Writing 1.0: An EduCon Conversation

EduCon 2.1 is coming up in about three weeks, and with it, for me, comes an exciting (and downright scary) opportunity to facilitate a conversation that I’ve been having off and on for a very long time. Here’s the description of the session:

The Internet as a medium, or way of communicating, is dynamic, complex, exciting, amazingly diverse, and, in plenty of substantive ways, pretty much nothing new. We have made connections through printed texts and oral stories for generations, other media have filled the gaps between peoples and cultures. There is, to quote a rather old text, “nothing new under the sun.” And yet there’s something about the nature of the Internet, and how it functions, that helps to flesh out a vital component of the writing process that was never quite visible before. Call it connective writing, or hypertext, or what you will, but the almost tactile connections we can make between texts and folks online are dynamic and significant. There’s nothing new about making text to text connections, but there’s sure something powerful in the representation of those links as semi-tangible things.
As we move forward into the new read/write web, I think it’s of value to reconsider both the “reading” and “writing” sides of the equation. We’ll save the reading for another conversation. Come to a session where we will revel in, and experiment with, writing and the power of language, thought, diction and connection to create and discover the world and ourselves. We’ll use some very 1.0 methodologies and some very 2.0 basic tools to think about how we write, what we write, and what we do and don’t do when we write and when we ask students to write for school.

I’m really interested, through the conversation, to move back a step, at least as far as my own self and career and knowledge of teaching and learning is concerned, and to refocus myself and my work around why I got into technology work in the first place – namely, because I saw computers as excellent creation and publication tools – they were and are very good for composition of all shapes and sizes.

I dig writing, and all the interesting writing’s being done on computers these days (or at least it’s being published via computers – Moleskines are still full of really excellent stuff).

One sideline, and perhaps even tangential, conversation that I keep thinking about is the shift to mobile devices. I’m writing this post on an HP Mini 1000, a netbook with a decent keyboard. I didn’t get interested in ultra mobile computers or smart phones or the like until I saw that I could use them to thoughtfully communicate in my favorite mode – text. (My XO is another story – while I’ve learned to type pretty well on its little keyboard, I own that machine more out of a desire to better understand a philosophy of product development and learning than out of a desire to have a tiny laptop for me to use. Oh, and supporting what I believe to be a good cause didn’t hurt, either. You could also argue that the XO created the market for the device I’m typing on. But I digress.)

I’ve written blog posts and e-mails and tweets and lots of other types of messages, posts, and whatnots on all sorts of devices. Cell phones, computers, typewriters, word processors, etc. And I just can’t function as a digital writer without a full sized keyboard.

What I worry about, in our rush to take everyone and everything mobile (and I am very much interested in mobile technology myself, don’t get me wrong) is that we’ll end up with tools that won’t really do what we need them to do. The tools themselves, as always, have the potential to shape what we think about, how we thinking about it, and what we do with those thoughts.

When I think about school and learning, I think about writing. Our learning tools need to have easy and useful ways for putting words and ideas into them as well as getting those words and ideas back out. Right now, I think mobile tools are more about consumption than they are about creation. (Thanks to Chris Craft for the right tweet at the right time to help me figure out that phrasing.)

And that scares me. In our conversation, I hope we get to talk about this notion I have that I’m certain that much of what we’re trying to do with technology today is work that we, or our predecessors, were trying to do with their technology yesterday – teach writing well. We all should be helping students develop the ability to draft and revise and edit and be their own crap detectors and learn to think about whom they were writing to, and to tailor their compositions to that/those audience(s). That basic framework works for text, video, audio, still pictures, and any combination thereof.

I hope you join me in some time spent writing, thinking, and talking about how writing remains so essential to learning and how technology, specifically the read/write web, assists us in fulfilling the promises and opportunities of strong writing communities and might be altering our societal reading, writing, and thinking paradigms. (One question of many for me on that front – What does it mean when the text that you are reading not only suggests that you consult another source, but it can take you to that source? In real time?)

