Rethinking a Wiki vs LMS for Course Design

CC0 Public Domain image by kaboompics on Pixabay.
CC0 Public Domain image by kaboompics on Pixabay.

Last year, when I first taught EDU 807, “Learning Tools in Education Technology,” one of my goals was to employ a wiki as a learning management system (LMS) so the doctoral students involved in the course could participate in a more open, collaborative form of social scholarship. I have long been an advocate of using wikis as an organizational space for my face-to-face classes and in professional development workshops, and it made sense to me that students involved in a doctoral program about educational technology tools would be able to adapt the wiki for their own uses as individuals and in small groups, and to collaborate in innovative ways.

One of the other elements of this course was that I asked students – both individually and in small groups – to regularly move across a variety of educational technology tools. For instance, we used at least a dozen different technologies including the wiki, Google Docs, VoiceThread, Vialogues, and (the now defunct) Zaption. There was also an attempt to integrate Twitter as a back channel conversation throughout the semester.

The ideal, however, met the reality of teaching an online course to busy professionals, and the struggle to move between spaces began to cause confusion and frustration. For all of us, the management of so many different tools was a challenge: Where are we discussing the readings this week? What is due next? Where is the link for that article?

My end-of-semester course evaluations reflected the types of concerns that students felt as they moved across so many tools in such quick succession. While they generally enjoyed and appreciated the course, it was clear that using the wiki in the way that I envisioned was one step too many, even for students in a doctoral program exploring ed tech. Sadly, our attempts to make use of the wiki on a regular basis quickly fell to the wayside. Also, as an instructor, I struggled to keep a balance with students turning in their work, providing feedback, updating the online gradebook in our normal LMS, Blackboard, and – on top of that – managing revisions and late assignments.

In short, my best efforts at using the wiki as an open, collaborative space for students to generate their own shared understandings of the course material and to create social scholarship became an unnecessary burden. In rethinking the course for this spring, then, I struggled to figure out how I would push back against the practices and discourses of the standard course management system while, at the same time, updating my course for this spring so as to avoid massive confusion on behalf of my students.

Hence, I am returning to our university’s LMS as the “hub” of our course activities. I struggle with this for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I’m trying to teach doctoral students how to employ a variety of educational technology tools – building on collaborative, open source ethos – and yet I must return to an LMS that has a decidedly centered to the tool. I also struggle because I want students to know that social scholarship (openness, collaboration, messiness) does not always work on distinct the context of “taking” a course (modules, assignments, grades).

However, I will keep the idea of being “open” moving forward by asking students to blog on a regular basis, as well as to post additional course assignments as artifacts on their own digital portfolios. Also, we will use Twitter as a way to comment upon one another’s work, as well as to share ideas from other scholars.

I am not particularly pleased about having to give up on using a wiki, and yet at the same time I think by centralizing and streamlining many of the more mundane class activities in the LMS, I will be better able to help my students focus on broader goals of social scholarship and critically evaluating educational technologies. So, wish me luck as I reboot EDU 807 this semester!


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Imagining a New Course: Our Digital Selves

ipad-605439_960_720
Public Domain Image from FirmBee on Pixabay

One of my relaxing and still intellectually engaging tasks for this holiday break is to write a proposal for an honors course at CMU. Designed as a first-year seminar for freshman honors students to get them engaged in critical thinking, inquiry, and sustained writing practices, each seminar must tackle a major issue relevant to students’ lives. I am proposing a class entitled “Our Digital Selves: Building and Blending Our Personal, Professional, and Practical Digital Identities.” Here are the details, and I would definitely be interested in getting feedback from other educators about what topics, terminology, and technology I might explore with my students. If the proposal is accepted, I would teach the course in the fall of 2017.


