, some creativity, and a lot of determination. I appreciated the mix of interviews, B roll footage, archival footage (most of which appeared to be from historical, public domain archives), stop motion animation, and the creative representation of food throughout. I think that the kids appreciated it, too, and my hope is that our two Girl Scouts might take this idea up as part of their social action project. At any rate, at the end of the week where I feel professionally helpless and I’m not sure to what I am doing is making much of a difference, it was good to see Jeremy’s film and to think about the power that a few good people can have in affecting change.

So, that was a mishmash of ideas for one evening. But, that’s what blogging is for, right?

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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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