Sunday, February 22, 2015

Revising the Writing Process

With word processing, software, however, revision was easy. Words, sentences, and chunks could easily be moved around, reorganized, rearranged, reintegrated, and the whole text would flow forward as a result”
Chapter 2 of Digital Writing Matters provides us with a few anecdotal accounts of successful technology implementation in the classroom, as well as multiple strategies and examples of how digital tools have and can enhance the traditional writing process.  By breaking down the traditional writing process on pages 50-53, and synchronizing each step with examples of digital tools to consider, such as or VoiceThread, DeVoss not only gives us concrete examples that we can use in our own classrooms, but provides us with the insight needed to embrace this technology. Therefore, this chapter is really building off some of the things we discussed last week. Throughout our discussion, I noticed that the general consensus, something that was introduced at the beginning of this text, is that one of the most crucial things to keep in mind when teaching with technology is that it’s not the tools that matter most, but how we use them to enhance our student’s abilities to read and write. The quote above, found on page 47, sort of sums up the main things I took away after reading this chapter. In order to successfully teach with technology, we have to reorganize our student’s research habits, rearrange the way we think about revision and reintegrate this new methodology in the classroom.
DeVoss & co. note that “few elements of writing practice have been affected as deeply by new digital tools as the process of inquiry, research, and content development” (53). The endless access to information is something we should embrace. As we discussed last week, it gives us more time to focus on the content of our writing, but it also poses one of the biggest potential threats when it comes to our student’s writing. For this reason, I think emphasis on how to how to use search engines and find credible websites is crucial. So, how do we do this? Joyce Valenza gives us a few examples of websites on page 54 of Digital Writing Matters, but how do we ensure that they are developing efficient search habits when they’re researching an assignment online? I realize this is sort of a loaded question, but we’ll never be able to fully monitor our student’s search engines, and the sources they cite in bibliographies are probably not the only ones that they've consulted. As an aspiring teacher, it would be helpful to hear from those who are currently trying to answer this question.

This chapter touched a lot upon our process of revision, and after reading it, I started to feel a little more hopeful that this is one area where the technology is really beneficial to our writing. As the text discusses, things like spell check, citation generators, and word processors themselves enable the process of revision to be less grammar-orientated, and more focused on “what matters as a writer: communicating with your audience” (57). For too long, peer-review has been equated with copy-editing. I can still remember all the red mark-up’s that I would get back on drafts I wrote in high school, highlighting places I should add a comma, sentences that sound too awkward, and other technical aspects of my writing that though important, don’t help us evolve our writing through revision, but instead edit it. Editing will always be necessary, but thirty years ago, much of the drafting process was done before it was typed. This is no longer the case, and as the text points out, it’s important that we encourage our students to regard their writing as “living documents,” a process made even easier through the use of collaborative word processors, wikis, and other digital writing tools” (53).

As the chapter of the text declares, in order to successfully integrate technology into our classrooms, we really have to consider how the writing process itself has been revised by the digital world. I think we can all pretty much agree with the claim that “a lot of these kids will grow up not really writing [in a traditional sense], but having to learn to communicate in modalities that weren't available to us when we were kids” (DeVoss 49). We read about new media, a concept I wasn't entirely familiar with, in “New Media from Borges to HTML” by Lev Manovich. The article not only helped clarify what new media is, but also introduced this idea that computer scientist and developers of these technologies are “important artists of our time, maybe the only artists who are truly important and who will be remember from this historical period” (14).  I can’t pretend to know much about art, not nearly enough to decide if I agree or disagree with the Manovich’s assertion, (what do you guys think?) but this article highlights a few of the ways that composition has drastically changed with the expansion of new media. Students now have more options, and sometimes more of a need to improve the visual design of their text than they ever have had before. Stories and other forms of writing that were once conveyed strictly through text can now be enhanced digitally with media collages, music, and other “mash-ups” that arguably allow students more freedom, and more creativity in their writing. Obviously, this will not be the case for every assignment, but should we allow our students to experiment with different forms of media in their writing? I don’t think anyone would argue that we should or could do this for every assignment, but how can we revise our own understanding of the writing process to include new media technologies that may appeal to students who don’t benefit from the traditional writing process? For those of us who aren't exactly enthusiastic about graphic design and multi-media (raises hand) this can seem like a daunting task. I agree that baby-steps are key here, and I think that we also have to let go of some control, and allow for a little room to explore. If we “provide writers with a wide range of playful, low-stakes opportunities to brainstorm, freewrite, draft, compose, and edit (with text, graphics, sound and still and moving images) using computers, digital tools, communication technologies, and network spaces” we may help shift the emphasis from achieving the perfect final piece, to an appreciation of the writing process, and a better understanding of what it entails.

