The Art of Juggling Two Voices: Digital Is and Me

dual voices
Last week, I had the pleasure of taking part in an ongoing collaborative Twitter adventure with my National Writing Project friends at the Digital Is site. A handful of us have signed up to take on the “digital is” handle (@NWPDigital_is) on Twitter for a week at a time, sharing resources and encouraging discussions through the shared identity of Digital Is.

It was fun, but odd, too. I enjoyed diving into a few more resources at the Digital Is site (if you have not visited it, you really should — there is some amazing work being featured there on how digital media and technology are impacting the ways our students write and the way we are teaching writing) and sharing the work of NWP colleagues to a wider audience. I also kept my eye on news and articles that seemed to fit the parameter of what I imagined @NWPDigital_Is — if it were a person — would tweet and retweet about. (There’s part of my odd factor: imagining a website as a person, tweeting.)

Meanwhile, I was also tweeting with my @dogtrax identity throughout the week, and even added in a few items from my rock band’s identity (@dukerushmore), and what I realized was how strange it was to be shifting from one identity to the other, sometimes within minutes of each other, and periodically, the tweeting would overlap. Not always on purpose. In some other cases, postings of a single item by multiple accounts would happen by mistake — I’d want to tweet something specific for @NWPdigital_is and find that my @dogtrax was still in the “on” mode because it is my default, and both would get published. (I wondered, does anyone notice that I am both dogtrax and digital_is this week? No one said a thing. Then I thought, maybe they just think I am always behind both accounts. There’s this Wizard-of-Oz-feeling when you tweet out of your normal routine as a guest, I’ve come to realize.)

It reminds me of how identity is often in flux when we use digital tools, and while it is easy enough to create multiple accounts, it is not as easy to maintain individuality and voice when you have more than one “you” on the stage. Who I am in this moment of time, and who I want to be represented as to a larger audience, is a critical question. You need to experience it from time to time in order to better understand the implications for identity with your students, and then think about how to teach that skill. There’s value to being part of multiple voices (such as this @NWPDigital_Is venture. You can also see from my screenshot that I have access to our feed from Western Massachusetts Writing Project and my classroom) but in the midst of it, you can feel the pull and tug of those multiple voices, too, splintering your message in ways you don’t quite grasp until you find the time to reflect, and write.

In the vein of sharing Digital Is resources, this one by Peter Kittle — Inquiring into Distributed Identities — hits the points I am trying to make here in this post. Another — Teachers Tweeting Teachers: Building a Community of Practice through Tweeting — talks about the benefits of a shared tweeting experiment.

Peace (in the tweets),
Kevin

 

The NCTE/NWP Hackjam Rocked!

(note: yeah, I am still processing and writing about my visit to Vegas for NCTE and NWP.)
Hackjam2 Chad and Andrea

At the NCTE Meeting, there is always a Tech To Go booth set up, where teachers share technology tools and learning strategies. It’s cool, but most of us are usually passing by it on the way to other things. On Saturday, I skipped a session so that I could hang out with some NWP friends — Chad Sansing and Andrea Zellner — who were collaborating on a Tech to Go session version of a Hackjam. First, you need to understand that the negative connotation around hacking is all wrong, and upside down. Instead of imagining some creepy programmer causing mayhem and mischief, think of an average person repurposing media and technology for their own needs, and remixing the world to their vision. Yeah, that’s hacking, and it doesn’t have to be a technology-based idea.

Hackjam3

Chad and Andrea got us started with a fascinating adventure that had nothing to do with computers. We were given one of two “secret missions” — either go into the NCTE exhibition booths and take as much free stuff as you could find, and then come back to the Tech to Go area and remix it; or grab some sticky notes and hack the long line of celebrity photos in the main hallway leading into NCTE. I joined the image hack crew, and we had a blast adding dialogue boxes to the pictures. Lots of folks were stopping, wondering what we were doing and reading what we were writing. It was very mysterious, and fun, and the activity really had us thinking of how to use humor and hacking to remix a public space.

Hackjam5

Unfortunately, the hack didn’t last. Someone soon came down the hallway shortly after we left, and removed all of our sticky notes. Luckily, we had already tweeted and photographed our work, saving the hacking for posterity (for good or bad). But the activities (including the remixing of the free stuff) reminded us of agency of the user, of remixing our experiences, and of how to shift our thinking from passive consumer into active participant.

Which led us to technology, where we used some of the new Mozilla Foundation tools in its Webmaker system to hack some web content. The Hackjam was a blast of fresh air from the room sessions, and Chad and Andrea made it fun and engaging, and steeped into the larger ideas of helping our students have agency in the media-saturated world.

You can view Andrea’s Storify collection of the tweeting that took place during the session. It’s a handy overview of what happened.

Peace (in the hack),
Kevin

 

Keynote Collaboration with Bonnie and Troy at NYSCATE

lick Here for Conference Brochure

Anytime I get a chance to collaborate with my National Writing Project friends Troy Hicks and Bonnie Kaplan, I am game. So, yesterday, I joined Bonnie and Troy for a keynote presentation at the New York State Association for Computers and Technology event. But since I could not take more time off school, we used Google Hangout and I joined them virtually. I was this huge head on the wall in the conference hall, which was a little odd and made me feel a bit like Oz, you know? But it worked.

