Saturday, July 8, 2017

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 directed a national pilot program funded by the Gates Foundation. The program focused on integrating civic engagement and course-based peer mentoring into developmental English and math courses to increase community college students’ sense of belonging and increase retention. At Gates gatherings attended by grantees in the field of developmental/remedial education at the community college level, Gates-organized presentations (sometimes co-presented with the for profit business execs from Udacity and Coursera) centered on the revolution that online education and MOOCs specifically would bring to higher education so that the traditional place-based concept of education might no longer be relevant. The Gates Foundation’s language echoed that which Bady is skeptical of: the MOOC is “a behemoth force reshaping the face of higher education.” According to leadership at The Gates Foundation, the pace at which this change was to happen required the foundation to switch funding priorities and abandon any consideration of continued funding to its grantees, none of which were focused on MOOCs or online education. The program I directed aimed at making learning more collaborative and relevant to students’ lives was one of the casualties. Meanwhile, the neoliberal MOOC driven by what Bady described as “a desire to liberate and empower the individual, breaking apart actually-existing academic communities and refocusing on the individual’s acquisition of knowledge” would take center stage.

None of us Gates grantees were consulted during the foundation’s decision-making process that resulted in a complete change in their priorities. Entire books could be written about the problems with the foundation’s approach to education funding in the US both at the secondary and post-secondary educational levels. But I tell this story to highlight the practical impacts on students’ lives of the push to turn MOOC’s into credit bearing courses. Gates was able to drive funding away from collaborative, people-oriented interventions that supported developmental students in favor of pushing a pedagogy of individual gains through knowledge transfer via MOOC lectures.

For me, atop the list of reasons the change in funding priorities was so problematic was exactly the point that Bady eventually gets to: MOOCs are a poor solution for reaching vulnerable communities including the developmental students my program sought to support. He writes, “…If you want to use it to make educational resources available to underserved and underprivileged communities—which has been the historical mission of public education—MOOCs are a really poor way to do that. Historically, public systems like California’s provided high quality education to citizens of the state who could not have gotten the equivalent anywhere else. MOOCs promise to see to it that what the public universities are able to provide is not, in every sense, the equivalent of what rich people’s kids get.” Bady criticizes the MOOC delivery system for the way it caters to students’ short attention spans through bite-sized nuggets of knowledge transferred through lectures by prestigious professors. Not a pedagogy that has demonstrated success particularly with vulnerable students.

Bady makes the argument that with Harvard’s name behind the innovation the technology is "self-evident" and questioning the MOOC moment or the reasons for its existence is slowing down an inevitable force. (As an aside, it also so happens that The Gates Foundation’s support of the MOOC movement furthered its legitimacy.) He juxtaposes the two “origin stories” of the MOOC – one of a professor choosing to transition to the MOOC world to meet the needs of students "begging to be educated by a Stanford professor and Google" and another of a business executive continuing his business idea. He argues that the latter better describes the context since business interests not education drive the movement.

While I’m not as up on the trends in higher education as I used to be, I haven’t seen MOOCs become the dominant presence that the business execs claimed was inevitable. Bady writes that the MOOC moment “seems to me like a speculative bubble, a product which is being pumped up and overvalued by pro-business legislators, overzealous administrators, and by a lot of hot air in the media.”

In summary, Bady tells a story of business benefiting from disinvestment in public education that results in students not being able to access the courses they need. Business execs swoop in to save the day by dreaming up a cheap fix -chairless classes – MOOCs for college credit. This “solution” takes a turn away from the original intention of the MOOC to democratize education. Instead it maintains the status quo, diminishes the need to hire faculty, and devalues real student engagement while making no claim about MOOCs’ educational value. When the disinvestment in public education means that a cheap fix appears to be the only tenable way out (rather than fighting to reinvest in meaningful public education), MOOCs win regardless of their effectiveness.  

Here are some questions to consider as you respond:
1.   Have you ever taken a MOOC or online course? If so, does your experience jibe with Bady's assessment?
2.     Do you agree with Bady’s overarching arguments about the problems with MOOCs and his ideological critique of the drivers behind the development of MOOCs?
3.     Since many of you in this class are in K-12 settings rather than in higher ed, have you seen any aspects of the MOOC or online learning brought to the K-12 system? Can you imagine any benefits of bringing the MOOC/online learning to the K-12 setting?

Monday, July 3, 2017

Interpretive Potential

Tufte discusses the use of Powerpoint in education, corporations and government bureaucracies, making the claim that it favors format over content, commercializes learning, and harms visual reasoning.  He also makes the argument that if the content and quality of the presentation is lacking, then no themes, colors, or images are going to change that fact. He states,“Audience boredom is usually a content failure, not a decoration failure.” While I do agree that, of course, content and quality should be the main focus of the presentation, I also feel that people generally gravitate toward things that are pleasing to their vision. That is why we have the phrase don’t judge a book by its cover, something I find myself quite often doing. I think Powerpoint could be useful in certain settings where both the content and layout is fully developed. However, I have yet to be successful with this in my own classroom. I used Powerpoint in my classroom once last year for a project on the Holocaust. Students had to research an assigned topic and create a presentation where they provided information on the topic as well as used visuals. This year was the first year I had done it and I already know I won’t be doing it again next year. I noticed that students like working with Powerpoint so they obsess over the images, colors, and transitions for the presentation, spending little time focusing on the actual content. When it came time to present the information, it resulted in a boring reading of the information on the slides.

