Tag Archives: digital

Thinking about teaching writing in a connected world

Image found here

The eye is naturally drawn to things you’ve been thinking about. So it was for me last night when I was browsing my Twitter feed and came across Susan Carter Morgan‘s retweet of Angela Stockman‘s link to her article The questions we ask when we begin to teach writing on the WNY Young Writers’ Studio  website. Angela asks:

“Is it possible to teach writing well if your students aren’t aware of what’s possible now? If they aren’t publishing online?”

An interesting question. Although I hadn’t exactly been phrasing it as specifically as this, I’ve been wondering about the task of teaching writing at a time when our publishing options are so many and varied; wondering whether we’re doing our students a disservice if we continue to teach writing the way we were taught. I mean without recognizing the opportunities for a broader, online audience. I’ve been rabbiting on about this for quite some time.

I also wonder why we are still predominantly text-centered with regard to storytelling options when there are so many other options for storytelling, particularly with the new digital possibilities.

“Composing isn’t just about text anymore.”

And it isn’t. That’s not to say it’s any less important to teach textual writing but there are so many other things to consider. If our students are reading stories online, enjoying graphic novels, following and creating stories in virtual worlds, then shouldn’t we be exploring these new forms of narrative with our students?

There’s a mounting list of technological applications which enable and enhance storytelling. These options incorporate visual and digital literacies, amongst others, but writing is still the crux, that is, creating plot, characters, setting. The story itself, is still a matter of writing. As Angela states:

“I don’t focus on genre or the writing itself at first either. I find myself asking questions about who the writers are, what kind of difference they want to make with their words, and for who.”

“When my grandmother died, she left behind her childhood journals and a whole bunch of letters,” someone mentions to me quietly. “Seeing her handwriting helps me hear her voice. It keeps her alive.” And I appreciate this. I know that when I look at my daughter’s blog and when I skim through her Flickr stream or her Facebook updates, I experience the same feeling. For me, it isn’t about the ink. But I’m not the only audience the writers I work with will have. In fact, one thing I do know for certain is that if I’m doing my job right, they won’t be writing for me—they’ll be writing for other people, and their purposes and the tools they will use to connect with them will vary. As a teacher, what I think and what I need doesn’t matter at all. It’s all about the writer.”

I wrote about something similar in a post a long time ago when I found my grandmother’s old autograph book, remarking:

The autograph book demonstrates a lovely collection of shared sentiments, but at the same time, this generation is collaborating in newly found ways to create.

The tools are always secondary to what is being created. Angela says:

“Our first task is to connect writers to themselves, their needs, their vision for the difference they will make, and their ideas. Who do they want to move with their writing? What is the best way to accomplish this? What’s possible, given the range and access of tools that are available today?” (my emphasis)

Trying out blogging as a platform with year 9 students has shifted something seminal to successful and convincing writing. I was nodding when I read Angela’s words:

“My work involves helping writers develop and share their own. What they are writing has to matter to them. It also has to matter to someone else. Otherwise, they will not persevere as writers. It’s as simple as that. School teachers can force kids to write by threatening them with failing grades. Fortunately, we don’t have that awful luxury at Studio, and I’m grateful for this. It keeps us honest. It keeps our writing real. It helps us persevere.”

In her excellent article Remaining seated: lessons learned by writing Judith M. Jester advises teachers to write if they’re teaching writing.

“As a teacher of writing, I consider writing to
be one of the most important things I can do for
my kids. I need to put myself in their place on a
continual basis so that I more fully understand
what I am asking them to do. How can I know
what difficulties they face if I don’t face them, too?
How will I know what strategies to suggest if I
have not tried them first? How will I know the
joy they experience when they are genuinely
pleased with a draft if I have not felt the same joy?”

It’s a shame that teachers are so busy teaching, assessing and writing reports that they don’t have time to do what they teach. Judith is passionate about the teacher modelling writing:

“What they fail to understand is that they will produce better writers if they pick up a pen for something more than evaluation. If they do, they will learn far more about teaching writing than any instructor’s manual can ever tell them.”

I’m not sure that teachers have much of an opportunity to do much more than keep up with teaching their classes, correcting work and writing reports. The expectation of schools, of a curriculum which drives teachers and students towards the final assessments in senior years so that students enter tertiary institutions of their choice – does this allow much room for senior school teachers to choose between what they want to do and what they must do?

The article gives food for thought. Judith writes about the power of process, the power of feedback, the power of audience, the power of modeling, the power of thinking. Definitely worth reading and thinking about.

