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.)