just words

One of the joys of teaching is learning from and being inspired by the students with whom you are working. Last week in a graduate course I am teaching called eLearning in PK-20, we focused on multimodality and multimedia in our teaching and learning. We read a chapter I had written with a colleague called “Multimodal Meaning: Discursive Dimensions of e-Learning” in the book eLearning Ecologies

In our course, a different class member “sparks” a conversation for the week, and we all respond using FlipGrid. For this week, Sheri sparked our conversation and in a very thoughtful way, pushed back on some of the overemphasis in our chapter on thoughtfully, responsively, and purposefully designing multimodal/media instruction. She invited us to think about the unintentional and unexpected places we’ve been when we follow students’ leads. I appreciated the push, and it made me think back to another spark from Zachary who had invited us to consider if and how we were designing instruction that was (or was not) culturally responsive, and in humanizing ways, attentive to the diverse lived experiences of our students. Needless to say, I was inspired to focus on both of these dimensions in my response video for the week. Here it is:

For those of you interested, here is the first paragraph from “Multimodal Meaning: Discursive Dimensions of e-Learning”:

From graphic organizers to 3-D models of cellular structure to choreographed performances of Shakespearean sonnets, multimodal objects and practices are not uncommon in traditional schooling. However, these expressions are often presented as accompaniments to the central, dominant evidence of knowledge and learning—language in the form of print text (Bezemer & Kress, 2008; Jewitt, 2005; Kress & van Leeuwen, 2001). All too often, learning activities and assessments are reduced to alphabetic expressions that can be collected and counted. This holds true for teacher planning materials as well, such as in the prescribed talking points and quiz questions in annotated textbooks. However, the rapid changes to the communicative practices brought on by the sweep of the digital era—including the prevalence of screens, the interactive and social nature of media composition, distribution, and consumption—have created an expanse between the practices of schooling and the practices of daily life, civic engagement, disciplinary study, and professional careers. More often than not, the texts we encounter in daily life are multimodal (Kress, 2003), and we are expected to digitally design multimodal texts in return. Miller and McVee (2012) argue that “integrating the dramatic broadening of purposeful literacies and practices of knowing to include multimodal systems beyond print text for all students may be the essential task for schools in the 21st century” (p. 6). In this chapter, we further argue that when educational spaces and practices are reimagined with the affordances of multimodal meaning making foregrounded—particularly those made available by digital tools and interfaces—the potential for reshaping many of the assumed building blocks of educational design and experience in e-learning ecologies is realized.


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Theory & Practice in the Same Breath

I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘theory‘ and ‘practice’ and their relationship lately. For one, I’m currently collaborating with practicing teachers in a course focused on models of instructional tech design. Before we dove in to these models, I invited the teachers to consider what theories or paradigms of learning guide their everyday teaching, and to create a visual metaphor for their paradigm of learning.

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The results ranged from learning-as-journey metaphors to drawing parallels between learning and trail running…during a run, as well as considering the teaching/learning dyad as the back-end of a messy equipment rack. (Feel free to comment on these teachers’ blogs and channels! We’re building our PLNs this semester by contributing our experiences and reflections to the world wide web of education via blogs and channels…like this one.)

Around the same time, my colleagues Amy Stornaiuolo, Nathan Phillips and I had an article come out in the academic journal called Theory Into Practice. While we were writing the piece, I reflected often about what the little word into meant in the journal’s title, and if the two could every really be divided. My colleague Lara Handsfield (who has written a great book on literacy teaching theory and practice called Literacy Theory as Practice) helpfully uses the phrase “practice and theory interanimate each other.”

As I think about the examples the teachers in our course gave, they often talked theory and practice in the same breath. Our article in the issue is titled Multiplicities in Motion: A Turn to Transliteracies, and in it, we, too, discussed mobilities and literacies theories through a classroom example. Each interanimating the other, if you will. Here’s the article’s abstract: Continue reading Theory & Practice in the Same Breath

Digital Trace Audit: A #clmooc New Year’s ‘Unmake’ Cycle

Want to join me in a #clmooc ‘unmake’ cycle?

(clmooc stands for Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaboration)

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about the tracks, traces, and trails we leave as we work digitally and online. In a recent chapter focused on learning analytics and writing, I wrote about some of the potentials and pitfalls in education of the traces we leave when we write digitally. It begins:

Though the electronic pulses that transmit data packets across the Atlantic in milliseconds can make digital writing seem ephemeral, writers composing with digital devices and within digitally networked environments leave traces. Through new media’s social practices and algorithmic designs, these traces can be fed back and used, making them long lasting, seemingly indelible marks.

User metrics and analytics—though still early emerging socio-technological phenomena—have quickly become foregrounded in big business, policing, and governmental decision-making. At the same time, they have also become backgrounded in social life—an everyday, “unseen” aspect of the social ecologies of daily life. (Smith, Cope & Kalantzis, 2017, p. 235)

In addition to privacy, security, energy costs, etc., one of the pitfalls that this hints at is how our data traces are used as a commodity. What’s the saying? “If it’s a free app, you are the cost.” And yet, in order to realize some of the potentials with online writing and creating tools, we have to agree to terms of service that are written in such broad and inclusive language that we don’t really have the choice but to, in essence, sell our digital souls. I don’t know how many of those ‘Agree’ checkboxes I’ve ticked without reading, but even if I read, if I wanted to use an app or participate in online communities, I wouldn’t really have that much of a choice but to tick, tick, tick.

So, when Wendy posted a tweet about a Digital Detox, it definitely caught my eye.

