Peer Review in Public

This afternoon, partially as a way to procrastinate from my own writing and partially because I was genuinely interested in the invitation, I participated in an “open review” of Remi Kalir and Antero Garcia‘s forthcoming manuscript, Annotation. Their open review process will continue through August 23, 2019, so jump in! They request that commentary adhere to the following, all good advice for any scholarly dialogue:

Civil. We can disagree. And when we do so, let’s also respect one another.

Constructive. Share what you know. And build upon ideas that are relevant and informative.

Curious. Ask honest questions and listen openly to responses.

Creative. Model generative dialogue. Have fun. Contribute to and learn from the process.

Having read hundreds of academic articles in the past 20 years, as well as offering blind peer review for dozens more, as well as blind reviews of probably two dozen academic books, I thought that this would be interesting. (And, again, I was procrastinating on my own writing, so an engaging intellectual task that can carry me away and still feel like I am getting work done is always welcome). Here are a few things I learned while reviewing their book which, again, you, too, can contribute to through August 23rd.

My Stance as a Reviewer

When I offer peer review to academic articles and books, I am typically using the “track changes” and commentary features in Word or, in some instances, by offering comments and edits on a PDF (my favorite tool for doing that is the iOS app Good Reader). I typically frame these comments as direct suggestions to the author(s) of the article/manuscript I am reading, and I engage in a professional, yet conversational tone.

With my review of Annotation today, I think that I maintained some of that approach, yet I knew that my comments would be captured, in perpetuity, in Kalir and Garcia’s public version of the document. While I didn’t hold back with questions and concerns, I did realize that I changed my tone. Whereas I would try to be explicitly clear in comments and questions (perhaps even providing examples of what I was aiming for with unclear writing) in blind review, I didn’t want that to be part of the public record.

For instance, in the example below, I offered a comment that could spark further dialogue amongst others reading the text, pushing toward some broader implications for teaching and learning. At other points, I was replying to the comments already made by others, and I would specifically say something like “I agree” or “Along these lines.” Also, at points, I directly wrote to Kalir and Garcia in ways that I could do so with colleagues I know, and would be comfortable saying in front of a group of others.

Screenshot of Specific Comment on

My Commenting Style in an Open Setting

Yet, still, it felt strange. In the first few chapters, there were some other annotations/ors, yet they fell away. Even those that remained were offering suggestions for links, not the generative kinds of peer review that (I hope) I have always aimed to offer in the peer reviews that I complete. For instance, I would describe problems and ask questions like:

  • I may simply not be reading this right, but making the comparison of submitting an expense report in relation to the openly annotated future just didn’t ring for me here. Sorry, but perhaps you could find a different example?
  • This is an interesting example, but I don’t know that it fully draws out all the ideas that you mentioned above related to “shifting social norms, changing financial and organizational incentives, and evolving scholarly practices.” Perhaps you could reorganize around — and particularly elaborate upon — these three ideas in relation to SciBot?
  • This is an important, if technical, point, and deserves some elaboration. Why is it important that some are built into the browser, whereas others stand alone. And, for that matter, why have you not mentioned OneNote, Evernote, Google Keep, or SimpleNote anywhere in the text, and especially here before you launch into the important questions you pose below?

By the end of the process — which took me just as long as any other book review — I began to wonder/wander, leading me to other directions.

Reflecting While Reviewing

Of course, during a normal review, the kinds of internal dialogue that I have with myself may make it into the first draft of my comments, but I usually do some editing before a final draft heads off to the editor. Here, I figured that Kalir and Garcia’s invitation to be civil, constructive, curious, and creative would welcome some of these thoughts.

As I went through the process, and saw fewer and fewer reviewers in subsequent chapters, I got discouraged. While this is no fault of the authors, and I know that they have extensively shared their open manuscript, welcoming reviews, it does make me worry a bit about the hive mind, and whether the power of collaboration and collective intelligence is, perhaps, not as powerful as we might hope. A few of my musings, especially as they relate to why scholars may choose not to participate in an open review:

