Further Defining Digital Literacies: Bias, Privilege, Modalities and Learning

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE culture

I’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

The theme of this strand — Promote culturally sustaining communication and recognize the bias and privilege present in the interactions — seems to be resonating everywhere in education circles and that’s as it should be. Given that much of the US teacher population is white and middle class, but that much of the student population in 0ur classrooms is diverse and getting more diverse as the population shifts, we educators need to do more to think about bias, and identity, and cultural crossroads for communication practices with our students.

Look at these questions posed in this part of the definition:

  • Do learners have opportunities to raise questions about bias and privilege when consuming, curating, and creating texts?
  • Do learners have strategies for interrupting discourse that marginalizes people based on race, culture, sexuality, language, gender, and ability?
  • Do learners have opportunities to identify and discuss how to detect and report fake news/deliberately misleading and false information or information that promotes hate speech and violence?
  • Do learners create texts across modalities for a variety of audiences and consider how diverse groups would respond?
  • Do learners have opportunities to collaborate with people/learners from communities that hold different views/ideas/values/beliefs, life experiences, racial, ethnic, and cultural identities, and economic security to address social issues that impact all of our lives?

These are important queries, and difficult at times to make happen. It really requires educators to work with others, to gather the right resources, to know what questions need to be asked (of themselves, of their students, of their communities), to push back on norms.

We grapple and work with variations of these questions quite a bit in the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. All of our projects and initiatives are viewed through the lens of culture, access, equity and social justice, and one of our leadership committees is dedicated to these very topics, helping facilitators think through workshops and seminars and teaching practice.

I find it interesting that the Media Literacy/Fake News element was put into here — at first, it felt rather forced, as if the topic was an orphan looking for a home. But then, as I pondered it, I began to see the rationale, of how fake news and text distortion plays a role in how we view “others” and how it can break down the bridge between cultures and language and diverse thought.

Further, I was thinking about the concepts of connecting multiple modalities and multiple ways of writing to cultural representations and literacies — to help learners be aware of how culture impacts our ways and access of literacies, and how that might play out in digital spaces. This concept intrigues me, and I don’t think I know enough about this to comment much further. For example, the reference to “sign systems” is not clear to me right now.

But the language of the definition has planted a seed of inquiry in my mind:

How do digital platforms both limit cultural expressions through technological design and how do users find workarounds to use platforms for cultural and linguistic, and modality, interactions anyway?

Finally, I was thinking of the point about “disrupting” practices, and connected that to the work being by Marginal Syllabus last year and now this year with its LEARN project, bringing in texts and authors on topics very much connected to this strand for conversations in the margins of those texts with the Hypothesis tool.

This month, the focus is on a piece about using the novel of Miles Morales, the black Spiderman, to talk about race and education, and varying the kinds of stories and texts that we bring into our classroom. (Come join in)

Peace (thinking),
Kevin

Further Defining Digital Literacies: Global Connections and Intentional Relationships

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE collaborationsI’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

I teach in a pretty insular community, in a classroom that is set off from other parts of the building (it’s inside the school but not near any other classrooms). It can be a pretty isolating experience, both from a teaching experience (no adjoining door to say hello to a neighbor) and a learning experience (the town is overwhelmingly white middle class suburbia).

This boxed-in mentality has often spurred me to try to find ways to connect my students to the larger world, and this section of the definition by NCTE speaks to that aspect, I think. Solving problems and pushing into shared inquiry, through help of larger connections and relationships, seems important in an ever-connected world where more and more of the work we do, and the learning we tackle, requires collaboration and teams.

The phrasing of “technology allows a wider range of voices to be heard” resonates with me, for I fear I don’t do this nearly enough, often to the detriment of my students’ experiences in the larger world. That said, past projects like Voices on the Gulf and Youth Radio and current projects like Connecting the Coasts (where my students in Massachusetts have been sharing and connecting with California friends via Flipgrid) have opened doors for some relationships and connections, pulling my sixth graders into something broader than the town they live, in progressive Western Massachusetts (although the town I teach is very conservative, an outlier in our area).

