Tag Archives: digital tools

My Month as a “Disconnected” Educator–Part I

In Part I, I describe the Connected Educator Month and what activities I’d participate in if I were not so “disconnected” right now. In Part II, I describe what I have learned from being a “disconnected” educator this month.

Apparently, August is Connected Educator Month.

This is a project funded by the US Department of Education to support educators in building their personal learning networks (PLNs). Their site explains:

Online communities and learning networks are helping hundreds of thousands of educators learn, reducing isolation and providing “just in time” access to knowledge and opportunities for collaboration. However, many educators are not yet participating and others aren’t realizing the full benefits. In many cases, schools, districts, and states also are not recognizing and rewarding this essential professional learning.

I consider myself part of the “hundreds of thousands” who have definitely benefited from the generosity and intellectual curiosity of colleagues around the world who use the Internet, digital devices, apps and social media sites to work and think together.

This month, however, I have purposefully disconnected. I have a massive writing project that needs sustained attention and work to finish, and so I not only unplugged, but I headed out to the mountain deserts of my youth, and next week off to a sleepy, coastal Mexican village.

Like today, I check in every once in a while (and for good reason, my bank has called, there was an issue with a grad student’s grade posting, and on and on). The occasional check-in is the only reason I have become aware of this month’s focus.

The Connected Educator’s Month site has created a (not so) user-friendly calendar of events. The New York Times has posted a quick read in which they asked 33 connected educators two simple questions that resulted in a great resources list—especially since several more educators answered the same questions in the comments section. And the P2PU (peer to peer) network has provided a starter kit that includes daily introductions to several types of social media and digital means of connection. (I’m posting that below, because I am a fan of its daily design. You can also download the entire .pdf at the starter kit link above.)

If I were truly plugged in this month, I’d participate in a few other things going on right now. These are things I’d fully support you doing for me in proxy:

  • I’d be a participant in Hybrid Pedagogy’s MOOCMOOC, which is a Massive Online Open Course about Massive Online Open Courses. These have been in the news quite a bit and it would be great to try one out from the inside, as well as have colleagues with whom to think about the affordances and constraints of the MOOC.
  • I’d be tweeting (@writinglit) and Facebooking (AERA Writing & Literacies SIG) for AERA’s Writing and Literacies Special Interest Group. This is a great group of educational researchers who continually push my thinking in writing and literacies.
  • And speaking of literacies, even though the #literacies chat is currently on hold until September, I would be tweeting with the #literacies hashtag via Twitter and connecting with colleagues about the demands and dimensions of contemporary literacies.
  • I’d check out the link a friend and colleague through a Facebook group sent me. It is to the new public-use, interactive online storytelling technology from the developers of the interactive online games The Night Circus and Fallen London. It’s called StoryNexus and I can’t wait to try it out when I return!
  • And the reality is that I would be engaged and learning in several other unexpected, serendipitous ways.

So, why not take advantage of this month’s focus and try out a few new ways to connect?

My Month as a “Disconnected” Educator–Part II

In Part I, I described Connected Educator Month, and how I have purposefully “disconnected” this month by heading out to the mountain deserts of my youth, and next week off to a sleepy, coastal Mexican village. Like today, I check in every once in a while, which is the only reason I even found out about the Connected Educator Month activities, which inspired these posts.

So, what have I learned from being “disconnected” this month?

For one, I can appreciate the feelings described by some of my #teachread grad students who tried out various social media venues for the first time in our course. Some of them discussed the feeling of disconnection when they limited their engagement online to the occasional required post and response. I have been feeling the same as I glance at updates and posts by colleagues and not really read them, let alone respond and engage in the conversation. Other students talked about feeling like they were lost in a constant, fast-moving stream of words when they were trying to read, write and collaborate online. And yes, I have been so infrequently looking at my Twitter feed this month, I have felt out of sync, which has led to even less interaction on my part. I have learned that it is not about being connected or disconnected; rather, it is being engaged in conversations with others—exchanging, interacting, participating—that has made my personal learning network meaningful.

I have also learned that—like most things—this connection or disconnection thing is not a binary situation. While up at a cabin in the desert mountains of the southwest—disconnected as I can be from the world this month—I have been learning and thinking and…well…connected.

My niece and nephew visited for a night and in the morning my nephew and I sat sipping hot cocoa, listening to the different bird calls from the trees to our right and left, when we noticed an ordinary brown bird lift its wings and rise from the sagebrush in front of us. Suddenly it was no longer brown, but a soft blue, like water flying. We looked at each other and then back to the area to see if we could see any others like that one, and soon enough we saw three more. I asked him if he knew about birding. We didn’t have a bird identification book on hand, but we did have an Internet connection in that corner of the porch. I dug out my laptop. We sat comparing the birds flitting just a few feet in front of us to the pictures and descriptions online. We talked about search terms and categories that would result in a proper identification. And suddenly, we came across the Indigo Bunting. There it was, our deceptively bright blue bird. My nephew, who is starting 2nd grade this week, said, “I need to write this down.” And he went inside to dig out a pad of paper and pencil.

