Further Defining Digital Literacies: Global Connections and Intentional Relationships

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE collaborationsI’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

I teach in a pretty insular community, in a classroom that is set off from other parts of the building (it’s inside the school but not near any other classrooms). It can be a pretty isolating experience, both from a teaching experience (no adjoining door to say hello to a neighbor) and a learning experience (the town is overwhelmingly white middle class suburbia).

This boxed-in mentality has often spurred me to try to find ways to connect my students to the larger world, and this section of the definition by NCTE speaks to that aspect, I think. Solving problems and pushing into shared inquiry, through help of larger connections and relationships, seems important in an ever-connected world where more and more of the work we do, and the learning we tackle, requires collaboration and teams.

The phrasing of “technology allows a wider range of voices to be heard” resonates with me, for I fear I don’t do this nearly enough, often to the detriment of my students’ experiences in the larger world. That said, past projects like Voices on the Gulf and Youth Radio and current projects like Connecting the Coasts (where my students in Massachusetts have been sharing and connecting with California friends via Flipgrid) have opened doors for some relationships and connections, pulling my sixth graders into something broader than the town they live, in progressive Western Massachusetts (although the town I teach is very conservative, an outlier in our area).

The definition talks about helping learners find voices different from their own, and perspectives different than their own, and this can be another sort of challenge. I often felt as if the Letters to the Next President project — while incredibly powerful in the way it brought writing and argument of high school writers to the surface in an array of important topics — did not do justice to the conservative voices of youth, that the platform had an overwhelming progressive vibe to it (which resonated with me and my views, perhaps, but seeing it through young writer’s eyes who has opposing views, it could be daunting). This is not a criticism of the work done by facilitators of Letters to the Next President — they worked hard to surface many diverse voices.

This surfacing of ideas in online spaces, in particular, is always a challenge — how to teach young people to be strong in opinions, and civil in their discussions –how to be persuasive in their arguments but open to other points to view. Heck, this is not just a challenge for young people. This is the challenge for all of us these days.

Anyway, I appreciated this part of the defining of Digital Literacies, for it forced me to reflect again critically on what I am doing, or am not doing, and what I have done, and can still yet do, better — both within my classroom itself, and by connecting my classroom to the larger and more diverse world beyond.

Peace (opening doors),
Kevin

Further Defining Digital Literacies: Access and Equity

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE access

I’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

Issues of access often take a back seat in discussions about digital literacies but here, in this definition, NCTE tackles it head-on early in its inquiry. And it’s not just who has what available — in other words, does the digital divide create unseen barriers for students — but also, how students with disabilities can access the same information and technology and tools as their peers.

I remember having a long discussion in a course about “alt text” on images via Twitter and other social networking platforms, and many of us worked on a public statement, urging Twitter to make the option for “alt text” writing on images for screen readers a default (it was an option one could turn on but I think it is now the default, so … progress). I am also thinking of how text-to-speech options, and how color-coding/highlighting/organizational possibilities, and how speech-to-text options all open the door to all of our students in terms of access.

Socio-economics play a role, too. I’ve done consulting work in schools where the computers are used for one thing: testing. Technology was only means of data gathering, and not a way for students to gather information and compose in different media. Student agency was nearly absent for the sake of constant testing.

One question within the NCTE definition seemed rather intriguing, as it brings to the surface an awareness of gaps. It asks:

Do learners recognize information gaps or information poverty?

and the follow up question:

Do learners advocate for their own individual and community’s access to texts and tools?

I wonder how teachers can best make those gaps visible to all students — this gets at the heart of equity — and how to help students advocate for places where the gaps exist? It seems to me that collaborations between classes — ie, Connected Learning principles — and better educator awareness might address this kind of question, but the fact is that for most of us, we don’t know what we don’t have because we made do with what we’ve got.

I think we all know we need to do better — with better-funded school libraries and information systems (that open doors for access, not just surveil our students), and classrooms, and teacher programs that incorporate these ideals in meaningful ways.

I was thinking of the mission statement of our Western Massachusetts Writing Project as I was reading this section of the Digital Literacies definition, as access and equity and social justice are front and center in all the work we do with students and teachers and school districts.

Peace (thinking),
Kevin

Further Defining Digital Literacies: Creators and Curators, Not Just Consumers

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE createI’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

This section of the definition seems key to me — how to help students not only understand what they are consuming in the digital landscapes but how to gather meaning through curation of content and how to create, too.

I am just about to enter our Game Design Unit after Thanksgiving break, and the whole reason I even ever thought about teaching video game design as a literacy practice is because of concerns about my sixth graders spending so much time immersed in something someone else built, I wanted them to build something, too. By having them design and engineer and publish video game projects, I hope they uncover the process of the profession, and think more deeply about their own game experiences.

Curation is the lost sibling in all this, and even as I work hard on my own — as a learner — to use folders and bookmarking and tags to keep as much of my content together, to gather it for curation — to make sense of what I have been doing in digital spaces with digital writing (this blog is my most reliable curation space, I would say, but not the only one).