  • This [vision of social annotation and scholarship] is aspirational, and I appreciate it. Yet, I think that you can elaborate more on what actual changes would need to happen to make it a reality. Be specific, and talk about faculty workloads, department/college T&P requirements, and the ways in which “open” is still perceived as subpar.
  • And, yet, there still seems to be reluctance, or at least lack of widespread acceptance [of open review]. For instance, in your attempts to make this manuscript open and accessible (which I applaud), I am still wondering how many total scholars will participate. Even for those of us who saw the invitation to begin with, a gentle nudge was in order for us to participate. And, in the end, I don’t know that my review of this manuscript will “count” on par with doing a review for an established journal or publisher when (and if) I include it in my promotion materials. Of course, for me at least, this doesn’t matter as much as it would to a junior faculty member who needs to decide whether to spend a few hours trying to write her own work, or to participate in a “normal” editorial review board/process as a blind reviewer for an established press/journal. Both of those actions are rewarded in the academy. As much as I respect Remi and Antero (and that’s why I am doing this annotated review), the simple fact of the matter is that I am doing this because I care, not because it will “count.” These are part of the material reality of academe, and I don’t know how we will change that, even with open annotation and peer review. At the end, there is only so much time in the day…
  • So, I have held off until now, but I have to ask… and only partially in a cynical manner… Like the tree falling in the forest, does an annotation really make a sound (ripple, impact, effect, etc)? That is, I appreciate your utopian vision, yet I wonder if you might want to reign it in a bit here. Sorry… not trying to pop the bubble, especially after nearly two hours of reviewing and annotating your manuscript, but I am just being realistic. The first few chapters had a few annotators. Now, here at the end, it is just me. And you two, as the authors. Are we really connected to a “robust information infrastructure?” Or, are the three of us walking alone in the woods?

In the end, I appreciate the opportunity to do this review, and to pause here to reflect on the process. I struggle both with how to structure class discussions in digital spaces as well as how to be a social scholar, so reading Kalir and Garcia’s manuscript was serving many more purposes for me than merely procrastinating on my writing. I am hopeful that the ideas I have offered to them (and those who might continue to annotate over the next month) are helpful. And, of course, I will continue to think about practices of annotation in my own scholarship and teaching.


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Preparing to “Turn the Corner” at DMAC18

Photo by Federica Galli on Unsplash
Photo by Federica Galli on Unsplash

The days do go fast at DMAC.

As a participant, I am reminded of the many, many moving parts that the facilitators for such an institute need to plan, and I have been fully engaged in the workshop for the past few days. Couple that with needing to continue working on all my regular tasks as a program director, faculty member, and consultant, and the time here at DMAC slips by entirely too quickly.

I need to pause. To scale back a bit. I woke up early this morning, and knew that I needed to reflect. To refocus.

So, here I am.

Without a doubt, I am enjoying the process. Since my infographic prototype post earlier this week, we’ve also tinkered with Audacity and the audio assignment, as well as iMovie and the video assignment. Fortunately, I’ve had experience with both these tools — as well as these concepts — so I’ve tried to focus more of my attention on the deeper, more theoretical implications of what DMAC has been pushing me to consider.

For instance, yesterday, we were asked to consider the politics of race and social media, deconstructing images and considering how to layer meaning with memes. I’ve certainly thought — and written about — memes before, but the new lenses of accessibility and social justice are all helpful reminders for me as I prepare to create my projects this weekend. Speaking of projects, my work is moving forward, but at a seemingly glacial pace. Again, being a participant reminds me that — when I am in the facilitator role — I need to be quite mindful of my audience’s needs, both technical and social.

Still, I am impressed by what we can do when we put our minds to it. For instance, Elvira and Rich created concise, compassionate short film yesterday:

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

Giving students — and, when in workshops, teachers — the time and space to play, take risks, and be creative makes a world of difference. I’ve heard these types of opportunities called many things. Quickfire challenges. Rapid prototyping. Sandboxing. Whatever we want to call them, we simply need to do more of them. I will remember this in preparation for the fall.

Of course, the conversations with colleagues from around the country have all been productive and refreshing. Today, we head to the Ohio Union for the Innovate: Forward conference. This, too, will be a refreshing change, as I hear about the many initiatives related to digital learning that are happening here at OSU. While keynotes are always interesting, I look forward to seeing what faculty are doing in their face-to-face and online courses, and I’ve mapped out some sessions that deal with digital distraction, new environments and structures for learning, and building better online discussions. These may ebb and flow throughout the day, of course, but that is the thrill of going to a conference!

As we prepare to “turn the corner,” moving into the deeper, more substantive work of producing our audio, image, and video projects. Again, my work this week is largely in preparation for teaching the honors seminar this fall, “Our Digital Selves.” My aim this weekend is to have my infographic, podcast, and video in a near state of completion for Monday’s preview. What’s interesting in that part of the assignment is that we are supposed to create “no more than :60 (sixty seconds) of video and/or audio that illustrates your work in progress that you plan to share at the upcoming showcase.” Making a recording about our work in progress, rather than simply standing nearby to describe it, is another interesting pedagogical move that I am learning from the DMAC structure, and I look forward to that challenge.


