My New Metaphor: Being the (Hyper)Link

Image from Oregon Writing Project Facebook PageYesterday, I was fortunate enough to lead a workshop for teacher consultants at the Oregon Writing Project at SOU. Fall in Oregon is beautiful, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to be here.

Like all the workshops I do, it was a unique experience in the sense that I begin with some idea of a plan and, as I interact with the teachers, I make moves from one topic and activity to the next based on their needs and interests. I’ve used this model for nearly all of the workshops that I have done in the past ten years. Call it flexibility, call it intuition. I am not sure. I just can’t plan out, minute-by-minute, a workshop that will be “delivered” to an unwitting audience. I want to be a professor who teaches, not just one who professes.

At any rate, their site director, Margaret Perrow, and I had time to talk on Thursday night, and I had shared my strategy for leading workshops. We talked about flexibility, especially as it relates to using digital tools. She then told me how each teacher in their summer institute will often choose a guiding metaphor to describe themselves, and how they will carry their metaphor throughout the SI and into their writing.

Her metaphor, for me, became “the hyperlink.”

In all the best ways, that gave me pause to think. And I kept thinking about it all day yesterday and into this morning.

Unlike many workshops that I do, this one (on the west coast) didn’t require me to rush off yesterday afternoon to catch a plane (because the flights home didn’t go that late!), so I was able to stay another day. I’ve had some time to think, and I have continued to ponder this guiding metaphor over the past 24 hours.

Immediately, I thought of Bud Hunt’s “Teaching Blogging Not Blogs,” which has been a seminal piece in my thinking about what it means to teach and learn digital writing, and I am spending my few minutes at the airport to reread his work and think about it even more.

Despite Bud’s concern that he is aging (hey, aren’t we all), I think that his post has, indeed, aged well. Written in 2010 as a summary of ideas about blogging (and hyperlinking) from 2005 forward, here are some of the relevant quotes for me as I reflect on what occurred in yesterday’s workshop and, metaphorically, think of myself as the hyperlink.

Blogging is that set of skills that he [Will Richardson] talks about. It’s the reason why I want the students that I work with to use blogs — in the end. But I don’t think that many of them will start with that skill.

Bud’s point here — that students need to experience how we, as writers, use blogs — resonates with the broader philosophy of the National Writing Project: teachers must be writers themselves. In this case, he is talking about how teachers can be digital writers and think about using links in strategic ways. In turn, when I lead a workshop, I want teachers to see me model the kinds of teaching that I want them to do. Without being trite, I want to be the change in the world (of teaching with digital writing tools). When teachers can see a model for digital writing and learning in my workshops, my hope is that they, like students, will begin to build their own skills. Linking requires us to stretch in these new directions.

Digital texts have the potential to make a big, juicy mess of a linear experience. Or to turn a so-so piece of writing into a masterful collection of references, linktributions, and pointers to other good stuff. My hunch, a rough one, but one I’ve held for a while, is that reading and writing that way makes you (ultimately) a better reader and writer. I just don’t really think I know how to teach that way yet, or at least, I don’t know how to teach other people to think about teaching that way.

This is a quote that I’ve cited before, and I agree with Bud’s hunch. Reading and writing (in a digital space) has the potential to make you a better reader and writer overall. As the news media and some sensationalist scholars would have us believe, it has the potential to make things (much) worse, too. I suppose that the jury is still out on that.

Anyway, during my workshops, I am usually faced with a question. Many versions of the question abound, but one teacher I worked with yesterday asked it pretty bluntly: why should we be asking our students to do this (digital reading and writing) work?

I am not entirely sure how I answered: modeling and mentoring are important, it’s the world in which we live, it’s part of the standards and digital literacies. Something along those lines.

But, at the core, I want teachers and students to be smarter, more productive readers and writers. Being the hyperlink — connecting them to new visions for teaching practice — is, indeed, what I hope I am doing.

Blogging as experimenting. Want us to try out a tool or a lesson or an activity? Post it here along with some instructions and, perhaps, a question or two to guide our exploration/experimentation.

