I’ve been a fan of CoveritLive since I discovered it during Educon. I’ve used it successfully a couple of times, and intend to use it in the future when it makes sense to. But I wanted a few more options – like multiple authors and the ability to get my data out of their system.
Turns out, so did others. They’ve added multiple author support, automatic moderation of comments, and some other snappy options. It’s a very, very useful tool for capturing events as they happen, both for me and for an audience. (Turns out I learn better, and take better notes, when I’m doing so for someone else.) I find the linear nature of the notes and archive, too, make for a very useful and re-readable dataset. Handy for a backchannel, too.I’m a big fan of what they’re up to, and yes, I probably would pay to use the service, if they get to that. It’s just that good.
(Oh – and I did try the data export – simple embed code. Easy.)
This collection of articles, published as Threshold Magazine – New Directions Spring 2008 by Cable in the Classroom and the KnowledgeWorks Foundation is one of the finest “think bombs” related to education and coming changes that I’ve seen printed on paper. I received a copy by accident, as my predecessor was on just the right mailing list.
There’s a great think piece on open textbooks, and Stephen Downes has a piece in the issue, too, on educational choices and virtual options. Also included is a handy copy of the Future Forces Affecting Education map by KnowledgeWorks. Might be worth getting some extra hard copies to share with your favorite administrator, teacher, school board member, etc. (Here’s the reprint inquiry info. I’ll be calling on Monday.)
It was about a year ago that I wrote a piece for English Journal on teaching “blogging” vs. “writing with blogs” that was pretty much a re-hash of some blog posts that I thought were saying something. The trouble is, I wasn’t sure what they were saying. I’ve been fumbling at this one for a while.
I’ve always found something particularly special about writing online, or at least I’ve learned that there’re more options, more possibilities, and plenty of challenges that make writing online much more complicated than cutting and pasting a Word file into a text box and hitting “submit.”
But most folks that I see beginning to use digital writing spaces aren’t treating them any differently. And I can’t quite figure out why. I also can’t quite figure out how to articulate the differences, even though I think I get some, if not several, of them. And if I can’t articulate them, perhaps I can’t teach them. (Not sure about that, actually – but work with me.)
I think one good way to articulate some of the differences is to tell you a story. Here goes.
Tonight, I’m sitting in a local cafe, enjoying a cup of wicked sweet coffee and some tunes. As I wrote that last sentence, and added the links in, I wondered how you would read it. Are you someone who clicks on any link you see in a blog post? Or are you more like me? I use a browser that shows me the URL of the link I’m pointing to, saving me the trouble of traveling here if, after reading the URL, I see that I don’t need to follow the link, perhaps because I already know the site, or I don’t want to go to the site, because I’m worried about pop-ups, or a virus, or something that I don’t actually want to see. I love that browser, except when it leaks memory.
I could continue, but I think (hope) I’m making my point. I could have written that paragraph without the links – but I would’ve need an awful lot more details to tell you as much as I did with the links. And you each will have worked your way through that paragraph differently. Some of you read and clicked and fiddled. Others of you read differently. (Oh – and here’s a minor nit – but how many of you, in that last sentence, read, ahem, “read” in the past tense? Present tense? Language is hard. But anyway.)
I don’t know what my students do/did when they see blocks of text with links. And I’m 98 percent sure that there wasn’t another teacher in my school who was thinking about how to explain that to students, much less about how they read that text themselves.
Digital texts have the potential to make a big, juicy mess of a linear experience. Or to turn a so-so piece of writing into a masterful collection of references, linktributions, and pointers to other good stuff. My hunch, a rough one, but one I’ve held for a while, is that reading and writing that way makes you (ultimately) a better reader and writer. I just don’t really think I know how to teach that way yet, or at least, I don’t know how to teach other people to think about teaching that way.
Will Richardson asked me recently (well, it was two weeks ago – but that counts as recent if you forgive me the week I spent sick. And I do.) about connective writing, and what a course on it might look like. I blame him for the frustrated typing that I’m up to right now. And the posts that I suspect are forthcoming. (And I’m thankful, too. I needed a push.)
