Conversation about Research Writing Rewired on NWP Radio

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.

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Reflections on Transformative Technology Integration

An NWP colleague, Natalie Bernasconi from the Central California Writing Project, recently sent an email with some questions:

I’m interested in how infusing technology into the classroom as exemplified by Youth Voices and other initiatives changes the way teachers see their own role and their own identity.

I’m also interested in examining the relationship between teachers’ sense of identity and their pedagogical philosophy (and how technology can cause that to shift). There are the cliched metaphors: sage on the stage, guide on the side. If you were to select a metaphor for how you see your own role as a teacher, what would you pick?

And, here is my response…

Looking at the idea of transformative technology integration and how teachers see their own role and identity, I think that the biggest shift for me comes when teachers stop looking at it as “integration” of technology and just see it as a part of their teaching.

At risk of being glib, I will characterize the shift that I see as this… most teachers that I encounter, when beginning a class or a professional development initiative claim to be “not very techie,” even if, in fact, they are. I think that this stems from two causes. One, they simply don’t feel confident in the technology that they do know, even though they may know a great deal about it; they don’t want to risk looking like they don’t know something in front of students. Second, they see barriers to technology use (filters, software, hardware), and, for a variety of reasons, choose not to advocate on their own behalf for getting access to that technology for them and their students. Again, I don’t mean to generalize and criticize, it’s just this is the pattern that I generally see.

To that end, when teachers finally gain some confidence, then also take the risk and invite students to work with technology (even if they do now know it well themselves). Once they experience some successes, they begin to just think about what they are teaching and the technology becomes a part of that conversation, not just as an after-thought or as an add-on. At that point, it is not so much about the technology, but about the literacy practices that the technologies enable.

Looking at the idea of a teacher’s sense of identity and their pedagogical philosophy, I suppose that I would talk most about the work that I did with seven Red Cedar Writing Project teachers for my dissertation project. In that project, they created digital portfolios that represented their teacher research through digital portfolios. Once they took that intentional focus to represent their own identity through a website, it became clear that they had to think not only about design, colors, and fonts, they also had to ask pedagogical and ethical questions that then showed up in their work. We wrote two articles about this process, on for English Journal and one for the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. Also, you will want to look at some of the work on Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK).

My metaphor. Oh boy… I suppose that those models of guide on the side and other ones like that are overused. So, the one that I keep coming back to when I work with teachers is that we are all on a ladder, learning more and more about technology and literacy each day. Typically, what happens is that I find myself on one rung of the ladder, usually just a few steps (or less) ahead of the teachers with whom I am working. Then, they begin climbing as we go through a PD experience and, eventually, they ask me a question that I don’t know the answer too, a rung or two above where I am at. So, I reach, and I learn, and I come back and teach them more. Then they climb. Then they ask. Then I climb, and so on. So, we keep climbing the ladder, sometimes pulling and sometimes pushing, but most of the time simply climbing in tandem. I hope that makes sense.

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Report from RCWP’s WIDE PATHS 2010

This morning, I was fortunate enough to be invited “home” to present my session, “Creating Your Digital Writing Workshop” at Red Cedar Writing Project‘s WIDE PATHS II. Beyond the wonderful feeling of being “home” with about 30 colleagues from RCWP and sharing my book with them, I continue to be inspired by the amazing work that teachers do in their classrooms and schools, despite the continued barrage of criticisms that come both directly from politicians and the media as well as indirectly from the ways that our society and government structure “educational reforms” such as Race to the Top. For more on what these “reforms” mean for organizations such as the NWP, check out Sara’s recent post on IdeaPlay.

At any rate, there were many good parts of the day, and ideas from the conversations in the opening session were captured by Dawn on the presentation page. There were a number of issues that came forward, and the conversation was rich since, as a group, we were talking as knowledgeable peers, many already engaged in digital writing practices. Most notably, we thought about a number of issues related to the actual composition of digital texts, moving beyond the logistical questions that often come up (as important as they are) and into conversations about how and why students compose digital texts. Maggie captured one idea (and I am paraphrasing) in the idea that digital media allow us to create texts that are “long enough to accomplish goal, but also short enough to keep interest.”

Then, throughout the day, there were three strands: social networking, collaborative writing, and visual studies. Overall, I feel like the day was filled with timely, relevant, and useful information, right out of the NWP tradition of “teachers teaching teachers.” We worked together, learned some new ideas, got reminded of some ideas I had forgotten (like using Diigo), and, while I couldn’t attend everything, here are some notes from the other wonderful sessions throughout the day.

