Teaching Participatory Media and Democracy (AERA, Part 4)

Let’s begin with the critique of this panel’s main premise, that social media is transforming civic education and participatory democracy. That critique was the what discussant Joel Westheimer (University of Ottawa) offered. From his perspective, the technologies that allow us to use social media — the mobile web with apps, the ability to find, share, and remix multiple forms of media relatively easily — do not fundamentally change civic participation. In one sense, I appreciate his willingness to keep us all from drinking the kool aid, and to bring his perspective as a veteran civic educator to think about the implications, or not, of social media. That said, many if us disagreed.

Thus, the panelists shared their experiences working with youth in projects surrounding civic engagement and social media, including a fantastic presentation by Antero Garcia. There is much more to talk about from his presentation, let alone the entire panel, than I can capture here, yet one rhetorical move that he made which was truly effective was to show an image of his school, taken from a news helicopter, in a lockdown. Outside the school, police patrolled and kept students and teachers locked inside for about seven hours because a “latino male” in a white t-shirt had been spotted in the area with a gun, all the while playing out on television news. The blatant uses of power and authority to, quite literally, turn the school into a prison where the innocent were incarcerated as guilty has so many levels for critical interpretation and analysis that I could write a dissertation on it. In short, Antero made it clear that he invites his students to use social media in ways that push against the dominant narratives of race, class, and prejudice that infiltrate his students’ lives.

As I continue to think about how to frame the conversation about digital writing for my next book, there is no doubt that I will have to include social media. As I think about the ways in which most students, especially teens, experience and use social media, my strong suspicion is that they still don’t see this as an act of writing (as this WIDE report from a few years back shows), thus they don’t frame it as a rhetorical situation. For K12 students, especially those growing up with 1:1 opportunities in their homes and schools, this is a significant oversight on the part of writing teachers. And, as this panel from AERA shows, the fact of the matter is that social media pervades our lives and communities, so we better figure out how to invite students to compose with these broader audiences and purposes in mind.

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Ideas from AERA 2012 (Part 1)

Unlike many conference experiences where I am “on” for most of the time, presenting or meeting, I was able to take a slightly slower pace at AERA 2012 this weekend in Vancouver. Although the long travel days and time zone differences were a little tough to contend with, the few focused hours that I spent at the conference itself were very valuable for me in thinking about my teaching, research, and service. With the upcoming NWP SEED grant coming due, there are many things I can take from this weekend to think about while writing.

A quick list of some highlights:

  • A panel of Kris Guitterez’s graduate students talk about the teaching of writing and service learning
  • Roy Pea and other distinguished educational technologists from around the world discuss current and future trends in ed tech
  • Both listening to and engaging with (through Today’s Meet) a panel of young scholars who are studying participatory democracy and social media
  • Numerous connections, conversations, and opportunities to think through some of my current ideas related to our next NWP grant, including a smart round-table conversation with the Writing and Literacies SIG
  • Presenting with my colleagues on adolescent literacy in the content areas, with my focus on English language arts

A little more detail on each of these sessions/ideas over the next few days as I reflect on them and offer some further analysis. For the moment, here is my own presentation on “Learning with Text in the English Language Arts.”

As a part of a panel discussion about engaging adolescent learners in both content area literacy learning as well as general reading and comprehension strategies, I began by describing a unit of study crLeated around Of Mice and Men. To read more, take a peek at this preview of our chapter in Google Books. This, of course, led me to present a critique of such models of language arts instruction as being to text-focused, and lacking a multidimensional approach that could lead to both greater comprehension of the text itself as well as a better understanding for students of who they are as readers, writers, and literate individuals in the world. While they are not much, here are some slides that share the gist of my talk:

For those who know me and my work — a few of whom attended the session, and I appreciate taking the time to do so! — I probably had a surprising dearth of technology-talk as part of my conversation. In writing the chapter, Sue and I wanted to steer clear of critiques where readers would say, “Well, that would be great if I had access to more technology…” Instead, we talked about best practices in the teaching of English language arts, bringing in some technology as it seemed appropriate, but not at the forefront. My goal, for the chapter and the presentation, was as Michelle Hagerman said, “pedagogically purposeful,” and I wanted people to walk away with an understanding of what could/should be different in this type of effective conversation.