Our theme was digital writing, and how to notice and nurture the compositional practices of young people as they use digital tools to make shifts in their writing. While I assume most of the audience were technology coordinators and technology teachers (given the organization), our message was that writing is at the heart of technology, and that we need to put more agency and ownership into the hands of our students.

Bonnie shared a documentary project that she has been involved with in which video and digital storytelling are being brought down in the early childhood classrooms, giving voice and space to the stories of young learners. I talked about how to begin the year with technology (with our Dream Scenes project) as a way to set the stage for the rest of the year. And Troy not only shared a video of his own young son talking through his choices as he worked on a Wiki project, but he also brought forward two different multimodal essay projects from older students.

It was fascinating to watch us collaboratively weave our ideas together, and we used Today’s Meet as a backchannel of discussions. Troy was masterful in bringing those topics and questions to the forefront, so that the audience’s reactions and sharing became part of our keynote presentation.

Peace (in the prez),
Kevin

 

 

Digital Writing Month: Compose the Web

Using Thimble

I really enjoyed a session at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting called Composing the Web, which began with a neat “toy hacking” activity and then moved into exploring the Mozilla Foundation’s suite of tools for remixing and creating content on the web. Using one of the activities on Thimble (a webpage creator of sorts), I created this quick “shout out” project using a claymation video my son and I had made.

What I like about these tools is that it puts more agency and understanding into the hands and fingertips of users (ie, our students) and can make clear the underlying code structure of our media-saturated world. Use Hackasaurus Xray Goggles, for example, and you can make visible the coding strategies of a website designer, AND then remix it for yourself. Thimble allows you to create and publish a website in minutes, and the new Popcorn video system is a robust video editor that opens the doors for all sorts of remixing content.

Which brought up a long discussion about copyright, ownership of content, and more in our session. In the end, there was some agreement (I think) that these tools are part of what digital literacy is about, and that we do a disservice to our young people if we don’t find ways for them to understand and use the web for creation. I don’t think we all agreed on all points, though, and that points to continued confusion over the remixing/hacking world in educational circles.  (I am not clear, either).

But I am going to be bringing these tools into my class as part of a unit I am starting around media criticism — using Xray Goggles to hack a news site and then maybe Thimble to create an alternative news site, and then maybe even Popcorn video editor to annotate a news video. The ideas are still unfolding here ….

Anyway, here is a link to my Thimble-created site: Yo! I’m Creating Claymation!

Peace (in the hack),
Kevin

More from the National Writing Project Annual Meeting: Game Design


(link to slideshow)
I was a co-presenter at a session at the National Writing Project’s Annual Meeting last week on the topic of game design. I joined Steve Moore, Rafi Santos and Janelle Bence to present a variety of ways that gaming and video games might have a place in the educational setting, starting from a systems framework idea of the ecology of a school, to integrating game design theory into the curriculum, to connections to the Common Core, to how to build a game. It was a lot of fun, and full of interesting insights by the participants, who spent a chunk of time collaboratively constructing a game and then reflecting on the experience.

First, we brainstormed what we knew about games:
What We Know About Games

Later, after games were built, we asked them to reflect on what they discovered about game design, and what they struggled with:
Discoveries and Challenges of Game Activity

You can also access the agenda online, which has resources that the presenters and the audience have pulled together.

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

 

Reflections on National Writing Project Annual Meeting, part 1

I’ll be sharing pieces of my experiences here in Las Vegas at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting over the coming days (today, it is on to NCTE). I attended a number of very interesting sessions yesterday, and co-presented one around game design. I also joined 600 NWP colleagues in the main plenary sessions where we wrote (naturally) and got inspired by some terrific speakers.

What stuck out for me over the course of a very full day, however, was something rather surprising and for me, unexpected. I was reminded once again about the power of the narrative. I say surprising because the shift to the Common Core has reduced how narrative writing might figure in our classrooms, in favor of informational, expository and argumentative writing.

But, starting in the first session I attended around Systems Design and Digital Writing, I realized that so much of this theory around elements shaping outcome, and how the parts define the whole, and how one twist in an element can potential alter the system is pretty close to what we do when we write a story. We add a character, toss in a plot twist, design a story through its parts for a larger meaning. It’s really a narrative understanding of the world.

And the keynote speakers at the big session — Jeff Wilhelm, Michael W. Smith, and Jim Fredricksen — have written three books centered on some main elements of the Common Core, but all three spoke passionately about the ways that narratives inform our lives, and provide a framework (again, a system) for understanding. So, when Wilhelm was talking about how making lists for informational text and understanding is one way of organizing our understanding, he also noted how we use narrative to put those lists in order in a meaningful way. The other two speakers touched on narrative, too.

And then, in both our gaming session (where narrative is the design backbone of my game design project, but with a science theme), and in a last session around tools that allow you to compose/hack the web, we talked again about how story and narrative are an essential thinking framework.