Another idea that I found interesting from his article was when Tufte brings up the use of visuals in Powerpoints and how the data is ultimately useless when it is not side by side, able to be compared. In Tufte’s words, they are filled with “the encoded legends, the meaningless color, the logo-type branding. They are uncomparative, indifferent to content and evidence, and so data-starved as to be almost pointless.” When reading this, I couldn’t help but think what Drucker would have to say about this. Without a doubt, she would agree with the Tufte’s dislike of the linear format of the presentation.

In her chapter, Drucker focuses on interpretive activity, discussing how “innovations in graphic conventions have arisen to support the scholarly activity” but also points out that little has been done when it comes to “imaginative writing practices (182).” Despite this fact, she does believe that the few examples that have arisen indicate that there is much possibility there. She also points out that there have been some great examples of artists and writers that have used visual and spatial writing but that these examples failed to reshape writing conventions that have been in place for far too long. While we use schematic and visual approaches to outline and prepare, the actual composition is generally still linear and traditional. Because of this, we are not giving the composition its full interpretive potential. When thinking about interpretive acts when composition is not done in the traditional sense, Drucker states, “Where and when interpretive acts takes place in the click trail and movement through and across different modalities of display is a pressing question when screen spaces, computational capacities, and constellationary argument and a diagrammatic approach to composition also include the synthesis of many voices, authors, contributions with and without attribution (185).” When so many other factors are put into place, the amount of interpretation that can be done greatly increases. In fact, the amount of interpretive lines that can be drawn are ultimately limitless. In this sense, reading cannot be viewed as just “an act of recovering truth” (191).

After reading both texts, I was left with the following questions:
-Do you think that Drucker would agree with Tufte that Powerpoint is evil?
-How do you feel about the use of Powerpoint in the classroom?
-Do you have any success stories with Powerpoint?
-Is there a way to use Powerpoint to create the kind of nonlinear, collaborative, and visual composition that Drucker talks about?
-Which do you think is true when Drucker asks, “Will we think differently because of the ways interpretation takes shape across networked contingencies. Or are these material conditions producing us as new subjects of a distributed imagination” (191)?

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Third Era

Over the past few weeks, many of us have expressed discontent with the limitations that we feel imposed upon us by external forces: departments, districts, state laws, federal mandates. I’ve found hearing from others who share some of my concerns to be a professionally beneficial experience, and I feel as though what I’ve taken from this class has prepared me to shift my pedagogy in a direction that will help my students engage with digital writing in a meaningful way. This week’s reading however, opened a more fundamental question for me, one that is perhaps a bit frightening to engage with: can our current system be adapted to keep up with a rapidly changing world, or is the system itself so rooted in an obsolete way of operating that, despite the best efforts of hard-working teachers, it is incapable of being salvaged?
DeVoss suggests that we “may be entering a third era” for the American school system, an era “in which institutional, social, and technological innovations are leading people to ‘extended learning throughout life and over many venues.’” This era would be the next step in a chain that starts with the “apprenticeship era” of the colonial days and continues with the “universal schooling era,” rooted in the work of 19th-century reformers like Horace Mann which brought about the public schools we know today (143). Such a suggestion is radical—ask how closely your classroom resembles a blacksmith’s apprenticeship, and then try to imagine what a model for education that is as far removed from today’s classroom as today’s classroom is from an apprenticeship would even look like. Would there be a single teacher? Is there a teacher at all? How many students would there be? Would the students all be the same age? Is such a classroom even a physical space? Much of what DeVoss draws attention to in this chapter—that “digital environments…are typical ‘on’ 24/7/365” (146), that our “students are learning to think, to read, and to ask questions in networked environments (150), and that “school is just one node in a (potentially global) learning network that young people have the opportunity to inhabit” (148)—points to the basic fact that a school that operates under basic assumptions like timed periods/school days, a nine-month school year, or a physically constrained learning environment might not be capable of serving students who have grown up in a constantly and universally connected world.
In fact, not a single model that DeVoss cites in this chapter as an example of effective digital writing/learning is a traditional public school. The Science Leadership Academy, which has reimagined its pedagogical planning to focus specifically on “elements of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation, and reflection” is an experimental and selective public magnet school (144). The Digital Youth Network is founded on the notion that “schools alone cannot be expected to provide full support for students as media creators” (144), and DeVoss herself emphasizes that the thing that “feels significantly different at this particular moment” is that the tools we’re discussing are “not primarily tools for institutions at all. They are tools for learners and writers, and as learners and writers begin to sue them across any areas of their lives outside of school, these tools will have a profound impact on the core business of life itself” (142).
I don’t want to undermine the impressive efforts, hard work, and good intentinos that teachers bring to the classroom. Nor do I want to ignore the fact that “not all students…have access” to the sorts of tools that this “third era” would be predicated on. At the same time, DeVoss’ concluding sentiment—that we should “guide and respond to our students’ writing even though technologies continue to change”—is a half-hearted and milquetoast response when seven pages earlier she was predicting a fundamental shift in what school is (150). I guess I’m wondering if we need to turn the sort of institutional skepticism that we’ve pointed at Google and Facebook over the past couple of weeks on the educational system, and not just the parts of it we dislike. It’s easy for us to blame that one vice principal, or the College Board, or MCAS, or any other aspect of our job that we feel limits us. It’s harder, though more effective, for us to make the small, individual changes that will actually improve our pedagogy, and we should all most certainly make those individual changes where we can. But it’s terrifying to wonder if whether the fundamental pillars that education as we know it today is built upon are beginning to crack.

