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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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 bit.ly/RFtAK9  #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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Broadening the Scope: Teaching Multiple Literacies in an Era of Common Core Standards

Originally posted on the #literacies chat blog:
On 12/6 7PM EST, guest host Troy Hicks (@hickstro) will lead our last #literacies chat of 2012:
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?” 
Some questions we will consider:
  • 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?

Chat with you all online via Twitter with the #literacies hashtag tomorrow night at 7:00 EST!

Ideas from AERA 2012 (Part 1)

Unlike many conference experiences where I am “on” for most of the time, presenting or meeting, I was able to take a slightly slower pace at AERA 2012 this weekend in Vancouver. Although the long travel days and time zone differences were a little tough to contend with, the few focused hours that I spent at the conference itself were very valuable for me in thinking about my teaching, research, and service. With the upcoming NWP SEED grant coming due, there are many things I can take from this weekend to think about while writing.

A quick list of some highlights:

  • A panel of Kris Guitterez’s graduate students talk about the teaching of writing and service learning
  • Roy Pea and other distinguished educational technologists from around the world discuss current and future trends in ed tech
  • Both listening to and engaging with (through Today’s Meet) a panel of young scholars who are studying participatory democracy and social media
  • Numerous connections, conversations, and opportunities to think through some of my current ideas related to our next NWP grant, including a smart round-table conversation with the Writing and Literacies SIG
  • Presenting with my colleagues on adolescent literacy in the content areas, with my focus on English language arts

A little more detail on each of these sessions/ideas over the next few days as I reflect on them and offer some further analysis. For the moment, here is my own presentation on “Learning with Text in the English Language Arts.”

As a part of a panel discussion about engaging adolescent learners in both content area literacy learning as well as general reading and comprehension strategies, I began by describing a unit of study crLeated around Of Mice and Men. To read more, take a peek at this preview of our chapter in Google Books. This, of course, led me to present a critique of such models of language arts instruction as being to text-focused, and lacking a multidimensional approach that could lead to both greater comprehension of the text itself as well as a better understanding for students of who they are as readers, writers, and literate individuals in the world. While they are not much, here are some slides that share the gist of my talk:

For those who know me and my work — a few of whom attended the session, and I appreciate taking the time to do so! — I probably had a surprising dearth of technology-talk as part of my conversation. In writing the chapter, Sue and I wanted to steer clear of critiques where readers would say, “Well, that would be great if I had access to more technology…” Instead, we talked about best practices in the teaching of English language arts, bringing in some technology as it seemed appropriate, but not at the forefront. My goal, for the chapter and the presentation, was as Michelle Hagerman said, “pedagogically purposeful,” and I wanted people to walk away with an understanding of what could/should be different in this type of effective conversation.

That said, I had some thoughts rolling around in the back of my head from reading I had done on the way to Vancouver. Last week, I was finally able to get a copy of a book that has been much-talked about by many colleagues in the past few months: Mike Schmoker’s Focus. In this book, he argues for a simplified approach to language arts (eschewing, in many ways, the affordances of technology and other “fads” related to literacy teaching. In his own words, here is what Schmoker has to say, from page 26 of his book:

Screen Shot from Mike Schmoker's Focus
Screen Shot from Mike Schmoker's Focus

I’m trying to figure out exactly why I am completely in agreement with Schmoker on the surface, and yet deeply disagree upon giving his ideas further thought. Certainly, we do not want students to make skits or claymation without an adequate exploration of story telling, character development, and the like. Is he implying that we need to do more with argumentative and informational writing, to use the CCSS parlance? Perhaps it is his parenthetical identification of some teachers and scholars — (as some do) — as an offhand remark without further explanation that bugs me the most. I’ll need to think through this some more.

