Defining Digital Writing (A Modest Proposal)

Digital Writing, in the margins

It’s quite possible this is impossible. I am trying to narrow in on the affordances of what we mean by the phrase “Digital Writing.” I may even veer way off track here, and perhaps it is best for all of us just to drop the “digital” once and for all, and just call it .. writing. Although, I, for one, still prefer the word “composing.”

Still … I am on this merry path of thinking because I am giving an ending Keynote to the (free!) 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing, which takes place on Sundays in October and because I have been engaged in an intriguing margin annotation activity with my CLMOOC friend, Karen LaBonte, who wrote a “field report” blog post that shared some critique of the phrase “Digital Writing” by close family members.

That had me thinking: OK, so WHAT do we mean? What affordances does the digital bring to writing? How is it different from what we think of as (regular) writing (ie, paper, pen/cil, etc.) And, why do we need to differentiate?

Here is a rough list of affordances, in my view, of how Digital Writing is different from, eh, Analog Writing. (Boy, that phrase looks odd, right?)

Digital Writing …

  • is more than just words typed on a screen. A simple blog post is not really digital writing;
  • potentially crosses mediums, so that words might mix with sound might mix with video might mix with other media;
  • narrows the gap between writer and reader by giving more agency to the reader than traditional relationships, and so, the writer must plan for that changed relationship;
  • can have deeper associative properties, particularly when thinking of how hyperlinks embedded within the text might connect one text to another, providing options and trails that move away from the main text itself;
  • may or may not harness the possibilities of the underlying yet mostly hidden “writing” — the computer code of the page that we read that has been represented as text but is actually not text;
  • provides for possible collaborations beyond the writer, and sometimes without their permission or notice, such as the margin annotations on a website page or a remix of media.

The criticism, including my own, may be be that most of what I just wrote in this list is not necessarily “writing.” It is more technology — tinkering with the way we represent writing in the larger world. But I still think if “composing” is the word we use when it comes to “digital writing,” we are more apt to be open to the use of various media, of hyperlinks like paths on a literacy map, of reader involvement in the original text, of the sort of planning that “digital writer” has to do to create a “digital text.” It is all composition.

DIGITAL the poem

I don’t think we are at a point where all writing is digital writing, and therefore, we don’t need a separate designation on it. I don’t know if digital writing is the right term, though. But it does seem to me that we need some way to show that technology is changes the way we compose our texts in the world, if only so we can talk about it (and maybe debate it).

What do you think?

Peace (write it into the world),
Kevin

A Day Late to a Twitter Chat (but not a dollar short)

Margaret Simon, who helps facilitate a weekly discussion around digital literacies with the #DigiLitSunday hashtag, organized a Twitter Chat on Sunday that I could not attend. So, I played Monday Morning Quarterback with her Storify curation, adding comments as a way to engage in the conversation (after it had already ended). And days later, I am now sharing.

The theme of the chat was about essay writing, and centered on a book by Katherin Bomer, entitled The Journey Is Everything Teaching Essays That Students Want to Write for People Who Want to Read Them. Margaret gives more info at her blog.

Here are my comments, strung together.

 

Peace (write it from the heart),
Kevin

Workshopping in the Digital Age: A Close Reading of Franki and Troy

Students as Writers and Composers

I finally got around to coming back to an interview with two of my favorite people — Franki Sibberson and Troy Hicks — as they sat down for an interview for Language Arts to talk about Digital Writing Workshop. (You can access the article as a PDF at the National Writing Project site).

There are a lot of great insights and honesty in their conversation, and as I sought to reach closer, I started to grab some quotes from the text in order to pull them out for further thinking.

I was nodding my head here, because, like Franki, I hope I stay in tune with my students and their interests when it comes to thinking of ways that technology and digital platforms might push their own writing and compositional strategies further along. I’d also add that, along with listening, we teachers need be doing the technology, too. Snapchat, Pokemon Go, and others are unknown terrain unless you try them yourself. You might decide, this does not have application for my classroom (for now). At least, you will know from the experience.

I like Troy’s point here, that the technology should have a rationale or basis for use in composing. He uses a heuristic called MAPS (mode (genre), media, audience, purpose, situation), which is very helpful in this regard, as it allows teachers to consider such things as audience and intent. The technology is not just an engagement factor — it’s an intentional design of the classroom experience to help students explore writing in different angles, with different strategies, for different reasons.