So, here’s my idea for a New Year’s #clmooc UnMake Cycle…

For the month of January, I have made a grid with several ways to check in on our digital traces that I have been collecting the last month or so. You can randomly pick one each day or week, or you can work your way through them sequentially.

The reason this is an ‘unmake’ cycle is that we might choose to delete accounts, erase images, edit profile descriptions, clear browser histories, or otherwise ‘unmake’ our digital traces along the way. Let us know what you’re up to on the usual #clmooc channels.

However, there can be plenty of making opportunities as well!

  • We might check out a new app to replace an older one that isn’t functioning, and post something we create with it.
  • We might remix the terms of service of our favorite platforms as a way to actually, finally read those darn things.
  • We might make a network map of our personal learning network, including the digital platforms and tools that serve as the gatekeepers to the folks and ideas with whom we want to connect.

Digital Trace Audit: A #clmooc New Year’s ‘Unmake’ Cycle

Click on the squares below for your surprise digital data traces audit activity!
(I am still taking suggestions for activities that I can add. Please comment below!)


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Tracing Across Time & Image with #AltAction

I am thrilled to have been invited to participate with a group of youth interested in being positive change agents in their community. Called AltAction their team is serious about engaging in critical and creative action. I have only met with them twice, and I am already inspired.

In the coming weeks, they are going to engage in some community photo ethnography in order to “make the familiar strange,” to step close in order to step back in perspective. To this end, they presented me with some homework. (It’s been a while since I had homework assigned!)

Bring three photographs that tell the story of what brings you to AltAction.

I’ve been thinking about this prompt all week, and am so pleased to have been asked to think both critically and creatively in tracing across the moments of my life. I have learned from educators and artists, such as Janis Jones and her series on beach debris, how composing through image can be incredibly powerful social action.

It also reminds me of something Jay Lemke (2009, p. 273) asked that I am taking up in my current work on tracing writing development across lifespans with Paul Prior:

How do moments add up to lives? How do our shared moments together add up to social life as such?

Just this last week, my grad students traced their uses of technology across various timescales—across their careers, their courses, a unit—and I really saw the power of not just communicating through photographs, but also tracing across time as a reflective activity. Take Aaron’s reflection as just one of many examples.

So, here are my three photos in timeline form, representing the laminating of experience across my life that ultimately brings me to AltAction.

Homework done.

skirt and tightsstructural changeeye


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Say True Things: 5th Graders On Audiences On and Off the Grid

A couple of years ago, I posted about talking to my niece and her fifth grade class about audiences on- and offline. This week, in a graduate course I am teaching, the topic of teaching about online interaction and audiences with elementary students was raised...and I realized I never hit "post" on this companion post. So, here is a major #tbt to something that has been sitting in draft mode for too long.

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to talk with a fifth grade class about audience using a mini-lesson and guided practice that is probably familiar to many teachers.  We then extended that discussion into considering what writing for an audience means in contemporary times. The young people in that class shared great advice for the demands on writing in a digital, networked age.

Audience Offline

We started our conversation with a guessing game comparing two texts that were talking about a pair of shoes online:

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We talked through the criteria the school was using in on online writing platform and saw that depending on the audience, every aspect of a piece of writing might change depending on the audience.

Message Continue reading Say True Things: 5th Graders On Audiences On and Off the Grid

It’s that Time of Year…

It’s that time of year…when I claim to reboot my efforts on this site…or not. I was inspired to write this non/anti-resolution post by two tweets that came across my feed this last week.

First, I saw that Melvina posted that she received a postcard from Kevin Hodgson via Karen Fasimpaur‘s #clmooc postcard project that has taken a data display turn this year.

If you look closely (click on the tweet to see the images), you’ll see that Kevin has mapped his resolutions…and their degree of accomplishment. (P.S. Kudos Kevin, beautifully displayed data!) It got me thinking about the commitments I’ve made over and over on this site. I’ve even tried the non-resolution approach!

Then, I saw another tweet, with a possible solution. Ironically, it was a response from Kevin to Mia Zamora about her resolution.

Iscreen-shot-2017-01-09-at-8-01-40-amn the post she shared, she committed to making “snap posts.” Snap posts are posts that are conceived, composed, produced, and distributed within 15 minutes. She is going to be posting these as part of her interaction with the Networked Narrative open journey (on Twitter: @netnarr #netnarr). I am not sure how closely she is going to watch the clock on all those parts, but I was inspired. In fact, I have…5 minutes and 57 seconds to finish this post. So, with no promise to write one of these ever again, here’s a snap post from me.

The main takeaway for me, however, is not actually the snap post idea. It is, rather, a reminder how much I gain from my personal learning network, particularly, how much I learn in the serendipitous moments I glance at my Twitter feed or see a post in a Facebook group. Some of the moments are leveraged by social media directly, like when I asked Ian O’Byrne if he’d be willing to do a recorded video call with me following the Literacy Research Association Study Group focused on developing a “domain of one’s own.” Others are only distally connected and come together unpredictably, and take off in new learning pathways. The kind that characterized much of what we recognized as learning in our Remix as Professional Learning piece that came out this last year as a reflection on the connected learning opportunity for educators, CLMOOC.

I am currently designing the syllabus and learning challenges for an Introduction to Educational Technologies course, and my interest in having the grad students check in on the health and development of their own learning networks is reinvigorated!

Confession: This took just over 15 minutes to write, inclusive of the tweets and photo. It then took another 5 to add all the links.


As always, I apologize that WordPress has begun to force ads on each post. Please ignore any ad that follows. I have not vetted and do not support whatever is advertised below.

Anna Smith, PhD, educational researcher & teacher educator blogging about composition in the digital age, contexts for learning, theories of development, and global youth.

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