Defining Digital Writing (A Modest Proposal)

Digital Writing, in the margins

It’s quite possible this is impossible. I am trying to narrow in on the affordances of what we mean by the phrase “Digital Writing.” I may even veer way off track here, and perhaps it is best for all of us just to drop the “digital” once and for all, and just call it .. writing. Although, I, for one, still prefer the word “composing.”

Still … I am on this merry path of thinking because I am giving an ending Keynote to the (free!) 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing, which takes place on Sundays in October and because I have been engaged in an intriguing margin annotation activity with my CLMOOC friend, Karen LaBonte, who wrote a “field report” blog post that shared some critique of the phrase “Digital Writing” by close family members.

That had me thinking: OK, so WHAT do we mean? What affordances does the digital bring to writing? How is it different from what we think of as (regular) writing (ie, paper, pen/cil, etc.) And, why do we need to differentiate?

Here is a rough list of affordances, in my view, of how Digital Writing is different from, eh, Analog Writing. (Boy, that phrase looks odd, right?)

Digital Writing …

  • is more than just words typed on a screen. A simple blog post is not really digital writing;
  • potentially crosses mediums, so that words might mix with sound might mix with video might mix with other media;
  • narrows the gap between writer and reader by giving more agency to the reader than traditional relationships, and so, the writer must plan for that changed relationship;
  • can have deeper associative properties, particularly when thinking of how hyperlinks embedded within the text might connect one text to another, providing options and trails that move away from the main text itself;
  • may or may not harness the possibilities of the underlying yet mostly hidden “writing” — the computer code of the page that we read that has been represented as text but is actually not text;
  • provides for possible collaborations beyond the writer, and sometimes without their permission or notice, such as the margin annotations on a website page or a remix of media.

The criticism, including my own, may be be that most of what I just wrote in this list is not necessarily “writing.” It is more technology — tinkering with the way we represent writing in the larger world. But I still think if “composing” is the word we use when it comes to “digital writing,” we are more apt to be open to the use of various media, of hyperlinks like paths on a literacy map, of reader involvement in the original text, of the sort of planning that “digital writer” has to do to create a “digital text.” It is all composition.

DIGITAL the poem

I don’t think we are at a point where all writing is digital writing, and therefore, we don’t need a separate designation on it. I don’t know if digital writing is the right term, though. But it does seem to me that we need some way to show that technology is changes the way we compose our texts in the world, if only so we can talk about it (and maybe debate it).

What do you think?

Peace (write it into the world),
Kevin

The Appeal of Musical.ly (and the Trap of the Likes)

musicaly

My 11 year old son has really enjoyed making videos with the Musical.ly app this summer. If you don’t know what it that is, Musical.ly is a lip-syncing app, which provides short bursts of song that the user creates an equally short video for. Most people lip-sync the song and share within the community. Tons of kids are using it.

I was going through the videos my son had been making (nearly 100 now), and I was laughing at his sense of humor. His friend was over this weekend, and they made a very interesting one, that was shot entirely in reverse, as his friend catches some inflatable baseballs and items while grooving to a song. A sort of trick-camera thing. I thought it neat, but it might just be a simple tweak of the app. I’m not sure.

(Note: I asked later the boys about it. It was done in the app. So much for hacking the app for creative video editing.)

I also get a little antsy, though, in how my son, entering his middle school years, gets caught up in the number of viewers and likes and all of the suitcase luggage of social media (thumbs up, plus, etc.) on his work (not just here in this app but also in other platforms) that doesn’t really designate anything much in reality. He sees it as “someone is watching what I am making” but I suspect it is an ego thing, too. He wants to be popular, and he sees technology as one of the ways to be “cool.”

We’re already overhearing conversations about “how many views do you have?” and “how many videos have you made?” as if it were all a cold numbers game.

We’re trying to temper that impulse for “likes without context” with discussions at home, as best we can. He’s always enjoyed making movies, and has regularly written and produced videos himself with friends. (In fact, he is finishing up the editing a video that he and this same friend shot over the weekend.)