Hopefully I've helped outline some of the main points in the readings for this week. It’s difficult to make assumptions about what works in the classroom when I don’t have experience teaching, and I realize some of the questions that I’ve posed require much more space and time to fully consider, but any feedback would be much appreciated!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Information Highway Drucker

If I had a single assumption about this course confirmed upon receiving the syllabus, it’s that we are going to be exploring not only content and form, but the relationship between the two as well. After all, English teachers in the year 2015 have to figure out how to convey the time-tested curriculum via new modes of expression, how to encourage digital literacy while steering students away from the pitfalls, and, perhaps, how to jettison those aspects of ELA that are rendered obsolete by the new forms at hand. English teachers, in short, are no longer granted the realm of “Reading and Writing” as a refuge – we have to explore beyond.

Where are we going? Well, Johanna Drucker’s “Image, Interpretation, and Interface” gives us a map for navigating the world of visual forms of knowledge.

Despite describing itself as a mere “overview of approaches to formal principles of visual communication [which] only skims the surface of a rich history,” this chapter is incredibly dense (53). With so much of visual communication’s history being outlined, I sometimes found myself lost while pondering modern implications. So in the hopes of getting a discussion going, this post is going to outline just some of the ideas and questions that came to me while reading – hopefully you can help me make sense of my fragmented thoughts. Moreover, I’d love to see what points – large and small – I’ve missed!

The Visual Bias
Drucker makes great work of describing the biases summoned by visual representation. On the one hand, vision was long privileged as the most trustworthy of the senses, the one most capable of leading to genuine revelation: “What could be seen could be known, and knowledge and sight had a reliable connection even if visual means of representing that knowledge were taken for granted rather than studied in their own right” (21). Perhaps it is when those modes of creating images aren’t scrutinized that they are seen as most authentic – such seems to be the case when Drucker cites Roland Barthes’ believe that photographs are images without codes (22).

With that being said, there is plenty of bias working against visual language.

According to Rene Thom, knowledge could only be communicated via mathematical notation or written language, as “[v]isual codes are notoriously unstable, too imprecise to communicate knowledge with certainty” (23). From one angle, this assertion seems to be tantamount to  skepticism against that maxim that “Seeing is believing.” If this is the case, then it is a healthy bit of credulity to brandish, since science is a big fan of letting us know that there’s more than meets the eye.

Heck, the uber-popular INVISIBILIA podcast is dedicated to investigating all of the “invisible things” that influence our lives. (Side-note: I haven’t listened to the newest episode yet, but it might be useful for us since it is about the ways in which human behavior is changing due to computers.)

Anyways, there is also something troubling about Thom’s notion that knowledge has to be confined to math or writing. Perhaps it’s because I’m a child of such hypertextual times, but I’m baffled by this assertion. Knowledge is either math or writing? Not some combination of the two? Or maybe even another medium? What about smashing together a whole bunch of media? What about something as simple as comic books, which combine images and words?

Is Scott McCloud (referenced by Drucker on page 45) not dropping some knowledge here?

The Teacher Bias
As outlined by Drucker, the ubiquity of visual language has not managed to dispel anxieties about it. For instance, the high school students of 2015 are – thanks to digital technologies and social media – absolutely surrounded  by screens. As such, these students have come to understand the world, think about themselves, and create in terms of the user interfaces manipulated via the screens. As such, we have to figure out new methods of engagement.

In other words, what does it mean to “teach” a “book” in the year 2015?

Drucker makes a salient point when reminding us that “Web environments force cognitive processing across disparate and often unconnected areas of experience and representation. They frequently require multi-modal processing of varied media” (47). Again, what does this mean for an English teacher trying to guide students through a classic, such as Hamlet? How does said instructor present as many media-forms as possible?

Reading and watching a film adaptation and taking a field to see a live performance? Somehow, it feels like Shakespeare himself would shake his head from beyond the grave, whispering “Shall I direct thee to a student’s blog?”

In my own practice, I’ve tried to ride the techno-wave by using WebQuests and group-annotation sites and Google classroom and blogs. But somehow, perhaps because I know the students are always two steps ahead, even these seem a bit stale.

Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that the visually-based interfaces serve as our students’ sort of status quo for cognition. The question at hand is how to engage them in enough was to make them to first use it and then manipulate it.

Helping Students Understand, Not Just Use
It seems that Drucker’s chapter is invested in the idea that systems are often used before being studied. As such, the user adopts certain behaviors and proclivities without really understanding why. Consequently, what is genuine innovation is hardly noticed at all: “Architectural styles…were imitated over and over, and became so conventional that the initial innovation in graphic presentation came to be taken for granted” (25).

Later in the chapter, Drucker suggests that this same jaded attitude toward architecture can be found across other forms of graphic language. She writes that “These properties come to seem self-evident as a result, and the assumption that they inhere in a graphical object goes unquestioned” (39).

This might be reductive on my part, but this seems to speak to the fact that although many students are proficient bloggers and social media members, they do not truly understand the power at their fingertips. I have had many exchanges with students who can seemingly instantaneously switch between Tumblr and Twitter and Instagram, but are baffled by the prospect of uploading a file. I know this is a bit tangential on my part, but I worry that the students are too tapped into the digital realm, eyes glued to the screen per se, to recognize what they can really do with it!


