One-To-One Technology ‘Is Really About Building Effective Relationships’

My thanks to Larry Ferlazzo for the invitation to respond to his EdWeek Teacher Blog question: What are the Dos and Don’ts of having a successful one-to-one computing (where every student at a school gets a device) program? Check out the post to see responses from Alice Barr and Mark Pullen as well.

Quote
Part of my response to the question: “What are the Dos and Don’ts of having a successful one-to-one computing (where every student at a school gets a device) program?”

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Catching My Breath After #engchat

So, I just finished hosting the lightening round of Tweeting that is know as #engchat (wiki link).

I sat down sat down at Panera with my bread bowl at about 6:45, thinking that I would have time to eat and follow a casual conversation. An hour later, there were so many great ideas that emerged that I barely lifted my fingers from the keyboard, let alone my spoon. That said, I just want to catch a few of these ideas, and a few bites of my cold soup, before the restaurant closes!

  • Even in a world of hyper-connected English teachers, we are still asking the right questions, both about teaching and technology. About access, both to the net and the tools. About teaching, both the content and the process. About assessment, both how and why. I really appreciated the questions that people asked, especially how they forced me to keep coming back to the writing and the writer, not just talk about tools.
  • No matter how little or how much access we (and our students) have, we need to continue advocating for more. Milton Chen in Education Nation talks about how 1:1 access is a digital civil right, and this conversation on #engchat tonight reminds me of that. Both the chat itself (the skills and processes that I needed to engage in a twitter-based chat with colleagues is both a mental and technical challenge, not to mention how to stay focused) as well as the topics that it raises (when, for instance, do we want students to attend to an online chat as compared to a face-to-face one?) remind me of how incredibly complex this thing called “digital writing” really is. It is both immediate and archived. It is both multilayered/multithreaded/multimodal, yet intently personal and focused. It can enrich our minds and offer us alternatives, or it can drive us to distraction. When and how do we teach digital writing so that it can be useful and productive?
  • There are incredible possibilities. One thread of the conversation spun off into the possibilities of gaming and how one teacher, Carl, uses Scratch with his middle school students. Showing the potential for interactive media as a space for storytelling (even if it is not “gaming” in the sense of programming and designing a full narrative with complex options), this example shows the ways in which a student can work to think through the process of writing in a different form. At one point, someone in the #engchat asked something similar to “what isn’t writing then?” and I think that it raises a good point. Whether spoken, printed, or otherwise designed with media, I think that “writing” is intentional. It involves an act of planning, revising, and producing. This Scratch example, to me, is clearly writing.

Those are some brief, initial reflections. I am so thankful for having had the chance to lead the #engchat session tonight, as it gets my new year and new semester off to a good start, helping me rethink what it is that I hope to accomplish in my teaching, research, and writing in the coming months.


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Closing 2010: Summarizing Our Reports from Cyberspace

For two years in a row, Sara Kajder, Bud Hunt, and I have presented Three Reports from Cyberspace. We plan to submit for NCTE 2011, so with any luck we will get to work together again and share in a wonderful conversation before, during, and after the conference. For the moment, I want to focus on that “after” part from this year’s conversation, one that began first in an open Google Doc that generated some initial conversation, led to a Google Moderator forum that we used on the day of the presentation, and now takes us back to the wiki for planning next year’s session. Bud has been posting some videos from our Orlando engagement, the first featuring Sara talking about assessment, and promises more to come.

So, on new year’s eve, I take my time to pause and look back at what we said, what our colleagues said, and what my agenda needs to be for 2011. To begin, a few quotes from that open Google Doc, loosely organized into the categories we discussed at NCTE — teaching, infrastructure, and assessment:

Infrastructure:

  • Suddenly, though, for the first time, I really worry about approaching the point where the state of the equipment gets in the way of the learning. I’m not there yet. I can just see some inklings of this problem on the horizon, and the fact is: my school doesn’t  have a lot of money to spend on equipment. ~ Kevin Hodgson, William E. Norris Elementary School, MA
  • The great thing is that my district purchased interactive white boards for each teacher in my school, a new computer lab for my school, and netbooks for each kid in 5th-8th grade in the district. They have also installed wi-fi in each building in the district. The not-so-great thing is that none of these things are functional. It is mid-November. The kids haven’t seen the netbooks, the white boards are not yet interactive, and the computer lab tables are empty. ~ Angela Knight
  • The subject of all things tech at my school is a sore one. We have 3 computer labs (2 of which are used for classes) and a mobile lab. Our free lab and library computers are pathetically slow. (We’re talking computers with places for the square 3×5 disks.) The mobile lab is better, but they’re not maintained as well as they need to be so many of our lap tops aren’t functional. ~ April Estep
  • My report from cyberspace is bleak. Two years ago I had a Writing lab to use with my students on a daily basis. Students could research on the internet, compose papers at the keyboard and do various online activities I selected for them to do. Today I need to share that same lab, so my 140 students need to share with 280 others. ~ Joanne Wisniewski
  • I’m at a 1:1 tablet school, so access is excellent. We’re in our second year of all the Middle School kids having their own blogs. Teacher comfort level with them is increasing, and while the new sixth graders take a bit of time to acclimate, they’re pretty much good to go by the second trimester. I occasionally feel guilty that we’re not doing more, pushing harder, since we’ve got the technology available. The good thing is that the tech feels like who we are at this point, so we’re not just pulling out shiny things. ~ Meredith Stewart, Cary Academy
  • In my local district, many teachers and parents are feeling upset because, in the same year, (a) the district had parents buy school supplies like paper, crayons, etc. instead of the school providing it all, (b) the district put iPads in all the 1st grade classrooms.  Not from the same pot of money, but there’s a general feeling that if strapped for cash you should buy paper and crayons first, then iPads. ~ Anne Whitney
  • I use lots of technology in my classroom, and my kids also use technology frequently.  One of the biggest obstacles to participating in authentic tech use in the classroom are the barriers erected by the district to protect students.  Bandwidth is a huge issue, with our upgrade, and the entire system going to a universal login (any building, you can access your documents).  This sounds like a good idea, but has slowed things down too much. ~ Freyja Bergthorson

Teaching:

  • (With an iPad initiative starting next year)… “This will be incredible for kids, but will take a lot of energy. Will I be able to keep up? I’ve never felt this unconfident before.” ~ Sandy Hayes, Becker Middle School, MN
  • First step: learning about the existing knowledge, skills and attitudes that support or inhibit people’s interest in exploring digital media tools for composition. Second step: creating simple collaborative on-ramp activities that help teachers experience success quickly to build confidence. Third step: introducing key concepts that help them connect mass media, popular culture and digital technology to their existing instructional priorities. Eventually, teachers will design, implement and assess their own projects which will be shared online. ~ Renee Hobbs, Temple University, Philadelphia
  • I got a Smart Board and LCD projector installed this year, so I’m enjoying that – but I don’t feel like I’m using the Smart Board as much as I should be. How are English teachers using Smart Boards in an interactive way? ~ Jennifer Sekella
  • For schools with International Baccalaureate programs, in the US and around the world, cyberspace is the most powerful and compelling place ever for their students. They are in the process of activating the largest social learning network in the world, with privacy and safety features and multiple security levels.

Assessment

  • I am scared that very few teachers that I know really use technology. This is just not good for students! We are all so obsessed with raising test scores, there is no demand at all. Tech is used for Read 180, SRI tests, but not for exploring, researching, creating. That’s a problem. ~ Teresa Ilgunas, Lennox Middle School, CA

And, some active verbs that we generated from the session at NCTE that indicate thoughts about what we can do in our classrooms, schools, districts, and communities:

  • Risk
  • Share
  • Advocate
  • Push
  • Model
  • Motivate
  • Try
  • Fail
  • Do
  • Fail better
  • Fail big, fail better
  • Play
  • Experience
  • Have fun
  • Implement
  • Change
  • Experiment
  • Question authority
  • Engage
  • Revisit
  • Reflect
  • Revise
  • Think
  • Entice
  • Archive
  • Yodel
  • Produce
  • Synthesize
  • Craft
  • Scrap
  • Celebrate
  • Learn
  • Seduce
  • Use what we have
  • Dump the “buts”

So, where does this leave me at in my thinking about our state of “educational cyberspace” this year?