To condense all of that into a more manageable list, I guess I’m wondering
  • Do you agree with DeVoss about “something being different” about this moment for education, or have changes occurred before?
  • If we are indeed entering a new era for education, what does it look like? What basic assumptions are we throwing out, and what new ideas are we bringing in?
  • What are the costs and challenges of that sort of radical shift?
  • Where will that change come from? Will it be built within existing institutions? Or is the model for education that we need so far removed from what we have that we must begin building it outside our existing schools?

Monday, June 26, 2017

All Knowledge Is Subjective

"What we do in the classroom in any given moment depends on what we think we are supposed to be doing- what the moment calls for and what seems to be the best way to meet that call. We might say, in other words, that how one plays the game depends on what game one thinks one is playing."
(First-Year Composition, 279)

I came across this quote last semester during Lauren's class, "The Teaching of Composition," and while I originally interpreted it specifically in relation to writing, I believe that this idea signifies the way in which we should approach all possible modes of communication. The quote is particularly applicable to the ideas that Drecker discusses in her chapter, "Interpreting Visualization." In this chapter, she discusses the origins of different visual representations over time, and through this focus, she asks us to consider the different factors which shape, influence, and restrict each mode of representation. Based on these rhetorical elements, she points to the subjectivity of any given "truth." She emphasizes this idea through her explanation of a "humanistic approach” to knowledge, an approach that is "centered in the experiential, subjective conditions of interpretation." (Drecker, 130) For example, she explains that while a visual comparison between males and females may seem like a basic enough representation, even the term "gender" is subjective since there are alternative views to what "gender" actually represents in the contemporary world. Similarly, Drecker states that "The link between statistical tables and bureaucratic administration is historical as well as cultural." (Drecker, 91) With this in mind, when interpreting statistical tables, the viewer must consider how the information displayed may be specifically interpreted through this bureaucratic viewpoint, and also, what interpretive factors may have been overlooked because of this particular lens. Such “innocent” representational factors often oversimplify the complexities within data (which is often done for specific purposes), and in turn, this simplification influences the way in which we perceive the information provided. Through this analysis, Drecker emphasizes a belief that all data representations must be chosen based on the rhetorical contexts from which they are created. Therefore, in order to understand “the game one thinks one is playing,” we must consider what the rules are, why the rules exist, how these rules co-exist, and how to make decisions based on these observations.

Similarly, the article by Gunther Kress highlights such complexities, but his analysis has a specific focus on the changes caused by the digital world. In his explanation, while the author once navigated the reader through the information provided in his text, in a digital world, it is instead the job of the reader to select information “by individuals to be transformed by them into knowledge to solve a problem in their life-world.” (Kress, 10) Before technology, information was mainly portrayed through words (dependent on time and a chronological display of information), but in the digital world, we rely more heavily on visual frameworks (which organize through use of space, combining all information into a single, non-sequential depiction). While Kress’ explanation helps to differentiate many interpretive differences in word-based versus visual representation, I do not completely agree with his analysis. He claims, “on the one hand there is a finite stock of words- vague, general, nearly empty of meaning; on the other hand there is an infinitely large potential of depictions- precise, specific, and full of meaning.” (Kress, 15-16) While I agree that yes, language is subjective, I do not believe that visual interpretations are necessarily more precise- especially since Drecker emphasizes the interpretive factors involved in such representations. While the freedom of reader navigation is beneficial in many ways, I also believe that the freedoms of individual interpretation may inevitably lead to greater confusion, not less. Kress emphasizes the rhetorical aspects of visual communication in relation to writing, but unlike him, I believe that both modes are applicable to his visual-based analysis. He claims, “each occasion of representation and communication now becomes one in which the issue of my relation to my audience has to be newly considered and settled on.” (Kress, 24) As we had discussed in class, the connections created by technology allow for more varied, specialized expertise and a more efficient global exchange of information. Therefore, whether we are using written or visual data, the rhetorical factors in both instances must always be assessed and taught in relation to the complexities of the modern world.