Experimenting is risky, and doing so in front of an audience is even more so. I want the teachers with whom I work to experience risk by trying out new tools and practices, so I need to risk, too. Without a doubt, there will be a link that doesn’t work, a question I can’t answer, or a tool that won’t load on someone’s machine. That is risky, and it causes many teachers to feel (at least) a small degree of panic. I want to model for them how I handle that stress, how I problem solve, how I adapt and move on. Hyperlinks take us from one place to the next. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

But, you have to keep clicking, keep linking.

Again, being the metaphorical hyperlink is something that I can aspire to. Thank you to Margaret for the metaphor, to Bud for your reflections, and to the entire NWP network for continued opportunities that amaze and enlighten me.


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Tech Risks and Rewards During a Closing Keynote

Photo by Breana Yaklin @BreanaYaklin
Photo by Breana Yaklin @BreanaYaklin

Yesterday, I was invited to deliver the closing keynote for CMU’s Great Lakes Conference on Teaching and Learning. It was the 9th annual event and, oddly enough, also the end of my ninth academic year here at CMU… and I had never attended before. So, it was a great combination of a familiar audience filled with many colleagues from CMU and other institutions in Michigan while, at the same time, a new venue for me to present because most of my work with higher ed colleagues comes in the form of smaller workshops, not keynote addresses.

Moreover, I was trying to summarize and synthesize ideas from as many of the other conference sessions as possible building on the theme of Engaging All Learners in Today’s “Classroom,” with the scare quotes intentionally placed around that word. Knowing that the classroom — even in fairly traditional, face-to-face settings — involves so much more than just the time you have with students at one moment, in one setting, I wanted to show how a variety of technologies could be used to enhance literacy instruction. So, before the presentation even began, there was a handout on their tables explaining a bit about what we would be doing.

Thus, I built my presentation using Nearpod, and had hoped that my 100+ colleagues would all be able to use it. This was a risk for me, being generally new to Nearpod and having never used it in a keynote. So, as I launched in, the technology gremlins took over. In that moment, I quickly found out that my “gold” account status only allowed 50 participants. It was a technical limitation that I hadn’t even thought about before hand, but certainly should have given similar limitations with other tools like Poll Everywhere.

Still, we were able to soldier on — and I had prepared for some technical difficulties by providing short link URLs to different online activities such as a discussion using Padlet for a visual literacy exercise and a critical thinking activity with Google Docs. I also paused periodically throughout the presentation to remind my colleagues that these technologies can provide us and our students with unique opportunities for sharing and collaborating, but ink and paper can also work just fine as we work to build their skills with disciplinary literacies.

On the whole, I felt as if the audience gave off a good vibe and — despite some technical difficulties — the combination of literacy-based activities with relatively easy-to-use technologies worked well. My fear was that it would be too much, too overwhelming. And, while I could see and hear that concern from some audience members, it seemed as though many people were able to participate. One person commented on the fact that it was good I had the shortened URLs available as a backup.

So, I will continue to take risks with technology. Given that there were many of my CMU colleagues in the audience, I wanted them to see that even the tech experts sometimes try and fail, and then try again. Also, with many of our DET students there, I wanted them to know that I was practicing what I had been teaching all semester long in EDU 807, making an attempt to model creative technology use with practical, pedagogical skills. I am glad that I took the risk, and I hope that the audience felt the same.


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Remembering reThinking Literacy

Rethinking Literacy LogoA week ago, I was traveling abroad as a keynote speaker and workshop leader for the reThinking Literacy conference in Singapore.

I wrote this post on the plane on the way home, but it has taken me nearly a week to get it posted to my blog. Sorry for the delay!


As part of the closing keynote panel conversation, I was able to share some thoughts about digital reading and writing, as well as the opportunities for integrating these skills and approaches in schools.