Wouldn’t it be nice if teachers’ lives were balanced to allow time for themselves – to think, to try things out, to model what they teach, to alleviate the relentless pressure and give them some space just to be. Teachers should be nurtured as learners too, not just have their last juices squeezed out of them.

Image found here.

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Trends, transformations, and change in libraries – David Lee King and Hamish Curry at the City Library

Thanks to my colleague Denise at my new school third term ended nicely with an excuse to revisit the City Library and come together with a largish group of people for an injection of ideas mixed with wine and a very impressive spread. This is what we attended –

David Lee King – Digital Branch & Services Manager at the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library
Freak Out, Geek Out, or Seek Out: Trends, Transformations, and Change in Libraries

Hamish Curry – Education and Onsite Learning Manager at the State Library of Victoria
Putting IT back in Reality

When: 2.00pm to 5.00pm on 23 September 2011.

Where: The Majorca Room, City Library, 253 Flinders Lane, Melbourne Victoria 3000

Between them David Lee King and Hamish Curry gave us enough food for thought to last for a long time but for some reason two things pushed their way into my mind and disabled all the rest – risk and fun. This is something which has been on my mind for a while. Thinking about the library as a space, a service, a hub, a resource, and everything else that it encompasses, I agree with Hamish that people coming into libraries should be surprised. And once they get over the shock of finding the unexpected in a library, they will look around and discover things they never noticed before. Smart thinking, Hamish. By the end of the day, when Denise and I took our conversation into The Journal Cafe, we were scheming like school girls, imagining a night-time event in a large, mysterious library to rival the night game conducted in the New York Public Library earlier this year, imagining our library elevator door decked out like Dr Who’s time-travelling police box, and an installation taking shape from the Lego blocks we planned to drop on the reference shelves at the disposal of creative students.

For those who would rather know about what David and Hamish actually talked about yesterday, here are some links.

Firstly, a Twitter steam (mine are missing – don’t know how to search a hashtag which includes my own tweets) –

Here is Hamish’s multi-dimensional slideshow – he just kept coming out with more and more ideas and things to blow up anything old and tired as far as libraries and librarians go:

Putting IT back in reality

I couldn’t find David’s slideshow but here is his Slideshare page with previous presentations.
Actually, I have been mulling over more than fun and risk in libraries, in fact, David’s examples of the potential of libraries’ digital presence resounded in me, and I agree that we should be providing services within the types of online spaces and networks our customers usually frequent.
Altogether, a great afternoon and excellent finish to the term. Thanks!

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Teachers today on Youtube – how do you rate?

Is the picture of teachers in this video fact or fiction?
Let’s have a look at some of ideas here.
Firstly, teachers today work in a world that is fast-paced and rapidly changing.
Do we realise this fully?

Teachers today work together to facilitate, innovate, coordinate, participate, investigate, advocate and illuminate.
How are you doing so far?

Teachers today may have limited autonomy, opportunities and resources…
Is that true? Does that make you feel uncomfortable?

but their possibilities are unlimited; they are leading, shaping, finding new approaches, new technologies and discoveries.
Sounds exciting.

Teachers today instil curiosity, extend possibilities, make connections, engage students, excite learners to solve problems of the new generation.
What are the problems of the new generation?

Teachers today overcome obstacles, embrace change, redefine education, are fluent in technological tools, are aware of global concerns.
This is a huge job and an amazing responsibility.

Teachers today are challenging students …
to find solutions;
to find their voices;
to change the world.

I’m interested to find out how teachers react to the messages in this video.

To quote a teacher recently:
‘Where does the academic fit into this?’

Isn’t it time we opened up our vision of what our role as teachers today is?

While you’re at it, have a look at Digital World: Kids today

Thanks to Judy O’Connell for putting me onto these videos.

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What is this?

Can you guess what these pictures are? Leave your guesses in the comments section.

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Digital media is no longer an option – it’s a necessity

John Connell’s post ‘Literacy, Postliteracy, Modes of Expression….and a real Guitar Hero!’ raises the very important topic of digital literacies.  John Connell said that

the process of democratization of expression that is inherent in the development of the Web means that we now have available to us low-cost tools that allow us to express ourselves creatively in media that were previously unavailable to most because the barriers to entry were too high.

 Jenny Luca commented:

I recognise that my students respond to visual media today far more than they do print based.

