Saturday, November 26, 2011

Power Point: A helpful vice, or corporate avarice?

[Let me first reveal that the most loathsome aspect of Power Point actually appears through Microsoft Word. When typing, or rather mistyping “Power Point”, Word sardonically refuses to auto correct, forcing the writer to capitalize and include the space within this Microsoft entity. Therefore, sometimes I changed it to be Microsoft-correct, other times I left it well alone.]

            Moving forward: In the readings this week, there are two arguments presented. The Christine Tardy article “Expressions of Disciplinarity and Individuality in a Multimodal Genre”, the Alan Perry “PowerPoint Presentations: a Creative Addition to the Research Process” and Tara Williams’ “Multimedia learning gets medieval” argue that Power Point presentations, and other multimedia opportunities, enhance student learning as they contribute to current lessons and activities within the class. As students, we have all been exposed to Power Points. We have collectively groaned upon seeing a handout with endless slides on it. Depending on our undergrad experiences, our level of exposure to this presentation has probably influenced our opinions toward the style. I went to a small, liberal arts school and majored in English. My lectures were taught by professors who used chalk if writing any notes, and regardless, still mesmerized me with interesting and insightful lectures. My college roommate however, majored in marketing. She sat through PowerPoint after PowerPoint, worked collaboratively making more power points, analyzed data on PowerPoint, and was bored. What would have been better?
            Tardy writes, “though the verbal mode does provide one means for expressing individuality, the visual mode adds an important layer of self-expression. Color, background design, and use of images are just some of the elements that writers can manipulate according to their own tastes, purposes, and sense of self”.  The appearance of a presentation is important, and reveals a personal insight to the writer.  How we manipulate the slides thus affects the interpretation of the audience. Tardy furthers to acknowledge the benefits of incorporating visual with verbal modes to help developing writers: “And as developing technologies offer new visual possibilities for scientific researchers…visual modes will continue to grow in importance for multilingual research writing”. The technology allows students to express their writing by combining various medias, something we have discussed in depth this semester. PowerPoint is clearly one manner to combine visual and verbal elements. Further, Alan Perry asserts Tardy’s position, writing ““I believe that requiring students to create and present a PowerPoint project in addition to writing a research paper is an effective means of organizing research assignments for high school students”. Thankfully, Perry does not wish to replace the research assignment and sees the value in supporting the research with a component that allows for presentation and collaboration. In addition, Tara Williams’ “Multimedia Learning Gets Medieval” acknowledges the negative sides of PowerPoint. She cites sources who believe the slides are “pedagogical parsley”, “PPPhluff”, and do nothing more but trivialize important information. She cites in particular Jacqueline Foertsch, who “argued that they too often become “dessert,” functioning as the ‘students’ rewards for choking down the literary broccoli I’ve been cooking up all semester long.’ More provocatively, [Foertsch] contends that ‘courses in film and television analysis bring out the couch potato not only in students but in teachers as well’…For Foertsch, technology precludes rather than encourages active learning and threatens to turn the literature classroom into a living room”. Williams bravely acknowledges these beliefs, but expresses her belief that multimedia learning greatly enhances students, especially her students studying Medieval Literature. Technology allows students to deepen their understanding of this time period, help them to place the period with a cultural lens, and give them a greater appreciation for the literature. She writes, “multimedia elements can be valuable in an academic setting when carefully designed and implemented”. The careful design and implementation of a lesson is no more than good teaching, and yet still not an easy feat. Williams concludes her essay, writing “In a society structured around religious and courtly ceremonies and invested in dramatic spectacles, reading was a performative and communal experience; those same qualities now characterize encounters with multimedia and Web technology. Similarly, technology and technological media will never supplant literary texts in English departments, but they can enhance the ways in which students understand and approach those texts”. I love to read these connections between “Old World” and “New World”. It makes me feel better to read that the Internet might not be ruining the world, but actually mimicking pre-existing cultural norms. The belief is that technology can enhance student understanding of text. To enhance is not to replace, but to improve. Again, this is good teaching: how do we do it?
            In the spirit of debate, there exists a completely opposing argument in this weeks’ readings by Edward Tufte, professor emeritus of political science, computer science and statistics, and graphic design at Yale. I include his background, because upon reading the essay, my first thought was “Who is this guy?” and upon realizing he seems to have the background to make such statements, I read it again. His argument is clear through the title of his essay “PowerPoint is Evil”.  He writes: “The practical conclusions are clear. PowerPoint is a competent slide manager and projector. But rather than supplementing a presentation, it has become a substitute for it. Such misuse ignores the most important rule of speaking: Respect your audience”. Tufte succinctly creates our discussion: yes, PowerPoint can enhance (or supplement) a presentation, but too often it is becoming the substitute for a presentation. Something (What?) is lost through the use of the slide manager, and not much is gained according to Tufte.