This discussion of interpretive knowledge highlights some key challenges and questions that we as teachers must consider in the 21st century. Yes, we need to teach our students how to properly assess and navigate across the digital void, but how? To what extent should we emphasize the rhetorical analysis of information, and should we focus moreso on the rhetorics within writing or within multimodal/visual interpretation? How often should we include multimodality in our assignments?  How much actual writing should be done throughout such assignments? What navigational strategies will students need in the future, and how can we help them become adaptive learners in this changing digital world? How can we ensure that students are thinking critically about the rhetorical factors embedded into any given set of data? How can we efficiently combine the basic rhetorical contexts of writing with the more complex modes of communication within a single classroom? Finally, how can we ourselves efficiently analyze the data in our field with consideration to each individual context? While I have indeed taken time in the past to consider the complexity of rhetoric in relation to the teaching of communication (mainly written communication), this week’s assigned readings offer a  thorough analysis which widened the scope of my understanding- and also unfortunately caused me to experience an existential crisis regarding the meaning of “truth” in the postmodern world. While I have always acknowledged/incorporated the complexities of language and communication into my teaching, I once again find myself with more questions than answers. Yes, it is clear that we need to incorporate these new digital and multimodal communicative tools, but how can we do so in an efficient, all-inclusive way that simultaneously aligns with the basic communicative standards of our composition classrooms?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Leadership and Technology

I’m writing this as I read Chapter 5 of BDWM, Professional Development for Digital Writing.

Teaching is the next step past learning something.  The book starts with these first four ‘diversity, skills, interests and access’ as to why teaching is more challenging. I agree with this broad subject list. I would like to address ‘interest’ and I think the rest of the chapter also teaches this. Interest is motivated students. A hard work disposition, means anyone could be a great student.
            The way to teach new technology is to teach leadership. “when technology changes or disappears, specific skills change. Investment in leadership lasts” (pg. 117). Their reason for this claim is to remember writing is social, and digital writing is direct access to communication and community. On pg. 116 she has three bullet pointed and research backed conclusions. In summary ‘change is long, and shared knowledge and working together creates the best result.’
            One way they suggest to create staff development is in school training, personal pursuit (college courses), and possibly my favorite weekend retreats.  I can understand the in-school training, like stay after on an early day or something. And of course, if the school will pay my tuition, or even bump up my salary for taking courses, I am all in on taking classes forever. But I don’t see where the money is coming from. I know that the U.S. Education System is in a bit of a flux at the moment.  And personally, after I work all week, I’m ready to disconnect with my friends and family.
(Any experience with professional development at your schools? Mandatory/ Voluntary, Paid/ Unpaid, Conferences in Hawaii?)  
            The last part of this section in the chapter covers “the richest conceptions of professional development for improved teaching and learning” (pg. 118) They break it down again into three bullet points and in summary; people are primary, pedagogy is the scaffolding, and leadership is taught by being interested. Disposition is something I am acutely aware of. For me to have a motivated disposition is one of the most important part in learning. Especially learning new technology which can be frustrating, or obsolete in a few months. A classroom full of students intimidates me, finding a way to engage all of my students. Learning how they learn. Being able to create an interesting class, that includes all my students. This fear I have closes out the introductory section I hope to find some confirmation in the upcoming sections.
            Pg. 119 “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn” quoted from Charlie Parker by Kevin Hodgson as he looked for a tag line for his blog. He interpreted this to “capture the concept that you have to live the world in order to understand it.” In essence, he means that as teachers we must continue to explore and experiment ourselves if we want to stay relevant and retain access to our students.  I have felt this way many times, and feared that I would lose touch as my existence remains in the classroom and not outside of it. I hope that I can learn from my students as much as I can continue to ‘live the world’ outside of it. At the moment, this seems to be a ‘no duh’ idea but when in the midst of the school year I am guessing it feels improbable.
            On Pg. 129 Selfe (2009) “describes four paths to integrate students into the culture of technology at school”.  The first is independent-study programs, where students who have skills and knowledge to do with current technology can help support or engage with technology projects for class credit. I hope that I will not have to create a separate independent-study program in order for my students to work with technology. But assign projects like the ones in this course as a part of the normal curriculum. The next two both work with volunteering of time in order to partake in training or support other students who need help with technology. The last is the same but paid for. I like these ideas but as I stated earlier I don’t know if schools can support these programs financially or if they could get enough committed volunteers to maintain them.  
            I believe this chapter concludes that we as teachers must include our students. Especially in the technology we use in our classrooms. By getting the students involved in planning, supporting, even teaching themselves we can empower our students to take more of an interest in the class. As they begin to become more involved they will also begin to grow in a professional development manner.  Leadership skills cross the boundaries of technology and infiltrate the culture and community of the school.  These changes will support their writing which in turn helps their thinking, learning, and communicating. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Weak Ties in Online Relationships

In 2008, my husband and I were visiting Seaside, Oregon for my birthday. One night, we met a colorful couple from Idaho, Nancy and Jessie, who were on their honeymoon. We hung out for a couple hours, and at the end of the night Nancy asked for my e-mail address. Thinking nothing of it, I scribbled my e-mail address on a piece of paper, fully expecting never to hear from them again. A few weeks later, I received an email from Nancy. We wrote back and forth a few times and eventually connected on Facebook. Earlier this week, Nancy posted a “happy 9th anniversary” post to Jessie, which made me realize that I have been “following” her on Facebook for NINE years. I should also mention that I don’t hoard Facebook friends either. I tend to declutter my feed nearly as often as I declutter my closet. But I’ve always held on to Nancy. Over the past nine years, I’ve enjoyed seeing pictures of her children and landscapes of Idaho. She has inspired me with her fitness journey and her career shift towards a personal trainer. She has liked and commented on my updates too, as we’ve continued this pen pal type of relationship.