First, I would suggest that we are at the “tipping point” for mobile/1:1 computing and, as educators, we should advocate for nothing less in our classrooms, especially given the web-based tools that we can ask students to use, from office suites to photo, audio, and video editing. Given the reports from above, and what I know about the digital divide that still exists in our schools and communities, I know that there are no silver bullets. Yet, the fact that mobile devices now cost about the same, or less, than textbooks and that we can ask students to live an academic life fully online, there really are no excuses for not moving in this direction. This will take a great deal of work in teacher education and professional development, no doubt, but the fact is that we should start with the assumption that students could and should have 1:1 access, and begin to teach teachers how to work that way.

Second, in terms of where I am going in my own thinking and work for the new year, I want to make sure that we continue talking about digital writing, not just tools. I am thinking about this in all of my presentations and teaching, making conversations about writing as explicit as possible, even when we are caught up in learning the tools. For instance, I will often pause and ask teachers to think about the actions they have performed when they have engaged in a task like composing a writer’s profile or collaborating on Google Docs. We talk about the writing process, the 21st century literacies they used, the common core standards that the task addresses. We need to continue to make the conversations about teaching and learning, no matter how the devices change.

Finally, I hope to continue this conversation with all of you this year, beginning next Monday night, January 3rd, on #engchat. The topic, “What’s happening in your digital writing workshop?” will, I hope, give us a chance to talk about the many examples of good work that teachers and students are engaged in. As we prepare for the conversation, I offer one last report from cyberspace this year… this one from Joel Malley, an NWP teacher, that he created as a part of his testimonial to Congress last fall. I hope that his video offers us some points to consider as we think about the obstacles and opportunities that face us in cyberspace in 2011. I recognize that we aren’t all able to teach in situations similar to Malley’s, but I do think that his take on teaching writing in a digital make for good points to consider as we continue the conversation.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=15186238&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=1&color=00ADEF&fullscreen=1&autoplay=0&loop=0

Writing in the Digital Age from Joel Malley on Vimeo.


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2010 MVU Online Learning Symposium

Notes from 2010 Michigan Virtual University Online Learning Symposium
November 9, 2010 at Michigan State University

Opening Keynote: Steve Midgley, Deputy Director of Education Technology, US DOE

  • Context
    • National Technology Plan (released just today), Four Components: Mobility, Social Interactions, Digital Content, Print to Online
    • This does not mean that we will have a “teacherless” curriculum, but the online marketplace offers many interesting opportunities
    • How do we find the right content and connect it with the right student with the right teacher at the right time?
    • Challenge from President Obama: “By 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”
    • The crucial thing about this is that if you graduate every student in the pipeline today, we will still not meet this goal. Stats show that many students are not graduating from high school, so this implies that many people need to get re-engaged. This will only happen with online learning.
  • Content
    • Teaching, Learning, Assessment — Infrastructure — Productivity
    • Assessment the way it is working today is pretty fouled up
    • Using $350 million to develop new, next generation assessment
    • DARPA project to assess Navy ensigns “in the field”
  • Learning
    • Some major points
      • 21st century expertise
      • How people learn
      • Personalized learning
      • Universal design for learning
      • Informal + formal
    • Social search — more people go to YouTube from Facebook than from Google
      • What does it look like in a social context that is professional?
    • New models (Netflix/Blockbuster) — what does this look like in education?
  • Assessment
    • Major points
      • Measure what matters
      • Embedded assessments
      • Real time feedback
      • Persistent learning record
      • Universal design
      • Continuous improvement
    • New models of assessment being developed being developed
    • NOTE: I haven’t read up much about this, but there is information about it being distributed through MDE and other news outlets.
  • Teaching
    • Main points
    • What does “highly effective” really mean in an online environment?
    • Connected
    • Online
    • Informal + formal — we can’t organize in ways offline that we can online — some technologies require connectivity to work at all (e.g., Wikipedia)
    • Inspired
  • Questions and Answers
    • Wikipedia — many schools block it, and then students are expected to use it in college to get started with research — this is crazy
    • What other “spaces” can we create for teachers to share ideas and resources? What is officially sanctioned by the state, and what is not? What is the role of textbook publishers and other research-based work to integrate with teacher knowledge?
    • We can’t test everything that we say we want kids to learn, only certain things, and some kids are learning more at different times and in different ways. So, then the question becomes what happens to kids as they figure out seat time/credit hours?
    • Intellectual property — how do teachers’ ideas get recognized in these online spaces? Creates problems with copyright and fair use. Creative Commons and Open Courseware as one option, but also some states and districts have earned RTTT money and are sharing through other avenues.

