#engchat: Twitter Chat with Purpose?

So I’ll be hosting #engchat on Monday, June 27th.  For the last few months, I’ve been wondering about Twitter chats in general, and their effectiveness.  Of course, to determine their effectiveness, one has to have a sense of their purpose.  And I can’t aways seem to tell the purpose of Twitter chats in general other than to say that they’re topical conversations.  Folks get together and talk at one another, presumably about a particular topic.  Then we run off to the next thing.

I’m sure there’s purpose in topical conversation.  But I wonder about Twitter as the place for purposeful conversation.  Things move so quickly.  So briefly.  Does useful discourse occur via Twitter?1

More important – in the race for folks to talk, talk, talk, might it be possible that we’re forgetting to listen, listen, listen?  Or, worse still,  are we skipping the thinking, thinking, thinking?

Seems to me that’s worth exploring.  So, on Monday at 7pm Eastern, we’ll do just that, or at least make an honest attempt. #engchat will happen both at a physical location2 as well as via Twitter.  In addition, there’ll be pauses for writing together, as well as reading what we write.  The conversation will be punctuated by pauses.

That might be a useful thing.  It might not.  Here’s a page where I’m compiling a prompt or two and a rough schedule for the hour.  Would love your feedback in the comments or, if you’re feeling brave, as comments on the Google Doc itself3.

And, of course, I’d love to have you join us to consider the place of pauses in digital writing.  See you there?

  1. Or, at least, does the purposeful sort that one would hope to emerge from a topical conversation emerge from Twitter? I’m not saying Twitter can’t be purposeful.  But do Twitter chats foster learning?  Or are the the 21st Century version of drive-by PD? []
  2. The details are still being worked out, but I’ll let you know when I know. []
  3. If you’ve never made a comment on a Google Doc, then highlight the text you’d like to comment on, then go to the Insert menu and select “Comment.” []
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Wondering Vulnerably in Public

I had the chance to write this morning with friends and colleagues from the Colorado State University’s 2011 Summer Institute.  They were kind enough to let me come speak with them about some of the things I’m wondering about when it comes to writing and technology lately.

Our prompt, at one point, was taken from a comment Claudia left here the other day.  She asked:

Do your students know how you, the teacher, write? Can they catch you somewhere in the middle of your own learning process, doubting, wondering, as a vulnerable human far from the know-all/authority in the subject ideal?

Here’s what I wrote in response1:

I’ve discovered that more and more, I’m wondering in public. I’m wondering on Twitter, or via Evernote, or here on the blog, or in a half dozen other places, and it’s beautiful.  It’s messy and scary and contagious and weird – and it’s okay.

I used to be afraid of my words being seen or overseen or misunderstood.  Now, certain that they will be all of those things, I am less concerned.

That’s a certain shift – perhaps because of age or maybe overconfidence or just because of comfort with myself – but I’m less concerned about your reaction to my thinking.

No. That’s not right. As a writer and a teacher, I’m very concerned with your reaction to my thinking expressed via my words. But I’m less concerned with that reaction interfering with my ability to understand myself. That is to say – I’m okay with my thinking. And I’m growing more okay if you’re not so okay with it.
Mostly.

So, in writing to learn today, I learned a little bit about myself.  That’s good. Thanks, Claudia, for the great prompt.
You can read all the responses from the group, too, if you’d like.
  1. Most of this I wrote earlier.  I polished and embellished a little before publishing here. []
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Letting (Them) Go

Richard Elmore:

I wonder, finally, what would happen if we simply opened the doors and let the students go; if we let them walk out of the dim light of the overhead projector into the sunlight; if we let them decide how, or whether, to engage this monolith? Would it be so terrible? Could it be worse than what they are currently experiencing? Would adults look at young people differently if they had to confront their children on the street, rather than locking them away in institutions? Would it force us to say more explicitly what a humane and healthy learning environment might look like? Should discussions of the future of school reform be less about the pet ideas of professional reformers and more about what we’re doing to young people in the institution called school?

via What Would Happen if We Let Them Go? – The Futures of School Reform – Education Week.

