Last night, my friend, colleague, and co-author — Dawn Reed — and I were featured on the National Writing Project’s weekly podcast, NWP Radio. Enjoy this episode in which we discuss the interwoven themes of reading, writing, and technology through a conversation about our book, Research Writing Rewired.
The past two days (and into tomorrow), I’ve had the good fortune to be in Austin, TX, amongst a group of dedicated National Writing Project colleagues. As with all NWP events, it has been intellectually challenging and emotionally rewarding, inviting us to think about what it means for us — as site leaders who have each traveled our own unique path to this position — to think about new ways that we can support teachers in our post-NCLB/RTTT world (which also happened to defund the NWP).
We are at the point in the retreat where we have been asked to reflect on two days of conversations, brainstorming sessions, interactive panel discussions, tweeting, post-it noting, gallery walking, and, of course, eating. While there are many themes to reflect upon, I want to zero in on two that made their way to my post it notes this afternoon: effective models for online professional development and recruiting and supporting teachers as they grow into leadership roles.
For the first component, it is fortuitous that I am teaching my first online doctoral course — EDU 807, “Learning Tools in Education Technology” — and that has kicked off this week while I am here at the retreat. There are multiple tensions that I feel need to be balanced:
The “magic” that happens in the summer institute being face-to-face vs. the kinds of alternative experiences we can offer online.
The pervading idea that we can “deliver” a great deal of “content” through online courses/PD vs. the kinds of participation and growth that can happen online.
The dizzying array of ed tech tools that we could employ vs. the values we hold dear about teaching, learning, and the NWP core beliefs.
The balance between teaching writing (alphabetic text, academic conventions) vs. digital writing with multiple forms of media.
The fine line between creating and then offering resources and experiences in a free, open source manner vs. the traditional university ideas about ownership and intellectual property.
There are more, to be sure, but these are the few that have come to mind today.
The second major idea that is on my mind comes in the form of how we can continue supporting teachers as they grow into leadership roles, assuming that we are able to find and develop these teachers in the first place. It is no accident that the NWP model has been compared to minor league baseball’s “farm system.” Noticing and inviting teachers who showed promise as leaders was (and still is) one of the main goals of our work. The challenge is that we don’t have the immersive summer institute experience (or, at the very least, not the same system that we used to have).
Additionally, in many states, teachers are no longer rewarded — in prestige or with pay — to be truly outstanding in the sense that they actively seek out professional learning above and beyond the basics offered in their districts. For instance, in Michigan as in many other states, it is now possible for teachers to get their certificates renewed using “district sponsored” PD hours. Teachers will not be recognized or rewarded for doing more. One teacher with whom I have worked extensively, for instance, doesn’t even share info with department members about the presentations at professional conferences or publications on which we have collaborated. Neither the incentive structure in her school nor the culture of professionalism in the school invites it.
In short, my mind is full, but I admit that my heart is heavy.
This is challenging work and — while I am not afraid to tackle it — I am afraid that, despite our best efforts, we are going to lose some of the magic that is the life-changing NWP experience (with or without summer institutes). This is not to say that we can’t continue to do good work, to reach out to new teachers, and to develop exciting, enriching programs. We have already. We will in the future.
It’s just to say that the “new” pathways to leadership are going to continue to be difficult for us, as existing leaders to forge, and for the next generation of leaders to find. I know we will continue, yet I am anxious to figure out exactly how we will do so.
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.
Last week, I was honored by my friend and colleague, Dawn Reed, who nominated me as a Digital Learning Champion. She and I are working on our new book with Corwin, and “Research Writing Rewired” should be published later this year! She is a digital champion herself, and I have enjoyed collaborating with her again over the past year.
Then, last Thursday, I joined Greg Mcverry for part of his open “Question the Web” course, discussing ideas for teaching with blogs and RSS. He recorded the conversation via Hangouts on Air, and we tried to keep it brief and focused coming in just over 20 minutes. You can watch the episode below and find more resources on pages linked above.
District colleagues involved in the TTI have been working diligently to prepare a wide-variety of interactive sessions to provide a small lens into some of the learning and thinking going on in the realm of technology as a result of their participation in the Teacher Technology Institute.
It was a great conversation — and brief, so very viewable — and I encourage you to view the recording. I look forward to seeing how all our colleagues in North Branch share their own inquiry and learning this Friday, and hope to blog about it soon.
Often, while I’m delivering professional development workshops or webinars, teachers ask me about new tools that have been released since I wrote Crafting Digital Writing in 2013. While I try to keep links updated on the book’s companion wiki page, I know that many resources come and go each year. There are some stand-bys, such as Google Docs and Wikispaces, that have long track records and that many educators find quite useful. Sharing a link to these tools is often enough to point teachers in the right direction.
Yet, when teachers want to dig deeper, to think about creative ways that they can invite students to play, transform, and critique existing materials with digital writing tools, sometimes the stand-bys aren’t enough. Yes, it is great that Google Docs allows us to embed images and links and that Wikispaces allows us to create a collaborative online classroom; but once our students are familiar with these tools, how can we help push their thinking and learning in new directions?
As readers of all ages increasingly turn to the Internet and a variety of electronic devices for both informational and leisure reading, teachers need to reconsider not just who and what teens read but where and how they read as well. Having ready access to digital tools and texts doesn’t mean that middle and high school students are automatically thoughtful, adept readers. So how can we help adolescents become critical readers in a digital age?
Using NCTE’s policy research brief Reading Instruction for All Students as both guide and sounding board, experienced teacher-researchers Kristen Hawley Turner and Troy Hicks took their questions about adolescent reading practices to a dozen middle and high school classrooms. In this book, they report on their interviews and survey data from visits with hundreds of teens, which led to the development of their model of Connected Reading: “Digital tools, used mindfully, enable connections. Digital reading is connected reading.” They argue that we must teach adolescents how to read digital texts effectively, not simply expect that teens can read them because they know how to use digital tools. Turner and Hicks offer practical tips by highlighting classroom practices that engage students in reading and thinking with both print and digital texts, thus encouraging reading instruction that reaches all students.
This afternoon, I recorded a podcast with Kristen and our editor, Cathy Fleischer, and I will share that link when I have it. Thanks to everyone who has shared the link via FB, Twitter, and G+. We appreciate the initial positive reaction and hope that the book lives up to your expectations! For some preview of the material, you can visit our companion wiki page.
So, this will be a busy Digital Learning Day (Week? Month?). I am pleased to be celebrating digital learning in so many ways, yet still I caution us all think about this day in the same way we would ask our students to think about ideas that they encounter online — critically and carefully. My 2013 post about Digital Learning Day is still as relevant today as it was two years ago, especially as the new assessments are upon us, and upon our students, too.
Thanks to all my colleagues who are making my experience with digital learning so rich and fulfilling. I appreciate the work that all of you are doing and look forward to celebrating it this month and well into the future.
Earlier this evening, I participated in a wonderful closing discussion as part of the sixth and final webinar in KQED’s TeachDoNow series. The archived video as well as a summary of my tweets with links from the conversation are below. Broadly, our conversation centered on this big question: How do you manage learners, tasks, resources, and assessment in a connected learning environment?
This is a great video that @joelmalley put together about his digital writing workshop https://t.co/U311u6IwIf #teachdonow
@AramKabodian discusses his class wiki as a tool for teaching and bringing in authentic audience: http://t.co/oigMxruwJx #teachdonow
A great guide from @cosn: “Rethinking Acceptable Use Policies to Enable Digital Learning” http://t.co/1Q08oI22lK #teachdonow