By all measures, I am fortunate to work with so many incredible colleagues from the world of education, both K-12 and higher ed. Many times those collaborations happen in just a few hours, or a few says, and they then disappear.
Troy Hicks—a leader in the teaching of digital writing—collaborates with seven National Writing Project teacher-consultants to provide a protocol for assessing students’ digital writing. This collection highlights six case studies centered on evidence the authors have uncovered through teacher inquiry and structured conversations about students’ digital writing. Beginning with a digital writing sample, each teacher offers an analysis of a student’s work and a reflection on how collaborative assessment affected his or her teaching. Because the authors include teachers from kindergarten to college, this book provides opportunities for vertical discussions of digital writing development, as well as grade-level conversations about high-quality digital writing. The collection also includes an introduction and conclusion, written by Hicks, that provides context for the inquiry group’s work and recommendations for assessment of digital writing.
Moreover, each of the book’s chapters include online resources available at NWP’s Digital Is website. One note here is a huge shoutout to my friend and NWP colleague Christina Cantrill who has made the companion site on Digital Is a possibility. There are six different pieces in the collection, including:
My sincere hope is that the student work shared in this collection and online will spark dialogue amongst teachers about when, why, and how they can and should integrate digital writing into their classrooms. If you have questions, please let me know.
As anyone who has followed my blog probably knows, there are no ads. No banners. No AdSense. No clickbait.
I don’t accept advertising nor do I often pass along information from others. Sadly, as Dan Meyer explained many years ago, many people make many dollars from those clicks, and I think that educators and parents want a website they can trust. So, I don’t do sponsored posts or the like.
Every once in awhile, however, something comes along that I think is legit: the people running it are working to support teachers and students, they engage in genuine education reform or improvement, and/or the message resonates loudly enough that –even if they take ad money or are directly selling a product — I am willing to share their wares.
As it happens, this past week, three sites came my way that fit this “every once in awhile” phenomenon. I will share a bit about each here:
First, I was contacted by Herrie Coralde at BestSchools.com about the possibility of sharing information for students about, as you might guess, the best schools that offer online degree programs. Many sites, like the ones Dan mentioned in his blog post, create these guides or portals with the intent that someone will click from them to the online program and they get a kickback.
Not so with Best Schools. As they note on their About page, they exist for two reasons:
The first reason is simple: there are too many online programs out there. It’s impossible to keep track of the industry’s growth. And if you turn to Google for help, you’ll see a glut of for-profit schools. It’s hard to know what’s legit and what’s not.
The second reason is more complicated, and it’s the reason why we started BestSchools.com. The existing ranking systems aren’t anywhere close to perfect. They look at metrics like graduation rates and extrapolate them into a ranking. While graduation rates can be a telltale sign of a high quality school, metrics like that don’t tell the whole story.
Moreover, they offer many articles that tell this broader story about online education such as Kristen Hicks’ (no relation) “For-Profit Colleges: What Every Student Should Know.” After providing a list of pros and cons for these types of schools, she advises the reader:
In short, if for-profit colleges continue down the path they’re on now, they may not have much of a future. But if they evolve to better meet the needs of current students and appease the governmental powers currently challenging them, they may just weather all the current storms…
Do your research. Don’t just listen to what a representative from a college has to say, get online and see what else you can find about the school you’re interested in.
Overall, I appreciate the way that BestSchools does their research and presents their findings. For instance, and not just because they pick my employer, CMU, as #1 in the state, they provide an overview of the state’s programs and then dig in to the top 10.
Overall, BestSchools.com appears to be legit and I appreciate having a balanced, research-based team looking at the many options available for online learning. So, finding two in one week was quite interesting, as I will share next.
The second query I received came from Lauren Ford at Online Masters Program. Again, I did some looking around on their site, and found their About page compelling, too. Given my criteria for such sites, listed above, I noticed two things about their page work:
Are you affiliated with the programs featured?