More reflections from AERA over the next few days…

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Some Thoughts on Digital Reading

On the heels of Amazon’s new Kindle Fire and the passing of technology visionary Steve Jobs, I wanted to share some thoughts on digital reading that were inspired by a recent question from a colleague. Here, in part, is my response to her email:

As you invite your students to explore digital reading, I think that you are asking a smart question: how can we help students generate meaning from these texts? You note two kinds of digital texts — ebooks and online texts — and I think we can probably even tinker with those categories even more. For ebooks, we might include different kinds of ebooks (ones that are simply a PDF-style copy of the book and those that are interactive and allow for highlighting and other notations, as well as audio narration to be played, not to mention syncing across devices). Also, we might include the new interactive magazines (like Wired) and newspapers (like NYTimes.com) that are read on mobile devices and tablets. Then, when we consider “traditional” online texts like web pages, audio and video clips, and databases, we have a really broad range of text types that students are drawing from.

We consider all of this about digital reading in an era where teaching reading has been influenced, for years, by socio-cultural perspectives on literacy development as well as many, many educators working on a strategies-based approach to help kids comprehend texts. For socio-cultural theorists, we can see the traces of their work showing up in the way we use lit circles, explore contemporary themes in YA Lit, begin to see illustrations as important to children’s lit as the words on the page, and a number of other social influences on how and why we read. For comprehension strategists, we see an increasing number of them looking at text types and features, as well as helping students connecting information across texts.

It is interesting to note that the new standards simply note literature and informational as the broad text types from which we can choose. I know that there are points in the CCSS that indicate that we should be using technology in appropriate ways, and that the reading strategies that we employ can help in both print and digital texts. Yet, here we are, in a time of reading where Pew Internet reports that 93% of teens are online, where ebooks have outsold regular books for the first time, and where mobile devices and services continue to amaze us with their ability to track and save our information across time and space. Reading is changing in so many ways, yet — at its heart — still remains a process of creating meaning from words and images.

So, where do we go to begin to understand all of this? I think that you can get some good theoretical background from researchers like Colin Lankshear and Michelle Knobel, and their book New Literacies, as well as from this paper by Donald Leu and some of his colleagues from the New Literacies Research Team at UConn: “Toward a Theory of New Literacies Emerging From the Internet and Other Information and Communication Technologies.” This perspective suggests that reading online and with hyperlinked/multimedia text is a very different, more social and interactive experience than reading on paper alone. And, while you already know that, these two texts really help explain why in much more detail.

Then, to get more to the heart of your strategy question, I think that you can look in a few directions. First, one of the UConn team now at Rhode Island, Julie Coiro, has done some great work on online comprehension. For instance, in this piece in Ed Leadership, “Making Sense of Online Text,” she highlights strategies to navigate a website, question the authority/authenticity of the text, and synthesize information. An NWP teacher, Kevin Hodgson, has written a similar piece for Instructify called “Strategies for online reading comprehension.” In all of this, the researchers and theorists begin with the idea that online reading is different partially because we have to search for and sift through lots of information (not that we didn’t have to do that in the library, but the floodgate seems so much bigger). I think that it is interesting to consider the effects of RSS, too, and how students can set up their own list of prioritized readings (and listening and viewing, for that matter) from blogs, news sites, and other feeds (For instance, here is a recent blog post called “Really Simply Structured: My RSS Feed Strategy“). The thing that I think is missing from both of these types of articles is a list of tools that you can use — such as online book sites (Google Books or Good Reads), social bookmarking tools (Diigo), notetaking tools (EverNote), and bibliographic managers (MendeleyZotero), to help students take what they have been reading and to save, annotate, and cite their work. Also, we need to think about how this reading changes when it moves from a computer screen to a mobile device, as many websites are now formatted to read easier on a mobile device, but you may lose some of the context of the rest of the page since things are so small.

Next, you have to go back to the question of how to “read” ebooks, really taking advantage of the fact that they are digital, networked texts? First, I know that some of the readers allow you to interact with the text in different ways — to look up a word in the dictionary, to highlight words, to insert notes, to add bookmarks. How might we be able to use these tools to do the same types of reading and annotating that we have been doing for years with strategies similar to those described by Kylene Beers, Cris Tovani, Kelly Gallagher, Keene and Zimmerman, and others? In what ways can we use the social aspects of the ebook reader to engage kids in conversations (Kindle, for instance, will show what others have highlighted while you read — we might ask students, why is it important that so many people highlighted this particular passage in a text?) Also, the fact that students can use some of the devices to connect to the internet and then immediately share their reactions is important, too — what if you had an ongoing Twitter conversation about a book, both inside and outside of class? In other words, we have been asking students to keep post it notes and reading logs for a long time — how might we use ebook readers and social media to share, collaborate, and respond in more productive ways?

