Introducing Assessing Students’ Digital Writing

Assessing Students' Digital Writing: Protocols for Looking Closely. Edited by Troy Hicks. Co-Published by NWP and TCP.
Assessing Students’ Digital Writing: Protocols for Looking Closely. Edited by Troy Hicks. Co-Published by NWP and TCP.

By all measures, I am fortunate to work with so many incredible colleagues from the world of education, both K-12 and higher ed. Many times those collaborations happen in just a few hours, or a few says, and they then disappear.

However, sometimes they last for months or even years, and they transform into something much more powerful. Assessing Students’ Digital Writing: Protocols for Looking Closely is one such example of that powerful kind of collaboration.

Here is the book’s description:

Troy Hicks—a leader in the teaching of digital writing—collaborates with seven National Writing Project teacher-consultants to provide a protocol for assessing students’ digital writing. This collection highlights six case studies centered on evidence the authors have uncovered through teacher inquiry and structured conversations about students’ digital writing. Beginning with a digital writing sample, each teacher offers an analysis of a student’s work and a reflection on how collaborative assessment affected his or her teaching. Because the authors include teachers from kindergarten to college, this book provides opportunities for vertical discussions of digital writing development, as well as grade-level conversations about high-quality digital writing. The collection also includes an introduction and conclusion, written by Hicks, that provides context for the inquiry group’s work and recommendations for assessment of digital writing.

Screenshots of Students' Digital Writing
Screenshots of Students’ Digital Writing from NWP’s Digital Is Website

Moreover, each of the book’s chapters include online resources available at NWP’s Digital Is website. One note here is a huge shoutout to my friend and NWP colleague Christina Cantrill who has made the companion site on Digital Is a possibility. There are six different pieces in the collection, including:

My sincere hope is that the student work shared in this collection and online will spark dialogue amongst teachers about when, why, and how they can and should integrate digital writing into their classrooms. If you have questions, please let me know.


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Discussing “Connected Reading” on Education Talk Radio

In case you missed it… Last Thursday, Kristen Turner and I were able to chat with host Larry Jacobs on Education Talk Radio about our new book, Connected Reading. For more information on the book, visit our wiki page. Enjoy!

http://player.cinchcast.com/?platformId=1&assetType=single&assetId=7568493

Check Out Education Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with EDUCATION TALK RADIO PRE K -20 on BlogTalkRadio

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WRAB III Wrap Up

WRAB LogoThis has been both a personally and professionally fulfilling week for me, as I was able to travel with colleagues from the US to participate in the Writing Research Across Borders III conference in Paris. Along with the sightseeing, which has been wonderful, the general spirit of inquiry and collegiality from around the world has been inspiring. Here is a short recap of some of the key moments.

Arthur Applebee’s Keynote

As I wrote earlier this week, Applebee shared some relatively unsurprising news. While I had wished there might be something more optimistic in his speech, most of what he shared has also been reported in his latest book. Kristen Turner, my friend and colleague, will share a post on the Applebee keynote on the Writers Who Care blog soon. In short, as teacher educators concerned with the quality of writing instruction in our country — as well as the generally lackluster integration of digital literacy throughout the curriculum — we hope that the insidious effects of standardized tests can be stopped before any kinds of authentic writing instruction are stamped out forever.

Session on Automated Writing Evaluation

There were many (competing) ideas about the purpose, quality, and overall effects of automated writing evaluation. In sum, Carl Whithouse made the case that we have seen a shift from automated essay scoring (AES) to automated writing evaluation (AWE), and those slight changes language are not inconsequential. When the terms of the argument move beyond simply “scoring essays” (which, according to ETS presenters there, was basically a count of grammatical and vocabulary features) to “evaluating writing,” this raises a new level of concern for those of us who are teaching writing. No longer is it enough to take the either/or argument, for or against. We now need a much more nuanced understanding of what AWE does as well as how it works; in turn, we can still make compelling arguments for the value of teaching writers, not just evaluating single pieces of writing.