We need to determine where our opinions lie, and how we can incorporate a potentially helpful technological tool into our classrooms, without being lazy. My questions for the readings are:

1.     How do we create successful presentations that incorporate PowerPoint, but do not act as a substitute for our lesson? How do we ensure that our slides are not simply “pedagogical parsley”?
2.      Tufte argues we need to show respect for our audience. How is this done? What do our students want (need) from us in regards to a lesson or presentation?
3.     How do we discern “good teaching” from “good classroom management”? Often times, a class will sit quietly and take notes while listening to a PowerPoint presentation. This is easy, and totally frightening. How do we know our lesson is actually “good”, and not easy to sit through because we talk spiritedly about a subject we love?
4.      What are your experiences with PowerPoint? Am I wrong to assume that these experiences have influenced our use of it? How do we use PowerPoint in our lives?  Where do we see the future of PowerPoint heading?
5.     What is the “Something” that Tufte argues is lost through the use of PowerPoint?

Christine Tardy’s article discusses a Peter Norvig PowerPoint on the Gettysburg Address. I’ve included this link here, and a YouTube video with Jeff Daniels reading Lincoln’s speech…Enjoy.                                                              

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Non-Linear Arguments, A Hypertext Epiphany, and Revising Revision…

Bolter opens Chapter 6, “Refashioned Dialogues” by starting the conversation about writing technology’s role in defining the relationship between the time and space of texts (99); the readings for this week, as whole, further challenge us scholars, teachers and future teachers to consider that relationship and how it ties into making connections to reading, writing and also students’ revision processes. Though he goes into the varying relationships that develop through reading and writing in addition to the players involved – reader, writer, content, the paged book, the codex, the linear order itself, oral performances – he gets to the heart at what we’ve been exploring all the semester. He writes “What is true of all writing is something painfully obvious in a Platonic dialogue: the form invites the reader to participate in a conversation and then denies him or her full participation” (104). With collaborative projects like course wikis, hypertext and Wikipedia especially, writers’ and readers’ relationships become more reciprocal, and with tools that this week’s authors suggest, now even the writing and peer revision process can become an interactive conversation.

While yes, the tools and approaches from the readings can certainly be of assistance to writing instructors, I do question Bolter’s attempt to constantly delinearize argument and writing processes. I appreciate his attempt to “shoot again and again” past a question, “always from a closer position,” (107) however the question he poses here (which I assume by inviting us to postulate, he’s encouraging us to see his side): “Why should a writer be forced to produce a single, linear argument or an exclusive analysis and present several lines of thought at once?” (107). Well – because without the linear I think writing can get passed over or shunned, as we’ve done with Joyce’s afternoon. Are we capable of following non-linear argumentative paths? Also, while I’m certainly not against non-linear writing – what Sontag calls “inventive” (quoted in Bolter 107) – I’m just unsure of whether or not others will understand or appreciate the non-linearist's effort. Sure Derrida’s Glas (Bolter calls the “antibook”) challenged readers to find their own a paths (109), but what does the “rereading” that we must do “differently” look like? I’d like to see this in practice. In fact, I’d like to experience this myself (or did I with House of Leaves?…hmmm). I typically appreciate anything that goes against the proverbial grain, but I am curious: Why such great efforts to depart from the linear?… Should we, can we, or do we already teach the non-linear? I could certainly brainstorm both sides, but I’m wondering what you all think.

Confession: I am now a fan of developing hypertext.

