Closing 2010: Summarizing Our Reports from Cyberspace

For two years in a row, Sara Kajder, Bud Hunt, and I have presented Three Reports from Cyberspace. We plan to submit for NCTE 2011, so with any luck we will get to work together again and share in a wonderful conversation before, during, and after the conference. For the moment, I want to focus on that “after” part from this year’s conversation, one that began first in an open Google Doc that generated some initial conversation, led to a Google Moderator forum that we used on the day of the presentation, and now takes us back to the wiki for planning next year’s session. Bud has been posting some videos from our Orlando engagement, the first featuring Sara talking about assessment, and promises more to come.

So, on new year’s eve, I take my time to pause and look back at what we said, what our colleagues said, and what my agenda needs to be for 2011. To begin, a few quotes from that open Google Doc, loosely organized into the categories we discussed at NCTE — teaching, infrastructure, and assessment:


  • Suddenly, though, for the first time, I really worry about approaching the point where the state of the equipment gets in the way of the learning. I’m not there yet. I can just see some inklings of this problem on the horizon, and the fact is: my school doesn’t  have a lot of money to spend on equipment. ~ Kevin Hodgson, William E. Norris Elementary School, MA
  • The great thing is that my district purchased interactive white boards for each teacher in my school, a new computer lab for my school, and netbooks for each kid in 5th-8th grade in the district. They have also installed wi-fi in each building in the district. The not-so-great thing is that none of these things are functional. It is mid-November. The kids haven’t seen the netbooks, the white boards are not yet interactive, and the computer lab tables are empty. ~ Angela Knight
  • The subject of all things tech at my school is a sore one. We have 3 computer labs (2 of which are used for classes) and a mobile lab. Our free lab and library computers are pathetically slow. (We’re talking computers with places for the square 3×5 disks.) The mobile lab is better, but they’re not maintained as well as they need to be so many of our lap tops aren’t functional. ~ April Estep
  • My report from cyberspace is bleak. Two years ago I had a Writing lab to use with my students on a daily basis. Students could research on the internet, compose papers at the keyboard and do various online activities I selected for them to do. Today I need to share that same lab, so my 140 students need to share with 280 others. ~ Joanne Wisniewski
  • I’m at a 1:1 tablet school, so access is excellent. We’re in our second year of all the Middle School kids having their own blogs. Teacher comfort level with them is increasing, and while the new sixth graders take a bit of time to acclimate, they’re pretty much good to go by the second trimester. I occasionally feel guilty that we’re not doing more, pushing harder, since we’ve got the technology available. The good thing is that the tech feels like who we are at this point, so we’re not just pulling out shiny things. ~ Meredith Stewart, Cary Academy
  • In my local district, many teachers and parents are feeling upset because, in the same year, (a) the district had parents buy school supplies like paper, crayons, etc. instead of the school providing it all, (b) the district put iPads in all the 1st grade classrooms.  Not from the same pot of money, but there’s a general feeling that if strapped for cash you should buy paper and crayons first, then iPads. ~ Anne Whitney
  • I use lots of technology in my classroom, and my kids also use technology frequently.  One of the biggest obstacles to participating in authentic tech use in the classroom are the barriers erected by the district to protect students.  Bandwidth is a huge issue, with our upgrade, and the entire system going to a universal login (any building, you can access your documents).  This sounds like a good idea, but has slowed things down too much. ~ Freyja Bergthorson


