Brief Summary of #TheDigitalClassroom Hangout

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to be invited to an AdvancED webinar featuring:

  • Sean Cavanagh: @EdWeekSCavanagh (Moderator), Assistant Editor for Education Week
  • Angela Maiers: @AngelaMaiers Founder and President of Maiers Education Services
  • Jackie Gerstein Ed.D.: @jackiegerstein Online Adjunct Faculty for Departments of Education
  • Darren Burris: @dgburris Teacher & Instructional Coach at Boston Collegiate Charter

It was an incredibly fast-paced and informative conversation, especially because we thought we had to get it all in 30 minutes and were then allotted about 45. A few of us tried to keep pace with the #TheDigitalClassroom on Twitter.  A few retweets are still happening today, and I hope that other colleagues involved in teacher education and professional development may find this a timely and useful resource for sharing during workshops and methods courses.



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Reflections on CMU’s High Impact Teaching Academy

Last fall, I joined CMU’s High Impact Teaching Academy with the specific goal of rethinking the approach to teaching my methods course, ENG 315: “Writing in the Elementary and Middle Schools.” While I am unable to present my final project in person this week, I did want to share three components of my refined approach: a course concept map created in Prezi, a “visual syllabus” to replace my old, standard design, and a few of the activities that I used in class to get students more engaged in conversation about our subject matter.

Course Concept Map

As a tool to help frame my own thinking as well as to visually represent our goals and the path for our semester in ENG 315, I created this Prezi. During the first class session, I used this to complement our talk about the syllabus and the schedule of assignments. Then, during the next three weeks of class I returned to the Prezi, briefly, to reorient students to where we were at and what we were heading toward. After that, I only took class time to look at the Prezi intentionally twice more: once immediately after spring break and again with two weeks left in the course. With each tour of the Prezi, I also tried to connect to the big ideas that we were discussing in class at the time.

Survey Results - Prezi
Survey Results – Prezi

While I need to wait until the end of the semester to read their written comments from SOS forms, the results from an anonymous survey that I gave last week show that my students’ reactions to having and using the Prezi were quite mixed. I am not entirely sure what this means for me as I continue to think about creating course concept maps in the future, but the fact that nearly 3/4 of them appreciated having the Prezi is a positive sign.

Visual Syllabus

Both because my old syllabus had become weighted and bulky with tons of text, and because I was really trying to really rethink some major elements of the course, I opted to create a visual syllabus over the holiday break and after meeting with Eron. As I streamlined assignments, readings, and procedures — including a new “collaborative unit plan” assignment — I shaped the visual syllabus to reflect the organization of the course and the ways in which the assignments related to one another.

ENG 315 Syllabus First Page - Fall 2012 ENG 315 Syllabus First Page - Spring 2013
Previous version of ENG 315 Syllabus (PDF) Spring 2013 version of ENG 315 Syllabus (PDF)
Survey Results - Syllabus
Survey Results – Syllabus

Again, like the Prezi, results were mixed, but not nearly as much. Possibly because a syllabus is the defining document for a course, or perhaps because they really did appreciate the design, students all rated the syllabus as favorable. There are some minor tweaks that I would go back to fix, and again I will need to see their written SOS responses to get a better idea of what they really liked and what didn’t work so well.

Creating Engaging Discussions in Class

ENG 315 Group Work
ENG 315 students work to create a visual representation of a major idea from the course.

Over the past few years, I have worked to create interactive, inclusive discussions. For a few semesters, I worked with a colleague to create what we called the “read/share” project where students would read a professional book, then lead a lesson from that book. This didn’t seem to elicit the types of interactions I had hoped for, so I shifted focus last year and asked a different group of students to prepare a discussion activity each week based on a particular article or chapter. Again, this didn’t seem to elicit the types of active reading and engagement I was hoping for. I knew that continuing with the traditional “call and response” format would only show me that a few students had read and were prepared to discuss course ideas in a substantive manner.

ENG 315 Concept Map
ENG 315 Concept Map

Thus, this semester I took a number of the ideas from the HITA workshops and tried them out — using playing cards to randomize groups, bringing chart paper and markers for brainstorming, allowing for adequate wait time, back channeling, and having students complete reading guides or discussion questions on Blackboard. I would also take these comments that were produced before class online and bring them directly into our class activities. For instance, I had students agree or disagree with a statement from another student’s online post. Also, in private, I asked some students who had posted something unique to please speak up in class, and most were willing to do so.

