Harnessing Choice

I am a digital immigrant (I know it’s an old term, but it’s still useful) and I think that may be why when I read Posner’s blog on “Embarrassment of Riches: Managing Research Assets” I began to shut down. Then, I thought of when Jessica Chittum, a teacher assistant in my motivation and cognition class, showed us Barry Schwart’z  Ted Talk and I gained insight on my feeling of wanting to shut down. What Schwartz said to me during his 20-minute talk was worth the time. Brett Jones calls him “the jeans guy” and in his Ted Talk he explains the “paradox of choice” and how it can overwhelm us. I like how when someone names something it allows me to feel in control of whatever that something may be. In this case, knowing that other people experience the sensation of depression due to too much choice helped me to revisit Posner’s blog in order to take a look at just one thing at a time. I went back to Diigo, which I had not used since Fall semester, bookmarked Posner’s site, along with Jone’s site on motivation, Warnick’s on the digital self and enjoyed synthesizing all that I’m learning. I will revisit this professional learning community that Virginia Tech is helping me build, and Diigo is helping me organize, and I know that these scholars will continue to help me learn and grow. It’s comforting to tell myself that I am practicing self-efficacy when I use Diigo as a way to save some of my learning for later. And ironically, I’m using some of what Posner suggests to handle this flow of information.







1. Purpose 2. Audience 3. Voice

Since I came to Virginia Tech I have been fascinated by the topic of voice in writing, and I am curious about using digital literacies to help students become better writers. I think to point adolescents toward the usefulness of what they are setting out to write, teachers need to help them focus FIRST on three simple steps.  For each of these three steps teachers can support students in their writing endeavor, and I’d like to share a query to ponder for each of the three that I present.


1.) What is the purpose of the piece that I am about to write?

Support: In a survey of over 400 adolescents that my advisor conducted in 2008 she found that “communication” was there #1 reason for writing outside of school and “grades” were there #1 reason for writing in school. Bridging the gap between out of school and in school writing purposes should not be that big of a leap. Regardless, the purpose of the piece of writing should be TALKED about with someone. Talking is one of the best ways to develop writing and whether it is with the teacher, a friend, or a classmate, talking about the purpose of the piece a student is selecting to write about is a critical first step.

Query: How can teachers use digital literacies to support purpose and students discussion of purpose?

2. Who is your audience?

Support: Teachers have long since used freewriting and writer’s notebooks to guide students in this process, and that is a great place to start, write arounds that invite other students’ perspectives on an issue can spark deeper thinking and audience considerations.

Query: How can digital literacies support audience consideration and discussion?

3. What voice will you use in addressing your audience? How will your voice serve your purpose?

Support: Engaging with an audience takes knowing the audience, regardless of written or verbal communication. When Michelle Obama spoke to the graduates at Virginia Tech last year I was impressed. It was clear by her message that she had done her homework by studying her audience, and I was engaged. A real life example, such as the first lady’s commencement speech, that exemplifies how other people consider voice in relation to audience can help students understand the packing that needs to be done for the communication journey.

Query: How can digital literacies help students research and gain information that will help them craft an authentic writing voice for the audience they want to address?

I have read theoretical articles, composed co-created rubrics with students involving voice, read recent research on the topic of voice and assessment and the subjectivity that comes along with how one could possibly assess a person’s voice in writing. How can voice be measured? For the last year and a half I’ve had “voice” on my radar.

Recently I have been rightly convinced that I need to push it back further in my dissertation studies. The topic is slippery, much like the topic of Interest that my professor discussed in my motivation and cognition class last night. I may still include it in my analysis. I think voice will be an area that I revisit often, because I think with “third space” learning environments and in preparing students for the future, purpose, audience, and voice need to be at the forefront of writing instruction.

Digital Literacy

To segue from my last post on tweeting to learn, “tweeting to announce” also reigns as a commonplace. My graduate advisor recently tweeted that she accepted a position in literacy at James Madison University.  Her existing position at Virginia Tech, as program director of a Master in Education: English Education program seems tenuous, and Rachel Spilka’s explanation of the changes in our workplace in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication: 21st Century Theory and Practice helped me recognize a shift I see. Spilka says “More of us are migrating to jobs with other titles and responsibilities, and increasingly, we are identifying ourselves not as members of any one field, such as technical communication, but rather, as cross- or multi-disciplinary.”  That seems to be exactly what I see occurring in higher education and education. I see a shift from English Education to Literacy to Digital Literacy. As Spilka chose to define and use “digital literacy” I would posit New Literacies, in its place, as described in Lankshear and Knobel’s book entitled New literacies: Everyday practices and social learning.

To unpack this trend, I think it helps to see that secondary education now embraces the fact that literacy is the responsibility of all content areas. Science, math, and social sciences involve reading and writing in their curriculum with a different focus on literacy than we saw a decade ago. For example, my daughter, who is in the 8th grade, reads and writes about a current event each week in her Algebra I class. If this reading and writing across the curriculum is not happening, then the teachers in that content area are deemed deficient in their pedagogy. It’s a good thing this switch has happened and continues to progress, because the expectations for instruction in English classrooms involve literacies that run the gamut from allowing images to do some of the communicating to oral skills to persuade audiences to written composition using multimodal literacies. Add to that tall order of skill preparation the fact that high school students need guidance in applying to colleges, and it’s no wonder that writing centers are popping up across the country in high schools. Digital literacy simply needs more of our time.