While I don’t usually get nervous when speaking in front of groups, there is something about the idea of speaking off-the-cuff that sometimes makes me overthink my responses. Given that it is now about 24 hours later, and I am composing the main part of this on the plane (and I can’t review the Twitter stream), I am sure that I will forget a few things. Still, there were a few questions that were asked which bear repeating — with my clearer, more complete and not entirely overthought answers.

What is one major takeaway from the conference?

I was so very impressed in all of my conversations with teachers — as well as from listening to the keynotes from my colleagues Lotta Larson and Kristin Ziemke — that the ideas of purpose, deliberation, and intention permeated every session of the conference. There were many new websites (Smithsonian’s Tween Tribune as a source for good informational text; Confer as an app for, well, conferring), yet the overarching idea kept coming back to intention.

These teachers and (digital) literacy coaches are well beyond the wow factor with technology (and many of them are a few years in to 1:1 initiatives), and it was wonderful to push my own thinking about how we can teach students who have more and more basic tech competencies to, in turn, grow through more meaningful literacy experiences. This summary from Paul Turner captures it well:

Troy’s response reiterated a message that was clear across the conference, which is that educators need to focus on intention and purpose when making decisions about their courses. There is no single app or platform that is going to deliver it all, and anything we integrate or adapt must be for the benefit of the learning environment that we work in. This seems like just plain common sense for any educator, but it was refreshing to hear something that was not, “Do this now! Adapt or die! These are the latest tools that must be integrated otherwise your students will never succeed in the world of the future!” Yes, there is no doubt that educators must keep learning and adapting, but isn’t that what any good educator does anyway?

Also, I noted that when I tell teachers in the US that their students could have a global audience, I can actually name other teachers around the world really do want to connect their students, too.

How do we teach this way in an assessment-driven culture?

In short, I believe that we need to own digital literacy learning as its own incredibly valuable and highly practical set of skills and dispositions. I don’t think that we need to make excuses for teaching digital reading and writing any more, don’t need to follow it up with some causal, statistical method of measurement that points to test scores. The idea of students sharing their voice, participating in a broader community, and understanding deeper purposes and processes for composing and comprehending digital texts all added up to show that we do, indeed, have good reason to teach digital literacies.

And, finally, if there is no other reason, I was able to point to the Common Core Standards and the idea that students should “produce and publish writing” using the internet. If nothing else, teachers can make a reasonable and accurate claim that teaching digital literacy is, indeed, a part of the standards they are supposed to bring into their classrooms.

Not being tied by one tool

Finally, there was a question about the use of too many tools, or a limited number of specific tools, or something to that effect. I know that I prefaced my response by saying something like “No offense to the vendors in the room…” which drew (what I perceived) to be an audible gasp for fear of what I might say. However, I think that I was politically correct, and I hope that my answer was reasonable.

In short, I suggested that teachers not be tied to just one tool, to think instead about the myriad possibilities that various tools (and combinations of tools) could offer. I encouraged them not to be tied to just one LMS or a few apps and, to the extent possible, to allow their students some freedom and flexibility when choosing tools for different projects.

I say all of this because, no matter how useful and flexible any one tool is, the fact of the matter is that many of us get tied to a tool because we like it (or it is convenient, or we already have all of our data in it, or any number of other reasons). We really do need to push ourselves, and our students, to move beyond the standbys and engage with new apps, websites, and software packages from time to time.

Conclusions

As is always the case, an experience like this leaves me with more questions than answers. We were asked to predict some ed tech trends (which I am sure that I no good at as a pundit), talk about our own paths into education (which I enjoyed recalling), and even who would want to take a selfie with (dead or alive). I had to answer first, so I know that I went with an obvious one: Abraham Lincoln. Too bad, one person replied, that Lincoln never smiled, because that would rule him out of selfies.

I thank the conference organizers as well as the many teachers with whom I shared conversation, meals, and workshop ideas.

Image from @LottaLarson2
Image from @LottaLarson2

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More Updates from AILA: Notes Visual Literacy and the Digital Workplace

Here are some notes from the first keynote was from Wibke Weber, in her talk about “Fusing words and images — new forms of public storytelling.”

