It’s #ThoreauThursday, and in an intersection with the concept of Digital Writing Month, I gathered up a bunch of Henry David Thoreau quotes and layered his ideas about writing into a Zeega media mix. The soundtrack? A song called Walden Pond.
The digital piece works best if you use the Full Screen option, in my opinion. Never used Zeega? The reader advances the slides as the soundtrack plays underneath. The writer puts the pieces together, but it is the reader with the agency on the pacing of the piece.
Wednesdays are #WhitmanWednesday, and so in a convergence with #DigiWriMo, I found a quote from Walt Whitman about writing and used it as an audio file, adding in sound effects and an underlying string melody. I like the heartbeat, although the heartbeat sounds a lot better with headphones than on my computer’s tiny speakers.
What about you? What can you do with Whitman’s words and poems today?
First, the Connected Learning MOOC (CLMOOC) almost didn’t happen. Now, Digital Writing Month is here for November but it is not really here at all. In both cases, those who envisioned online learning adventures and those who nurtured those spaces over years decided time had run out. For CLMOOC, it was my friends at the National Writing Project. For DigiWriMo, it is the folks at Hybrid Pedagogy/Digital Pedagogy.
I think there are valid reasons for founders to say, we’re moving on to other things. Things do run their course. NWP has been deep into Letters to the Next President (worth checking out … thousands of letters of all media shapes and sizes from high school students). Digital Pedagogy people may be shifting its focus to other ways to support digital writing and thinking about digital writing (and thinking about the teaching of digital writing.) Both organizations do wonderful projects, with vision.
I guess I have a hard time letting go, though.
I was part of the crowd-sourced CLMOOC this past summer (where the collective parts led the activities, and it was fantastic). Now I am part of CLMOOC folks working to plan some Pop-Up Make Cycle activities later this month for Not-DigiWriMo.
It always feels strange when the founders say, this is no more, and the folks who in the midst say, let’s do more. There is the possibility of tension there (I can hear the voice: “Hey, I thought we said this was over!”). I don’t revel in that tension, but if we all believe in the potential of dispersed ownership of Connected Learning and the open value of hashtags and social media spaces, then it makes sense that if the participants don’t want something to be over, there is no reason why it needs to be over. We’re following our passions. (Reality Check: in some cases, though, the brand of an online learning space might be legally attached to an organization, so there’s that … here, both organizations know something continued/is continuing onward.)
Where I am going with all of this? Well, DigiWriMo is officially “retired,” as the pioneering folks at Hybrid Pedagogy noted on Twitter this week. Digi Duck is no doubt kicking back on a beach chair, drink in hand, dreaming of bread crumbs.
But hey, don’t wait for us. Get writing, digitally. Make a poem. Write a video. Experiment. Tinker. Create. Many folks are still using the #digiwrimo hashtag on Twitter. Share. Inspire others. Get inspired.
My good friend and creative partner on many an online writing adventure, Terry Elliott, has been using the term “Adjacent Possibilities” for some time now. The term first originated by scientist Stuart Kauffman, I believe, but Kauffman’s insight was centered on scientific inquiry and discovery. Terry has been mulling over Kauffman’s ideas in other realms beyond science, such as writing and creating. (And Steven Johnson has written extensively about it, too).
As I understand it, the idea of the Adjacent Possible is that one kind of creative idea spills over into another kind of creative ideas, and that spills over into another creative idea. And so on, so that what happens when you explore something new is that your ending point (if there ever is one) is a few, or many, steps away from where you started, and perhaps miles away from where you thought you were going in the first place. It’s sort of like Six Degrees of Separation, but with ideas and not with people.
Terry brought the term up again the other night during the Q/A session of my keynote presentation for the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing as he took the mic, and then later, in a private message, he expanded the notion even further.
What he hopes — what I hope, what many of us hope — is that the attendees of the conference and the keynote session do not replicate the kinds of Digital Writing that I shared out. Instead, they will be inspired to make their own kinds of writing. The Adjacent Possible is the notion that we don’t just replicate what we see. Instead, we riff off our discoveries and shift into something new.
I’ve written about this from another angle, too. It has to do with bringing in Mentor Digital Texts to my sixth graders, and then noticing how many of them just clone what they saw me share out. Of course, they do. We all start there. Hopefully, then we branch out. For example, I began playing guitar and then shifted into writing songs by ripping off the chords and melodies from bands I loved. Eventually, I began to make my own moves, and left those recognizable chord structures behind. I found my own muse.
