Footsteps and Traces: A Personal Digital Audit


My good friend, Anna Smith, helped launch a Pop-Up Make Cycle in CLMOOC this month that is perfectly in tune with the idea of the new year. Anna, inspired in part by a resource shared in December by Wendy Taleo in the CLMOOC ecosystem, asks us all to pause and think a bit about our digital traces and relationships with technology.

Call it: Conducting a Digital Audit.

Over at her blog, Anna has posted some of her questions for herself, and shared a ThingLink with various links to activities that anyone can do to audit how we are being tracked by apps and sites, how our use of technology impacts our life off-line, and more.

I’ve been spending time on this topic by delving into some online reading (and in making comics — I’ll share those here another day) in order to remind myself about the positive nature of my relationship with technology, social media and the digital platforms I use. Even with the many negatives — privacy intrusions, advertising targeting, hacking possibilities, etc. — I still find plenty of positives — from connected learning, collaborative projects, writing in spaces with others, exploring art in many forms and fashions, learning together, etc.

Here are some of the articles and blog posts I have been perusing and thinking about this week:

BryanAlexanderQuoteA piece by Bryan Alexander, shared in Terry Elliott’s newsletter, brought to mind the way that technology is changing the places of our learning, and in particular, our libraries. Alexander rightly praised librarians for being on the vanguard of understand and adapting to these shifts, all in the nature of helping adults and children make their own transitions into the digital world (while holding true to the values that our libraries have long represented around access and community public spaces).

JimGroomQuoteJim Groom wrote recently about the act of archiving, of curating what we are creating in online spaces. He notes the difficulty, due to the complexity of how we share with the world, but suggests the effort to archive is worth it, as it preserves a sense of who we are now, in this moment, as well as who we were, in the moments past. Digital tools allow us to do this in ways we could not otherwise, although it takes thought and planning and an active effort. The flip side is to lose yourself in the maelstrom of media. We’re always better at finding ourself, than losing ourself.

JoeBerkowitzQuoteDo you watch Black Mirror? I’ve only seen a few episodes of this rather dystopian view of how technology changes us, mostly for the worse. It’s anchored on our insecurities about technology, and the ways our digital lives will overshadow our real lives, and the impact that shift will have on society and relationships. Black Mirror freaks me out a bit, so I only watch it now and then. It’s vision is so extreme that I lose my faith in the possibilities.

KateBowlesQuoteA piece from some time back by Kate Bowles reminds us not to be drawn in by technology, particularly when it comes to educators who hold the door open for young people. She notes that many companies are pulling out the stops for a chance to market to our students, and schools and universities have an obligation as digital gatekeeper to keep the wolves at bay, as much as possible, while still harnessing the potential of technology for learning. This is often a difficult balancing job.

AndrewSullivanQuoteAn article by Andrew Sullivan caught my attention this week, as if by chance. I am reading Best American Non-Required Reading 2017 (which is a collection of pieces selected by high school students) and came upon Sullivan’s piece as I was thinking of Anna’s post. Sullivan explores his own efforts to disengage from his work as a digital writer, and how he had to re-learn to find the quiet and solitude of life again. He turned down the noise, and found some music again, and I think his lesson about reminding us to be human in all of our interactions — interpersonal as well as inner-personal — is valuable. It’s a powerful piece, well worth your time.

AlanLevineQuoteI appreciated a piece by Alan Levine, who wrote about his reaction to so much worry and concern being written these days about the media landscape. Yes, some of it is real and of real concern. But Levine notes that much of the best of technology, and the web, is still in those strange and creative places where people come together to spark imagination, make change for a better world, and imagine a future that works for us. Levine is not being naive in his assessment. He understands the pitfalls as well as anyone else. What he holds on to, and what I hold on to, too — and what I hope you do, too — is the potential of technology to enrich our experiences, as creative artists in whatever media you dabble and as people of these places, virtual or not.

Last, I’ll leave you with a video interpretation of a post by Laura Ritchie from a few weeks ago. Her piece explores musical harmony, with fingers stretched into how we learn and how we teach, and she weaves those ideas together in an enriching way. Laura’s piece reminds me again of the possibilities of being in balance with our technology and our agency in using that technology.