Beginning this blog post with an anecdote feels appropriate since both Turkle and Rosen rely on heavily anecdotes to support their claims about the relationship between intimacy and technology. Turkle uses anecdotal evidence in the introduction to Alone Together to show how our expectations of intimacy have changed with new communication technology. She recalls the roommate who texted her roommate instead of knocking on her door because “that would be intrusive” (2), Ellen who Skypes with her grandmother while she answers her email (13-14), and  Randy’s disappointment that his sister, Nora, announced her engagement via mass e-mail (16). Similarly, in “Electronic Intimacy,” Christine Rosen draws on her relationship with a pen pal to support her argument that “we should permit ourselves a small lament for what we are leaving behind.”  We tell stories like these because many of us can remember a time before fast communication, when we connected with others more intimately through letters and phone calls. In David Crystal’s lecture “The Effect of New Technologies on English” (the video we watched during the first class) Crystal maintains that it is simply too early to notice the effects of technology on English. Likewise, we are still in the beginning stages of of these new communication technologies, so we are not quite aware of the lasting effects of these technologies on human relationships. However, we are aware that something is happening. We are gaining certain things and losing others, and we use anecdotes to discuss these changes.  Even those of us who embrace new technologies may feel like we are giving something up. Turkle points out, “As we instant-message, email, text, and Twitter, technology redraws the boundaries between intimacy and solitude” (11-12). She believes that it is in these online relationships that we find ourselves “alone together.”

It is through the lens of these readings that I critically examine my “friendship” with Nancy. Our relationship has added a certain value to my life, but I wouldn’t call it a friendship. If I ever found myself in her area, I probably wouldn’t ask her to meet up. Furthermore, I interact with her by applauding her highlights, but I am completely unaware of her low points. In this way, ours is an artificial friendship, similar to Turkle’s account of Ann who would consider a robot boyfriend because it involves less risk than a real boyfriend. My friendship with Nancy is easy since it doesn’t place any of the demands on my time and energy that characterize real friendships. If I didn’t get to know Nancy past that evening in the bar, I would have eventually forgotten about her altogether, and maybe that is how it was supposed to end. Christine Rosen echoes this sentiment as she concludes her anecdote: “That's life- or at least that is what the life of a friendship used to be. A closed door usually stayed closed forever.” I don’t want to close the door on my relationship with Nancy, but I am now questioning what Turkle would call my “weak ties” on social media, or “the bonds of acquaintance with people we may never meet” (13). I would definitely classify my relationship with Nancy as a “weak tie”, but this does not hamper my ability to have real friendships as well. Furthermore, I have plenty of weak ties offline, mostly with work acquaintances. Overall, these readings made me examine online relationships, and I am curious to hear your perspectives on how communicating with others online has affected our ability to connect with others.

A few questions to get started:
  • Did any weak ties come to mind as you read this introduction?
  • Turkle believes we do not prosper in these weak ties (13). Do you agree with her, or do these relationships with online acquaintances hold their own intrinsic value?
  • How does frequent online communication affect the ways students connect with each other in the classroom?

Saturday, June 17, 2017

More Standards and More Assessments

Following suit, my blog post is going to be mostly concerned with the assigned reading chapter in DeVoss' Because Digital Writing Matters. That being said, this chapter was, as I see it, a lot more informative in the way teachers can address the use of technology in class, especially when considering assessments or standards fit for the classroom and school. As DeVoss points out, this is a vital topic, as "there is no escaping the fact that the proliferation of new digital tools is happening concurrently with a strong national and state accountability movement that emphasizes standards and assessment as the centerpiece for educational reform" (89). 

In developing these standards, DeVoss mentions the names of many impressive organizations and their goals, but many of these groups are external to the school. While I agree that our students need to develop and practice twenty-first century skills that will open academic and career paths for them (I'm reminded of the video "A Vision of K-12 Students Today" I once saw - linked below), it really does come down to the individual school. For instance, there was a teacher in one of my last grad courses who worked at a school that purchased iPads for each of their students. Teachers at that school were expected to make use of these tools in their lessons so that students could practice twenty-first century skills and digital literacy. However, the school I work at would never be able to afford such an expense. If standards and assessments were created at the state or national level, is there a way to properly equipped each student with the necessary tools to meet those standards and succeed on assessments? Also, are we, as teachers, properly trained to educate these students in the ways of technology? I know of many teachers that still scoff at the idea of PowerPoint, having their notes for the day plastered on a projected Word document. The only kind of technology training that my school offers is an optional lecture or two during our last PD day.

