Margaret Atwood: How Technology Impacts Storytelling

I found this video and find it quite interesting. Writer Margaret Atwood’s thoughts on how technology shapes our writing process and our conceptions storytelling (or not) connects with a lot of my wondering out loud about the ways that writing is changing, and shifting, in the modern era (but I am open to the argument that nothing is changing at all).

See what you think ….

Peace (in the story about stories),
Kevin

When Frustration Hits the Wall of Resilience


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

I like to think I am always open to new technology for my young writers, and I am not afraid to beta test or try out new platforms that show possibilities for my students. I do make sure I try things out first on my own. As a sort of mental checklist, I consider a few things before bringing a new tech idea into the classroom:

  • Does the technology compliment or enhance the writing of my students?
  • Does the technology provide for collaborative elements, or at least, allow for the possibilities of connected writing?
  • Is there a low frustration threshold for learning the new technology so that learners across the spectrum can feel successful?
  • Is it free? And if it is free, does it have advertising?

Now, I am always open to some frustration on the part of my students. That’s how many of them learn. That’s how I learn. You, too, probably. We run into a wall, find a workaround, share the workaround with others, and push forward.  Sometimes, I am the one who has to guide my students on that path. But by this time of year, most of them can do that on their own. Or turn to each other.

They’re learning perseverance and resilience when it comes to the limitations of technology. On a side note, this resilience does not always transfer to other content areas, such as math, where we see too much “giving up” or blind “pushing through” on the part of many students. Some theories about the increase in this helplessness focus on family life (helicopter parents) and standardized testing (there is one right answer, kid). We’re all, in education, still working on this.


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

So, now to the present. My students have been piloting a site designed to support writing and publishing. The site has cool potential. I don’t want to go too deep into the context or specifics because of the various networked connections of the project, due to the early stages of things and it is not important to my story here, but I reached a point the other day where frustration hit the wall of resilience, and I did something I rarely do: I backtracked.

The technology got into the way of the writing. This is the best way for me to put it. The technology got into the way of the writing.

I spent entire class periods, scrambling from one student to another with hands raised, troubleshooting what should have been easy fixes, only to discover there was nothing easy about the fix. I spent my time dealing with the technology, and not with the writing and ideas, and by the end of the day, I had had enough. This is not how I teach. I don’t think I have ever abandoned a technology in the midst of using it in the classroom — usually, I vet it pretty well — but this situation presented too many problems, too much of the time. I came close to pulling the plug.


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

The next day, after a night of thinking of little else and then letting those who run the platform know about my decision the next morning, I decided to offer up some alternative paths to students (including staying with the existing technology, if they chose, and there were some embedded incentives within the platform on why they would do that). Suddenly, putting that choice into their hands got the whole project back on track once again in a very positive way.

Still, I am left with lingering teacher doubts. Should I have kept at it? Did we “persevere” in the face of difficulties? Or did we give up too soon? I’m comfortable with my decision here, but I still have those questions looming around in my head. That’s why I am writing this blog post, after all.

I think resilience means finding ways around, or through, the walls that emerge in our learning process. Yet resilience does not mean crashing headfirst in the wall, again and again, with the same results (and a bad headache). Maybe knowing where resilience ends, and where the new starting line begins, is one of the keys here.

POST-BLOG-UPDATE-NOTE: A day later (I wrote this original post the other day and stuck it in my draft bin to mull it over) … First of all, those who run the platform have been very support of the decision to give the option to students to abandon the platform. They want us to put educational needs of students first, even if it meant disrupting the beta testing. They completely understand. Second, surprisingly, many of the students chose to STAY with the platform, even with all of its problems and technical glitches, and the choices I presented to them. I find that decision so interesting and I look forward to seeing the projects now underway make their way to completion in the coming weeks. Perhaps my students are teaching me a lesson about resilience.

Peace (in, and through, and out, and around),
Kevin

 

Upon Reflection: Reading Literature in a Digital Age

FutureLearn

I’ve long been intrigued by the ways in which technology is changing the ways (or not) we read and write. When someone mentioned a site called FutureLearn, and its free MOOC-like open course offerings, and a six week class called Reading Literature in a Digital Age, I was curious about the exploration.

So I dove in.

I’m glad I did.

Although some of the course material moved away from my main interest point, particularly as we explored modernity in Ezra Pound poetry, I kept finding my way back to the topic of digital reading in fascinating ways. The course mixed short video lectures by Professor Philipp Schweighauser (at the University of Babel), articles and inquiries, comments by participants and short quizzes of understanding.

WWWeb as Remediation Sponge

Here is a list of reading techniques we explored over the six weeks. Some I knew (but maybe with another name) and some I was only vaguely familiar with.

  • Hyper Reading (the way we scan digital text in an often non-linear fashion, seeking information that meets our needs)
  • Social Reading (annotating text with others in online spaces, so that the crowd understanding of a document can lead to a larger understanding of a text)
  • Close Reading (looking at the text and only the text, with very little context outside of what is on the page or the screen.)
  • Distant Reading (analyzing multiple texts with algorithms to determine patterns over time or central points that might be obscured by a closer look)
  • Surface Reading (examining the materiality of the text itself — the physical object — as well as all of the surrounding elements of the main text, such as title pages, copyright information, layout design, etc.)

