Affordances of Technology

We put the finishing touches on a group research effort today using Skype to touch base from time to time and collaborative writing in a Google document. It was nice to call and communicate via Skype if we had a question and write together to produce something that took months of preparation in our Qualitative research class. As we finished up, I was thankful for the affordances of the technology that allows me to be home with family yet still close to my classmates. When I refer to affordance what I mean is that the tool allows me to write or do something that I would not be able to do without the tool. These affordances of the emerging technologies also open my eyes to the potential for students to experience more than ever before in school.

There is another side to this experience of writing the paper while at another work site. I had the tendency to multitask and because the affordance of being able to be where I had other demands, it meant that I was not completely focused on the task of writing the paper. People needed me in the “other space” and before I even realized it I was checking an important Google chat that came in, setting up a student for a test, and then returning to my paper. In different forms this pattern continued. The paper received less of my attention than it should have, but then again, everything did. Multi-tasking is a myth. No one does it well. People only dilute the things that they do; something or someone suffers.

So what do we do about this dilemma? I think my answer would be to begin to draw boundaries better and talk about those lines.

Freedom to Engage

As I was in the Happy Valley watching my niece graduate yesterday, I did, in fact, feel happy for her. I thought about how she must be satisfied with the effort she’s put forth and excited for her future. As she sets off for a contracted five year assistantship at U.C.S.D. to work toward her doctorate and conduct cancer research, it’s good to know that her cousins will be able to keep in touch with her through social media. And while social media will connect her personal world, I believe her professional learning community will grow exponentially. Shirley Malcom, the commencement speaker, said she runs into PSU alumnae throughout the world as she travels with work and service. It is likely that my niece will likewise become more Networked on and offline over the next few years.

As a mother, sitting with my three children during the graduation ceremony, I was grateful for the portable technology and wifi. I had given my two youngest children my iPad and they moved quietly between taking pictures and video of the ceremony, to playing Flow, to sharing ear buds and watching Duck Dynasty (oi vay!). With little encouragement, they took pictures when their cousin’s name was called and captured her as she walked across the stage. The technology allowed them to document, share, and be entertained in ways that brought peace not only to them but also to the adults around them. I thought of Turkle’s Alone Together. There were times we were alone together and that was perfectly okay.

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.

Tweet to Learn

I appreciate the role Twitter plays in Teaching and Learning. This week I saw a student teacher connect with her sixth-grade students by asking them to compose a Tweet on what they learned during the class period, 40 words or less. After working to pare down a lengthy research journal article to 25 words or less, I appreciated this exercise in summarizing. You need to possess some sense of enduring understanding to summarize effectively. Twitter, when used well, encourages this skill. I will never forget the numerous times I’ve heard my advisor, Dr. Katie Dredger, say how she loves Twitter because it forces people in the field of English Language Arts to get to the point. When students in my Teaching Adolescent Readers class were given an assignment to read a young adult novel that could be paired with a classic and create a product that they would expect their students to create, one student used Twitterature. He created a rubric, as required by the course, and a model Twitterature that reflected his own product involving Hamlet that was composed using Glogster.

Couple these experiences with Flipboard and the quality educational news stories shared, information in general passed in regards to teaching and learning, and professional learning community camaraderie, and Twitter had me at first tweet. Well, almost. I joined in 2008 and warmed up this semester due to a course requirement.

Differentiation and person-to-person contact

I don’t use Facebook.  I am the only eligible member of my family not connected through this common SNS. Am I stubborn? Maybe. I just don’t want to put my time in that space right now.  With a family of three, if I have a spare moment, I like to read a book of choice… right now it is Anne Lammott’s Bird by Bird: Some Lessons on Writing and Life. Or, I enjoy the blogs of the student teachers with whom I work. Or, I play in my flower beds or play games with my three children. I like to sit on the couch and visit with my husband.When I see a computer I see work rather than social. Family time? I prefer to have it in person. This weekend drove that home for me as I watched my big brother entertain us at our cabin in the mountains of PA. His survivor game entertained cousins, aunts, grandparents, friends, foster children, and a boyfriend. Photo Mar 09, 10 24 29 AMThe ages spanned from ages 7 – 78…now that’s differentiation! The survivor game was fun. He paired up 8 of the crew, tape and zip lines tied to ropes that led around and over and between trees. Once the course was mastered, a sling shot was passed to get the prize out of the tree. The main point here: I see the value in person-to-person contact, and I believe in differentiation that can challenge and entertain all ages. Photo Mar 09, 10 33 50 AMWhile online interactions are great, I don’t think they will ever come close to in-person, live interactions. We gain energy from each other. In some ways I can relate to what Marissa Mayer has to say about working side-to-side. Photo Mar 09, 10 43 24 AMThen again, maybe I’m just slow to catch the wave. As with anything, maybe the key is striking the balance. I just don’t want to lose any of this live interaction, and I feel like the more I’m behind the screen, the more I will lose. The weekend without wifi was a treat. I saw people come alive, put the iPods and intelligent phones away, BE together. And on the way home, when we hit a McDonalds with wifi…they were “alone together” again.