I’m looking very much forward to it. I hope you are, too.

(You are coming to EduCon, right? It’s not too late to register – and if you can’t be there in person, the plan is to stream all of the great content from the event – so you can still participate.)

20 thoughts on “Writing 1.0: An EduCon Conversation

  1. Hi Bud..

    The consumption vs. creation paradox is reflective of my own use of my iPod touch. Typing on it is laborious, even for a simple tweet. I spent significantly more time consuming using the device than I do anything else. With no camera, there’s little contribution I can make.

    I snicker when I see the WordPress app installed because although I set it up, I can’t see composing even a halfway decent post using it. Perhaps if I was stuck in an airport somewhere with no laptop, but I don’t see those devices as a good substitute for something with a bigger keyboard. I almost hope the rumors of a 9″ touch device are false for that very reason. A tablet? Maybe. Combination touch with regular keyboard? Ok. But all touch? Sketchy if done the same way as the current mobile devices.

    Thanks for raising this issue.


    PS..See you at EduCon!

    Chris Crafts last blog post..Comparing video hosting services when displaying HD video

    1. Chris,

      I hear you about consuming more than creating on these portable devices. That said, though, I’m writing this commnt via my phone, and perhaps my most-read blog post of last year was composed in the WordPress for iPhone mobile app, with me hunting and pecking as I waited for my daughter to finish her gymnastics class. The post, by the way, was “An Open Letter to Teachers.” I’d link to it, but I can’t, because I don’t have the URL memorized and cutting and pasting isn’t an option on this device. You’ll notice that there aren’t any links in that post, either, for the same reason, even though I was considering adding several. (We’ve got a big problem if mobile devices don’t support the types of reading, writing and connecting that we want our students to be doing, but we buy and teach with them anyway because they’re cheaper and hip.)
      See you in Philadelphia!

  2. Bud,

    You raise some concerns, particularly about teaching and getting students to write well, that strike a chord with me. Not sure if the medium is as significant as the fact that students seem to have difficulty (or is it unwillingness?) taking a stand, analyzing what they read, connecting it to prior knowledge, and drawing conclusions.

    All the reading I’ve done online recently seems to originate from adult educators preaching to the choir, which is immensely valuable, don’t get me wrong. I’ve yet to break into any writing – blogs or anything – written by students online. (Of course, I am completely shut out of the texting universe by choice, and have not plumbed the depths of MySpace or Facebook… kind of gives me the willies.)

    Have you access to any such writings by students? (Showing my ignorance and newbie status shamelessly…)

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post. Happy New Year!

    C Fraser

    1. Hi, C. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

      You raise a good point about wanting to read student writing. I’ve been privileged to work with several students in exploring these frontiers – many of whom are no longer students. I’d point you to this blog as a place where you can see some of my/their work. I’d also point you to the work of Students 2.0, which is another fine place to see student writing, as well as get you moving towards other student voices.

      Hope these help – be sure to share what you discover!

  3. Last year I remember looking at this conference, and found myself giving it some pretty good scrutiny this year , as well. While I don’t think I’ll be able to attend (perhaps I can get some funding for next year’s as it looks very good), I hope to follow via the recorded sessions. Because I am, like you, a previous English teacher, your conference topic particularly interests me. This new medium intrigues me largely because it makes the “gestalt” more obtainable in our learning (the connectivity of ideas via hyperlinks to various sources/conversations). But, I’m not totally sure we, as educators, know how to teach this, let alone model this well for students. I suppose the same is true of “good writing”.

    To some extent this new medium suggests that only “niche learning” is manageable because of the sheer volume of information now available, and yet it also promises, like no other medium before it, an ability to “connect the dots” in our understanding of the big picture.

    And on the deepest level, it’s still all about ascending to the top of Bloom’s, and whether we’re willing to go here with this new, powerful medium, or whether we’re content staying at the comfortable bottom for ease and entertainment’s sake.