Photo by Federica Galli on Unsplash

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Prepping for DMAC 2018

Photo by Christopher Gower on UnsplashToday, I made my way to Columbus in preparation for the Digital Media and Composition Institute, also known as DMAC. In more than one way, this has been a career aspiration of mine for well over a decade, and I’m very much looking forward to the immersive, sustained experience of working with colleagues over the next 10 days.

I first learned about DMAC, then CIWIC, when Cindy Selfe and Gail Hawisher were still at Michigan Tech, from my mentor and dissertation director, (and, eventually, co-author on Because Digital Writing Matters), Danielle Nicole DeVoss, as she had pursued her own graduate studies there. To make a long story short, I feel like part of my academic heritage is deeply rooted with CIWIC/DMAC, and in many ways I feel like I am returning “home” though I have never actually attended the workshop.

At another level, this spring is also quite important for me as a moment to pause, reflect, and refocus. Since 2003, I have had the incredibly good fortune of leading countless conference sessions, day-long workshops, and multi-day or even multi-week institutes. This has come about from my long and productive relationship with the National Writing Project. I’ve been humbled and honored to have started the Chippewa River Writing Project at CMU, and to have been invited to dozens of writing project sites – as well as other school districts and professional organization events – over the past decade.

However, one of the things that I miss is simply being a participant in a workshop, to be fully immersed so I can soak up ideas and wisdom from other participants and facilitators. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy opportunities for leadership, because I certainly do, and I’m looking forward to at least half a dozen different opportunities this summer, not least of which is facilitating our own weeklong CRWP leadership institute, returning to Rhode Island to help facilitate the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy, and also coordinating our Beaver Island Institute for science and literacy. I look forward to all of these, and to my time at ISTE and NWP Midwest, among other conference events. All this will be wonderful, too.

Still, there’s something to be said for just having one’s mind in a state of “being.” DMAC will allow me that time and space. And, I will get to meet other like-minded scholars, reconnect to my writing roots, and think critically and creatively about digital composition. In short, it will be intellectually engaging and fun.

And, I’m at a point in my career where, not needing to “pivot” or “redefine” entirely, what I really need to do over the next ten days is get refocused. I have a number of specific projects that I want to work on over the next 10 days, many of which are connected to my teaching, scholarship, and service.

With teaching, in particular, I’m trying to imagine the possibilities for a class I am teaching this fall, a seminar class for honors freshman, that I have entitled “Our Digital Selves.” There’s quite a bit of work that I need to do this summer in order to figure out exactly how I want to teach the course. First, I’m looking to a colleague and leader in the field of digital badging for composition, Stephanie West-Puckett, and the work that she has begun at URI with Writing 104. Titled MakerComp, she helps her students move toward self guided inquiry and significant projects, bundled in a system of badging.

Additionally, I’ve been “away” from writing for a significant amount of time. I have certainly been busy with some smaller projects this year, I have not gotten refocused on a book-length project since the publication of Argument in the Real World, From Texting to Teaching, and Coaching Teacher-Writers in 2017. I have a number of writing opportunities ahead of me, as well as potential collaborators with whom I would like to work, and so these next few days will give me lots of time to consider possibilities and develop project proposals.

Finally, of course, I am interested in learning how other people design professional development experiences for their peers and colleagues. I’ve been struggling to try to figure out how, exactly, to help re-invigorate our own writing project site’s work, connect to our masters in educational technology program, and consider new possibilities for CMU’s education program at large. I hope that watching the DMAC team in action as facilitators will be good for me, too.

In short, I need DMAC.

I am deeply fortunate to have a patient and flexible wife who is managing the chaos at home, as well as an employer in CMU who has given me significant financial support to attend this DMAC Institute. I am thankful for these blessings in my life.

And, I’m looking forward to the work ahead.


Photo by Christopher Gower on Unsplash

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Rewiring Research on Teachers Teaching Teachers

This past week, I was able to join in a conversation with my good friend and colleague, Dawn Reed, on an episode of Teachers Teaching Teachers so we could talk about our forthcoming book, Research Writing Rewired: Lessons That Ground Students’ Digital Learning. Enjoy!


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Summer Institute, Stillness, and (Digital) Storytelling

Digital Storytelling on We Video
Digital Storytelling on We Video

We are in the middle of week three of our Chippewa River Writing Project’s Invitational Summer Institute, and I am sitting in the late afternoon calm of writing time.

