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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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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Notes from Erin Reilly’s “Remix Culture for Learning” at SITE 2010

The Gap Between Life and Art: Remix Culture for Learning

Erin Reilly, University of Southern California


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Report from RCWP’s WIDE PATHS 2010

This morning, I was fortunate enough to be invited “home” to present my session, “Creating Your Digital Writing Workshop” at Red Cedar Writing Project‘s WIDE PATHS II. Beyond the wonderful feeling of being “home” with about 30 colleagues from RCWP and sharing my book with them, I continue to be inspired by the amazing work that teachers do in their classrooms and schools, despite the continued barrage of criticisms that come both directly from politicians and the media as well as indirectly from the ways that our society and government structure “educational reforms” such as Race to the Top. For more on what these “reforms” mean for organizations such as the NWP, check out Sara’s recent post on IdeaPlay.

At any rate, there were many good parts of the day, and ideas from the conversations in the opening session were captured by Dawn on the presentation page. There were a number of issues that came forward, and the conversation was rich since, as a group, we were talking as knowledgeable peers, many already engaged in digital writing practices. Most notably, we thought about a number of issues related to the actual composition of digital texts, moving beyond the logistical questions that often come up (as important as they are) and into conversations about how and why students compose digital texts. Maggie captured one idea (and I am paraphrasing) in the idea that digital media allow us to create texts that are “long enough to accomplish goal, but also short enough to keep interest.”

Then, throughout the day, there were three strands: social networking, collaborative writing, and visual studies. Overall, I feel like the day was filled with timely, relevant, and useful information, right out of the NWP tradition of “teachers teaching teachers.” We worked together, learned some new ideas, got reminded of some ideas I had forgotten (like using Diigo), and, while I couldn’t attend everything, here are some notes from the other wonderful sessions throughout the day.

Social Networking (Andrea Zellner)

  • Four components of participation in social networks
    • Digital Citizenship
    • Digital Footprint
    • Personal Learning
    • Impact on Writing
  • Thoughts from the discussion, after creating our own personal network maps on paper
    • What does it mean to “know” someone? Be connected to someone?
    • How and when do we connect to someone? To a group? Knowing that we have access to the network at our fingertips, when and how can we leverage it?
    • Thinking about how they are invited to join social networks (Pixie Hallow, Webkinz, Facebook, Second Life) and the commercial/consumer interests that some of these networks have? What about the critical literacy practices that students need to have to understand how they are positioned within and across these networks?
    • Do we create networks that are “echo chambers” where we only listen to others in our own network that do not allow or invite us to think about alternative or opposing ideas?
    • Are we co-opting the purposes of social networks? What are we trying to teach them so that they can be digital citizens? But, are we replicating traditional, teacher-centered practices that would be the same in Blackboard, or are we taking advantage of the aspects of social networks?
    • Resources:
Troy's Social Network Map
Troy's Social Network Map

Collaborative Writing (Aram Kabodian, Heather Lewis, and LaToya Faulk)

  • Heather introduced Etherpad as a tool for collaborative response to an article, then used VoiceThread as another tool for response, too. In using the two types of tools, we were thinking about the ways that text and voice comments can contribute to our own understanding of other texts, including an online article and responding to a video.
    • This got me to thinking more about VoiceThread and how to have students use that as a tool for conferring. I think that the idea of having students comment one another’s work while still “in process” is powerful. Not sure how to embed the comment at the exact moment of the video that it would be pertinent, however. A tool like Viddler‘s commenting feature would work more effectively for that, I think.
    • Lots of time for playing with the tools. Thinking about collaborating across time and space with Skype, Google Docs, VoiceThread, Diigo, and other tools. What is also interesting to me is to think more carefully about the nature of the collaboration…
      • What are the affordances and constraints of the tools?
      • What is the task that we are asking students to complete? How does that enable collaboration, or does it simply require cooperation?
      • Are you asking students to create single-authored, multi-authored, or co-authored products? How does changing the role of the writer change the technology that you are able to use?

Visual Studies (Dawn Reed with Jen Garmon and Reggie Manville)

  • Dawn – Showing a number of examples of images as a way to think about critical literacy, especially with images used in media and popular culture texts, for instance:
    • The ready.gov website and parodies of it
    • Forest Gump, and the ability to visually recreate history
    • Kent State image with fence post removed
    • Asking students to define “literacy” and how they experience misinformation and critically evaluate information and images. Thinking about “photographic truth” and the implications of how images are constructed in an age of easy photo manipulation.
  • Reggie – Thinking about how to fit visual literacy into the already crammed English curriculum with digital storytelling
    • Moving from statements of belief (ala “This I Believe”) to statements of change created as a digital movie. Combining elements of argumentative writing with visuals.
    • Then moving from this digital video project into understanding how to create a traditional text for the ACT. In this example of women’s body image, this includes ways that the student could use the same arguments and refutations used in the movie project and translating them into traditional essay structures (building context, argument, counterargument, rebuttal, etc).
    • Complexity of assessing these texts with a rubric that was already in place. Looking at three examples — one on body image, one on global warming, one on the “open beverage” rule. But, are there some qualitative differences in these works? I think so, and I am wondering how we can help students see that there are some standards of quality in the production of digital texts. One option would be to have a “viewing” day in the class, and then inviting them to revise based on what they saw in other videos as well as feedback on their own.

Final Reflections on the Day

We were going to have a large group discussion to report out on the day, but ran out of time. My final thoughts are that Andrea and the entire RCWP team organized a wonderfully thoughtful day of exploration into these three strands: social networking, collaborative writing, and visual studies. As we continue to think about the future of what it means to be a writer and a teacher of writing in a digital age, the conversations that began today can continue to guide our work into the future. I look forward to this team sharing their insights at the NWPM retreat this summer!


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