My school has about 2,000 students and limited computer labs. This year, my school introduced the math and literacy tests i-Ready. This computer-based assessment was created to see if students are prepared to move on to the next level of math or English for the following year. Unfortunately, there were huge problems that should have been obvious from the start. First, the teachers were panicking because there was an immediate rush to reserve each of the computer labs. It got to the point where teachers were asking one another if students could use their classroom computer during certain periods to finish the assessment. The resources for this assessment were just not there. The other problem had to do with the students and their experience with computer-based assessments. You would assume that because this generation of students are generally exposed to technology more often than any other, that they would have little problem taking an online assessment, but the level of confusion and frustration was staggering. Many students had to schedule times to retake the exam after school with a personal proctor because they were caught cheating. Apparently, the temptation to open another tab and look up a word or passage was too much for some students - a temptation that they would not have felt had this been a paper-based test or if we had been given laptops programmed to only open certain tabs or websites.

When I hear "new standards and assessment" for anything, digital literacy included, I groan in despair of what administration expects of us with such limited resources.

On the opposite side, how can we do right by our students if we are not properly preparing them for the future? It is obvious that technology is becoming more and more of a needed aspect in careers and even lifestyles, and the skills associated with the use of technology are just as important. Making standards and seeing if these standards are being met through an assessment seems to make sense, at least on some level, if we are to make them, as Ribble and Bailey say, global citizens (97).

Also, just to slip this in there out of interest, how do people feel about Wikipedia? It allows a certain level of collaboration, but also runs the risk of becoming overrun by false information. Should we allow our students to rely on something so shaky for academic purposes?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Digital Ecologies Across Contexts

Because the labor of composition is primarily cognitive in nature, it is easy to begin thinking the compositionist as some sort of brain in a jar, divorced from any physical context. Throughout the the text, DeVoss has done a wonderful job of thinking digital writing beyond alphanumeric graphemes, and accounting for the manner in which other modalities of communication can be utilized in the compositional process. In chapter 3, “Ecologies for Digital Writing”, DeVoss situates the cognitive work of digital composition within a variety of environmental contexts which she terms “ecologies”. The ecological metaphor is perhaps useful insofar that it foregrounds the embodied nature of all composition. Indeed, DeVoss does just this as she attends to the physical, institutional and online environments which academic digital writing often takes place. As I do not find much of the chapter problematic, I will attend to how digital writing practices seem to transfer across institutional contexts, and then consider problems which might emerge that are largely institutional in nature. 

The chapters opening anecdote dealing with Renee Webster’s oral personal narrative was interesting. As Webster points out, this project helps the students begin to “perceive themselves as composers” with  “agency and responsibility” as they communicate with an audience. To my knowledge, none of us are working in elementary education, however, as Jamilla pointed out, engendering students with a feeling of “agency” should be a perennial concern for educators. It’s also worth noting that the Wheatley lab conforms to the layout in Figure 3.2. (DeVoss 69), and the physical environment is meant to facilitate similar outcomes. Similarly, Webster’s work speaks to a variety of other concerns in secondary and higher education environments in ways unaccounted for in the text (for obvious reasons), indeed, our own digital story project is very similar.

As a number of students in our class commented, such projects, by thinking composition beyond alphanumeric literacy, can effect the process in productive ways. Rob mentioned feeling liberated from the encumbrance of the blank computer screen by the oral mode. Although Webster’s students wrote their narratives and then remediated them to an oral mode, I know that I personally went off of my script — feeling the same liberation that Rob mentioned — and veered off in interesting directions I may not have otherwise. Christie rightly pointed out that projects such as this function to emphasize that academic writing can be understood as engagement in a conversation with other academics. This is crucial as writers advance, as all too often students seem to understand academic writing as an agonistic endeavor. Moreover, projects like this can defamiliarize the process and  foster a more focused revision process. I believe Tim mentioned that because he was quoting sources which were not alphanumeric such as visual and audio, he reflected more deeply on the compositional choices he made. 

The above suggests how effective engagement with an embodied multimodal composition  can be across a variety of institutional contexts. However, the relationship between the embodied and digital is not completely one way. It’s worth noting that the entire metaphor for the digital here is spatial with words such as “space” and “forum” used to describe the digital environment. as the policy for engaging in the digital environment could just as easily function as a policy for engaging with peers in the physical classroom space. In light of this, it might be worth thinking the digital environment the way we think “play” environments, as low risk spaces in which students might practice optimal behavioral models in preparation for “real” encounters.

But beyond the core educational goals, the language of discourse and the space in which learning takes place, there are key differences in pedagogical approach and policy constraints which vary depending on the context. A crucial difference between K-12 and post-secondary education seems to be the latter’s aversion to flipping the class and making in-class time a workshop — I believe Erin has recommended flipping as a workaround in a variety of situations. Joe pointed out that the allocation of class time to familiarize himself with the technologies interface, as well as, the affordances of the digital platform he utilized to compose his project was helpful. Although this is a common practice in K-12 classes, because of time constraints, this is rare in undergraduate post-secondary contexts. Although in our class — which is concerned with the digital — we have made use of lab work, it is also rare in graduate level courses as well. I wonder what else professors might stand to gain from considering K-12 pedagogy. A recurring concern in our class has been the legal and policy elements that define the various institutional contexts (both real and imagined) in which we find ourselves. In the case of Webster, she needed to secure consent from parents to engage in digital learning with her students (DeVoss 62). As Jamilla pointed out recently, before parents can even be contacted, one needs to secure the permission of the institution which they are a part of. This seems to be getting overlong. I hope you all find something interesting to engage with, as my aim in paraphrasing your observations and concerns is to communicate how interesting and engaging I have found all of your contributions thus far in the seminar, and attempt to return the favor. Thank you.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Next Level: The Writing Process Gets an Upgrade

April 28th, 2013 was one of the best days of my life; after a year of hard work, I finally printed out my senior thesis in the college library. Two of my fellow relieved senior classmates and I walked down to Staples to have our essays bound, and then indulged in celebratory cupcakes. Back in my dorm room, I placed the booklet on my desk and stared at the glossy cover for a while. I was done. The thesis was printed, and therefore out of my head. No more second-guessing myself, no last minute edits. I could finally breathe.