This Musical.ly app is designed for short videos, and I hope that it doesn’t suck dry the creative fountain for his desire to make longer video productions. I hope, instead, it gives him more ideas that he can use elsewhere.

And sure, he’s having fun with it. That’s important, too.

Peace (in navigating the world),
Kevin

The Lives of Connected Teens/The Nuances of Social Media

 

I read with interest an article in Wired Magazine about teenagers and their use of social media and technology as part of their ways to navigate and connect with the world. The piece, by Mary H.K. Choi, dovetails nicely with the work being done by researchers like danah boyd.

As a teacher, and a father of teens, Choi’s piece gave me a lot to think about, particularly around the nuances of Snapchat, and of Instagram, and of “ghosting” and other nuances of the social media world. I appreciate that she makes clear this is no large ethnographic study like Mimi Ito and others have done. Instead, Choi spent time with a small but diverse group of teenagers, observing their habits.

Anytime we can get some insight into the minds of teens, particularly using technology for connections, is important, so I grabbed some quotes from the article that stuck with me.


Teens and Social Media – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires;

Peace (in the minds and the world),
Kevin

PS — Check out the accompanying “guides” on social media use that were part of the article, too.

Collaboration Falls Apart: I’m Still Learning


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

Earlier this year (which was actually last school year), I wrote about using Google Slides as a collaborative space for writing poetry with four full classes of students over the course of a day. It was a great idea that failed rather miserable and ended in chaos. You can read about it here.

You’d think I’d have learned my lesson, but no … Actually, I hoped I had learned my lesson. But I tried something similar again this past week with my new class of sixth graders, only to sort of fail … yet again. Sigh.

Welcome to Sixth Grade title

On the first day of school this week, before my sixth grade students had activated their school Google Apps for Education account, I set up a Google Slideshow, made it a public document for anyone to contribute without logging in, linked it off our class blog site, and assigned each student three slides (four, if you count their name slide). I did, in fact, remember what I learned from the past failure. I made sure that each student had a designated space inside the slideshow, with their names right on the slides. (Each student’s task was to create a slide of something they did in the summer, a six word memoir and their favorite “media”)

I walked my students through the process of how to use Google Slides (only one student in my class had ever created a slideshow, ever, which is interesting .. and the pattern for my other three classes as well, it turns out). I presented a mini-lesson on using Creative Commons for the search for images, and how to add the links to photos inside the slides as attribution points. I showed them my example as a mentor text.

Summer Moment

And then I set them loose for the next hour.

For about 30 minutes, it was beautiful. They were engaged, helping each other out, and I was wandering around, talking to them about their summer and their memoirs, and giving help with finding and using images. We talked about design elements of slides. They were having fun.

Six Word Memoir

Then, someone tried to use spellcheck.

Now, let me say, I was quite happy they found spellcheck. It meant they were checking their writing. They noticed the red squiggles. They wanted to fix a mistake. But when they tried to spellcheck their own slide, the tool jumped them to other slides in the collaborative show, and either they began to hit “back” or “delete” or something to get back to their own slide, and suddenly, entire slides — not their own — were disappearing.

There was that murmuring energy that begins slow and then builds into crowd confusion. No teacher wants to sense that in the room, believe me.

Keep calm, I said to the class, as hands were now raising into the air. We’ll figure this out.

I helped a few with the “undo” button, but that only worked if I was with the student who did the accidental edit. If it was a student whose slide disappeared in front of them because of someone else’s actions, the undo button didn’t work.

Luckily, we were now near the end of our time, and so I announced, in my confident teacher voice, that we would be stopping for the day and I would try to go back in time with Google Slide history/revision, and find the missing pieces (I’m making it all out to be worse than it is, but I am still not sure how many slides got deleted). I expressed confidence in the auto-save.

Alas, because they were all anonymous guests, working at the same time, the revision history only went so deep, and I can’t traverse back to the time (even when going into advanced revision history) where the slides went kaput. What’s missing is still missing, and may remain missing. I’m still looking.