That said, I had some thoughts rolling around in the back of my head from reading I had done on the way to Vancouver. Last week, I was finally able to get a copy of a book that has been much-talked about by many colleagues in the past few months: Mike Schmoker’s Focus. In this book, he argues for a simplified approach to language arts (eschewing, in many ways, the affordances of technology and other “fads” related to literacy teaching. In his own words, here is what Schmoker has to say, from page 26 of his book:

Screen Shot from Mike Schmoker's Focus
Screen Shot from Mike Schmoker's Focus

I’m trying to figure out exactly why I am completely in agreement with Schmoker on the surface, and yet deeply disagree upon giving his ideas further thought. Certainly, we do not want students to make skits or claymation without an adequate exploration of story telling, character development, and the like. Is he implying that we need to do more with argumentative and informational writing, to use the CCSS parlance? Perhaps it is his parenthetical identification of some teachers and scholars — (as some do) — as an offhand remark without further explanation that bugs me the most. I’ll need to think through this some more.

More reflections from AERA over the next few days…

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Adaptive Assessment and the Purposes of Educational Technology (AERA, Part 3)

Roy Pea has long-studied educational technology and, in this interchange with Larry Cuban hosted by Tapped In, reminds us that:

A second caution is replacing flesh with silicon. The point here about technology is to augment physical, hands-on learning, face-to-face encounters, not to replace it, and yet, certainly, there may be places that come to feel that interactive programs, simulations, teleconferencing, travels in cyberspace, are cheaper, more effective, and easier to conduct than the real thing. Let’s watch out for that. (The Pros and Cons of Technology in the Classroom, 1998)

That said, as I listened to him talk about adaptive technologies that monitor and respond to student progress (ala Khan Academy), I became increasingly concerned. Captured in these tweets, here are some of the “benefits” that Pea described, without much in the way of critique, posted in reverse chronological order:

Troy HicksTroy Hicks ? @hickstro

Being an #edtech advocate, I am becoming concerned about the focus on collection of student metadata, both implicit and explicit. #AERA2012

Roy Pea: adaptive systems create large scale testbeds to do experiments in comparative pedagogy; expand social networks for learn #AERA2012

Roy Pea: Expand learner access to data in relation to others creating a networked systems of learners in adaptive learning systems #AERA2012

Roy Pea: expand data gathering outside of school contexts; give access of data to learners themselves (performance dashboards)#AERA2012
Roy Pea: learner perceptions and motions (& emotions); capturing uses of written language; expanding our sense-making techniques#AERA2012
Roy Pea: By expanding profile metadata, greater context of learner’s history of learning, capturing learner perceptible aspects#AERA2012
Roy Pea: How can adaptive technologies become trusted resources for students, teachers, and policy-makers? #AERA2012

The idea of a “school of one,” while appealing on one level to anyone who has ever talked about differentiated instruction is, ultimately, terrifying to me. Not because it will eliminate the teacher, per se, although teachers do become more like technicians in this model where they work to support students without really teaching anyone anything directly, or engaging in more substantive conversations in small groups or as a class. While it could be beneficial for students in many ways, my fear is that the implementation of adaptive assessment will inherently isolate students from one another and, as Leigh Graves Wolf reminded me of in a tweet (or three), will create data sets that are ultimately intended to evaluate (and, arguably) punish teachers. This idea of adaptive assessment ties with another popular ed tech trend, one that is perhaps seen as more “progressive,” but in effect is really not much more so, much like many recent edtech fads. For instance, as Ira Socol noted earlier this year, the concept of “flipping” the classroom is very problematic:

But the “Flipped Classroom” is worse than ‘typical homework’ – it literally shifts the explanatory part of school away from the educators and to the home, however disconnected that home might be, however un-educated parents might be, however non-English speaking that home might be, however chaotic that home might be. So, kids with built in advantages get help with the understanding, and kids without come to school the next day clueless. (Changing Gears 2012: rejecting the “flip”)

So, to hear Pea and other distinguished educational technologists talk about adaptive technologies in this manner was, at best, disconcerting. At worst, it is terrifying to think that our children will be measured by computers, as the recent hullabaloo over computer-based writing assessment reminds us. As the CCSS assessments come online, literally, my sincere hope is that teachers continue to question not only their validity as a measurement tool, but also the unintended consequences of such assessments on their students, curriculum, and instruction.

Footnote: Of course, we are all now familiar with the TED-Ed initiative to “flip” videos on their site, and this could be another interesting twist in the conversation. At least with TED, teachers are still in control of the learning process since they create their own versions for the flip.

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