Hanging Out in the Margins: Print Text vs Digital Text

Annotation: Print vs Digital

I saw this piece via CNN that explores print text vs. digital text with learners and I thought it would be worth giving it a closer read, given my own interest in digital writing (whatever that is) and digital reading. I am using Hypothesis — an add-on that allows for collaborative annotation of digital text — to annotate the article. The nice thing about Hypothesis is you don’t have to annotate alone. Come join me.

Go to https://via.hypothes.is/http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/06/health/print-education/index.html and hang out in the margins with me. You will need a Hypothesis account, but it is worth having, for sure.

I also put the piece, even though it more about reading than writing, into my occasionally curated Flipboard Magazine: Along the Edges of Digital Writing, which you are welcome to read and subscribe to, if it interests you.

Peace (print it),

Book Review: The Playbook (52 Rules to Aim, Shoot and Score in this Game Called Life)

Sports can be a common metaphor for life. Eh, I mean, Life. Just look at how the late writer Frank Deford carved out this niche for decades, with his essays that used sports as the hook for writing about something much larger than the “play of the day.”

Writer Kwame Alexander’s The Playbook (52 Rules to Aim, Shoot and Score in this Game Called Life) explores that terrain with gusto and brilliance and high energy, combining his own narrative story as a young athlete (his game was tennis) with his poetry on themes such as perseverance and resilience, teamwork, character and more.

Interspersed with Alexander’s narrative and poetry are quotes from famous athletes — from Michael Jordan to Simone Biles to Andy Roddick, coupled with some pretty interesting images by photographer Thai Neave.

The result is a sort of quilt of ideas, a mishmash of media with a single message on finding yourself in the face of adversity and coming through by working through the barriers of life. As a result, this book is nicely in tune to middle schoolers, particularly those with an interest in sports.

I handed this book to one of my students as soon as I got it. This student has difficulty concentrating but loves sports, and is only vaguely interested in reading novels. He loved this book, though, and thanked me afterwards for lending it to him.

Peace (take a shot),

PS —

Book Review: Streampunks (YouTube and the Rebels Remaking Media)

Robert Kyncl is no neutral party here. He is one of the executives at YouTube (YouTube Chief Business Officer) so his title of his book has to be taken with a grain of salt (as catchy as it is). Even so, Streampunks (YouTube and the Rebels Remaking Media) is an interesting look behind the curtain, a way to see how the Google YouTube corporate structure is working to find new personalities to anchor video watching as people shift away from network television and other traditional media.

I read with a critical eye, as it is easy to see Google as supporting the development of YouTube only to make money off our eyeballs, but I still appreciated Kyncl’s analysis of the transformation of entertainment that has emerged from the notion of anyone can post and publish video, anytime. More and more, we see YouTube personalities making their way into the mainstream (for good or for ill, and Kyncl is open about both, citing PewDiPie’s problems as just one recent example while also noting how Vlog brothers John and Hank Green have used the platform for good in the world).

One pervading message in Streampunks is that more and more of those entertainers hosting their own YouTube Channels are finding niche audiences around the world, giving rise to massive viewership for such interests as watching other people play video games, doing make-up, unboxing packages, and more. It’s another version of the long tail.

The important points that Kyncl raises here is that many of these YouTubers doing this work would never have found a platform on network television or in the movies or in music because they never would have been given a chance (Kyncl’s story of Justin Beiber’s rise is a good example of this as is the reach of Lilly Singh, aka IISuperwomanII), and that YouTube has created a place for cultural representation and communities of interaction between performer and audience. In fact, success on YouTube relies heavily on the personal touch, which video can provide in a way no other media really can.

Kyncl does write pretty honestly about the challenges of such open spaces, too, of ways that trolls bring negativity and how comments can become places of vitriol (when I ask my students about places they have seen the Internet as a negative experience, the overwhelming response is always YouTube comments). He says YouTube needs to do more to reach an even more diverse talent pool, and notes the efforts by YouTube to highlight diversity of personalities and cultures, and seek out new voices.

What I found most intriguing here is his profiles on some of the talent who are earning a solid living off video, and the work ethic those folks put into what they are doing, feeding the audience with new material, engaging always with comments and questions, and nurturing a vision for their material that fills some sort of gap. Kyncl makes it clear that almost no YouTube video comes out of nowhere, and goes viral. Most of those videos now come from a careful long-term plan by the creators, slowly building audiences until something catches with the general public, and then riding that wave to the next level of stardom.

As a teacher, and as a father of sons who dabble in video production, this insider’s look was valuable, as is trying to understand the YouTube phenomenon from an insider like Kyncl, who does have a long-standing vision for streaming video (he helped lead a project at Netflix as it was transitioning to streaming) and putting more opportunities in the hands of everyone (while making a bundle of money in advertising for Google, of course).

