Sunday, April 26, 2015

PowerPoint and Storify Projects In Your Classroom:

In lieu of there being two blog posts this week, I will try to keep this post short and to the point.

Rorabaugh and Stommel’s journal entry, “How to Storify. Why to Storify,” promotes integrating social media into the classroom in the form of social stories.  Rorabaugh and Stommel seem to think that social media has a unique place in the classroom, and that students can learn from social media trends when they are linearly related.  The aims of storifying are, “bringing together media scattered across the Web into a coherent narrative.” This narrative is then to be read and analyzed in the classroom.  Storifying, “takes the glorious chaos of dynamic interaction and makes it contained and linear.”  I could see storifying being useful in applying literary works to current events.  For instance you could read a novel about the civil rights movement such as, To Kill A Mockingbird, and storify the various #blacklivesmatter hash tag posts from twitter and Facebook, as well as eNews articles written on police violence against African American citizens.   You could then apply the themes and social issues from a novel written almost 75 years ago to American current events in American society today.  The only issue I anticipate with incorporating storifying into a classroom, is that it might be difficult for an educator to see why a social story may be relevant to their curriculum and educators might have some difficulties creatively assimilating social stories or “storifying” their curriculum. On one hand social stories may lend to making the curriculum relevant to students today through cultural modeling, but I’m not sure how “storifying” social media would really be more valuable to students than other more conventional technologies in the classroom. Rorabaugh and Stommel’s article does a good job of explaining what storifying is and what it should do, but they don’t really explain how using a linear model of social media stories may or may not apply to current content standards, or how it would enhance an ELA curriculum.  How do you see the ability to storify being useful in an ELA classroom?  Do you think storifying would make content more relatable to student’s lives, thus making them more interested in the novels being read in your classroom?  Would you use storifying in your class? 

            Juxtaposed to this is Edward Tufte’s, “PowerPoint is Evil.” From Tufte’s strong feelings on PowerPoint, “degrad(ing) the quality and credibility of communication.”  I feel that it’s safe to say, Tufte would not be a fan of storifying anything in the classroom.  Tufte seems to be an advocate of good old fashioned written reports “using sentences.”  He finds the use of PowerPoint in the classroom “particularly disturbing,” and if he can’t find value in presenting main points of the text free from extraneous details, I can’t see him supporting studying linear models of twitter posts.  Having used PowerPoint in school since the seventh or eighth grade, I can attest to how useful it is across curricular subjects.  PowerPoint is particularly useful for students who are not strong language learners, especially ELL students and students with disabilities.  PowerPoint allows for students to learn and demonstrate their content mastery in ways besides the traditional text reports using sentences.  I definitely recognize the importance of teaching and using sentences in the classroom but PowerPoint is engaging and an effective instructional tool through its images and media as well as its bullet pointed “main points,” for those students who struggle with language.  What are your thoughts on the role of PowerPoint in the classroom?  Have you ever considered negatives when using PowerPoint in an ELA classroom?  What do you think of Tufte’s argument, was it substantiated?

Finally, in Tufte’s article he states that, “When information is stacked in time, it is difficult to understand context and evaluate relationships.”  I’m not sure if "information stacked in time," means when information is stacked in a “linear relationship” way (exactly like storify is) that it is difficult to understand?  If so, this would seem to make him completely opposed to storifying in the classroom.  Do you think Tufte would be as opposed to storifying as he is to PowerPoint? 

Let's Get Medieval

In Tara Williams’ essay “Multimedia Learning Gets Medieval,” she discusses how technology helps students tackle the difficulty that is medieval literature. I have to agree with her when she says that the “first and most intimidating impediment to understanding medieval texts and contexts is the language itself” (83). I, myself, struggled so much with the language when I was assigned Canterbury Tales as a reading for a class in college, that I never really got through it (Sorry, Alex). But maybe if my professors had used technology the way that Williams does in her own classroom, then I would have been able to understand and actually get through it.

Williams states “students often approach medieval literature as ‘dead texts,’ artifacts of a culture and society that seem very distant” (77). So, she started using different types of technology to help make the readings connect to the lives of students in her undergraduate class. She used PowerPoint slides that had images to go with the texts, audio and video clips, and a project that required researching different websites to decide which one best fit a curriculum for medieval studies. Her students seemed to respond very well to these technological enhancements. They said in surveys about the course that it really helped the contextualize medieval times and helped make medieval times seem more real and less like a time period that they are just using their imaginations to visualize. For people who are currently teaching in your own classroom, how do you use technology to make literature like this come to life for your students?