Survey Results - Discussion
Survey Results – Discussion

While I am not sure that I mastered all of the techniques, and I recognize that I “lost” some time with lengthier discussions, I am sure that the positive responses to the survey are telling me that I am moving in the right direction. Classroom discussions, even for college seniors preparing to enter their student teaching, can still feel stifled. Yet, I think that I helped encourage a variety of voices to contribute to our dialogue throughout the semester.


These three main changes in my approach to teaching ENG 315 were relatively easy to incorporate and have led to equal, if not better results than what I have experienced in previous semesters. Participating in HITA has reminded me of effective and engaging practices that I knew but seemed to have forgotten, as well as providing me opportunity to learn a few new strategies as well.

As a teacher educator, I am constantly thinking about how best to engage pre-service teachers in meaningful activities that will actually help them better understand both content knowledge and the practice of teaching. In the coming year, as we expand the audience for ENG 315 to include all elementary education majors, I know that the work I have done this semester will contribute to my continued growth as a teacher educator and, more importantly, to my students’ growth as new teachers.

My thanks to Eron and the entire FaCIT staff for a wonderful professional development experience, as well as my students in the Spring 2013 section of ENG 315.

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Social Network “Fail” Leads to A Renewed Approach to ENG 315

Another semester began this week, and I have been updating my syllabus and wiki site for ENG 315. Last semester, I was quite surprised and delighted by the number of you who asked me about my Wikispaces to Edmodo shift. Well, we learn from our failures, right? This is one that taught me a great deal about digital writing and teaching, and I share a few thoughts here.

First, I realized how dependent I had become on using a wiki, both to prepare for class as well as in class. Each week, I would create a new agenda page and share that with my students. While I could share links in Edmodo, I switched to a Google Doc for the agenda, and that was confusing to many students. In other words, I didn’t find an easy way to put a weekly agenda up and — while I had placed a link to the agenda in Edmodo, asked them to save the doc in their own Google Drive, and sent a link out each week — the document itself became overwhelming. There may have been an easy workaround for this, however that was not the major concern that students had.

Second, I populated our course’s feed with two RSS feeds so they could get updates on educational news and events. There were so few posts from class members in between our regular class meetings each week, that these syndicated RSS feeds would essentially “fill” the front page for the class. Students were not interested in or easily able to search for assignments or posts from their classmates. Again, I could’ve turned off the RSS, and I’m sure that some simple tagging and searching skills would’ve made this a moot point, that it was something that bothered students in a way I had set up our Edmodo course.

Finally, when I would go to use Edmodo in class as a way to take notes on course discussions, or invite them to post a piece of writing, again there seemed to be no convenient way to do this. I could take notes in the Google talk and make a link, or in a post, but that seemed to get lost. Also, when I had students write in class and then post to the wall of the Edmodo course, again became quickly filled with posts and made it difficult to see everything directly.

For each of these problems, I’m sure that I could’ve figured out a way around them, and I know that Edmodo recently released an update as well, so perhaps on these issues would be less of a concern. However, for me and the preservice teachers with whom I work, it just wasn’t the right fit. So, this semester I am definitely going back to a wiki and I will be more intentional about the times we use the wiki as compared to when we choose Google docs.

The other good thing about my “fail” is that it has coincided nicely, or at lease given me a great deal of material for, my experience in the High Impact Teaching Academy that I have then participating in at CMU. Once a month, a group of about 10 faculty, graduate students, and a facilitator from our faculty development center have been meeting to discuss issues related to syllabus design, assignments, implementing writing, assessment, integrating technology, flipping the classroom, and a variety of other topics.

The chance to talk with like-minded colleagues from disciplines across the university has been very valuable. Part of the work that we are doing this year is to create a product that demonstrates substantive change in our teaching practice. I am approaching ENG 315 with a renewed focus the semester, and have created two artifacts over the break that I shared during our first week of class: a “visual syllabus” and this Prezi that outlines my vision for the course. And, I will be moving back to a wiki… so I will share more about thinking later in the semester. Good luck with the new semester and thanks again for sharing your feedback. A number of readers have told me that the comment features on the blog have not been working properly, and I ever moved a number of plug-ins so hopefully commenting will be much easier.