Social Networking (Andrea Zellner)

  • Four components of participation in social networks
    • Digital Citizenship
    • Digital Footprint
    • Personal Learning
    • Impact on Writing
  • Thoughts from the discussion, after creating our own personal network maps on paper
    • What does it mean to “know” someone? Be connected to someone?
    • How and when do we connect to someone? To a group? Knowing that we have access to the network at our fingertips, when and how can we leverage it?
    • Thinking about how they are invited to join social networks (Pixie Hallow, Webkinz, Facebook, Second Life) and the commercial/consumer interests that some of these networks have? What about the critical literacy practices that students need to have to understand how they are positioned within and across these networks?
    • Do we create networks that are “echo chambers” where we only listen to others in our own network that do not allow or invite us to think about alternative or opposing ideas?
    • Are we co-opting the purposes of social networks? What are we trying to teach them so that they can be digital citizens? But, are we replicating traditional, teacher-centered practices that would be the same in Blackboard, or are we taking advantage of the aspects of social networks?
    • Resources:
Troy's Social Network Map
Troy's Social Network Map

Collaborative Writing (Aram Kabodian, Heather Lewis, and LaToya Faulk)

  • Heather introduced Etherpad as a tool for collaborative response to an article, then used VoiceThread as another tool for response, too. In using the two types of tools, we were thinking about the ways that text and voice comments can contribute to our own understanding of other texts, including an online article and responding to a video.
    • This got me to thinking more about VoiceThread and how to have students use that as a tool for conferring. I think that the idea of having students comment one another’s work while still “in process” is powerful. Not sure how to embed the comment at the exact moment of the video that it would be pertinent, however. A tool like Viddler‘s commenting feature would work more effectively for that, I think.
    • Lots of time for playing with the tools. Thinking about collaborating across time and space with Skype, Google Docs, VoiceThread, Diigo, and other tools. What is also interesting to me is to think more carefully about the nature of the collaboration…
      • What are the affordances and constraints of the tools?
      • What is the task that we are asking students to complete? How does that enable collaboration, or does it simply require cooperation?
      • Are you asking students to create single-authored, multi-authored, or co-authored products? How does changing the role of the writer change the technology that you are able to use?

Visual Studies (Dawn Reed with Jen Garmon and Reggie Manville)

  • Dawn – Showing a number of examples of images as a way to think about critical literacy, especially with images used in media and popular culture texts, for instance:
    • The website and parodies of it
    • Forest Gump, and the ability to visually recreate history
    • Kent State image with fence post removed
    • Asking students to define “literacy” and how they experience misinformation and critically evaluate information and images. Thinking about “photographic truth” and the implications of how images are constructed in an age of easy photo manipulation.
  • Reggie – Thinking about how to fit visual literacy into the already crammed English curriculum with digital storytelling
    • Moving from statements of belief (ala “This I Believe”) to statements of change created as a digital movie. Combining elements of argumentative writing with visuals.
    • Then moving from this digital video project into understanding how to create a traditional text for the ACT. In this example of women’s body image, this includes ways that the student could use the same arguments and refutations used in the movie project and translating them into traditional essay structures (building context, argument, counterargument, rebuttal, etc).
    • Complexity of assessing these texts with a rubric that was already in place. Looking at three examples — one on body image, one on global warming, one on the “open beverage” rule. But, are there some qualitative differences in these works? I think so, and I am wondering how we can help students see that there are some standards of quality in the production of digital texts. One option would be to have a “viewing” day in the class, and then inviting them to revise based on what they saw in other videos as well as feedback on their own.

Final Reflections on the Day

We were going to have a large group discussion to report out on the day, but ran out of time. My final thoughts are that Andrea and the entire RCWP team organized a wonderfully thoughtful day of exploration into these three strands: social networking, collaborative writing, and visual studies. As we continue to think about the future of what it means to be a writer and a teacher of writing in a digital age, the conversations that began today can continue to guide our work into the future. I look forward to this team sharing their insights at the NWPM retreat this summer!

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Composing Community

Image from
Image from

My friend and RCWP colleague, Marcus Brown, has been working for about a year to open the Village Summit in the house next door to his Lansing home. You can read about many of the trials and tribulations that Marcus, his wife, and everyone involved in creating the Village Summit have had to endure in this article from the Lansing State Journal.

In trying to figure out a way that I could help Marcus and his cause, he suggested that I spend some time with him and help develop a website for the center that highlights its services and activities. And here is where the power of  digital writing comes into the picture…

Marcus and I began talking about this last year and began a Google Site for his organization. As it does, time slipped by, we both neglected the website for a long while, and kind of forgot about it. But, when talking with him over breakfast in December, and trying to figure out how I could help, he began discussing all the ways in which we wanted to use a website to reach out to his community — people in his neighborhood helping with the Village Summit, other community organizations, the Lansing Mayor’s Office and City Council, and beyond. I was thinking about the software that he could use to compose this site, immediately moving my mind to the suite of tools that Google offers including Sites, Picasa, Maps, and Calendar. After working together for the better part of two hours, we updated the site, adding images, maps, and a calendar, not to mention a good deal of Marcus’s writing and poetry that show his passion for education and serving his community.