Here’s the thing. While I am disappointed again at how collaboration failed, I realize later I accomplished some of my goals for the lesson:

  • All of my students now have a basic understanding of how a slideshow works;
  • We started discussions around digital design with text and image;
  • They can find images with Creative Commons tags and use those images, with attribution;
  • They understand that we will be using technology for collaboration projects this year, and that means working together;
  • Sometimes, the technology just doesn’t do what we want it to do — either through our own actions, or mistakes, or through the technology’s limitations;
  • We keep on trying, and moving forward, and don’t panic;
  • Even the teacher, with the best-laid plans, doesn’t always have the answers to unexpected problems, at least in the moment when problems arise.

I am back to thinking about The Next Time I Do This and how to make this kind of collaboration work better for me, and for them. Yes, I am determined. Perhaps the solution is to have them create their own slides shows in their own accounts, and then port them into the collaborative show as a second step. That way, they always have their own versions.

They, of course, seem less concerned about it than I am. We’ve already moved on, activating their Google accounts and pushing forward.

Kids. Go figure.

Peace (in collaboration),
Kevin

Workshopping in the Digital Age: A Close Reading of Franki and Troy

Students as Writers and Composers

I finally got around to coming back to an interview with two of my favorite people — Franki Sibberson and Troy Hicks — as they sat down for an interview for Language Arts to talk about Digital Writing Workshop. (You can access the article as a PDF at the National Writing Project site).

There are a lot of great insights and honesty in their conversation, and as I sought to reach closer, I started to grab some quotes from the text in order to pull them out for further thinking.

I was nodding my head here, because, like Franki, I hope I stay in tune with my students and their interests when it comes to thinking of ways that technology and digital platforms might push their own writing and compositional strategies further along. I’d also add that, along with listening, we teachers need be doing the technology, too. Snapchat, Pokemon Go, and others are unknown terrain unless you try them yourself. You might decide, this does not have application for my classroom (for now). At least, you will know from the experience.

I like Troy’s point here, that the technology should have a rationale or basis for use in composing. He uses a heuristic called MAPS (mode (genre), media, audience, purpose, situation), which is very helpful in this regard, as it allows teachers to consider such things as audience and intent. The technology is not just an engagement factor — it’s an intentional design of the classroom experience to help students explore writing in different angles, with different strategies, for different reasons.

Here, Troy is talking about how to expand the notions of Mentor Texts by drawing from the world outside the classroom, from Pop Culture and beyond. Like Franki, Troy notes the importance of “listening” to students, to figure out where interest lies and then tap into that for learning.

This is so true, and I have written at times about this, too. Some days, when we are moving into something new, things go awry, and the room is full of noise and seemingly chaos. I say, seemingly, because, as Franki notes, often amidst the chaos is some interesting reflections going on. Part of our role as teachers to find focus on the reflection (the process is more important than the product, most of the time) and draw that out, highlight it, make it the learning of the day. And keep calm.

That same theme of analyzing process points is what Troy is discussing here, when the question of “How Do We Assess Digital Writing?” comes up. He notes how technology has the potential to uncover compositional strategies, and make a digital piece more accessible for comments and review and revision. If we can take our eyes off the final product and keep them attuned to all that goes into that work, we can assess learning in a more strategic way.

Thanks to Troy and Franki for sharing their ideas. I found it useful and helpful, and I hope some of their words inspire you, too.

Peace (sharing it out),
Kevin

 

Ways to Stay Connected in the #CLMOOC Universe

Clmooc extends

As part of the final newsletter of CLMOOC 2016, we compiled a list of ways for folks in CLMOOC (even on the periphery) to remain connected throughout the year, and beyond the summer. I wanted to share that list here.