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Reflection on #literacies Chat: 12/6/12

My thanks again to Anna Smith for inviting me to host the last #literacies chat of 2012 focused on digital writing and the common core standards: “Broadening the Scope: Teaching Multiple Literacies in an Era of Common Core Standards.” Before reading much further in my reflections, you might be interested in catching up on the archived chat here. (Also, for kicks, I created a PDF of the full chat, too. 42 pages!) As shared beforehand, the chat was focused on a few main ideas:

While scholars of literacy studies push the envelope and explore ideas such as multi-modality, digital writing, and critical literacy, our colleagues in K-12 classrooms continue to face a number of challenges. Most notably, countless elementary, middle, and high schools are now preparing for the Common Core State Standards as well as the PARCC/SBAC assessments that will be implemented in the 2014-15 school year. What will these changes bring to an already narrow vision of literacy proffered by a years of NCLB-style “reforms?”

Throughout the chat, there were some “big questions” to consider, although none of them fit conveniently in 140 characters, so I am posting them again here:

  • In this era of corporate education reform, where “educational technology” and “networked learning” are often euphemisms for standardized curriculum packages that can be sold and delivered online, how do we help students and colleagues maintain a broader vision of literacy?
  • Given the reality of these new standards, how might we leverage the demand in the CCSS to “Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently” to teach multiple literacies?
  • With the large variety of organizations that are touting plans for education reform, with whom can we ally our efforts? With which constituencies do we need to collaborate with as we try to broaden the vision of literacy — and the technologies needed to enable those broader visions — while still maintaining our core beliefs about literacy learning?

So, here I highlight a few of the more compelling interactions throughout the hour-long conversation, and also provide a list of the many links that my colleagues and I shared throughout (NOTE: because I am trying to keep similar threads together, these are not necessarily in precise order!).

Part 1: Broader Visions

A number of related questions and concerns came in this early part of the chat:

  • Kristen H.Turner @MrsT73199 ~ @hickstro  Does  the  #ccss  push  us  far  enough  in thinking  about  #literacies?
  • Ryan Rish @ryanrish ~ Thinking  of  ways  we  can  position  teachers  as  agents who  interpret  #CCSS;;  rather  than  have  that  done  for them  by  state/district.  #literacies
  • Darren Crovitz @dcrovitz ~ what  will  be  the  influence  of  lurking  testing  regime  on teachers’  willingness  to  experiment  with  tech, multimodalities,  etc?  #literacies
  • anna smith @writerswriting ~ @hickstro  Though  I  don’t  think  it  is  necessary  to interpret  #CCSS  as  limiting  in  regards  to  the  ways #literacies  are  approached.  Discuss  🙂
  • Matthew Hall @mhall78 ~ I’m  wondering  about  the  push  for  career  &  college ready.  It  seems  like  there  is  a  narrow  definition  of career  implied  #literacies

And a nice summary/transition/call to action:

  • Ryan Rish @ryanrish ~ @MrsT73199  a  big  step  is  to  stop  saying  “CCSS  says…” and  start  saying  “I  say…”  when  it  comes  to  planning. #literacies

Part 2: Leveraging the CCSS

Here, I pushed the conversation into thinking about practical action. What is it that we can do, immediately, to support multiple literacies and digital writing? Anna and Emily had an interesting interchange here:

  • Emily Pendergrass @Dr_Pendergrass ~ @writerswriting  @hickstro  broad  interpretation  it  is then,  right.  #literacies.  Risky  for  teachers.
  • anna smith @writerswriting ~ @Dr_Pendergrass  What  do  you  see  as  risky  in  having interpretative  space  in  terms  of  #literacies  and  the #ccss?
  • Emily Pendergrass @Dr_Pendergrass ~ @ryanrish  @amystorn  fear  of  being  different,  fear  of being  fired,  fear  of  taking  risks,  #literacies #tomanytooname

Also, a separate but related thread on how the tests are going to be constructed was summed up by Judy:

  • JudyArzt @JudyArzt ~ @MrsT73199  I  assume  the  same;;  it’ll  be  hard  to  test  for multimodal  #literacies,  and  test-­makers  are  not  ready #literacies