And, so, in less than two hours, the Village Summit had a (revised) website.

On the one hand, we could look at this as nothing remarkable. Yep, we have Google Sites and can insert plug-ins and, wow, doesn’t that make life easier for us when we make web pages.

Yet, in digging a little deeper and thinking about the socio-cultural, technical, and political literacy practices associated with how Marcus composed a site about a community center for a variety of audiences and purposes, I find the digital writing task in which the two of us were engaged to be quite fascinating. To be sure, even a few years ago, he could have created a similar site with a variety of web-based tools or software. It would have taken awhile, and he would have likely had to use a site like Geocities that put ads on his work (or buy a domain).

But, using this suite of Google tools, and having a specific set of purposes and audiences in mind, he was able to compose a multimedia text — a website that employs text, links to videos, images, and maps — to distribute his message. Composing community. All in about two hours. In less time than it used to take us to design, produce content for, and upload a basic website using Dreamweaver and FTP.

And, it’s free.

And, it’s collaborative, so others can add content.

And, it’s a public voice for a community that, even a few years ago may not have had the time or resources to develop a web-based message.

To me, as a teacher of digital writing, this was really an epiphany. Yes, of course I knew that anyone could hop online and make a site, or a blog, or a wiki, or a twitter account. Yes, I realized that our digital writing can be collaborative and shared widely. Yet, I didn’t think very clearly, until that day when Marcus and I met, about the power of digital writing — in really just a moment — to compose entire communities, to bring something into existence in ways that would have been difficult or impossible even a few years ago. I had heard of it happening with different tools, over time. But, in just under two hours, we were able to take what Marcus had started a year ago as a dream, and what we initially tried to capture on the web last summer, and brought them both together.

For me, watching Marcus connect his many literacy practices and personal passions to create this website show the heart of what it means to be multiliterate in a digital world.

Thanks, Marcus, for reminding me of it, and for all that you do to serve your community.

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Story on CRWP from The News @ Central

From our site visit earlier this winter, the media and public relations team at CMU has put together an article and podcast about the Chippewa River Writing Project. I find it fitting that as we pursue digital writing within the project that the way in which it was announced to the CMU community comes in the form of a web-based article and podcast.

CMU becomes site for National Writing Project

The National Writing Project, a federally funded professional development program with nearly 200 sites, provides over 7,000 programs for K-16 teachers across the country, reaching more than 135,000 participants in 2008. The CRWP was one of ten new sites established in the U.S. this year.

“We aim to develop programs unique to CRWP that will distinguish us in the state and nation by addressing the issues that face us in northeastern Michigan. We will do so by utilizing technology for distance learning and building on the strengths of the English department and interests of local teachers,” said Troy Hicks, a CMU English faculty member and director of the CRWP.

Hicks is optimistic about the impact the writing project site will have on teachers in the area.

“My goal is to establish the CRWP as a site that partners with teachers in suburban and rural settings throughout northeastern Michigan, utilizing technology to both support their professional learning as well as to become a key component in their own teaching,” Hicks said.

My journey with the National Writing Project began in 2003 with my participation in my first summer institute at Red Cedar Writing Project and has continued to take me in places, personally and professionally, that I could not have imagined. To say that beginning a new writing project is a dream come true, despite the cliche, would be an understatement. So, it is with great anticipation that I look forward to our summer institute that begins in a few short weeks.

As a key component of the summer institute, we have created a wiki to organize, share, and archive our writing, teaching demos, and discussions. My hope is that by working with a digital writing space as our main point of contact in the summer institute, we will establish the habits of mind that will make collaborating and communication with digital writing tools a part of the fabric of our writing project. Because our service area will cover so many rural communities in northern Michigan, my plan is to engage teachers and students in digital writing so that they have opportunities to connect outside of their classroom, school, and district in meaningful ways, with technology being a part of an equation that focuses first on the writer and then on the mode and media of the writing.

So, as the summer institute gets closer and I have more opportunities to think about how we are engaging in digital writing, my hope is to capture some of that thinking here. In additional to having human subjects research approval and media releases from all the participants in the summer institute, my plan is to blog more regularly so we can really document how a digital writing project unfolds in its first year.

Wish us luck, and feel free to join the wiki and contribute, too!

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Congrats to Janet and all RCWP Teachers

Been a long time since I’ve been blogging… hope to get “caught up” on some emerging ideas over spring break. But, for now, here is some good news from RCWP. Congrats to Janet for her leadership and all my colleagues whose work made this award possible!