The more I think about how it can be used by students in our classrooms, the more I’m keen on students developing their own hypertexts (as we did), and the more I hope to work with it in the future. Bolter ponders the Hypertextual Essay, though he also notes that they “remain uncommon” (111). I’m not entirely sure how I might teach a hypertexual essay assignment, although I do think there are benefits (and drawbacks). Bolter is sure to tell us, too, that “only the most consciously avant-garde” scholars produce hypertextual essays about their work with new media (which, I’m betting, involved hypertext). However – I bet someday, maybe even soon, the benefits in teaching students to work closely with hypertextual writing assignments will equal those of non-hypertextual assignments. While “hyperlinking could alter the form of the argument” (112) which scholars may not be too keen on, I do think hyperlinking could be used in some of Kajder’s projects. As I was thinking about hypertext and the problematic time constraints I might encounter with the Visual Read Aloud (Kadjer 44), I had thought: What if a hypertext project took the place of the visual read aloud? What if asking students to show a definition through their own eyes consisted of breaking down ideas into a series of hyperlinks to fine art pieces that represented how they saw the word? Karen Gallas claims, “to read a text with understanding and insight, we must move inside the text, pulling our life along with us and incorporating the text and our lives into a new understanding of the world” (quoted in Kadjer 51) – could this somehow be addressed by students’ building of hypertexts that may include hyperlinked photos, blog posts and perhaps accounts of current events that add to their understanding of a reading? (Or maybe this!) Pacey, Kajder's student, showed some signs of self-actualization having done his “Talking the Text” (36) – could we get this through a hypertext? With the right scaffolding, perhaps we could bring Kajder’s approaches into our classrooms more readily while guiding students on their journeys in keeping up with the digital age.

This leads to the conversation having to do the relationships between student writer, the revision process, and the instructor (this is actually what I’d like to do my own empirical research with at some point). I now see through Eyman and Reilly’s collection of research and through Kirtley’s findings that perhaps there are more (and maybe better) ways to teach the revision process (and reflection there of) than on paper and by hand (although, that’s my method for this very blog post). While I love this method, I admit, I appreciate the points presented. Even with “thoughtful instruction” (Eyman and Reilly 104), I know my students only revise on the sentence and surface level at times. While I am very explicit about digging deeper, and while other students get to the re-thinking I ask for, others don’t – and they are the ones that need it the most, I’m sure. My gut reaction to the simplicity of the Cut and Paste ideas are ones of skepticism; in thinking about the practicality, though – I’m game. I’m pickin’ up what you’re puttin’ down. Building on how I currently ask students to write two separate introductions to their narratives, it might be helpful for students to use whatever conclusion they come to to then rewrite, say, the first page of their narrative. Also, I can see the value in the AutoSummarize tool as well as the passive voice tool, and the Track Changes options, but I have to also question whether or not this is skipping a crucial step in students being able to enter this process on their own (with our modeling). I’m not sure...(what about UMBs “buy a lot of pens” street cred?). Are any of you using these tools in peer revision process? I could brainstorm ways to build them in, but I’d love to hear what you are all doing, or what you think you could do. GoogleDocs, too, I know Kellie has mentioned her use of this tool but as with all technology, we encounter a few snares and snags.

Finally – just a few things about Kirtley’s study. This is the type of study I’ve been contemplating and building in my head for about a year and a half (somewhat). Interesting. Oddly, in thinking about the mindset of the college senior in 2001 – that was me. This gave me an interesting perspective – I both loved and loathed what she had to say. Shamefully, I found myself judging the nay-sayers and the “have-nots” (217). I would have been a have-not but my attitude about working with or on computers were nothing like that of Lulu. I’m certainly hoping that the “idea of listening to the students” (211) wasn’t a novel one, but more importantly I do think it’s interesting how Kirtley incorporated her students’ input on her study. And she took input from them and met them where they at in terms of her approach to “Writing and Technology.” Those things matter to me. I’m unsure, however, if the study holds weight considering she had only 11 students (at class’s end). I’m no statistician, and I certainly understand quality over quantity, but I’d love to see how a larger population study affects the outcome here (who’s up for collaboration?). One great idea I got from this is relates to her reference to teachers inviting their students to write letters at the start of the semester (223); I will have assigned three letters by the end of this semester, none dealing digital literacy. Perhaps in coming semesters I will assign a brief letter/autobio asking for not only reading and writing experiences, but also a sort of digital literacy component. We owe it to our future scholars to provide further experiences with digital literacies. We can meet them wherever they are at…

As I leave you with this lengthy account of this week – here are questions to ponder in starting the discussion of the non-linear, more hypertext, and the revision process:

1. What are your thoughts on written non-linear argument? Is there are place for it in our classrooms? (It even feels odd to ask this as though I made it up…but I didn’t, right? Maybe I missed something!)