Our Digital Selves: Building and Blending Our Personal, Professional, and Practical Digital Identities

Without question, we live, work, and play in a digital world. Though a divide still exists in terms of skills and access across demographics, it is reasonable to argue that the increasing ubiquity of mobile devices connected to the Internet as well as broadband in our homes, schools, libraries, and workplaces means that all of us – especially young people coming of age in the present moment – are now blending our personal, professional, and practical digital identities across multiple networks and with a variety of tools. However, the ability to upload a picture or post on one’s timeline does not, in and of itself, assure us each a place in digital segments of academia, the workplace, or civic life. In fact, a recent Rasmussen College survey showed that 37% of millennial students see the internet as “scary” and are not confident in their digital literacy skills. This first year seminar will challenge students to critically examine what it means to lead a digital life – personally and academically – and to rethink our understanding of what it means to be mindful, productive, and responsible users of technology.

This seminar would be designed with both face-to-face and hybrid components.

  • In the face-to-face sections of class, we would be engaged in small- and whole-group conversations about articles, chapters, books, videos, and other pieces of scholarship related to digital identity; we would also be examining case studies of digital literacy practices considering current professional standards (such as the ACRL Information Literacy Framework); and, ultimately, we would be producing students’ initial online portfolio using a social networking tool such as About.me or LinkedIn.
  • In the hybrid/online sections of class, we would be exploring a variety of digital tools to help students develop personal, professional, and academic skills including, for instance: shared document collaboration (Google Docs, Microsoft Office 365), bibliographic management (Zotero, Mendely, Endnote), presentation and publication (Infogr.am, Atavist, Adobe Creative Suite), and workplace communication (Slack, Yammer). We might also involve students from outside of CMU as part of our inquiry.
  • Across both the face-to-face and hybrid meetings, we would also be using our time to reflect upon the experience of being engaged in these various exercises with specific tools. In short, we would be metacognitive, critically thinking about our use of digital devices and social practices.

I welcome thoughts, comments, and questions… as well as knowing if anyone else with students from upper elementary school through graduate school would be interested in collaborating on this course to make it an open, immersive experience for everyone involved. If it gets accepted, I will put the call out there again in the spring, but I would be happy to hear from interested educators at any point.


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Conversation about Connected Reading on LitBit Podcast

Connected Reading Model
Connected Reading Model

Many thanks to Brooke Cunningham, creator of the LitBit podcast and a doctoral student in the University of Tennessee PhD in young adult literature program, for inviting Kristen Turner and me to share our thoughts on Connected Reading with her listeners. Please listen to and share the episode!

Posting, Probing, and Reflecting on Conversations with NowComment

now-comment-screenshot
Screenshot of my class’s discussion with Now Comment

So, I know I’m a little bit late to the web, image, and video annotation phenomenon that’s taken place over the last few years. I’ve talked a little bit about it in some of the pieces that I’ve written on Connected Reading, but I haven’t really been an avid user simply because it couldn’t quite figure out ways to integrate it fully into the courses I was teaching. This fall, however, I jumped in feet first and the particular tool that I have chosen to invest my (and my students’) time in is NowComment.

I was made aware of the impending changes to NowComment’s text-only to image and video annotation features earlier this year when Dan Doernberg was featured on the Teachers Teaching Teachers weekly webcast (below). I very much appreciate – especially this week – Dan’s mission as founder of Fairness.com:

“Beginning with the 2008 Election, our focus shifted to improving some of the fundamental “cultural infrastructure” that makes it far too easy for the powerful to take advantage of the less powerful. NowComment®, a software tool that facilitates in-depth, intellectually honest discussion of complex documents, is the first of several such projects.”

As a teacher of writing and educational technology, I have been quite impressed with the features that NowComment offers. In addition to a user-friendly interface, NowComment’s ability for me to look back through threaded discussions and to sort my students comments individually has been immeasurably helpful. As I think about designing the discussion task, looking for ways to optimize student learning, I know that I will be able to do this kind of advanced sorting when I prepare to evaluate their participation.

And, for me, this is the crux of online (or face-to-face) commenting/annotation. We want to invite and encourage conversation, not just comments. I have shared with my masters students (mostly teachers and professional educators in other fields) a few additional resources to help them move the conversations forward, and this is what I am playing with more and more each week. For instance:

  • In forming their initial response to the readings/viewings for the week, I am asking the teachers to use Terry Heick’s “19 Reading Response Questions For Self-Guided Response.”
  • As they engage with others, I ask them to consider the National School Reform Faculty’s “Probing Questions” protocol as they push their classmates’ thinking.
  • Finally, as they reflect each week, I am asking them to pull specific examples from the conversation on NowComment into their discussion board postings (in Blackboard).

