With the support of Sara Kajder and Shelbie Witte, I am pleased to share that I recently published a “Leading the Call” article from Voices From the Middle, “The next decade of digital writing.”
Through NCTE, they have made it available through open access, and here is the abstract:
The author, a leader in bringing digital tools into the writing workshop and writing classroom, discusses how the use of digital tools in the classroom has evolved in the first decade of this century, especially in the writing workshop. He examines ways several ELA teachers are using specific tools to assist with literacy learning in the classroom right now and makes some recommendations regarding the future of digital writing instruction.
As a participant, I am reminded of the many, many moving parts that the facilitators for such an institute need to plan, and I have been fully engaged in the workshop for the past few days. Couple that with needing to continue working on all my regular tasks as a program director, faculty member, and consultant, and the time here at DMAC slips by entirely too quickly.
I need to pause. To scale back a bit. I woke up early this morning, and knew that I needed to reflect. To refocus.
So, here I am.
Without a doubt, I am enjoying the process. Since my infographic prototype post earlier this week, we’ve also tinkered with Audacity and the audio assignment, as well as iMovie and the video assignment. Fortunately, I’ve had experience with both these tools — as well as these concepts — so I’ve tried to focus more of my attention on the deeper, more theoretical implications of what DMAC has been pushing me to consider.
For instance, yesterday, we were asked to consider the politics of race and social media, deconstructing images and considering how to layer meaning with memes. I’ve certainly thought — and written about — memes before, but the new lenses of accessibility and social justice are all helpful reminders for me as I prepare to create my projects this weekend. Speaking of projects, my work is moving forward, but at a seemingly glacial pace. Again, being a participant reminds me that — when I am in the facilitator role — I need to be quite mindful of my audience’s needs, both technical and social.
Still, I am impressed by what we can do when we put our minds to it. For instance, Elvira and Rich created concise, compassionate short film yesterday:
Giving students — and, when in workshops, teachers — the time and space to play, take risks, and be creative makes a world of difference. I’ve heard these types of opportunities called many things. Quickfire challenges. Rapid prototyping. Sandboxing. Whatever we want to call them, we simply need to do more of them. I will remember this in preparation for the fall.
Of course, the conversations with colleagues from around the country have all been productive and refreshing. Today, we head to the Ohio Union for the Innovate: Forward conference. This, too, will be a refreshing change, as I hear about the many initiatives related to digital learning that are happening here at OSU. While keynotes are always interesting, I look forward to seeing what faculty are doing in their face-to-face and online courses, and I’ve mapped out some sessions that deal with digital distraction, new environments and structures for learning, and building better online discussions. These may ebb and flow throughout the day, of course, but that is the thrill of going to a conference!
As we prepare to “turn the corner,” moving into the deeper, more substantive work of producing our audio, image, and video projects. Again, my work this week is largely in preparation for teaching the honors seminar this fall, “Our Digital Selves.” My aim this weekend is to have my infographic, podcast, and video in a near state of completion for Monday’s preview. What’s interesting in that part of the assignment is that we are supposed to create “no more than :60 (sixty seconds) of video and/or audio that illustrates your work in progress that you plan to share at the upcoming showcase.” Making a recording about our work in progress, rather than simply standing nearby to describe it, is another interesting pedagogical move that I am learning from the DMAC structure, and I look forward to that challenge.
A recent conversation with a colleague about this topic reminded me of the many reasons why I, personally, dislike Bb:
The interface is almost entirely teacher-centric, and even the features that allow students to contribute (discussion forums, and “innovations” to the LMS like blogs and wikis) are still very didactic in nature requiring that the teacher set them up in a manner to “allow” students to contribute. For instance, look at the many options available in just the “discussion board” settings in the screenshot below from Bb and consider the levels of autonomy that the teacher can decide upon for students, leaving them with fewer and fewer decisions to make for themselves. This is not really a discussion, but an assignment.
Similarly, the interface is designed on a “delivery” model of content. Yes, a creative instructor could build some self-guided learning, inquiry, and even “gamification” into the system (which Bb has conveniently added as “achievements,” but it is centered again on content consumption, assignments submission, and the gradebook. Again, the premise with the LMS is that students are logging in to view content that the teacher has created (or curated), and that this content (and this content alone) is what is important. Even if students create content (and could, theoretically, do so by embedding images, videos, or other types of digital artifacts). Still, for the most part, when directed to engage with the content (and I haven’t even mentioned online quizzes/exams), students are encouraged to do so most often to earn points.
Even in the best possible case, where a teacher is open to multiple revisions of an assignment that allows students to engage in an iterative process of learning, the interface for responding to assignments is, again, didactic, with the student submitting a paper, the teacher using commenting tools and rubrics to reply and, perhaps, opening up another “attempt” for submission. In contrast to a more open and flexible system of collaboration (as enabled by, say Google Docs or even the most current version of Word with synchronous and cloud-based editing), this workflow in Bb still relies on discrete assignments, deadlines, and grades.
