Teaching Digital Diligence: Writing My Way Toward (More) Intentional Technology Use in English Language Arts

As the change in calendar is likely to do for all of us during these first days of the new year, I am looking back (and ahead) at an unfulfilled goal from 2019, and thinking about what I need to do to get back on track with a book project that I first shouted out last July: Digital Diligence. My work on the book has stalled, and this semester affords me a bit more flexibility to write, so I begin here.

As I noted in that post last summer, I define digital diligence as an intentional and alert stance that individuals employ when using technology (apps, websites, software, and devices) for connected reading and digital writing, characterized by empathy, purpose, and persistence. This is clunky, and needs reworking. Yet, it is what I have for now, and it is the core argument of the book, which will be designed as a professional resource for teachers of English language arts.

I want to explore the idea that we, as teachers of literacy, need to interrogate the ways in which our students are using — and are being described by others, including the news media, as using — their devices. Or, to play on the common trope, we should consider the ways in which our technologies are using us and work to help our students push back against these models. The past few years have been dominated by stories of device addiction, a loss of privacy, and (continued) lack of thoughtful technology integration into teaching and learning. What I hope to do, then, is use this book project as a way to re-center the conversations about students’ uses of technology in a more proactive, purposeful manner.

For instance, we often see headlines about technology addiction and the negative influences that social media, smartphones, and gaming are having on our (and our students’ lives). Also, in preparing my materials for promotion, I revisited the 2017 supplement to Pediatrics, focusing on “Children, Adolescents and Screens: What We Know and What We Need To Learn,” in which I co-authored an article. The titles of the articles alone, in addition to the arguments made in them, are all still pertinent. Yet, they all tend to skew toward negative connotations and a fear-based approach to exploring the topic. Even a search on this New Year’s Day for “technology addiction” has yielded a number of recent articles, including a year-end NYTimes piece from Kara Swisher noting that “a lot of tech is still addictive, and digital hate will continue to travel halfway around the world before the truth gets out of bed.”

I don’t deny that these challenges are real (I face them myself, and with my own teenage children). Nor do I deny that there are significant problems with educational technology, as Audrey Watters’ summary of the past 10 years worth of failed ed tech shows us. There have been, are right now, and will continue to be many, many problems with all things related to ed tech.

Yet, I do want to push the conversation about how teachers teach with these technologies (as well as how students can create and learn with them) into a slightly different direction this year. Whether we say we are beginning the third decade of the twenty-first century or closing out the second decade, the simple fact is that we can’t ignore teaching a more active (and activist?) stance of digital citizenship/literacy in our schools. As noted above, a stance of digital diligence will continue to push our thinking, helping other educators become more aware of the ways in which we talk about and, in turn, teach toward a more robust view of educational technology in our classrooms.

Thus, to motivate myself to work on the project, to stay focused, and to gain insight from colleagues, I have decided that I must create and share a brief blog post about one key concept from the book each week for the next few weeks. I need to do this to stay on target with my writing, and I might as well share some of my thinking along the way in hopes that it can foster a broader conversation.

In talking with some colleagues over the holidays, I had thought about doing these as “live” video sessions on FB or YouTube, yet I know that my schedule is likely to remain busy in the weeks ahead and, instead, I will commit to a regular goal of producing one blog post per week, and seeking feedback. I will see how this works through January, and then move forward from there. 

To that end, this is entry one of this digital diligence web series. Nothing fancy here, just some initial thoughts on what I mean by “digital diligence” and how I hope to explore this concept more in the weeks and months ahead. I am always seeking feedback from colleagues, and if you are willing to try some of these ideas in your classroom and provide some feedback on what you and your students experienced when using the technologies and lessons, I would greatly appreciate it.


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Photo by Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

Saturday Morning Sessions for NYSRA 2019

This morning, I am honored to facilitate a two-hour workshop at the New York State Reading Association’s annual conference, “Creating Your Digital Writing Workshop,” as well as a one-hour session, “Research Writing Rewired: Examining Multimedia Non-Fiction as a Mentor Text.”

Creating Your Digital Writing Workshop

Guiding Student Writers as They Work with Digital Tools” post on Middle Web

GDoc Handout (Force Copy)

During the first session, we will be delving into a number of digital writing tools such as blogs, digital stories, and infographics that can contribute to what you are already doing in your writing instruction as well as appeal to a new generation of students. In this interactive session, we will explore how new ways of thinking about well-established practices in the writing workshop—student choice and inquiry, conferring on writing, examining author’s craft, publishing writing, and broadening our understandings of assessment—can be updated for the digital age. Tools might include:

Research Writing Rewired: Examining Multimedia Non-Fiction as a Mentor Text

GDoc Handout (Force Copy)

In the second session, we will explore how, in our networked world, the research writing process that we once learned has become obsolete. 3×5 cards and outlines are giving way to bibliographic management tools and mind mapping software. Moreover, students are now able to engage in the research process by reading and evaluating the work of others while simultaneously using the technology in their pockets to do their own primary research. By exploring a Pulitzer Prize winning multimedia piece from the New York Times — “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek” — we will think critically and creatively about how students can combine media to create an informative, engaging work of non-fiction using tools such as Adobe Spark.