I’ll leave you with Kyncl’s book dedication:

To the kid out there filming a video on a smartphone who will one day become the biggest entertainer in the world

Peace (on the air),

4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing: The Fertile Ground of CLMOOC

Promo: 4T Virtual Conference

I have been asked to do a session at the upcoming 4t Virtual Conference on Digital Writing on Monday October 16 at 6:30 p.m. EST (registration is free, sessions are online, and everything gets archived) with a CLMOOC (Connected Learning MOOC) theme, and I thought it would be interesting to parse through the concept of how projects, collaborations and ideas seem to regularly bubble up from the CLMOOC soil.

I will be exploring the concept of “emergence” in social spaces, through a CLMOOCish lens. This theme of emergence has been part of a thread in past workshops around CLMOOC, as folks from the National Writing Project who began CLMOOC (Christina Cantrill, etc.) noticed from the first year how the unexpected happened, and how to expect the unexpected with CLMOOC folks. I aim to dive in a little deeper, to think about how it all seems to work.

If you are curious about CLMOOC and about the whole emergence idea, please consider joining me in this free workshop. Also, check out the entire conference, which is all free, and get some ideas for the classroom and for yourself. I will also be helping facilitate a final discussion about digital writing and teaching.

Go to 4T Virtual Conference site for registration information and see program agenda for October 15 (where I notice my CLMOOC friend Karen Labonte is doing a session on rhetoric and digital writing) and October 16

Peace (emerge and be seen),

Slice of Life: Out On the Wire

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I may have written a bit about this last year, too. Our team-building outdoor adventure field trip happens this time of year, and yesterday, we took our sixth graders to an all-day outdoor space, with the highlight for many being the high ropes course.

High Ropes

Watching from the ground, with the deep blue sky above, is always an interesting perspective.

High Ropes

What you can’t hear are is the soundtrack of all the students not on the wires, shouting out encouragement and advice. That’s as wonderful as watching kids counter their fears of the course by completing it.

High Ropes

Peace (in the skyline),

Book Review: Blind Spot

Some books just pull me and leave me lingering. I’d put Teju Cole’s Blind Spot in that category. A mix of intriguing photographs from different parts of the world, combined with small essays that are inspired by the photographs, or the taking of the photographs, this book by Cole is a wonder to experience.

What struck me most was the construction of the essays, and the way I had to “read” into the photographs to understand the slant that Cole brought to his writing with each small piece. And small, they are. For the most part, the essays are a paragraph or two. The ideas he can pack in just a small bit of writing is amazing, and inspiring, and has me thinking of ways photography might better inspire insightful writing.

There’s no one narrative thread through these pieces (there are more than 150 pieces here), except Cole has an eye for humanity, for struggle, for hidden stories, for a sense of place off the beaten path where life shows itself in different ways. He weaves in personal narrative — an eye injury is part of the underpinning of many of his stories — yet finds balance with the global view.

Some of his sentences are so beautiful, so poignant, they could be framed as art. I had read and enjoyed Cole’s Known and Strange Things, but Blind Spot is very different, on so many levels.

I borrowed Blind Spot from the library, but I am thinking now that this might be one of those books I splurge on at some point and get my own copy. I can see myself returning to these essays and photos from time to time, learning more about how to write, how to use images to see the world, how to explore deeper topics.

Thanks to Terry E for recommending Teju Cole, including Blind Spot, a few months ago …

Peace (goes deep),

Stepping Into Immersive Virtual Reality Art

Wandering in VR Space

I had the day wrong, I realized later. I had read a news item promoting a “Print and Book Festival” in an art space in our city’s downtown, and convinced one of my sons to come with us to see what it was about. It was billed as 30 small press publishers and others, sharing comics and chapbooks and more. It was a rainy Saturday, so why not? (Plus, well, we love books in my family.)

It turns out that event is TODAY. Yesterday’s event in the same space? A showcase of Virtual Reality immersive art and gaming, with about five stations of VR headsets to try out. This VR event was connected to a local film festival going on up the street in the downtown theater. We live in a very art-orientated community.

In one VR station, you walk a plank jutting out from the top window of a skyscraper and then you need jump to the ground (that one freaked out my wife). In another, you play a version of Frogger, running through traffic to get to the other side. That was fun, if a little frenetic.

VR Gallery

One other area had someone printing out local Snaps from Snapchat, using some local tag, and the printed images were then put on one side of a plexiglass wall. Visitors were invited to doodle with markers on top of the image (but on the plexiglass side), using the Snap as the frame for art, and then the original was removed, leaving the doodled art in thin air (on the plexiglass).

Painting in VR

My favorite (and my son’s favorite) was a station in which you can use the Google software called Tilt Brush, which allows you to draw with all sorts of colors and inks and techniques in a virtual landscape of your choosing. It felt as if you were surrounded by ink, and waving the wands brought the pens into motion. I started to draw in space, and then on the desert, and then with bubbles in a pink surrounding.

I have never heard of Tilt Brush, have you?

At the front of the gallery, an artist was hard at work, using Tilt Brush and her own VR set to make some sort of gallery art installation in Virtual Reality, and watching her work in silence was fascinating. She’d wave her wands, as the monitor screen showed her art in progress.