In response to discussion about what constituted literacy, Hilery commented

A literate person can mediate his or her world by deliberately and flexibly orchestrating meaning from one linguistic knowledge base and apply or connect it to another knowledge base. The definition of literacy is dynamic, evolving, and reflects the continual changes in our society: not least the very real political challenges to the status…

(I love this definition, and wish that I could link to Hilery so I could read more of what she has to say).
Two very interesting things to ponder: what is literacy? and do we need to redefine it? (ok, two and a half);
and is digital literacy just an added dimension, or is it something more vital?
Jess from the United Kingdom put me onto a recent article by James Paul Gee and Michael H. Levine on Innovation Strategies for Learning in a Global Age.  The authors identify a newly emerging digital participation gap, and talk about competencies needed to succeed in a global age which can be developed through the ‘untapped power of interactive media’. The report also states that, apart from the reading gap between richer and poorer students, there is, more recently, another gap – between students who have mastered digital media and those who haven’t. Interesting to see these two problematic areas identified side by side, because both are needed to function competently in the 21st century. I’m sticking my neck out here but in Australia, at least, digital literacies are still way behind more traditional literacies; they’re seen in many cases as an extra dimension, and often as irrelevant in government schools which are not funded for functionality in an online world. In equipped schools, however, teachers’ training for technology remains limited, and they are often reluctant for trained teachers or teacher librarians to provide support. (There are several reasons for this, but I won’t go into them in this post). Or they’re unaware of the need for this support, eg. technology-based activities are unsupported and unscaffolded. The situation baffles me still. The article expresses this very eloquently:

Mastery of digital media for the production of knowledge constitutes a new family of “digital literacies,” since such media, like print before them, are tools for the production of meaning. For a student to fully leverage all the possibilities for learning and knowledge production to be found on the Internet, he or she must learn how to access, assess, and modify the plethora of information available. These skills don’t just develop on their own. They require mentoring and teaching, especially for children who come from families unable to provide this at home. So the digital gap is not just a matter of who has access to technology. More important, it is about who has access to well-designed learning systems and mentorship built around new digital technologies.

There’s so much that’s spot-on in this article. It cites digital media as naturally eliciting problem-solving behaviour and attitudes, and as enabling the solving of real-world problems. Fact is, as acknowledged in the article, we all know that young people’s digital involvement outside of school has been impressive:

In fact, children are already using digital environments and tools to join learning communities and become experts. Many use the Internet, communication media, digital tools, and membership in often virtual, sometimes real, communities of practice to develop technical expertise in different areas. These include video games, digital storytelling, fan fiction, music, graphic art, political commentary, robotics, anime, and nearly every other endeavor the human mind can think of. Their informal process of learning, collaboration, and transforming passion into knowledge is desperately needed in schools today.

Finally, there is the suggestion for a way forward: an indepth examination of the benefits of digital media; tech-savvy teachers training others; literacy assessments measuring problem-solving skills. Is there any research about the benefits of digital media – apart from well written articles? Because if there is, then we need to drag it out of the filing cabinet and bring it to the attention of educators and education specialists.

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Art Education 2.0

Art Education 2.0 is a global community of art educators exploring uses of new technology.

Art Education 2.0 is for art educators at all levels who are interested in using digital technologies to enhance and transform art teaching and learning experiences. The aim of Art Education 2.0 is to explore ways of using technology to promote effective art education practices, encourage cultural exchanges and joint creative work, and support artistic projects, curricular activities, and professional development opportunities deemed important by our members.

When you sign up, you can avail yourself of all the usual socialnetworking options, for example, you can invite friends, upload photos or videos, or start a discussion. At a glance from the homepage you can see current projects, forum discussions and recent blog posts. The format is well organised and easy to read, eg. the post ‘Sir Ken Robinson & creative thinking’ , a post about Ken Robinson’s well-known TED talk, ‘Are schools killing creativity?’, is followed by several clearly displayed comments. I suppose, what I’m trying to say, is that it’s all there, and it’s easy and enjoyable to browse. A late night for me recently while I explored the blogroll – always dangerous to jump into hyperlinks, branching out evermore into oblivion.

New Web 2.0 resources in the right-hand navigation offer such delicacies as Andrew Douch’s video on the benefits of podcasting; Vizu, an interactive poll that can be added to a website or blog; 12 seconds, where you can record and share short videos about what you’re doing or where you are, etc.

On the left, there’s a chat option, featured websites, an option to share photos or videos, a section with a blog called ‘educational paradigms’, which includes posts such as ‘Keeping your teaching experiences fresh’, ArtsJournal , where you can check out daily art news, and more. You can also join groups, such as ‘first year art teachers’, or ‘Voicethread in the artroom’.