Here, Troy is talking about how to expand the notions of Mentor Texts by drawing from the world outside the classroom, from Pop Culture and beyond. Like Franki, Troy notes the importance of “listening” to students, to figure out where interest lies and then tap into that for learning.

This is so true, and I have written at times about this, too. Some days, when we are moving into something new, things go awry, and the room is full of noise and seemingly chaos. I say, seemingly, because, as Franki notes, often amidst the chaos is some interesting reflections going on. Part of our role as teachers to find focus on the reflection (the process is more important than the product, most of the time) and draw that out, highlight it, make it the learning of the day. And keep calm.

That same theme of analyzing process points is what Troy is discussing here, when the question of “How Do We Assess Digital Writing?” comes up. He notes how technology has the potential to uncover compositional strategies, and make a digital piece more accessible for comments and review and revision. If we can take our eyes off the final product and keep them attuned to all that goes into that work, we can assess learning in a more strategic way.

Thanks to Troy and Franki for sharing their ideas. I found it useful and helpful, and I hope some of their words inspire you, too.

Peace (sharing it out),
Kevin

 

Curiosity Conversations: Two Zeegas Walk Into a Bar and So Does Terry


flickr photo shared by *s@lly* under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I’ve been exploring the notions of Curiosity Conversations, inspired by Scott Glass in Make Cycle 3 of the CLMOOC. This interaction unfolded before Scott shared out his idea for CLMOOC, but fits perfectly with the concept.

Sometimes, the best part of writing digitally is trying to process the intent of the composition. But, I often don’t do much of that (or not enough for my own liking). Here, Terry Elliott and I took some purposeful time to interact with each other via a Hackpad to have “a conversation” about digital composition.

The overall thread was a poem that Jennifer N. wrote for CLMOOC a few weeks back, which then slowly transformed into a larger collaborative audio project. I wanted to take it a step further – using a tool called Zeega to make a visual piece. It turns out Terry was doing the same — making his own Zeega with the same audio and same poem.

Thus, our conversation unfolded … We asked each other questions, released some threads of ideas, wondered out loud about what it means to compose digitally. We don’t have any real answers. Just more questions.

First, watch each of our digital pieces.

First, there is mine:

And there is Terry’s Zeega interpretation:

And then, there is the messy Hackpad itself. You can add to the conversation, too. It’s an open document. Consider yourself invited. Join the conversation. Be curious.

Peace (in the mix),
Kevin

Tending the Gardens of the Margins


flickr photo shared by Kirt Edblom under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Terry Elliott used the sharing of photos and the #silentsunday tag the other day to write in the margins of his blog (with the Hypothesis annotation tool) about a flower left standing in the weed patch and invited readers into the margins, too. I went in, wondering, and planted a few poems along the way around his use of the One, Two, Three, Four.

A sample of one of my poems, built around the word “Three”:

I remember the juggler
with Three balls in the air
His eyes like flashlights,
blowing beams into the sky
Ignoring us watching him
Three ideas held simultaneously in motion

Terry then posted a second post at his blog, in which he sought to differentiate “the signal from the noise,” this time providing a space in the collaborative Hackpad for folks to add to the writing from the margins. It was as if he had clipped a few buds, and put them in a vase, and invited the world to add some more flowers.

So, I did. This time, I focused on the element of the story of his wife, saving the flower that became the image he shared for #silentsunday that kicked off the whole shebang.

Margins

What I like about this playfulness is the give and take, and the way Terry hid his writing away from the image, and that by stumbling into his story of the flower in the margins of the text, I was inspired to write, too. Not just inspired; Invited. And the notion of taking the writing from the margins, and pulling it back into a post, open to the world, is the sort of connecting spirit that I seek out as a writer.

We’re all jugglers, using words as props. Or gardners, seeking flowers amid the weeds. Use your own metaphor. And write.

Peace (as flowers amid weeds),
Kevin

In October: Teachers Teaching Teachers about Technology

Big image

I am so honored to have been asked to be a keynote speaker for the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing coming in October — a virtual conference on digital writing and learning that is free. Yep, free.

4T Virtual Conference Bio

My keynote session is entitled “A Day in the Life of a Digital Writer.” I aim to explore how writing is at the heart of the digital, from my own perspective and from the lives of my students. There are other many fine presenters, too, all worth checking out.