  • (With an iPad initiative starting next year)… “This will be incredible for kids, but will take a lot of energy. Will I be able to keep up? I’ve never felt this unconfident before.” ~ Sandy Hayes, Becker Middle School, MN
  • First step: learning about the existing knowledge, skills and attitudes that support or inhibit people’s interest in exploring digital media tools for composition. Second step: creating simple collaborative on-ramp activities that help teachers experience success quickly to build confidence. Third step: introducing key concepts that help them connect mass media, popular culture and digital technology to their existing instructional priorities. Eventually, teachers will design, implement and assess their own projects which will be shared online. ~ Renee Hobbs, Temple University, Philadelphia
  • I got a Smart Board and LCD projector installed this year, so I’m enjoying that – but I don’t feel like I’m using the Smart Board as much as I should be. How are English teachers using Smart Boards in an interactive way? ~ Jennifer Sekella
  • For schools with International Baccalaureate programs, in the US and around the world, cyberspace is the most powerful and compelling place ever for their students. They are in the process of activating the largest social learning network in the world, with privacy and safety features and multiple security levels.


  • I am scared that very few teachers that I know really use technology. This is just not good for students! We are all so obsessed with raising test scores, there is no demand at all. Tech is used for Read 180, SRI tests, but not for exploring, researching, creating. That’s a problem. ~ Teresa Ilgunas, Lennox Middle School, CA

And, some active verbs that we generated from the session at NCTE that indicate thoughts about what we can do in our classrooms, schools, districts, and communities:

  • Risk
  • Share
  • Advocate
  • Push
  • Model
  • Motivate
  • Try
  • Fail
  • Do
  • Fail better
  • Fail big, fail better
  • Play
  • Experience
  • Have fun
  • Implement
  • Change
  • Experiment
  • Question authority
  • Engage
  • Revisit
  • Reflect
  • Revise
  • Think
  • Entice
  • Archive
  • Yodel
  • Produce
  • Synthesize
  • Craft
  • Scrap
  • Celebrate
  • Learn
  • Seduce
  • Use what we have
  • Dump the “buts”

So, where does this leave me at in my thinking about our state of “educational cyberspace” this year?

First, I would suggest that we are at the “tipping point” for mobile/1:1 computing and, as educators, we should advocate for nothing less in our classrooms, especially given the web-based tools that we can ask students to use, from office suites to photo, audio, and video editing. Given the reports from above, and what I know about the digital divide that still exists in our schools and communities, I know that there are no silver bullets. Yet, the fact that mobile devices now cost about the same, or less, than textbooks and that we can ask students to live an academic life fully online, there really are no excuses for not moving in this direction. This will take a great deal of work in teacher education and professional development, no doubt, but the fact is that we should start with the assumption that students could and should have 1:1 access, and begin to teach teachers how to work that way.

Second, in terms of where I am going in my own thinking and work for the new year, I want to make sure that we continue talking about digital writing, not just tools. I am thinking about this in all of my presentations and teaching, making conversations about writing as explicit as possible, even when we are caught up in learning the tools. For instance, I will often pause and ask teachers to think about the actions they have performed when they have engaged in a task like composing a writer’s profile or collaborating on Google Docs. We talk about the writing process, the 21st century literacies they used, the common core standards that the task addresses. We need to continue to make the conversations about teaching and learning, no matter how the devices change.

Finally, I hope to continue this conversation with all of you this year, beginning next Monday night, January 3rd, on #engchat. The topic, “What’s happening in your digital writing workshop?” will, I hope, give us a chance to talk about the many examples of good work that teachers and students are engaged in. As we prepare for the conversation, I offer one last report from cyberspace this year… this one from Joel Malley, an NWP teacher, that he created as a part of his testimonial to Congress last fall. I hope that his video offers us some points to consider as we think about the obstacles and opportunities that face us in cyberspace in 2011. I recognize that we aren’t all able to teach in situations similar to Malley’s, but I do think that his take on teaching writing in a digital make for good points to consider as we continue the conversation.

Writing in the Digital Age from Joel Malley on Vimeo.

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Preparing for NWP/NCTE 2010

Photo courtesy of NCTE

Well, the week is here.

So, now that it is Monday of my biggest and busiest professional week of the year, I need to hit full stride.

NCTE and NWP 2010. Hooray!