What would such a course look like? What would it cover? How would it differ from a “regular” (I know – bogus term.) 9th or 10th grade high school writing course? How would it be the same? (Why wait until high school? I’ve been thinking through blogs as science or inquiry notebooks at the elementary school level.) What happens when we add video(s)? Pictures? Embedded widgets? I’ve got to believe that some analysis of what links do and how they do it would be a necessary piece of any such course. So, too, would be copious quoting and linking to others, building a network of classroom texts that would be added to the greater networks of the world.
I’d kill to teach that class.
Perhaps I’ve stumbled across another thesis idea. Again. Nuts.
Postscript – I had thought that perhaps I’d dig into the research on hypertextual writing a bit before I started down this post. I know these ideas aren’t new. But I couldn’t help myself. I made it four pages into this fascinating article before I started writing. Worth a read, I think.
Lee LeFever is a master at sharing complex information in simple, easy to understand ways. No surprise, then, that he’s able to assist in sharing some valuable information especially essential right now.
Let’s be careful out there.
Ken Burns on his new WWII movie:
I’m in the memory business, and each time a person dies, it’s a whole library of memories that leave.
I hope we’re all just a little bit in the memory business. This week’s U.S. News & World Report features a collection of WWII memories as well as some information on oral histories for folks interested in recording their own.
The runaway podcast of my summer and soon-to-be-fall is WNYC’s Radiolab. The podcast, a fabulous collection of fun at an editing board mixed in with science and philosophy (or maybe it’s the other way around), has been a must listen whenever it appears in my aggregator. I love how the show’s producers blend interview with narrative to make an enjoyable listen out of sometimes dry, but fascinating information. There are digital storytelling lessons here, I think.
This week’s show should be downright required listening. Here’s the description:
Forensics, archeology, genealogy, and genetics are devoted to figuring
out what really happened. In this hour, we hear surprising stories of
playing detective, and find that what really happened in the past is
not always what you’d expect. We start at a trash dump in Egypt, where
we find Jesus, Satan, sissies, and porn. Next, the mystery of how
hundreds of old letters written to the same woman were discovered on
the side of Route 101. And lastly, a blood sampling tour of Asia
reveals a prolific baby-maker and a potential world conqueror.
The old letters story, my favorite this week, involves a teacher, serendipity, and some intriguing creative writing. What podcasts are you loving that I should know about?
This is a little less timely than I would have liked, but I’ve been working through quite a hefty "to read" pile. (You can check out my online "toread" pile, if you’d like – if anything on there’s no good, let me know so I can save myself the trouble!)
I’ve quite enjoyed reading and re-reading Stephen King’s piece "The last word on Harry Potter" from Entertainment Weekly, where he writes a regular column on pop culture. In the piece, he speaks to the successes of J.K. Rowling’s series as well as her strengths as a writer. (One big one, according to King, is she allowed her characters to get older.) He also writes about how strong many kids’ reading habits actually seem to be, and closes beautifully:
But reading was never dead with the kids. Au contraire,
right now it’s probably healthier than the adult version, which has to
cope with what seems like at least 400 boring and pretentious
”literary novels” each year. While the bigheads have been predicting
(and bemoaning) the postliterate society, the kids have been
supplementing their Potter with the narratives of Lemony Snicket, the
adventures of teenage mastermind Artemis Fowl, Philip Pullman’s
challenging His Dark Materials trilogy, the Alex Rider
adventures, Peter Abrahams’ superb Ingrid Levin-Hill mysteries, the
stories of those amazing traveling blue jeans. And of course we must
not forget the unsinkable (if sometimes smelly) Captain Underpants.
Also, how about a tip of the old tiara to R.L. Stine, Jo Rowling’s
jovial John the Baptist?
I began by quoting Shakespeare; I’ll close with the Who: The kids
are alright. Just how long they stay that way sort of depends on
writers like J.K. Rowling, who know how to tell a good story
(important) and do it without talking down (more important) or
resorting to a lot of high-flown gibberish (vital). Because if the
field is left to a bunch of intellectual Muggles who believe the
traditional novel is dead, they’ll kill the damn thing.
Worth your time.
I’m at the airport in Hartford waiting for my ride to Denver (NOTE: I began this post there. Finished it @ home. – BH). I’m sucking down podcast updates on the free wi-fi here at the airport so this seems like the right time to try to capture some of my thinking about the web presence retreat before time gets in the way of the learning that happened this weekend.