OMP.org is an independently run site. We are not affiliated with any master’s degree programs or schools. None of our links to particular programs or schools are sponsored. These programs were chosen because we regard them as some of the most reputable graduate schools.
How do you make money?
All money made through our site is done so via 3rd party advertisers and affiliates. All ads found on this site, be they banners or forms, are labeled as such. The material we produce ourselves and the tools we offer are all ad-free and 100% free to access. We will never require visitors of our site to use or endorse advertised or affiliated content.
So, fair enough. They are clear about their advertising policy, and I appreciate it. More importantly, they provide a good deal of information for each program, as evidenced here by this entry for CMU’s masters in education.
The site includes public, private non-profit, and private for profit listings and the reviews are written, like BestSchools.com in a balanced, research-based way. Their data comes from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, U.S. Department of Education and the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
Again, this makes for a very thorough and useful site as someone begins to review online programs. Of course, there are other ways for teachers to get online, too, and this third resource shows how.
I began blogging in 2009 – and since then I’ve managed over 20 blogs, some with 200,000 visitors. I started getting tons of questions about blogging from people all over the world, so I thought it’d be a great idea to pack all that information onto one site where I could share it with everyone.
In doing so, he has created a robust website with a clear approach, a clean design, and usable tips. For instance, the screenshot below shows step two in his step-by-step guide. You can see the clear advice, the helpful links, and (just barely at the bottom) a helpful graphic. Most of the resource pages on his site are designed like this.
He is also very clear about how he earns money from his affiliate marketing program, but that is not the heart of his work. He adds “Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I want to make money from you. It’s mostly to keep my site up and running so I could provide you with the latest blogging tutorials, guides and strategies in the blogging niche.”
Overall, Mike’s work is smart, concise, and useful. Probably his most relevant page for educators is “Blogging in the Classroom,” followed closely by his “What is a Blog?” resource. In particular, I could see using that document as a great way to talk about audiences, purposes, and genres for blogging, not just for using blogs (ala Bud Hunt).
So, there you have it. Three coincidentally timed contacts in the past week, all of which have led to useful resources that I may have not otherwise considered. Please let me know if you check these resources out and what you think by leaving a comment below or following up with me on Twitter.
Today, I enjoyed a conversation with a number of colleagues about the “The Digital Influence on Looking Closely at Student Work.” Definitely worth a listen, and be prepared to write down lots of ideas about how to engage deeply with students’ work as a tool for assessment and professional development.
Andrew Sliwinski – Co-Founder of DIY.org; designer and engineer focused on improving how we play and learn
Kylie Peppler – Assistant Professor in the Learning Sciences Program at Indiana University; Director at Creativity Labs
Tina Blythe – Co-author of “Looking Together at Student Work”; Learning Group Leader at Project Zero
Though I first met Meenoo Rami before a National Writing Project retreat in January 2011, it was over that long weekend that my wife, Sara, and I were able to talk with her about a new venture she was beginning, #engchat. I was intrigued by her idea that a weekly chat could be something interesting and useful for English teachers, many of whom were still brand new to Twitter. I knew right away that this would be the first of many conversations with Meenoo, and the past three years have proved me right. Since that conversation, I have hosted #engchat a few times myself, and given it a shoutout at many professional conferences. So, last fall when Meenoo asked me to “blurb” her upcoming book, Thrive, and I gladly obliged. Here is what I’ve already said:
“Meenoo Rami has written the right book at the right time. In an era of corporate education reform, Thrive reminds us of how we, as teachers, need human interaction, intellectual fulfillment, and empathy just as much as our students. Rami encourages us to move beyond the mechanical acts of scripted schooling and mandatory professional development, offering us numerous ways to pursue our own passions and bring them to the classroom. She notes that “the rewards of this work will be paid with your students’ success and engagement.” Filled with practical suggestions, stories from fellow educators, and smart questions, Thrive will reward you as a reader, too.”
—Troy Hicks, author of Crafting Digital Writing
And, now, I want to add one more thing.