We talked about the genre of field notes, the type of information that goes into them, and how their sentences sound. As he wrote his entries, we talked about letter-sound correspondence and spelling patterns. At some point, he said it would be easier just to write the sentence from the website we had found. This led to a great discussion about attributing source material. We took a picture of his book to send to his parents once we were in cell phone coverage, and then realized that family and friends could be involved faster if we posted the picture to Facebook. In moments we were also responding to comments about our birding activities.

Photo taken with a potential app in mind–capturing petals, stems, leaves and soil.

We took the newly formed field notebook on an adventure walk to a reservoir three miles away, during which we took pictures of birds with my phone and he later drew them in his notebook as we sat next to the reservoir. On the way, my niece and I discussed the need for bird, insect and flower identification apps for the phone, about how apps are developed, and what we thought photos would need to entail for automatic identification through an app. We then started taking the pictures with this in mind, discussing what we would need to include in the frame of the photo.

And then we ran into an entomologist, who was riding along on his bike along the dusty path, and he gave us directions to a place that had books on birds, flowers, and of course, insects of the area. (He also described the red velvet ant he found just feet from us in a failed attempt to turn my nephew from birds to insects.) We had a choice at this time to walk an extra mile in the hot midday sun to go look at the books or we could hitch a ride with a neighbor in an air-conditioned car back to the cabin. It wasn’t even a question to my nephew who wanted to see all the books and hold them in his hands.

I’ve learned that this Connected (or in my case, “Disconnected”) Educator Month (see Part I) isn’t like the “paper or plastic” question. Contemporary composition, like my nephew’s field notebook, isn’t a pad of paper or laptop question either. It isn’t a choice between books or apps for bird and flower identification. It isn’t drawing or taking pictures.It isn’t experts IRL (in real life) or comments on a post. Even if you’re “disconnected,” our world and how we experience it is still (re)shaped by these digital means of connection. Of course we could dicker about the degree of my disconnection, but even when I wasn’t using a digital device, my conversations with my niece and nephew and our expectations were influenced by the possibilities of “connection.”

Concluding Thoughts
(in which I connect my experiences and mix my metaphors)

This has led me to think about something I heard in a tweet or a blog post (link me if you know the source) as a possible new literacy strategy for my “disconnected” and “lost” grad students, who were just dipping their toes into the swift stream of digital reading, writing and collaboration available nowadays. Someone advised followers to treat online collaboration and connection as if it were the radio. You tune in and immediately have to contextualize the conversation in order to make sense of it. By merely listening in and making inferential leaps about the genre and the references people are making, you can eventually grasp it. I like this analogy. I think it works.

I’d also say that unlike the radio—and even unlike radio call-in shows—this particular swift-moving stream is even more meaningful if you jump in or—like my niece from a slippery stone she was standing on next to the reservoir—slip in. (Her feet got quite slimy, but she reported that the cool water made it all worth it.) It isn’t just about the information that’s out there that our current devices and apps allow us to get, nor is it the kind of the messages we can now send; rather, it’s the possible conversations and ideas that ignite between people that makes “connecting” worth it. The possibilities surround us.

Getting the Picture: Writing in a Parallel Pedagogy Classroom

It has been a while since Joel Malley provided the following video in preparation for a congressional briefing on digital literacies. However, after a couple of months of conference attendance, I think the video is still needed, relevant and effective in providing a picture of the changing nature of writing in the digital age, and the pedagogical changes that must follow. What I appreciate most about this video is the way it clearly demonstrates a “both/and” mentality toward print and digital tools, text types and processes.

Writing in the Digital Age from Joel Malley on Vimeo.

In an article in the Journal of Media Literacy, Richard Beach described a course similar to the one seen in this video in which he attempts to reach goals around print literacies (such as text interpretation, argumentative/creative writing, verbal communication) and digital literacies (such as interactivity, connectivity/linking, multimodality, and social networking). He borrows from Kevin Leander‘s notion of “parallel pedagogies” to explain his “both/and” approach:

Kevin Leander (2009) has identified four stances teachers adopt related to using [digital] tools: 1) «resistance» to using digital literacies, 2) «replacement» of old literacies with new, 3) using new literacies to validate or «return» to older print literacies, and 4) «remediation» in which students use digital literacies to “re-mediate” or transform print literacies. Adopting a “re-mediation” approach involves use of what Leander describes as a “parallel pedagogy” approach, in which neither print or digital literacies are considered as exceptional.

And herein lies my question for you the viewers, (and I’d love to hear from Joel Malley as well!):

Which of these four stances does this video exhibit?

