Never Enough Time in the Day of a Digital Writer

4T Keynote BBoard Session

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.

Sorry.

Thanks to the archiving at the 4T site, though, you can freely watch a recording or review the slideshow and resources of my keynote — A Day in the Life of a Digital Writer — at the 4T site.  You can also access the notes and activities in the discussion that followed the keynote. I would also encourage you to tour through other workshops and other keynote addresses from the October celebration of digital writing, too. There are some pretty amazing resources and ideas out there. All of it .. free.

My Meandering Mind and Me

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  • Remember how I ran out of time in my presentation with the crowdsourcing concept of brainstorming a definition of Digital Writing? Well, time is relative. Why not try it now? Come to the Padlet I had set up (which was the second step in the activity) and leave a few thoughts. What IS Digital Writing, anyway?

Peace (upon reflection),
Kevin

 

WMWP Programming: At the Springfield Armory

WMWP Armory PD

For the second summer in a row, the Western Massachusetts Writing Project collaborated with the Springfield Armory (a US National Park site) on a summer youth program. Middle school students spent a week in the Armory, learning about innovation, immigration and role that the Springfield Armory played in our country’s history.

WMWP Armory PD

This week, I joined some other presenters –in conjunction with WMWP, a regional educational collaborative (which is running the program, as part of its history programs and Library of Congress access and support), the Springfield Armory and the  Veteran’s Education Project —  in a three-day Professional Development that uses the Springfield Armory as the source for primary documents and experiences.

My facilitation role in the PD is more central to the second session taking place in a few weeks, when teachers will be exploring Narrative Writing, History and Primary Sources, as they develop lesson plans for the classroom. My goal will be to explore “voice” and “perspective” from the angle of writing and primary sources.

One of the goals of the program is to get teachers inside the National Park site, and consider bringing students there. I admit: I remain a little leery of mixing my students with displays of guns, but the innovation and invention elements of the museum are pretty intriguing.

Here is a playlist/collection of students from the summer program, presenting student research on various aspects of the Armory and its historical connection to the Pioneer Valley region. Note: I was not a facilitator of the summer youth program.

Peace (in student voice),

Kevin

Circling Back: 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing Archives

digiwritingconference shoutout

Let state my appreciation for any conference, virtual or otherwise, which takes the time and energy to archive and share as much of a workshop/keynote presentation as possible after the fact. I have been circling my way back to some of the workshops in the free 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing (I am delivering a keynote session at the end of the month — Sunday, October 23) in order to get a flavor of what I have missed so far (and wishing I could have been in these sessions while they were happening live).

So, over coffee in my pajamas, I ventured in and learned more about what research looks like in this digital age (Thank you, Dawn Reed); how scribbling on the Internet and thinking about open web compositional tools might spark connections and extend writing (Thank you, Andrea Zellner); how YouTube might be a rich resource for compositional strategies for students, and how to connect watching with writing (Thank you, Rebecca Hornak); how spaces like Tumblr might open up an authentic audience for our young writers (Thank you, Richard Krienbring); and considerations of the social and civic impact of young people expressing their voice and staking out ground in digital spaces as active participants in the larger world (Thank you, Nicole Mirra and Antero Garcia).

Every Sunday, right through October, there are even more amazing sessions, all free and all archived afterwards. How great is that?

Tomorrow, I see another stellar line-up, with topics ranging from Design Thinking (Lindsey Stoetzel), to Dispositions/Practices of New Media (Anna Smith), to Grammar and Digital Writing (Jeremy Hyler) to MultiModal Moments (Cassie Brownell, Jon Wargo, and Rohit Mehta).

Did I mention the “free” part of 4T?

Peace (after the moment but still in the moment),
Kevin

Inclusionary Practices in Open Learning Networks


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

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).

Not too long ago, Sarah presented at the AltC Conference on the nature on the facilitation of open learning networks, turning her attention to Digital Writing Month, Connected Learning MOOC (CLMOOC) and various Rhizomatic Learning activities. (See her presentation slides here). Maha and I added some ideas to the presentation, but Sarah presented.

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.

