About six years ago, in 2012, my friend, Anna Smith, and I had a conversation. A chat about Digital Writing. Through digital writing. With meta-explanations of how we write digitally, pulling back the veils on our process notes. Others, like Terry, joined in. We wove this all together, somewhat through our blogs and through the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site, and curated the conversation through a site called Jog the Web.
Like many other tools, Jog the Web is now dead, and with it, our curation conversations. Digital Is is gone, too, morphed into The Current. Someone came along and ate most of our breadcrumbs.
Maybe this observation is where we are at now, with digital writing tools. We write in many places, across many platforms. We make media over here and post it over there. We add comments and then forget where those comments were left, so any response is hardly seen. We’ve distributed ourselves with technology to the point where we can’t hardly find ourselves anymore.
Spurred on by Anna’s recent wondering and Terry’s reactions (and his deep-dive start into new explorations), I began to go through different places to find our old stuff. I wish I had done a better job of backing up our Jog the Web (which was really quite useful, as you could “walk” through our posts in a sort of timeline-like effect. Oh well.)
This effort will have to do. I won’t pretend these are in completely chronological order … maybe it doesn’t matter anymore.
I responded with my own screencast, but sought to go a bit further with using the tool for writing as much as for capturing writing, and supplemented the work with a comic showing what I did and how at my blog:
This led us to put out a public call for others to join in the conversation. We did this via Digital Is and the post now lives at The Current. We wrote: “One of the many potentials of the shifts in envisioning writing in multimodal spaces is the chance for new conversations — for stretching out thinking beyond your own physical space and joining in discussions about the changes now underfoot.“
At some point, I made a vlog video about digital writing:
Not long after, Anna posted this video reflection:
Not content to let her video site, I moved her video into Vialogues, which allows for annotation. You can still annotate her video today. (Take that, Jog the Web!)
At some point, we shifted over to Voicethread as a platform for interaction, and Terry joined in the mix (he may have been in the mix earlier. I don’t recall). He is also in the mix now. Which is cool.
And I added the obligatory comic reflection:
Following another line of thought — one that has rumbled deep enough into the present for many of us to mostly abandon the “digital” of “digital writing” and just call it “writing” — Anna pondered the question of “Where Isn’t the Digital?” She played with an infographic, too.
My infographic response, as a sort of argumentative push-back:
I had written about this topic, too, with a post about the “naysayers.” Complete with comic.
And then .. I’m not sure … Where did the conversation go? We always meant to bring it to an ending point but I don’t think we ever did. There may be loose parts that I have lost. Probably so. But Anna and I, and Terry, and others, have continued to explore writing digitally over the years with CLMOOC, and DS106 and others. I even once made a Modest Proposal about Digital Writing (as part of an online conference session). I wrote: 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.
Maybe we will keep going forward … maybe you will join us?
I love adding in all sorts of writing into our video game design unit — sort of a sneaky way to get them to think about writing in context of a media project. They are in the midst of building video games in Gamestar Mechanic on the theme of the Hero’s Journey. We are approaching our publishing date, but things always take longer than expected in this unit.
Last week, I had them write me a mid-way reflective letter on how things are going. I love how the writing gives me insights into their progress and provides some nice entry into conversations during our conferencing.
Agency is a word I find I use a lot in different settings and yet, I struggle to frame the concept of empowerment for my young students in the classroom. As we near the end of E-Learning 3.0, Stephen has us thinking of the concept of “agency” in terms of learning in a distributed information environment.
We are the content – the content is us. This includes all aspects of us. How do we ensure that what we project to the world is what we want to project, both as teachers and learners? As content and media become more sophisticated and more autonomous, how do we bind these to our personal cultural and ethical frameworks we want to preserve and protect?
Agency is the capacity of an actor to act in a given environment.
We’re living in times where technology is nearly everywhere, for good and for ill, and for many us, even a simple understanding of what’s “under the hood” is elusive. Either we don’t care enough to look or we don’t have the skills to know even how to begin to look. We just go along and go along until it all blows up (see Facebook) and then wonder why we weren’t more attuned to the intentions of the technologies we are using.
