Digital Media in Content Area Learning

Earlier this week, Liz Piazza asked:

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At the time, I didn’t think I could answer in 140 characters, and I’m glad that I didn’t try.

There are quite a few things to consider when answering this question, and perhaps it was simply the word “all” that threw me for a loop. Well, yes, in all content areas. I think. Wait, maybe not all. Most? Some?

You can see how I pondered the question, turning it over in my mind.

In doing so, however, I also began to think about the goals for content area literacy or, as it is being described more and more — especially by Tim and Cindy Shanahan — disciplinary literacy. And, in fact, their definition is at the crux of how I would answer the question. They believe that “Most students need explicit teaching of sophisticated genres, specialized language conventions, disciplinary norms of precision and accuracy, and higher-level interpretive processes” (43) and “the nature of the disciplines is something that must be communicated to adolescents, along with the ways in which experts approach the reading of text. Students’ text comprehension, we believe, benefits when students learn to approach different texts with different lenses.” (51).

Image CC Licensed by Flickr User Dan Zen

So, my short answer to Liz’s question would have been, “Yes, various forms of new media such as social networking and gaming can be successfully used in various content areas, perhaps even all of them,” as evidenced by tools such as EASE History, the Science Game Center, the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives, or any of the dozens of options available on this K-12 Tech Tools wiki. Students have created videos about science experiments and historical reenactments, and acted as characters from literature or actual historical figures on Twitter and Facebook.

So, yes, they can.

The deeper answer, and the one that I have been struggling with over the week, however, is a little more complicated.

If we think about the Shanahans’ ideas that content area literacy is quite a bit more specific than simply applying a general set of strategies for writing-across-the-curriculum — as good as those strategies may be — then there has to be something deeper, something more rhetorical, to the idea of composing a disciplinary text with multimedia. Returning to Liz’s question, and pivoting it just a bit, I wonder: Can various forms of new digital media be effective as a tool for composing in all disciplines? 

Here, the answer gets a bit murkier, mostly because I am not a disciplinary expert outside of the field of writing. On the one hand, I can imagine that expressing disciplinary knowledge in math, science, history, or the arts — demonstrating a way of thinking through expert interpretation, analysis, and communication — could happen in any form of media. Heck, a whole movement in education, the flipped classroom, has come about because teachers have taken up the idea that they can create and deliver lessons via online video at least as effectively, if not more so, than they can do in the classroom. So, multimedia exploration of disciplinary knowledge is, conceivably at least, possible.

On the other hand, I wonder what is lost when transitioning from writing (words into sentences into paragraphs types of writing) into multimedia composition? Are there components of disciplinary thinking that don’t translate well from words to images to video to links to… whatever other form of media we can imagine?

At the same time, what do disciplinary experts gain in the process of being able to use images, voice, video, links, and other forms of media? How can they use multimedia to more fully express their ideas? What is it that we want to know about learning math — or science or music or art or anything — that multimedia can offer above and beyond print?

Liz’s question has pushed my thinking this week, and for that I thank her. I’m hoping that this response pushes her thinking, too, as well as yours. What does it mean to compose, as a disciplinary expert, with digital writing tools?

Lastly, and on a related note, for more of my thoughts on disciplinary literacy from an English Language Arts perspective, this chapter could be useful:

Hicks, T., & Steffel, S. (2012). Learning with Text in English/Language Arts. In T. L. Jetton & C. Shanahan (Eds.), Adolescent Literacy in the Academic Disciplines General Principles and Practical Strategies. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

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Networked Conversations and Transformational Technology

CC licensed image from Flickr user Frau Hölle

This past week has been a busy one for me, with professional experiences ranging from face-to-face workshops and two webinars, to our first school-based field experiences with pre-service teachers; additionally I met with my writing project leadership team, facilitated two writing groups and ended last night by helping to moderate a panel discussion amongst principals for helping them secure a job. Whew…

In and amongst all of these activities, I have been reminded of the power of teacher networks. In fact, my entire professional life centers on the idea of teacher networks. Identifying networks. Building collaborations. Nurturing novice and veteran teachers alike. Putting them in conversation with one another. Asking smart questions about curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Creating new networks, and beginning the process again. It’s part of who I am, part of what I do.

In that sense, part of what I am attempting to do with my pre-service teachers this semester to do — through the use of Twitter — is to build a teacher network. I am not simply asking them to “use Twitter.” Instead, I am coaching them in the process of using Twitter as a tool for building their PLN. This happens both online and off. As evidence of this, I spent about 20 minutes of class time last week introducing some of the nuances of Tweetdeck as a tool for monitoring and participating in hashtag conversations.

At the core, what I am attempting to do with my pre-service teachers is about using technology in a way that moves well beyond simplistic integration. As Ruben Puentedura describes it in his SAMR model, I want pre-service teachers to move from technology as a tool for enhancement of teaching practice into an opportunity to transform their practice.

Yet, I find my pre-service teachers, even the most engaged Twitter users amongst them, to be hesitant about using social networking in this manner.

Of course, change is hard, and I am working to ease them into it. I want to provide them with the opportunity, yet not foist Twitter upon them. At the same time, we cannot move fast enough. There are so many conversations, so many ideas that they need to jump into, so many networks that they can learn from.

Indeed, my colleagues in teacher education could take a play from the Twitter/PLN playbook, as I do not often see teacher educators participating in regular conversations. There are exceptions, of course, but when I was in a recent college of ed meeting about reforming our teacher ed program, no one presenting mentioned how we could tap into these existing networks as a way to recruit mentor teachers, build school partnerships, and learn about current trends in the field. Many of my colleagues need to rethink how they, too, participate in networks as a broader component of their own (and their pre-service teachers’) professional learning.

At this point, I am still pushing forward with Twitter outside of my methods class, though I think I might use it in class next week to hold a backchannel conversation, too. I’ve resisted the urge to place any kind of grade on Twitter participation, though I have told students that they will be evaluated on their participation in class, both at the mid-term and at the end of class. So, I will keep working to get them involved, and to get other teacher educators involved, too.


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Contributing to the Conversation: Pre-Service Teachers Get Started on Twitter

“A Conversation” by Flickr user Khalid Albaih.

Over the past week, my ENG 315 students have been joining Twitter and using the #eng315cmu hashtag to start discussing ideas related to teaching writing and creating their own PLNs. I provided them with a few resources to get moving along.

First, to create your own professional learning network and reading list, begin by reading How To Build Your Professional Learning Network Online and Offline and How Do I Get a PLN?

Then, sign up for Twitter. Install a Twitter app on your phone or in your web browser and read What The Tweet? Your Illustrated Guide To New Twitter Jargon. Also, take a look at Edutopia’s  Five-Minute Film Festival: Twitter in Education.

For this week, I am trying to help them “contribute to the conversation.” That is, I want them to begin thinking about how their tweets — while sometimes personal, eccentric, or irrelevant — can generally be about their professional lives, including their questions and discoveries about teaching writing. For instance, I encouraged them to create “substantive tweets” (paradoxical in some sense, I know), that might do the following related to our own class discussions:

  • Summarize a key idea from an article or blog post
  • Respond to a colleague from class in a supportive manner, yet also pushing the conversation forward
  • Provide a link to a resource related to the original idea

Or, alternatively, if entering a broader conversation, they might:

  • Ask a specific question to another teacher on Twitter about his/her teaching practice
  • Ask a teacher that they follow already what some good chats are to join as well as other teachers to follow
  • Share their own observations about working with student writers (not using the child’s name, however!)

Soon, I plan to adapt some ideas about setting professional goals from Jon Hasenbank, a math professor at Grand Valley State University. He asked his students to identify some professional goals and then choose a Twitter chat that would help them reach those goals and, of course, reflect on the experience (such as this one from Holli McAlpine).

So, I am happy with the progress we are making so far. If you are interested in following our group and contributing an idea, I know that that my pre-service teachers would appreciate it. You can find a list of them here, and we are using the #eng315cmu hashtag.


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Inviting Pre-service Teachers into the Social Media Conversation

Image from TechFaster
Image from TechFaster

This fall — in fact, tomorrow — marks my return to the classroom after a year-long sabbatical filled with many research projects, lots of writing, and quite a bit of travel. Like most teachers, I both crave and fear the “regularity” of the school; the days become somewhat more regimented, but the overall craziness of our lives seems to intensify.

There are many additional projects to discuss in the year ahead, yet pressing on my mind at this moment is how to invite my pre-service teachers into the broader conversation(s) that happen amongst educators via blogs, Twitter, and other online communities.

Over the past seven years of working with pre-service teachers, I have dabbled with a variety of digital reading and writing tools, consistently returning to the use of wikis and Google Docs as mainstays in my ENG 315 course. Early on, I integrated blogs and RSS, later trying other elements like podcasting, digital storytelling, and social media/classroom management hybrids.

Yet, I haven’t had them fully jump in to the world of Twitter or edchats. Perhaps this is because, first, when I taught my last course in the spring of 2013, the real explosion in edchats had yet to really hit. Perhaps it was because I felt we were crunched for time in an already-crowded curriculum. Perhaps I was having trouble making a clear connection between digital writing and social media.

Well, edchats are here, the curriculum will always be crowded, and I wrote a chapter in a book about the composition processes of social media. So, I suppose that this semester is as good as any to invite my students to jump in.

So, the question now becomes: how and where to begin? This then begs further questions:

  • How do I scaffold and layer their experiences with social media over the course of the semester?
  • What authentic and useful tasks can I ask of them as a part of normal course work (for instance, to discuss readings or find relevant new articles)?
  • How can I encourage more authentic participation in edchat communities that moves beyond what the are “supposed” to do for class?

I know that I can take some of my own social media advice in terms of what I have previously suggested to other teachers, but I think that pre-service teachers are a slightly different audience.

As I mull this over in the next few hours — I teach tomorrow afternoon and I am wondering where to begin — I would be curious to know what my colleagues, especially teachers of high school students and undergrads, have done to thoughtfully, critically, and creatively introduced social media into your classrooms?

Any advice before I stand up to start teaching tomorrow?


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Managing Learning and Assessment in a Connected Learning Environment

Earlier this evening, I participated in a wonderful closing discussion as part of the sixth and final webinar in KQED’s TeachDoNow series. The archived video as well as a summary of my tweets with links from the conversation are below. Broadly, our conversation centered on this big question: How do you manage learners, tasks, resources, and assessment in a connected learning environment?

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Connected Learning Webinar

Today, I enjoyed a conversation with a number of colleagues about the “The Digital Influence on Looking Closely at Student Work.” Definitely worth a listen, and be prepared to write down lots of ideas about how to engage deeply with students’ work as a tool for assessment and professional development.

  • Andrew Sliwinski – Co-Founder of DIY.org; designer and engineer focused on improving how we play and learn
  • Kylie Peppler – Assistant Professor in the Learning Sciences Program at Indiana University; Director at Creativity Labs
  • Tina Blythe – Co-author of “Looking Together at Student Work”; Learning Group Leader at Project Zero

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