And, Darren and Matthew were talking about implications of non-fiction reading and writing:

  • Darren Crovitz @dcrovitz ~ Re:  nonfiction  issue,  David  Coleman  seems  to  think we’re  getting  all  anxious  over  a  misinterpretation  #literacies
  • Matthew Hall @mhall78 ~ I  do  think  David  Coleman  thinks  nonfiction  writing  is more  important.  I’ve  heard  him  say  it.  What  does  that mean  for  MM?  #literacies

I then introduced the idea of “how  might  we  leverage  the  demand  in  the  CCSS  to  “Use technology,  including  the  Internet,  to  produce  and publish  writing  #literacies”

  • anna smith @writerswriting ~ In  my  work,  I  have  found  admins  respond  to  concrete answers,  but  it  doesn’t  really  matter  what  those answers  are.Let’s  use  that!  #literacies
  • Sean Connors @profconnors ~ The  question  the  students  I’m  following  are  taking  up this  quarter:  How  do  medium  and  format  shape  an author’s  message?  #literacies
  • Darren Crovitz @dcrovitz ~ @profconnors  and  digital  composing  phenomena  are gaining  more  legitimacy  vs  traditional avenues…gradually  #literacies
  • Ryan Rish @ryanrish ~ @writerswriting  @hickstro  Agreed.  Locating  the counter  narrative…#NWP,  literacy  practices framework,  etc.  #literacies
  • Ryan Rish @ryanrish ~ I  do  think  that  the  concern  with  disciplinary  literacies is  a  promising  departure  from  focus  on  universal reading/writing  skills  #literacies
  • Heather Rocco @heatherrocco ~ @hickstro  Digital  writing  gives  students  access  to  a wider  audience.  Allows  them  to  produce  more authentic  pieces.  #literacies
  • Melissa Techman @mtechman ~ @writerswriting  @hickstro  I’m  leveraging  by  mixing ages,  using  quadblogging  -­  4th  and  5th  interview  1st and  K  students  for  blog  #literacies

There was another interesting side-thread that developed here, too, about “fake” digital writing:

  • Kristen H.Turner @MrsT73199 ~ @heatherrocco  @hickstro  But  only  if  they  truly  engage with  a  real  audience.  Is  “fake”  digital  writing  good enough?  #literacies
    • When prompted to describe “fake” digital writing, Kristen replied: @8rinaldi  @heatherrocco  @hickstro  Writing  so protected  it  doesn’t  have  an  audience?  Inauthentic? Translation of trad to tech? #literacies
    • And, Heather replied: Using  tech  to  process  &  develop  writing  should  be  a closed  audience.  Publishing  should  seek  a  wider audience  when  possible.  #literacies
    • And Emily offered this: @MrsT73199  @heatherrocco  @hickstro  nope.  No  fake digital  writing,  please.  Old  school  if  not  writing  outside self  and  teacher.  #literacies

Part 3: New Constituencies

Here, I began by asking “#literacies  With  the  large  variety  of  organizations  that are  touting  plans  for  education  reform,  with  whom  can we  ally  our  efforts?”

  • anna smith @writerswriting ~ @hickstro  Good  question.  Is  anyone  working  with  or know  anything  about  @NCLE?  #literacies
  • Heather Rocco @heatherrocco ~ @writerswriting  @NCLE  is  a  developing  resource  w/ great  potential.  I  think  we  rely  on  @ncte  and @CELeadership  to  support.  #literacies
  • JudyArzt @JudyArzt ~ @heatherrocco  @writerswriting  @NCLE  @ncte @CELeadership  Are  you  receiving  the  NCLE  Briefs  via email  or  other  means?  #literacies
  • Troy Hicks @hickstro ~ Who  else?  What  about  local  literacy  groups?  Libraries? Adult  tutoring  organizations?  Who  else  do  we  need  to work  with  on  #literacies  ?
  • Ryan Rish @ryanrish ~ @hickstro  we  need  to  pull  administrators  and department  of  ed  into  these  convos;;  can’t  just  be teachers/teacher  ed  #literacies
  • Heather Rocco @heatherrocco ~ ? @hickstro  Definitely  parents. Maybe #literacies should join with #ptchat for a discussion. @joemazza #literacies
  • Darren Crovitz @dcrovitz~ @hickstro  major  media  organizations  with  an  ed interest?  #literacies
  • Sean Connors @profconnors ~ Meaningful  PD  strikes  me  as  important  tool.  More than  sitting  teachers  down  at  computers  and introducing  “cool”  programs.  #literacies
  • JudyArzt @JudyArzt ~ @hickstro  The  issues  are  immense,  changing,  and complex-­-­we  need  extended  conversations,  resources, etc  #literacies