NWP AM  2010
Image courtesy of NWP

Although I tell myself each year that I’ll cut back, do a little bit less, and just enjoyed my time at the convention, it seems a year after year I find more and more things to do. This year is no exception, and in reality I’m thankful for the many opportunities that these two organizations continue to offer me each fall as I network with my colleagues, present new ideas, and grow as a professional. In some ways it’s fitting that this happens right before Thanksgiving, because it does make me thankful for all the people with whom I am going to interact with in the next few days (although I will say that I’m usually exhausted by the end of it all!). So, as I am preparing for multiple sessions, I want to share some of my thinking, as well as the details on when and where I’ll be, during these busy days coming up.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Upon arriving in Orlando on Wednesday night, there really won’t be any time from the moment we get on board the Disney Express until we crash at our hotel. That means a bright start on Thursday morning as Sara and I make our way from the Yacht and Beach Club over to the Contemporary Resort for the NWP annual meeting. Right away, at 9:30 AM, I’m presenting with one of our CRWP co-directors Kathy Kurtze and two other NWP colleagues in a session called “Reading in the Summer Institute.” Goals for the session include inviting people into our thinking process about how, when, and why we choose particular texts, inviting participants to share their own texts that they use in the Summer Institute, and thinking more broadly about how we can respond to texts through a variety of professional types of writing and with various technologies. As with every NWP session that I have been a part of over the past seven years, this one provides new opportunities to think about what it means to teach teachers, and I’m excited to work with Rick, Ann, and Kathy to lead this session. In particular, I am really interested in hearing how other sites are engaging teachers and reading responses through the use of technologies such as digital stories, podcasts, discussion forums, and other types of read/write Web. After the session, we will ask people to contribute to a collaborative Google Doc where they can share their reading lists with one another. I look forward to seeing what will be happening with NWP’s new social network as well as the Digital Is collection of web-based resources.

After my morning session with NWP, I will have a little bit of time to hang out and talk with some other colleagues there. Before too long though, I’ll have to make my way back over to the Coronado, as Sara Kajder, Bud Hunt, and I are on tap to repeat our session from last year’s annual convention, Three Reports from Cyberspace. During the session last year, Sara was, unfortunately unable to join us. That said, her spirit still infused the interactive, multi-layered discussion while Bud and I led the room of about 200 teachers, as well as some online colleagues who couldn’t be at the convention. When are asked to present the session again, we jumped at the chance, and we think that there will be a whole new series of opportunities to open up conversations about how on why to use technology in our classrooms. In particular, Bud is going to talk about infrastructure, Sara is going to talk about assessment, and I’m going to talk about pedagogy. At that point, we’ll open up the floor as we did last year questions, comments, links, and insights from the audience. What we hope to do this year, even more so than what we did last, will be to continue the dialogue. We all began by collaboratively composing a welcome letter in a Google document, which we then each posted to our blog, the presentation wiki page, and the NCTE connected community. While many conference presentations comes and go, we hope to inspire an actual dialogue where our colleagues able to share their reports from cyberspace, and we might find stories, examples, and other types of data that will support the argument that digital learning matters.

Once we finish with the cyberspace reports, we will immediately run down the hall in the Coronado and present at NCTE’s middle level get-together. Sara will lead the way on this session, followed with lots of tech support and ideas from Bud and me. This is a wonderful honor for me, since being asked to be a featured speaker at NCTE is something that, quite honestly, I never really imagined. I remember attending my first and NCTE conference in Detroit in 1997, and I saw many of the people that I’ve been reading in my undergraduate methods courses, hearing about from other colleagues, and wondering if they were, in fact, real people. As an undergraduate, this experience opened my eyes, and now I know that those who are featured speakers at the NCTE annual convention really set the tone, pace, the conversations for our entire organization. So, working together to deliver the cyberspace reports and then moving to the middle level get-together is a wonderful opportunity for Sara, Bud, and I to set our own ideas in NCTE’s broader conversations related to literacy. One of the things that we want to make clear is that we are not using technology for technology’s sake, and that we want NCTE to continue taking a leadership role in promoting digital literacies in curriculum and instruction practices, as well as in decision-making about school infrastructure and assessment.