2. Do you think hypertextual essay will eventually be valuable, or maybe even considered more of a mainstream type of writing assignment?

3. What sort of computerized tools have to used (or would you use) in teaching the revision process? Has anyone used the AutoSummarize, the passive voice tool, or the Track Changes…or GoogleDocs?

4. How might you use your own digital literacies to help your students overcome fears or hesitations about working with digital media and/or online tools?

Bolter, J.D. Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Eyman, D. & Colleen Reilly. Revising with Word Processing/Technology/Document Design

Kajder, S. Brining the Outside In. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers, 2006. Print.

Kirtley, S. Students View on Technology and Writing: The Power of Personal History. Computers and Composition 22 (2005): 209-230.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Bringing students back into "closer contact with words"

I started this week's readings with Kadjer's chapter, "The Visual Think-Aloud," which provided an assignment that, as my post's title suggests, situates students into "closer contact with words" (p. 73). In this chapter she tells us of a story of a sixth grade boy, Rai, who reads at the level of a second grader, a problem all too familiar in the United States' public school system. Kadjer recounts the tale of how Rai became active with a book he had barely understood earlier in the semester. The assignment required a series of steps—not unlike the ones we completed when composing our digital storytelling assignments—that necessitated Rai to do some active thinking about the book, a process the author knew was lacking given his literacy deficiencies.

I have to admit, when I approach most of these technology assignments that Kadjer presents, I'm the first to vehemently question their relevance. "What about the research!" I usually postulate. "How is this going to teach a kid how to write a good research paper? How is it going to help him get into college? How is it going to help him survive in a college-level composition class?" However, my notions of "relevance" were completely dashed as Kadjer recounted this classroom experience. I found myself qualifying my earlier questions: "How can students write about books and peck away at a research paper if they can barely read?" It's a humbling quandary.

As the chapter progresses, we see not only Rai's connecting and engaging with the text, but we also see an unexpected sophistication when he chooses a Rothko painting (see below) from the National Gallery of Art's website: "I matched the images to what went on in my head. I saw colors—cold colors—like in the painting. It feels empty, just like in the main character of the novel. He can't even use his own words" (p. 76).
Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1969

The younger generation's ability to connect with text via technology is not a new phenomenon (at least it isn't to us taking this course). Gunther Kress argues that "words are always general and, therefore, vague. Words being nearly empty of meaning need filling with the hearer and/or reader's meaning" (p. 15), whereas "unlike words, depictions are full of meaning; they are always specific" (p. 15). He's not alone. Bolter also argues that "in the electronic writing space, where every reading of a text is a realization or indeed a rewriting of the text, to read is to interpret" (p. 183). Kadjer cites Kylene Beers, who writes that "it's more critical for dependent readers to talk about texts during the reading than after it" (p. 72).

In other words, what all of these articles suggest is that reading is typically successful when the reader can visualize both simple and complicated actions within the text, while simultaneously being able to produce related connections from other texts, pieces of art, and/or historical prescience.

Kadjer outlines how to coax that interpretation by asking students to incorporate technology and media from outside the classroom to brainstorm this interpretation, so it's not necessary to reproduce them here. But what we should pay attention to are the projects' limitations: It was challenging to ensure equal technological access among her students; server space, especially with iMovie files, was problematic because of its size constraints; students were faced with the demoralizing reality of losing all of their work due to client/application crashes; and, the sole arbiter of all teaching issues, time was always limited.

Janet Swenson echoes these limitations: "All of these needs are dependent upon unified policies and support at the systemic level. However, in an era of declining budgets and increasingly reductive views of assessment, we have to admit we don't know how this could or would be funded. It is apt to fall to individual educators to decide the extent to which they will prioritize this work and then to finance it from their own pockets. Yes, it is unfair ... and characteristic of the profession" (p. 366).