At this moment, eight of the seventeen of us are here composing various pieces, including our digital stories. The rest are scattered around our building, or around campus, doing the same. Teacher writers who have found some time, space, and stillness to do meaningful work, both personally and professionally.

For me, it is digital storytelling — the recursive process of writing words, finding images, recording our voices, and repeating each of these steps over and over again — that makes for the most compelling type of writing that we do each summer. I am continually fascinated by the ways in which teachers work on this multimodal composing process.

Some begin with a hint of an idea for a story; others have a strong lead with a clear picture of the story they want to tell. Some begin with their own pictures, digital or digitized, and are able to easily form them into a timeline. Others are stumped, searching the web for countless images that will fit with their vision. Narration is scripted, recorded, revised, and re-recorded.

Joe Lambert, the Director of the Center for Digital Storytelling, offers some specific advice on this process in their Digital Storytelling Cookbook:

Finding and clarifying what a story is really about isn’t easy. It’s a journey in which a storyteller’s insight or wisdom can evolve, even revealing an unexpected outcome. Helping storytellers find and own their deepest insights is the part of the journey we enjoy the most. (10)

 

Digital Storytelling
Image by Casey Fyfe from Unsplash

We don’t often talk about how to gain insight from our writing processes, at least not in school. This is the joy and opportunity that we find in the summer institute.

Time.

Space.

Support.

All of these intangible elements combine to allow us to take risks, be creative, and open ourselves up to discovery. This is the space in which digital stories are born, are nourished, are revised, and, eventually, published and shared with the world.

This afternoon, we took some time to talk about revision, too, and it was interesting to hear how many of us talked about revising our digital pieces, especially our digital stories. Changing one word, just one small element of a script can result in an alteration of the entire timeline. The exact moment when a picture should appear, timed with our own voices or a sound effect, can make or break a digital story.

Digital storytelling, unlike any other form of writing, is a recursive process of discovery, a process that I continue to enjoy as a teacher, teacher educator, and storyteller myself. I look forward to sharing my next story soon.


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First Post from SDRC “Hack and Yack” Series

For the next two weeks, I will be blogging over at the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative’s blog for their “Hack and Yack” series (and cross posting here). This is my first entry that went live on January 14, 2014.


ereaderBy now — in fact, right now — there is a very good chance that you are reading text on something smaller than a typical computer screen, perhaps your smartphone, tablet, or e-reader. And, that means that the opportunity to interact with this text has, quite literally, come straight to your fingertips. While scholars of digital writing and rhetoric have long been interested in what this means for us as writers, it is in this existing world of e-reading where our blog posts for the next few days will take us.

So, let me introduce myself first. I’m Troy Hicks, an associate professor of English from Central Michigan University, and your guest blogger for the next few weeks for the Hack and Yack series. I have been working on a study of adolescents’ digital reading habits with my colleague Dr. Kristen Turner from Fordham University, and they have collected nearly 1000 responses to a survey that asks teens to reflect on both what and how they read, in school and out. We are writing a book for NCTE as a follow-up to their policy research brief, “Reading Instruction for All Students.” Part of our work is to identify how to help students read. Equally important, for those of us interested in digital literacies, we are trying to identify when, where, and how students read, too.

We begin with the understanding that many teachers are, rightly, concerned about their students access outside of school to digital devices and the Internet. Thus, part of our work has been to confirm a great deal of the existing data about device ownership and access to the Internet as reported by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. And, we are finding very similar percentages in terms of the number of teens who have devices and access to the Internet from our rural, suburban, and urban samples of students. In short, most kids have devices and access. This is not to say we are completely over the hump of the digital divide, because we are not. Yet, knowing that well over half and upwards of 80% of our students are reading on digital devices, we really do need to start teaching reading and writing as if every student has a device in her pocket because, most likely, she does.

In particular, Turner and I have also been interested in how students are using these devices as readers. While some teens do report being distracted by digital media, just as many adults are, a number of them are also reporting strategic uses of smart phones and tablets as reading devices. Using a variety of techniques to select books, skim the news, and engage deeply in various forms of online reading, the teens are not, as some would argue, “too dumb for complex texts.” This, however, does not mean that we can’t teach are digital natives some new tricks. While many of them know about social networking and photo sharing, fewer of them know about tools like Feedly or Pocket. Thus, we are very interested in teaching them about how these tools can enrich their (digital) reading lives.