Panel on Writing, Language, and New Media

In our session, we were able to bring in multiple voices connecting issues related to reading, writing, digital literacy, and the uses of technology. You can find notes from the session here, and my short summary is that many of us are wrestling with the same questions about technology’s role in effective teaching and learning, whether we are thinking about our youngest writers or undergraduates or adult learners who work as translators. There are many shifts that we must consider, including what Daniel Perrin and I are framing as a difference between “focused writing” and “writing-by-the-way.” I was happy to present with Kristen and also to have another Michigan colleague, Sue Sharma, share her work on how she has developed an online reading clinic. I appreciated the many voices — of both presenters and participants — that made our session interactive and useful.

Panel for the Handbook of Writing and Text Production

This panel shared five different perspectives on the state of the field and the way we pursue scholarship: theory and methodology, authors, media and mode, genre, and domains (personal, professional). These five perspectives — and the scholars gathered to write and discuss them — are useful as ways for us to consider what is happening in writing studies. I was honored that Daniel invited me to be a part of this work on mode and media perspectives, and I shared my 10 minute overview of possibilities and problems we face from this perspective. We then broke into small groups and had a robust discussion about three “problems” from this perspective: what writing actually is, what the unit of study is or could be, and finally our ability to examine both process and product. Our small group conversation was quite productive, and I made some connections to colleagues also interested in these issues, so I hope our exchanges continue.

Kristen Turner’s Digitalk Session

Kristen Turner

For all the years we have known one another and projects that we have collaborated on, I have never seen Kristen present specifically on her work with “digitalk.” Since our session ended early, I was able to sneak into her session and gain a better understanding of the work she has done. In short, she positions “digitalk” — the types of moves that teens make in social networking, texting, and instant messaging — as both an act of code switching and individual identity making. I was most interested in how teens described themselves though the moves they made (for instance, one teen used “5” instead of “s” in his messages and another discussed how many Ys she would put at the end of “HEY” to indicate a quick hello to an acquaintance (“HEY…”) or as a way to show she really like a boy “HEYYYY…”). I really appreciate Kristen’s approach to coding and analyzing her data, and look forward to doing more of this work with her in the future for our research on digital reading.

New Literacies in the Elementary Classroom

The final session that I was able to attend included a number of scholars from Canada, Sweden, and the US, each focusing on some aspect of new literacies in the elementary classroom. One team described the ways that teachers worked in PLCs as inquiry groups, the next did close analysis of students’ digital work, and the final one examined one kindergarten teacher and his efforts over six weeks to teach a digital storytelling unit. I was most impressed with the conversation that we had afterward, and the substantive issues that we are all wrestling with about instructional moves and assessment of digital writing. My wife would be proud of me, as I even mentioned my own book to the audience as a potential resource. I’ve emailed all the presenters and hope to stay in touch for future collaborations.

Au revoir

WRAB IV WordleMy experience with Writing Research Across Borders III has, indeed, lived up to it’s billing. I’ve been excited about the possibility of this conference since missing the first two, both in the US. As I was tweeting out ideas this weekend, I was engaged with colleagues both here in Paris and back home, and I think we already have some session ideas for WRAB IV in Bogota. I’m finishing up this blog post now so I can prepare for departure from CDG, and a return home for some much needed rest and sharing pictures of Paris with my family. Thanks to all who made WRAB III possible, and safe travels to everyone, too.


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WRAB III: Writing As Multimodal Text Production

Here are slides from my talk, “Writing as Multimodal Text Production.”

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Fourth Post from SDRC “Hack and Yack” Series

This post was originally published on the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative blog on January 23, 2014.


Over the past two weeks, we explored the big ideas behind digital reading and ebooks, and have looked at basic ebooks and enhanced ebooks. Today, we wrap up the series by thinking about the possibilities afforded by interactive ebooks.

Features of Interactive eBooks

 

Interactive eBook Features and Examples

To return one more time to Avi Itzkovitch’s thoughts on ebooks, he defines interactive ebooks as “apps designed specifically to utilize the powers of tablets to enable users to interact with the storyline in sight, sound, and touch.” There are a variety of interactive ebooks available, and my colleague Rob Rozema has recommended Frankenstein (iPad App) and The Thirty-Nine Steps (iPad App) as two popular examples. I would also encourage you to check out his book, Bent Not Broken, which he has now made available for free.