The definition talks about helping learners find voices different from their own, and perspectives different than their own, and this can be another sort of challenge. I often felt as if the Letters to the Next President project — while incredibly powerful in the way it brought writing and argument of high school writers to the surface in an array of important topics — did not do justice to the conservative voices of youth, that the platform had an overwhelming progressive vibe to it (which resonated with me and my views, perhaps, but seeing it through young writer’s eyes who has opposing views, it could be daunting). This is not a criticism of the work done by facilitators of Letters to the Next President — they worked hard to surface many diverse voices.

This surfacing of ideas in online spaces, in particular, is always a challenge — how to teach young people to be strong in opinions, and civil in their discussions –how to be persuasive in their arguments but open to other points to view. Heck, this is not just a challenge for young people. This is the challenge for all of us these days.

Anyway, I appreciated this part of the defining of Digital Literacies, for it forced me to reflect again critically on what I am doing, or am not doing, and what I have done, and can still yet do, better — both within my classroom itself, and by connecting my classroom to the larger and more diverse world beyond.

Peace (opening doors),
Kevin

Further Defining Digital Literacies: Access and Equity

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE access

I’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

Issues of access often take a back seat in discussions about digital literacies but here, in this definition, NCTE tackles it head-on early in its inquiry. And it’s not just who has what available — in other words, does the digital divide create unseen barriers for students — but also, how students with disabilities can access the same information and technology and tools as their peers.

I remember having a long discussion in a course about “alt text” on images via Twitter and other social networking platforms, and many of us worked on a public statement, urging Twitter to make the option for “alt text” writing on images for screen readers a default (it was an option one could turn on but I think it is now the default, so … progress). I am also thinking of how text-to-speech options, and how color-coding/highlighting/organizational possibilities, and how speech-to-text options all open the door to all of our students in terms of access.

Socio-economics play a role, too. I’ve done consulting work in schools where the computers are used for one thing: testing. Technology was only means of data gathering, and not a way for students to gather information and compose in different media. Student agency was nearly absent for the sake of constant testing.

One question within the NCTE definition seemed rather intriguing, as it brings to the surface an awareness of gaps. It asks:

Do learners recognize information gaps or information poverty?

and the follow up question:

Do learners advocate for their own individual and community’s access to texts and tools?

I wonder how teachers can best make those gaps visible to all students — this gets at the heart of equity — and how to help students advocate for places where the gaps exist? It seems to me that collaborations between classes — ie, Connected Learning principles — and better educator awareness might address this kind of question, but the fact is that for most of us, we don’t know what we don’t have because we made do with what we’ve got.

I think we all know we need to do better — with better-funded school libraries and information systems (that open doors for access, not just surveil our students), and classrooms, and teacher programs that incorporate these ideals in meaningful ways.

I was thinking of the mission statement of our Western Massachusetts Writing Project as I was reading this section of the Digital Literacies definition, as access and equity and social justice are front and center in all the work we do with students and teachers and school districts.

Peace (thinking),
Kevin

Further Defining Digital Literacies: Creators and Curators, Not Just Consumers

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE createI’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

This section of the definition seems key to me — how to help students not only understand what they are consuming in the digital landscapes but how to gather meaning through curation of content and how to create, too.

I am just about to enter our Game Design Unit after Thanksgiving break, and the whole reason I even ever thought about teaching video game design as a literacy practice is because of concerns about my sixth graders spending so much time immersed in something someone else built, I wanted them to build something, too. By having them design and engineer and publish video game projects, I hope they uncover the process of the profession, and think more deeply about their own game experiences.

Curation is the lost sibling in all this, and even as I work hard on my own — as a learner — to use folders and bookmarking and tags to keep as much of my content together, to gather it for curation — to make sense of what I have been doing in digital spaces with digital writing (this blog is my most reliable curation space, I would say, but not the only one).