And there are a bunch of National Writing Project connections, and a push into Digital Writing Month.  You can view the flier here, and register here. The entire conference is online, but made to be as interactive as possible.

Here’s a promo:

Peace (write it digitally),
Kevin

 

Continued Reverberations of Online Connections


flickr photo shared by priyaswtc under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

Three posts recently had me thinking again about the reverberations of online networks or communities or whatever term it is you wish to use to indicate projects that never quite end.

First, there was this tweet from my Making Learning Connected MOOC friend, Allie:

My answer to Allie was: Truthfully, I don’t know.

It may be that the CLMOOC has run its official course and that some variations of it may continue into the summer. I’ve been a facilitator in the past, and enjoyed it immensely, but I am not in charge of the official decision of whether another six week CLMOOC will happen this summer. I don’t think National Writing Project, which has hosted CLMOOC, envisioned supporting CLMOOC forever, and I know a focus right now by NWP is on Educator Innovator projects such as Letters to the President.

So, I don’t know.

I think I can safely say this. The #CLMOOC Twitter hashtag isn’t going anywhere, and until Google pulls the plug on Google Plus Communities, there is still a home there, too, and people are still sharing links, resources, ideas and a weekly #SilentSunday image share. And we have had some “pop up” Make Cycles this spring, thanks to Joe Dillon and Terry Elliott and others. I know I am planning to use the CLMOOC Make Cycles for a graduate class I am teaching through the University of Massachusetts and our Western Mass Writing Project this summer.

Second, I saw a blog post by Alan Levine, reflecting on the Western version of DS106 earlier this year, which he explains better than I can, but I want to note in that in his reflection he reacts to a comment about a sense of “fading” in DS106. I suspect that any online adventure has its time of high activity that slows down after time, even as it continues to persist in some fashion.

DS106 is an intriguing example because some university classes use it as a framework of classwork, connecting the physical classroom to online exploration. At times, there are “headless” DS106 courses that are not connected to a university — with only nominal direction. Come and go, as you please. Other times, a theme starts and ends, and echoes in the Daily Create. People keep making stuff. Cool stuff. Every day.

Alan writes:

I was talking to someone who’s been around the DS106 corral and it was this person’s contention that DS106 had “faded” suggesting in so many words it was past the top of a curve, and maybe it was missing a “charismatic leader”. Many people who got crazy bit with ds106 in 2011, 2012 are not much less or non-active. That’s not a problem, that’s a natural curve of evolution.

And DS106 does persist and it continues encourage continuous creativity, even if you never dipped a toe into any of its online course mutations. Just look at the DS106 Daily Create. It rolls on and on. People don’t just come and go; People come and go long after their first connection to DS106 ever took place.

And then the third post that caught my attention was by Dave Cormier, who has spearheaded Rhizomatic Learning communities since 2014, wrote a fascinating post that references an article he wrote two years ago, in which he responds to a question his young son asks as he is watching Rhizo14 unfold. (The question: Are you in charge? The answer: Not really.)

Dave begins:

… we are potentially radically redefining what it means to be an educator. We are very much at the beginning stages of our learning how to create the space required for community to develop and grow in an open course. These field notes speak to the my own journey in the design of ‘Rhizomatic Learning – the community is the curriculum’. They are, in effect, a journey towards planned obsolescence.

Interestingly, the Rhizomatic Learning connections seem sort of shackled by the hashtag. We began with #rhizo14 and then #rhizo15 and now #rhizo16, but adding a number hampers the ability of the community to last beyond the year, it seems to me. This sort of calls attention to the importance of early course design — how to design for something to never end in social media circles? (This is not a critique of Dave or any of us in Rhizo, by the way, but merely an interesting observation of how a time element stamp can lead to unexpected narrowing of community reverberations.)

How do these three strands/posts come together for me?

Well, I’m intrigued by Dave’s notion — made years ago but seemingly more and more relevant — about “planned obsolescence” of the architect of online experiences. Dave’s notion of “the community is the curriculum” is intriguing, as is Alan’s notion of the “natural curve of evolution” of an online experience.

