For the fourth consecutive summer, I am honored to present the Thursday morning keynote at the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy. Over the past year, I have become increasingly concerned about dire headlines that move beyond the “kids these days” kinds of arguments we have heard in the past to a deeper, more disconcerting tone that suggests our brains, as well as our culture, are disintegrating. Thus, for my next book project, I am working on a new idea, one that I hope will catch hold amongst educators and parents: digital diligence.
From my work over the years on digital writing and connected reading, and from two decades of teaching, I feel that we need to change the tone of the conversation about educational technology. As we look at 1:1 and BYOD programs, as we consider the hundreds of possible tech tools we could use to scaffold learning and support creativity, why is it that we seem to keep moving back to the most reductive, mundane uses of tech? In our conversations about digital access, usage, and, even “addiction,” are we (educators, parents, medical and mental health professionals, and the media) asking the right questions? Moreover, are we modeling and mentoring tech use for our children and students, or simply managing it?
Thus, today, we will engage in two activities that, I hope, move us toward digital diligence. By this, I define digital diligence as an intentional and alert stance that individuals employ when using technology (apps, websites, software, and devices) for connected reading and digital writing, characterized by empathy, purpose, and persistence. In particular, we will take a digitally diligent stance to better understand how knowledge is created within the Wikipedia community and explore opportunities for civil dialogue using social media.
This semester, I have shifted the focus for EDU 807 to begin immediately with more critical perspectives on educational technology. Over the past year, I have encountered the work of Neil Selwyn, and I am particularly interested in his 2014 book, Distrusting Educational Technology: Critical Questions for Changing Times. As a way to share some of my initial thinking on the book for my EDU 807 students, I plan to blog about it while we read together this semester.
As I initially read the ebook, I immediately appreciated his perspective. He argues in the fifth paragraph of the introduction that “[t]o put it in crude terms, educational technology could be observed to involve a hierarchy of actors and interests ranging from those who generally ‘do’ educational technology through to those who generally have educational technology ‘done’ to them”
(Selwyn, Distrusting Educational Technology. Routledge, 20131126, VitalBook file). From that opening attack, he reminded me of other authors willing to take on the education(al technology) establishment, including Joel Spring, Audrey Watters, and Stephen Downes. So, I was interested from the start.
I knew that I needed something different for my EDU 807 course (focusing on the broad goal of examining educational tools and technologies), and Selwyn’s book hit the mark, both in terms of topic and also because it lends itself well to jigsawing, as the middle chapters of the book take on four major issues: virtual, open, game, and social technologies. My students will choose one of those topics to dig into, creating a set of resources related to that issue. So, in preparation for that process, I will be blogging my way through my own re-reading of the book, and here are some initial thoughts on Selwyn’s approach.
From the Introduction: “Why Distrust Educational Technology?”
From the opening paragraph of the preface, Selwyn notes that he is “deliberately distrustful of the ongoing digitization of education provision and practice” and, in the next, notes the “gulf that persists between the rhetoric of how digital technologies could be used in education and the realities of how digital technologies are actually used in education” (emphasis in original, Selwyn, 20131126, VitalBook file). Thus, from the get-go, Selwyn establishes his critical stance and deep concern about the ways in which our field typically describes and celebrates educational technology, inviting us to consider whether our expectations align with our reality. These are the kinds of questions that I appreciate most as a reader and scholar, so he had me hooked in these opening lines.
Before the end of the preface, he also describes the use of educational technologies as “a profoundly political affair — a site of constant conflict and struggle between different interests groups.” As someone deeply involved with and concerned about teacher education and professional development, these politics are ones that I find don’t get discussed enough. Though I am a strong advocate for resources that are inexpensive or, using the scare quotes intentionally, “free,” even before I got to Selwyn’s chapter on open source materials I began to think again about how I describe and use technologies in workshops and courses. Yes, I know that I have referred to some of them as “free,” and — if we’ve learned anything from the Facebook situation in the past two years — we know that nothing is ever without cost. Making these political aspects of ed tech use even more a part of my on-going dialogue with teachers and the doctoral students with whom I work is a distinct goal for reading Selwyn’s work.
As a final note from the Preface, I was compelled by Selwyn’s idea that “educational technology is not value-free but value-laden, and therefore something that can be trusted and distrusted, agreed and disagreed with. Second is the belief that the nature and form of educational technology are not predetermined and inevitable but negotiable” (emphasis in original, Selwyn, 20131126, VitalBook file). The sad fact is that many educational technologies that exist are set out to solve specific problems (learning facts) with a pedagogical frame (usually a behaviorist or cognitivist one). While this is good to take the perspective that ed tech is mutable, I’m not so sure that this is the case with all ed tech. Yes, we could have teachers and students repurpose skill-and-drill software in creative ways, but that is different than starting with a tool designed specifically for creation rather than consumption.