We had this kind of conversation this summer, during CLMOOC, when a Twitter Chat conversation suddenly turned on that question of “Who is Here and Who is Not Here,” and my friend Daniel, who works with youth in urban Chicago and often notices the disparity of access, reminds us again and again about reaching out, making deeper connections, offering up invitations.

Avoid the echo chamber. This slide is from Sarah’s presentation:

Inclusion/Exclusion in open learning

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.

Inclusion/Exclusion 2

Efforts must be made.

Peace (in the think),
Kevin

 

 

 

Songs of Human Voice: From Cacophony to Composition

I was creating a Storify of all of the short video reflections that folks are making for the IMMOOC (Innovator’s Mindset), grabbing them and tucking them into the curated project. (see it here) But when I was tinkering with the template of the Storify, and tried to use the slideshow template, suddenly, my speakers were filled with all of the voices, talking all at once.

At first, I panicked — too loud! too loud! — and turned the volume off. After some reflection and a spark of curiosity, though, I turned it back on and  … I listened. I listened to the swirling sounds of all of our voices. I could hear different textures of sounds. I could hear individual words and phrases lifting up from the chaos, every now and then. Clusters of noise came together and then apart, weaving this noisy tapestry.

And I realized — this is a song of human voice and experience and questions. This is the collective songs of educators, deep in inquiry. This is music.

Which got me thinking: could I record all of those voices together (yes, I could) and then add a looping music track underneath it all, guiding the sounds into some sense of song? I could. What made it all work, in fact, is that towards the end, voices begin ending, slowly, like an audio tail wagging, and we are left with one lone voice, and her daughter, telling the entire IMMOOC community to “have a great day,” and that voice of that young daughter of Sheila Vick (@sheila_vick) was the magic sauce that made it all work.

Listen in headphones, if you can, and tell me this is not beautiful in its own way. It is longer than I would have liked, but I could not force myself to cut out anyone’s voice. (And some videos were added to the Storify later that did not make it into my audio recording. Sorry.)

Peace (sounds like …),
Kevin

PS — this is how I did it:

  • Launched Audacity recording software
  • Placed microphone by speakers
  • Started the Storify
  • Downloaded audio file as MP3
  • Launched Soundtrap website
  • Uploaded audio
  • Used loops to create underlying music
  • Downloaded and then uploaded to Soundcloud
  • Shared in social media

Middleweb Review: The World Peace Game

The most innovative idea that I came across this summer? How about John Hunter’s World Peace Game concept? The game is incredible and complicated and pushes all sorts of learning in all sorts of directions.

Hunter’s story of how he developed this intensive game that upped the ante for his fourth graders (and other assorted age groups as he brings the game elsewhere … including the Pentagon, where military leaders played it, too) as he asks players to help solve problems facing the world. His story is certainly worth a look, if only for discovering another way to re-examine our classroom spaces as something beyond testing and mandates.

Read my review at Middleweb of World Peace and Other Fourth Grade Achievements by John Hunter.

Peace (not just a game),
Kevin

Is YouTube the Innovative Engine Our Education System is Not?

 


flickr photo shared by Clintus McGintus under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

I was listening to George Couros on a hangout for IMMOOC, and he was telling the story (if I remember it right) of a high school student building a car, and when George asked how the young builder how he learned to do build a car, the student replied … on YouTube.

My class was waiting for dismissal on the first days of school and in the back of the room, a student pulled out a yo-yo and started to do acrobatic yo-yo-ing tricks. Where did he learn some of his more complicated moves? On YouTube.

A student once brought in video of friends skateboarding, flying across the air off ramps and other objects at the local skateboard park. The camera angles and the music and theatrical editing of the video had me asking the student, where did you learn how to shoot movies and edit like that? On Youtube.

My son wanted to hack and mod Minecraft. Where did he go to learn more about how to do that? On YouTube.

A student is very interested in anime. I mean, obsessed with the Japanese art-form. Where did they go to learn how to draw? On YouTube.

I had a plumbing issue. I am not mechanical. But this seemed fixable, and I didn’t want to pay our plumber $100 a hour for so simple a job. Where did I go to teach myself how to fix the plumbing? On YouTube.

