Tag Archives: social media

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.

Social Media and Language Democratization in Egypt

The following is a Guest Post from my good friend and a great scholar, Janine Jones, a doctoral student in modern Middle East intellectual history at The University of Texas at Austin. It stems from conversations we have had sharing the interests that cross our disciplines—language, literacies, equity, education.

Among linguists, Arabic is commonly classified as a diglossic language*. In other words, written Arabic, the language of novels and newspapers, is distinct from the dialects spoken on the streets. The formalized, proper Arabic that constitutes the official language of print throughout the Arabic-speaking world is only spoken aloud in certain contexts: by news anchors like the hosts of Al Jazeera; by politicians giving formal speeches; by lecturers in university; and in other formal contexts.

This formal Arabic, called Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) or fuṣḥā, is rooted in the grammar and vocabulary of the Qur’an, and, like many written languages, is standardized through orthographic and grammatical conventions. MSA is taught in schools and requires a certain amount of training since it is spoken so little and differs so much from the language of everyday conversation. In fact, MSA is so distinct from Arabic dialects that some researchers have even suggested Arabic speakers process it in the brain as a second language.

To put this into perspective, a rough analogy would be if American English speakers only read books and heard the news in a Chaucerian-style Middle English, while still speaking current American English in our homes and day-to-day interactions. Imagine this as your nightly news:

Arabic dialects—of which Egyptian Arabic or Masry is the most widely spoken–are quite different from MSA as languages. They are fluid and changing, and have lacked orthographic, lexical, and grammatical standardization because they are quite literally never written down. That is, with the exception of a handful of avant-garde novels published at the end of the twentieth century, they have not been written down with any degree of consistency until now with the rise of social media platforms.

As Facebook, text messages, IMing and blogs have proliferated throughout the Arabic-speaking world, colloquial Arabic has begun a rapid transition to a written language. In 2008, a new Wikipedia was launched in Masry. The 2011 Egyptian uprisings, called in some corners the “Facebook Revolution” were facilitated through the use of social media and written and organized in Egyptian Arabic, as much as in MSA.

screen shot of Wikipedia in Masry

And, as more and more people gain access to the Internet, social media platforms are shifting communication across political and social barriers. Many Palestinian families, who have been unable to visit ancestral homes or see relatives because of the political imbroglio with Israel, are finally able to communicate regularly. Unmarried young men and women who previously would not be able to communicate outside of properly chaperoned outings are chatting online, leading to new questions about the parameters and extent of religious and cultural sanction for various uses of social media.

These types of political and social democratization receive a lot of press. Rarely, though, do we have such stark, clear examples of social media as democratizing mechanism at the level of language. And it is the language democratization that is further collapsing class-based barriers to communication that come part and parcel with diglossic languages*.

Janine is happy to entertain your questions or comments below. And as always, I’d love to have you join us in this conversation.

* Diglossic languages like Arabic are typically maintained through social hierarchies; usually there’s a “high” language (in this case MSA) that is culturally prestigious, and a “low” language of the common people. In Arabic, MSA is held in high esteem specifically because it is held to be modeled on Qur’anic grammar, though it is worth noting here that MSA is grammatically simpler than the language of the Qur’an, called Classical Arabic. Since Muslims believe that the Qur’an contains the literal words of God—that He actually spoke the Arabic language—there are many cultural and religious reasons to wish to keep the language static. But, of course, as any linguist would tell you, languages do change by nature. Still, there is nothing like L’Académie française or the Real Academía Española for Arabic. It’s the limited, educated, and upper crust nature of MSA, and its relationship to religious textual tradition, that keeps its progression relatively stagnant.

A New Ethic for Digital Composition: Cosmopolitanism

Do youth need thoughtful, guided practice composing for potentially global audiences?

Recently, a friend on Facebook posted a question asking what age it is appropriate for a child to have an email account. About 29  comments later, it had became apparent that in the 3rd and 4th grades in this school district, teachers were setting up email accounts with students. Many of these comments were ones of frustration over the lack of parental notification and participation in this activity, but one in particular stood out for me. One person asked: “What possible reasons could there be for a 4th grade child to have an email account?” I don’t typically engage in Facebook conversations, especially emotionally-charged ones, but I felt that I could contribute a few “possible reasons why” youth should be participating in digital communication in thoughtful, guided ways.


Even with the digital divide present and growing, the nature of composition has changed in the digital and networked age in such a way that the capability to be producers and critical consumers of knowledge is now more widely available. Take social media outlets: More people of all ages, nationalities, genders, and socio-economic positions produce news, comment on social issues, and even stage revolutions. These possibilities disrupt our existing societal power dynamics, and in turn, necessitate a new ethic of exchange with distant, unknown, imagined others. Critical reader-writers must take into consideration not just the interpretations they have intended as authors, but also the possible interpretations of audiences previously unimagined and out of reach.

Continue reading A New Ethic for Digital Composition: Cosmopolitanism

A Lesson in #21stCenturyReading: Being ‘Readable’

In the #teachread project, we have each set up a particular social media venue (we are new to) through which we share and interact with others regarding the YA books we are reading. For instance, even though I have this blog, I wanted to try microblogging and set up a Tumblr site called Part-Time Harlemite. My posts there deal with my reading of The Absolutely True Diary of  Part-Time Harlemite by Sherman Alexie, as well as issues of teaching and learning discussed in our Teaching Reading in ELA course. This post is a cross-posting from that site. 

Through this we are studying what it means to read in the 21st Century: What do we read? How do we make sense of it? When do we read it? What do we do with what we read? 

My first lesson in using Tumblr in my inquiry into reading in the 21st Century was not the one I was expecting. I quickly learned that reading in the digital age not only means equal amounts of writing, but making my writing ‘readable.’ I put ‘readable’ in quotes because I don’t mean ‘legible.’ Rather I mean making the writing palatable to a wide range of potential readers. Here are some of the keys I’ve learned. How to execute them on different platforms, I am still figuring out.

What is a Readable Blog?

  • Easy interaction:Tumblr comes set up for reblogging, but not for interaction. I, and many others I’ve spoken with, want to interact with ideas, not just read them and repeat them. Dan Pontefract in a recent blog post, defined social media as a connector—of people, ideas, and content—rather than a source of those things. Reblogging allows ideas to move, but not for ideas, people and content to meet.
  • Bite-size pieces of information: Reading on the web is as much a visual as a linguistic activity. I often read about the vapidity of social media, implying that because information comes in snippets, lists and/or limited characters that the ideas across social media are light in terms of content. Rather, they can be incredibly complex ideas skillfully written in concise and dense packages.
  • Trans-friendly: I need readers and I need to people whose work I can read. We find each other not just through searches within Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, etc. in which we are composing, but rather through other interconnected social media. My titles need #hashtags for Twitter. It needs a Google+ +1 button and a Facebook Like button. And then I need to make sure my posts roll out to those venues.
  • Here’s where you come in… What other aspects of a post makes social media ‘readable’?