Whenever I think back to that particular essay I wonder what the writing process would look like today. The thesising process was very old school even as recently as 2013. We were expected to print out everything along the way -- our proposals, our annotated bibliographies, the first 10 pages. Most of the feedback I received was handwritten by my advisor, or given verbally through conferences. I’m sure that, four years later, it’s become more technologically advanced, and maybe that’s a good thing. Students likely learn to use an online tool to better organize their sources. Feedback from professors and peers may have moved to some kind of digital platform. There might be more of a focus on digital humanities now, and fewer students are tied to the same printed essay format. If my writing process looked like this, I might have been more organized and less stressed.

In the second chapter of Because Digital Writing Matters, DeVoss describes the ways in which the writing process has been affected by these new technologies. Even after flipping through this chapter for the first time, I realized how much my idea of the writing process will have to change to serve my future students. Having learned to write in the not-so-digital age, the prospect of teaching students to research and write with so many different technological tools made me nervous. The main point threaded through this chapter is that the skills needed to write well, such as planning and revising, really haven’t changed (DeVoss 42). Knowing that writing itself hasn’t changed all that much -- just the tools and methods used to aid the writing process -- made me feel more at ease.

In spite of my initial trepidations, I am intrigued by many of the suggestions DeVoss offers for integrating technology into the teaching of writing. Using technology in the classroom grants students more opportunities to be independent and self-aware. The use of tools like blogs and wikis makes students more aware of the purpose of their writing, their audience, and even give them more motivation to revise and edit their work (especially if it will be published). I especially liked the suggestions given for prewriting and freewriting (51). So many tools are available to help students organize their research and their ideas. I think the importance of freewriting to the larger writing process is often overlooked. This is such an effective way to get students to develop their own voices and opinions, as well as come up with topics to write about. If students write these initial thoughts in a blog or record audio of their thoughts, these can be valuable ideas to look back on for later drafts.

I found the example of middle school students collaborating on chapter summaries to be particularly impressive. The use of a wiki in this lesson takes a relatively boring assignment and makes it meaningful, since the summaries will serve a purpose in the students’ literature circles. Student collaboration through the wiki improves the quality of the students’ work and, as the teacher discovered, still requires the same writing skills as the individual summary assignment. The use of the wiki does not make the teacher less relevant, as writing instruction and support are still very much needed, but this is clearly a very student-driven assignment that is engaging and full of purpose.

One conclusion I made from this chapter is that teacher support and engagement are invaluable to students as classrooms transition to digital writing. Digital writing requires that teachers teach writing skills like they always have, but that is not all. Teachers must also support students by helping them learn to use the digital tools properly, otherwise students could get overwhelmed. I remember finding the bibliography tool, Zotero, on my own in college, but without instruction on how to effectively use it to keep track of my citations, I got frustrated and ultimately went back to my trusty index cards. Teachers should also help students to communicate and collaborate online appropriately with other students and the greater online community.

I still have some reservations about this shift toward digital writing and its effect on the writing process. While I love using tools like Google Docs, I worry about students not saving multiple drafts. Yes, Google Docs does automatically save some so-called drafts, but it doesn’t catch everything. I (still) have at least a dozen drafts of my thesis saved on my hard drive, and being able to go back to early paragraphs I deleted as my ideas changed saved me in the end. With Google Docs, it almost becomes second nature to edit one document and not save multiple drafts unless you explicitly think to do so. At the end of the chapter, DeVoss even questions what a draft even is anymore (57). Do students still define “drafts” the same way?

I also question the idea of assignments and documents being “living documents” that are never really “finished” (53). While I embrace ongoing conversations about topics students write about and writing more about those topics, being completely “done” with a project brings peace of mind. Something tells me that if didn’t print out my essay and hand it in -- if it was submitted electronically and I had more time to edit -- I would have sat at my computer stressing out until the last minute. Is there still a place in today’s classrooms for the hard copy?