Conversation with Michigan Online Teachers of the Year

  • What has surprised you about online learning?
    • The personal connection, the human touch. Part of this is about the evolution of the internet and how we use social networks today. It is very easy to develop the relationships.
    • When you never see students face-to-face, and you are teaching 125 a semester, when someone writes that “you are my favorite teacher” — that is motivating. The additional thing that surprises me is the connections that you make with your mentors and how much of a factor that they play in their students’ lives.
  • What are your major apprehensions?
    • The fact that the technologies continue to change. Need to keep on top of things, for instance with the 21 Things for 21st Century Educators. (NOTE: I am not so sure that I agree with this statement — I think that there are generally principles about online learning and digital literacy that we need to know, but that we get way too caught up with the tools.)
    • If we don’t teach kids how to use their mobile phones properly, how will they learn these life skills? (NOTE: Again, I am a bit concerned about the tone that we take when we assume that we, as educators, have the “right” answer about how, when, and why we use the tools. Not that I disagree with the principle that we invite them to use these devices and applications, but I do worry that once we co-opt the digital tools and spaces that they are familiar with, we are changing the purposes and audiences for which they write and work).
    • Assessment is built in to the system — the fact that student time online is logged.
  • What are the roles that teachers and students play in the process of online learning?
    • If you are just introducing it, you have to give it time. Initially, it depends on the success of the students that are there — highly motivated kids are successful and motivate other kids to continue working, too.
    • This is rewarding for teachers — we enjoy having the opportunity to teach in a more flexible model. Old model was to have AP kids in advanced classes and remedial kids in other courses (kind of a dumping ground, without mentor support). We have now moved to a model where most students who are in our courses actually get to work and achieve a passing grade.
    • We can bait the hook, but students need to bite. People talk about the way that online learning is better because it offers students new opportunities as compared to what they have experienced in school. This is especially true for students in credit recovery. Still, they have to be motivated and self-directed. (NOTE: So, in what ways does online learning really change the paradigm? That is, if students are reluctant to engage in school, for whatever reason, does the flexibility of online learning really overcome the negative feelings that they have towards school?) Can you meet them online through Skype and Adobe Connect or other similar tools?
    • What are your strategies for connecting with online students? It is not about loving your subject, it is about loving your students. Students see it and recognize it, and they reciprocate.

Lunch Keynote: Milton Chen, Senior Fellow and Director Emeritus at George Lucas Educational Foundation — “Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in our Schools” and Edutopia