So, a mistake made for an afternoon adventure, and the cool thing is? That original Book and Print Festival is still happening later today, so I have a chance to get “immersive” in good ol’ paper and ink.

Peace (immerses us in reality),

Sussing Out Ideas with Crowd Annotation

Annotation: Copenhagen Letter

I followed an invitation by Maha Bali to annotate a document known as the Copenhagen Letter. Maha had her university students in Egypt doing annotations on a digital text, and she put out a call on her blog to others.  The Copenhagen Letter is an open letter to the world by a gathering of technology and social media folks, and other “thinkers” of some kind or another, as a manifesto for change when it comes to technology. (Here is a link to some of the background of the conference and the letter itself).

We used the Hypothesis add-on for crowd annotation, which is such a handy tool for this kind of work. You can read through the nearly 40 annotation observations by following this link: https://via.hypothes.is/https://copenhagenletter.org/ and I suppose Maha would say, Come on in and add your own thoughts, too.

As I dove in to the letter from the margins, I found myself feeling mixed about the content. On one hand, the letter is a call to action as a counter to the negative vibes and corporate for-profit threads that seem to be changing the entire DNA of social media spaces. It’s clearly the voice of frustration in terms of corporate desires overtaking user needs. On the other hand, the content of the letter is so vague and so general that is seems almost meaningless as a call to action.

I noticed, as I read the margin notes of Maha’s students and others, that not only was I not alone in that critique, but others were far more critical, questioning many phrases and intentions behind the letter. Someone even shared out Aaron Swartz’s 2008 Guerilla Open Access Manifesto as an counter example of calls to action.

At the end, where folks can “sign” the Copenhagen Letter, I wondered aloud: Did anyone in the margins ever sign the open letter? No response yet. (I did not sign it.)

An ancillary conversation on Twitter pursued this frame of thought a bit more – about whether such a manifesto does any good or if it only exposes the fuzzy language of how we talk about social media and technology in our lives. I’m still unsure about how I feel about the letter, but I appreciate that folks took the time to come together, to recognize the need for change, and worked to articulate concerns to the world. That’s not easy to do.

I’ll leave us with a comment by my CLMOOC friend, Sheri, who is wise and always has insightful and positive things to say about the world:

Which leads me to share out news that the group behind Marginal Syllabus, in partnership with the National Writing Project, is launching a project called Writing Our Civic Futures, in which various documents will be open for public annotation with Hypothesis over the course of a few months. This project begins this coming week, so now is the time to engage in discussion and discourse.

Learn more about Writing Our Civic Future here. And read the first invitation to annotate a post by Henry Jenkins about youth culture and social media, and change.

And a bit about Hypothesis:

Peace (in the margins),


Making Writing Visible

Making Storywriting Visible

My sixth grade writers are in the midst of a fiction writing project, where our focus has been on plot design, dialogue writing, proofreading, openings and more. As usual, as they have been writing, I have been writing, too, and as I try to do, I have been sharing my drafts and process as we go along.

Yesterday, I shared out this opening to my story, in which the narrator is sent back in time by Book (a character I’ve pilfered from our reading of Book: My Autobiography) to Gutenberg’s time, in order to help him with the printing press and find a way back home for the narrator. I made lots of notes in the margins, and read them out as I read them the story, trying to articulate my “moves” as a writer.

It’s not that I want them to emulate my story construction, but some of the techniques become more visible this way.

It occurred to me later that a good activity would be to do a crowd-sourced annotation of a story with them, and ask them to identify and annotate places where various writing techniques are visible in the text.

Hmmm …

Peace (stories abound),

100 Years From Now … State of the Book

Books (stories) of the Future

I mentioned the other day how I use Book: My Autobiography as a read-aloud with my sixth graders at the start of the year as a way to introduce creative non-fiction and a history lesson around the evolution of stories and books over time.

A writing prompt in their writing notebook afterwards asks them to consider the world 100 years into the future — 2117 — and sketch out and explain some ideas about what stories will look like and/or how stories will get delivered to readers. In other words, what will books be like in 100 years?

The picture above is my example — I envision Tattoo Stories which can be shared and remixed with others.

Stories of Future Collage

My students have a range of ideas, including:

  • Embedded story contact lens for your eyes (and/or wearable glasses that do the same thing)
  • Holographic characters who act out the story in front of you (and other variations of virtual and augmented reality concepts)
  • A device that you sit in and punch in information about protagonist and antagonist character traits, and a story gets created into some form, in the moment
  • Books and stories that float nearby, and move along with you as you walk around, so you always have new stories in reach
  • Story microchips inserted into your mind so that you can active a tale at any time
  • Portable personal libraries that appear when you need a book from the shelves and disappear when you don’t need it
  • Foldable books that can easily — no matter the size — fit into the corner of your pocket
  • Story cars, busses and trucks — the entire vehicle is a moving story of some sort and the driver is the reader

Who knows. I suspect we will still have good ol’ book with us, too. I hope so.

Peace (thinking forward),