  • In recent years, the rise of multimedia creates a complex milieu of words and images; they must be seen as equal partners in meaning making
  • Data visualizations
    • In the past few years, these have found a home in “data journalism” — a hybrid form using images, words, and numbers to create a new cohesive form
    • For a long time, images were viewed as the “little sister” of language and the fact that images could represent ideas was largely ignored
    • However, we know that visuals have more than an illustrative function — they can help narrate and make arguments
    • The semiotic system of language appears in the form of headlines, articles, captions, but numbers and maps show visual orientation and analysis
    • With the continuing forms of data visualizations, there are many new ways to represent ideas
    • The strength of data visualizations is that they provide evidence; they explain something visible that is difficult to understand in text alone (if designed well)
    • On the other hand, visual evidence can appear misleading and can look “objective,” but this is illusive. Even though they are based on numbers and texts, they are always the artifacts of an artist and/or design team. They are open to critique of color, font, shape, and more.
    • This means that we need to look at the data source, how it was collected, how it was visualized, and more. Words tell, but pictures show. So the main function of data visualization is to show, to tell a story.
  • How do images tell stories?
    • A data visualization must have a beginning, middle, and end
    • Famous graphic from Charles Joseph Minard that depicts the devastating losses in Napoleon’s army on their march to Moscow
  • Comics
    • The use of the comic medium to cover events, even in journalism, is at an all time high. For instance, they are being used in the Guardian and NYTimes.
    • Comic journalism is not about funny pictures, it means that you are pulling on the news and using journalistic techniques and ethics
    • Like narrative journalism, comic journalism covers the public story behind the private one
    • They can represent a variety of ideas and events, for instance this one about Ebola
    • The challenge for comic journalism is that, because comics are generally seen as fiction, people may struggle to see comic journalism as “true” and authentic
    • Journalists must use verbal and visual clues to share the fact that they are a part of the work (e.g., having a picture of the journalist in the comic, or by having a historical photograph of a person with their comic representation)
    • Colors, tone, light, shape, handwriting or print — all of these devices are ways that comics can be read for authenticity. Speech bubbles versus text boxes, too. The stylistic elements corroborate the authenticity of the comic.
    • It must be clear that the journalists are telling the truth, not a fictional story. This becomes even more important when illustrating breaking news and when using virtual reality.
    • What are the authentication strategies that we can use?
  • Research/dissertation drawn as a graphic novel
    • Nick Sousanis’s “Unflattening”
    • We are often unable to see past the boundaries of our current frame of mind — we need to bring the visual into academic discourse. It allows us to step outside of our own system and to see work in relation.

She has shared a great list of resources for infographics, and I thank her for allowing me to post them here:

Tools: 

Blogs and Tutorials:

Finally, Daniel Perrin shared his thoughts on “Investigating intercultural communication in the digital workplace”