At one point, we were asked to write a short essay on which of these reading strategies we most use, and I wrote this, thinking as much about my students as about myself as a writer:

These days, I am most attuned to the idea of “surface reading” because I am intrigued by the changes afoot in the world of literacies. The materiality of the “text” is an interesting notion, made even more so by the ways that we interact with screens in our daily lives (for good or for ill). As a teacher of young students, I am always struck by the disconnect between the literacies of our education system (paper-centric) and the literacies of their lives outside of school (screen-centric) and struggle with finding a bridge between the two. Therefore, paying close attention — “surface reading” — to how the materiality shapes our reading experiences, through media and through interactive elements and through access (or who does not have access) must become part of the conversations and considerations of expanded notions of literacy. I am also personally intrigued when discovering a new kind of text — who wrote it, who published it, how was it put together. Can I replicate it? With “surface reading”, I have an in-road to understanding the text in whatever form it might take. And if I can understand it, if I can peek beneath the covers to see how it works, maybe I can replicate it (remediate it?) myself as a writer, and then teach that new kind of writing/composing to my students, too. Giving them a chance to move from consumer to creator — sparking agency — is always my goal.

What the course reminded me of is how literacies is in the midst of a shift, and yet that shift is anchored in the traditional forms of texts in many ways. I appreciated the deep dives into various ways of looking at texts in various forms, and came out of the course with a better understanding of how researchers and lay readers approach texts in different ways, and seek different elements of understanding.

new media meets old media

I have now signed up for another course in a few weeks, called Teaching Literacy through Film. Wanna join me?

Peace (it’s in the text),
Kevin

What Diversion Sounds Like (Masters of War)

The other morning, I had my list of tasks to do. You know, writing and other things that I needed to get done. Then, along comes Simon on Twitter, referencing Bob Dylan’s Masters of War, with a call to remix or remediate or something, and there I am, remembering the day I bought Dylan’s vinyl Biograph box set and heard Masters of War for the first time on my headphones. I was 19 years old, just starting out with songwriting, and that box set became a bible of songcraft to me.

And Masters of War .. that one song haunted me for weeks on end. I could hear its words in my head at night when I slept and its phrasing crept into many of my songs that year, when I focused on writing political songs in the era of Reagan. I even wrote a song for a band that I just formed (our name was Behind Bars) that was an echo of Masters of War. Mine, about US intervention policy in Central America, was called Another War. (I am still digging around for a version of it).

So Simon reels me back in to that time period of my life, and I wondered if I could do a version of the Dylan song in Soundtrap and invite others to add to it.

My initial goal (now that my list of tasks for the morning was kaput) was to do something sparse with Dylan’s song and keep open musical space for others. An hour or two later, I realized I had set forth a version with tension and very little space for others but I could not find a way to remove sounds without messing with the urgency of what I was creating. Still, Ron came on board, adding the very interesting voice of emergency (This is NOT a drill) and some guitar riffs, and Bryan arrived later, with even more guitar flourishes.

The invite to others is still open. We’ll see what happens.

Peace (it sounds nothing like War),
Kevin

PS – this version of Masters of War by Ed Sheeran is a new favorite of mine.

Writing with Light: I Fear I Left the Poem Behind

I fear I left the poem behind

I was reading the Sunday newspaper, when I came upon an interview with a writer who has published a new book about the history of computer Word Processors. The writer is Mathew Kirschenbaum and his book is Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing.

The conversation was interesting (including one point where he found historical references to writing on the screen as “writing with light” — that stuck with me and became ‘refolding these pockets of light’ in the poem), as it centered on the ways early Word Processing programs changed the way some people write (or at least, the perceptions of the writing process).

The interview references a famous quote by Joan Didion about how writing is a bit like sculpture, and a writer chips away to create form. Didion was referring to creative non-fiction writing from the strands of inquiry and research, I am sure, but I starting thinking of poetry in context to her insight, and how space and inference play a part in writing poetry. What you leave out is as important as what you leave in.

Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing. - Joan Didion

I’ve seen the Didion quote before but something about it, in context to the discussion about digital writing, stuck with me for the day, and that led to the poem above, called I Fear I Left the Poem Behind.

Peace (with hammers and chisels),
Kevin

At Middleweb: Digital Portfolios (teacher edition)

 

Kevin professional digital portfolio

In my latest blog post at Middleweb, I explore the potential of digital portfolios for teachers. (My follow-up in a few weeks will focus on how my students are creating their own digital writing portfolios as the school year comes to a close). Here, I explore my own shift towards a digital teaching portfolio as home for evidence and reflection for my educator evaluation process.

Check out: Exploring the Potential of Digital Portfolios

Peace (port it),
Kevin

Blackout Poems: Name Recognition

(I am using the New York Times interactive Blackout Poetry site for a few days to create Blackout poems. They give you some articles to choose from. You create poems of no more than 15 words. The interactive does the blacking out around your chosen words. It’s pretty cool. You can also read other poems built around the same articles. Give it a try.)

Blackout Poetry1

Process Note: This poem is created from an article about model Kate Upton and her attempt to move into acting. It’s also about what beauty is in the age of viral images. In this poem, I tried to keep my attention on the recognition of name in pop culture, and the transient nature of likes and thumbs-ups and more. That “no more than a cameo” is a good line. I also liked the floating off the page concept.

Peace (in what’s unsaid),
Kevin

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

 

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

They say:

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

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

Wow.

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

Play/Listen/Remix/Enjoy

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

Peace (in the Muse),
Kevin