Well, there’s my attempt to take a few hacks at the redwood at this Drucker’s “Image, Interpretation, and Interface” – any and all feedback will be appreciated!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Education and Digital Writing

Samantha Sarantakis
Education and Digital Writing

Where does “it” end? Of course, I am referring to Nicholas Carr’s article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” and the worldwide internet at our fingertips; Carr’s question is posed after analyzing the “industrial efficiency” of technology and he comments that Google’s efforts to “supplement” the human mind creates an environment in which “there’s little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed” (Carr). Give the students a metaphor and they stare back with blank eyes (Antonio Porchia anyone: “Infancy is what is eternal, and the rest, all the rest, is brevity, extreme brevity” (Voices)); introduce the students to a “typical” college essay assignment and they panic because Google or Siri can’t help them by interpreting the question—and they especially can’t use Sparknotes and the like to assist them—when the assignment is purposely ambiguous. How, then, does Google facilitate their learning when thinking is not a prerequisite? I am not sure the answer is clear-cut, but I believe that Google, like any technological application, can be utilized successfully when students are introduced to another approach for using the applications: using the applications not to inform, but to question.  

I suggest that the end Carr seeks to explore is connected to the likes of Feed by M. T. Anderson, or with “Trivia Crack,” the trivia game that the majority of my students, if not all of them, play during class and have to ask the teachers for help because they do not know the answers. (I'm joking somewhat, of course, but the students do not seem to be able to unplug.) In some ways, Feed has become true with the exception that the computer chips are not in their brain but are perpetually in their hands; even I am guilty of tearing apart a room or dumping my bag out onto a desk to find my cell phone when in a frenzy over “losing” it, just as my students can’t seem to have the phone out of their hand for longer than a second. Texting, gaming, Snapchating, Tweeting, and perpetually being distracted by selfies are all “symptoms” of this live feed between their phones and their productivity, in addition to, and perhaps worst of all, “writing/typing” papers on their phones (not quite sure what to call this form of writing)! The instant gratification they receive from their phones during every waking moment translates to their writing habits: they view papers longer than 500 words (or roughly one-page) to be a waste of time, not worth reading, and certainly not worth writing if what they have to say can be “said” in less. I am all for quality over quantity, yet their writing has neither when they merely repeat the same idea (puts me in mind of Chief Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as he recalls his Native American father’s response to the white government agent/visitor who promises great things for the tribe, to which the father responds, “…And the year before and the year before and the year before…” (Kesey 55)). In other words, the “end” is not really an end at all, but just the beginning of the “minimum amount of work and effort” cycle perpetuated through our use of technology—now all that remains to be seen is how educators meet the students all the way, rather than the current educational trend of half-way.

As a teacher, my job is now to utilize appropriate channels of technology supported through the school and district in order to incorporate a “learning tool” that allows students to practice a formalized (i.e. academic) “multipurpose, highly participatory, ‘always on’” (D├ánielle Nicole DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl, and Hicks, Because Digital Writing Matters, 3) digital network and presence, though I would hope for engagement in addition to this criteria but I mustn’t get my hopes up. I will be honest, Because Digital Writing Matters suggesting that students will be able to “think of multiple possibilities and interpretations…[which] encourages a more comprehensive way of thinking” (7) based on perceptions of how technology can be used in the classroom could be true if the technology is utilized in such a way that critical thinking is not compromised, but I am not sure we have been entirely successful just yet. I am not entirely convinced technology can do what Because Digital Writing Matters wants, but that does not mean that technology does not offer some rewards: although students display disinterest in contemplating complex and ambiguous ideas, technology has allowed students to merge multiple media outlets (such as videos or memes) in their approach to writing; although students struggle to understand how visual elements do not just show “what is...[but] are arguments made in graphical form” (Johanna Drucker, Graphesis, Overview), technology has allowed students a creative outlet for representation of ideas. However, I have found that students seek the “easy way out” and their work demonstrates their reliance on such sites like Sparknotes as they struggle to think for themselves.

Interestingly, Because Digital Writing Matters does make note of parental fears in regards to the lack of effort (D├ánielle Nicole DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl, and Hicks, 8-9), yet I believe (and this really is just my opinion as I face similar struggles of my own) that a lack of effort is a product of the ease of access to information through Google and is not synonymous with a lack of intelligence—the students have just not had a reason to think for themselves when there is information in their palms. Now, as educators, our goal is to merge the information they find and technology they use with tasks that draw out their own ideas and display various perspectives. In other words, our goal is to teach students how to use said technology to develop critical thinking, reading, and writing skills, even if that means showing students how to “read” the sites they explore not as informational sources, but as “interviews” in which they must put in the time to research as much as possible and interpret from there. In short, we must, as educators, make the internet become just as ambiguous as the literature we read and write about, thereby creating an opportunity to promote thinking. The difficult part is how to make the internet ambiguous. Any suggestions?

P.S. Sorry for the length and/or the rambling. Quite an interesting topic and reading set to write about and respond to though!

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...