I wonder, often, about what might happen if we ended compulsory schooling.  Glad to know I’m not the only one.

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#EduConText Session 4: Why Johnny Can’t Read: A Conversation About What It Means to be Literate . . .Today”

I’m a bit tardy for this #EduConText Session 4 preview, but that’s okay.  I wrote myself a pass. 1

Why Johnny Can’t Read: A Conversation About What It Means to Be Literate…Today

When:
Session Four: Sunday 10:30am–12:00pm
Where:
Room 204
Who:
David Jakes, Laura Deisley
Affiliation: David Jakes: Coordinator of Instructional Technology and Information Services at Glenbrook South High School (Chicago) Laura Deisley: Director of 21st Century Learning at The Lovett School (Atlanta)
Conversational Focus/Audience:
All School Levels
I think that Jason Ohler, whom I heard speak at a state conference a few years back, pretty much nailed for me why I think that reading and writing and thinking in multiple ways and formats is important.  He said something to the effect that “You cannot be manipulated by a form of media which you can yourself manipulate.”  Basically, he was saying that, if you understand the ways that media are made, then you can see trouble when it happens.  I think he’s right about that.
And I suspect, since Ohler’s name was mentioned in David and Laura‘s conversation proposal, that he will be referenced again in their talk about literacy2 and what it looks like right now.
When pushed, I say that literacy is about reading and writing and thinking.  The rest is in the details.  But I’m willing to entertain that there may be new literacies that are worthy of exploration.  With some caveats.  Network literacy3Attention literacy.4  If I were in their session, I’d be asking questions like:
  • Isn’t “Is Google making us stupid?” a continuation of Plato’s notion that writing will make us forgetful? Can we let that go now? Or are Plato and Carr correct and we should just accept it and move on?
  • Are terms like “media literacy” or “digital literacy” useful for helping us to think about the different lenses that we might wear when we approach particular kinds of texts?  Or are the problematic because they distance us from the basic skills of reading and writing and thinking?
  • How do we encourage depth in reading and writing and thinking in a time of the tweet and the status update?  Hoe do we read and write slowly?
I’d probably be listening lots in this session – I know that literacy is a complicated topic and opinions are plentiful. I suspect there’ll be plenty of food for thought in the room.
How are you thinking about literacy?  Is it different today than yesterday?  Will it be different tomorrow?  Are those differences a product of our culture, our technology?
Lots of questions.  I hope the session is full of answers.
What is #EduConText?
  1. It’s good to be a teacher in moments like these. []
  2. or literacies []
  3. Except that networks are texts and can be read.  So that’s reading.  Traditional literacy? []
  4. Metacognition, perhaps?  An awareness of what I’m reading and writing and why I’m doing so or not. []
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Reports From Cyberspace – An Invitation

Last year at NCTE, we began a conversation, Three Reports from Cyberspace. We thank Jeff Golub and Jim Strickland for organizing the session, and Helen Wierenga for being our responder. And, we thank all of you, because what happened during the session was, quite simply, amazing1.

Bud, Troy, and the entire audience were engaged in a continual conversation that moved from notes appearing on the screen, to questions from the audience, back to one of one of them answering on stage, and out to the wider world through Twitter and Etherpad. Sara’s thinking was with us in the room, even though she wasn’t physically present.  Over the course of the hour, we shared a number of examples from our own teaching and research that helped illuminate issues related to filtering, curriculum, assessment, and teaching in digital spaces. We were, in short, completely engaged in the conversation, in “multitasking” at its best. And that brings us to where we are now, preparing to offer more reports from cyberspace.

So, why write about that here, three weeks from the next session/conversation?

We do so as an invitation.

A conference session is a waypoint, a time and place to check in on where we’ve been, but more important, where we’re going.  So before we get to that waypoint, let’s take a moment to share our own reports from cyberspace as a way of starting this conversation.  Here is a link to an open Google Doc where we’ve left space for you to jot some thoughts as we move into our time together.  If you can join us for the session at NCTE, great.  But if not, and you’d still like to report or check in, feel free to do so.