Image from Robert Rozema's ebook Bent Not Broken
Image from Robert Rozema’s ebook Bent Not Broken

For Rob’s book in particular, he weaves the personal stories of refugees with a history of the war in Liberia end Sierra Leone. While many e-books are made for entertainment purposes, I appreciate the work that Rob put into his project, both as a researcher/writer and as someone interested in digital literacy. He was able to incorporate documents and video available in the public domain with his own multimedia including audio and video recordings as well as interactive maps of the region.

In addition to apps that are specifically designed for tablets, I would also like to introduce the idea of “transmedia storytelling,” described by Laura Fleming in this manner: “Transmedia storytelling exemplifies learning in the twenty-first century by merging the concept of storytelling with that of the listener-learner and the resulting emotional engagement with the pervasiveness of media” (p. 371). She builds on Henry Jenkins and his colleagues’ ideas of participatory culture and, I would add, connected learning. Finally, the Transmedia Storyteller defines this process as “telling a story across multiple media and preferably, although it doesn’t always happen, with a degree of audience participation, interaction or collaboration.”

One of the transmedia stories that Laura has studied and used with her own students is Inanimate Alice. Here is a description from the homepage: “Set in a technology-augmented near-future, Inanimate Alice tells the story of a young girl who grows up to become a videogame designer at the biggest games company in the world.” In her article, Laura describes the educational possibilities of Inanimate Alice, and transmedia more broadly, as:

Inanimate Alice is a bridge to literacy that today’s young learners inherently connect with and understand. Readers go to the story for inspiration, creative writing, and multimedia text analysis. It offers engaging materials enmeshed with educational guidance to be delivered across structures in a variety of formats. (pp. 375-6)

In short, I see the possibilities of composing an interactive ebook in much the same way as I do composing a transmedia story. Thus, for teachers aiming to support their students as they develop texts that include interactive features, I would encourage us all to consider the ways in which we may use blogs, websites, or wikis as a tool for production. In other words, students can compose a lengthy, significant text (like a book) and have it spread across multiple pages on a website, embedded with multimedia.

Tools for Creating Interactive eBooks

As noted above, to officially produce an interactive ebook, as compared to a transmedia story shared across multiple platforms (primarily the web), specific software will be needed. There are two primary tools for creating interactive ebooks, and they come from the tech giants that you would expect: iBooks Author (which forces users into Apples proprietary format and to distribute their work via iTunes) and Adobe InDesign, a part of their professional suite of tools in the Creative Cloud. In keeping with the free and open source ethos of this series of blog posts, however, I will offer two alternatives.

First MegaZine 3 (First Version Available as Open Source), is described in this manner: “MegaZine3 recreates the look and feel of actual books or magazines on the screen. And much more… all kind of multimedia content like video and audio and interactive forms, games and quiz are supported.” While I have not used MegaZine, I did take a look at some of their samples, including brochures, books, magazines, and reports. I’m sure there are other publishing tools that allow for the types of embedded multimedia that MegaZine offers, too, but the fact that the first version is available under an open license makes this particularly appealing.

Sopie Design Interface
Sopie Design Interface

Second, I’ve done just a little exploration on Sophie (Open Source – Mac/PC/Linux), which is billed as “software for collaboratively authoring and viewing rich media documents in a networked environment.” Much like what I have experienced with iBooks author, the interface for Sophie appears to have multiple options for laying out the page and embedding multimedia. And, like MegaZine, there are examples of Sophie projects to explore.

Conclusion

As I conclude this series of posts on ebooks, I continue to think about the amazing opportunities now offered to our digital readers and writers. As someone deeply interested in digital writing (with all its affordances including the use of links, images, and video), I’m genuinely curious to think about the ways in which we can support our students as they both comprehend and create a lengthier texts.