Next week, I am going to take Anna up on some of her advice of the digital audit, and I am going to begin with Twitter. (I’ve already shut off all notifications from Facebook, where I have an account only because I administer the site for our local writing project. The amount of notifications from Facebook is staggering.) I aim to cut my follows and followers on Twitter by a substantial percentage, and try to keep true to those whose work inspires me. More may not be merrier.

Also, I will probably take a blogging vacation, spending the time I usually write for this space instead with some postcards in the CLMOOC project — handwriting notes and poems and whatever to individuals in the CLMOOC community, honing in on the personal connections that make the online connections so powerful and enriching.

Peace (sharing it so pass it on),


One Little Word for 2018: Compose

The One Little Word project is a yearly endeavor to think about a guiding word for the year ahead. I’ve used words like reflect, and remembering, and pause, and last year: filter. I had trouble coming up with my word this year, but decided upon “compose” for a variety of reasons.

First, my One Little Word for 2018 — Compose — captures how I see the shift in the way people write with media. We’re back to the word “composition” in my mind, using video and images and audio and words as a sort of stew of ideas. We compose when we write on digital platforms.

Second, the word is a remember to me to keep my anger fueled by national politics, yet also to keep it under control. Don’t get all riled up by every headline and every act. Keep focused on the task at hand: removing the GOP from power and kicking Trump to the curb (while not handing the reins to Pence). Stay composed.

So, that’s my word for 2018. I usually put it on my desktop as a little file in the corner of the screen, as a reminder. Time to archive “filter” and add “compose.”

What’s your word?

Peace (more than a word),

A Year of Data: CLMOOC Postcard Collection

CLMOOC Data Postcard Collage 2017What began as a cool shared reading experience within the CLMOOC (Connected Learning MOOC) transformed into a year-long project in which we added a themed data element to the CLMOOC Postcard Project in 2017. The book that inspired the themes was Dear Data, which captured a letter exchange between two women in the form of data observed around their lives. The book was fantastic and a wonderful exploration of observation. (You can read my review of Dear Data.)

In 2017, CLMOOC put forth a theme each month (and used postcards as connector points for a summer Make Cycle), and a handful of us from around the world worked on our postcard exchange through the lens of data. I did it every month, keeping true of data, and got a little tired of data by the end (and I sent only one single postcard out in December, to my friend Karen, whose partnership sparked this whole thing.)

The collage above captures each of the postcards. I did mine in a program called Simple Diagrams, so that I could make copies for multiple postcards. On average, I sent out about 12 postcards each month to different folks on the CLMOOC postcard exchange.

Come join the CLMOOC postcard project. Send and receive mail, not email.

Peace (in the post),


Book Review: Footnotes (from the World’s Greatest Bookstores)

I could re-read this a few times, just because … I love the quirks of independent bookstores. Illustrator Bob Eckstein’s collection of stories and drawings/paintings of bookstores from around the world make Footnotes* From the World’s Greatest Bookstores a visual delight, made even better with short anecdotes of strange happenings and wonders fromĀ those places.

If you love stories, and if you love books, and if you love bookstores with an independent spirit, then Eckstein’s collection is for you. I got this one out of the library and am now eyeing the “14 Day” sticker on the cover with a bit of trepidation.

I joked to my wife, a librarian and book lover like me, that we could use this book to start planning our future retirement travels. I was only half-joking.

Peace (in the stacks),

A Month of Morning Doodles (Collected)

Every morning, all month long, I have been doodling on a theme with my friends in CLMOOC (Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaboration). My approach has been to keep it simple: I used a stack of very small sticky notes, and my doodles on a sticky note were often done in pencil. I purposefully kept myself to a short time limit — read the theme, get inspired, doodle and share.

Collage bw

As a result, some of my doodles … look like they were done by a toddler with a big pencil (which is not to disparage any toddler artists out there, or the use of big pencils). Drawing has always been a creative weakness of mine, but I liked the freedom of the daily inspiration and I was often very impressed by the doodling of others in the #DecDoodle Twitter stream and elsewhere.

I gathered up all of my 31 doodles and sorted them, with a time-lapse camera running, and then put them all into an Animoto video. I lost the small bits of color I ever usedĀ  in the doodles in this video theme, but I could not resist the party elements.