Even something simple, such as folder awareness for students who use Google Drive. In a meeting of our Western Massachusetts Writing Project yesterday, we were brainstorming ways that the technology team can support teachers, and this idea of explicitly teaching the construction and curating of folders, with project files and other materials, to students came up, and it is one of those things that many of may take for granted — we do it, without thinking, making folders for our files — and many students have no awareness of how to do it, or why.

Now, the definition by NCTE goes way beyond that folder architecture, in interesting directions — here are three of the more intriguing guiding questions in each of the three categories of Consume, Curate and Create that had me thinking a bit more deeply:

  • Do learners review a variety of sources to evaluate information as they consider bias and perspective in sources? (Consume)
  • Do learners collect, aggregate, and share content to develop their voice/identity/expertise on a topic? (Curate)
  • Do learners evaluate multimedia sources for the effects of visuals, sounds, hyperlinks, and other features on the text’s meaning or emotional impact? (Create)

Peace (make it so),
Kevin

Further Defining Digital Literacies: Explore and Engage

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE explore

I’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and reflecting on the ideas within it.

One of the first topics of the definition could be summed up as Explore and Engage, and the definition ponders a series of questions to consider, framed within the concept of what literacy is when the texts are multi-modal.

Officially, it says: “Explore and engage critically, thoughtfully, and across a wide variety of inclusive texts and tools/modalities”

As a teacher, I think of these concepts quite often when planning learning experiences for my students. I contemplate often about how I can expand my notions of what writing is to include the use of different modalities — from video, to image, to code, to hyperlinks, to video game design, to screen writing (technology as well as plays, I would add), and beyond.

In the definition by NCTE, I particularly like the reference to learners understanding and pushing against the “limitations” of technology they use, to understand or at least acknowledge that a developer might have one idea for a tool, or app, or site but that we, as composers and creators, can also explore workarounds, pushing something into something else.

Often, the only time you can find the limits is by pushing the limits in directions one might not think about. How do we teach this to our students?

For teachers, who need control of the learning environment, this is an uncomfortable place to be in. But if we want to engage our students in meaningful work, it is a shift that has to happen, even if slowly.

There’s no one way but keeping an open mind, as a teacher, about creative, independent students, and sharing our own digital writing experiences — where things failed, where we found a way out, where we found success — seems ever more important.

Peace (along the edges),
Kevin

Further Defining Digital Literacies: Interconnected, Dynamic, Malleable

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE introI’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

Over the coming days (or weeks), I hope to explore some various aspects of their work, as digital literacy is a concept that I, too, have been pondering on for some time as a teacher and writer, and have struggled at times to put it all into words that seem large enough to encompass the changing literacy landscape and narrow enough to stay focused on literacy practice.

The words “interconnected, dynamic and malleable” stuck out for me in the opening introduction. Those three words say a lot about how we can look at literacy in the age of screens and Connected Learning practices and more.

  • Interconnections, as in the ways we can collaborate with others, find information across platforms, and write our way across platforms and online spaces
  • Dynamic, as in we can leverage multimedia to amplify our voice, our message, our connections (or we can choose not to, and write with quiet, too)
  • Malleable, as in we have flexibility for the ways in which we write, and share, depending upon situation and circumstance, and audience, and need

The NCTE researchers then dive deeper into how these elements play out across themes of literacies, access, social justice and more.

Active, successful participants in a global society must be able to

  • Participate effectively and critically in a networked world;
  • Explore and engage critically, thoughtfully, and across a wide variety of inclusive texts and tools/modalities;
  • Consume, curate, and create actively across contexts;
  • Advocate for equitable access to and accessibility of texts, tools, and information;
  • Build and sustain intentional global and cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought;
  • Promote culturally sustaining communication and recognize the bias and privilege present in the interactions;
  • Examine the rights, responsibilities, and ethical implications of the use and creation of information;
  • Determine how and to what extent texts and tools amplify one’s own and others’ narratives as well as counter unproductive narratives;
  • Recognize and honor the multilingual literacy identities and culture experiences individuals bring to learning environments, and provide opportunities to promote, amplify, and encourage these differing variations of language (e.g., dialect, jargon, register).  — from NCTE

Peace (thinking on it),
Kevin

Wrestling with Algorithms: Submission to the Machine

from Lumen5

Our AI handpicked sentences for you! Does the story flow well? — this was the message I received on Lumen5 after I put a poem into motion in the digital story platform

You decide. I said, yes, to let the experiment happen. This is the result:

What is this? It’s a poem that I wrote in response to something Terry Elliott created, in response to something I wrote to him, about a poem I saw. Looping, everywhere. I took my response poem and put it into Lumen5, which is a cool site for making digital stories, and let the algorithm choose the images, and set the pacing (I did have to choose the music, which is too bad.)

The poem, as original text:

Replace me, writer,
with a machine,
algorithm, software,
and our fields
may go fallow

the genetically
modified organism
of words may be
planted, watered
and sown

but it is only in
the unique experience
of being human
that we nurture

a poem

Lumen5 chose images that I probably would not have, such as a typewriter instead of a computer, and the human body model is just kinda strange, I think, but I see it probably hooked its search on the word ‘genetic’. It also bundled words together that I might not have (which is the first message I had received, about AI picking my sentences). There’s something further off about the digital version but I can’t quite place my finger on it. Maybe it’s just me, the writer, losing my agency. Perhaps a casual viewer with no back-story would not even blink at the digital rendering of words.

