Power Quotations from Start. Right. Now.

After a vacation week hiatus, I returned to my 30 day sketchnote challenge. Fortunately, I did more that just sit in the sand while away, I read some really great books–both fiction and non-fiction, including a few education-related titles. One of these was Start. Right. Now. Teach and Lead for Excellence by Todd Whitaker, Jeffery Zoul and Jimmy Casas. I’ll have more to say about the book on the blog later this week, but I wanted to share a few of the many quotations that stopped me in my proverbial reading tracks.

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Students, the Twitter-verse and Me

Here was my vision.

Students would create an informational website with a white paper on their issue. They’d create a series of ads and flyers (using Canva) for both on-line and off-line ads to be distributed via a Twitter feed. They’d use Twitter and the ads to draw audiences to their websites, seek feed back on the concerns of the community, and then ultimately write a problem-solving proposal shaped on the feedback from the community. I’ll be posting later about how I rolled all of this out to students along with the resources I used. I was inspired to this vision after reading about such a sequence in Understanding and Creating Digital Texts: An Activity-Based Approach (Beach, Anson, Breuch & Reynolds 2014) and a parallel sequence of activities from the Michigan State University FYC. [If you would like to see my launch event for the project, you can see it here.] Although this is not the only reading I did. Both Troy Hicks (@hickstro), posts at Movingwriters , and the good folks at KQED Mindshift have pushed my thinking about writing, social media, audience and the use of Twitter. 

Laying the Foundation for Twitter.

So, really, this is the first in a series of posts about using social media, particularly Twitter, as a way to help students think about digital citizenship, to create academic and professional profiles using social media, as a tool for research, connection, and a new resource to bring us to texts to use as mentor texts, analysis and evaluation.

One step I took before building any materials, was to check in with my principal, who also actively tweets (@vtenney3) to make sure I had his support in this endeavor, and in my weekly email blast to parents, I let them know that we were going to use Twitter as part of the course.

Unfortunately, one thing I didn’t do, and I don’t know if it would have made a difference, was to check in the the IT department to make sure that Twitter was unlocked (as it should have been). On the planned roll-out day, my first period students couldn’t access Twitter through their network accounts. I pushed things off for a week to make sure after the filters had been changed, students could access.

Roll-out and Procedure

On the day I rolled out to students, I started with them reading an article, “Why Every Personal Brand Deserves and Early Start,” which had come to my attention through reading George Couros’ (@gcouros) newsletter. Students got links to the articles in a Schoology update and then had to comment on the articles. Here is a snapshot to give you a sense of the tenor of the overall response from students: 

student-responses

Several student responses to the launch article. 

So, I created a Schoology page with ISTE standards and my own learning objectives for why would be using this social media tool. The page provided students with the details I wanted them to use.

schoology-page-twitter

My Schoology resource page for my students. I wanted the use of social media to capture and focus their attention, and I also wanted to make sure I had formal purpose to our work as justification to administration and community.

 

For the first Tweets, I used the weekly KQED Mindshift “Do Now” questions. To help us all connect, I used a hashtag (#kpedz103). Using the hashtag allowed me to discuss the formal purpose of using hashtags as a way of search for conversations appropriate to research, as well as to help them aggregate their own research. 

As you can see, I most of what I did here was synthesized from a number of different sources and resources. Like what I was asking my students to do, I was using Twitter, links to followed Tweeters to aggregate information and put it together. I also had to employ a number of tools and resources to get this all to work.

At this point, students knew how to write a tweet, follow, re-tweet, search hashtags, and use a hashtag to help link tweets around a central idea.

We went on to start to use Twitter as a research tool. Students would need to find organizations that created content, research, writing, blogging about an issue that they were studying. We used a Gale publication and database on their issue, which provided a list of organizations to contact. I instructed them to see if these organizations maintained Twitter feeds and to follow them.

Where I’m headed…

Working from there, we will return to the Twitter feeds in the next day to evaluate the sources and the kinds of information these sources were providing to us through the Twitter links.

The next part of this, about source evaluation and teaching students to think about how Tweets are making arguments will be coming soon.

I started this post describing a vision I was working towards in my English 103 class that would bring in real-world writing, distribution of this writing, and working with audiences to shape writing products. Teaching Twitter as a tool became the first step in making this vision reality for my students.

My First 10 Weeks into Edublogs

In my new course Media Maker, using a Pro account, students have each established their own blogs, blog on a weekly basis. These blogs are a combination of responses to class tasks and writing of their own choice. For example, in the last module we completed, students worked on information bases writing projects: they created articles styled after wikipedia entries and Buzzfeed style listicles. So, weekly blogs included reflections on research, summarizing sources and linking reading to the projects they were working to create. Additionally, optional assignment are given to the students where they write product reviews, create photo essays, or conduct and document interviews. All of this writing is put onto the student’s blog.