We may not yet be there. Dave is launching a third iteration of Rhizo under the banner of Learning Resilience.  Maybe we still need someone behind the wheel. While the Rhizo community remains active and vibrant, I think we were waiting for Dave to kick off something for 2016. (I know I was but I didn’t realize it until I was writing this post.) I wonder if the person who wondered about DS106 “fading” was waiting, too, for someone like Alan to step up and lead the way. Did Allie think I was in charge of CLMOOC?

How do we encourage folks to take over and be the learning itself? Dave and Alan have certainly encouraged that every step of the way. Yet we still gravitate towards someone to get us started. (Maybe that’s not a bad thing. We all need a spark.) How does that decentralizing of learning translate into our classrooms? That’s the question of the longer journey many teachers are on in the Connected World, I suspect. I know I am. Maybe you are, too.

If someone comes looking for CLMOOC activities and exploration, perhaps the best answer is to encourage them to create and share Pop Up Make Cycles and invite others to join in. Do we need someone in charge to tell us that CLMOOC is taking place or not? Probably not.

We can make learning happen just by making it happen. The fact that Allie had a “serious remix moment” that reminded her of CLMOOC is incredibly exciting. I wonder what that moment was? Can I join in? Don’t you wonder, too?

Peace (in the make),
Kevin

Amid the Grids; Among these Gestures

Lots of people this week have taken up the call by graphic artist Nick Sousanis to create “Grids and Gestures” — a comic-creating visual activity in which you move beyond a literal interpretation of your day or moment or some period of time. Instead, you let your mind wander, drawing (without words, if possible) a visual representation (that’s the gesture) of the time period (that’s the grid).

Gridgestures4

I’ve done this once before with Nick, but doing a series of them over a few days has been interesting. Sort of like our Slice of Life writing activities, but with lines and circles and smudges instead of stories and vignettes. How would you “write” your day if you could not write, but only draw? How do you represent moments of joy? Frustration? Confusion? Boredom? Love? What does those ideas look like when you sketching at the edge of it all?

Gridgestures5

My five Grids and Gestures used the same six-panel grid, and I used the Paper app for my drawing. So each has a similar feel to them (and exposes my limited artistic abilities). I tried to explored different topics, and used the title on each to indicate what I was thinking about.

It does occur to me that while I can “read” the gestures, others outside of my head (that would be you, dear reader) might wonder, what the heck is that? I wonder if how you read my grids is different than how I wrote my grids? Maybe that is the case with writing, too, at times.

Gridgestures3

There was a community question in the Twitter hashtag about whether these Grids and Gestures are really comics, or something that comes before the comics. In other words, are they incomplete ideas, only part of the brainstorming process?

Nick suggests that this method of creating art with gestures is where much of his time is spent before moving into a larger project, and that it is an effective way to gather ideas and explore the flow of connected concepts. I suggested that the grids are comics in their own way, moving ideas through inferential design and using art to represent abstract ideas.

Maybe it doesn’t matter anyway. Art is what you make of it.

Gridgestures2

If you are interested, explore the Twitter hashtag of #GridsGestures (actually, check out the link to photos only in the Twitter hashtag stream — that’s pretty cool) or check out Nick’s website and some of his amazing work.

Make your own. Share them out. Be creative. Every day.

Gridsgestures1

Peace (beyond the grids),
Kevin

 

Immersed in the Music: Jeff Buckley, Bob Dylan and You

 

This is a pretty amazing use of video technology by the team that continues to share out the late Jeff Buckley’s music. They have used Buckley’s cover of a Dylan song (Just Like a Woman), and made an interactive watching/listening experience for the viewer/listener — transforming the song and interpretation by Buckley into something magical. Not to mention with sexdecillion combinations (according to the producers .. I didn’t count).

They say:

All together there are over 16,000 different music combinations that can be created. The video contains 73 different animated cells that can be clicked or tapped to alter the story, adding up to a staggering number of possible visual and story combinations: approximately 1 sexdecillion. That’s a 1 followed by 51 zeros.

Throughout the song, you can click on small images which change the ‘story’ of the song, as Buckley’s amazing voice and single guitar guide you through, and then a few minutes in, they start sprinkling remix options, where choosing various paths add new layers to the track you are listening to at that moment. Strings get added or removed. A guitar run comes into play. Keyboards move up in the mix.

Wow.