Over the next two weeks and four blog posts, I would like to share some of my current thinking about what it means to be a digital reader, and what implications that might carry for us, too, as digital writers. To begin, I would encourage you to review Avi Itzkovitch’s “Interactive eBook Apps: The Reinvention of Reading and Interactivity.” In this thorough post about different types of interactive ebooks, Itzkovitch describes three types including basic ebooks, which essentially mimic paper, enhanced e-books which may include multimedia components, and interactive ebooks which demand a level of participation from the user. I’ve also recently seen the terms “fixed format,” “enhanced,” and “flowable” used as terms to describe digital books, too. Here is a visual way of thinking about it that I have shared in some workshops.

eBook Comparison Graphic

Since so many people are talking about how e-books work, as well as how they work for us (or not) as readers, the next three posts will explore each of Itzkovitch’s categories in more detail, as well as provide examples. By mid-month, I will look at a variety of the basic e-book formats such as ePub and Kindle. Then, during the week of January 20, we will explore what happens when print is re-mediated in the digital environment, adding some measure of interactivity. Also that week, we will look at some multimedia publications and how they make different demands on the reader. Finally, toward the end of the month, I will wrap up the series in reply to any questions or comments as well as provide a list of various e-publishing resources.

As digital writers, we need to become increasingly aware of why and how our readers find our work, click on our links, examine our images, and then share what they have read. A few questions for you to consider (since this is meant to be a “yack” session, after all):

  • As a digital reader, how would you describe your experience with ebooks? Hypertexts? RSS feeds? Other forms of digital reading?

  • As a digital writer (and rhetorician), what are some of the considerations that you need to make for your audience? What are the affordances and constraints of various digital reading platforms (web-based, ebooks, tablet vs PC)?

I hope to shed some insights on this process over the next few weeks and look forward to the conversation with all of you.

Credits:


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Q/A from “Technology and Education” Session

Movement, Mobility, and Migration Conference Logo
Movement, Mobility, and Migration Conference

A number of undergraduate students presented today at Central Michigan University’s first annual conference on English studies, “Movement, Mobility, and Migration.”

One particular session at the end of the day had a great Q/A, and I tried to capture some notes here from the “Technology and Education” forum. A few of the ideas that we discussed included:

  • What constitutes a “text” in relation to multimodal hybrid texts (especially graphic novels), and especially when considering texts for middle and high school students?
  • How do we help students of this generation better understand the ways that language — and exploring language — can be a wonderful, validating experience? How can we use language as an opportunity for play? This led to a broader discussion about dialect, code-switching, and social power.
  • Finally, I asked them to answer by describing one loss and one opportunity with the shift to technology.
    • A shift to e-books, because I don’t like them. There is value in having an actual physical copy of the text for you to annotate.
    • We are using the written word to promote more more literacies, but text messaging can be impersonal and emotionless.
    • Thinking about the ways that literature is evolving, and to see these ideas incorporated is exciting. At the same time, we don’t want to lose focus on the classics in literature to enjoy the word usage and beautiful language.
    • Along with countless hours lost to fiddling with things that won’t work, we are also at risk of a reduced attention span. There is a great deal of overstimulation in all of this, and what is it doing to our brains.
    • There are many new ways to be creative, and it makes more critical and creative modes of expression possible.

It is interesting to hear that these undergrads, members of the “digital generation,” are still expressing many of the same ideas related to the possibilities and pitfalls of digital writing as their elder counterparts are. The best part of all is that we continue to keep asking good questions.

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Workshop on Historical Thinking and Argumentative Writing

As it always does, summer continues to slip by in a blurry mix of vacation days, professional development days, and some that are a little of both. Last week, we hosted our 2012 CRWP Open Institute, and the week before I partnered with another CMU professor, Tim Hall, to lead a three-day session connected with the Teaching American History Grant Year 4: America in Revolution and Conflict. Before the workshop becomes, well, history in my own memory, I wanted to recreate some of the planning that led up to the event, as well as my thinking over the three days as we co-facilitated the workshop.

As it always does, summer continues to slip by in a blurry mix of vacation days, professional development days, and some that are a little of both. Last week, we hosted our 2012 CRWP Open Institute, and the week before I partnered with another CMU professor, Tim Hall, to lead a three-day session connected with the Teaching American History Grant Year 4: America in Revolution and Conflict. Before the workshop becomes, well, history in my own memory, I wanted to recreate some of the planning that led up to the event, as well as my thinking over the three days as we co-facilitated the workshop.

Workshop Planning

When Tim and his ISD partner, Beckie Bush, contacted me about the possibility of co-facilitating the workshop, I was immediately interested given my obvious work with teaching writing in the broadest sense, as well as teaching writing in the disciplines. Together, we agreed that we would use two professional texts for the workshop, aimed at inspiring both historical thinking and a better understanding of argument writing.