And this is just the start of my thinking.

I’m sure that there are other all even more robust ways that I can blend thoughtful pedagogical approaches to discussion with the numerous tools that NowComment offers. I’ve shared this tool with a few other faculty members, and I’m thinking about ways that I can integrate it more fully into future courses and professional development that I offer. I wonder:

  • How else are we thoughtfully connecting the teaching moves of conversation with technologies for annotation?
  • In what ways we help our students use these tools to “listen,” and not just annotate, deeply and empathetically?
  • How can the conversations that happen around documents then transfer into deeper, more substantial learning through additional writing and reflection?

These are the questions that continue to drive me forward as I watch my students post, probe, and reflects using NowComment this semester.

Digital Writing, Digital Teaching 2.0

After another few weeks of trials and tribulations, the kind support team at LunarPages has helped me wipe my server clean and reinstall my original blog. I am reposting the “new” welcome that I posted in mid-October and, now, hope to be back up and blogging again.


Nearly 10 years ago, Professor Michael Wesch created a video to describe “‘Web 2.0’ in just under 5 minutes.” “The Machine is Us/ing Us” documents the evolution of the web, beginning with HTML and then into the web we know today.

He notes in the video that, with the very first version of hypertext markup language, or HTML, “form and content became inseparable.” That is, whatever we put into a webpage required both a “structural” element (such as a heading, bold, or list item tag) as well as the words themselves.

Then, XML allowed us to separate content from form. Using a different form of markup language, the content (words of the text) were separate from the form (format of the text). As the video notes, “data [words] can be exported, free of formatting constraints.”

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, in the end of the video he invites us to rethink a number of ideas including copyright, authorship, identity, aesthetics, governance, privacy, commerce, love, family, and ourselves.

To say that this video’s effect on my perspective toward digital writing was profound is not nearly enough. In many ways, it helped to set my trajectory over the past ten years, and it was enjoyable to watch it again as I relaunch my blog. I encourage you to take a few minutes to view it, too.

So, fast forward to the present. It was just over 10 years ago when I began this blog with the support of LunarPages free hosting plan for K-12 educators. Since then, it has become a place where I share my on-going thinking, reading, writing, and reflections. It has, directly or indirectly, led to seven books, over 30 articles or book chapters, and countless workshops and conference sessions. I am thankful for all that blogging has allowed me to do, and all that it has invited me to become.

That said, all technologies have affordances and constraints, blogs being no exception. On the mental and emotional side, there have been weeks and months where I have felt guilty for not posting, worrying as to whether or not I was keeping up with digital writing in all the ways that I could or should. On the technical side, I have spent many hours learning about how to customize WordPress, how to stop spammers (unsuccessfully), and — in the past few days — how to download and make sure I have copies of all the MySQL databases from my domain.

Then, last night both to meet the demands of Lunar Pages — who, rightly, need my site to only utilize so much bandwidth — and to provide myself with the kinds of mental and emotional space I need to reaffirm myself as a blogger, I decided to hit the “reset” button. I backed everything up, cleared out the domain, and started fresh. Thus, you will notice my new look and, for the moment, a distinct lack of any “archives” or old posts.

And, here is where these two stories meet. I was reminded of Wesch’s video — and my initial fascination with digital writing — when I realized that I could, despite the fact that my website was being overrun by spammers, separate the content from the form, that I could save my words while resetting the form.

So, I did.

And, so far, I have to say that hitting the reset button on my blog has been a refreshing experience. I’m pleased to have the opportunity to feel like a new blogger once again, all the while knowing that I have a decade of experience (and blog posts) to return to. Hence, I hope to curate some of those old posts and bring them back on this new version of the blog.

And, heck, if you are really feeling nostalgic, the Wayback Machine has some good snapshots from my blog’s history. I might just have to go back and look through all of those myself.