I recently asked Meenoo to share her thoughts on this question: “As a digital writer yourself, most notably through your blog and via Twitter, what specific lessons have you learned about digital writing that transfer back to your own students as you teach them how to be better writers?” Her thoughts, as always, demonstrate her compassion and dedication to her students:
There are several things I have learned that have helped me to become a better teacher of writing by actually doing some writing of my own:
Overcoming fear: Whether you share your work with one other person, keep a public blog, or never go beyond writing in a journal, I have come to appreciate how difficult it can be for students to share their work. I am even more committed to building a safe space for writers in my classroom after going through an intense writing period in my life where I worried about doing my best to articulate the ideas that meant so much to me.
Building trust: I think it is so important for me to earn my students trust so that they can share their struggles and fears when it comes to writing. I think I can also earn their trust by being more open about own writing process with them. Writing in front of my students, as I have learned to do so from Kelly Gallagher has fundamentally changed my classroom. I think when my students see me grapple with things in my own writing, they tend to trust me more when I give feedback.
Information vs. Stories: There is no dearth of information in our age today, however, I think we need to think about helping students shape stories out that abundance of information. We readily buy into the idea of the power stories in shaping us, I think we need than take the next step and help our students shape powerful stories based on their experiences and inquiries.
So, if it isn’t clear yet, I would strongly encourage you to get Thrive. In interest of full disclosure, I am a Heinemann author, too, and received a digital pre-print version of the book in order to write the review. Still, I am going to be happy to buy my own copy, and share with my colleagues this summer as well. I hope you do, too.
Tomorrow (well, technically today by the time I am done writing this) is the second annual Digital Learning Day.
Cool. I’m all for digital learning, as the title of my blog implies.
But, as we prepare for the onslaught of tweets, blog posts, videos, webinars, and other celebrations, it is worth exploring the definition of “digital learning” that the group is promoting, as well as the background of the Alliance for Excellent Education’s president, Bob Wise. Understanding a little more about each of these components for the day should, I hope, give you a better understand of why it is happening.
First, the definition, straight from their website:
Digital learning is any instructional practice that is effectively using technology to strengthen the student learning experience. Digital learning encompasses a wide spectrum of tools and practices, including online and formative assessments, increased focus and quality of teaching resources, reevaluating the use of time, online content and courses, applications of technology in classrooms and school buildings, adaptive software for students with special needs, learning platforms, participation in professional communities of practice, access to high-level and challenging content and instruction, and many other advancements technology provides to teaching and learning.
In this sense, I read the definition of “digital learning” to mean content that can be delivered to students at a low-cost and, presumably, without certified teachers in place to facilitate their learning. Or, as Michigan Governor Rick Snyder calls it, “Any Time, Any Place, Any Way Any Pace.” The fact that teaching is only mentioned twice (one of those times as an adjective) and “teacher” is never mentioned should be of concern.
Also, there are number of buzzwords and phrases in this definition that should raise the eyebrows of anyone who follows educational reforms efforts. Phrases like “online and formative assessments” is certainly a nod to the impending PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments, which will be relying on computer scoring of writing, rather than informed, teacher-led assessments. The phrase “learning platforms” also barely hides a thinly disguised approach to curriculum delivery that is, at best, a type of self-paced credit recovery option coming in the form of programs like e2020 and Read 180. Finally, the euphemism “communities of practice” is code for teacher groups that are formed under the guise of choice and interest, but usually are created to fulfill a school’s need for performance to meet AYP goals, not genuine inquiry through teacher research.
All of this hubbub about DLDay thus raised major concerns for me — as a teacher, teacher educator, author, consultant, and parent. As I look towards tomorrow and the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of educators that will participate in Digital Learning Day, I wonder what we are truly celebrating?
Real, authentic learning?
Contrast that paragraph full of edu-jargon quoted above and compare it with what happens when authentic assessment, student centered technology interfaces, and teacher driven inquiry guide digital learning that happens in places and spaces like NWP’s Digital Is and the DML Hub, through conferences like EdCamp and EduCon, or other affinity groups that coalesce through twitter or other social networks like Connected Learning. There is great digital learning going on out there, but not necessarily in the spaces or formats that DLDay actively promotes through their corporate partnerships and special interests.