At what moment did we sell off our data and privacy for ease of operation? When did we forget we even had any agency to begin with? This shift seems to be aligned with the often-unspoken language of “expertise” and of us allowing those with knowledge of technology to lead the way, and for us to follow blindly, for fear that those of us not as technologically-astute might break things. Even though, breaking things is how you learn.
Go on and break things.
I was reminded, as I pondered the notion of Agency, of this video of quotes I put together for a hackjam professional development session years ago, using ideas from Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or Be Programmed to explore this concept.
Looking deeper is important in terms of “agency” because seeing the cracks in the seams, the intention of design, the motors that make the world work gives you information, and with that information, you can make more informed choices about your actions. This is part of your agency.
Which is my I try to show how technology works to my young students — to make visible the corporate goals of profit by advertising, to introduce workarounds to problems, to question the motives of those developing the products we use. This sometimes feels like an odd fit inside a sixth grade English Language Arts classroom, but I expand the notions of “literacy” at every chance I get.
This is about reading the world, in order to write the world.
I saw the following bulleted list on the matter of learner agency in a digital world, and I thought it connected to these ideas. This comes from Jackie Gersten’s post from years ago entitled Learner Agency, Technology, and Emotional Intelligence. I wonder if the positive vibe here still holds true.
Technology also has the potential to directly enhance emotional intelligence. Chia-Jung Lee (2011) described some ways:
Digital tools can connect people’s feeling to enhance emotional learning. Digital tools can support students’ emotional connection to a content or other people. This helps students learn better.
Technology can satisfy personal learning pace and style to support emotional learning. The flexibility of digital tools enables students to learn based on the way that they feel most comfortable [which is directly related to agency.]
Digital tools can provide private spaces for students to explore difficult issues.
And then, my friend Geoff, added a thought across EL30 networks, taken from his years of supporting young writers with the Young Writers Project in Vermont. His insights about agency are worth sharing.
… we must be intentional to reach out to, bring in, support those who need it most, those without agency, opportunity and voice. I feel an affinity to this spirit with what Young Writers Project has done at https://youngwritersproject.org … the teens mostly those who feel isolated, unliked, outside.
PS — Stephen had a conversation about Agency with Silvia Baldiri, and Jutta Treviranus, which I have not yet watched but am looking forward to.
(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.)
Maybe I am a bit lazy this morning. Maybe I just want to close the gap between the writing I do in one space with the writing I do in another space. Maybe I want to create a reminder to myself — this blog is how I curate my writing life, after all — that I have pretty consistently taking the concept of Slice of Life (the small moments, made larger through reflective writing) into pieces I create for Small Stories over on Mastodon, on a pretty regular basis.
I didn’t create the Small Stories ideas there on Mastodon. That was the idea of some networked friends who wanted to explore rich stories of connectedness and kindness. But I have been pretty consistent, using it as a place to wander with ideas and voice. Like Twitter, a character limit on Mastodon is a forced invitation to edit, to narrow, to find the exact word that means what you want to say and delete the extraneous.
Here are the last seven Small Stories I wrote over the past week:
Not remembering to check the forecast before sleep, as I am apt to do in these wintry days of New England, I was hit hard in the face this morning with a wallop of cold, biting wind. It made my eyes tear and then the tears froze on my cheek. I bent my head, kept trudging. The dog stopped with every howl of wind, as if listening to some ancient call of warning. Trees groaned but held their own against the violent sway. Some days just start wild and all you can do is forge ahead.
Who do you imagine in your mind as you write? Sometimes, an audience of one. You. Me. Sometimes, the sphere expands. Co-centric circles of Them. Yesterday, I found myself with an imaginary writer in my mind, watching her write. It was clear she was all paper/pen, not keyboard/screen. Something about font/ink brought her to life. Gave her form. From there, I had something underway before I knew it, as if she had written the song about herself through me. I can hardly explain it.
I was at a stop sign when I noticed a father and a son, maybe 7 years old, on the sidewalk. At their feet was something silver. Tin foil. A huge, massive piece of tin foil. The father was pointing at it and the boy offered up a questioning look. The father nodded. The boy leaped into the air, landing two feet on the tin foil. Then the boy began a puddle dance on top of the tin foil, a look of pure ecstasy on his young face. I couldn’t hear or feel the foil, but one can imagine.