Many teachers are now having their students compose on blogs and wikis, use discussion forums or social networks, and create digital stories or other types of video projects. I wonder what might happen if, much like a portfolio, students might collect many pieces of digital writing and compile them in an ebook? Could one interactive feature also be in “author’s commentary,” much like the director’s cut on a DVD where we get insights into why and how the film was shot?

Personally, I look forward to continuing my own exploration of ebook publishing as I begin writing a professional book that will incorporate many multimedia components. As you continue your thinking and teaching, I will be curious to know what you and your students are working on, too.

References

Fleming, Laura (2013) “Expanding Learning Opportunities with Transmedia Practices: Inanimate Alice as an Exemplar,” Journal of Media Literacy Education: Vol. 5: Iss. 2, Article 3. Available at: http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/jmle/vol5/iss2/3


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Second Post from SDRC “Hack and Yack” Series

This post was originally published on the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative blog on January 17, 2014.


As mentioned in our introduction to this series of blog posts, we are heading into the world of e-reading for the next few days, considering what it might mean for us as digital writers and rhetors. Today, I want to explore the first type functionality made available to typical ebooks.

Features of eBooks

eBook Features

These books can be as simple as a PDF document, or they can be comprised of “flowable” text that allows for font size adjustment. Probably the most common formats for  ebooks are the Kindle and iBooks formats as well as the more ubiquitous ePub. Some of the essential features for ebooks in these formats include:

  • Basic search and annotation: users can search for particular words or phrases using an integrated search function. Additionally, users can “highlight” selected passages that can be collected by the ebook software as a set of notes.
  • Readability features: because of the digital nature of the text itself as an XML or HTML5 format, Michael Wesch reminds us that the content and form are separate. Thus, flowable and adjustable texts have become the norm. No longer do we need to tell students to turn to page X. Instead, we can have them search for words and passages.
  • Use of external computing functions: another useful feature of eBooks is the connection to the dictionary and web browsing functions. Finding a definition or more information about a word or phrase is, quite literally, at one’s fingertips by simply pressing and holding a word and launching these additional features.

These features — while not nearly as snazzy as some of the ones we will explore in our next two posts on enhanced and interactive ebooks — are nonetheless quite useful for readers. Moreover, they are important for us to remember as writers, too. Are there ways that we can use images within our digital writing, for instance, to maintain the exact size, shape, and color of a particular font? Might we use certain words, alone or in combination, together to signal certain sections or transitions in the texts (without necessarily using sub headings, bold or italics)? Are there ways to hide other “Easter eggs” in our very basic ebooks that would reward a savvy user?

Basic eBook Examples

Project Gutenberg is probably the widest known site, providing tons of texts that exist in the public domain and available in a variety of ebook formats. Additional sources for public domain ebooks include Amazon, Feedbooks, and your local library’s ebook service. As noted above, there aren’t too many features that these texts have, but the one specific advantage to getting the book in an ebook format — as compared to a straight up PDF — is that the book will have flowable text. For instance, here are two screenshots of from the Kindle App showing some of the features noted above.

Kindle Viewing Options
The Kindle app allows users to change default font sizes, as well as text and background color.
Kindle Highlighting Options
Also, the app allows users to highlight text and provides quick access to the dictionary and web resources.

Tools for Creating Basic eBooks

Finally, what tools can we use to create ebooks — in the flexible, flowable ebook format? As I explore software packages and web-based solutions over the next few blog posts, I am sticking to free, open source options. So, please know that there are other programs out there for creating ebooks, and I suggest using Alternativeto.net as a resource for finding them.

So, given the free and open source requirement, for standalone software there are a few options. A standalone program such as Sigil or eCub, both ePub editors, as well as the Mobipocket Creator, could do the trick. For the iPad, there is Storykit, which is simple yet quite useful for younger students. A search of the iTunes store also yielded Quark DesignPad, though it looks from the reviews that an upgrade to the pro version might be necessary to get the types of features that would make it truly useful. Finally, you could use the open source Scribus and then share it as a PDF.

Conclusion: Pushing eBooks into New Territories

Again, I wonder how we can remediate and use text in innovative ways, perhaps speaking directly to the reader in a basic ebook format? Of the tools listed above, are there ones that you have experience using and would you recommend it to others?