For the moment, I am going to tinker with a few settings, and also begin to think about some more posts that I want to write in the weeks and months to come. Thanks to all of you who have been readers of my blog — as well as all of you who are new to it, too.

I look forward to the (renewed) journey.

Rethinking Scientific Argument with StoryMaps JS

This past week, I was able to cap off a summer whirlwind of PD at CMU’s Biological Station, facilitating what we are calling our first Beaver Island Institute. The six-day event brought together middle school science and ELA teachers for an opportunity to engage in scientific inquiry, explore argument writing in science, and understand aspects of disciplinary literacy. I was fortunate enough to work with two other facilitators, one graduate student, and 16 teachers as they began to develop units of study that connect the Next Generation Science Standards, the Common Core Literacy Standards, and the ISTE Technology Standards. Our main focus was on thinking about how students can pose questions, gather data, analyze that data and refine it into useful evidence, and then make scientific arguments.

Among the many great opportunities that happened, we explored three technologies to support digital writing: infographics (using Piktochart), graphic designs (using Canva), and something new (for me), a tool called StoryMap JS (not to be confused with Story Maps or MapStory, though those both look interesting, too) as a tool for creating presentations that blend map coordinates, images, videos, and text into a coherent “story map” that, indeed, has the map at the center of the story. StoryMapJS is open source, and many news organizations have used it to tell visual stories.

A sample of existing maps shows a variety of ways that users have imagined maps, from the Washington Post tracking the growth of ISIS to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s map of craft breweries in Wisconsin.

As you will see in the sample Story Map that I created below, the cover/title slide is a map that contains all the subsequent points on the map. If you made a story map that was as small as one block in a town, it would zoom in that close; similarly, you could have multiple points represented all over the world with a much wider map in the opening.

The additional slides in the presentation included a space for entering an additional location, uploading (or linking to) an image, and also entering some text. In this space, students could write just about anything — a narrative that moves characters from one location to the next, a poem that describes the location, an informational piece that describes the cultural or scientific value of a particular location, or even evidence for a longer argument (as we discussed this week). The story map, then, can be shared and embedded.

Screenshot from StoryMap JS Interface
Screenshot from StoryMap JS Interface

One additional tool that we used to help identify and, quite literally, pinpoint locations was GaiaGPS. Using their map tool, you can search for points of interest, zoom in and out to find other locations, and even drop pins to get exact GPS locations. I also learned from one of the participants that you can take GPS coordinates out of a Google Map, as seen in the close up of the URL bar below.

Close-Up of a Google Map Address Showing GPS Coordinates
Close-Up of a Google Map Address Showing GPS Coordinates

One idea that I was imagining was that students could, while out taking pictures and videos of a space, be sure to record their location with GPS coordinates (or enable location services in the mobile app) and then have those exact spots. They could create walking tours of their communities, of natural areas, of historical sites, or — as one participant shared with me this week — they could capitalize on the Pokemon Go craze and make a series of geocaches for others to discover… or historical markers tagged with a QR code or Aurasma augmented reality.

This entire week has been valuable for me in many ways, especially as I was invited to think about connections between science and literacy. My hope is that the teachers who were involved in the institute will carry many new ideas back to their classroom this fall and, in turn, engage their own students in scientific inquiry and building arguments with evidence, evidence that they themselves have collected and analyzed.

StoryMap JS, with the opportunities it affords, could be one innovative platform for students to then share their work. Here is just a brief sample of one story map that I created as a model for the teachers.

https://uploads.knightlab.com/storymapjs/66cc3115330feb9ac757e9dfd61218e8/beaver-island-2016/draft.html


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Thinking Through a Digital Deliberation, Part 4: Handwriting, Typing, and Fluency

Summer Institute in Digital Literacy Logo
2016 Summer Institute in Digital Literacy

Today, I head to Rhode Island for the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy, and next Thursday I lead a “Digital Deliberation” session on “typing vs. handwriting.” In my first post for this series, I shared an overview of the debate. Then, in the second post, I look at handwriting curricula and typing tools. The third post explored the rhetorical approaches that proponents and opponents of handwriting and keyboarding both take. Today, I take one more dive into the deliberation, specifically trying to discern what — if anything — we can make claims about when it comes to students’ writing fluency, and what we can reasonably expect of them when handwriting as compared to typing.