Something that Williams talked about that stuck out to me was the connections she made “between medieval texts over time and the hypertextual relationships that exist on the Web…it signifies a certain way of thinking: links bring together related texts, but each link brings you to a site with a changed focus or a different interpretation” (88). I never thought of medieval texts that way. Whenever my college professors discussed Beowulf and how it had been told and retold for thousands of years, I never connected that to my modern life by thinking about how hypertexts connects all different, but related, Internet articles. It’s definitely an interesting way to think about how the interconnectivity that we have on the internet today has always been a part of literary societies.

“Multimedia learning gets medieval” also touched on the skepticism that many people have about using technology in the classroom. Williams quoted one professor as saying that technology is “pedagogical parsley added decoratively to the edge of the platter of learning.” And she quoted Jacqueline Foertsch’s argument about film and television being used in the classroom saying that they become the “dessert” reward for the students after having the “literary broccoli” that she has been serving all year. She goes on to say that “courses in film and television analysis bring out the couch potato not only in students but in teachers as well.” Now, while I can almost see the point she was trying to make, I radically disagree with this statement. But I’m more interested in what you all think. Do you think that film and television are negatively affecting our students?

Williams talks about how to use technology to enhance learning medieval literature or other literature from a different time period. But how can we use technology to enhance learning more modern literature? How do we, as educators, use technology without bringing out the “couch potato” in the student?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Icebergs Right Ahead!: Negotiating Our Way Through the Digital Classroom

For this week’s discussion I decided to dig a little deeper in to the idea of “negotiation.” (Since I still can’t quite wrap my head around the Drucker.) As defined by both DeVoss/Eidman-Aadahl/Hicks and Henry Jenkins, “negotiation” refers to “the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.” Throughout our course we have talked about the different ways that digital teaching and learning can open doors for our students. We’ve explored fascinating ways that technology can expand our students’ experience and allow them to encounter new perspectives. Teaching with technology allows our students to interact and work with people and information from around the world, and the possibilities for positive growth and learning seem obvious and endless. And yet, plenty of risks and complications are also inevitable, and as instructors it is our responsibility to help our students negotiate these interactions, and to use their digital tools in an ethical, respectful, and academically useful way.

Robin Wharton’s “Of Icebergs and Ownership: A Common-Sense Approach to Intellectual Property” introduces one particular set of norms that our students will need to negotiate – specifically how the rules of intellectual property apply to digital writing and publishing. Students these days have easy access to the work and ideas of many different people, and one of the greatest assets of learning in the digital age is being able to freely explore the work of others. Access to this wealth of information makes it especially important for our students to learn how to differentiate between their own ideas and those of others, to recognize and clearly communicate the difference between source types, and to credit their sources fully and accurately.

However, specific rules about exactly how students are allowed to use the work of others are hard to pin down, and as Wharton points out it can be dangerous for an institution to be too prescriptive with those guidelines. “Institutions attempting to chart a safe course through treacherous regulatory seas too often take an approach that positions faculty and students as passengers along for the ride, rather than co-pilots or fellow travelers capable of plotting a course of their own” (Wharton). Instead of passing down hard and fast rules from on high, she argues, guidelines should emerge from a collaborative process that engages both teachers and students, and emphasizes the key purpose of the project. “My primary concern is helping them understand how they can ethically and responsibly use and build upon the work of others in their own work.” In her own courses Wharton works with her students to “examine together the question of what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable reuse of pre-existing work, and how the answers to that question evolve to fit particular situations” (Wharton).

In the world of digital writing and learning, expected norms of behavior may not always be clear or even solidly fixed. Expectations might change depending on the situation or the individuals involved, however if we are going to open the metaphorical doors of our classrooms to the larger digital world, then we are responsible for giving our students the skills to successfully negotiate their way through that landscape. Wharton sums up her approach like this: “Rather than setting them adrift in the murky waters of the law or establishing barriers to keep them from venturing out from the shallows, I try to provide my students with ethical tools that will help them successfully navigate the seas of professional discourse” (Wharton). Obviously Wharton’s experience is mostly focused on higher ed, but is there a version of this kind of negotiation that we could imagine doing in a high school classroom? Do you think you might face more or less institutional resistance at the high school or college levels?