  • Interesting note — Chen was born in Negaunee, and his father was a mining engineer
    • “I am here as an accident of history” — China was an ally, and my father was able to come to the US and learn about mining at Penn State, and my parents were married in 1945, although my mother didn’t arrive until 1949. They didn’t plan to stay in the US, but the stayed and I was born in 1953.
  • Imagine an Education Nation: “A learning society where education of children is teh highest priority, equal to a strong economy, high employment, and national security, which rely on education.”
    • The book is a “curation” of many resources from Edutopia; interesting that the magazine has been discontinued; e-books now outsell print books
    • “I think this is the first decade of the twenty-first century for education.” — we are at the tipping point.
    • Innovation — the key to creating an education nation; it is a “must do” than a “nice to know”
    • Bugscope
    • Google is 12 years old, YouTube is 5 years old, Edutopia YouTube Channel
    • Clay Shirky — we are witnessing the biggest change in human innovation and creativity in history; every media that we have ever known is now on a device in our pocket next to every other media
  • These are old ideas… Dewey
    • “From the standpoint of the child, the great waste in the school comes from his inability to utilize the experiences he gets outside the school… within the school itself while, on the other hand, he is unable to apply in daily life what he is learning at school.” The School and Society Lecture, University of Chicago, 1899
  • 6 Leading Edges of K-12 Innovation
    • Thinking
    • Curriculum and Assessment
    • Technology
    • Time/Place
    • Co-Teaching
    • Youth
  • The Edge of Our Thinking: Ending the Education Wars
    • From the either/or to both/and hybrids
    • Phonics and whole language
    • Arts and core curriculum (opening minds with the arts)
    • Learning in nature and technology
  • Curriculum Edge: Globalizing the Curriculum
  • Technology Edge
    • We want all students to use technology; weapons of mass instruction (one-to-one is the weapon that we need to employ)
      • We need to reduce the 1:6 student/computer level to a one-to-one (it can be done for $250 or less, per year)
    • iPod, iListen, iRead: EUSD iRead Program
      • Technology is only technology for those who were born before it existed
      • Using the iPod as a device to record students’ own voices reading: the “missing mirror” in literacy instruction
      • This is not about just getting to the standards, this is about having kids learn more, and learn earlier
      • Have students see how other students are learning; what are the different paths that other students take and how can we learn from this public learning process?
  • The Time/Place Edge
    • Getting kids out into the community for place-based learning
  • Co-Teaching
  • The Greatest Edge: Today’s Youth
  • What is your definition of a great school?
    • Make it short, make it measurable — are the kids running into school as fast as they are running out of it; are the kids so excited about their work that they do not want to leave school?

Closing Keynote: Richard Ferdig, Kent State University

  • Building the plane while we are flying it — and that’s OK
  • Is K-12 online learning academically effective? — this is not the right question
    • Example of TV and video games — not good for kids, right?
    • Actually, depending on the TV or game, it is good for you.
    • Asking the right question — when are courses taught “better” online as compared to face-to-face?
    • Quote from USDOE: “On average, online learning students performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”
  • So, the better question is “When is online learning academically effective?” or “Under what conditions is online learning academically effective?”
    • How is online more effective? What are the conditions under which it is more effective?
    • Is “X” technology better for learning? — Sometimes (under certain conditions)
  • So, when is K-12 online learning academically effective?
  • So, what do we look at?
    • Student and Teacher
      • With teachers, we know that a teacher has a significant role in mentoring students through their online experiences
      • Highly qualified teachers matter in virtual schooling as well
      • How can we get highly qualified teachers?
        • Professional development — because not any teacher can teach online, they need particular skill sets for teaching online — engaging parents and mentors, using virtual school resources
        • Teacher education is not the answer — they are not working with K-12 online schools. Do they have virtual internship programs? Most teachers leave colleges of education without any preparation to teach online.
        • Lack of PD opportunities – not all have online experiences, only 21% had a customized experience
        • Does PD work — sometimes. PD only works when teachers take charge of their PD experience.
        • PCK — talk about teacher knowledge for practice, in practice, and of practice
        • Classroom — inquiry — community
        • Suggestions/Recommendations:
          • Record and reflect on exemplary practice
          • Ownership of the PD model, using innovative means and tools
      • Does online learning affect student retention?
        • Retention is a significant problem, and they drop out for different reasons such as their own individual reasons, or institutional reasons. This happens at key transitions points, students are myopic, and there are disconnected understandings about what is happening and why.
      • Solutions
        • Better communication
        • Individualized instruction
        • Additional mentoring
        • Connections to jobs
      • Why did it work?
        • Accepted by peers
        • Accepted by online teachers
        • Learning styles were met
        • Connections to real world
        • More opportunities for expression
        • In short, all the reasons they dropped out of their F2F school is why they succeeded online
  • Understanding Virtual Schools
    • 80/20 — most of what happens across states is common, although there are some unique features depending on the state
      • Partnerships — including school, university, research, and evaluation
      • Exponential growth
      • Retaining both students and teachers
      • The funding dilemma/opportunity
    • Best practices
      • Engage in attention on pedagogy, innovation with technology, etc.
  • What are some ways to get to better practice?