Helping my students as writers find and then make their own moves, to discover what is not yet visible, is part of why I got into teaching, and why I still love being in the classroom with 11 year old writers.
And I tangled with this tension of the adjacent possible the other day, when I wrote about how so many of them are afraid to take chances with their writing. I was frustrated by their confusion over an open-ended writing prompt, but hopeful in what happened. I believe in my heart that I can help my students discover what they can’t yet see. That belief of possibility is the ballast in this age of frustration with the tightening educational systems around us.
In the notion of the Adjacent Possible, it seems to me, the skill we need to nurture above all is Flexibility. We need to discover the wiggle room between one idea and the next, and then dive into that gap with possibilities — both that something will be unearthed and that our path may become a dead end (so, start over and try again). Being here is not enough. Being there is where we need to be.
A flexible view of the world — not just in writing but in everything — opens up the unknown, and in that unknown, we may find something new about ourselves, about others, about the world. I know this sounds like gobblygook but it rings important to me. It underlies why we write, and why we teach, and why we learn.
Keynoting and presenting in a virtual site like Blackboard Connect is sort of like hanging out with roomful of ghosts. They’re very friendly and curious ghosts, sort of like Casper if he were to become a teacher instead of just a cute spirit. You feel the presence of participants in the scrolling chat room as you talk to a screen featuring slides you made and know by heart (mostly). Sometimes, they take the mic. Yeah, being a presenter in that kind of screen-based format is slightly odd.
But I was satisfied with how my keynote address for the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing went last week. Even with my ghosts in the machine, I felt as if I accomplished most of my goals of exploring what we mean when we say “digital writing” (even if we/I haven’t solidified the thinking) and my own experiences with how digital canvasses might push the possibilities of how and what we write in different, and new, directions. I didn’t get to all that I wanted to get to, and I left some projects hanging in the wind. We never got to crowdsource a definition of Digital Writing.
I had five take-aways from my own session that I thought I would share here as a sort of my own post-keynote reflection.
Presenting “what” you do requires deep reflection on “why” you do it. I found that as I was pulling together different projects that I hoped represented my “moves” as a digital writing, I was re-examining the rationale for why using a digital space might be different than a non-digital space. I’m not sure we always do this kind of reflective writing afterwards, but the value of it is immense. It informs our thinking now, and into the future. Reflection is the best non-digital aspect of digital writing, for me.
I was asked a question from the participants about how I explain to parents and administrators the value and merit of all writing with digital. I had one of those “Aha” moments as I was answering. What I realized is that I never use the term “digital writing” with my students. Never. We just …. write. We call it writing. This goes to the heart of some of the discussion on what we call what we do when we write with technology and it bubbled up in the chat room and in the question/answer session of the keynote. As to the initial question, I explained that my role as teacher is to expand notions of what writing is and what writing can be. I value the writing my students do out of school and I want to hook as many of my young students as possible in as many platforms as possible, all with the goal of improving writing skills that we all value: clarity of message, sense of audience, writing to learn, etc.
One of the projects I shared — Blink Blink Blink — brought back a lot of memories. As I looked at the date, I realized … that was 10 years ago. Ten years in the past, I was experimenting with multiple videos as a way to transform a poem at a National Writing Project Tech Matters retreat. I’ve been at this for some time, and still, I get the sense that I am nowhere near where I want to be as a digital writer. (Listen to my audio reflection after making Blink Blink Blink … and you can hear me struggling with some of the same ideas I am writing about here, ten years later). I have yet to finish any project and say, That’s exactly what my vision was. I always fall short. That sense of “are we there yet?” keeps me moving forward, experimenting and tinkering and trying out new possibilities. Still, to be honest, I wouldn’t mind a “we’re here” moment now and then.
My push into digital writing is inspired by my students, all the time. I am constantly trying to figure out what they are doing, and why, and how what they might be interested in might inform how I can reach them as writers. Snapchat. Musical.ly. Video game design. Video production. I go where they lead me, and then I write and create, and come back to try to lead them forward, too. It’s a dance that we have, and it requires paying attention to the ever-shifting sands of technology and social media and young people. I won’t say I have a finger on the pulse — no adult should ever really claim that — but I keep my ears open.