Wharton’s piece is just one example of the kind of negotiating we might encounter as digital teachers and learners. This past weekend I attended a session on “The State of the Field: Digital Humanities” at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians. Although the specific projects discussed were focused on History instead of English, a lot of the central questions resonated with our course and specifically with this question of negotiation. As one speaker stated, teachers of the digital humanities need to be willing to work without a net. We are helping to develop a field that is still largely undefined and that in many ways requires the blurring of traditional boundaries. As a result the rules of engagement are not always clear. In order to make the best use of the new tools available we will need to be flexible, collaborative, innovative, and free to explore and experiment right alongside our students. The one thing we know is that “the human and technological networks within which we work will continue to change—and in ways that affect our teaching approaches, our social practices, and much more” (DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl, Hicks, 141). How do you think we can best prepare ourselves and our students to negotiate that change? What other boundaries (social, cultural, etc.) can you see your students having to negotiate in the digital world?  Lots to discuss!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Words and Images: Teaching English in a Visual Culture

For this week’s readings I’ll be focusing primarily on Gunther Kress’s “Gains and losses: New forms of texts, knowledge, and learning.” In exploring his piece, I’ll be circling a few general questions: What do Kress’s “gains,” or the enriching advantages of an increasingly visual culture, (as imagined by Kress) mean for English teachers and students? Relatedly, I wonder what bearing the infinite possibilities of visual meanings, posited by Kress, has on assessment of multimodal “texts” – a topic we’ve covered before but that I’d like to revisit in light of Davis & Yancey’s compelling discussion.

First, a brief synopsis of Kress:

 Kress begins by describing a cultural shift “from the centrality of writing to the increasing significance of image” (6). Kress uses semiotic theory as a means of examining the distinct possibilities and limitations of written/spoken language (though he is careful not to conflate these) and visual depictions. Through this examination he hopes to present a clear-headed assessment of what he calls “gains and losses,” untainted by the emotionally charged nostalgia/pessimism or “unwarranted optimism” often invoked in the discussion of changing cultural values regarding representation and communication. Kress compellingly implicates his discussion of the distinct merits/limitations of these separate modes in changing social and cultural attitudes which may begin to account for new kinds of “texts.” To illustrate this, Kress compares the Institute of Education’s prospectus from 1992 to the current (via 2005) version of their webpage. He notes the linearity and rigidity of the 1992 version, which has a single entry-point, seems to presume that “the structure of the institution and of its knowledge were identical with the needs of the life-worlds of the individuals who might come to it as its students” (9). Conversely, the latter webpage has 13 points of entry and follows the “image-based logic of contemporary pages” (9). [He’s describing it a decade ago, here’s the currentpage, still image centric.] For Kress, this stark contrast reveals changing attitudes about authority and authorship, which will become a central tenant of his discussion. In the linearity of the 1992 prospectus “the power of authorship was strictly governed,” as opposed to the later formulation in which, “the author(s) of this page clearly have in mind that visitors will come to this page from different cultural and social spaces […] not necessarily know to or knowable by the maker(s) of this page” (10).  Kress comes to associate this uniquely open image-based logic with greater reader/viewer agency and a kind of erosion of the binary between author and reader, which will have important implications for students.

I’d like to briefly outline the stark distinctions he makes between visual depictions and spoken/written language.

Speech/Writing: temporal, narrative
Image: Spatial, display

The question asked by speech: “What were the salient events and in what (temporal) order did they occur? (14)
The question asked by display is: “What were the salient entities in the visually encountered and recollected world, and in what order are they related?” (14)

These delineations lead Kress to make some evaluative observations about the possibilities of these categories. He posits that “because words rely on convention” they are general and vague, while depictions, on the other hand “are full of meaning; they are always specific” (15). He furthers this prizing of visual over word by suggesting that words are limited in their finiteness, we can’t express something we don’t have a word for while images are infinite; “the former tend to occur in […] fixed order […] the latter tend to occur in an open order fixed by the reader and/or viewer’s interest” (Kress 16).

So all of this, I think, begins to lead us back to the classroom. I found the most interesting part of Kress’s discussion to be the way in which he aligns these distinctions with compelling questions about teacher and student subjectivity and agency. Drawing on the “visual geography” image to the left he asks:

“What is the assumed subjectivity of the students to whom not just this aspect of the curriculum but nearly all of science is presented in this manner? And equally, what is the subjectivity of the science teacher who teaches science in this manner? [what are the] implied notions of convention, of competence, of knowledge, and of authority?” (19).
Earlier, Kress posits that when we “read” visual texts we compile information, but have the agency and control to create our own knowledge – but when we read linear, narrative texts, knowledge is presented ready-made (10). Do we agree? Do you think these kind of visual aids more readily allow students to fashion their own “knowledge?”

Kress obliquely answers his own questions by asking more. He ends his piece with a series of questions that read more like statements. In fact, I was a bit puzzled by the title of his piece because this doesn’t seem to boil down to an exploration of gains and losses of each category – but rather, a more straightforward gain loss hierarchy in which images occupy the former category, and words, the latter.