Even something simple, such as folder awareness for students who use Google Drive. In a meeting of our Western Massachusetts Writing Project yesterday, we were brainstorming ways that the technology team can support teachers, and this idea of explicitly teaching the construction and curating of folders, with project files and other materials, to students came up, and it is one of those things that many of may take for granted — we do it, without thinking, making folders for our files — and many students have no awareness of how to do it, or why.

Now, the definition by NCTE goes way beyond that folder architecture, in interesting directions — here are three of the more intriguing guiding questions in each of the three categories of Consume, Curate and Create that had me thinking a bit more deeply:

  • Do learners review a variety of sources to evaluate information as they consider bias and perspective in sources? (Consume)
  • Do learners collect, aggregate, and share content to develop their voice/identity/expertise on a topic? (Curate)
  • Do learners evaluate multimedia sources for the effects of visuals, sounds, hyperlinks, and other features on the text’s meaning or emotional impact? (Create)

Peace (make it so),
Kevin

Further Defining Digital Literacies: Explore and Engage

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE explore

I’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and reflecting on the ideas within it.

One of the first topics of the definition could be summed up as Explore and Engage, and the definition ponders a series of questions to consider, framed within the concept of what literacy is when the texts are multi-modal.

Officially, it says: “Explore and engage critically, thoughtfully, and across a wide variety of inclusive texts and tools/modalities”

As a teacher, I think of these concepts quite often when planning learning experiences for my students. I contemplate often about how I can expand my notions of what writing is to include the use of different modalities — from video, to image, to code, to hyperlinks, to video game design, to screen writing (technology as well as plays, I would add), and beyond.

In the definition by NCTE, I particularly like the reference to learners understanding and pushing against the “limitations” of technology they use, to understand or at least acknowledge that a developer might have one idea for a tool, or app, or site but that we, as composers and creators, can also explore workarounds, pushing something into something else.

Often, the only time you can find the limits is by pushing the limits in directions one might not think about. How do we teach this to our students?

For teachers, who need control of the learning environment, this is an uncomfortable place to be in. But if we want to engage our students in meaningful work, it is a shift that has to happen, even if slowly.

There’s no one way but keeping an open mind, as a teacher, about creative, independent students, and sharing our own digital writing experiences — where things failed, where we found a way out, where we found success — seems ever more important.

Peace (along the edges),
Kevin

Further Defining Digital Literacies: Interconnected, Dynamic, Malleable

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE introI’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

Over the coming days (or weeks), I hope to explore some various aspects of their work, as digital literacy is a concept that I, too, have been pondering on for some time as a teacher and writer, and have struggled at times to put it all into words that seem large enough to encompass the changing literacy landscape and narrow enough to stay focused on literacy practice.

The words “interconnected, dynamic and malleable” stuck out for me in the opening introduction. Those three words say a lot about how we can look at literacy in the age of screens and Connected Learning practices and more.

  • Interconnections, as in the ways we can collaborate with others, find information across platforms, and write our way across platforms and online spaces
  • Dynamic, as in we can leverage multimedia to amplify our voice, our message, our connections (or we can choose not to, and write with quiet, too)
  • Malleable, as in we have flexibility for the ways in which we write, and share, depending upon situation and circumstance, and audience, and need

The NCTE researchers then dive deeper into how these elements play out across themes of literacies, access, social justice and more.

Active, successful participants in a global society must be able to

  • Participate effectively and critically in a networked world;
  • Explore and engage critically, thoughtfully, and across a wide variety of inclusive texts and tools/modalities;
  • Consume, curate, and create actively across contexts;
  • Advocate for equitable access to and accessibility of texts, tools, and information;
  • Build and sustain intentional global and cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought;
  • Promote culturally sustaining communication and recognize the bias and privilege present in the interactions;
  • Examine the rights, responsibilities, and ethical implications of the use and creation of information;
  • Determine how and to what extent texts and tools amplify one’s own and others’ narratives as well as counter unproductive narratives;
  • Recognize and honor the multilingual literacy identities and culture experiences individuals bring to learning environments, and provide opportunities to promote, amplify, and encourage these differing variations of language (e.g., dialect, jargon, register).  — from NCTE

Peace (thinking on it),
Kevin

Not at NCTE: Playing in the Margins of the Margins

I could not attend NCTE annual converence this year for reasons related to the ways the federal government has withdrawn most of its support for the National Writing Project, but I have been following some of the threads on Twitter when I could over the weekend. In particular, I was curious about the work being done by my friends via Marginal Syllabus with annotations and margin writing.