All this is heartening. I know the Common Core doesn’t remove narrative, but it does minimize it, and that worries me as a teacher and a writer. If we can find more ways to weave those strands together, of remixing narrative in the scope of informational/expository writing, so that writers have more options, then we are providing an interesting road ahead for our students.

Las Vegas, not New York

Peace (in Vegas),
Kevin

 

Getting Ready for Vegas (NWP/NCTE)

This coming week, my wife and I had off to Las Vegas for the annual gathering of the tribes of the National Writing Project and the National Council of Teachers of English. Last year, due to budget cuts, I did not go to the annual event — the first time that I missed it since I became part of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. And boy, did I miss it.

I’m involved in three different workshop/presentations in Las Vegas – one with NWP and two with NCTE. (Everything takes place at the MGM Grand Hotel)

On Thursday, I am joining some amazing NWP colleagues to present a session around Game Design for the classroom. We’re aiming to bring folks into the world of gaming from the standpoint of creation, not just playing. So, along with showing the pedagogy of game design and the connections that it can have to the classroom (along with motivation of students), we’re going to have folks doing some game design activities in the sessions. It should be a blast.

NWP: Changing the Game with Games-based Learning

1:15 – 3 p.m.

MGM Grand Conference Center, 3rd Floor, 301

On Friday, I am one of a handful of speakers in a session at NCTE around bullying. My topic is cyberbullying, and how schools are working to address online situations and how teachers can frame discussions around the larger issue of digital citizenship. My goal is to avoid the message of “the Internet is bad” and instead, show how young people need guidance on how to behave when in online spaces, both for their own safety and also for the respect of others.

NCTE: Stop the Bullying

2:30 – 5:15 p.m.

MGM Grand Ballroom, room 119, level one

And on Saturday, I am giving an Ignite talk along with a bunch of others. Ignite talks are 20 slides that change every 20 seconds, so you have go be light on your feet. While the them of the session is around professional connections and inquiry, my Ignite explores the idea of short-form writing (Twitter, updates, etc.) and how writing can change to meet the forms of the day.

NCTE: Ignite Session: Supporting Collaboration and Inquiry

11-12:15 p.m.

MGM Grand Ballroom, room 122, Level One

And on Sunday, we rest. And fly home. We reconnect with our kids. And get ready to teach the next week with a dose of inspiration from being part of a gathering of educators.

Peace (in the week ahead),
Kevin

 

The Research Habits of Digital Kids

The Pew Research Center, along with the College Board and the National Writing Project, recently released the results of a survey of middle and high school teachers on the topic of technology’s influence on research skills of students. (You can read more about the study here at the NWP website or download the whole report from Pew).

The results are not surprising, I think, but they are worth sharing and discussing. A few things become clear from this report and my own daily observations of my students, and I think many of teachers see this in their own classroom: While the Internet and other forms of technology have opened up amazing doors for information and connections for young researchers, it has also created the problem of filtering that flood of information into manageable and useable ideas. The role of the educator in regards to online research is never more necessarily than now, in this information age, particularly around the teaching of reliable sources, navigation strategies, citation of sources and more. We need to be doing more explicit teaching of these practices.

Here are some bits and pieces from the survey overview that stuck out  for me:

Virtually all (99%) AP and NWP teachers in this study agree with the notion that “the internet enables students to access a wider range of resources than would otherwise be available,” and 65% agree that “the internet makes today’s students more self-sufficient researchers.”

Large majorities also agree with the notion that the amount of information available online today is overwhelming to most students (83%) and that today’s digital technologies discourage students from using a wide range of sources when conducting research (71%).

The teachers surveyed rated students particularly low on their ability to recognize bias in online content (71% rate them fair or poor), and patience and determination in looking for information that is hard to find (78% give ratings of fair or poor).

42% of the teachers surveyed report their students use cell phones to look up information in class. At the same time, virtually all teachers surveyed report working in a school that employs internet filters (97%), formal policies about cell phone use (97%) and acceptable use policies or AUPs (97%). The degree to which these different policies impact their teaching varies, with internet filters cited most often as having a “major impact” on survey participants’ teaching (32%), followed by cell phone policies (21%) and AUPs (16%). Teachers in urban areas and those teaching the lowest income students are feeling the impact of these policies more than others. In particular, teachers of students living in poverty are at least twice as likely as those teaching the most affluent students to report these policies having a “major” impact on their teaching.

This infographic from the report gives a good idea of the responses.

 

These kinds of reports reinforce the need for us as teachers to really bring these skills into our classrooms. Mostly, librarians have been leading the way, and that is great. But all of us need to be finding ways to do more of this, and if you are a Common Core state – with its emphasis on research skills and using sources and synthesis of ideas — you really need to make inroads here. I’ve been doing more and more of this with my own sixth graders, setting the stage for larger research projects in the coming years.

Peace (in the research reflection),
Kevin

The Influence of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project

At our annual conference last weekend with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, we asked teachers to reflect on what impact the WMWP has had on their professional and personal lives. Here are some of the responses, which demonstrate the power of being connected to a strong network of teachers and colleagues who value not only writing, but also all aspects of teaching, and who reach out to support and encourage others in the WMWP network.

Peace (in the project),
Kevin