Integrating technology into the writing process has a great amount of affordances, but it comes with the pressure of learning new digital tools and keeping up with changes, for students and teachers. I want my future students to be active and engaged in digital spaces. I want them to be as savvy and confident as possible when it comes to expressing their ideas and sharing their research. I want them to be able to do everything, but I also want them to be able to breathe.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Landscape of Digital Writing

"All teens write for school, and 93% of teens say they write for their own pleasure." (19)  This notion also connect with a statement further down the page that ,"Writing, students note, is something they do in school. What they do with computers outside of school is something else."
     It is tough to realize this myself, never mind getting today's youth to understand such a concept. As a student it feels as though academic writing is good writing and what we do otherwise is a form of play.
     The section on "digital revolution" was also intriguing. I enjoy the term for one but I also love the recognition that it "isn't about the tools, but rather how the tools are used." (20) I think we had a bit of a mixed batch about this during our class session. Some people felt as though the tools were an asset or problem and others that it was how the tools are used. It's pretty clear that perspective matters here.
    What really had me thinking was on page 21 about computers making things easier, but in actuality, "by making a host of individual tasks easier, computers have dramatically expanded options for writers and have probably made writing, and learning to write, more complex." I never looked at it that way before. I always assumed the easier portion, because that is the reason for advancing technology, but it does make sense to think about the limitless possibilities that technology brings to writing. Just in Microsoft Word alone there are hundreds (if not thousands) of templates and add-ons to incorporate. Even the built in functions, something as simple as fonts, can add hours onto a project to get it just right.
    Another area of digital composition that can be daunting for those of us that aren't super on the ball with using it, is the immediacy of it. "The nature of digital writing is such that it both invites and, in some sense, demands instant feedback." (23). I still get that feeling of relief when I send in a paper that I'm not super confident about, that, "at least I don't have to worry about it for a little while until the teacher reads and grades it." That relief feeling is embedded in me, but almost every time now I get an email alert within a few hours letting me know that the professor has commented or graded it. That instant communication is amazing and the quicker that information can be turned around, the faster that the discussion can happen, thus leading to potential problem solving or just analytical fun! Of course, as we discussed in class, the spread of fake or junk information can quickly spread too, which seems to be the case more often on social media today.
    Here is where I really want to get into it, some now but probably as a foundation of my classroom discussion. "Digital disconnect." (25). This section really hit home with me. I am of the age group that is generally super tech savvy, but due to financial standings growing up, I fell behind in the digital education. When it comes to technology, I tend to relate more with most of your parents, and maybe even grandparents. However, personality and my general political standings match up more with my age group. I sit in this weird limbo space where I don't relate completely with the "digital natives" nor the "digital immigrants" (26). I often wonder if there is a space for the people who are slow going with technology. I'm not one of those who are opposed to it and think that it is ruining us (though in some ways it is harmful, in my opinion.) but I also feel as though it is coming at us too quickly. By the time I learn one device, one or two more have come out and it's a daunting task to keep up. My daughter is a teenager and has absolutely no trouble keeping up with the latest trends, but I have no idea how anyone can do it. I just got comfortable using my galaxy S5 phone and the S8 is currently out. That's how much of a lag I have on my technology comfort zone. Anyways, I digress, but this subject is on my mind alot.

Does digital writing or digital literacy really matter?

After completing the reading with this week, I am left with one question: Does digital writing or digital literacy really matter? For my students, I say no.

I agree with the text that writing, which can be defined as: "an important act and an essential tool for learning and social participation," is important for all people in the modern American world (DeVoss, 1). We can use writing to express our ideas, thoughts, questions and, most importantly, to communicate with our future selves, or others over the course of time. But what is the point in writing your ideas, thoughts, questions if no one cares to listen because you are black, poor, or disenfranchised in another manner?

Since the beginning of the year, I have tried every day to give my students a reason to write their best work, or any work, in order to express or explain themselves about anything. In response, they say, " who cares about what they have to say?" And when I tell them that I care in what they have to say, we both realize that I am not enough. I cannot push them to validate themselves in one year, if they have had years before me where they are told that their views do not matter or, worse, are wrong. For, when we speak on the behalf of others for so long, they lose the thunder in their voice, or, for these students that I teach, they lose the faith in themselves.

As a result, this year my focus was pushing these students to believe in their voice outside of their writing instead of using writing to validate themselves in the traditional sense. I focused on student discourse, relating between one another. And towards the end of the year we began writing more and more, non-academically. Although most English teachers would scoff at me for this decision, I realized that in their academic writing students were regurgitating back my own words with little to no conviction or personality. In order to save them and myself, I decided that the main focus should be their security in themselves as learners.

I write this anecdote to say, that yes, writing is important. But other students have more important things that they need to learn and excel in before we have these conversations about writing. And, I will argue that the same implications for writing translates over to focus on digital writing, digital learning, and digital literacy. Yes, it is important for some. But no, I refuse to focus on using Google Classroom, when my students are convinced, due to the powers at be, that their voices are stupid, and therefore do not matter. Instead, I like to focus on things that will help them and eventually we will be able to catch up to the rest of the world.

I think that more often than not, we in urban education look at the suburban schools and envy everything that they have. They have laptops, so we want laptops. They are using internet platforms for learning, so we want to use internet platforms for learning. And believe it or not we do find the funding to accomplish all of these acts. However, we do not fix the real problems. What is the point of teaching students to write a collaborative essay using Google Documents, if they are not on a fifth grade reading level? Yes, they will write a paper. And most teachers will "meet them where they are at," and use that as an excuse for passing them along. However, they will still be reading on a fifth grade level by the end of the year. I think that we, as educators, need to prioritize where we put our focus within our classroom; and for me, and my students, I am not focused on digital writing.

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...