Thanks, in particular, to Susan W. for inspiring the month of making art in CLMOOC!

Peace (doodle it!),

Reading Student Stories by Playing Student Video Games

Student Video Games Collage

I’ll admit: it’s one of the oddest ways to “read” a piece of student work. I’m digging into the video game of a sixth grader made on Gamestar Mechanic, trying to make my way out of the maze and rescue a character in my role as a hero on an epic quest. I am confronted by dragons, spitting out fire as I dodge and weave, and die. And then, I start the story all over again.

This is how I spent large parts of my vacation week: assessing student stories by playing the video games they have built with stories as frames. I’ve had a lot of fun, but I’ve also done a lot of thinking about what it means to tell a story in the format of a video game.

Some of the projects are excellent. Games like Bartimaeus’ Quest by Hailey and The Wall’s Secret by Devin and The Quest of El by Megan show student game designers and writers who get it, who understand the idea of story informing the game experience. Other students, not so much, although all of the other writing and reflective work we have done has given me insights into their learning, and allowed me to focus my teaching. I have notes for our conferencing when we return to school next week.

One of my favorite projects, not so much for its final version but for its origin, is a game called Captain Zero and Turtle Man. Two boys have been working on a comic book of the same title, and wanted to use their comic book story as the basis for the game they wanted to develop. Of course, I said, yes! I love when ideas from one genre spill into another.

As I play student games as player and as teacher, I am also assessing these student video game projects through three distinct lenses (all of which the students know and have used as the basis for design):

  • Narrative Story Frame (in this case, the use of the Hero’s Journey loose template);
  • Writing Mechanics within the game’s text areas;
  • Game design

Given that this is the first time nearly every one of my sixth grade students has designed and published a video game, I am not overly strict with these elements (and our grading system is standards-based, meaning the range runs from “meeting expectations” all the way to “beginning to show understanding”). I am looking for growth, and for experimental writing of stories, and of games that engage and challenge and entertain the reader/player.

As a teacher, this work is a very different experience than facing a pile of essays or stories or analytical pieces to read. I am playing the stories of my students (often, over and over, for if I want to see how the story ends or continues, my only way forward is to beat the level and keep moving forward). I leave comments both in public, at the game itself within Gamestar Mechanic, and privately, on an assessment sheet that every student will get back from me.

I am intentionally balancing my remarks in those spaces, knowing that one audience is beyond the student and our classroom (but probably more important an audience than my role as teacher), and the other, is a space for more one to one with my young writer/game designer. I am critical in both, if I need to be, but more celebratory in public.

Peace (game on),



The Power of Student Voice (Sydney Chaffee Keynote)

It’s taken a few weeks, but I finally got around to editing video footage from our Western Massachusetts Writing Project‘s fall conference keynote address by Sydney Chaffee, a Massachusetts educator who is the 2017 National Teacher of the Year. Sydney’s keynote speech centered on how to encourage student voice, and how to spark a love of words and language.

I hope you can watch her talk. Be sure to listen to the spoken poem of one of her students — Omar — whose performance of his poem caught the attention of our former state commissioner of education (he passed away earlier this year), who shared Omar’s poem with educators around the state and beyond, and apparently even performed Omar’s poem a few times himself.

Peace (shout it loud),

Dear Gamestar Mechanic .. letters from student game developers

Dear Gamestar Mechanic

One of the many writing activities that I do with my sixth grade students as part of our video game development unit (which is taught in writing class) is to write a letter to Gamestar Mechanic about their project, what they like about the site, and some ideas for making Gamestar even better.

Dear Gamestar Mechanic

I’ll be mailing the letters off in early January.

Dear Gamestar Mechanic

I don’t know if we will get a response from the company (my main contacts no longer work there and Gamestar is part of the larger eLine Media) but the act of writing to Gamestar — a site we we have been using rather extensively since the start of December — and articulating some ideas gives me a chance to see what they are thinking. The letter follows a community brainstorming about features they wish the site had.

Dear Gamestar Mechanic

The letters act as one sort of reflective end point as they finish up their games.

Peace (sincerely),