Here are some prompts that will take us into our session.  Help yourself to whichever one(s) will be the most useful in your thinking and reporting:

  • What’s the state of your educational cyberspace at this moment in November 2010?  What’s good?  What’s scary?  What’s working?  What’s not?
  • What needs doing?  Fixing?  Raising up?
  • Where are you focusing your attention?
  • Where are we going with all of this Internet stuff?  What’s new?  What’s good?
  • Finally, what do you hope to leave our session with?  What’s next?  So what?

Please take a few minutes and share your reports from cyberspace. We suspect you have something to teach us, and we’re ready to learn.

If the reporting ends at the session, then we’ve failed. Conferences are notorious spaces, in that we all get together and get excited, but then the momentum seems to die. Help us figure out where to go and what to do next. In a time of increased standards and assessments, when everyone is an expert on matters of teaching and learning, and reading and writing, we need to tell our stories. It’s never been more important to be thoughtful out loud.

Troy Hicks, Bud Hunt, and Sara Kajder

PS – If you can’t make the session, but will be at NCTE, you’ll have another chance to join us immediately after this session at the Middle Level Get Together.  We’d love to see you, and hear your report(s), wherever you’ll choose to join us.

  1. I don’t use this word often.  But it was a really interesting conversation, both in content and in process. []
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“You Must Decide How to Read.”

From The Rhetoric of the Hyperlink:

This is an extraordinarily complex construct, because the sentence is a magical, shape-shifting monster. It blends figure and ground compactly; the gestalt has leaky boundaries limited only by your willingness to click. Note that you can kill the magic by making the links open in new windows (which reduces the experience to glorified citation, since you are insistently hogging the stage and forcing context to stay in the frame). What makes this magical is that you might never finish reading the story (or this article) at all. You might go down a bunny trail of exploring the culture and history of Bollywood. Traditionally, writers have understood that meaning is constructed by the reader, with the text (which includes the author’s projected identity) as the stimulus. But this construction has historically been a pretty passive act. By writing the sentence this way, I am making you an extraordinarily active meaning-constructor. In fact, you will construct your own text through your click-trail. Both reading and writing are always political and ideological acts, but here I’ve passed on a lot more of the burden of constructing political and ideological meaning onto you.

The reason this scares some people is rather Freudian: when an author hyperlinks, s/he instantly transforms the author-reader relationship from parent-child to adult-adult. You must decide how to read. Your mom does not live on the Web.

No.  She doesn’t.  So how do we scaffold the meaning making process just enough so that a student can move into it?

Or do we need to?

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I’m Wondering: Starting Some Inquiry

As part of our work this year in the Digital Learning Collaborative, we are going to be engaging in some teacher research. The homework for the team leaders this month was to start thinking through possible questions. Michelle and I are eating our own dog food – we’ll be trying to conduct our own studies.

Back in May, I wrote some about my possible questions:

I wonder about how these spaces change classroom practice. I think about how writing, and more generally, composition, becomes an extension for learning, particularly when there is a public audience for the work. Who is using these spaces? To what ends? How do the use of blogs and online courseware change the experience of teaching and learning in my school district? (Does anything change?) How are teachers using spaces like these? Is the learning day extended? What kinds of writing are happening in these spaces? To what effect?

Those are the questions I’ll start with. As for data – well, we’ve got lots to look at. The blog engine itself is a public repository of the use of these tools. What are the ethical implications of studying, in public, a public space where learning is taking place? I plan to blog my research log, a tool that I’ll use to keep my reflections and observations about what I’m seeing and learning as I study these questions. In addition, I anticipate that I’ll conduct interviews with people using these tools in my quest to understand their impact. I intend to publish these recordings, as well, prior to my analysis of them.

One question – and it seems a silly one – but should I start a separate blog over in the district blogging engine to collect all this work, or should I separate it a bit by placing it over here, at my place? I’m leaning towards creating a space there. But I’m still thinking.