And on and on and on … right?

Remember when schools universally blocked YouTube from student access? I hope those days are fading away. The more I talk with young people, and watch my own sons interact with the world, and reflect on how I learn new things, the more it becomes clear that YouTube has become the largest classroom in the world.

People of all sorts, in all parts of the world, are willingly sharing their expertise and creating narrow communities (what Chris Anderson called “The Long Tail” of marketing in the business world but which might have applications in thinking about students’ interests) and niche interests, and people are finding those communities more readily than ever before. Videos are a key component. Showing what you know. Sharing what you know. Learning from each other. Sure, there’s still a lot of flotsam and jetsam on YouTube (some of it wonderfully distracting) but more and more, there is amazing teaching and learning going on.

Check out Gary Haye’s Social Media Counter, and zoom in on the hours of YouTube video being uploaded in any given time. It’s staggering. In a 60 second period in which I was watching, there was nearly 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube.

And those of us (you, me) who share their knowledge and expertise to our students in this venue are the teachers. Not necessarily us, the classroom teachers in the school building. Us, the world at large.

We openly share our knowledge with others, by pointing the camera at ourselves and saying, this is how I do it. You can, too. We learn by clicking pause, rewinding, watching again and again and again. We comment (sometimes, not so nicely, alas), and follow our “teachers” for the next video. We join communities of others with our interests, and discover new things and share what new thing we have invented or discovered or found out how to do.

Now, this is both an idealistic view of the YouTube world, and yet, the reality, too. Ask any kid. They’ll tell you. As Google seeks to monetize more and more aspects of YouTube, this might all shift to something different. For now, if you want to learn something, you don’t necessarily ask your teacher. You search YouTube.

The question is: how do we use that awareness and understanding to help our students in their own learning? I don’t think teachers and schools are obsolete, or that they even need a complete revamping. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe we don’t need change, though. The discussions in the IMOOC may give us a chance to envision the future of school, and make strides to get there.


But what if we could do a better job of teaching:

  • Search Engine Queries (and Search Engine Differences … Not Everything Starts and Ends with Google)
  • How Algorithyms Shape Our Internet Experience (and How to Navigate Technological Bias)
  • Media Editing Techniques
  • Curation of Digital Content
  • How to Build an Audience
  • How to Ensure a Positive Digital Footprint
  • (Dare I say it) How to Make a Living off YouTube

I’m off to search YouTube for more ideas …

Peace (searching …),
Kevin

Writing in Circles for Dot Day

Dot Day Invite

Yesterday was International Dot Day, and this is the first year I had my students join the millions (6.6 million from 139 countries, in fact) people making circles and dots as a way to nurture a sense of creativity and imagination. The Dot Day idea stems from a picture book by Peter Reynolds, called The Dot. We connected with Peter and his brother, Paul, last school year, and we hope to do so again this year.

I decided to have my students write short one-paragraph stories on a circular theme — the story could have circular objects or have some other element of a circle — and then we used Visual Poetry to “draw with the words as ink.” That concept really intrigued them and blew them away. Finally, I had them upload their visual stories to a collaborative Padlet site, which has become this very cool digital wall of circle stories.

dot day circle screenshot

Watching them write, and then watching them paint, and then watching them navigate the download/upload instructions has given me a lot of insight into them as learners already. They were fully engaged in this, partially because they knew their work (which we were tweeting out during the day from our classroom Twitter account) was part of a global conversation about creativity. Their stories were in the mix.

That’s one element of Connected Learning that we teachers explore during the summer via CLMOOC — that idea of reaching out beyond the walls of your school, into the World at large — and I hope it is just a taste of things to come this year for us. Certainly, we will be doing something again around National Day on Writing and other ventures.

DS106 Dot Day

Meanwhile, Dot Day also took place over at the DS106 Daily Create site, with Dots as the prompt. There were 31 responses. I loved seeing my DS106 friends doing all sorts of strange things with dots, and more than that, I loved extending the connected element from the Global Community to my classroom to DS106 and beyond. All sorts of strands come together at times.