So, what do you plan to do as you celebrate Digital Learning Day this year?
While I certainly encourage everyone to participate, I also strongly suggest that you think about the message you are sending in relation to digital learning: who has power and agency? Who has access? Who is accountable, and for what reasons? Are we talking about students, teachers, and parents working toward a common goal of universal literacy and civic engagement?
Or, is this just another corporate effort at “reforming” education into another line in their profit ledger?
However you celebrate DLDay, you have the power to show what digital learning is and can be, not just what corporations and politicians tell us it should be.
Use your power — and hashtags — wisely over the next 23 hours.
Update on February 7, 2013: Minor editing/typo changes.
Yesterday, I had the good fortune to talk with Steve Hargadon on his Future of Education webinar series. Details of the show, including access to the MP3 version and Elluminate sesssion archive are available with those links, and also are on his blog. It was a wonderful and far-ranging conversation about the importance and effects of digital writing and social media on our culture, as well as the state of writing instruction and teacher professional development in our schools. Many NWP colleagues joined in the backchannel conversation, including Christina Cantrill who kept a steady stream of resources from the Digital Is site flowing into the conversation.
There is so much to think about and reflect on from the conversation. As many others have noted, Steve is a well-prepared, thoughtful, and entertaining interviewer. He kept asking me great questions and was very attentive to trends and ideas raised in the backchannel. This kept the conversation moving along, and I found myself trying to limit my responses to two minutes or so (although I am not entirely sure how well I did that!). Of the many questions that I tried to field during the show and answer while talking, there were a number of other ideas that popped up, and I wanted to look at some of them here.
The first key idea was one of our main principles from NWP, just with a slight addendum. Steve Taffee stated that “It’s difficult for teachers to advocate for digital writing if they are not practitioners themselves.” Indeed. The trick, then, is how to invite our colleagues into discussions and opportunities to do digital writing which led to a humorous comment from Lisa Cooley who asked, “I wonder if Troy knows what Douglas Adams had to say about technology and age. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.” Sadly, I haven’t read any of the Hitchhiker’s series, or any of his other work. This gives me new inspiration to check them out.
The second major idea that surfaced was first mentioned by Adam:
In Because Digital Writing Matters, there’s a phrase that keeps resonating for me. It’s one Tim Wright said about digital writing being collaborative, yes, but also “real time, improvisatory writing…” This resonates because it breaks down a traditional notion that writing has to be “final draft talk” and writing can be “exploratory talk.” In the way this Elluminate Level is allowing us to do now…I’d like to hear more about this notion of digital writing as improv.
He elaborates a bit more:
Having to jump in and learn to use a wiki or Google Docs, if someone has never done that before, in a way forces them to improvise…For me, great digital writing occurs when I am in over my head and I have to figure out creative ways to make new things happen…
Digital writing as improv.
I like that.
That’s a unique take on the old idea of “writing as discovery” or “writing to discover.” It brings new meaning to the aphorism, “How do I know what I think until I see what I am going to say ?” (or something to that effect). Also, I like it because it reminds us that the tools for digital writing — computers, mobile phones, cameras, recorders — are all open to interpretation and revision. There are opportunities to capture, recapture, and rearrange words, images, sounds. Digital writing is like improv, and we only get good at improv when we play.
In that same vein, a second key idea about what counts as digital writing came up. Richard Close asked “Is creating your own YouTube digital writing? Or sending a pic with a text digital writing?” Yes, indeed, it is, although I want to clarify that a bit. We can teach students how improv with both creativity, and responsibility. Simply recording something on your cell phone and posting it to YouTube without thinking about how, why, when, or by whom your video could be viewed or repurposed is not, in my eyes, a responsible way to think of yourself as a digital writer. Just because you can post something doesn’t mean that you should (think of all the scandal that has happened just this week about indiscretions via Twitter). We want to teach students to be intentional, to frame their thinking and the composition process in light of purpose, audience, and situation. So, if they are going to use an image or video clip and share it through a text or social network then, yes, they are writing, and they need to take responsibility for themselves and their products, for better or for worse.