Digital art is popular with students, and teachers can get support for this by joining ‘Digital design’ . ‘Teaching animation’ supports teachers in a discussion of ideas, strategies, and tools for teaching animation.

I’ll definitely be telling my art faculty about this supportive art community. Makes me want to be an art educator!

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Can intelligent literature survive in the digital age?

The Independent featured an article with this poignant question – can intelligent literature survive in the digital age? As the article says, ‘Is the paper-and-ink book heading the way of the papyrus scroll?’ This is indeed a question worth devoting more than a couple of minutes to.

The crucial question is – whether all our online reading – the fragmented, stylistically-challenged emails and microblogging – has taken its toll on our attention span? Nicholas Carr of ‘Is Google making us stupid?’ fame has added to the debate by claiming that the internet is responsible for his downward spiral in longterm concentration: ‘Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.’

Scott Karp, who writes a blog about online media, claims he used to be a voracious reader, but has now stopped reading books altogether. Is the internet to blame? Other people quoted in this article admit that they are now unable to concentrate on more than a couple of paragraphs at a time, and that they skim read, rather than read and think deeply.

A recently published study of online research habits , conducted by scholars from University College London’ claims the following:

‘It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.’ Still, the article does maintain that we are reading more now than when television was the preferred (only?) medium. Personally, I find it difficult not to skip around when links abound and I’m torn between too many tantalising directions.

Carr supports this behaviour with the following observation:
‘When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is re-created in the Net’s image. It injects the medium’s content with hyperlinks, blinking ads, and other digital gewgaws, and it surrounds the content with the content of all the other media it has absorbed. A new e-mail message, for instance, may announce its arrival as we’re glancing over the latest headlines at a newspaper’s site. The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration.’

But is this fear of change typical of the fear each generation experiences?
‘In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.’ That may be so, but in today’s ‘information age’, it would be foolish to try to carry all the knowledge we read inside our heads, especially when access is so easy.

If the internet and Google are wired for quick knowledge-access, then surely, we realise that we don’t just read for knowledge. We read fiction, for example, as we regard art, to enter into a transformed, deeper(?) reality; to savour language and perceptions; to gain insight into the human condition; to gain moral, social and philosophical truths; to experience many things besides.
Are we losing/have we lost something in our move to 21st century literacies? Is it a matter of a lost language or genetic traces that will never be repaired? Even avid readers will necessarily read less traditional, hard-copy literature, if only because they are also keeping up with blogs, wikis and RSS feeds? Are we becoming ‘pancake people’, as the playwright, Richard Foreman, suggests?

Now, according to The Independent, many serious writers complain that challenging fiction doesn’t appeal – “difficult” novels don’t sell. To sell now, ‘books evidently need to be big on plot and incident, short on interior monologue.’ What are the consequences for teachers and librarians, trying to encourage young people to read? Are we trying to keep grandma alive? And besides, if we admit it, our own reading patterns are changing to some extent. And yet, websites that give exposure to books can only increase readership. Just think about all the literature you might be tempted to read after reading somebody’s passionate review or after searching Google Book Search.

If only you had the time or could get off the internet!

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21st century learning

‘Our students are changing … but schools are not.’
This is a leitmotif of a professional development program, Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) run by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson, which will run in Australia soon, and in which our school has the privilege of participating.

As stated on the PLP website, ‘Powerful Learning Practice offers a unique opportunity for educators to participate in a long-term, job-embedded professional development program that immerses them in 21st Century learning environments. The PLP model is currently enabling hundreds of educators around the country to experience the transformative potential of social Web tools to build global learning communities and re-envision their own personal learning practice’.

As a result of our participation in the Web2.0 program through School Library Association of Victoria, we were invited by Jenny Luca, who is organising the Australian contingent of the 100 educator-strong global cohort , to join the 7 or 8 Australian teams of 5 educators per school. We almost jumped for joy, but remembered our respectable standing and did some mental leaps instead. After all, how long had we been passionate about transformative learning environments, recognising the potential of emerging web technologies in engaging students and creating global learning communities? And how difficult it is to create a voice that is heard above the clatter of the old school machine? How helpless and ineffective we often feel, like door-to-door evangelists in our own schools, with the door being slammed in our faces, people telling us they have their own god, or that they have no time to listen. At best, we’ve ‘converted’ small, isolate pockets of educators but not had any significant effect on the school community.