Last: Links and Such

I think that Sean summed up my feelings about starting on my iPhone and having to switch over to the computer:

  • Sean Connors @profconnors ~ Okay,  had  to  jump  on  my  computer.  Tweeting  on  a  cell phone  in  a  twitter  chat  is  definitely  not  one  of  my #literacies.

Indeed! I think it points to the fact that the tools we use are definitely a component of the literacies we are able to enact.

I offer a brief reflection here, both on the content and the process of the conversation. First, with the topic for this evening, I am reminded that there are other like-minded English educators and English teachers around the country, all thinking critically and creatively about how to introduce digital literacies into an already crowded curriculum. Also, I am reminded of the fact that “what’s measured is what’s treasured,” and that we all need to become keenly aware of how the CCSS will be assessed with the PARCC and SBAC tests.

Second, in terms of the process, I really enjoyed this conversation and I appreciate the ways that Twitter chats can actually help us focus on a particular topic and generate a variety of ideas in a short period of time. More than just random tweets or back-channeling, this kind of focused conversation gives many smart people the chance to “tweet aloud,” akin to the “think aloud,” and we are able to digress slightly from time to time in the conversation, generating even more useful ideas and links. As the host, I wanted to honor the time and topic, so I kept moving things along at regular intervals, but the conversation was rich and reviewing it this morning has been valuable for me as I wrap up this semester and plan for my methods class again in the spring.

Thanks again, Anna and everyone, for an invigorating conversation. After the day we had in Michigan last Thursday  I needed that healthy dose of collegiality and a reminder that we are still moving forward with worthwhile literacy reforms.

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Webinar with ENG 315

ENG 315 Logo

Earlier this evening, I spent my ENG 315 class time for the night teaching via webinar rather than in a F2F session.

Using CMU’s access to Wimba, I invited my students to post three slides related to their experience attending a conference or otherwise engaging in personalized professional development this semester. Also, we back-channeled in a public Google Doc.

The assignment was straightforward enough, asking them to attend six hours of PD and then to write a professional response that describes their experience at a professional conference or workshop, integrating what you learned from a presenter who talked about teaching writing with principles from ENG 315.

The results, I felt, turned out to be pretty good. Minus some technical hurdles and the fact that our class time stretch to about two and a half hours (which is what we normally meet F2F, although I had promised an early finish tonight), the results from a final survey were good. Here are the overall results:

Survey Results

There were some negative responses to this activity, including the amount of time it took and the fact that many of my students admitted to falling into the temptation of being online and got distracted. That said, there were some positives, too. I asked “What is one positive aspect of participating in the webinar, in terms of the content, working with your peers online, or your experience presenting?”

  • Cool to work online, never done this before
  • I really enjoyed the way we could share powerpoints and so much information in the webinar.I liked seeing the slides of everyone’s professional development.
  • I think it made sharing documents and direct information much easier. It was also nice to hear about the experiences of everyone because it is nice to compare and contrast experiences we have had throughout the semester
  • I think this was a great experience.  I have never done anything like this before.
  • Although I enjoyed it, it was hard for me to sit here this whole time without getting fidgety.
  • The content is all digital. I like that i can go back and look at everything if i need to or want to.
  • It wasnt a presentation that you do and then is gone forever.
  • it takes the stress and nerves off of presenting in front of the class
  • I think a positive aspect to the webinar was just the practice of having an online experience such as this. It is nice to be able to see the links while we are taking turns talking and be able to return to the information later
  • i really like the presentation aspect, i wasn’t nervous to present opposed to in the classroom where i normally experience anxiety.
  • One positive aspect was that everybody got a chance to talk about their experience. Learning a new technology tool was a positive aspect and it was a nice alternative to having class so close to a break. It relieved some of the pressure of presenting in front of the class and I  liked that.
  • I enjoyed being able to have a side conversation or make comments in the conversation box during the presentation for educational purposes. I also liked sharing slides this way.
  • You can do it from anywhere so great idea with Thanksgiving coming up!
  • I think it was an interesting way to incorporate technology and it was cool to use wimba.
So, in general, they found it to be a positive experience. I did too, and I have shared the video (all 2.5 hours of it!) here on Vimeo if you are curious to see how some of it progressed.