Finally, we move into ways to respond to texts. If we are taking the same old book report, yet just having students post it online, then are we really doing them any good? We must consider how, when, and why we are asking students to respond to texts. For instance, on the Youth Voices social network, they have a whole section for responses to literature and also offer their students guides for thinking as they write their responses to books, as well as write responses to each other (the guides don’t seem to be up there right now, as they must have recently redesigned their site). This kind of guided scaffolding is important, as it helps students understand how to effectively craft a response that others will be able to gain value from as readers, and not just summarize the book. Also, there are more creative ways that students can engage in reading and responding, like podcasting and role playing, as described by Robert Rozema and Allen Webb in their book, Literature and the Web.

For me, when I watch my youngest son, who is a kindergartener, learning how to read with interactive games and storybooks on our iPad, I am simply amazed. All of our children are reading, both in print and online. For them, what will reading be in a year? Two years? Ten years?

In the past 100 days, I have become a reader again through a device that, no surprise, has opened up a digital vista of books and other sources of reading to me. Of course, it isn’t too difficult to figure out that I am talking about an iPad, but the change has been more than I would have expected from a device that was billed as “magical”and “revolutionary.” When, for years, I bemoaned the fact that I didn’t have time to get to the library, it is now at my fingertips, and I can download a book and begin reading it as if I were browsing the shelves. Better yet, the cumbersome chore of converting audio books on CD into burned copies has now been replaced with the ease of a media player bringing me the latest titles. I have been able to read more in the past 100 days — at least in terms of what I would call “pleasure” reading — than I probably did in the past 100 months.

I am so glad to know that your district is looking ahead, trying to find resources and ideas to help develop thoughtful readers in a digital age. I hope that some of these ideas and resources will get you moving in the right direction.

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A Creative Summer

Over the past few weeks, I have been fortunate enough to teach in MSU’s MA in Ed Tech program here in Rouen, France. With the inspiration of Leigh Graves Wolf and Punya Mishra, one of the major foci of the program is on creativity. As I think about how to be more creative in teaching my own pre-service methods courses and leading professional development, this summer has been very helpful for me, allowing me enough flexibility to explore new ideas while also teaching about broad themes in education, as well as educational technology. To that end, we have been inviting the teachers to do “quickfire” types of activities each day, and I wanted to share some of my thinking on some of the creative works that I have developed in the past few weeks alongside my colleagues — and how they can be connected to digital writing — beginning with one that Punya led yesterday.

Multiplicity Photo

Troy's Multiplicity Image
Troy's Multiplicity Image (7-20-11)

Yesterday, Punya led us in a conversation about “tensions” in education, and we had to represent our tension through a multiplicity photo. Using my iPhone (solo, so I had to actually record this as a video and take screen shots from the footage), Pixlr, this tutorial, and help from colleagues in class, I was able to produce and submit the photo above. Don’t ask me which tension I was trying to represent exactly, as I am not really sure myself; my composing process got too focsued on the the outcome and the tech, and I really forgot what it was I was supposed to “say.”

What I do know is that it took me a great deal of thinking to do this quickfire because A) I did it alone and we were supposed to have a partner to take the photos, B) I got a late start, and C) even though Punya said we could repurpose a tool like PPT to blend photos together, I knew that I wanted to do something with an image-editing tool (once Photoshop wouldn’t work for me, I switched to Pixlr).

More importantly, I was learning with my students. I normally talk about the fact that I am only one step ahead, and helping them figure things out. But, because I am one step ahead, I look like a tech genius. In this case, I was walking right next to my colleagues, or even a step behind. I had to raise my hand when Punya asked us who wanted a tutorial and, after figuring it out, immediately had to explain the concepts of the layering, erasing, and blending to another colleague, leading her through the process.