Also, we will draw from resources from my co-authored Corwin Literacy book, Research Writing Rewired, and the book’s companion site.


Photo by Lilly Rum on Unsplash

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Teaching and Learning (Digital) Literacy in Higher Education

This morning, I am honored to present for the College Reading Educators during one of their session at the New York State Reading Association’s annual conference. My talk will focus on the idea that, without question, learning continues to change in the twenty-first century. Higher education faculty have always valued the teaching of reading, writing, and thinking — and see that our very notion of what it means to be literate is evolving. How, then, do we enhance and extend traditional literacy practices in this digital age? This brief talk will provide some background on Dr. Hicks’ work as a teacher of digital writing, connected reading, and critical thinking for both undergraduate and graduate students, many of them pre- and in-service teachers, at Central Michigan University. Links from the presentation are embedded in the Google Slides and include the following:

Scholarship

Tools for Connected Reading, Digital Writing, and Disciplinary Thinking


Photo by Matthew Kwong on Unsplash

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Summer 2019 Publications: RRQ and English Journal

While they both require individual or institutional subscriptions to read, I am pleased to share my two most recent co-authored publications:

Turner, K. H., Hicks, T., & Zucker, L. (Advance online publication). Connected Reading: A Framework for Understanding How Adolescents Encounter, Evaluate, and Engage With Texts in the Digital Age. Reading Research Quarterly, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.271

From the Abstract

Since the emergence of the World Wide Web and e‐reading devices in the late 1990s and early 2000s, reading research has focused on issues of website credibility, search and navigation strategies, and the ability to comprehend text on‐screen as compared with in print. What has been missing, however, are data about the specific texts that adolescents are reading in these digital spaces, what devices they prefer, and the strategies that they employ… The authors propose a new framework of connected reading, a model of print and digital reading comprehension that conceptualizes readers’ interactions with digital texts through encountering (the ways in which readers seek or receive digital texts), evaluating (the ways in which readers make judgments about the usefulness of digital texts), and engaging (the ways in which readers interact with and share digital texts)…

Canady, F., & Hicks, T. (2019). Reconsidering Student Inquiry through Digital Narrative Nonfiction. English Journal, 108(6), 25–31.

As an alternative to the traditional research paper for an English 11 class, a digital narrative assignment positioned students as multimedia storytellers.

Thanks to my colleagues with whom I have collaborated on these pieces, and for everyone who has shared continued words of encourage and support upon seeing these new publications.


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Recap of #ILAChat from August 8, 2019

Earlier this month, I was invited to be a co-host of ILA’s chat, focused this month on the “dos and don’ts” in writing instruction. As a prelude to a Research Address at this fall’s annual ILA convention, the entire conversation was robust, and I am particularly appreciative of Dr. David Kirkland‘s erudite responses and questions.

As just one example, his response to the first question pointed out a stark truth:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

This resonates for so many reasons: personally, professionally, historically, institutionally. I appreciate his keen insights and the ways in which he continues to push my thinking about literacy and social justice. I very much look forward to hearing his message as part of the Research Address and, for the full archive of the chat, visit ILA’s post on Wakelet.


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Digital Diligence (SIDL 2019 Keynote)

For the fourth consecutive summer, I am honored to present the Thursday morning keynote at the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy. Over the past year, I have become increasingly concerned about dire headlines that move beyond the “kids these days” kinds of arguments we have heard in the past to a deeper, more disconcerting tone that suggests our brains, as well as our culture, are disintegrating. Thus, for my next book project, I am working on a new idea, one that I hope will catch hold amongst educators and parents: digital diligence.

From my work over the years on digital writing and connected reading, and from two decades of teaching, I feel that we need to change the tone of the conversation about educational technology. As we look at 1:1 and BYOD programs, as we consider the hundreds of possible tech tools we could use to scaffold learning and support creativity, why is it that we seem to keep moving back to the most reductive, mundane uses of tech? In our conversations about digital access, usage, and, even “addiction,” are we (educators, parents, medical and mental health professionals, and the media) asking the right questions? Moreover, are we modeling and mentoring tech use for our children and students, or simply managing it?

Thus, today, we will engage in two activities that, I hope, move us toward digital diligence. By this, I define digital diligence as an intentional and alert stance that individuals employ when using technology (apps, websites, software, and devices) for connected reading and digital writing, characterized by empathy, purpose, and persistence. In particular, we will take a digitally diligent stance to better understand how knowledge is created within the Wikipedia community and explore opportunities for civil dialogue using social media.