This is no new insight for me but as I look back on the projects that I shared in the keynote, you can’t help but see that collaborative elements are baked right into just about everything I do when it comes to digital writing. I can and do go it alone but I often would rather be writing and making with others when it comes to digital writing. I am empowered and nurtured by my fellow travelers — learning from those who are two steps ahead of me and encouraging those who are one step behind, as best as I can. We write, together.
Interested in the idea of digital writing? Or just writing (with digital)? Or in whatever you want to call it? Here are some resources I mentioned in my keynote that might be worth exploring:
The entire DS106 ecosystem is chock full of amazing ideas and curriculum, and as an open network, it is all free for the borrowing and remixing. In particular, the Ds106 Daily Create is a fantastic source of daily ideas for making, writing, creating and more. Even if you don’t participate each day, the flow of ideas will get you thinking.
I helped co-facilitate Digital Writing Month last November, but the founders of DigiWriMo decided, for many complicated reasons, not to do it this year. However, folks in the CLMOOC from the summer are planning Pop-Up Make Cycles mid-November as way to do some DigiWrimo-ish activities. You can keep an eye on the CLMOOC website and the #CLMOOC or #DigiWriMo hashtags. Also, explore the Digital Writing Month website for incredible resources and analysis of what it means to write digitally.
I curate a Flipboard magazine called Along the Edge of Digital Writing as a way to highlight some of the pieces that I come across that I think may push our thinking about the possibilities of writing.
As an experiment, some folks turned over scriptwriting for a short film to an algorithm. You can read more about it in detail at this post, and/or watch the opening credits on the movie embedded above. It explains how and what they did. The film itself? It makes no sense, and yet, it is intriguing as an experiment.
And it reminds of the very human nature of writing. Maybe someday, computers will be able to write (or, in an educational connection, assess writing) but I don’t think we are there yet. I know we are not there yet.
There are complexities that come from subtext, from story, from character motivations, and other elements that can’t (yet) be replicated by machine.
I had the great pleasure of being the keynote speaker for the ending of the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing last night, and I wish I had had another hour. My aim was to bring to the surface some thinking about our notions of defining the term “Digital Writing” and share out some of the ways in which I use digital canvasses for writing and composition.
But I had to rush in the second half of the hour I had in the keynote, due to the clock, and so I didn’t give people enough time to explore some of the projects on their own and the come back to reflect, which was my intention, nor did we get to a collaborative activity around brainstorming the affordances of Digital Writing. Luckily, the session was recorded in the Blackboard platform, and the slideshow and resources will be shared out in the coming days.
As I was speaking and sharing, though, the chat room inside Blackboard was a streaming, scrolling site of pretty intense activity by those attending live in the session. I kept an eye as best as I could on it all, but I know I missed a lot of the conversations.
I don’t mind.
I like that there was this parallel track of my sharing with their wondering and sharing, and the swirling pool of ideas is exactly what this kind of session should be about. I aim go back and dig deeper but some of the themes in the Chat Room included:
Access and equity issues around technology in some schools
Perceptions of doing Digital Writing in the classroom, by students, by administration, by parents
The overarching question of why do we need “Digital” as part of the phrase itself — why not just “Writing”?
Integrating writing in digital spaces a seamless mix with what we are already teaching (and are expected to teach)
Acknowledging the real-world literacies of our students outside of the school
Amount of screen time, for younger students in particular, and how concerns over time on screens impacts technology use in the classroom
Curation of student work over time
The Word Cloud above is my attempt to gather up all of the chat room and see what themes emerged a day later. It’s cool to look at, but no one element jumped out at me from the chat room, at least in this particular Word Cloud formatting. The Word Cloud image almost invites annotation (ThinkLink?), so that the phrases and words (I tried to remove people’s names as best as I could) have meaning.
Here, they are taken out of context. And, really, context is everything.
(This is a post for DigiLitSunday, a regular look with other educators at digital literacies. This week’s theme is connected to the upcoming National Day on Writing, which takes place on Thursday with the theme of Why I Write.)