Reflections on the day

Along with all the technology interests that I have had over the years, my formal introduction to online learning began around the turn of the century when I was trained as an online instructor with the Michigan Virtual High School. Because of a variety of reasons, not the least of which was starting grad school, I taught my last online course for them in 2002. Given my continuing interests in online and hybrid models of learning — especially in professional development for teachers — it was good to come to the conference today and get reconnected with the state of online learning.

I do have significant concerns about the commercialization of online learning and how models like MIVU, Blackboard, textbook companies selling products, charter schools and other organizations who are working, in one way or another, for a profit versus the model of open courseware, collaboration, hybridity, and free or opensource web-based tools. This is a significant wedge that continues to grow. For instance, I set my courses up with a wiki, invite students to use free tools for collaboration and bibliography management, and engage with a variety of other tools. contrast this with the subscription that my university pays for to use Blackboard, including all the proprietary tools and content management.

One of the resources that I was reminded of, and I know I need to continue my participation in, is Edutopia. Milton Chen talked about the many ways that educators are innovating, and that the “internet makes learning international.” It’s been one year since I was invited to be a moderator of a group on Multimedia Literacy, and I need to get involved again.

Also, the implications for professional development for online teachers has just as much, if not more, resonance with our needs for traditional professional development. One of the main points that I will take from the final talk by Richard Ferdig is the fact that teachers, like students, need customized, just-in-time learning opportunities to find out more about how to teach and learn in their own context. I hope that we are doing some of that with our work this year in the CRWP/CGRESD partnership, and I look forward to seeing results from that work.

It was an interesting day, especially in the sense that this conference was one that I chose to attend because it was outside of my normal areas of conference-going, yet remained on the border of them and moved my thinking forward in new ways.


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Notes from Lisa Dawley’s “The Evolution of Teacher Education in a Digital Learning Era” at SITe 2010″

The Evolution of Teacher Education in a Digital Learning Era: Transforming Knowledge in the Global Network

Lisa Dawley, Boise State University
  • The Unavoidable Evolution in Teacher Education
    • Travels around the world, others saying that American students are creative; yet, still calls for reform, especially in teacher education, keep happening here in US
    • New US EdTech plan, too
  • Growth in Online Education
    • Over 1 million K-12 kids learn online; 47% increase in the past two years
    • Fall 2007, 20% of college student were enrolled in an online course
    • 45 states offer some kind of state supplemental program online, as well as fully online K-12 programs offered as charter schools
    • Idaho K12 virtual schools — 14,000 students enrolled last year
  • K12 Online Options
    • Moving along a continuum from traditional integrated tech classroom to hybrid course to online tech enhanced schools to full-time virtual schooling
    • Other hybrids exist, including options that are in brick and mortar schools and homeschools
    • iNACOL – The International Association for K-12 Online Learning
  • Effects of online learning report
    • The effectiveness of online learning is tied to learning time, curriculum, pedagogy, and opportunities for collaboration
    • Gives learners control of their interactions with media… move, use, remix, edit, build, chance, click, interact, change…
    • Online learning can be enhanced by prompting learner reflection
    • What doesn’t impact learning
      • Incorporating online quizzes
      • Media combinations don’t matter, but control over them does
    • Henry Jenkins and participatory culture: MIT TV clip
  • Pedagogical Framework from Dawley: Social Network Knowledge Construction
    • Identify
    • Lurk
    • Contribute
    • Create
    • Lead
  • How do we design programs to rethink teacher education?
    • At Boise State, it is only graduate degrees and certificates
    • Fully online for past seven years; students throughout the world
    • Moved from Blackboard to Moodle, integrating web 2.0 tools into portal
    • Integration of videos from YouTube, TeacherTube, WatchKnow
    • Avatar creation through Voki and SitePals
    • Graphic blogs through Glogster
    • 3D learning games such as Conspiracy Code
  • Open source and free content
    • iTunesU
    • 3D virtual worlds: Opensource metaverse, croquet
    • Moodle learning management systen
  • Mobile learning
    • Educational apps
    • Texting
    • LMS access
    • Multimedia
    • GPS-based curriculum
    • In three years, mobile devices will become the main interface used to browse the internet
  • Exergaming
    • State-wide online tournaments for gaming
  • Innovative courses, participatory networks
  • Help lead the teacher education revolution