I’m still thinking about digital spaces1, but I thought I might write a bit more about why. As we’re asking the team leaders to think through the passions identified by the authors of our text, I need to first contextualize my thinking through those. I’m thinking that my questions involve two of the passion categories – a desire to explore the relationship between my beliefs and my classroom practice2 (.p 38-39) and a “focus on understanding the teaching and learning context.” (p.54-55)

And I guess, too, that I’m still thinking about how we use those tools – how their presence affects what happens in the classroom. If what happens is “well, the notes are on the blog,” that’s not a terribly big change – or is it. I’m going to explore some examples of interesting blogging practice and try to see what influence those have on the classrooms they came from. A few teachers come to mind for my inquiry – but I’m still wondering if I want to try to look at these questions as someone looking at the texts or at the practices that generate these texts. Or both.

I know from my own classroom experience that the potential exists in these publishing tools to extend the school experience beyond the walls of the school – and to bring the outside world in. Permeable walls are possible through publishing. But are they happening? Should they be?  Writing3 is powerful learning.  If we create more opportunities for writing and being thoughtful, might that make a positive difference for students?  Teachers?  Learning?

As of right this minute, that’s what I’m thinking about.  That said, as with all good inquiry, I suspect my questions will change over the next several weeks as I dig in further.

  1. Good grief. As we roll out Google Apps in our district, any student will be able to publish anywhere without the intervention of the teacher. We’re rolling in places to post and share. []
  2. Oddly, my “classroom” as an instructional technology coordinator is actually a virtual space – and, because of the areas of my interest right now, is the Internet. Which is pretty big. So I’m going to have to try to limit that somehow. []
  3. or composition []
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On Writing Without Links in a Time of Linking. And Also About Collaboration

I’m sitting on my couch tonight as I write, trying to compose with my iPad. It’s a neat device – I enjoy reading, watching TV, taking notes at meetings1, and all sorts of applications. But one thing the iPad isn’t so good at is as a device for writing blog posts. I like to move back and forth between several windows when I compose blog posts, and, more and more, anything that I write. I dash hyperlinks into what I write like Alton Brown tosses salt into recipes. And when the salt is out of reach, well, it feels like I’m making a different dish.

I’m wondering if hyperlinks have happened to you like they’ve happened to me. When I write and I can’t stick a link into the text to further clarify an adjective or an adverb, to give the reader background information, or to accomplish a number of other really helpful writing tasks, well, it feels like I’m not allowed to use letters in the alphabet.

That said, well, I reckon there are still things to say without hyperlinks. So here goes.
I had the opportunity to cross Twitter paths with Steve Barkley2 this evening, as he was speaking to the difficulties of collaboration. Not the Web 2.0ish kind, as Darren Draper3 referenced during the Twitter back and forth, but actually, honest to goodness collaboration. According to Steve4, true collaboration requires two things:5 shared responsibility and feeling empowered to act.

And he’s right about both of those.

I think that, too often, I’m reading folks who would say that collaboration is so easy now. And that’s bogus. The act of sharing is wicked easy, but collaboration, as Steve describes it, is really, really hard. Incredibly hard. 6
As far as sharing goes, well, if I weren’t sitting on my couch with this handy little iPad, I might point you to Steve’s blog post, the one where he outlines some of his recent work on sharing. That post reminded me of some of the struggles that Michelle7 and I have been facing lately as we work to build and support teams of teacher around the district. It’s that work, in fact, which prompted me to tell Steve that I think empowerment comes from two places – the top down and from within. As he responded back, both are necessary for change.

I feel a bit subversive saying this8, but I really find that the best efforts for change do come from the top down and the bottom up. Simultaneously. That’s how lightning works, too. 9