Now we have the opportunity to take part in a program based on a highly successful pilot carried out in Alabama and supported by internationally recognised practitioners of 21st century learning technologies. Not only has this given us the opportunity to formulate our thoughts in a proposal to the principal class, but it has also created interest from staff, led to conversations where we have had to explain and justify the cause, and opened up planning for a collaborative team. Suddenly we had something that was worth doing across the school, that was supported both from the top and the bottom. We weren’t isolated any more!

Two of us were able to attend the initial talk by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach at Toorak College this afternoon. I was excited to meet Jenny and Sheryl, and they were as passionate and inspiring as I had expected. Sheryl was amazing – stepping off the plane and straight into the talk, her body clock still at 3am, and engaging the audience with her passion and ideas. I asked her how she managed to deliver an hour-long talk after travelling halfway across the world, and she said that her tiredness was evident in her slower than usual speech, which, for us in Australia, was a comfortable speed to follow.

I thought I’d mention some of the things that stood out for me as I listened to Sheryl’s presentation. Firstly, she emphasised that 21st century learning, although based on technologies, was primarily a human network. These technologies enable global connections and wisdom of the crowd. Sheryl gave the example of Twitter as a means of finding the best information about buying a new car. I suppose it’s an extension of the network of friends and colleagues people turn to when looking for a good car, or finding a good plumber, only the global aspect facilitates expert knowledge more effectively. In a fast-changing world, where the information today will be outdated tomorrow, rather than teach memorisation of content from a single text, we need to teach students how to work collaboratively. As Sheryl said, ‘don’t think computers, think innovation’. Our students need to be able to be productive, self-directed and effective communicators, understanding digital communications, and not be overwhelmed by the fast pace of change in their lives. It’s not about the tools, the technology, but about learning.

Sheryl challenged us about the relevance of school education, and spoke about the low percentage of students who thought that what they had learned at school would be relevant to their future lives. She spoke about the learning that takes place outside of school within the networking communities of young people. We saw Darren Draper’s film that asked educators if they had been paying attention to students in their classes, if they had been watching them or listening to them, and challenged educators to use the technologies that these students loved in order to teach and engage them.

What inspired me, towards the end of the talk, was Sheryl’s prediction that members of the PLP cohort would eventually have the courage to be bold and challenge the status quo. How true, that, in order to inspire change, we have to model it. As Sheryl said, ‘you can’t give away what you do not own’. I’m ready to share what I’ve learned. I’m not learning to keep. It isn’t much, and so I’m also ready to keep learning. We need to keep up with the pace of change. We hope to help diminish the digital divide – between those who know how to collaborate digitally, as the world shrinks through global connections, and those who don’t. Our job is to prepare students to be responsible, global citizens. We need a change in pedagogy, playing to students’ strengths instead of their weaknesses (ie. what they don’t know, what they’re not good at). We need to cater for different learning styles. We must become 21st century educators. These are the main ideas from Sheryl’s deep-reaching talk today.

What I’d like to say to teachers is what I read on Darren Draper’s excellent blog, when he talked about Kevin Honeycutt and one of his ‘favorite quotes regarding teachers and our relationship to our students: “We’ve got to be willing to play where they play… even if we don’t feel comfortable.” ‘

I’m looking forward to an enriching, collaborative, global PLP experience.

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Wait a second, which life is this?

While thinking about how problematic Second Life can be, I came across a phrase by Alex Iskold in a post he wrote last year on the ReadWriteWeb site, ‘our inevitable digital future’, and it got me thinking. We can kick or turn away as much as we like, but the future will still be digital. Iskold coins the term ‘Digital Life’, defining it as ‘a collective of the virtual world technologies that are bringing life to the digital realm’. He also points out that the core of Second Life is social, unlike virtual world video games which are quests. Digital Life, according to Iskold, is a set of technologies that aims to put a digital realm on top of our reality. He compares this to ‘magical glasses that overlay digital information on top of real-world scenes as you walk around. The closest modern version of this technology is Google Earth, a detailed 3D visualisation of the earth’. This application tags and annotates our physical world with digital tags which, according to Iskold, makes our world much richer.

It’s natural for us to sometimes resist change or, at least, to be uncomfortable about it. I suppose it’s a basic survival instinct, testing the waters before jumping in. But I think that, over time, we will be able to see more practical and inspirational applications of Digital Life. The bigger picture is yet to become clear for us. I agree with Iskold – life is becoming more digital and digital is becoming more alive.

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