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Framing an Approach to the Digital Writing Workshop

After a wonderful week in Philly and while reflecting on my experiences at the NWP Annual Meeting, “Digital Is” Conference, and NCTE Convention, I was fortunate enough to engage with a Michigan colleague who, as a part of her master’s program, is doing an inquiry project on establishing her own digital writing workshop. She had picked up my book (thanks!) and then had some questions for me, specifically related to her teaching context. With her permission, I share excerpts of our email conversation here in hopes that it may be useful for some of you attempting to establish digital writing workshops in your own classrooms and schools. The exchange begins with her first question, and I have indented my responses for clarity.

1.  Access is my biggest issue.  Currently, I share a laptop cart of 20 with the whole school (about 220 kids).  I do have 5 computers in my classroom, but I am unable to sign out the cart on most days, leaving me one day a week (to compete with the whole school) to sign out the laptops.  I am currently dreaming and searching for grants to get more computers for my own classroom, but access continues to be an issue.  Not all of my students have access to computers or internet at home, and most aren’t able to use a computer during the school day.  (The competition to use one of the classroom computers can be pretty stiff, especially since many of my students have computer usage written into their IEP…  leaving all the others without class time access.)  How does one go “fully digital” without access?  Do I make blogging their weekly writing a requirement and then have them come in during lunch or after school?  Or do I wait on that part until I know everyone has fair access?

I am in a fairly fortunate position…  my class sizes are small.  But how much do I push the envelope?

You have two problems here — the immediate and long term need for access. So, I will address both.

First, for the short term, no, you should not wait. Kids, and parents, are resourceful, and if you create an assignment and give them a fair amount of time (one post per week, with one response to a peer, perhaps), then I think that it is more than fair to require that as homework. If you make extra time available at lunch or after school, in addition to the one day a week that they have in your class, then this is even more fair. Sadly, we will never have equal access (which is what I think you mean be “fair access”) and I don’t think that should preclude students engaging in digital writing. So, your plan is reasonable. Push the envelope, not only because you know it is pedagogically sound, but because you know that students can rise to these expectations so long as you make them reasonable.

A more long term question is embedded in your desire to get grants to buy more machines. With tools like netbooks and iPod touches as very low cost, that might be your best entry point for a one-to-one system. Honestly, you won’t have full access in your classroom unless your school supports a building-wide initiative, or you get your own for your classroom. So, that is an admirable goal, but I would really encourage you to push for a school-wide initiative in order to make substantive changes in the ways that students and your colleagues engage with technology. You might want to look at this book to help make an argument about why and how laptops can support student learning: Warschauer, M. (2006). Laptops and literacy: Learning in the wireless classroom. New York: Teachers College Press.

In short, you are thinking about this in all the right ways. Trying to make things fair for all of our students is the sign of a passionate teacher, and I appreciate your efforts. That said, I can understand why you feel you are not being fair. One blog post a week, I can assure you, is a fair assignment, and one that moves your students in the right direction to becoming digital writers.
 

2.  Some of my parents are concerned about their child’s off task behavior while  on the internet.  One parent has demanded that we not let her child use the computer at school at all, because she can’t be monitored well enough.  This child is only in 6th grade, so I will continue to have her for 2 more years.  Any ideas to help sway her parents?

The best response that I have heard to this is from a colleague, Bud Hunt (who blogs at http://budtheteacher.com/blog/). Basically, he says that it’s not the internet that makes the kid go to Facebook/IM/game sites/etc. It’s the kid. Your job is to help teach the kid to be productive, ethical, and responsible online. But, that’s part of her parents’ job, too. And, filtering/censoring the internet is not going to solve that. Keeping her offline at school, in short, is not going to help her be a better digital writer nor is it going to help her learn behaviors that are going to make her a good digital citizen. We have to recognize that kids, and all of us, can and should have time to play and explore online, and that should be balanced with doing work. This is true offline as well. So, your job is to help the parents see that it’s not the internet that is distracting their daughter, it’s their daughter that’s distracting their daughter. Show them what you are asking her to do, talk about how that should be engaging her, and then discuss what other reasons might be present for why she is not engaging in the digital writing task (is she a struggling writer? are other kids in the class not responding to her writing? other?)