  • AL Research Frameworks
    • Beginning with a “newspaper extinction timeline” from futureexploration.net
    • How do we begin to investigate solutions in this field
    • Combining many frameworks
      • Ethnography, grounded theory, Realist-social theory, Transdiciplinary action research, Dynamic systems theory
      • Connecting to real life problems
      • Change and stability
      • Agency and structure
      • Practitioners and researchers bring in their knowledge as experts
      • Collaborate and learn from one another
      • Learn and adjust goals, methods, and findings
      • To produce new, emergent, situated knowledge
      • Focusing on what works, for whom, under which circumstances
      • Not about the grand theory, but what works in certain contexts
  • The Idee Suisse Research Project
    • Focusing on SRG public broadcasting which is caught between a public mandate and private forces while being asked to stimulate public discourse
  • Macro level findings
    • In the program mandate, SRG is supposed to promote understanding, cohesion, and exchange across the various publics
    • Intercultural communication is a part of the media company’s mandate, but they don’t have the right tools and knowledge to bring together contradictory expectations of public discourse and compete against private, entertainment programs
    • Managers talk the talk, but do not walk the walk in propositional reconstruction — “public service media are not the institutions to solve social problems.”
  • Knowledge transformation from the ground floor — it doesn’t come from management, it comes from those who are doing the work
    • Understand the macro results
    • Take a closer look at experienced practice
    • Discover emergent practices and “third ways” out of critical situations
    • Deriving and telling the good practice story
    • Formulating guidelines for knowledge transformation measures
  • Data collection and analysis
    • What are the distinctions between what happens in the newsroom, in the conferences, and what appears on screen — recording the data during the course of a year
    • This is the “mother of spyware” that we installed — so we had to plan for ethical and practical aspects, also just having people know what we were doing and why
    • How do we do all of this in a theoretically and methodologically sound manner?
  • Conclusion: from tacit to explicit
    • We had to look at the hypocrisy framework — the organization is exposed to contradictory expectations. They must response to the conflicts in order to survive.
    • We also looked at the tacit knowledge frame — looking at how individual, experienced journalists filled in the slots left open by management. They develop strategies to meet organizational and public needs.
  • Looking at a specific case
    • Thinking about the writing situation, activity, and the strategies/practices
    • A particular journalist was highly experienced and was allowed to do “forbidden things” such as closing a story with a quote. He was a counter-conventional person and had the skills to be able to pull this off.
    • He would write the text after composing the video with the editor.
    • He would also write the introduction for the anchor woman himself; this is uncommon, because the journalist normally writes the story and the anchor writes her own introduction
    • Normally, the anchor’s introduction is about selling the news piece. But, for this journalist, it is really important that the anchor provides context for the piece. He knows how to tell about complex things in a simple manner.
    • The journalist goes through a very linear writing process for the anchor’s part of the story. His own writing process is a bit more recursive, but he is able to get the info for the anchor created in a very linear manner.
  • In a more abstract format… writing strategies in a propositional format
    • To distinguish between the two stories (background and current)
    • To tell the recent story in the news text because it fits the recent pictures
    • To tell the background story because not all the audience is up-to-date
    • To tell the background story in the anchor text because there are no pictures
    • In short, there was a high degree of intercultural communication between the journalist and the anchor (different professional cultures within the organizations)
  • What are the strategies that the journalist uses across the writing process?
    • Goal setting
    • Planning
    • Controlling
    • Revising
    • Defining the task
    • Implementing the product
    • Reading sources
    • Reading the text so-far
    • Handling writing tools
    • Handling task environment
    • Handling social environment
    • Establishing relevance for the audience
    • Finding the sources
    • Holding space and time restrictions
    • Limiting the topic
    • Staging the story
    • Taking own position
    • Revisions
  • This differs from the traditional Flower and Hayes model, where a student is given a task that they are supposed to do for school
    • But, in real life, writing requires goal setting well before planning
  • The “good practice” story
    • Whereas critical situations denote exemplary constellations of circumstances which could lead to failure, good practice stands for potential success for everyone involved in creating the story.
    • Production conflicts force an emerging solution
    • Orientation to uptake to complicating action to resolution to coda
  • “what works for whom in what circumstances” (Pawson and Tilley, 1997)
  • Research-based guidelines for knowledge transformation measures
    • Fostering conditions as drivers of emergence
    • Ensure experience in teams
    • Facilitate negotiation
    • Promote variation
    • Reflect routes and develop repertoires
    • Expose to the unexpected — and remain open to it
  • Conclusion
    • Applied linguistics research shows and fosters intercultural communication on three levels
      • between societal groups of a multicultural society
      • between professional cultures within the broadcast company
      • between practitioners and researchers in trasndisciplinary collaboration
    • Linguists can identify, analyze, and solve problems related to real-life issues

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Updates from AILA Junior Researchers Meeting

This week, I have had the good fortune of presenting a keynote at the 7th Junior Researchers Meeting in Applied Linguistics, sponsored by the International Association of Applied Linguistics. I focused my keynote yesterday on both the work that I have done with my NWP colleagues to produce Assessing Students’ Digital Writing, as well as my own career trajectory as a teacher and researcher.