I close this part of my inquiry and deliberation delving deeper into a point that Seán McHugh posed in his own blog post about typing vs handwriting, though I want to look at it in a different manner. His idea was this:

In other words, when you can touch-type, the cognitive load of writing and thinking at the same time are lessened and free up working memory for thinking—a bit like cycling a bicycle—once the effort required for remaining balanced, and changing gears et cetera are automatic, you can spend more time noticing/enjoying where you are going. The same idea applies to things like decoding in reading via ‘sight words’, this frees thinking space for understanding instead of decoding. The absence of effort in one frees cognitive space for the other…

In short, he equates fluency in touch-typing with gains in the composition process in the same manner that we know gains in fluency for readers will lead to better comprehension. This makes a good deal of sense, and is also backed up by all the research that he summarized. I thank him for contributing that part of his thinking so I could use it to further this deliberation.

So, to elaborate on the idea of writing fluency: in a NAEP report entitled NAEP 1996 Trends in Writing: Fluency and Writing Conventions, writing fluency is described as “a writer’s facility with language both in terms of the development and organization of ideas and in the use of syntax, diction, and grammar” (4-5). Much like a reader develops fluency (speed and accuracy) as well as prosody (performative measures such as volume, tone, and expression), so, too, must a writer develop these skills.

Returning to McHugh’s point above (and summary of the research), touch-typing frees up the cognitive load in our brains so we can focus on the composing process at the level of words, phrases, and clauses in a manner that, for many writing tasks, is superior to handwriting. Again, common sense would dictate that the words can flow more quickly with touch-typing when doing simple transcription tasks. Also, it seems that touch-typing also allows us to focus on higher-order concerns in the composing process.

This is not to say that we cannot, with handwriting (or cursive), compose intelligent, elaborate, and emotionally-rich written texts. Of course we can, and anyone who has his or her own writer’s journal, or enjoys the art of calligraphy or simply prefers to write by hand, can attest to this. What it does suggest, however, is that “handwriting vs. typing” — regardless of neuroscience or nostalgia, is a moot point.

Students must learn both how to touch-type for purposes of transcription (copying from their own handwritten texts or other texts) and composition (creating their own, original written products) in order to be fully literate in today’s world.

Back to the Standards

Because the CCSS offers no clear direction about how much writing a student at any grade should do in one sitting — a composition process that, much like reading well, requires both fluency and prosody as writers — I am going off the writing samples in Appendix C,  as representative samples of fluent writing, completed in one sitting. And, at the moment, I am not even looking at the quality of the writing or the commentary provided about how those pieces compare to the standards. I am, indeed, just looking at word counts and assuming that students produced those texts in “one sitting.”

In the table below, I provide a simple summary of the word counts of these pieces (I copied and pasted the selections into Word) so we can think carefully about this question of writing fluency as it compares to the time that it will take. For what it’s worth, the three kindergarten pieces, both first grade pieces, and the argument piece for the second grade sample and the third grade narrative were handwritten. Also, some of the older grades had pieces where handwritten, too. Thus, I started looking at arguments that were done as on-demand that were “on-demand” or noted to have been written in one sitting (and, I assumed, typed).

Grade Word Count
4 408
6 1026
7 473
10 719
12 582

In order to build this out further, I needed some reasonable estimation of how many words a child might compose based on age. After much searching — both through Google and the academic databases — the most concise document that I could find is this “Curriculum-Based Measurement: Written-Expression Fluency Norms” created by Jim Wright of Intervention Central who, in turn, had built it based on research from Gansle et al (2006) and Malecki & Jewell (2003). Take a moment to click on those fluency norms, and then take a look at Utah’s keyboarding standards, which was one of the few curriculum guides that, again, offered any kind of specificity in terms of the number of words a student should be able to produce at any one “sitting” of writing time.