Beckie and Tim asked me to bring a focus on argument writing, with the clear goal of integrating credible, web-based sources and, to the extent possible, digital writing with multimedia tools beyond slideware. When we first met, we immediately began constructing a working agenda via a wiki, and I knew that Zotero would be a key component of our teaching and learning. While somewhat fearful that the topic would be one that teachers would find mundane, Tim helped guide us through thinking about Truman’s decision to drop the bomb as a time-period appropriate dilemma that we could use to teach historical empathy and argumentative writing.
Thus, we decided on two main tasks for the teachers to complete over the three days by engaging in a digital writing workshop that would involve lots of research, collaboration, and development of both a written individual essay and a group multimedia presentation from one of three perspectives: Truman’s advisors who supported the bomb, those in his cabinet who were against it, and the scientific community. As Tim led the group through many exercises on historical thinking, DBQ (document-based questioning), and historical empathy, I took the lead on teaching the argument writing.

Day 1

During this day, my primary role was to begin a discussion about the similarities and differences between persuasion and argumentation. With resources from Smekens Education Solutions, and our crowdsourced Google Docs, we began thinking about the subtle differences that teachers will have to make as we move away from teaching “persuasion,” (with its strong reliance on rhetorical appeals and one-sided arguments) and “argument,” (which requires the writer to acknowledge both sides and use reason to support a claim).

Argumentation Persuasion
  • Opinion
  • Facts and Statistics (Both Sides)
  • Support
  • Position
  • Stance
  • Evidence
  • Interpret
  • Refute
  • Debate
  • Validity
  • Agreement/Disagreement
  • Persuade
  • Conflict
  • Details
  • Validate
  • Information
  • Balanced
  • Attitude
  • Acknowledgement
  • Grapple
  • Issue
  • Problem
  • Logic
  • Reasoning
  • #@!%*&? (Cursing or strong language to get a point across)
  • Position
  • Support
  • Emotion
  • Passion
  • One-Sided
  • Propaganda
  • Advertising
  • Facts and data
  • Spin
  • Influence
  • Appeal
  • Aggresive
  • Credible
  • #winning
  • LOCK
    • Loaded Words
    • Overstatements
    • Carefully Chosen Facts
    • Key Omissions

These will be big shifts in the years to come as we implement the CCSS, and I relied on a number of resources to guide us through our thinking about how to create an argumentative essay including Hillocks’ book, the NWP Writing Assignment Framework and Overview, the ReadWriteThink Persuasion Map, a small sample of They Say/I Say Templates, and the Purdue Online Writing Lab’s List of Transitional Words.

Also, on this first day, we talked about how the essay (written from your personal perspective in 2012) would differ from the group multimedia project, meant to be delivered as a factual report to a (fictitious) Congressional inquiry in 1950, built only from evidence available at that time, most of which came from the Truman Library. This was quite interesting, as it forced us to take two different approaches:

Individual Essay Group Mulitmedia Presentation
Mode Argumentative essay (reliant on logical reasoning and multiple forms of evidence from WWII-present) Persuasive presentation (reliant on logic, but also emotional appeals of the era; most evidence was textual, with some images and film footage)
Media Composed in Word or Google Docs, with use of Zotero Composed with a multimedia tool such as Prezi or Capzles
Audience Peers, teachers, general public (op-ed) Peers and teachers, set in roles at a fictitious Congressional Hearing in 1950
Purpose To create a coherent, sequenced argument for or against the dropping of the bomb based on its short and long-term consequences To create a well-reasoned, yet impassioned case for one of three positions about dropping the bomb
Situation Situated in the present, and with historical knowledge from dropping of the bomb, through Cold War, up to present Situated in the past, without knowledge of historical effects beyond 1950.Using the media of today to make a presentation for that era.

Day 2

Screenshot of "Think Aloud" for Argument EssayMy notes here on day two are brief because, for the most part, it was a work day. Lots of trouble-shooting with Zotero as people got their accounts synced up with the web plugin and standalone, connected to our group library, and worked on their multimedia presentations. There were many, many quick conversations with teachers about the affordances and constraints of the technologies — as well as many frustrations — but by the end of the day most of them felt pretty good about the work we were doing. Also, I worked with them to do a “think aloud” of my first draft of my attempt at the individual essay (look at revision history for Jun 20, 1:42 PM). This brought up interesting conversations about the trap of writing though a lens of “presentism,” the use of “I” in writing for history class, and how to best use the They Say/I Say templates and transition words as a way to get started (note the highlights).