Kress asks, “Would the next generation of children actually be much more attuned to truth through the specificity of depiction rather than the vagueness of word?” (21). Though I think Kress’s framework and assertions about subjectivity are compelling, I have a hard time accepting the word/image binary that seems to be at work in this piece. Are these things really so distinct? And are images really less convention laden or finite than words? Drucker discusses graphic “ideologies” and I’m tempted to think that visual representation is just as socially constrained as language. Finally, if we accept the supremacy and infinite possibilities of the image, what does that mean for English teachers? Further, do we need to teach students how to “read” images, or are they inherently abounding with meaning? If a visually representative culture gives more agency to the viewer (and, also the designer) do we need to teach them how to use it? And if so, how?

 Further, the infinity of visual meanings (which are also somehow specific for Kress?) seem to add an interesting dimension to the recurring issue of assessment. I really appreciated Davis and Yancey’s thoughts on this subject, I wonder if others felt similarly?

They write: “assessment is about what dialogue one might have” and speculate that it could potentially be a dialogue “about meaning-making, about how we make meaning and what meaning we make out of that” (14). This focus on meaning making, and secondarily, interpreting that very meaning making, seems apt given Kress’s attitude, which seems to imply that the possibilities of multimodal texts are infinite. If there are infinite meanings, then the assessor has infinite choices leading one to believe that when assessing these things, we have to pay close attention to the choices we make – in other words, to interpret our own interpreting, if you will. For current teachers, what’s are some of your strategies? Did you find Davis and Yancey’s discussion of scrapbooks/e-portfolios helpful? 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Is Big Brother Really Watching?

In the first chapter, “Failing to Forget the ‘Drunken Pirate’,” of his book, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger manages to tie the theme of this week’s class, judgment, with the idea of collective societies’ ability to forget. He posits that technology, and more specifically the internet and abilities of Web 2.0 type websites have expanded the ability of our collective memory beyond the capability of the basic human mind and in this, we need to be weary in how this changes the paradigm of how we theorize both memory and how we forget.  It seems clear that the author believes there is a disconnect between our human and digital memories, and not rectifying this disconnect could lead to some pretty serious consequences.
Mayer- Schönberger begins the chapter relating a social media horror story which I believe exemplifies many different things. First and foremost, it seems to exemplify how little savvy or thought can go into what we post online in social media. This ties into judgment in two levels. One: it illuminates the judgment we have to put into what we post online. Two: It shows the judgments others make on us in what we post online. Mayer-Schönberger ties this into the idea of our collective and individual memories noting, “This case, however, is not about the validity (or stupidity) of the university’s decision to deny Stacy her certificate” (2). He goes on to add, “It is about the importance of forgetting.” I think this frames memory and the process of forgetting into an interesting and important dynamic with this concept of digital memory as something that never forgets. I think a lot of this certainly ties into our own personal responsibilities to what we decide to or not post, as the author notes, but I wonder what we as a class think about how this speaks to teaching about develop voice and identity in our writing.
Mayer-Schönberger notes the example of Andrew Feldmar, a psychotherapist, how, in an interdisciplinary journal, admitted to using LSD, and then being banned from crossing the border because of it. One would think a safe place to divulge this information would be in an interdisciplinary journal in the context of one’s career, but with no criminal record and a simple Google search, this gentleman was banned from crossing borders in a country. I think the author here is asking us to question how far is too far? Mayer-Schönberger seems to be saying that, in our current state, context means nothing and keywords can damage a life as much as a criminal record.
The author seems to note that in the past, before this digital memory was prevalent, we had a culture of forgetting, where our past actions and mistakes were memories we chose to forget and as such there wasn't as much of a danger for them to come back and haunt us. I post the question, however, is this really true? Our method of keeping records is surely not as efficient as it once was, but Mayer-Schönberger examples of criminals records being “forgotten” I don’t think is as convenient a comparison as he would make it out to be. This being said, I agree with his supposition that being a slave to our past actions isn't fair and the convenience of this digital memory makes it harder to outlive mistakes we have made in the past.

I don’t think Mayer-Schönberger has the answers to how we change this paradigm of the digital memory never forgetting, but I do think he is right to question us being both more aware of it and growing savvier in our use of it. While I think at times he plays loose with some of the terminology he uses in regards to our collective memory and its history both of “forgetting” and remembering, I’d be lying to say this is the first of these types of articles this semester that didn't give me pause for thought about how I feel about some of these technological issues that we face today. While typically I am not of the fear-mongering sort and think we should be more embracing of technology in our lives,  Mayer-Schönberger certainly re-frames the argument in a way that speaks to the larger discussion on judgment (both by ourselves and on ourselves) that needs to continue.

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...