    Look forward to hearing more about your session’s outcome. Best wishes as you prepare and present.

    JBlacks last blog post..One Buttock Teaching

  4. I, too, find typing on a full size keyboard much more comfortable than my iPhone or some other mobile device. I also like using my desktop computer more than my laptop. However, we grew up using full size keyboards while today’s students are growing up using laptops and cell phones to communicate and write. I’d be curious to find out whether or not today’s students feel the same way as we do when it comes to writing. Do they “need” a regular size keyboard? Will there be a time when they are writing essays and doing their homework on a mobile device without hesitation? Maybe it’s time to talk to some students.

    Chad Lehmans last blog post..Time for Plan B

    1. Chad,

      I’m all for including students in this conversation – but I hardly think that even the fastest text messager – and I’ve known many in my classroom – can keep up with the input from other devices. But I look forward to continuing to explore that idea.

  5. Bud,

    Next to my computer, I keep a journal for jotting down links and quotes I want to revisit. From this post I’ve copied “What does it mean when the text that you are reading not only suggests that you consult another source, but it can take you to that source? In real time?”

    What a great snippet for a quickwrite going into or out of a tech workshop!

    Gail Deslers last blog post..Blogging with 4th Graders

  6. Since you suggested I go on Students2oh.org I have been reading blogs posted there by students as well as following links to the students’ personal blog pages and reading their regular posts. This exercise has made me feel much better about the future. There is some good writing out there, students have real opinions and have been taught to think.

    Educators just have to take the thumping. Students complain about the relevance of their lessons, but they do so eloquently and with much thought-provoking language, all of which leads me to believe that they have been taught well and to question things. Glad there won’t be an entire generation of lemmings or Kool-aid drinkers.

    Thanks again for your help. I’ll keep reading…

  7. ‘The tools themselves, as always, have the potential to shape what we think about, how we thinking about it, and what we do with those thoughts.’

    This phrase particularly caught my attention. All tools come with their own narrative, their own directed path to follow.

    Take a simple example like the Facebook status update. For a long time, it read ‘Martin is …’ and you had to phrase your status after that prefix. It determined the way people saw you, it shaped the way you used the product. Most users simply didn’t question it, and used the product as it directed them.

    Part of my reason for building The Digital Narrative website, was to encourage students and educators to question this methodology. To start subverting the way in which we use online tools in creative ways.

    Martin Jorgensen


  8. Perhaps the most powerful yet most overlooked advantage of a computer in developing writing skills is as a glorified typewriter. It waits as a blank page which can be written upon, corrected neatly, proofread, edited, added to and rearranged with a minimum of effort, and without rewriting. It allows an approach to teaching writing that is impossible with a pencil and paper, and may have its greatest impact in the earlier years of school.

    It is important not to be distracted by technology, and get carried away with multimedia, interconnectivity and internet access. The keyboard and screen can be used to empower children to master the written word, and produce written output at a level necessary to cater for their learning needs. It can be used to teach sentence construction, grammar, punctuation and spelling, the mundane but essential building blocks of written literacy, without being dependent on good handwriting skills which may be slower to develop.

    Production of written output is essential to the learning process in school. A child who cannot write cannot learn effectively, so one of the first tasks of school is to teach the child to write. Writing is a complicated process requiring the simultaneous execution of several difficult activities. There is the content, there is the sentence construction, there is remembering to go across the page from left to right, and remembering what shape the letter “e” is. There is the physical movement of pencil on paper. The coordination and complexity involved in handwriting has been compared to that involved in driving a car.
    Up until now, all these skills had to be taught simultaneously, and were deeply dependant on how quickly the handwriting skill developed.

    It is no wonder that some children are slow to develop adequate handwriting skills, which retards the whole of their school career. Teachers are aware of students whose written output does not match their intelligence, comprehension or verbal language skills.
    This can be because their handwriting skill is not adequate for their learning needs.