My wife and I wandered downtown for “Arts Night Out.” An impromptu Bluegrass jam session took place in one store. In another, the son of the late saxophonist/composer Charles Neville was tucked in a corner, improving full jazz compositions to a small audience. We watched with wonder at Khalif Neville’s long fingers dancing over the keyboard, never hesitating on a note or melody, as songs flowed from his mind to our ears. We sipped wine, listened with appreciation.
We were walking out of the concert hall with our son, congratulating him on the concert band performance.
“We did OK,” he said, “but in the second song, the kid next to me let rip a huge burp.”
He stopped and looked at us.
“Did you hear it?”
Now, there were hundreds of people in the audience and nearly 100 musicians on stage.
“Nope,” my wife laughed. “We didn’t hear that.”
“Now, if he had farted …” I added, but my son quickly cut me off.
“Your fart jokes are the worst, dad.”
My son’s band director lost her mother this week. Yet there she was, in the lights, directing the middle school jazz and concert bands before a packed audience. She referenced her mother more than once from the stage, a presence in her musical life as performer and teacher. At the end of the night, a parent took the mic, expressed our collective support for this amazing teacher of our children. She truly is. The entire auditorium, hundreds of us, rose in an act of community love.
The box says “free” yet there’s nothing in the box. I pass by it two different days in my car but don’t have time to stop. So I am stopping now in story to consider the Box of Free. For, is it the Box itself that is free? It’s a nice box. Looks solid. Or is it whatever was in the Box that was free? Whatever it was is now long gone. Still, the Box remains. Perhaps it is this: the story of the Box is freely given and taken, and here I am, passing the Box along to you. Use it wisely.
I was working on this song yesterday — called She Opens the Book (I Dive In) — about watching a writer working on a piece over time, working on a story or a poem, or maybe a song.
The lyrics came pretty easily and I like the slow quality of it, the laziness of the pace. This demo captures the spirit of what I was going for. I recorded it with my voice right next to the microphone, closing the distance between words and recording. You can hear the breaths between phrases as a result.
I really liked the second verse, with the reference to pen and paper and font to capture a writer’s style:
I watch every line — it’s fine — her writing hand the heartfelt design — the way she holds the pen They say we write the way we feel Each swoop of the hand each moment, we steal She opens the book and I dive in
This week’s call for Creativity via E-Learning 3.0, coming on the heels of considerations of distributed communities, had me thinking of heading back into the words of others, and maybe finding a poem. What the poem would say, and how it would look, I couldn’t say. But I hoped a deeper and closer reading, with poetic eyes, might bring to the surface some connections and themes.
This is the poem:
And, in an ongoing effort to unpack the making of things in different learning spaces, I want to share the process of how I did it (if only for my own memory sometime in the future).
I went back to the handful of blog posts from fellow El3.0 participants and read their reflections a few times. As words, phrases and sentences resonated with me, I pulled those pieces into a Google Doc as working space. It’s sort of a messy place, with words scattered in the document. Maybe I should have noted where the words came from there, but I didn’t, and now I don’t quite remember. One could make the case that it doesn’t matter, since the found poem is supposed to be taken from words across distributed spaces anyway.
Once I had the Google Doc littered with words, I began to read through what I had there — through the lens of disparate parts in search of a whole. I opened up another document on Board.net, and began to create stanzas from phrases in the Google Doc. (Board is collaborative document platform). I resisted adding too many of own words — only those connector words between phrases. I was trying to avoid my own voice, for now, in order to surface the collective voice of us. I didn’t even use anything from my own reflective blog post.
Once I had a flow of a poem going along the seams of our discussions — community and consensus, distributed web effects on learning, technology as a problem in search of a solution, and more — I circled back around, and began adding my own thoughts here and there — minimally, at best — in order to find some consistent voice across the stanzas and theme. Interestingly, the process flowed rather naturally, and the Found Poem emerged rather intact (a testament to the strength of the writing of my EL30 blogging friends more than my own curation).
Thanks to the Time Slider tool in Board, you can even watch the construction of the poem unfold. I took a screencast of it in motion because this always fascinates me. It’s better when more people are involved, yet you can see some of the ways I was unfolding the poem top to bottom, and then dancing in the corners of the stanzas towards the end.