ENG 315 Professional Development Reflection Webinar from Chippewa River Writing Project on Vimeo.

Wow… two blog posts in one day. I think I have reached my quota for the month.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

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Mid-Summer Thoughts: Technology Use in Class

Recently, a conversation on our department’s listserve sparked me to offer a rare response. Most of what you need to know about the conversation on the list is embedded in my comments below, and I would welcome ideas for how you help students use technology during class in productive, ethical, and responsible ways.


This conversation about student technology use comes for me at an interesting point in the summer, having just a few weeks ago finished our summer institute with the Chippewa River Writing Project (which was a four-week, laptop intensive experience for participants) and as I plan for teaching and professional development work this fall (in which computer labs and internet access will be a critical part of the work). Having been on vacation and just now catching up on the conversation, I have a few thoughts on this. While I surely sympathize with all of you who have students using laptops for off-task behaviors in class (and have had similar experiences myself), I am quite disturbed by the general tone of this conversation in regards to students, their social skills, and technology uses. To me, the suggestion that we “selectively shut-off the WiFi in the classroom” or “forbid in-class use of laptops and any of those smaller things” is akin to something like censorship, an act that we would rally against.

While I am not condoning the use of Facebook during class time or other types of distracted behavior, I think that there are two aspects of this issue that haven’t been addressed — the ways in which we invite students to be academics and our own pedagogical styles, both in relation to technology. For the first, I find the suggestion that students not use the internet during our classes or outside of class to be ridiculous, as it is our responsibility to teach them how to use it productively, ethically, and responsibly for many purposes, not the least of which is communicating with us, engaging in research, and creating digital texts. For the second, I think that we all have a responsibility to think about the ways that we ask, even encourage students to use technology in our classrooms, above and beyond simply taking notes.

My experience — having taught in labs for the past three years and with the writing project this summer — is that simply setting norms for technology use and, periodically, revisiting these norms will eliminate most of the problems and help you learn from your students how best to employ technology. If you want them to take notes, why not have an interactive Google Doc with the day’s agenda posted for the all to take notes, post questions, and add links to pertinent web resources? If you are worried that internet searching and instant messaging is killing their critical thinking ability, then why not engage them in online discussions and model the types of responses you would expect them to give? In other words, don’t blame the technology causing bad behavior when you have opportunity to employ it in productive ways.

As I have done with undergraduates, graduates, and teachers in professional development settings, when we were having trouble with off-task behavior this summer, I simply paused in class one day to ask everyone to brainstorm with me in a grid about the positives and negatives that the laptops had for us as teachers and learners. Many people expressed great appreciation for the fact that they could be connected to one another in class through our wiki, Google Docs, and other collaborative technologies. Some were concerned that these technologies could be distracting when they couldn’t get the right log in password or find the right settings to make changes on a website. Many admitting to quickly checking their email or Facebook during class time, and agreed that it should not be done while others were presenting their teaching demonstration or when we had a group discussion. In fact, we agreed to make an effort to ask for “lids down” moments when we really wanted everyone to attend carefully to what was said in this face-to-face setting and “lids up” moments when we wanted them to do something hands-on with their computers.

In short, I fear that this discussion about limiting students’ technology use in class treads on very dangerous water, as we are fortunate enough to have the computer labs that we do have and making broad claims that we would want to turn off the internet or ban technology all together seems, at best, anti-intellectual and, at worst, a violation of students’ right to learn in whatever manner they see fit.

Beyond that, I haven’t even addressed some of the latest research about how young people perceive technology use in their own lives and the social shifts that are happening because of it. If we ignore these shifts, it is at our own peril, because students will find other ways to learn. For more on that, I recommend that you check out this book (available as a free PDF download) — Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media (MIT Press) and this FRONTLINE Special, Digital Nation.