3.  What do you say to those that value the very traditional 5 paragraph essay “make my kid ready for the MEAP and ACT” kinds of writing, and do not believe that digital story telling, podcasting, and creating PSAs will help their child learn the so called “nuts and bolts” of writing?  Thankfully, I do not get a lot of that at my school…  but I am sure others face it quite a bit.

Like crafting a blog post, composing a digital story, or writing a letter, the writing a 5 paragraph essay is one type of genre that students need to master for a specific writing context. My argument for focusing on digital writing is simple — use the MAPS heuristic and help students talk about the mode, media, audience, purpose, and situation of a given writing task, then use that language across tasks. So, as they compose a blog post, talk with them about the similarities and differences between writing that post as compared to a traditional essay. When kids understand the rhetorical choices that they are making, then they will be better able to discern how and why to make these choices.

Moreover, if kids are engaged in authentic writing tasks through digital storytelling and other means, then it will give them more fodder to choose from for these exams. That is, if they are passionately writing about their own ideas in a variety of other contexts, then when it comes time to perform on the state test, then they will have a variety of ideas to choose from. Rather than drilling them with decontextualized prompts each day, engage them in real writing, and they will be able to craft an essay when they need to.

Beyond that, one footnote. The best MEAP essays are NOT five-paragraph ones. I know that you know this, but point parents to the MEAP released items and talk with them about what the best essays look like. Talk with your kids about it, too. Then, see how that type of essay writing can be fostered by making good rhetorical choices (ala the choices one makes as a digital writer).
 

4.  Just for fun… 
What has been your favorite digital writing workshop activity to experience?
What activity has been the most valuable as far as engaging students in writing, both in and out of class?

I love digital storytelling. Love creating them. Love teaching them.

That said, my favorite and most valuable activity is having my students create a writer’s profile. I am copying and pasting the next few paragraphs from a blog post I made on the Ning a few months back…

At the beginning of each writing class that I teach, I invite students to “interview” each other with Nancie Atwell’s writing survey from In the Middle. While they are interviewing each other, I walk around the room and, with their permission, take their picture with a digital camera. This encourages some offline collaboration that then turns into the basis for their online relationships as readers and responders.

After the interviews, they then take the answers to the questions that they gave, and begin to create an individual page with an autobiographical profile on our class wiki. Before class begins, I have already created a list of students on a page of the wiki, so that they can then link their profile to the class list.

Often times, over the course of the semester, this profile page grows as they add their writing territories (Atwell), responses to a “50 questions” activity I lead them through,” and links to the writing pieces that they are developing over the semester. Also, other students can go into the wiki and comment on each other’s profiles, including responses to writing. These profile pages grow and change over the semester, just as they grow and change as writers.

Two examples of these class pages linked to individual profiles can be found in my ENG 315 course and this summer’s Chippewa River Writing Project.

 

Thanks for supporting me on my quest to “digitize” my writing workshop!

 

You are welcome, and thanks for taking the next steps — I applaud your enthusiasm and professionalism. I look forward to hearing about your work.

Cross-posted on the Digital Writing Workshop Ning.

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Notes from Danielle Nicole DeVoss’s Opening Keynote at NWP’s “Digital Is…”

Danielle Nicole DeVoss asks us to think about what digital was then and is now…

Digital is…

  • Networked — we compose in networked spaces
  • Collaborative — people are able to connect and create through these networks (LolCats)
  • Multimodal — typography, kinetic type, digital stories
  • Re-Mediated — taking a media object and recreating it so it moves across media; moving across text to audio to video (StarzBunnies)
  • Remixed — taking bits and pieces and parts of other media to create new messages and meaning
  • Policed — digital millennium copyright act; You Tube copyright issues (Fair Use)
  • (Requires) Critical thinking — because of the visuals (Harry Potter, Redbook)
  • (Can be) Democratic — Iran and Twitter, YouTube Debates

Writing is Digital — this is, as Elyse put it, our moment.


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