Huh. I guess I can write just fine with an iPad. No problems whatsoever.10

  1. If anyone can enjoy taking notes at meetings, that is. []
  2. @stevebarkley on Twitter. Very wise fellow. []
  3. A tech director in Utah. Google him. Smart dude. []
  4. Trust me again. He really tweeted this. If only I could easily link to it []
  5. I’d cut and past his exact words, but that would require exiting this application, which might cause me to lose some text, so just bear with my paraphrase. Please. []
  6. Worth doing, though. When the necessary conditions exist. []
  7. I can’t even use just her first name in a world without hyperlinks. I’ve got to tell you that I’m referring to Michelle Bourgeois. Her blog is called “Milobo’s Musings.” Perhaps you can find it in a Google search, as I can’t link to it right now, what with the limitations here and all. []
  8. And I shouldn’t, because it’s true that there are many agents in any organization. And they all, students included, have (and should exercise) their agency. []
  9. I’d like to link right there to a YouTube video of a slow motion lightning strike. But I can’t. Not easily. Because, you know. iPad. Unitasker. []
  10. The iPad, as a writing tool, isn’t quite ready yet. Thank goodness for footnotes. []
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Some Questions on Composition

I’m sitting at Denver International Airport this morning, waiting to board a flight to Austin, Texas, and the first meeting of a curators group on a project I’m involved in with the National Writing Project. The goal of my piece of the project is to help create a website, called “Digital Is,” that attempts to show what digital composition looks like here at the start of the second decade of the 21st Century.

As I wait to board my plane and anticipate the work ahead, I’m reminded of my conflicting thoughts on what composition looks like today. Howard Zinsser wrote in his book, On Writing Well, that:

“The new information age, for all its high-tech gadgetry, is, finally, writing based.”

I found that quote in a new report exploring what writing looks like in several classrooms today. In that same report, the authors write that:

Writing has never been more important than in this digital age. It is almost inconceivable to achieve academic success without good writing skills. And, while the fundamentals of good writing remain constant, new forms of writing are quickly evolving. Words are now regularly joined with images and voices.

Writing, or composition, isn’t all that different from the writing of generations past.1 Since we first started making markings on clay or stone or paper, we have been trying to capture thoughts in a way that would make them understandable to ourselves as well as others. We write to remember, to share, to understand. We compose to be heard, to stand up and say “This is True,” or “I am here,” or “This was scary” or “hard” or “dangerous” or “exciting”, or “emotional”, or whatever we would like to convey.

And although I make my marks today on an iPad,2 a device that makes the making of marks very easy, and almost immediately shareable to anyone who can get to the Internet, I am reminded of just how hard it is to say something in a way that accomplishes my goals as a writer, that captures what I am, or was, thinking, that lets you into my head and thoughts.

That we now have more tools for making marks, and that we have new kinds of marks – photographs, videos, complex visualizations – doesn’t make the essential task of making meaning any easier. In some ways, as our options for composition increase, it gets harder to decide, to choose which way of making marks will get the point that we wish to make across. Harder, too, is what we must do in classrooms to convey the power of language and to help make our students critical participants in the literacies and literatures of our/their/our futures/our pasts.

And what counts as “writing,” or “composition?” Is a tweet a text, or a piece of a larger text?3 Is a rambling audio podcast, recorded from the driver’s seat of my car, a composition on par with a Master’s thesis, or an essay? So long as a test or assessment or evaluation of a text occurs within a limited definition of what counts as writing, are these other forms valid? How do we who is a “good” writer? What is “good” writing?

Is “connective writing,” a term that Will and I and others use to describe blogging, a new form?4 What’s new? What’s different? What’s useful? What’s good? Who gets to decide such things?5

And how in the world does a language arts teacher, sitting in an airport tapping away on a virtual keyboard, find himself in a place to ask such questions, or to attempt to answer them for others via this particular project?

Just a few questions, questions I always wonder about, that are surfacing for me as I prepare to embark on this work.6

  1. Is it? Would love to hear your take in the comments. []
  2. Finished and published on a laptop, because the iPad isn’t quite the writing device I need it to be. []
  3. I’d say yes to both. []
  4. The more I think about it, it isn’t. But it’s a useful way to talk about and describe some types of “good” writing. []
  5. And how does federal education policy muck with these questions, in sometimes good and sometimes not so good sorts of ways? []
  6. I am humbled, as always, when I think about the power and majesty of language and teaching and learning and the fact that even a guy like me can use the Internet to talk to the world about these big ideas. []
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