So what now? I leave you with these questions:

1. Swenson writes:
"Introduction of visual images into print texts might also allow us to resurrect seldom used genres. ... Living Newspapers, popular during the Depression Era, dramatized newspaper accounts of human interest stories with social and political  implications, punctuated by statistics related to the issue illustrated in the narrative and music used as satire. ... [T]he genre would work well in a Web-based environment in which students could locate the newspaper article, write the script, research the statistics, create charts and graphs to illustrate those, and sample music for song lyrics that would add an ironic twist" (p. 364). 
  • While this project gives students a chance to work with research materials and sources in a "new" way, it's the harsh reality that if the student moves to another city or town, or plans to attend college, s/he will be expected to know how to write a plain-jane research paper. 
  • Provided that we can assume the students in your class are at, right below, or right above the average reading level for their grade, how do you ensure that—when the student leaves your classroom—s/he knows how to write a research paper? 
  • Is it possible to work to complete both a "Living Newspaper" project while also expecting the students to produce a research paper in the same semester?
  • How do you incorporate a student whose reading level is drastically below his/her grade level? How do you help him/her succeed with limited time and limited resources?
  • Are these projects restrictions to more "traditional" approaches to school assignments like the research paper or five-paragraph essay? Why or why not?
2. On page 364 of her essay, Swenson cites Ellen Gruber Garvey's description of books in the early modern period:
"The first commonplace books appeared during the Renaissance and contained hand-copied excerpts from manuscripts—and, eventually, from printed books—along with personal annotations. As Garvey describes, these were succeeded by something closer to what we think of as scrapbooks. In them, people of a literary bent would paste photographs or cuttings from magazines and newspapers. Between the keepsakes, they would scribble appropriate scraps of prose or poetry, or associated thoughts that might profit from later revision."
  • Newspaper clippings, photographs, and personal annotations may seem to be primitive resources by today's standards, but they are still considered "multimedia" because they draw across multiple platforms of mediums (i.e., media) to comprise one project. 
  • While this idea of a scrapbook is suitably low-tech, do you think it would be enough of a low-tech assignment to avoid the problems of equal access to technology? 
  • Again, do think this could be angled toward a more traditional research project, or even a more technologically savvy one?
3. And a more open-ended question to give your brain a rest: Do you have any other techniques to help students "visualize" words and interpret text? What are they? Are there limitations to what you can do? Are there consistent benefits to this approach?

*** Just for fun, take a moment to read "Theme for English B" by Langston Hughes. Any time we discuss take-home assignments or essays for this class, I think of this poem. If it doesn't change your life, you can blame me for the wasted time in discussion on Wednesday. :) ***

Image source: National Gallery of Art

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Individual vs. Community: A Good Change?

“Our goal for this report is to encourage reflection and public discussion on how we might incorporate these core principles systematically across curricula and across the divide between in-school and out-of-school activities.” –Jenkins, 57