That rounds out a busy Thursday or sessions, followed that evening by a gathering of my CRWP colleagues to celebrate the second year of our writing project’s work and the fact that we are bringing ten site leaders to this year’s annual meeting. I look forward to hearing from them about their experiences at the annual meeting, many of them attending for the first time.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday morning brings us to my favorite part of the NWP annual meeting, the General Session, where the Executive Director  speaks, as well as the keynote speaker, other site directors, NWP teacher consultants, and various guests. It is, by far, one of the most exciting moments of the entire trip every year. We are bringing 10 CRWP teacher consultants with us this year, and I look forward to being at the session with them. Energy, excitement, enthusiasm that this two hour meeting generates propels the writing project forward through the doldrums of winter and into our planning for spring and summer months. So, needless to say, it’s something that I want to attend. Also because the rest of my time on Friday will find me at NCTE, it might be one of the few opportunities I have really connect with NWP colleagues, unless I can make it back for a tweet up later on.

Also on Friday, NCTE will be premiering its 100th anniversary film “Reading the Past, Writing the Future.” Two years ago was fortunate enough to be invited by John Golden to be interviewed for this film while in San Antonio. At the time, I was still working on my book, and didn’t really know what would be happening with my career in digital writing. Two books, a new writing project, three NCTE webinars, and too many PD sessions to count later, I’m kind of curious to see what I sounded like two years ago, and whether or not the things I said I’ll been reported in San Antonio still ring true. I’m told that they do, from those who have reviewed of the film, and I’m still honored to be a part of the many among many distinguished voices that will be heard in celebration of NCTE’s past, present, and future. One of the things that I enjoy most about NCTE is the fact that, as colleagues, I do feel comfortable roaming the hallways of the convention center, easily talking with my mentors and peers as well as those who are just now entering the profession. This dialogue that happens across generations of teachers happens in few other places, and I really enjoy the opportunity to be a part of it, and I hope that this film contributes to NCTE’s rich history and exciting future.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The NCTE adventure continues on Saturday, first with a “tech to go” session on writing with wikis, and then participating in the Google monsters session with Bill Bass, Andrea Zellner, Tara Seale, and Sara Beauchamp-Hicks.

Photo courtesy of Bud Hunt

First, Tech to Go. Sara Kajder has, over the past three years, invited a number of teachers to participate in NCTE’s just-in-time, nearly one-to-one personal development experience teaching English for technology: “Tech to Go.” While topics vary from video production, blogging, collaborative wordprocessing, using apps for the iPhone, the Tech to Go sessions have become a destination for many the past few years. In the three sessions that I have led, I’ve enjoyed the intimate conversations with colleagues, all who are able to ask genuine questions about why and how they might use particular technologies in their teaching. Moreover, I appreciate the opportunity to be standing there with the computer and be able to put their hands on the mouse and keyboard, rather than standing on the front of the giant lecture hall, unable to have an interaction, perhaps teaching them just one small thing that they can take back to their classrooms.  While we know that seeing these tools in action in front of a large audience is sometimes inspiring, I also know that many teachers benefit from the one-to-one support types of sessions offered. So I’m looking forward to being a part of to go again this year.