I’d like to take some time to discuss some of the habits I’ve developed as teacher to manage the use of Edublogs and evaluate some of the strengths and weaknesses I see in Edublogs as a teacher.

Before getting into that, I’ll take a minute to outline my decision to use Edublogs as the primary platform for this class. First, I was looking for something secure and that I had control over as a teacher. Edublogs provides the security to create logins and passwords for those seeking to access these blogs. Thus, it’s easy for parents and peers to be given access, but there’s a layer of difficulty for anyone else. Second, as a teacher with students linked to my class, and the Pro accounts, I have backstage access for control of what students are working on. Here are some examples of where I’ve had to put a degree of influence and control over student work:

  1. Connotation. One student overlooked the directions around blog names provided at the outset, and used the title “How to Make Life Lit.” Because of the connotations around “lit” for students these days, I was able to edit the title, and then send a note to the student on Schoology about my rationale.
  2. Awareness of audience. This second example really brings together a range of blogs and posts from students around the inability of many students to shift language to appropriate contexts. Thus, many students struggle to edit, proofread and shift language so that it’s appropriate to being read by a wide range of audiences on the web. It’s typical for students to write with a lack of using capital letters, to forget apostrophes, to use the lowercase for the first person pronoun.  In some cases, this lack of awareness and ability to apply the rules is so bad, I can just go into the student blog and pull the post. In the best cases, I’ve been able to sit with the student and edit work together to remind and reinforce the rules.
  3. Acceptable and Fair Use. Students are encourage, and really required to use their blogs as a platform for web-based writing. Thus the use of hyperlinks, images, and curated content from the web becomes part of the texts that they must create. However, students often nab photos or other images, but then fail to adequately cite these images. Again, I’m able to get onto a student dashboard, and change the status of posts and pages to draft status until these issues are resolved.

Over the past year, I spent time looking at a variety of other blogging platforms: Medium, Blogger, WordPress. At one point, I considered giving students a choice of platforms, but ultimately decided against such a move. Edublogs gives me something central. And, as I said above, Edublogs provided security that many other platforms cannot give. As part of this, our school internet filters block out WordPress and other blogging sites, often because these platforms contain pornographic content. Because my school has become an Enterprise level Schoology user, I did look at the simplified blog tool that it provides. But, it is highly simplified. For a course where students are blogging as a part of the curriculum, students should have more power and have to grapple with the rich tools that are provided by Edublogs. Still, those looking for an entry platform into student blogging, and who are also using Schoology, would be rewarded by looking into this feature.

Like its parent WordPress, Edublogs has a great deal of control for its users, perhaps too much. And, while I don’t know all nuances, there’s enough that’s super easy to use for teachers and students.

To manage all of this, I’ve developed a few habits. On average, students make a post once a week. It’s easy enough when a post is due, to start to work through the list of students, read their blogs and leave feedback. Blogs are assessed and graded, and I’m able to spot check for student comments, and be on alert for any issues that I discussed above. Students are required to double-post their writing. They post to Edublogs so that their work can be read, but they also post the same assignment to Schoology so that I can mark, edit and comment. This cumbersome for both me and the students.

Edublogs is primarily a blogging tool that has some features that make it useful for a teacher. It’s not a teaching tool and learning management systems that provides high-end blogging features. Trying to manage the blogs for thirty some students is cumbersome and tedious. There’s not a great way to see student blogs. Edublogs could improve its delivery by creating a way to manage individual sections, and within those sections create alphabetical ordering of students. Even better–provide a way to grade those blogs with rubrics and feedback tool that allowed discussion between teacher and student. It would be super nice if there was a level of connectivity between an LMS like Schoology and Edublogs, but what that would look like, I really couldn’t say. At Canandaigua, many in our English department like the way that Schoology and Turnitin connect. Anything to enhance the one-stop-shopping experience.

I’m not going to write about the benefits of blogging with students. There’s a ton of material, resources, groups and others who have written on this topic. One cool thing that’s happen, and actually happened almost immediately when we turned on the blogs was the power it gave to students in the room. Right away, a bunch of my students–mostly gamers–started blogging about games that they were playing, writing reviews of these games, and posting follow-up comments on each other’s blogs. They continue, even now, 10 weeks into the course, to go beyond regular assignments (sometimes in place of them) to keep up these habits. This spoke to me about the power of student blogging to give students a voice and entryway into the discourse communities they want to be part of engaging in conversations with.

Still, there are some places I still need to explore. I realize that in describing the issues that I’ve been working with in this classroom over the past ten weeks, I’ve also stumbled across several issues of the politics of the classroom: Should a teacher be able to exercise control over student blogs and remove content from what they’ve created? What is the value of students creating texts in which they are essentially curating content of the web.