It has been wonderful to interact with various researchers throughout the rest of the morning, most of whom are finishing their PhDs or beginning their careers in Europe. As I listened to the variety of topics they are studying and questions that they are pursuing, I was pleased to see so many of them employing theoretical frameworks that address new literacies and methods that employ new technologies such as analysis of digitally-mediated communication — including words in English and other languages, as well as the new universal language of emojis — as well as screencasting as a tool for capturing, and then replaying and analyzing, the writing process.

Dr. Gitsaki's latest book: Recipes for the Wireless Classroom – Mobile Learning Activities
Dr. Gitsaki’s latest book: Recipes for the Wireless Classroom – Mobile Learning Activities

This morning, I was able to enjoy a keynote from Christina Gitsaki, from the Center for Educational Innovation, Zayed University, Higher Education, UAE. The focus of her presentation was on an iPad initiative that she supervised over the course of 18 months at numerous universities across the UAE. The major takeaway from her talk is one that I think we continue to grapple with throughout the world as we employ new technologies — how can we invite teachers to engage in meaningful professional development so their instructional methods change in substantive ways? That is, rather than simply introducing the iPads into the classroom and asking students to do something on screen as compared to doing it on paper, how can we instead engage them in a task that they would not otherwise be able to do without the technology? Needless to say, she shared a fast-paced talk, and here are some quick notes from her presentation.

  • MALL – Mobile-Assisted Language Learning
  • Looking at the explosion of mobile learning in 2005-201 with new technologies such as MP3s, PDAs, mobile (and then smart) phones, tablets, and laptops. This led to ubiquity, but then in 2010 the iPad brought about a revolution.
  • The UAE education system has a bilingual language policy, and students learn English for an average of 3-6 hours per week. All the courses in bachelor’s degree programs are taught in English, and about 20% of high school graduates are eligible for these programs right at graduation. The other 80% enter “foundational” courses to gain more English proficiency.
  • Gitsaki was in charge, as an associate dean, in implementing the iPad initiative. This involved 17 colleges, 22,000 students and the demand was for an entirely paperless classroom.
    • To assess this program, she conducted a variety of formative applied research methods including surveys, observations, and classroom assessment data.
  • Teachers reported that they gained confidence in using the iPads in the classrooms, managing their lessons, taking care of technical issues, and preparing materials.
    • However, they remained concerned that the iPads were really helping their students gain proficiency in English. Unfortunately, most teachers were only using the iPads for vocabulary lessons.
  • Students generally reported positive results with using the iPad, including a great deal of use in the classroom. Most of them do feel that the iPad is helping them learn more with English. In short, there is a very different picture from the students and the teachers, but this is all self reported data. Students were also using their iPads for other tasks, such as blogging.
    • So, she tried to correlate what the students said that they were doing with what the end-of-semester assessments showed, too. Students who performed at least three types of activities on the iPad in class and outside of class, did show some impact on their test scores.
  • Critical issues that we learned from the study:
    • Pedagogy — technology was dictating what the teachers were doing in the classroom, needed to help them use a “technology-enhanced,” not “technology-driven” method
      • Also, needed to teach teachers how to use the iPad in an EFL context. We need to discover and understand best practices for teaching and learning English.
    • Teaching materials — the materials created by textbook publishers were simply PDF copies; interactivity was very difficult because of having to use different annotation tools on the iPad
      • We also requested that the teachers to create their own resources, but we never really taught them how to do this; we had no expertise in teaching teachers how to create these resources
    • Assessment — current practices for evaluating the impact of tech in education needs to broaden; this does not fully measure the extent of the skills that students are learning
      • We need to find new ways to identify and measure the skills and knowledge that students are gaining from mobile tech
      • For instance, looking at a platform like Knewton for learning analytics
  • So, where does this take us as we look at mobile devices in the classroom?
    • Need a longitudinal research agenda
    • Need to rethink teaching tasks
    • Need to reconsider what it means to read and write in digital spaces
    • Need to understand how mutlti-tasking and environmental distractions can affect learning
  • Intro to the Center for Educational Innovation
    • Invitation to come to the center as a visiting researcher — travel to the UAE!