    A keyboard and screen allows the middle order writing skills to be taught in isolation to handwriting. Handwriting must still be taught, but it is no longer the limiting factor. Handwriting skills may develop with maturity and practice, so that when a student is required to produce handwriting for an exam, not only do they have handwriting skills, they also have something worth writing.

    Middle order writing skills include such things as sentence construction, grammar, punctuation and spelling. Sentence construction can be broken down into discreet steps, and leverages from a child’s verbal language skills. When they start school, children already use extensive language skills. They do not know the technical terms for the parts of a sentence, but they certainly know how to use them. The “Davidson Method” of sentence construction uses the advantages of a keyboard and screen (any computer with a text editor) and scaffolds a child’s existing verbal skills into the written form.

    Davidson Method for Sentence writing

    1. Choose an action word, a verb.
    A verb is an –ing word
    e.g. chasing

    2 Ask who or what thing is doing the action. (noun,object)
    dog chasing

    3. Ask who or what thing is the action being done to. (noun, subject)
    dog chasing cat

    4. Describe the things (adjective, phrase).
    black hairy ferocious dog from next door chasing mangy yellow cat

    5. Ask when or where or how the action is happening (adverb, phrase).
    yesterday afternoon black hairy ferocious dog from next door quickly chasing mangy yellow cat across the park

    6. Check that the tense of the verb matches sentence. Does it sound right?
    Modify verb (auxiliary verb, compound verb)
    yesterday afternoon black hairy ferocious dog from next door was quickly chasing mangy yellow cat across the park

    7. Add words to make it sound right.
    yesterday afternoon the black hairy ferocious dog from next door was quickly chasing a mangy yellow cat across the park

    8. Add commas and full stops. (Punctuation)
    yesterday afternoon, the black, hairy, ferocious dog from next door was quickly chasing a mangy, yellow cat across the park.

    9. Add a capital letter to the first word.
    Yesterday afternoon, the black, hairy, ferocious dog from next door was quickly chasing a mangy, yellow cat across the park.

    This method allows a sentence to be built logically rather than sequentially, the screen holds the parts in place rather than trying to juggle all the pieces in memory while attempting to write neatly.
    It is easier to choose a letter from a keyboard than try to remember the shape of a letter.
    Correction is neat and does not require the whole page to be rewritten.
    Spelling can be checked as a separate step.
    The sentence can be copied by hand to paper when complete to practice handwriting, and it is relevant to the child because it is their sentence with their ideas. There is no need to print the sentence.
    There is no dumbing down of the ideas in the sentence to match writing or spelling skill.
    Proofreading and editing are being taught as an integral part of writing.

    It should be emphasised that this does not replace handwriting. Handwriting must still be taught in the normal way. It does make handwriting more effective by allowing some ideas to be taught and practiced in isolation, thereby increasing focus and effectiveness.

    It should also be emphasised that we still need a competent and dedicated teacher to lead the child, to encourage, to nurture. The keyboard and screen is just a different writing tool, with features that a good teacher can use when required.

    Computers can be used to increase learning outcomes in KLAs –here-now-today in ordinary classrooms, and bring relief to children who are struggling or giving up because they cannot write fast enough or neatly enough to produce the written output required to cater for their learning needs. Avoid the temptation to reinvent the school system and philosophy of education in order to justify spending money on ICT. Instead look at the problems that are in our classrooms and see if technology can help a competent and dedicated teacher find a way forward.

  9. Chris,
    I agree with you wholeheartedly. Reading your post instantly took my thoughts to my lower ability Year 10 students who struggle to produce written responses. I have a regular computer lab lesson with them and although it is after lunch, I find they produce much more work in this lesson than over the remaining two week cycle. Their handwriting retards their expression of ideas and when they have access to computers, they demonstrate a much greater freedom and capacity to express themselves, edit and revise their work.

    If only this notion was part of ‘school planning’ (or ‘planning school’ as I recently saw it corrected).

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