I could not help myself. As I saw people working on a hallway activity of making and then tweeting out notes on cards with quotes on Saturday, I started to make margin notes on the notes of the margins from here at home, and sharing them back into the stream. For a bit of time, it felt like I was there, with them.

This is the link to the description of the formal presentation, which took place yesterday

And this is the link to their presentation slides.

First, I grabbed a screenshot and used the text and arrow tools.

Then, I used an app that lets you manipulate an image, and used the idea of the margin at the center as symbolic concept.

Another one used a favorite: comics to make comments.

And then, I found a poem in an annotation.

Thanks to Adam, Sam, Jessica and Carolyn for letting me play with their work. I hope the workshop for the digital annotation was an interesting and illuminating session. Knowing the folks running it, I bet it was.

Peace (in the margins and beyond),
Kevin

Class Podcasts/Student Voices: This is “Why We Write”

Today is officially the tenth annual National Day on Writing.

Get writing!

Yesterday, I had my students work on a small piece of writing, in which they explored the question of “why I write” and then we did a class podcast of their voices. I am always so pleasantly surprised (should I be?) about the depth of their thinking about why they write, and am always so hopeful afterwards that our work around writing has some resonance with them.

Here are the podcasts from all four of my sixth grade classes:

 

Peace (in the voice),
Kevin

Celebrating the National Day on Writing

Tomorrow is the National Day on Writing, now in its tenth year (I believe), through the support of the National Council of Teachers of English and other organizations, like the National Writing Project. But tomorrow is a Saturday.

Today is when I will do some activities with my sixth graders. I had hoped to try to do a Zine project, but I dropped the ball on my planning and worries about time necessary to do a quality job. So, I am pushing the Zine idea out further into the year. (I connected with our city library, which runs a Zine project for teens, and they have some examples and resources I can borrow.)

So, I am going to do a version of what I have done other years, which is to have my sixth graders write about why they write (the theme of NDOW is Why I Write), and then share their ideas in the classroom. From there, students will volunteer to do an audio podcast (when I mentioned this the other day, they were excited about it), and then we’re going to use Make Beliefs Comix site, turning the writing piece into a comic.

Here’s mine:

Why I Write 2018 Comic

I hope to have a Wall of Comics about Writing in my classroom by the end of the day and to have student voices released into the #whyiwrite world, too.

These are voices from last year:

And a few years ago, I asked my colleagues at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, why do you write? This is what we said.

What about you? What will you do? Why do you write?

Peace (writing it down),
Kevin

 

What Emerges from the Margins about the Future of Digital Writing

Troy Hicks digitalwriting3

I wasn’t sure if other people would follow me up on my invitation. But I knew I wanted to annotate with Hypothesis the opening article in the NCTE journal — Voices from the Middle — about the future of digital writing, by Troy Hicks. Then, I saw a tweet from a friend, Gail, commenting on the article, too, and I knew I had to go ahead and start up a crowd annotation project. I wasn’t the only one wanting to engage with the text.

So, I sent the link out a few times over the weekend, and got some folks to engage with me (including Troy, and I can’t say enough how important it is to a reader to the have writer engaged in the margins in a conversation about the text they wrote.) By midweek, there were nearly 40 annotations — a mix of words, image, sound and video.

You see, this was not just about reading about Digital Writing. It was also an act of using Digital Writing to make sense of the piece about Digital Writing. Sure, a bit recursive, but an important insight. We can talk and write in text all we want about what writing should be. But when the opportunity comes to write with media, to write in the margins of an online text, you need to take the invitation forward.

This is your invitation.