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Reading the Individual Newsletter

In the first post of this series, I outlined some of my general reading habits, and in the second, and third, I was thinking about some of the (semi) automated or organization newsletters that I get on a regular basis. Without bots or a whole team to help move things along, I am always interested in the ways that other educators put together their regular newsletters (as I think about if and how I might choose to create one of my own).

There are three that I receive — and read — regularly. Let’s look at each in turn:

Monica Burns’ Class Tech Tips

Snapshot of Class Tech Tips Blog
Snapshot of Class Tech Tips Blog

Monday afternoons at 3:45 EST, right at the end of the school day, Burns’ Class Tech Tips hits my inbox. In the top segment of the newsletter, she points directly back to her blog, and each of those posts are usually about a specific teaching strategy and/or tech tool. Concise and focused, she makes it clear when she is getting compensation for affiliate links, and promotes her own books. Still, she makes a point to send the reader toward freely available content, both on her blog as well as other education-related sites. To that end, I appreciate that she is both promoting her own work in a reasonable way, sharing openly-available resources, and still figuring out ways to monetize the blog.

More importantly, her voice speaks to the harried classroom teacher, though not in an immediate, “do this, get that” kind of instantaneous reward kind of way. For instance, one post on the use of Adobe Spark (and a subsequent webinar she offered for free) provides at least four different lesson ideas, all of which could be a one-day, one-time lesson or extended in useful ways. In short, her posts are timely and useful, and they help me see what is happening in the day-to-day conversations about educational technology.

Tom Liam Lynch’s Gradgrinds

Snapshot from a Recent Gradgrinds Blog Post
Snapshot from a Recent Gradgrinds Blog

A longtime friend and colleague through NCTE, Lynch’s writing has always fun to read and provided me with critical insights on the role of technology in education, specifically in ELA. Every Tuesday morning at 7:00, Lynch shares his latest thinking on recent articles and updates on projects. I appreciate that he offers these quick takes, and his headlines and taglines usually capture the gist of things. For instance, in “Is TV to Blame for Older People—Not Youth—Falling for Fake News? A Study Suggests Yes” he points to an article in the Atlantic and cites a Pew report. Good stuff, delivered in an intellectually humorous manner (coupled with a screenshot from the Simpsons).

In fact, it is interesting to me to see what, if anything, Lynch reports on that I may have seen earlier in Downes’ daily updates. If both of them are talking about it, and I hadn’t read it yet, I will be sure to go back and open the link. Many posts are a “less than a minute” read, yet in that short space Lynch points to other resources and usually leaves me with a more substantive idea to ponder or question to ask. While there are a few too many “Share Gradgrind’s with a friend or colleague” notes peppered throughout the newsletter, I understand that could be just a part of the normal template he uses. He, too, notes that he uses affiliate links.

Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel

Snapshot of Thought Shrapnel Newsletter
Snapshot of Thought Shrapnel Newsletter

Though I have only met Belshaw briefly at an LRA event, I do appreciate his perspectives on digital literacy and, of course, through his regular Thought Shrapnel newsletter. As another educator and scholar who uses MailChimp, it makes me wonder if that might be a good option for me to explore next. Also, in a trend I am seeing many other places, Belshaw makes a clear call to “become a patron” through Patreon. Hitting the inbox at 1:30 AM EST on Sunday mornings, I can expect to see some insights from Belshaw each weekend, though he has taken a break during December.

In terms of the content, Belshaw’s commentaries are normally longer, sometimes quite a few paragraphs with embedded quotes and hyperlinks. These, from what I can tell, are not a verbatim repeat of what appears on his website, so it is good to see that the content here is different from what I would see in an RSS feed or daily aggregated newsletter of some kind or another. Also, I appreciate the insights that he offers and new directions in which he points my reading. Like Lynch, I may see a link from Belshaw that was earlier reported by Downes, and it makes me want to ensure that I have my browser ready for more tabs.

For each of these newsletters, I would like to say that I devote as much time to reading them as the authors who composed them put into the writing process. However, I know that this simply isn’t the case, even when I am able to devote time to reading through a full issue of any one of them. Still, as I have tried to note throughout this series, I appreciate what these colleagues offer and, though I am not quite at the point where I am willing to click through on sponsored posts and affiliate links (see my own policy on this), though I do begin to wonder if I should. I pay the professional journalists for their expertise… so, shouldn’t I pay my colleagues for their expertise? I am still struggling with this.

At any rate, this dip into my daily digital reading habits has been helpful for me as I think about how I triage my inbox, make use of other news sources, and reconsider how I might set up my RSS feeds again in the new year. For this next week, I will be shifting my focus away from reading all the daily news and, instead, into a book that I will be using with my EDU 807 students this semester, Neil Selwyn‘s Distrusting Educational Technology: Critical Questions for Changing Times.


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