So, now I had the poem. What to do with it? Well, it seemed to me that this kind of found poem, networked as it was, deserved visuals, so I turned to Lumen5, a digital story tool, and worked to create a visual found poem that I think quite nicely captures the voice, the spirit, the reflection, the wondering and wandering of us, as a whole. I created a few comics as visual openers for the videos, too.
I’ll be the first to admit: I know very little about Blockchain technology, although I hear the term more and more in different spaces as it relates to e-currency and encryption and more.
How does Blockchain relate to education and learning and teaching?
This is part of what Stephen Downes explores near the end his Distributed Ledger Technology video for E-Learning 3.0. The first section of the video is a lot of technical explanations – some of which I understood and some of which I did not — but all of it is worth watching to have a semblance of understanding about Blockchain technology.
Here, though, at the 38 minute mark or so, is where Stephen connects this Blockchain concept to educational possibilities, particularly around shared resources, trust effect, consensus and community, and access points:
Our second professional development session of Exploring HIstory with a Local Lens with teachers at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site last night focused mostly on engineering design and innovation, with a deep look at some of the designs in the Armory archives that worked, and those that did not. (This project, a partnership between Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the Springfield Armory, is funded with a grant from the National Writing Project and the National Park Service.)
We were pleased to have the Springfield Armory Curator, Alex, join us, sharing his vast knowledge of the Armory’s history and an understanding of how the engineering design process fueled not only the Springfield Armory’s place in the field of manufacturing and innovation in the country, but how other businesses and innovators in Western Massachusetts grew and expanded as a result of the work being done in Springfield.
Alex showed us a variety of prototypes, and like a detective game, we had to figure out why a design worked and was further developed, and which were not. A coffee grinder in the stock of the rifle? A sword with an embedded whistle? A gun with revolving chamber that might blow up at any moment?
Armory Ranger Scott Gausen, a fellow facilitator in the course, then had us exploring patent diagrams in a lesson about interpreting engineering drawings, and determining the notion of a patent. We then worked on our patent drawing for a flying machine. Mine became a Rube Goldberg machine that you probably should not build at home.
Scott then brought us down to the museum floor, where he made a connection between the innovation practices of old and the new, as he had a 3D printing machine up and running, working on a plastic part that the huge lathes behind the printer used to make.
Finally, after perusing and exploring our state’s new Social Studies standards, I had our participants exploring multi-genre writing through the use of primary sources of Shays Rebellion, which was a farmer’s uprising and assault on the Springfield Armory after the Revolutionary War. We made black-out poems, drew illustrations, wrote journal entries, made newspaper/media products, and I joined in with a rough comic, featuring George Washington and Daniel Shays.
All in all, it was a great professional development session, leading us deeper into the notions of history, stories and innovation. We meet again in January as participants start to fine-tune their project ideas.
We’re in the midst of our Hero’s Journey video game design unit, in which my sixth graders are developing and then publishing a video game based on the concept of the Hero’s Journey. We use Gamestar Mechanic, which teaches students how to build games by playing games, and provides tools for publishing.
The first phase is all about story-framing (what is the story that will be the backbone of the game) and storyboarding (what will your game look like) and this work provides some rich moments of questions and conversations and thinking through the game before it is under construction.
I love the variety of games under consideration. I have traditional “make your way home” and “rescue mission” stories, as well as ones that are inspired by novels they are reading, and even this year, one in which the character is inside a “book” as the setting of the game. I’m looking forward to watching that one get developed.
The story-framing is a way for young game designers to articulate the spine of the narrative, and they often require reminders during the building of games to refer back to the story-frame.
I tell them this as a sort of daily mantra:
The player is the reader, playing your story as a game
Meanwhile, the storyboarding gives rise to questions of design, of where things might be and how things might look, and often prompts questions about what they can and cannot do in Gamestar Mechanic as designers. I do a lot of huddling around work-arounds and alternative ideas once they are deep into design. But this early work gives me a glimpse of what they are thinking, and provides them with a map from which to begin work.
Peace (designed, played, won),
PS — if you want to learn more about how we move game design into the ELA classroom (and some years, with connection to science), check out the resource site we created the first year. We tried to include materials that you are free to use: Video Game Design