The other component of that day is the Google Monster presentation. Last year, Jeff Golub invited Sara, Bud, and I to do the reports fromcyberspace session. Attendees in that session included Bill Bass, Tara Seale, Andrea Zellner, and Sara Beauchamp-Hicks. We wondered if there was a way to do something with all of these teachers were already trained as Google certified teachers similar to the reports from cyberspace session. I suggested that we extend his reports from cyberspace model to a Google monster session, and they snapped up the opportunity and submited a proposal. So, here we are with kind of a cyberspace reports, part two, but Google style. Although my role in this session is technically listed as responder, I’m actually going to act as more of a moderator of as Bill, Andrea, Sara, and Tara offer their insights about how they use Google tools to solve their daily tasks and problems as educators. Like the cyberspace report session, this should be interactive and invite comments questions and interaction from the audience. It will be lightning fast, so there’ll be resources posted online for later. All in all, very excited about the opportunity to watch Sara present to a large audience, see her enthusiasm for teacher education and technology shine through along with Bill, Andrea, and Tara.

Saturday afternoon and Sunday bring a little bit of a break this year, at least in the sense that while we are wishing many of our colleagues safe travel home, we will have a little bit of downtime where we are actually able to attend some sessions and connect with other colleagues. Again, this is one of the most exciting parts about being at the convention. These sessions are always useful, as the one session that I went to last year on fair use has completely changed my thinking on why and how to invite students to use copyrighted materials and creating digital media. It’s amazing to think that one hour-long session really fundamentally change the way I go about teaching and writing. But this session has, and I’m thankful for opportunities such as this during the annual convention. What I normally say to myself when I jump on the plane is that if I can come back with one good, solid, thoughtful idea that I can integrate into my own teaching and writing, then I’ll be all that much better for. A usually come back with much more, but it’s my goal to seek out that one nugget, that one session that I know will provide me with some answers and movie forward to next year. I look forward to finding that session sometime on Saturday or Sunday.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Just as many people are heading home from the convention, I’m still warming up. On Monday I’ll actually be a part of two different workshops. First, I will be a part of the ACE workshop, hosted by Ewa McGrail, and presenting on the topic of using Zotero and and RSS for researching. I really do want to hone this presentation, and think more carefully about how I can talk to teachers in a future book, article, and/or presentation about fundamentally rethinking what it means to teach argumentative and informational writing at the secondary level. This stems in part from a blog post I wrote last year about rethinking the research process. Given the requirements of the common core standards, not to mention standardized assessments by which we are measured, and our students are measured, I really do want teachers to think more critically and carefully about how digital writing tools such as a bibliography manager, an RSS reader, social bookmarking, and any number of other interactive, web-based digital writing tools may help students become more active, engaged, and the research process. Also, given the many commercially licensed products that are out there nowadays, I want teachers to see that they really can organize their research process with free web-based and open source tools. So, I look forward to constructing a hour-long workshop and getting feedback from peers.

Later in the morning, I leave ACE and  head over to the CEE colloquium: “Multicultural, Multiliterate: Writing the World.”  Kristen Turner and Jonathan Bush invited me to be a featured speaker during this year’s session, sponsored by the commission on writing teacher education. They wanted to focus on the multigenre approaches as well as multimodal technologies. Featuring, Tom Romano and Christina Ortmeier-Hooper in the morning, I’m fortunate enough to be speaking about multimodal composition in the late morning. One of the unique challenges of presenting at the NCTE annual convention this year will be the fact that there is limited or no wifi connectivity, and this day is no exception. For many years now, there are a number of us who have lamented the fact that these conventions do not have free, open, and adequate wifi access. If we really wanted to our colleagues to move forward with digital writing, this is an absolute essential. At any rate, that means that my session will focus on mobile learning, and that is a cool new area for me to explore and present on.

That said, the goal for the afternoon will be to move to EPCOT center to both capture and critique the ways in which we see cultures presented there. So, a large degree what we’ll be doing later in the day will involve mobile devices, so that’s where I’m focusing my attention during my presentation. I want to get people thinking about how and why they might choose audio recordings, video recordings, snapshots, twitter messages, and other forms of digital writing that can happen on their mobile devices and across networked spaces in order to both capture their reflections in the moment and prepare to make a digital composition later on. I will probably invite them to use Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and Cinch. Other tools are, of course, welcome! One of the goals that they have for the moment in terms of simply capturing digital assets is that they can go back to their computer later create into a digital story, wiki, or other type of digital writing media. We want people to be comfortable using their mobile devices to stay connected both with their small groups, across the entire CEE group, and in preparation for preparing pieces of multi-genre pieces of digital writing. We are following up this colloquium with the webinar December, the time and date still yet to be set, as an opportunity to read/view/listen to one another’s texts and respond to them.

Since we will be in EPCOT Center Monday afternoon, my hope is that Sara and I will be able to enjoy one last dinner alone, or perhaps with a small group of colleagues, before we hit the road on Tuesday. She will be heading back to the UP while I stay in Florida to visit with my dad. This is one of the bittersweet parts about  NCTE; once you convene with all your friends and colleagues for many days, everyone heads home for Thanksgiving, exhausted, yet refreshed at the same time. I get tired just looking at my schedule is coming week, yet at the same time I am genuinely excited about the opportunities that continue to be presented to me. My hope is that my message across all the sessions remains consistent: if we engage students as writers, and we offer writing tasks and technologies that are both timely and useful, we as teachers will be able to open up our pedagogy, expect more from them as writers, and begin to see their worlds and different ways.

I look forward to continuing conversations with many of you face-to-face next week in Orlando.

Travel safe, my friends.

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Reports from Cyberspace – An Invitation

Last year at NCTE, we began a conversation, Three Reports from Cyberspace. We thank Jeff Golub and Jim Strickland for organizing the session, and Helen Wierenga for being our responder. And, we thank all of you, because what happened during the session was, quite simply, amazing.  

Bud, Troy, and the entire audience were engaged in a continual conversation that moved from notes appearing on the screen, to questions from the audience, back to one of one of them answering on stage, and out to the wider world through Twitter and Etherpad. Sara’s thinking was with us in the room, even though she wasn’t physically present.  Over the course of the hour, we shared a number of examples from our own teaching and research that helped illuminate issues related to filtering, curriculum, assessment, and teaching in digital spaces. We were, in short, completely engaged in the conversation, in “multitasking” at its best. And that brings us to where we are now, preparing to offer more reports from cyberspace.

So, why write about that here, three weeks from the next session/conversation?

We do so as an invitation.  

A conference session is a waypoint, a time and place to check in on where we’ve been, but more important, where we’re going.  So before we get to that waypoint, let’s take a moment to share our own reports from cyberspace as a way of starting this conversation.  Here is a link to an open Google Doc where we’ve left space for you to jot some thoughts as we move into our time together.  If you can join us for the session at NCTE, great.  But if not, and you’d still like to report or check in, feel free to do so.  

Here are some prompts that will take us into our session.  Help yourself to whichever one(s) will be the most useful in your thinking and reporting:

  • What’s the state of your educational cyberspace at this moment in November 2010?  What’s good?  What’s scary?  What’s working?  What’s not?  
  • What needs doing?  Fixing?  Raising up?  
  • Where are you focusing your attention?  
  • Where are we going with all of this Internet stuff?  What’s new?  What’s good?  
  • Finally, what do you hope to leave our session with?  What’s next?  So what?

Please take a few minutes and share your reports from cyberspace. We suspect you have something to teach us, and we’re ready to learn.

If the reporting ends at the session, then we’ve failed. Conferences are notorious spaces, in that we all get together and get excited, but then the momentum seems to die. Help us figure out where to go and what to do next. In a time of increased standards and assessments, when everyone is an expert on matters of teaching and learning, and reading and writing, we need to tell our stories. It’s never been more important to be thoughtful out loud.

Troy Hicks, Bud Hunt, and Sara Kajder

PS – If you can’t make the session, but will be at NCTE, you’ll have another chance to join us immediately after this session at the Middle Level Get Together.  We’d love to see you, and hear your report(s), wherever you’ll choose to join us.