My hope is that we can continue to talk about productive uses of technology, both for our students and for our teaching while not simply resorting to the “kids these days” kinds of comments that have been evident in the earlier threads of this discussion.


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End of Semester Thoughts: Digital Storytelling, Wikis, and the Changing Conversation

Another semester has zoomed past and, before these thoughts escape me, and I begin a series of summer workshops and our CRWP summer institute, I am going to try to capture a few of the lessons learned in relation to digital writing and digital teaching. Good lessons seem to come in threes, so here goes:

1. Digital storytelling takes time, and a story to tell (larger lesson: any digital writing takes time, and a distinct audience, purpose, and sensibility to craft and design)

I enjoy digital storytelling, both as a digital writer and as a teacher. I appreciate the ways in which a combination of images, sounds, music, and video — coupled with one’s own voice — can create a multimedia work that is truly more than the sum of its parts. Moreover, I continue to be intrigued by new understandings related to fair use of digital media, and the implications that this has for creating digital stories. So, when I introduce digital storytelling to any group, especially my pre-service teachers, I get excited about the possibilities of what can come.

That said, I also get worried, because sometimes what comes when their stories finally premier are not really digital stories in the sense that they have crafted a narrative and supported it with multimedia. Instead, they are slideshows set to music. While one could argue that I am being snooty in this distinction, I don’t think that I am. Let me elaborate a bit.

If we want writers to compose stories, then we have to expect them to begin with the story. I am not sure where I went wrong with this over the past semester, but as I watched the numerous digital stories that my students produced for their final portfolio, I was amazed by the fact that so few included their own voice (literally, by recording it) even after they asked me if they needed to do that. Also, even after we looked at a few digital stories and talked about the ways the authors used transitions and effects, as well as supporting their tale with music rather than letting the music tell it, I still saw many, many slideshows with music.

So, I am not sure what else to say about this right now except to say that I need to reiterate the idea that digital stories need to, well, tell a story. In your voice. With your voice. More to think about with that in the summer institute.

2. Wikis are the most functional space for digital writing to live

After talking with my friend Steve before the semester about how and why to keep using wikis (after almost making an ill-fated decision to switch to Ning), I am more pleased than ever that I use a wiki for the hub of activity in both ENG 315 and in CRWP.

This semester, I asked my ENG 315 students to post almost all their work to the wiki, as well as to respond to the work of their peers. This really extended the conversations that we were having in class and made having a writer’s profile that much more important because they could link all their work back to it to form a makeshift portfolio. As many of them have continued with their work over the semester, the wiki grew and grew. Now, most have very robust writing profiles that also include their multigenre projects.

I like the idea of calling these writers profiles, as that implies something that will continue to grow and change over time whereas, somehow, “portfolio” seems to be more fixed. Given the ways in which the profiles worked this spring, I hope to use the same strategy in CRWP this summer, the WRITE NOW grant workshop in August, and in my ENG 618 research methods class in the fall.

3. Something is changing in the conversations about literacy and technology

I am really not sure when and how this happened, but Sara and I were talking about the fact that, in the past year or two, the ways in which people talk about technology and education seems to have changed. Even as recently as the workshops I was doing for PROJECT WRITE in 2007-8, it seemed as though participants kept asking “why?” when a new technology was introduced to them (and these were people that volunteered to be a part of the grant). That said, it really seems to me that in the past two years, the question has shifted from “why?” to “how?”

In other words, there really isn’t a lot of time spent on arguing for technology use in education anymore, at least not when I go to a school or conference. Maybe it is because many people have laptops and internet-ready mobile phones. Maybe it is because of a backlash to NCLB. Maybe it is because of the many curriculum documents and reports about 21st century literacies. Probably some combination of all of this, plus a shift in the skills and attitudes that children now bring to school.

All the same, I have begun to find it refreshing that I can start the conversation with a group of pre-service or in-service teachers now and not have to justify technology use so much as I need to talk about the literacy practices enabled by technology. I get my first chance of the summer to have that talk tomorrow with teachers in Littleton, CO, as they work to integrate laptops into their writing courses.

So, considering my approach to digital storytelling, the use of wikis, and the ways in which we talk about technology will continue to be on my mind this summer. I look forward to the continued learning as I participate in the many upcoming PD events I have scheduled for the summer and hope to share more of my thinking here.

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