Third, a bit later, Peggy George notes “does digital writing change the notion that writing isn’t “finished” until it’s the final, published version? seems like it’s much more about writing as communicating and growth–not necessarily final products.” Again, a good point. I think that is one of hallmarks of all writing, at least all authentic writing, is that it is never done, just due. The digital nature of texts and wiki-fication of the writing process now allows us to think about writing going through many stages, many revisions, and many audiences. Also, I think it is important to understand the idea that when we make a multimedia piece, all the elements fit together in just such a manner, and any change to part of the composition will change the the other elements. And, once something is publicly available online, it becomes open to public comment, criticism, and repurposing. So, digital writing is very much work in progress, even when we think it is done.
Finally, I end with two quick questions that came up:
First, Jeff Mason asked “Are there models of Writing Workshop in content classes? ..as opposed to LA classes.” I am sure that there are, and one is in the Annenberg Series, “Developing Writers: A Workshop for High School Teachers.” Check out episode 3, “Different Audiences,” at about 44 minutes into the show; there you will see an example of a writer’s workshop happening in a science classroom. And, as Christina pointed out, “There are some beautiful visions of a digital writing workshop here created by Joel Malley and his students in western NY, http://digitalis.nwp.org/resource/1133”
Second, Steve Taffee asked “Troy – What thoughts do might you have about alternative input devices for writing, for example speech to text?” I am all for them. As Ira Socol points out, text-to-speech software is useful both for special education students in their writing, as well as for anyone else who wants to learn how to use it so that they can hear their own writing in a different voice. Moreover, I personally have started using speech-to-text software to compose some of my own writing. Writing and speaking are, at least from my non-linguistically trained perspective, very different processes, so using speech-to-text to write things like emails generally works well, although not so well for composing longer pieces like this blog post or academic papers.
So, those are some thoughts and reflections from the show. Going back to review the transcript has been useful for me as I prepare to teach for MSU’s Ed Tech program this summer in France. The interview with Steve provided me a chance to collect my thoughts as I work on a few articles and a book proposal, too. I will go back and give myself a listen at some point soon, but first I need to catch up on Renee Hobbs’ talk with NWP on BlogTalk Radio and brush up on my French, so I will have to save my own recording for the plane. Au revoir!
This morning, I was invited by Franki Sibberson to record a podcast for Choice Literacy, thinking broadly about the changes in technology and writing instruction over the past few years as well as the teaching approach that I outline in The Digital Writing Workshop. Here are the questions that she sent me ahead of time, with some brief answers that guided our conversation.
Can you define Digital Writing and Digital Writing Workshop for us?
To borrow a definition from our co-authored NWP book, Because Digital Writing Matters, we define digital writing as “compositions created with, and oftentimes for, reading and/or viewing via a computer or other device that is connected to the Internet.” For me, I then think about three broad categories of digital writing:
Writing and responding to posts on blogs, microblogs, and social networks
Creating individual or multi-authored documents using wikis and collaborative word processors
Composing multimodal pieces such as podcasts and digital stories
The digital writing workshop, then, is (to use the contemporary term) a “mash up” of digital writing and the writing workshop. For most teachers, then concept of the writing workshop — where students have choice in topic and genre, teachers use mini-lessons and conferring to guide writing, and students share, respond to, and publish work — is familiar from noted teacher researchers and scholars such as Lucy Calkins, Nancie Atwell, Penny Kittle and many others who come from that school of thought. Thus, blending the digital writing with the workshop approach leads us to a digital writing workshop.
Why do you think it is an important thing for teachers to think about?
Since it is impossible to separate the act of writing from the use of technology (even pencil and paper are technology, right?) we need to think more and more about what digital tools such as computers, smart phones, video cameras, and other devices allow us to do (or, in some ways, not do) with our writing processes and products. Writing and technology are intertwined, and as we continue to think about how the shape of writing is changing in digital spaces, teachers should always be thinking ahead for how this will affect students’ literacy practices.