Day 3

Screen Shot of "Final" Essay on TrumanMoving into the morning of day three, we talked about ways to effectively integrate peer response groups and did a “fishbowl” model with my essay. Again, this yielded some interesting results as this group of history teachers worked with me to think about what was valuable in terms of both historical thinking and the quality of writing.

We looked at an online rubric generator as a way to keep our conversation focused on assessment, and also discussed the “checklist” type of criteria (Five transitional words/phrases; Three “template” transitions from They Say/I Say) as compared to the parts of the essay that could be judged in a more evaluative sense:

  • State a clear claim and back it with appropriate evidence, from the WWII era through today
  • Develop three main talking points (diplomatic, social, military, political, economic), with two or three sub-points (specific example)
  • Identify and rebut at least two significant counter-arguments

In all of this, we talked about what counts as “evidence,” and many elements were listed including political cartoons, as this screen shot from my “final” essay shows. Also, we discussed the fact that we have to be open to sharing our rough draft thinking with students, even though (by nature) most teachers are perfectionists. One participant noted that if I, as an English professor, was willing to share my writing in this way and not just try to impress the crowd with an amazing essay on the first attempt, then they as middle and high school history teachers should be willing to do the same. I heartily agree.

Then, we moved into the last part of the workshop where groups presented their cases to the “Congressional Hearing.” We tried to complete a speaking and listening guide, as well as some work with Bernajean Porter’s Digitales Multimedia Evaluation Guides, but I have to say that we mostly just enjoyed the presentations. There were, of course, some creative dramatics involved, and here are a few of their results.

 

Reflections

Much of what I have to say about this entire workshop can be summarized in the simple, yet powerful mantra from NWP in that teachers must be writers. When I asked them at the end how they felt about the process, they wouldn’t want to do the group work and the individual essay at the same time. Many felt overloaded, both with tasks and technology. So, there is some tweaking to do. But, some of their final thoughts we captured in conversation were useful:

  • What else would you, as social studies teachers, be looking for in the writing?
    • Background information about the topic: era, people, place (set the stage)
      • Historical thinking gurus: one of the advantages of this approach as a process of thinking is that it gives students a chance to apply what they have learned and then they are able to do something with it
    • Defining key terms/vocabulary
    • Key/relevant statistics/data
    • Citations: analyzing primary and secondary sources
    • Gathering data from their classmates/community
    • Cause and effect, sequential, compare and contrast

And, with that, I will put this particular PD experience in my own history, at least for now, until I have another opportunity to do a workshop on argumentative writing, when all of this will come in quite handy.

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Mid-Summer Thoughts: Technology Use in Class

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


Colleagues,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Troy


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Do You Use 3×5 Cards? Rethinking the Research Process

This past weekend, our department chair received an email from a local high school English teacher who asked, in short, should they be teaching students how to do a “traditional” research paper — including the use of 3×5 note cards — because some of his colleagues are strong supporters of it and others consider it “archaic.”

He wanted to hear a response from a college professor about how best to prepare students for the kinds of research that they would be doing in composition courses that they would be taking after high school. Below, I have copied and pasted the response that I offered him via email. And, now I ask you… What do you think — is it time to move away from “traditional” research paper writing processes?


Hello ___,

Dr. ___ forwarded your question to a number of us in the English Department who are involved in teaching composition and English Education courses, and I offer you a reply based on my own professional opinions and, to the extent that I can, what I sense are the expectations of a typical college writing classroom.

Before I answer, I want to acknowledge the many tensions that are evident in the question that you ask — between the amount of skills you aim to teach students as they do research and the time you have to do it; between the “traditional” way of teaching and newer ways that have the potential to be both positive and possibly have unintended consequences; between what your community, students, and parents might expect an English teacher to know and be able to do and what you personally and what your entire department may think might be better for students.

Moreover, I am not sure of the context in which you ask it; are you someone who thinks this process is archaic, or are you someone who finds this method valuable?

Thus, I tread carefully when I answer this, noting this complicated context. But, you asked for comments and criticisms, so I will share them. I also invite you to write back, so we can continue this conversation.

So, at risk of sounding rude, my short answer is yes, the process of using 3×5 cards is archaic.

Here is the longer answer that looks at pedagogy, genres in writing, and technologies available for digital writing.