All the same, Selwyn’s preface had already given me enough to chew on when I first encountered it that I knew this would be the new text for EDU 807. With class starting tomorrow, and our attention on Selwyn’s work coming in a few weeks, I will be writing more about the remaining chapters in the book over the next few days.
And, as one side note, I am finding it difficult to cite, specifically, where I found the information in the book. While I know that Kindle gives locations, the VitalBook file that I am reading does not. So, my apologies for not providing more direct citation info.
In the first post of this series, I outlined some of my general reading habits, and in the second, and third, I was thinking about some of the (semi) automated or organization newsletters that I get on a regular basis. Without bots or a whole team to help move things along, I am always interested in the ways that other educators put together their regular newsletters (as I think about if and how I might choose to create one of my own).
There are three that I receive — and read — regularly. Let’s look at each in turn:
Monday afternoons at 3:45 EST, right at the end of the school day, Burns’ Class Tech Tips hits my inbox. In the top segment of the newsletter, she points directly back to her blog, and each of those posts are usually about a specific teaching strategy and/or tech tool. Concise and focused, she makes it clear when she is getting compensation for affiliate links, and promotes her own books. Still, she makes a point to send the reader toward freely available content, both on her blog as well as other education-related sites. To that end, I appreciate that she is both promoting her own work in a reasonable way, sharing openly-available resources, and still figuring out ways to monetize the blog.
More importantly, her voice speaks to the harried classroom teacher, though not in an immediate, “do this, get that” kind of instantaneous reward kind of way. For instance, one post on the use of Adobe Spark (and a subsequent webinar she offered for free) provides at least four different lesson ideas, all of which could be a one-day, one-time lesson or extended in useful ways. In short, her posts are timely and useful, and they help me see what is happening in the day-to-day conversations about educational technology.
Tom Liam Lynch’s Gradgrinds
A longtime friend and colleague through NCTE, Lynch’s writing has always fun to read and provided me with critical insights on the role of technology in education, specifically in ELA. Every Tuesday morning at 7:00, Lynch shares his latest thinking on recent articles and updates on projects. I appreciate that he offers these quick takes, and his headlines and taglines usually capture the gist of things. For instance, in “Is TV to Blame for Older People—Not Youth—Falling for Fake News? A Study Suggests Yes” he points to an article in the Atlantic and cites a Pew report. Good stuff, delivered in an intellectually humorous manner (coupled with a screenshot from the Simpsons).
In fact, it is interesting to me to see what, if anything, Lynch reports on that I may have seen earlier in Downes’ daily updates. If both of them are talking about it, and I hadn’t read it yet, I will be sure to go back and open the link. Many posts are a “less than a minute” read, yet in that short space Lynch points to other resources and usually leaves me with a more substantive idea to ponder or question to ask. While there are a few too many “Share Gradgrind’s with a friend or colleague” notes peppered throughout the newsletter, I understand that could be just a part of the normal template he uses. He, too, notes that he uses affiliate links.
Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel
Though I have only met Belshaw briefly at an LRA event, I do appreciate his perspectives on digital literacy and, of course, through his regular Thought Shrapnel newsletter. As another educator and scholar who uses MailChimp, it makes me wonder if that might be a good option for me to explore next. Also, in a trend I am seeing many other places, Belshaw makes a clear call to “become a patron” through Patreon. Hitting the inbox at 1:30 AM EST on Sunday mornings, I can expect to see some insights from Belshaw each weekend, though he has taken a break during December.
In terms of the content, Belshaw’s commentaries are normally longer, sometimes quite a few paragraphs with embedded quotes and hyperlinks. These, from what I can tell, are not a verbatim repeat of what appears on his website, so it is good to see that the content here is different from what I would see in an RSS feed or daily aggregated newsletter of some kind or another. Also, I appreciate the insights that he offers and new directions in which he points my reading. Like Lynch, I may see a link from Belshaw that was earlier reported by Downes, and it makes me want to ensure that I have my browser ready for more tabs.
For each of these newsletters, I would like to say that I devote as much time to reading them as the authors who composed them put into the writing process. However, I know that this simply isn’t the case, even when I am able to devote time to reading through a full issue of any one of them. Still, as I have tried to note throughout this series, I appreciate what these colleagues offer and, though I am not quite at the point where I am willing to click through on sponsored posts and affiliate links (see my own policy on this), though I do begin to wonder if I should. I pay the professional journalists for their expertise… so, shouldn’t I pay my colleagues for their expertise? I am still struggling with this.