I think I see a “re-mediation” approach; however, the language used to describe the activities sounds like a “replacement” or “return” approach. Malley says that “even though” digital tools are a part of the course, writing (in print) “still” holds a place. “Storytelling” is used as synonymous to “writing” throughout. The “first step” is described as always being to “write extensively,” which in my opinion, especially given the image on the screen at the time, gives premium to writing long-form by hand. Finally, digital writing explained to have “more purpose” and to be “more collaborative.” Both of these attributes may be true in some projects, but I am wary of saying they hold true for the nature of digital literacies as opposed to traditional print literacies. The audience for whom Malley was composing this video obviously influenced the ways each of these statements was phrased. I wonder what the voice-over track would sounds like, however, if the parallel pedagogical approach was able to take the front seat.

Tips on Tech in Class: Using a Strategic Writing Framework

Following last week’s blog posts about the affordances of composing with various tools both on and offline, writer and educator @erinehsani and I had a quick exchange on Twitter:

In thinking about “Tips for Tech in Class,” I immediately thought of a section of our  forthcoming book due out to the public any day nowDeveloping Writers: Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age:

There are at least three ways digital multimodal composition might be used in our classrooms today. First, the teacher might use digital multimodal composition for delivery of content. A teacher using a Smartboard for instruction is an example of this application.  Second, a teacher may plan to integrate digital technology into the activities students will do to learn content. We see this when students provide feedback to peers on their writing in a writing lab. Third, we can teach the use of digital technology directly, such as learning how to manipulate an image in PhotoShop. All three of these applications are applicable and necessary to teaching writing in the digital age.

Many resources are available to teachers interested in these three applications of digital multimodal composition in the classroom. Check out:  Because Digital Writing Matters (DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl & Hicks, 2010) and the National Writing Project companion website ‘Digital Is’ (digitialis.nwp.org). In true Web 2.0 style, this is not a resource website, but a growing compilation of recourses under these areas with interactive discussion boards and threads.

The “Tip” to Rule Them All:

A Strategic Writing Framework

Beyond these three ways of thinking about tech in the classroom (and the myriad of resources available to support classroom use), for me the most important tip for using tech to teach composition is introducing a strategic-use framework. Writing in classrooms often devolves into assignment-completion. Prewriting becomes a brainstorming-by-webbing assignment. Revising is a rewrite-it-neatly assignment. Teachers and students alike quickly tire of such empty work. My worry is that without a re-framing of composition in the classroom, any use of tech—no matter how cool and innovative—would eventually turn into the same. Brainstorming by webbing on paper could just turn into webbing on the computer. “Rewrite it neatly” becomes running it through TurnItIn.com. Still just “assignments my teacher gave me.”

Many people have addressed this problem. The response I most responded to was Deborah Dean’s Strategic Writing framework. In this way of thinking about any tool for composing—analog or digital—is that we are all building a repertoire of tools, activities or approaches that we can use when we are composing—whether we are inquiring about an idea before composing, investigating a genre, considering the audience and purpose of the piece, and producing a product. Then, we work to become strategic in our use of the tools with which we are gaining facility. In addition to introducing our students to digital tools for composition, we work to help our students become strategic or savvy—intentional, creative and critical—in their decisions of which tools to use when to help with what compositional conundrum. We want to orient our writing instruction in such a way that our aim is to guide and facilitate students as they: 1) recognize the tools, activities or approaches they have in their repertoire; 2) build that repertoire of tools, activities or approaches; and 3) become more intentional, creative and critical in their use of that repertoire.

As teachers, a great place to start in re-orienting from writing assignments to strategic writing is working on our own list of tools that help us with our own writing. In addition to Digital Is, as a go-to site for me as a teacher, as a writer I RSS feed ProfHacker to learn of new digital tools that are working for others for particular compositional issues. (This blog post on ProfHackers’ authors’ favorite apps for composing is a great place to start.) I’ve tried several of the apps, tools, software, hints, etc. from the site and many have become part of my repertoire. Here’s a list of some of the digital tools that help me for particular compositional needs. I’d love to hear some of yours!

Compositional Issue

Digital Tool

I need to force myself to write text. www.750words.com (A friend just recommended Write Room. I am going to try that next.)
When I have the wording “just right” in my head. Voice Memo and/or or Dragon Dictation App on my cell phone
When I am designing the final look of a page. I flip my secondary screen vertical and use the Display Extended Desktop option with a 90 degree rotation.
I want to think about the relationship between the ideas in my piece. Make a Prezi.
I need to remember how to do APA formatting. Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab)
I can’t remember the specifics of a conversation or an idea. I Direct Message or tweet someone I know will remember. [I did this for this post. Thanks to @briancroxall for quick ProfHacker finds.]