There are more critiques that I could levy, but these are the main concerns that I have with Bb. So, from my earliest experiences teaching at the university, then, I have been trying to upend the expectation that I must use an LMS to organize my courses… as well as my thinking and my teaching. It is a struggle, and I have succumbed to the convenience (and mundane normality) of Bb in my past few semesters when teaching masters and doctoral courses all online. (I’ll have to describe my (compromised) rationale for all that in another post, but suffice it to say that I have, at least in recent times).
For the moment, I want to reflect on my journey with wikis as an alternative to the traditional LMS, in particular, with Wikispaces. Eagerly heralded as one of the revolutionary Web 2.0 tools that would democratize knowledge, especially for digital teaching and learning, wikis have been a staple of my teaching and professional development work for over a decade. So, like many others in the ed tech community who were both saddened and shocked when Wikispaces announced its imminent demise (some more shocked and outraged than others), I knew that this was more than just a moment to rethink where I store my data and how I organize my teaching.
First, a quick note of thanks to Wikispaces. Yes, I know that I have lots of data to recover, and that will be a pain. But, I can’t complain. I’ve used, enjoyed, and promoted Wikispaces for over a decade, and I appreciate what they have done with and for educators. Alas, like anything that has been offered for free, I am well aware that it too could go by the wayside (and soon will be). Wikispaces, alas, is no different. People are figuring out ways to save and repurpose their Wikispaces data, and I will, too (before the end of July!).
So, instead, I look at this as an opportunity to rethink my presence on the web as a teacher, teacher educator, and scholar. I will do that in the weeks and months to come. What I want to reflect on for a moment, however, is different. I want to think about why I really used Wikispaces, and whether I was being as open-minded, collaborative, and innovative as I thought I was.
That is, even as a progressive-minded educator, opting to use Wikispaces as a substitute for the LMS, as a tool for students to collaborate and contribute to our classroom community (as well as during workshops in which I lead professional development for teachers), I don’t know that I have fully enacted or lived up to my egalitarian ideas. If I were to do an honest accounting of all the Wikispaces that I manage, and see what I have contributed versus others, I would guess that I am, at best, close to a 50/50 balance. More likely, I am the one doing most of the adding and revising, especially in my course and workshop wikis.
In other words, at a deeper, more substantive level, have any of the wikis that I have created — and the pedagogy that I have enacted surrounding those wikis — really been about the participants, or has it been about me?
For all the class websites that I have created with Wikispaces, including ones for undergraduate, masters, and doctoral students, and for all the pages that I have created for workshops and longer PD institutes, I have to wonder… was I creating things on Wikispaces because it was convenient for me?
Was this a technical choice, perhaps, because giving a wiki address was an easy to find a domain (back before shortened URLs and QR codes made it easier to get to a Google Doc?)?
Was it because I wanted the public facing interface and immediate editing as a way to fit my own style of teaching, and not so much as a tool for really encouraging substantive contributions and communication amongst students?
I’ve been wondering all of this because – as I prepare to download the data from dozens of wikis and figure out where and how to archive it – I’ve noticed that I am the main contributor to most of the wikis I’ve begun. There are exceptions, of course, including our writing project’s wiki which has existed for nearly 10 years and contains the contributions of dozens of teachers. There is also a smattering of wikis that I’ve created in a one time workshop, inviting teachers to create their own page, for a day, that then linger in cyberspace. And, of course, there are the class wikis, where I have had varying degrees of success with students creating and curating their own profile pages and contributing to other sections of the class wiki site.
Still, the challenge is taking a deep, thoughtful look at all of these wikis again and thinking about who it is that has done most of the contribution. There is the old adage that “school is the place where young people go to watch old people work.” Bb, certainly, seems to be virtual manifestation of that physical truth about schools.
My question, at least at this moment, is whether or not I have been simply recreating that truth under the guise of collaboration, creativity, and inquiry by using wikis…
… or, have I really done anything different in the space of hybrid/online learning over the past 10 to 12 years? And, to circle back to the dilemma of the LMS, this has given me pause to seriously reconsider my use of Bb, too.
I’ve started to become complacent, and that is a dangerous place to be when it comes to digital writing and digital teaching. Like most teaching dilemmas, this is a wicked problem, and one that I will need to wrestle with more and more as the July 31 deadline for Wikispaces’ imminent demise comes closer and closer. In a way, I am thankful for the the opportunity to rethink why and how I create and curate materials for the web, for students, and for other teachers. I don’t know that I will ever have the answer, but I hope to soon have some thoughts on how to approach it from a new perspective.
Enjoy this archived recording of “Exploring the Craft of Digital Writing, Grades 2–8” with Dr. Troy Hicks and the Center for the Collaborative Classroom.
More and more, our students encounter a daily dose of digital texts, ranging from websites to social-media messages, from class assignments to YouTube videos. As they encounter these texts, what are the strategies that they need to be close, critical readers and viewers? Moreover, as students craft their own digital writing, what do they need to be able to do as writers, producers, and designers?