Peace (let’s create it and nurture it),
Kevin

Make Instruments, Make Music, Make Change

We were in our independent movie theater recently when the trailer for the upcoming documentary — Landfill Harmonic — came on the screen and blew us away. There’s so much to admire in this story — of the way one person saw possibility where others saw nothing, the way they turned to the resources at hand to create something, and the way an idea can potentially alter an entire community for the better.

Landfill Harmonic from Landfill Harmonic on Vimeo.

I just ordered it (via Vimeo), so I can share it with my students this year and support the cause.

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

#IMMOOC: Go and Find Out


flickr photo shared by masondan under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

Thanks to Sheri Edwards, I am hopping back into another MOOC. This time, it is the IMOOC (or Innovator Mindset MOOC), and I am curious. It is co-facilitated by Katie Martin, whom I don’t know, and George Couros, whose name is well known to me but with whom I have not interacted (as far as my addled brain can remember) before this weekend.

Already, I find myself wondering about the term “innovation” and what that looks like in the classroom. I know, I still have to read George’s book — The Innovator’s Mindset — I’ve just started it. Sometimes, we get so bombarded by terms that they lose their meaning. Disruption. Innovation. Change. Action Research. Inquiry-based Learning.

So I am happy to dig into the term and the ideas with others in the MOOC, and see what there is to be seen below the surface. And I see, after reading just the start of the book, that this is a central question that George hones in on.

Defining Innovation #immooc

For myself, I see innovation in my classroom has a slow-moving thing. It evolves over time, not in some sudden herky-jerky motion. And stand-deliver professional development is not going to cut it, either. We educators have to dive in, experience it, react and reflect, and wonder about it. We have to live it ourselves before we ask our students to live it. Or, we have to pay attention to the lives of our students, and innovate from there. This is the heart of the Connected Learning MOOC (CLMOOC) experience.

The reason for the slow bubbling is that I need time to reflect on changes that I bring into my classroom. I need to react, and wonder, and tinker. When I think of the term, innovation, I often think to technology that causes the world to reconsider what has come behind us and wonder what is coming ahead. I also know that innovative ideas do not have to revolve around technology but tech is the first thing that comes to mind these days. Perhaps we need to uncouple those terms from each other, in order to broaden out our understanding.

And, despite my conceptual thinking of instant disruption, innovation is not often all that sudden. Not that dramatic. Maybe it is really is more about a slow revolution. What does that look like in my classroom?

I think back to a picture book project with my sixth graders that has evolved into something completely different over time through innovative practice, brought on by curiosity and a shifting landscape of platforms. Our picture book project began in my first year of teaching (15 years ago), with colored pencils and paper, and a stapler as the binder. We shared with each other.

Then, about four years later, we moved to Powerpoint, to create slideshows that were really picture books (slides were pages), and we wove in science and math themes as part of the storytelling devices. We shared with each other, and younger grades in our school, and families.

Finally, about five years ago, we shifted to creating and publishing science-based video games, keeping our focus on literacies and science, but using the lure of video game design to hook students as creators and makers of digital content for an authentic audience. We shared with each other, other students in our school, families and to the larger game-playing world (in Gamestar Mechanic).

Notice how this shift took many, many years to make. Part of it was technology — could I have had students designing and publishing video games early on? I don’t think so. The technology wasn’t available for what I needed to do, and for the entry points needed for my sixth graders.

And I wasn’t ready for it, either. I needed to immerse myself into gaming, and think through what it might look like in the classroom. I had to make my own video games, and then envision the learning moments. (See our website where we shared resources on video game design and tracked our first year of the project)

I wonder: what’s next with this idea? Where do I go from here? And, as important, do I? Should I even innovate further? I’m nowhere ready for it, but Augmented Reality might be a logical innovative step forward (or perhaps it is just another false excitement) for our science-based storytelling. Could we make Google Cardboard goggles and create some interactive science/storytelling experience? How in the world would I even approach it, though? I don’t know. Not yet.

That’s one of the interesting elements of being an educator. We go and find out. And then we innovate.

Rikki Tikki: Go and Find Out

Peace (dipping in),
Kevin