I found myself deep inside Buckley’s voice here. I worried that the immersion in the video might distract me from the song and the singing. Maybe it is because I already know the song. Maybe it is because I already know Buckley’s voice. But the combination of listening and exploring combined for me into a satisfying experience all around.

Play/Listen/Remix/Enjoy

And now the question that comes to my mind? How did they do it? I want to see a “behind the scenes” video of how this all came to be created? I want to learn about the process and wonder about how one might even venture forward this way? I wonder how this might be viewed and taught as ‘writing’ in the digital age.

Peace (in the Muse),
Kevin

Twenty+ Comics In: Checking In On The Internet Kid

InternetKid1

I’m past 20 now. Twenty-odd daily comics for The Wild West Adventures of the Internet Kid, an idea that was sparked by my participation in the open Western106 story adventure. I thought I would take a breather here to reflect on how it’s going for me, the writer (I make an appearance now and then in the comic, usually for criticism for not writing better comics or not paying attention to equity issues. Guilty as charged!).

Well, breather, plus today’s comic:

InternetKid12

So far, so good with my idea of a daily comic, although I have very little idea if anyone is reading them. A few comments and reactions trickle in now and then. I’m still more focused on the question for myself: Am I having fun making the comics? I am and so, I keep on going forward. In fact, I have at least another 15 comics in the bank, set to go forth, including one story arc that will invite readers to play a game. I also have an ending comic, for when I get there.

The way I have been writing them is in bursts. In fact, the first weekend when I had the idea for the Internet Kid, I had a deluge of comic making. I cranked out about 15 of them in a three-day weekend, just keeping up with the ideas. I won’t claim that every comic every day is great, but I hope they add a little entertainment chuckle value for folks now and then.

InternetKid8

What I am really trying to with The Wild West Adventures of the Internet Kid is to combine some of the elements of the Western genre (the cowboy, the horse, the villain) with some insights into the modern culture of technology. It’s trickier than it seems to pull that off in an entertaining way. I am often trying to make fun at the stereotypes of gender, making the so-called villain — Anarchist Annie — an interesting character, or so I hope. Her goal is to poke holes in the bias of our world. Sometimes, she blows things up to make her point crystal clear.

Attacking Annie ... Dumb move

In fact, a few of the storylines and comics are pulled directly from my reading of Participatory Culture in a Networked Era, a slow-read in the Digital Writing Month community. If you have read that book (and you should), and if you read The Internet Kid (which, of course, I hope you do), you will start to see some parallels of ideas around technology and learning and young people’s interactions in the Digital Age that surfaced there in that study of participatory culture by Henry Jenkins, Mimi Ito and danah boyd, and then got woven here into this comic.

The app I used to make comics — Comics Head — has limits, particularly to expressions of characters (although an upgrade this weekend with a ton of new art seems to open the door for adding more elements .. still checking that out). But I do appreciate the flexibility of the Comics Head app for what I am doing as a comic strip writer. (And I have not yet used the Audio element on The Internet Kid … which allows you to layer in audio tracks on top of the comic .. on my list)

I am purposefully posting the comics in different places — on Twitter with the #western106 hashtag, in Flickr in an album, and on a Tumblr site that I set up just for the comics (it turns out Tumblr is a perfect space for daily comics). Sometimes, I share on Google Plus. I also have the feed of the Tumblr site spilling into the DS106 course. I wonder if anyone else other than me uses an RSS Reader to peruse the posts going there and make comments?

Can I just give a shout-out to my favorite character in my comic?

The Horse with No Name just cracks me up. I hadn’t even thought of a horse until I had the Kid in mind, and then .. of course he needed a horse. The Kid is a cowboy. But not just any horse. The Horse with No Name (cue: America song) has his own personality.

He refuses to let The Kid ride him and the Horse even negotiates an agreement with the Kid on this matter (The Kid agrees but worries what other cowboys will think of him). Yet, the Horse with No Name remains a funny and insightful sidekick to The Kid.

I think, as the writer, I am the Horse with No Name more than I am The Internet Kid. (Maybe I have some Anarchist Annie in me, too.) This particular comic of the animals having a farmyard chat about The Kid, in particular, still makes me giggle. I love how the Horse has the tablet and the image of The Kid on it. Look at The Kid’s posture and expression. Priceless. We know who is really in charge of their partnership.

InternetKid13

Peace (more comics to come),
Kevin