How have you seen the needs of student writers change in the last few years?
In some ways, it’s the same as it ever was: students still need time, materials, and space to write. They need to have consistent, thoughtful feedback from teachers and peers, and, sadly, they need to pass those tests. Yet, as students adapt their writing to other digital spaces, for instance on social networks and text messages, they don’t always see what they are doing as “writing.” As teachers of writing, this is something that we need to help them understand. Purpose, audience, situation. These will always be the constants in writing, even if the modes and media continue to change.
What’s different/What’s the same when it comes to writing workshop?
One key difference, obviously, is the technology. Ideally, we would all be working in a 1:1 environment where we are able to teach tech tips alongside elements of craft in digital writing spaces. Yet, we know this is not the case; some teachers and students have limited, if any, access. So, I think that we need to keep thinking about principles, no matter if you are working in a 1:1 situation, or if you are only in the computer lab once a month. What are you able to do, reasonably, given the time that you have access at school? What can you expect students to do outside of school with mobile devices or on other computers with access? We have always had some writers who excel and some who struggle, so those students will continue to be present in a digital writing workshop, yet we need to be especially sensitive to the technologies that they have available.
What role does technology play in digital writing?
As I mentioned above, technology plays a role in all writing. Even three years ago, it might be that someone wanting to create a digital story would need to have a digital camera, a personal computer, and a voice recorder. Now, for those who have access, they can do all of that with a smart phone. So, as technologies converge on our devices, I think that it will become easier and easier to create thoughtful, well-crafted digital writing. Still, having access to a full suite of tools including digital cameras, modern computers with lots of RAM and storage, and fast internet is still important.
How do you balance the tools with the teaching of writing?
To me, this is like the “teaching grammar in context” type of question. When we teach sentence combining, we can integrate a discussion of the semicolon vs. the colon, and that makes more sense than handing a student a worksheet. For digital writing, it is much the same. At the moment in the digital story when something needs to show a transition, then it is time to pull up the screen with the choice of transitions and talk about them. Why might you want to fade to black rather than have a page flip? Teaching the technology in the context of the writing process is what makes the digital writing workshop approach more than just “integrating technology”; instead, it is talk about the craft of digital writing.
Do you think that the craft of writing changes because of all of the new tools and new formats available to writers?
Indeed, as I mentioned above, I think that the craft changes. What makes an effective “hook” for a traditional essay may, or may not, work in a podcast or in a digital story. Having a slide with a title may be appropriate in some shows, in others it may not, although essays almost always have titles at the top. So, as with any genre study, we need to think about what makes good digital writing in a variety of contexts.
What is a good way for teachers to start incorporating more digital writing into their classrooms?
Pick on digital writing technology and go for it. For me, that tool would be a wiki. Look at a few examples, watch a tutorial on YouTube, and dive right in. The students will help you figure things out.
Other than your books, what are some resources, websites, etc. that you would recommend to teachers about Digital Writing Workshop? Who are the other experts we can learn from?
Also, anything by Clay Shirky, Donald Tapscott, danah boyd, Jason Ohler, Will Richardson, Sherry Turkle, Chris Anderson, Tim Wu, or Henry Jenkins would be useful to understand the broader context of digital media and learning. Critics of digital media, who we need to read, understand, and argue against, include Nicholas Carr and Mark Bauerlein, and I am sure that there are more. Teachers/researchers that I read and respect include: Sara Kajder, Carl Young, Bud Hunt, Robert Rozema, Allen Webb, Danielle DeVoss, Punya Mishra, Matt Koehler, Charlie Moran, Anne Herrington, Rick Beach, Kathi Yancey, Doug Hartman, Jeff Grabill, Ellen Cushman, Gail Hawisher, Cynthia Selfe, Dickie Selfe, and many more and more that I am sure I have forgotten in this list.