I write digitally to find the grooves between the spaces. Digital writing does not replace the other ways I write. It accompanies it. It harmonizes with it. I have notebooks brimming with lyrics, poems and stories. Sticky notes dot our fridge. I am always an arms length away from a pencil. Pens of all colors take up residence in the pockets of my jacket. But digital writing gives me another venue to consider the intersections of media and words, and how they might mesh or even collide together into something new. I have yet to find the perfect moment — that ‘aha’ spark when it all works just as I envisioned — but knowing that moment might yet be possible gives me hope and inspiration to keep moving forward. I write with images as words and words as image, sound as image and image as sound, and video as platform for alternative paths to break down the wall between reader and writer. My ideas for digital writing collapse as often as they work. Beneath all that I write digitally, I seek to keep my words and language and stories as the foundation. Words still matter, no matter how glossed up they look and how interesting they sound. I’m still finding myself as a digital writer, and still helping my students find themselves as digital writers. I write digitally because the possibilities hint at something just on the horizon, and I can’t wait to write it into realization.
I’m wishing I had sat in on this discussion session in last week’s 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing (a free series of workshops and discussions that take place each Sunday through October .. I am a keynote on the last Sunday of the conference, exploring the nature of Digital Writing), but I am also grateful the sessions are being archived.
But it is the panel discussion entitled MultiModal Moments and Making Composition(s) Move — with Cassie Brownell, Matthew Hall, Rohit Mehta and Jon Wargo — that got most of my attention. I was intrigued by the humanist approach and the social justice element of the presentation — of how students using multimedia to make their voices heard in the world have a chance to effect change in the world. Tapping into the elements of different modalities (image, video, text, audio, etc) empowers young writers, and engages them in the act of composition for a purpose.
As educators, understanding the different media attributes, and unveiling the forms and potential of each to our students, seems to be a critical way of giving our students not just permission, but authority, to move beyond traditional writing. Making videos and sharing images … this is what young people do in the world outside of our schools. Tapping into that interest may open up engagement on a whole new level. Connecting those interests to the larger world? That often is more powerful that one can imagine, until you try it. (See Connected Learning ideas)
I am very fortunate in having connected with so many educators around the globe for the ways their thinking keeps my thinking moving forward. Here’s the perfect example. Last November, I co-facilitated Digital Writing Month with Sarah Honeychurch (Scotland) and Maya Bali (Egypt).
Sarah’s slides about Inclusion and Exclusion (who gets invited and who gets left out), often articulated beautifully when working with Maha, remains one of those tricky topics that we must keep asking ourselves about. This is also Connected Educator Month (in the US) — this issue of equity and access has to always be front and center. Not just for students (which is always a critical conversation) but also about educators.
Avoid the echo chamber. This slide is from Sarah’s presentation:
Often, this is easier said than done, I think. It’s easier to reach out to your existing networks, which may grow … but only incrementally, for the most part. And often, they grow with like-minded people. You speak the same “language” and articulate similar views. There is research that shows that many people remain in their social networking comfort zone.
Maha Bali, who is insightful in her observations of the US-dominated connected education conversations, wisely guided the activities in the invitations for Digital Writing Month. Sarah and I helped Maha to reach out to writers and educators from various places in the world and cultures and backgrounds. What I didn’t realize at the time is that for every invite that fell into the traditional invite (white, male, American, etc.), Maha and Sarah reached out even further for someone else, to balance out the community.
To be honest, it took a lot of time and a lot of effort on the part of us, the facilitators, to make that happen. I’m not sure we were completely successful, but we were successful enough for me to appreciate Maha’s and Sarah’s insistence on the task. The new voices and the new ideas, and the new perspectives and lens on the world, enriched the experience.
I’m not sure we do that enough with CLMOOC, particularly this year when it was a crowdsourced affair. When National Writing Project folks were overseeing CLMOOC, there was more planned intention, I think. This summer, as a crowd of us sought to run CLMOOC, there was probably not enough purposeful invite.
We didn’t do demographic studies, but a casual observation would be that we are mostly white, middle-class, American educators. This is not bad, but it doesn’t reflect the kind of diverse thinking that one would hope for (or at least, what I would hope for) in an open learning environment. We think of open learning as open doors, but some doors remain shut to people for all sorts of reasons.
In the open learning networks that I am part of, none of this exclusion is ever intentional, as far as I can tell. If it was, I would push back or leave. That doesn’t mean the exclusion doesn’t happen, however. It does. And if we want the places where we learn together, and explore ideas together and collaboratively, to be truly “open,” then the issue of inclusion/exclusion has to be on the minds of any facilitator planning such a space.