The Engaged Scholar – Featured MSU Engaged Faculty – Janet A. Swenson

Janet Swenson knows that effective communication depends on far more than simply the written word. Over the past few years numerous powerful and inexpensive communication technologies have become available to the average user. Cell phones enhanced with camera, video, and keyboard capacities, along with fully functioning, highly portable mini-notebook computers, have emerged in conjunction with Internet-based social networking and collaborative writing opportunities.

Since 1993 Swenson has directed the Red Cedar Writing Project (RCWP), an educational outreach program and professional development network that serves teachers of writing at all grade levels. RCWP is also MSU’s site of the National Writing Project, which aims to improve student achievement across the United States by improving the teaching of writing and improving learning. Keeping pace with emerging technologies is one of the ways that RCWP does that.

Notes from RCWP Google Day

Notes from Andrea Zellner‘s RCWP Google Day Presentation

  • Reflecting on Google Teacher Academy
    • Thinking about the tools almost exclusively, and we want to focus on literacy practices
  • Writing prompt:
    • What is Literacy? What is Technological Literacy? How are they different? How do they support one another?
      • Literacy — the ability read, write, listen, speak, view, and visually represent texts in print and non-print media. Technology literacy — the ability to understand and employ different tools (pencils and paper, computers, cameras, recorders, etc.) to effectively convey a message to an audience.
      • The ways in which these two concepts, literacy and technology literacy support one another — we have come to understand that being “literate” changes across contexts, thus it is a complicated set of practices that people use to communicate for a variety of purposes and audiences. Adding technology into the mix opens up new opportunities for communication and collaboration that makes us rethink the ways in which we consider what it means to be literate. In other words, technology has the potential to affect our worldview because it changes the way that literacy is enacted. in these contexts. And, in an increasingly digital world, we have to make the connections between literacies and technologies more and more explicit so readers and writers understand how, why, and when to use particular technologies to communicate.
    • We can sometimes forget the fact that literacy is what we are most interested in and can get caught up in the technology itself
  • Framing our thinking about the teaching of writing with the strategies from the Writing Next Report
  • Writing prompt: Portfolios
    • Yes, I use portfolios in my English Education methods class, ENG 315. I think that the immediate benefit of using a digital portfolio, as it has always been with portfolios, is that students see the value in collecting and reflecting on their work over time. The digital portfolio offers them even more flexible ways of presenting their work, as they can create straight-up web pages and they can embed images, video, or audio. This allows for multimedia compositions that wouldn’t necessarily be possible with print-based portfolios.
    • Drawbacks. Well, let’s face it… assessing any writing is tough work, especially when you are trying to assess a collection of writing that has been developed over time. Thus, I have my students engage in self-assessment for their portfolios. This is the only way that I have found really gets them engaged in the process as writers, forcing them to be thoughtful in the selection process and be honest about the amount of work that has gone into the writing and revising process.
  • Playing with the tools — check out Andrea’s site for links
  • Ideas for Inspiration
    • Students with autism using SketchUp
  • Writing Prompt: Think of a student who was challenged to write in your classroom.
    • My most difficult student that I ever had to deal with was one of my seventh graders. Along with all the special education diagnoses that he had been given, he was also just not a friendly kid. Not outright defiant, nor anti-social, but just difficult to connect with. At the time, I tried to offer him some options for writing with technology such as creating a PPT, but I wasn’t really equipped to differentiate instruction or help him grow as a writer. I do wonder how a student like him would react to some of the newer tools that we have been discussing today, as well as to the chance to easily get feedback from other writers and not just me. Taking his writing public might have made a difference (and, simply typing it would have helped, too). All in all, I think that the challenges he faced were partly motivational and partly learning disabilities, and I wonder how these tools might have been helpful for him.
  • How might these Google Tools impact literacy?
  • Our collaborative Google Presentation
  • Final reflection — what was your biggest “aha” and what will you take back to your classroom?
    • The major tech tip that I will take back with me is the Google Scholar setting that allows you to export directly to EndNote/Zotero. That is going to be just so incredibly useful for me. Once Zotero gets set up to share your libraries easily, it will be great. I can create online reading lists of open source readings or readings that can be accessed on campus, and skip the whole process of having to create course reserves!
    • In terms of professional development structures, I really like how Andrea framed the day with the early discussion of literacy and technology. She made it clear that this was a discussion about how to use the Google Applications in the service of literacy instruction and not just about “this tool, that tool, and the next tool.” That was good to make her ideas about that explicit early in the presentation, even though the rest of the day did kind of suffer from the “mile wide, inch deep” problem.
    • Finally, I enjoyed having to articulate my thoughts about a particular tool during the last activity. By comparing Knol with Wikipedia, it forced me to come back to the ideas about literacy practices. That might have been helpful to include as a framework for the final activity — a reminder that we should look at the tool as a way to support literacy practices.

All in all, a great day with lots to think about. Thanks, Andrea!