What Goes On in the Chat Room … Spills Back Out

Word Cloud Chat Room

I had the great pleasure of being the keynote speaker for the ending of the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing last night, and I wish I had had another hour. My aim was to bring to the surface some thinking about our notions of defining the term “Digital Writing” and share out some of the ways in which I use digital canvasses for writing and composition.

But I had to rush in the second half of the hour I had in the keynote, due to the clock, and so I didn’t give people enough time to explore some of the projects on their own and the come back to reflect, which was my intention, nor did we get to a collaborative activity around brainstorming the affordances of Digital Writing. Luckily, the session was recorded in the Blackboard platform, and the slideshow and resources will be shared out in the coming days.

As I was speaking and sharing, though, the chat room inside Blackboard was a streaming, scrolling site of pretty intense activity by those attending live in the session. I kept an eye as best as I could on it all, but I know I missed a lot of the conversations.

I don’t mind.

I like that there was this parallel track of my sharing with their wondering and sharing, and the swirling pool of ideas is exactly what this kind of session should be about. I aim go back and dig deeper but some of the themes in the Chat Room included:

  • Access and equity issues around technology in some schools
  • Perceptions of doing Digital Writing in the classroom, by students, by administration, by parents
  • The overarching question of why do we need “Digital” as part of the phrase itself — why not just “Writing”?
  • Integrating writing in digital spaces a seamless mix¬†with what we are already teaching (and are expected to teach)
  • Acknowledging the real-world literacies of our students outside of the school
  • Amount of screen time, for younger students in particular, and how concerns over time on screens impacts technology use in the classroom
  • Curation of student work over time

The Word Cloud above is my attempt to gather up all of the chat room and see what themes emerged a day later. It’s cool to look at, but no one element jumped out at me from the chat room, at least in this particular Word Cloud formatting. The Word Cloud image almost invites annotation (ThinkLink?), so that the phrases and words (I tried to remove people’s names as best as I could) have meaning.

Here, they are taken out of context. And, really, context is everything.

Peace (together, we learn),


  1. I had a powerful aha moment when Troy shared his fear that letting go of the “digital” in “digital writing” would let it fade into the general pool of “teaching writing”, with the result that teachers would have even less incentive or desire to approach it than they do now. How true it is that so may teachers don’t explore this new world! The distinction of “digital writing” keeps it in a different kind of awareness.

    Maybe those of us who write and play in the new digital landscape have had more time– and experience– to think about nuances. Our experiences brought us to a place where we’ve been comfortable exploring what the term “means”. Maybe our questioning can push our thinking about some of rationales and methods we use to support novices to enter this new world. That’s challenging enough for some newbies!

    Experienced writers draw on their expertise to coach other writers without sharing everything up front. Experienced players on the digital landscape probably need to learn from that.

    Huh. This seems more like a blog post than a comment.

    Thanks for sharing your processes & collaborations last night.

  2. Hi Kevin,

    I’ll listen to the recorded session later this week. As I look at the tag cloud words I do not see are access, equality, opportunity, poverty, etc.

    While one level of challenge is motivating any educator, or non-school volunteer/leader, to use digital tools to connect with each other, and to support student learning, a second level of challenge is moving beyond opportunities afforded to youth in more affluent areas, to making these opportunities more available to youth in high poverty areas….or in rural areas where poverty is compounded by lack of internet access.

    I applaud the progress you and others are making as you pilot these opportunities. I think that’s the first step in attracting others.

    • I realize now that the discussion around access and equity was a question from the audience (or Troy Hicks) that led to an audio answer, and then Troy tweeting out links for resources that might help places where access is an issue. This is the danger of just one little view, and Word Clouds — for all the cool visual — are a poor way to capture a full conversation.

  3. Kevin the world of digital writing is opening new ideas for me daily but listening to you has brought another layer to my thinking. I am wondering if you would love to join my team for a NCTE roundtable proposal experience. Your voice would add a huge dimension to our work. I am constantly telling middle school teachers to look back into your blog posts for new ideas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *