All posts by Anna

educational researcher & teacher educator writing about contemporary composition, theories of development, and transliteracies

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.

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 7.17.27 PM

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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Exploring Mobile Dimensions with NWP

This last week Amy Stornaiuolo and I had an opportunity to meet with teachers at the Annual Meeting of the National Writing Project to discuss the mobile dimensions of contemporary literacy practices. By mobile, we mean the aspects that can move and are moved in writing. Most obviously, the list of things that move in writing includes the people who are writing, and all the old & new mobile devices we use to compose (tablets, phones, pens, notebooks, etc.). Composed messages, too, are mobile, and with networked means, their distribution can reach wide, potentially global audiences.

However, there are other aspects of writing that are similarly mobile, but less obviously so, including our passions and interests (such as an interest in language, data analytics, or an invested way of being), aspects of written products (such as genre characteristics), and writing practices (such as a particular way of revising or composing).

The mobile dimensions of writing have not traditionally received much attention in schools; however, they are important to consider if we are interested in young people’s growth and development as writers. This is particularly true when thinking about the immobilities in students’ writing, whether those are in their writing products, processes, or practices, particularly as some students’ compositions and creations are impeded differently than others–at times in inequitable and unjust ways.

A thread of this session also focused on ways to sense and trace these mobilities, and we used our work in two networks of writers to discuss these aspects through our transliteracies framework we’ve been developing with Nathan Phillips. First we mapped posts from an international network of young writers created by Amy called Write4Change, and then discussed how we might take part in some networked writing ourselves in an online professional learning opportunity for educators that Anna has been a part of called the CLMOOC (Connected Learning Massive Open Online Community).

In addition to the links available in the post and presentation above, there are some other resources that may be of interest:

An article on the mobilities of teachers’ posts in CLMOOC, called Remix as Professional Learning: Educators’ Iterative Literacy Practice in CLMOOC.

A webinar from the Connected Learning TV when we spoke with educators about possibilities of the transliteracies framework for their work with youth:


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May is for Mapping

I have been inspired (again) this week by the work of a group of graduate student educators I’ve been working with this semester. They are currently revisiting maps they made at the beginning of the semester to reflect on their histories with technology in teaching, their classroom space, and paradigms of learning. After three months of intense discussions, critical reflection, and application through redesign, we are now taking a look back and reconsidering how we conceive of our various educational spaces and histories.

Maps, like all products, can appear to be stable, objective depictions of reality, but as we are often reminded, this is simply not the case. In fact, mapping is a practice that can be particularly powerful for discovering and asserting frames of reference on physical and conceptual space. Take the Mobile City Youth project, for example, in which groups of youth in urban areas use mobile and location technologies to map (and critically counter-map) the learning opportunities and deficits of their city landscape. The maps they create are much more than utilitarian tools, but rather, they are processes of critical and creative civic engagements.

Mapping has been an instrumental practice for me in my research processes as I work to understand young men’s transcontextual writing development, and my work with youth as we explore the new ethical dimensions and relations of contemporary times together. For a new project, I’ve been rereading James Corner’s work on mapping. In one piece he argues:

As a creative practice, mapping is a finding that is also a founding…Mappings do not represent geographies or ideas; rather they effect their actualization. Mapping is…doubly operative: digging, finding, and exposing on the one hand, and relating connecting, and structuring on the other. (p. 225)

This relating and connecting potential is where I want to go next. There are some exciting new connect-and-learn-by-mapping initiatives happening right now that you can join in on!

CLMOOC Data Postcard Project

If you haven’t already, check out the CLMOOC Data Postcard Project, a project inspired by Dear Data. Educators (for the most part) design, make, send, and interact around a series of postcards. And you can join in! From topography to mind maps, this month, the postcard exchange is focused on mapping. To learn more and join the CLMOOC Data Postcard Project, go here.

The View from Here

Right here on this site, inspired by another set of current graduate student educators, we have started the new The View from Here collaborative perspective-sharing map. Focused on varying themes, The View from Here’s purpose is to gather together multiple stories, experiences, and perspectives on education from different schooling contexts around the world, and draw connection between them. And you are invited to join the conversation!

The current theme is: What are the ‘hot topics’ in terms of technology & education at your school site?


Corner, J. (1999). The agency of mapping: Speculation, critique and invention. In D. Cosgrove (Ed.) Mappings (pp. 213-52). London, UK: Reaktion.

Feature Image: World Map 1689 By Gerard van Schagen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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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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