Throughout the Year There are many ways to stay engaged with CLMOOC’s connected community and beyond. Here are a few options to consider to remain active and connected with the people and the spirit of CLMOOC as summer fades away:

Peace (is stronger with all of us),
Kevin

No One Reads the Manual: My Steps to New Tech

In my new role with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (I guess I haven’t written about that yet .. will do later), I have been tasked with putting together our twice-yearly newsletter of events and activities for our writing project. I’m fine with that job. I like to write and share and connect. But the WMWP newsletter is created (for now, anyway) with a certain software program loaded on a specific WMWP laptop, and now that I have both computer and program in my hands, I’ve realized that learning a complicated piece of technology is … well … complicated.

As I was diving into the software this week to immerse myself in its inner workings, I realized I was going through some stages of “new technology” immersion. It began when I realized I would have be venturing back into an aging PC, as opposed to my Mac, and continued when I opened the software program up and saw dozens upon dozens of keys and buttons and options, all written in some language that didn’t make sense to my brain. Many, many bells and whistles.

Then, as I am apt to do, I just dove in, starting clicking things and working in the space, seeing what I could figure out as I went along. I’d get frustrated, try something else, get it working, hit another dead-end, try to find information help online, go back in, try again, and keep going. There were periodic little successes that at least allowed me to push forward with some limited sense of accomplishment.

For example, all I wanted to do was find a way to replace a photo. (apparently, that is done by “pointing” and that took me nearly 30 minutes to figure that out). And then I wanted a quick way to “preview” the newsletter I was creating, out of edit mode. I’m still searching for how to do that, believe it or not. It must be me, right? Where’s the big fat “This is What It Looks Like” button?

The next day? I had mostly forgotten what I had done the day before and how I had done it. A pitfall of diving in and not being methodical with new technology is the lack of clear paths and archival maps for the return journey. I didn’t document my dive in because there was never any method to the madness.

So, I began all over again.

The comic is just another way for me to deal with the feeling of frustration. I know I will figure out what I need to know (I already know more than I did just a few days ago), and I know I will turn to those within the writing project who have used the program for tips of the trade. It will all work out.

But I also know that I follow a certain pattern when it comes to new technology, and I hope that by making my own thinking somewhat visible — with a bit of humor — it shows me a bit more clearly how my own students learn when they come up against new technology. And if I can better understand that process, perhaps I can be a better teacher.

Let’s face it — no one reads the manual.

Peace (it’s in there, somewhere),
Kevin

 

Curiosity Conversations: Two Zeegas Walk Into a Bar and So Does Terry


flickr photo shared by *s@lly* under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I’ve been exploring the notions of Curiosity Conversations, inspired by Scott Glass in Make Cycle 3 of the CLMOOC. This interaction unfolded before Scott shared out his idea for CLMOOC, but fits perfectly with the concept.

Sometimes, the best part of writing digitally is trying to process the intent of the composition. But, I often don’t do much of that (or not enough for my own liking). Here, Terry Elliott and I took some purposeful time to interact with each other via a Hackpad to have “a conversation” about digital composition.

The overall thread was a poem that Jennifer N. wrote for CLMOOC a few weeks back, which then slowly transformed into a larger collaborative audio project. I wanted to take it a step further – using a tool called Zeega to make a visual piece. It turns out Terry was doing the same — making his own Zeega with the same audio and same poem.

Thus, our conversation unfolded … We asked each other questions, released some threads of ideas, wondered out loud about what it means to compose digitally. We don’t have any real answers. Just more questions.

First, watch each of our digital pieces.

First, there is mine:

And there is Terry’s Zeega interpretation:

And then, there is the messy Hackpad itself. You can add to the conversation, too. It’s an open document. Consider yourself invited. Join the conversation. Be curious.

Peace (in the mix),
Kevin

At Middleweb: Assessing Student Digital Writing

I posted a book review over at Middleweb that explores the difficult terrain of assessing student digital writing. It’s an area I know I continue to struggle with. This book — edited by National Writing Project colleague Troy Hicks and featuring a number of National Writing Project educators — seeks to show a variety of paths (via protocols) to look at digital writing, mostly from the view of process of creating as opposed to evaluation of the final product.

Read my review of Assessing Students’ Digital Writing: Protocols for Looking Closely

Peace (we’re all looking),
Kevin