First, pedagogy. The established practice (as I remember it from my own K-12 schooling) of choosing a research topic, gathering info on note cards, creating an outline, and then writing a final paper is, as we all know, formulaic. The writing process is never this clear and, while we do need to guide students in the process, we also need to encourage them to engage in topics in a variety of ways. Along with thinking about models such as Macrorie’s I-Search paper or Romano’s multigenre research paper, I also encourage you to have students do research like real scholars, journalists, and writers do — by talking with people and engaging in multiple forms of media, all the while documenting their research process including the questions that they have, the stumbling blocks they encounter, and the “a-ha” moments they discover. By limiting our students’ experiences simply to taking notes from existing sources, we are not really teaching them how to be active and engaged researchers and writers. We need to open up the research process to them.

Second, genres. As mentioned above with Romano’s multigenre research, the idea of having students write on a single topic through different perspectives and multiple genres is one that has taken hold in the past decade or so, and is evident in a variety of curriculum documents (such as Michigan’s HSCEs) and professional statements (such as Writing Now from NCTE). Having students produce a traditional academic research paper is still a valuable skill, and one that they will need in college. Yet, to limit their writing about that particular topic to creating only a research paper very much limits their engagement with the topic and the ways in which they represent their thinking. To that end, we need to have them write in unfamiliar genres (See Fleischer and Andrew-Vaughan) and share their writing with other audiences besides us as their teachers. We need to make their research process more purposeful by inviting them to write about it for a variety of purposes.

Third, technology. This is a personal and professional interest of mine, so I will go into a bit more detail here. I want to note the concerns that many teachers have about the uses of technology, especially the internet, including their own inexperience and the capability that it can provide for students to plagiarize. These are real concerns, and I am not trying to down play them here. Instead, what I believe is that any teacher, with good professional development and collegial support, can learn how to teach with technology and avoid many of the pitfalls that they think it will cause. In other words, just because students might be tempted to plagiarize because of the technology, we shouldn’t give up on it before we even try.

With that in mind, there are at least two technologies that I think are useful for students as they begin to document their research process and create their bibliographies, both of which are free and students can use at home, school, or other places that they can access the internet. The first is Google Docs (http://docs.google.com) and, in particular, the web-based word processor that they can use to create documents and collaborate with one another. Using this online word processor, students can begin to create an annotated bibliography — either all in one document, or with each annotation in a separate document. They can invite you, as their teacher, or other students in as collaborators on the document, thus sharing their research process with you and their peers along the way. Moreover, students can be taught how to write summaries and gather quotes in these Google Docs, and then they can use these summaries and quotes in their own writing about the research by simply copying and pasting. You can find out more about Google Docs through this PDF from Educause and video from the Common Craft show.

The second process can be accomplished in a variety of forms, but would be either to use a social bookmarking site such as delicious.com or a bibliography management tool such as Zotero, a free plug-in for the Firefox Web browser (zotero.org). Like Google Docs, you can find out more about these from Educause (Zotero and social bookmarking) and videos (Common Craft on Social Bookmarking and the video on the Zotero homepage). Both tools are useful in different ways, and students could use both. If you had to choose one only though for the process of writing the research paper, I would strongly encourage you to explore uses of Zotero. I have taught my students in both intermediate composition and a senior seminar about Zotero, and all of them have found it useful for organizing their research as they go (including tracking bibliographic info as well as keeping notes, quotes, and summaries), creating annotated bibliographies and, ultimately, helping them be more effective researchers.

With these technologies, among a number of others such as wikis and social networks, I feel that students can become more active researchers. While these tools are meant to meet the same goals as 3×5 cards — trying to help writers organize their ideas and prepare to write a research paper — as you begin to use them and teach your students to use them, I think that the ways in which these technologies can enhance the research process and contribute to students’ growth as writers quite powerful. Moreover, there is the fact that we are being asked to teach our students digital literacies such as these based on the requirements of the HSCEs and suggestions of our professional organizations.

All that said, yes, there are there still professors who teach — and demand — a traditional research paper, including 3×5 cards. Yet, it is clear that there are more shifts in our field related to our pedagogical approach, the genres we ask students to write in, and the ways in which technology is influencing that process. I hope that my response here helps encourage you and your colleagues to think about the ways that you might engage students as readers, writers, and researchers.

Finally, if you would like any help with this through professional development services, I would be happy to talk with you more about this, and what we can offer you through our site of the National Writing Project, the Chippewa River Writing Project. I know that there are teachers in the Waverly district who have attended MSU’s site, the Red Cedar Writing Project, so you also have some people “in house” who might be able to help you rethink the research paper process.

Please let me know if you have any additional questions and I look forward to hearing your response.

Troy



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