A few days in to the annotation activity, Terry asked this important question to me and others on Twitter:

I am enjoying the conversation. Intrinsically valuable. Have to ask the question implicit in every annotation mob? Of what use is the conversation going forward and beyond an intrinsic one? Is intrinsic value enough? What could be curated and shared out beyond mere response? — https://twitter.com/telliowkuwp/status/1003632172698361856

I responded:

I think curation/context of the margins should be next … It would be neat to have different people reflect/curate. I know that is prob unlikely. Still, surfacing ideas is important part of the process. Orphaned comments seem contrary to activity. — https://twitter.com/dogtrax/status/1003745466708832257

So, here I am, aiming to pull out some of the many threads from the conversation in the margins in a way that helps me make sense of it all, and maybe gain some reflective insights. If you do the same, please share your link. We can then be linked together.

Some distinct themes emerged from within the margins of Troy’s text. Here is my sense of the topics that resonated most clearly:

  • Defining Digital Writing continues to vex many of us in the field of teaching and writing, as we try to articulate what we mean and envision, and then put into practice in our classrooms;
  • It’s not just the defining of the term, but also whether we even should be using Digital Writing as a signifier. Or it is just … writing, with the digital element just part of how we write. Or, maybe, composition?
  • The technology itself is less important than helping to nurture student agency on how to best use the technology available at this moment in time to find clarity of thought and intent, and creativity. Joe riffs off Troy’s mention of Snapchat, to show how this social sharing tool has possibilities for sharing stories, not just gossip.
  • Some of us used the margins as a place to leave poems, inspired by the text. Thanks to Greg, for example, for his small piece. To use poetry to express understanding, or to ask questions, or to further the topic … this is another way the margins can become active and alive in interesting ways. It’s writing about the writing, attached directly to the text.
    And then, Terry took that poem and remixed it with image as a digital poem:
  • Mulling over what forms of media enhance writing, and which might distract, is part of what writers do, and Sheri notes, in a comment about Word Clouds, how she remembered a student using this visual representation of text, and then going much deeper with a reflection on design, colors, fonts and more. This pushing deeper into understanding through reflective practice is important.
  • The ability for us, as teachers, to expand access and opportunity, and choice, with digital tools for writing and expression remains a challenge for many of us, hemmed in by our current school structure (and funding woes). Terry makes a connection to both Ivan Illich (whose work on DeSchooling was recently annotated in CLMOOC — see that work here and note how one annotated text now connects to another annotated text) and sheep farming, as Terry mentions a certain stasis that many of  us find ourselves in. He suggests that words in the margins are not enough. Action and change is required, if we are to reach all our students in meaningful ways.
  • Greg makes note that the web and the ways we interact with it with our writing has changed, moving steadily away from “the open web” to a more corporate structure. He suggests, and he is working hard, to move us back to the Indieweb concept, including finding ways to give ownership of spaces to students to find their voice and their passion.
  • Troy shares various links to various sites and applications and platforms where one might explore further some of the potentials extensions of writing. I re-found Voyant through Troy’s piece. It is a writing analysis tool that has many bells and whistles as it creates a snapshot analysis of writing. Here, I took a paragraph from Troy’s piece and put it through Voyant. What does one do with this? I suspect one would dig in and then find ways to remix the analysis, to surface and uncover things below the writing itself.
    Using Voyant on Troy
    At the very least, this tool gives your writing a visual look. At worst, it makes your writing become a meaningless analysis, where you lose all context of theme. So, in an effort to play with the concepts of digital writing, I used Troy’s words, to make the visual, that became the basis of a poem about losing meaning when writing gets reduced to its parts:
    Troy's Words Inside Voyant Inspires Poem
  • And finally, Troy, in being part of this discussion about his own text, notes his appreciation for this kind of discourse. What this does is keep the text alive and out in the open. Which, I contend, is important for any consideration of the future of writing.

The beauty of Hypothesis is that the annotation doesn’t have to end now. It can restart anytime you arrive and make a comment. So, whether today is today (my time) or a year from now (your time), please do come in and add some thoughts. Reflect. Connect. Write about writing.

See you in the margins.

Peace (upon reflection),
Kevin