At any rate, this dip into my daily digital reading habits has been helpful for me as I think about how I triage my inbox, make use of other news sources, and reconsider how I might set up my RSS feeds again in the new year. For this next week, I will be shifting my focus away from reading all the daily news and, instead, into a book that I will be using with my EDU 807 students this semester, Neil Selwyn‘s Distrusting Educational Technology: Critical Questions for Changing Times.
As noted in the first post in this series, I’m trying to unpack some of my daily digital reading habits. In addition to the (semi) automated daily newsletter that comes from social media updates, there are also a regular stream (sometimes a flood) of newsletters that come from various groups.
With the daily headline-style of newsletter (EdSurge and SmartBrief, in particular), I generally skim and may pick one or two pieces to delve into more deeply. The good news for these types of newsletters is that, with my “normal” news consumption of NPR (donation) and the New York Times(subscription), many of the links go back to these sources and I have already read/heard them anyway. These aggregators do send me out to other sites, including their own, to see a bit more of the education-related news of the day. From these sources, I’ve also been pushed out to Slate’s education reporting a few times, and I am thinking about subscribing there, too.
One that I appreciate, generally focused on Michigan, but touches on national news, too, is Robert McClain’s Student&Educator newsletter. He used to request a subscription fee (which I paid for at least a year), but it appears as though it is now free (as I haven’t re-upped my subscription in quite some time). I am not even sure how I ever got signed up for this one (no easy way to do it on the site), and it is probably best to email McClain himself to get put on the Constant Contact list.
Then, there are the organizational newsletters. I do appreciate and read these in as much detail as I can, just to have a sense of what is going on in the organization (at a 30,000-foot view at least) and to better understand what other professionals with similar interests are reading and blogging about. Also, deadlines. Knowing when conference proposals are due is pretty essential. While some are little more than advertisements for upcoming conferences or online events, many of the organizational newsletters point me to interesting tidbits that I would have missed in my regular social media feed or, perhaps, echo what I’ve already seen in my feed.
None of this, of course, is perfect. Some days, like over the holidays here, I still have time to read and digest a good bit of news (general and work-related). Other days, my feet hit the floor in the morning, my head hits the pillow at night, and I barely remember what happened in between. Reading, on those days, is a bit tough. Yet, the newsletters — even just skimming the headlines — help me stay in touch. If nothing else, I can pop open a few tabs and save them for reading at a later time (which I will need to discuss in terms of using Zotero, but that is another post).
And, a final note. If it isn’t obvious already, I have tried to indicate above how I pay for these services. Good journalism, even in aggregate, isn’t free. I am either giving away my data (and some privacy rights), or paying for the service, or a bit of both.
So, with 2019 officially underway, I am hoping that today is the first day of a year that I spend (at least some) focused time blogging. I’ve been at this since 2006, and I’ve had good years and bad ones, productive blogging periods and deep fallows. While I am making nothing even close to a resolution that I will blog 365 consecutive days in 2019, I am hoping that I can increase the overall volume of blog posts by about 50%.
As of today, I stand at 492 published posts over the years, and in recent months I have been getting pretty skimpy in terms of what “counts” as a post, many of which consist of conference session slides and hyperlinks. That’s OK. Sometimes. So, too, are short missives on a news items. Sometimes. And, it’s not like everything that I write needs to be a long, rambling, philosophical treatise. Nor does it need to be a highly polished, essay-like post. But, it needs to be something. And, it needs to be something frequent.
In some ways, this is a silly goal. In 2019, I am working on three different book projects, at least two journal articles (right now), and any number of other items including a the development of a new course on digital and media literacy and a major report that I am working on for a professional organization. In short, there is plenty of writing to do. Blogging has always been the “enjoyable” writing that I would do once all the “required” writing is done.
But, much like I have reversed course in the past few months and repositioned exercise in my daily routine, I need to fit blogging squarely in each 24-48 hour cycle. Some days, the posts may be more substantive than others, but I can at least share a link to an article with some commentary. Sometimes, it may be ideas I am working through for my books, articles, or courses. Or, whatever. The point is that I need to write and get ideas moving.
A major theme, as indicated by the title, is that I will be making a conscious effort to reevaluate, rethink, revise… re-everything… my relationship with ed tech. To begin, I am introducing a new textbook into my EDU 807 course: Selwyn, N. (2013). Distrusting Educational Technology: Critical Questions for Changing Times. New York ; London: Routledge. Because we will be digging into that text fairly soon in the semester, I will make an effort to share some quotes and elaborate on Selwyn’s ideas.