This put me in the role of the learner, and only a slightly more knowledgable other. It was good to feel uncomfortable with a technology and process. This reminds me that when I am talking about digital writing tools, no matter how common they are to me, they can still seem completely strange someone who has never used them. Moreover, describing what we did as a composing process is critical, because it helps me frame the task in terms of purpose and audience.

Ignite Presentation

[iframe_loader src=”http://present.me/embed/625/350/1253-maety2-authentic-use-presentation” height=”375″ width=”640″ click_words=”Go to Present.me to view” click_url=”http://present.me/embed/625/350/1253-maety2-authentic-use-presentation” ]

Inspired by the idea of an Ignite-style presentation, in particular this one by Chris Lehmann, Greg and I wanted students to summarize the major problems and possible solutions related to technology integration in education. We also wanted our students to be concise and collaborate. We wanted them to develop an “Authentic Use Policy” for themselves and their colleagues. Knowing that Present.me would be the final tool that we used to share our work and record the five-minute presentation, we knew we needed to have slides in a PPT compatible format. Also, people needed to collaborate. Fast.

So, we went with Google Docs. And, while it didn’t allow us all the flexibility in terms of design, it did work as a collaborative composing space. I recorded the entire 30 minutes or so of the slidedeck coming together using Camtasia, and here is a quick clip of the few minutes that I was working on my slides. Watching what I am doing (playing with fonts, finding a CC licensed image, organizing slides) and what is going on in the background with other partners’ sets of slides shows us a quick glimpse into the collaborative composing process. We had talked about slide design and looked at some resources from Robin Williams’ Non-Designers Design principles, and that helped some of us guide our work.

This collaborative, quick process is one that many of the teachers said could be adapted to their classroom. Moreover, the slides contain information that could be adapted for future PD that they might lead. While it was fast, it captured a semester’s worth of learning, and brought all our voices into the process, both in terms of design and implementation.

[iframe_loader src=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnOqF-pKpPA” height=”550″ width=”510″ click_words=”Go to YouTube to view” click_url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnOqF-pKpPA” ]

Stop Motion Video

[iframe_loader src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/5KjsG_467do” height=”550″ width=”510″ click_words=”Go to YouTube to view” click_url=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/5KjsG_467do” ]

Punya has been exploring stop motion with his own children for a number of years, and I have also been inspired by the work of Kevin Hodgson, and I wanted to find a genuine opportunity to try it out with my own. After watching a series of videos that our MAET students created in response to a prompt about creativity, my own children were quite inspired. Lexi, Beau, and I took my iPhone, and some bowling pins that they had been playing with outside, and began to craft a story. Using a lawn chair to steady my camera, we shot dozens of pictures while, at the same time, trying to think about a good story to tell along the way.

They quickly figured out that the one yellow pin should be excluded in some way, and had to figure out how to animate that. They worked together to hold the yellow pin off screen, having her “peek” back in as the bowling ball moved forward to knock down the other pins. At first, we ended the picture taking with the yellow pin standing in the middle, triumphant. But, they were not happy with that ending, as they didn’t feel like the story was really “over.” So, we brainstormed other options. One of them remembered that grandma had just thrown away a red twist tie, and we fashioned that into a smile to put on the yellow pin. After importing those shots, choosing a song, putting in the sound effect, and testing it out on an audience of siblings, we knew that we had created a good story.

While my kids did not “write” in the traditional sense, spending time putting words on paper (or screen), we were clearly engaged in a storytelling process. Also, the fact that they had to think about the story in such small, frame-by-frame increments led them to carefully consider what each pin would be doing. Finally, even though Lexi’s feet were accidentally included in one key shot (that we didn’t want to shoot again because we couldn’t get all the pins back in the exact place), they were able to creatively solve that dilemma by putting a note in the credits.

This has been a fun summer, both in terms of teaching and trying out new digital writing approaches with my kids.

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