There are more sessions today and tomorrow, and I hope to find time to blog about them as well. For the moment, Gitsaki’s work remind me that we need to continue our efforts at teaching teachers how to employ digital tools and spaces in smart, critical, and creative ways. This is a challenge that I can relate to and — as is evidenced by the many other young researchers here at this conference — one that we will continue to face, and embrace, for years to come.


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Make Write Repeat: Free Webinar on March 30

Join me on Monday, March 30 at 5:00 EST!

In partnership with Chris Lehman, Laura Fleming, and their colleagues at the Educator Collaborative, I will be presenting a webinar this coming Monday, March 30, at 5:00 PM EST. You can participate in the live stream of the keynote for free by registering here.

Also, as it happens, I will adapt this keynote into an Ignite! style talk this coming Friday during Colby Sharp‘s “Pure Michigan: An Evening Celebrating Michigan Educators” at the Michigan Reading Association Conference. Condensing a full presentation into 5 minutes will be a bit of a challenge, but I am sure it can be done!

For resources that I plan to share, please visit my wiki.


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Social Media, Educational Research, and “Keeping It Real”

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Join the KQED #TeachDoNow MOOC this summer!

This summer, I’m participating in KQED’s #TeachDoNow MOOC, though I am just a little bit behind the game. I finally caught up on the week one webcast, and I have been checking out the discussion board on Google+.  Later this summer, the week of August 11, I will cohost a webcast on the idea of “How do you manage learners, tasks, resources, and assessment in a connected learning environment?” There are many things happening in many places with this MOOC, and I am really intrigued how they are using Tagboard as a hub for collecting resources.

So much to think about! This, of course, is both the opportunity and a challenge of social media use in education. For the moment, however, I want to focus on the question of the week: What is the value of social media for your professional learning?

Of all the possible answers to this question that I might consider — such as finding resources that I can use in courses and workshops for preservice and in-service teachers, delving more deeply into the lesson ideas and unit plans of networked colleagues, or simply keeping my finger on the pulse of conversations around education — the biggest value for me, as an educational researcher and teacher educator, is simply making connections with K-12 colleagues.

There are many examples that I could cite, but I will share one that happened just this week. On Wednesday, I was presenting a session about growing your PLN at the Michigan Reading Association‘s summer literacy conference. In my session, one of the participants was an NWP teacher consultant from the Lake Michigan Writing Project, Erica Beaton, whom I hadn’t had a chance to meet in person, though we were connected on Twitter. She acted as a guide and mentor to others in my session as they were learning to use Twitter. I, in turn, then made the choice to attend her session on “creating hype for reading,” and posted numerous resources.

At the end of the session we were talking about possibilities for engaging readers with e-books. Though we only have a few moments, it turned into a lively conversation and Erica offered me an invitation to visit her classroom next school year. What had begun as a collegial, though semi-anonymous relationship on Twitter before the conference quickly blossomed into a new professional connection and, ultimately, will probably result in me visiting her classroom and — who knows? — perhaps even writing an article together or co-facilitating a conference presentation.

This is but one example of how social media contributes to my professional learning, specifically as an educational researcher and teacher educator. I am talking with teachers all the time, and many times those conversations begin on social media and result in sharing coffee or a meal together. As one Michigan colleague, Todd Bloch, recently reminded me, our K-12 colleagues rarely, if ever, actually see university researchers and teacher educators engaged in real conversations with teachers, visiting classrooms and attending the conference sessions. This continues to exacerbate the “ivory tower” divide between educational research and classroom practice, and he was appreciative of the fact that I present at conferences, visit classrooms, write with teachers, and participate in social media.

All of this is to say that social media — to use the popular phrase — “keeps it real” for me as a professor with deep roots in the K-12 classroom. Social media participation is a must for all educators, especially those of us who do educational research and are preparing the next generation of teachers. To do less is a disservice to the educators that we serve and to our own sense of what it means to be a professional.


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