Here, then, is my best attempt to combined Wright’s version of Gansle et al’s WPM of handwriting with a parallel match to Utah’s WPM of typing at the same grade level. I then compare that number to the average number of words in those samples from Appendix A and, finally, try to calculate an average sitting time for a student composing a text of that length, by keyboard, with the Utah standards. Please note that the Utah standards max out at 25 WPM in fifth grade and then suggest that, beginning in sixth grade, students “will demonstrate correct keyboarding techniques while increasing speed and maintaining accuracy.” For sake of this argument, then, I am adding 5 WPM each year until they make it to 12th grade and are fluent at 60 WPM.

Also, note that Wright’s fluency norms only go up to sixth grade, at which point the range could be from 44-72 (and this is just for total words written per minute, not counting errors). I am going to top out the students at a max of 80 WPM for no other reason than, based on my own experience, I don’t know that I can be in a state of “flow” while writing and pump out more than that. And, as you may recall from my earlier post, I tested myself a few times and I ranged between about 70 and 73 WPM. I’ll assume, however, that we can get our high school students to be accurately composing their written expression at 80 WPM, max.

So, what do we have?

Grade* Word Count Utah Typing Standard WPM Wright’s Fluency Norms (by spring) Wright’s Fluency Range (by spring)
4 408 20 46 30-62
6 1026 30* 58 44-72
7 473 35* 66 (No rates reported, but adding 6 WPM from 6th grade) No rates reported
10 719 50* 80 (No rates reported, but assuming that students top out at this level) No rates reported
12 582 60* 80 (No rates reported, but assuming that students top out at this level) No rates reported

OK, so one more table, now condensed a bit and adjusting for time. How long would “one sitting” be for our hypothetical, Common Core exemplar students, using a keyboard and allowing for a straight-on composing process (no time for planning, organizing, reorganizing, revising, or editing… just putting words onto the screen in a coherent manner).

Grade* Word Count Utah Typing Standard WPM Time Needed to Meet the Standard and Compose This Many Words (Rounded Up) Wright’s Fluency Norms (by spring) Time Needed to Meet the Standard and Compose This Many Words
4 408 20 21 Minutes 46 9 Minutes
6 1026 30* 35 Minutes 58 18 Minutes
7 473 35* 14 Minutes 70 (Estimate) 7 Minutes
10 719 50* 15 Minutes 80 (Estimate) 9 Minutes
12 582 60* 10 Minutes 80 (Estimate) 8 Minutes

Conclusions (For Now)

I will leave any more deliberation to my readers — and the participants in this week’s institute — but for the moment I will leave with some questions:

  • Are these times realistic given the time we have devoted to writing instruction in our school days and adequate access to computers?
  • Are they realistic given the time our students’ attention spans and ability to compose in on-demand or very short time frames?
  • How much more time do we need to allot in terms of allowing students to actually go through a writing and revising process that, even under ideal circumstances, would mean that they are not writing at the maximum WPM throughout?

Tying all of this together, I share the voice of one more teacher, Terri Fortmeyer.

I just wanted to let you know what we do at our school – North Muskegon Elementary. As a 3rd grade teacher for 16 years, we’ve had many of the same discussions about cursive and keyboarding skills. Currently, we teach cursive during our first semester so students are able to read any cursive they may encounter as well as have a cursive signature. We do not, however, spend large amounts of time on learning cursive letters – maybe 15 min. at the end of the day when students winding down for the day. We also begin teaching keyboarding skills during the second semester of second grade and more consistently during all of third grade. We notice that by fourth grade, students are able to read and write cursive as well as type at a decent speed so that they can begin to move away from paper/pencil writing. Last year I started teaching fourth grade and except for my on-demand assessment pieces and writer’s notebooks, my students drafted, revised, and edited on netbooks computers . . . and they preferred it.

So, what can we learn from Terri’s experience — as well as this entire series of blog posts? What is the state of handwriting and typing in our classrooms? I’ve got to tie all of this together into a 30 minute presentation before Thursday, so I hope that I will have some more ideas by then. And, as always, I appreciate your comments, questions, and insights.


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