Again, in order to add 50% to my blog in 2019, I would need post 246 times. Whew. I’ll cut myself some slack and aim for 200, looking at a post about once every other day. So, hooray… #1 (for 2019) is done, and I look forward to getting back into blogging over the next few days, weeks, and months. Happy 2019, everyone!
This past fall semester provided me with an opportunity to teach an undergraduate honors seminar, focused broadly on the role of technology in our personal and professional lives.
Entitled “Our Digital Selves,” I was able to work with 22 students over the 16 week semester as we engaged in some shared inquiry, some small group inquiry pathways, and a number of writing-to-learn activities that helped them engage with and understand a variety of digital tools ranging from browser extensions to the Zotero bibliographic management system.
For HON 206, the purpose of the badging system was, as I documented earlier, meant to be an opportunity for students to reconsider the role of traditional grade-driven assessment practices in their learning, providing them with more flexibility and opportunities for them to work creatively with one another. As with all teaching experiences, this one had some ups and some downs.
On the positive side:
Badges held a novelty factor that — combined with the overall topic of digital ethnography that permeated the course — did remain relevant in our discussions and activities.
In pursuing the goal of digital authorship across multiple platforms and with various activities, students began to see how multimodal texts (including badges) could expand their thinking well beyond the traditional academic essay.
Coupled with the inquiry-based, experiential nature of the pathways, students did begin to identify themselves with the badging pathways. They called themselves “Makers,” “Adventurers,” “Hackers,” and “Writers.”
In the end, having some freedom and flexibility was a powerful motivation for learning. While it really wouldn’t have mattered if we had badges or not, talking about the idea of “earning a badge” is more concrete than times in the past where I have used contract grading, which feels much more amorphous.
And, on the negative side:
No matter how much you try to dress it up, even with lipstick, a pig is still a pig. Though the ultimate goal was not to gain a set number of points in order to earn an “A,” this still was a class, with homework and expectations for participation. Try as I might, badges didn’t change that fundamental equation. Some students completed their work on time and with a high degree of quality. Some did not. And, for all those who are worried about grade inflation, well, I am part of the problem, since they all ended up with the same grade at the end.
Interoperability. Even though I was using the open badge standard with the Badgr platform (read more about how Badgr evolved from the Mozilla Open Backpack, and where it is going next), I thought that it would be easy for students to share their badges on LinkedIn (not at all easy, and only as a “certification”) or WordPress (no embedding of iFrames on the free accounts). They could download the image, make a link, and share it that way, but the ease of a “point and click” transfer of the badge from being issued in Badgr to making it into a more viable, professional space simply didn’t happen.
Though there were some other minor concerns, the final major problem is that, even after a semester of talking about badges, showing them how their “evidence” of earning the badge is “baked in,” and that they could easily demonstrate to another instructor or employer, I don’t think that any of them (save for one) really felt like these digital credentials would help them later on.
As with all teaching innovations, I sometimes fear that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I should have opportunity to teach HON 206 again in the future, and I am already thinking about some ways in which I might adapt; I think that there might be some specific ways that I can make things more compelling while also not losing my mind from issuing badges.
First, the badges need to be earned for (some) smaller tasks, not just the final projects. In order to earn a badge for say, “Level I” work in a pathway, you need to have the item turned in on time and to a high degree of quality. If not, no badge. You can still turn in the work and get credit for the assignment, but I need to issue smaller badges, faster.
Second, in a similar vein, I did about eight in-class, intensive “writing-to-learn” activities that were highly scaffolded as Hyperdoc-like activities. I think that I would have at least five of those (of the students’ choosing) become longer assignments that would include the in-class work as well as an out-of-class extension, probably a brief essay (500 words or so). Those, too, would accumulate into a bigger badge, but would be issued more frequently.
Finally, I need a system for them to share the badges. Perhaps, as part of the course, I have them subscribe to WordPress for four months, dropping the text book and paying for that instead. Then, I could build blogging (and reading one another’s blogs) more diligently into the course process, and I could expect them to share their badges more publicly.
So, my first go at badging was compelling and not a complete failure. My hope is that I have opportunity to try this again with undergraduates and — if I get really motivated — with my ed tech doctoral students, too.
For now, I wish that I could give all of my students a digital backpack (ala Mozilla’s original vision) for a Christmas present, so it was easier for them to share their badges and, more importantly, be able to reflect on their learning for the semester. But, that’s on my wish list for next year and, for now, I am satisfied with the gift of a wonderful teaching experience this fall.
I have more to learn about badging, and will continue to reflect on my HON 206 experience, too.