Reciprosity in online communities

What do Amanda Palmer and President Obama have in common?

After my office mate suggested that I listen to Palmer’s TED talk that centered on “the art of asking,” I read this line in A Networked Self: “Obama signed up 2.4 million Facebook users as supporters, compared  with just 624,000 for McCain” (p. 190). This led me to explore the Pew Internet site for the 2012 election, and it is clear that more liberals use SNS sites than conservatives. This usage comes as no surprise to me, because the younger population tends to be more liberal, but I wonder how donations to candidates will shift over time. Pew noted that “While Democrats and Republicans are equally likely to make a presidential campaign contribution, Republicans are much more likely to contribute through offline channels, while Democratic donors are much more likely to make a contribution online or directly from their cell phone.” In our fast paced society, I would think that ease in contributing would make a profound impact on elections. Not only does Obama understand how his audience donates, he also responds to how they communicate. In 2008 he created his own SNS that encouraged participation and group formation. Obama shows that he can ask for support, but also provide a space for community building online.

Likewise, Palmer, who believes that the music industry needs to stop asking how to make users pay for the music and instead ask how to LET fans pay for music, showed reciprosity in action online. Her TED talk interested me enough that I explored how she asked her fans for help. Using Kickstarter 25,000 of her fans supported her by donating 1.2 million dollars, well over her goal of 100,000.

What do these two voices, the President of the United States and an artist/musician, have to do with education? Everything. Students today need to understand new literacies and how to leverage them for the good of their community and for their personal gain. Students need to have the space in school to learn and experiment with online communication. What goals do they have? How will their goals affect others? What is their role? What can they give? Where do they need to ask for help? How can they leverage new literacies to be effective collaborators? Who is their audience? What media is best suited to communicate their message to their audience?

What do Amanda Palmer and President Obama have in common? It seems they both understand the impact of reciprosity and community building in social network sites.

Shared folders and Google Drive

Google Drive is Google’s answer to dropbox, right? I set out to explore this question and learned of other competitors. Skydrive, Sugarsync, and box were new to me, but dropbox I have been using in my daily personal and professional life.

I want to talk about cloud storage as it pertains to teaching and learning in secondary and higher education. Sugarsync did not hold my interest long, because it does not have a collaborative editing tool, and that is important to me. Collaborative writing with Google docs has afforded me the opportunity to publish with fellow graduate students, make co-created rubrics with students, and lead teacher candidates to write collaboratively in response to young adult literature.

Many middle and high school English Language Arts teachers already use Google documents in class, but I have not seen the use of shared folders within a class. I see value in the ability for teachers to create a shared class folder and an individual shared folder between the teacher and the individual student. While dropbox could allow for the same options, Google documents are already in use, so it seems the easiest system for teachers and students to begin using in a shared digital space.

My question lies in how will I handle revisions once a paper has been submitted with a deadline. For example, if my third period has a paper due to be submitted in their Google Drive folder with a deadline of Tuesday by 8 p.m., then do I want to say that they cannot revise after this time? I don’t think so, but how can it be handled in a fair manner? If Aaron revises past the deadline and Jane doesn’t get a chance because I have already graded her paper, is that fair?

I think I would be upfront and tell the class that the due date matters, but they may revise after submission KNOWING that they take a risk of not knowing when I will grade the paper. It would also be important to be explicit about grading cycles. To be fair, I would tell them that I will rotate whose paper gets graded first and then each time I would begin grading with a different person. After all, if a student wants to continue work on a paper, who am I to say no? The pitfall? Sometimes deadlines are nice; the student can STOP. What do you think?