This post is probably more useful for those of you who are affiliated with the National Writing Project in some way, as I’m going to slip into NWP-speak a bit. Ask in the comments if something doesn’t make sense. One note as I begin. When we (those folks who are writing project people) usually talk about those entities that are affiliate local writing project organizations, we call them local sites. So, for example, I work for and with the Colorado State University Writing Project. I usually call CSUWP my "local site." When you start to talk about websites, then it gets tricky. "Let’s take a moment to think about our site’s site." Get the point of potential confusion? So we on the planning team for this event began to distinguish between a web presence and a local site. So throughout this post, I’m going to refer to a local site’s web presence, meaning the web stuff associated with a particular local site. The larger point here is that with any group or network, there’s a shared language that can sometimes be both an aid and an obstacle to understanding.
I want to remember that and try to use language precisely, as jargon can make things helpful — or can completely destroy meaning for folks. But anyway — on with my reflection.
Saturday was a very long day, as we began to walk the retreat participants through a process of examining their respective local sites, thinking about what they do, why they do what they do, how they work, and who they’re made up of. We intentionally spent the first half of Saturday away from our websites, asking folks to think about who and what is important in their local WP sites. As a way to model everyone’s thinking, we asked the local site teams (each local site that participated had a team of two people there at the retreat) to build a visual representation of their local site. (Yes, there was yarn involved. I’m beginning to wonder if I should own some stock in a yarn production company.) The end product of all that examination was to develop an inquiry question that would help to guide the rest of the time we spent together.
I was really struck by the depth and the range of the questions that folks were and are asking. Some sites wanted to know how to turn their great resources of people and programming into useful online tools and resources. Others were interested in using their web presences to develop communities that would support the work that their members were doing as well as to help them keep in touch.
Once we had a handle on individual sites and the work that they do, we moved off to a computer lab to explore various research interests arising from the inquiry questions that we created for ourselves. From there, we asked each site team to think explicitly about how they would go back to their local sites and further the conversations that we were only able to begin. I do hope that folks returned home feeling confident that their time was well used. I got the sense that most people did.
There are plenty more details that I’ll be thinking further about and digging out of my notebooks and notes over the next few weeks. But for now, I want to share a really great metaphor for thinking about web presence that Symmetris and Amanda from the AAMU Writing Project came up with during the visual representation section of the day.
They thought about their work as a house with two stories. The first story is where everyone is invited over to share and to take part. When you have a party, you don’t have it upstairs — you invite your friends, neighbors, business acquaintances over to your house and have the party in the living room or the dining room. Some folks get to go upstairs in the house, but not everyone.
The first floor of that house can represent the very public work of a WP site – sharing writing resources, working with schools and teachers and principals and everyone that wants to come over and dig in. The second floor of the house is for the work that WP sites do that is not necessarily for everyone. Invitation only workshops, institutes, programming, etc.
Thinking about the web presence of a WP site, or of any project, as the windows in that house is very helpful, I think. The windows on the first floor are usually more open. Perhaps the blinds are raised so that lots of light can get in and people can see in or out. The windows on the second floor are more thoughtfully open. Not every window is open, some are obscured by blinds, but they’re still there. We share lots of information about the first floor stuff and less about the second floor.
But we still have windows upstairs. That’s important, and I’m glad that Symmetris and Amanda were able to help me think about that.
I’m not articulating that metaphor as well as I would like to, but I will be returning to it in my thinking over the next few weeks. I hope that others will share their experiences and learning from the retreat, too. We’ll be sharing some of that work via listserv, as it was a second floor or upstairs experience, but I do hope some of it makes its way to the various web presences of those folks who were there. I learned a great deal, and I hope to continue to. More information and resources are available at the wiki if you’re interested.
On a side note, it was a special treat for me to get to meet some of the folks in my blogging network. Kevin, Gail and Bonnie have all taught me a great deal, and it was a pleasure to chat face to face. (I promise my ABC movies will be in on time, y’all. Well. At least close.) Susan is becoming a blogging comrade, too. Now if I could only get the rest of the folks that were there to start a blog, or to tell me where I might find theirs . . . .