Conversations and Collaborations from EduCon

We have quite a crew of NWP colleagues here at EduCon 2.3 in Philadelphia this weekend, too many to list right now. As we begin our conversations this morning, for instance, I am in a room with Chrsitina Cantrill (NWP), Meeno Rami (PhilWP), Paul Allison (NYCWP), Chad Sansing (CVWP), Cindy Minnich (CAWP) and probably even more colleagues who I have to meet yet. As I sat down this morning for the presentation, I met Shelley Krause (@butwait), who I had been conversing with about digital literacy via Twitter when at the NWP Resource Development Retreat a few weeks ago. EduCon’s theme this year is “innovation,” and the ideas and connections so far this morning remind me of how creating an environment, a space (both physical and virtual) is so important to creating opportunities for innovation. And, the fact that all the sessions are being streamed, tweeted (#Educon), GoogleDoc’ed, blogged, wikied, or whatever, it is truly an opportunity to help us innovate.

So, speaking of innovating, I know that webcasting isn’t really an innovation (in the sense that people have been doing it for years). But, for me, trying to do a live presentation and a webcast at the same time is something that I haven’t done yet. Also, our local site (Chippewa River Writing Project) and state network (National Writing Projects of Michigan) will be hosting a month-long online book study for Because Digital Writing Matters beginning later this week. So, as a kick off, Sara and I are going to give webcasting for BDWM a try this afternoon when Christina Cantrill and I present at EduCon in Philadelphia from 2:30 to 4:00 EST. You should be able to watch live on EduCon’s site, but we hope that you are able to join us in the webinar to by clicking on this link, launching Wimba, and joining as a participant:

http://cmichlive.wimba.com/launcher.cgi?room=_cmich_s__43031_1_826813

This is a new experience for Sara and me, even as techies, and we hope that we are able to get you as our NWP colleagues to join in the conversation. So, enjoy all the conversations coming out of EduCon this weekend, and we hope that you can join in our webinar, too.


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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.

http://www.cinchcast.com/cinchplayerext.swf

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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Continuing to Create a Digital Writing Project

As I reflect on our experience in the CRWP Summer Institute, and prepare for a visit to the Boise State Writing Project this weekend, as well as the NWP Annual Meeting in just a few weeks, I am trying to capture some thinking about the core principles that I employ in planning PD experiences related to technology.

I know that my colleagues at BSWP, as well as in other sites I have visited and continued to communicate with, are continuing to think about how, when, and why to integrate digital writing into their site’s work. So, I am offering some thoughts about what we have done in our first two years at CRWP, and how technology informs and is infused in our site’s work. By taking the intentional stance that we are and will continue to be a “digital writing project,” I know that there are certain benefits and constraints that this creates for us, and I will hope to address some of them here, too.

Summer Institute
In the CRWP SI, we engage in digital writing from the moment we meet participants on orientation day. We regularly use our wiki as a space to share our daily agenda and discuss texts such as Because Writing Matters and Teaching the New Writing. (Kathy and I are going to present at the Annual Meeting about our
experiences with doing the readings and sharing responses through
digital means, and I wonder what value others see in the responses to
the texts that are evident in the links here.) We also use Google Docs to create and share materials for our teaching demos, as well as creating our collaborative response to teaching demonstrations with our writing groups. In addition, we explored digital stories, Voice Thread, and podcasts, ultimately leading to the production of a print, audio, and video anthology of our work from the summer.

From both our conversations with colleagues during the summer institute, as well as from comments that they made on evaluations at the end of the summer, we know that this stance of integrating technology as a core expectation of participation in CRWP is both a selling point for teachers as they consider participation, yet also generates much frustration in practice. At least two veteran teachers discussed their interest in joining CRWP because they knew it would push them to use technology, yet continued to share their frustrations with the pace at which we moved (I couldn’t even log into the wiki because I lost my password, I couldn’t access the Google Doc that we were all supposed to share…), yet with support from colleagues and our SI leaders, they were able to (eventually) get into the sites we were using. Everyone created a digital story this summer, and everyone submitted a digital portfolio.

So, I continue to think that an immersive experience, one in which participants are expected to use technology and supported in that use through just-in-time instruction is a hallmark of a digital writing project. The expectation, for instance, that we would all use Google Docs to create collaborative responses to teaching demonstrations let to some unique discussions that were, initially, focused on how to use Google Docs, but eventually allowed us to use the technology transparently, and contributed to our experience in the response groups. That is, we were able to use Google Docs as a way to both focus our face-to-face conversation and allow everyone to contribute to the response, even though each group usually picked one “scribe” to be the main person responsible for each letter.

On a less positive note, we did find that participants, over the course of the summer, were using technology more and more to facilitate their own distracted behavior. One day while I was gone, for instance, my co-leaders told me that people were essentially ignoring the presenting teacher and focusing only on their laptops and cell phones. This led me to have a brief, yet pointed discussion the next day with the group about laptop etiquette; while we were fortunate to be in a situation where we could all use laptops, we needed to think — both from the perspective of teacher and student — about the advantages and disadvantages of using laptops. As teachers, helping students know when and how to use the laptops for learning purposes is critical, as well as the idea that we sometimes need to have “lids down” moments where we focus on each other, not just on our screens.