            Jenkins’ “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century” offered great insight into “participatory culture”. I found myself really engaging in the text and connecting a lot of the examples to my personal life. I think the authors did a great job really explaining the purpose of their article, what each term was, and how they could be translated into the classroom for teachers or future teachers.
            This article poses the idea of a participatory culture, which is defined as a “culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing ideas one’s creation and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices” (3). Basically, it’s a “community” with limited rules or instructions on creative expression and engagement because there is a strong support of making and sharing ideas. The people in this community feel safe and they believe that their contribution matters. They feel connected to one another forming a close bond allowing them to learn and grow. They talk about four different participatory cultures: affiliations like Facebook or message boards, expressions like fan fiction writing, collaborative Problem-solving like Wikipedia, and circulations like blogging. These are all ways that participatory culture can exist. Can they co-exist in the classroom?
            As with everything else, there are downsides or concerns with this idea. The participation gap meaning there is unequal access of the Internet for all students, which is probably a big issue for most teachers, the transparency problem, which challenges the youth to see clearly how media shapes our perceptions, and the ethics challenge, which traditional forms of professional training that prepare youth for roles in media the media or public. I’m not sure how teachers would deal with these issues. Is there any way to get around them?
            Everyone today worries so much about the dangers of using technology in the classroom and how it will make students reliant and dependent—that they might not know how to read and write “correctly” anymore. Jenkins writes, “It matters what tools are available to a culture, but it matters more what that culture chooses to do with these tools” (8). I think this is key in integrating technology into the classroom—choosing how and when to use the tools that will help engage students in the learning. This worry about endangering traditional forms of reading and writing is highlighted when Jenkins says, “Much writing about twenty-first century literacies seems to assume that communicating through visual, digital, or audiovisual media will displace reading and writing. We fundamentally disagree. Before students can engage with the new participatory culture, they must be able to read and write” (19). Students won’t forget or abandon reading and writing, they will be using them in a new way—a way that they are accustomed to and a way that will help them to really connect with the text. I agree with Jenkins that traditional forms of reading and writing won’t be pushed aside; they will be expanded on and used in different context for our fast-changing world. Students should learn to work around all the modes of media since it plays a major role in our society even the world today.
            Why are educators afraid of new technologies? They are after all the remediation of older concepts even classic authors like Homer used and adapted ideas from Greek mythology to construct The Iliad and The Odyssey. How can students in this day and age stay engaged in a text that they think they can’t relate to? One of Sara Kajder’s students said, “I don’t get the words, and they don’t matter to anything I care about” (48). How do we make them care about the text? Is this even possible? Jenkins offers a valid point about engagement. The article talked about how in order for students to be engaged, they have to participate in play because fun leads to engagement. They state, “Play, as psychologists and anthropologists have long recognized, is key in shaping children’s relationship to their bodies, tools, communities, surroundings, and knowledge. Most of children’s earliest learning comes through playing with the materials at hand. Through play, children try on roles, experiment with culturally central processes, manipulate core resources, and explore their immediate environments. As they grow older, play can motivate other forms of learning” (22).
Obviously I’m not saying that school should be fun and games, but how can we make it fun for students to engage them so they can think critically about texts that “don’t matter to anything they care about”? I find this interesting because anything that has really stuck with me over the years has been something that I had fun doing or engaged in finishing. I did a reenactment of a battle in World War II and I still remember the facts from the video. I wrote a paper on the physical and psychological effects of drunk driving because my friend nearly died in a drunk driving accident—I actually liked researching for that paper because I was interested and engaged in learning more. What kinds of “games” can English teachers adapt? Kajder gives one example of having students create board games to walk readers through the plot or a theme. I think other creative assignments other than games could work well too. Kajder used storybooks, the redesigning of book covers, or collages with images or text. Games and performances allow students to identify with characters and immerse themselves in the story like with blogging or character journals.
Although I like the idea of shifting the focus of literacy from individual expression to community involvement, I am wary of making this a permanent decision. I do believe we accomplish tasks and acquire new ideas or knowledge with the help of other people or the remediation of past ideas. Jenkins talks about the collective intelligence and how it gives people the ability to come together to compare and share to reach a goal. This reminds me of another aspect of Jenkins’ article when he talks about how we are taught to think of knowledge as a product when in collective intelligence, knowledge is about process. This brought me back to last week’s class discussion about group work and grades. Group work doesn’t work because of the “importance” placed on grades, so would it work better in collective intelligence because process counts over product? Don’t we learn through process? The steps we take in reaching a goal, finishing a product, researching, and of course making mistakes teach us, guide us, and direct us. It’s a learning process in itself. So shouldn’t the process of getting somewhere count over the finished product since our learning stems from the steps that got us there?
Lastly, this article really tied into the other articles we read for this week through webquests. Jenkins discusses how this online resource connects to participatory culture through networking. It exposes students to several opinions on the topic they’re researching and trains them to produce their own perceptions in a guided way.

Some questions to consider:

What do you think about participatory culture? Could it work in our education system, why or why not?
How would educators deal with the three major concerns that participatory culture has? Are there ways to get around them?
Have any of “you” teachers used webquests in the classroom? How effective are they? What are the drawbacks?
What are your thoughts about product vs. process?

MOOCS: A Problematic Solution to the Disinvestment in Public Higher Education

I agree wholeheartedly with Bady’s cynicism of the speed, inevitability, and necessity of the MOOC movement. From 2011-2015 I direct...