Somewhat related (perhaps only in my head), a DS 106 Daily Create that I had submitted weeks ago went live yesterday, asking folks to try out the machine-learning Talk to Transformer site. (I explored the platform a bit here and then extended my work here) You type a phrase and the algorithm continues it, tapping into a vast and growing database of texts.

Yesterday, in Talk to Transformer, I typed the first line: This machine writes poems …

And this is what it kicked out and the response is rather intriguing:

From Talk to Transformer site

What’s it all mean? I don’t rightly know. But it is increasingly intriguing to wrestle on the screen with algorithms and writing, to suss out the elements that make us human and what makes us programmers of words. Or not.

What is writing anymore, anyway?

Peace (mining it),
Kevin

 

 

An Experiment of Sorts: Some Reasons for Remix

I am trying out Powtoon for Education as a way to enrich a unit on expository/informational writing with my students … and I thought I might as well explore the reasons why one might remix as I explored the site …

Peace (nearly remixable),
Kevin

 

An Invitation to Collaborate: The Writer’s Block by Grant Snider

If you have never checked out Grant Snider’s wonderful illustrations, you have been missing out. I have long loved seeing his work, and have bought his calendar (2018), bought his book, and purchased a poster from him for my classroom, and I’ve shared his work through my networks.

See his site — Incidental Comics — for yourself

Grant’s latest piece was in the New York Times Book Review (although I saw it first in my RSS reader) and is called Writer’s Block, and it is full of visual puns and elements of literacy. I borrowed his image from his site and put it into Thinglink, and invite you and others to add layers of text to it.

Go to the Thinglink overlay of Writer’s Block

Peace (in textual surfaces),
Kevin

More Seeds Planted with Zeega

Seeds in Zeega

I worked my way back into the version of Zeega that Terry hosts (and which web browsers don’t like and call unsafe but it is fine, just so you know). Zeega allows you to layer images and gifs over music, so I took the soundtrack to a project I worked on as a remix — Four Seeds Seeking Roots — and added layers of images to it.

This is just another way of “seeing” the work through making media along a theme.

This is the direct link (and your browser may ask you to approve access). Also, you might need to unmute the audio — this is done in the bottom right corner of the page. And sometimes, the embed doesn’t play nice with browsers, either, because of iframe scripts (I guess).

Peace (along the ground),
Kevin

This Happens, and then This, and then That


mobius_strip flickr photo by pixelcrazy shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

In response to a small endeavor I called Four Seeds:

Terry wrote:

Wendy wrote:

 

Actually, Wendy wrote a lot more, at her blog, and you should read her look at what she calls “reconstruction and remix.”

My take:

  • It begins with an openness, a willingness to share something out with others. In this case, Terry wrote a poem at his blog inspired by his work looking at seeds for the spring for his farm. He could have written the poem and not shared it. But he didn’t. He shared.
  • It moves along with an invitation. Terry invited folks to write responses, in the margins (with Hypothesis), in the comment box at his blog, in the Etherpad he had set up. He’s looking for collaborators. His invitation is clear and heartfelt.
  • It shifts when collaborators join in. For many, perhaps, this is the hardest part. The joining in. Terry will tell you that any sort of response was a good response. I left poems for him. But that’s what I do. I hoped to honor his poem with shoots of words.
  • It gains traction with acknowledgement. Terry sent me a quick one line email, thanking me for the poems. The act of acknowledgement seems powerful in this kind of work, to show you have another person out there, reading or listening or watching.
  • It sometimes won’t sit quiet. This is sort of a pivot point. Something about Terry’s invitation and then his acknowledgement, along with the theme of seeds, had me wondering about the poem. I gathered up my three poems and shared them in another space, Mastodon, as a #smallpoems (which Terry also is part of). It was small scale curation.
  • It takes further listening. Terry saw that in Mastodon, and remixed my poems. He was taking poetic responses to his own poem and remixing them into another bookend poem, with mine in the middle. I should note: there was no plan. Terry and I did not talk or organize any of this. It happened rather naturally.
  • It takes honoring the other. I was fascinated by where my poems and his remixes gathered together and splintered apart, and it seemed like I needed to find a way to show that. Thus, the music to capture the poems, and the video.
  • It takes openness. Back to the beginning. Sharing the piece out led to Wendy, listening, and adding notation to the Soundcloud of the soundtrack I had created with Garageband and Thumbjam. And Yin Wah, asking for how one might enter the conversation, and how it all came together (which is why I am writing this).

Along this path, there were multiple entry points. Some came with distinct invitations. Others were less visible. It is also something built on years of riffing with each other, as Terry and I go back. We are comfortable with our remixes. We trust each other.

Perhaps this trust is the most important element of all.

Peace (in the remix),
Kevin

PS —