Still, having the expectation that we would all engage in experiences mediated by technology creates a different vibe in our SI. It means that we come to the institute with our own literacy and technology goals related to using the laptops for our own writing and for teaching writing. It means that we have the opportunity to connect and collaborate, and that those connections and collaborations are a core part of our lived experience as readers and writers in the institute. It also means that we make our work public, at least in the sense that everything we do is shared with at least our writing groups, sometimes the whole group, and sometimes the world. It makes the accountability for sharing a teaching demo and our own writing even more than it would be if it were only shared on paper, and that sense of audience and purpose, I feel, makes a huge difference in how our TCs see themselves as teachers and as writers.

Professional Development
Last year, we were able to be involved in two professional development series. In the first, we were able to meet with teachers five times over the year, and in each session we introduced a new technology (wikis, wikis part 2, Google Docs, podcasting, digital stories). In the second, we worked with teachers in a variety of contexts, but in the last two sessions we were able to work with cross-content area teachers to develop wiki pages. In both of these series, we had some teachers who were highly engaged in the process, some who were engaged, yet timid, and some who didn’t really seem to be interested in the technologies we were discussing.

This is a similar pattern for what I see in many PD sessions, and it makes me wonder what my/our responsibility is in offering background/context for why and how we should be using technology in the teaching of writing. While I have noted this before, and I do feel that the conversation about technology and teaching has, generally, moved from the “Why should we?” perspective to the “How should we?” one in the past few years, I am still reminded that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for technology  and that we need to situate our stance about digital writing when doing PD, especially for the “non-voluntary” types of work that we often do in schools, where teachers may not have had a choice in participating due to district mandates and expectations.

As I think about where we are at and where we are going to go next with our PD services, I am curious to learn more about how we can offer online and hybrid options to help teachers customize their own experience. While I know that this isn’t always possible, I am curious to see what we might be able to do to help teachers create and sustain their own personal learning networks within the context of a writing project. I am looking forward to what Sara, our tech liaison, and Rita, our PD coordinator, come up with in terms of how this might work with our current PD series and future advanced institutes. I don’t have all the answers, but I excited that we continue to explore the questions.

Continuity
While we hosted a few continuity events last year, this year we hope to do more. One way that we are trying to connect with our TCs is by sending out more messages through our listserv (a pretty standard practice from what I have heard from other sites), as well as to now connect via Facebook and Twitter. I am not exactly sure how much/well this strategy is working, although I can get stats from FB on who has looked at and joined our fan page, which is an interesting set of weekly stats.

Of the events that we are planning, we do try to use technology as it seems appropriate. For instance, a few weeks ago, Erin led a book discussion on Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them, and I was able to take notes on her computer as people shared their thoughts on the book and connections to their own teaching. Last week, Penny held her first Saturday seminar, and focused on digital storytelling. Over the course of the year, we hope to plan some other events that will engage our TCs and their colleagues in digital writing and distance learning, although we are still figuring out exactly how to do that.

What this reminds me of is the fact that we can create opportunities through technology that allow TCs to connect when and how they are able. I am not sure what we will do in particular related to webinars or synchronous online conversations (either through chat or voice). I want to offer our TCs the chance to reconnect in whatever ways we can, but not dilute the experience of being connected. So, we need to continue to think carefully about when, how, and why we offer online continuity events in conjunction with our face-to-face offerings such as our 100 days celebration and book clubs.

What’s Next…
So, as we continue to evolve as a digital writing project, I am honored and excited by the opportunities to talk with other NWP colleagues about what it is that we are doing and how they might work to integrate digital writing into their work. While I hesitate to offer advice because any type of work with writing and technology is highly contextual, I can summarize what I have learned (and continue to learn) in the following:

  • Just like we expect teachers to write, we can expect them to use technology. While we neither want to or are able to expect that teachers will use digital writing tools all the time (for instance, I still take my notebook on writing marathons), it is perfectly reasonable for us to expect that a teacher can bring his/her own laptop (or borrow one from school) when they come to writing project events. Put agendas up on a wiki or Google doc. Invite a backchannel conversations through TodaysMeet or other means. Ask people to compose digital texts. We know that this is important work, and we should expect our colleagues to come prepared to do it.
  • When we make an expectation, we need to support it. Now that we expect teachers to come to the table with technology in hand, we need to offer them the time and support to learn how to use it. Create immersive experiences, yet continue to offer one-to-one support as teachers learn how to use it. Connect experiences that they know (writing on a word processor) with pedagogical practices (how to revise effectively) and then make the leap to a new technology (online word processors) and another pedagogy (offering comments and feedback). It’s that idea of facilitating learning through a “to, with, and by” model.
  • Finally, make the experience meaningful. Don’t just have people create a profile on a wiki and never look at it. If you ask them to post it, then you need to encourage others to respond to it, and offer response yourself. It’s this old idea of a tree falling in a forest… if no one is there to see the wiki post, does it matter? Show your colleagues that their writing matters, and encourage revision and response, across time, space, and contexts.

So, those are some current thoughts about teaching and learning in a digital writing project. I hope that they help others writing project colleagues as they continue to think about what it means to integrate digital writing practices into both site work and their own teaching. I look forward to my conversations about this with colleagues this weekend, and in a few more weeks at the NWP annual meeting, and hope to hear ideas about how this work is happening for you, too.