Before my next post, we will have a guest post from someone who has done a great deal of thinking about e-reading: Heidi Perry of Subtext. This is a very useful e-reading app for the iPad, allowing teachers and students the ability to communicate during the reading process. As always, I appreciate your comments and questions so we can keep the conversation going!


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Notes from Michelle Hagerman’s “Disruptive Promise” Dissertation Defense

As the fall semester nears its end, I am planning one more round of classroom visits to work on our “Reading in a Digital World” book project. So far, Kristen Turner and I have collected nearly 1000 surveys and 20 interviews. We are still doing lots of thinking on all of this. Thus, I wanted to hear more about what research is showing us in terms of how students read online.

So, earlier today I was able to attend a colleague’s dissertation defense. Michelle Hagerman presented on “Disruptive Promise,” a study where she worked with 16 ninth grade students to discover how they used the open web, including multiple and multimodal texts, as they worked to find evidence and build an argument. She asked them to use multiple internet sources (of any type) to write an essay on radiation treatment (a type of integrative task is one that is indicative of the types of tasks students will be required to do for new science standards). Her method was interesting, as she used screencasting and a webcam recording to capture both what happened as the students were searching as well as their conversation (and facial expressions) while searching.

She introduced her “LINKS” strategies for working with students as they evaluate online materials, including purpose, source, trustworthiness, connections between and among texts, and other scaffolds to help them work while reading online. Hagerman coded “strategic episodes” in her data where she observed what students were doing during their reading and searching process. With her first research question, she was looking at frequency of strategies. In her control and experimental group, she saw no statistically significant difference in the amount or frequency of strategies that students used during their research process. She did, however, as a part of her treatment, see that those students would use pre-existing knowledge while searching. Using the strategy instruction did have an effect over time. Identifying important information was the primary strategy, and they would spend more time searching for information.

With her second research question, she developed an “integrativeness rubric,” where she looked at how students would combine resources in the effort to make an argument in their writing. Between the control and experimental group, there was no statistically significant differences in how students constructed their writing. She also looked at a case study of two students, and discussed the amount of time that they spent on different strategies. By the end of the study, the two engaged in a broader set of strategies overall; they used more strategies and had slightly more integrative writing. She noted some “disruptive promise” in the LINKS strategies, and demonstrates how difficult it is to teach these strategies; still even a nudge from teachers toward a more active stance in internet research would be helpful for students.

Hagerman’s work demonstrates the immense complexity of teaching students how to choose, comprehend, evaluate, and synthesize the many components of digital reading. It reminds me that — despite years of good work from the New Literacies Research Team at UConn — I am not sure that we are any closer, at least in K12 instruction, to really teaching the (digital) reading strategies that students need today. It also shows me how important it will be to teach students to use tools like Evernote or Citelighter as a key component of their own searching and reading because, as Hagerman notes, even if they use strategies it may not have an effect on their writing. In short, we have to teach students to use strategies and document their work along the way. Also interesting, in the Q/A, she also noted that students did not use multimodal resources, and that — in school at least — they are often discouraged from using anything other than text on a web page as evidence.

Finally, her suggestions for teachers are helpful, and remind me that we, as teacher educators, need to model this work for K12 teachers, too. First, Hagerman suggests that teachers think about complexity of the online reading process and do some think aloud modeling, just as we would do with other reading comprehension strategies. She also suggests that we use screencasting for brief clips demonstrating these strategies, possibly a good resource for flipped classrooms, too. Lastly, of course, equipping students with a set of online reading strategies can be helpful, and reminding them of those strategies before, during, and after the process of reading.

All of us interested in digital literacy should appreciate the work that she has done in her dissertation. I want to get my hands on the “LINKS” framework that Hagerman has presented and see if there are some connections to what Turner and I are trying to document in our book. Our students need a great deal of support as they learn how to read digital texts, and my hope is that the book can provide teachers with some specific ideas. Hagerman’s dissertation will surely be one resource that we cite.


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