A Brief Thought on Network Literacy

While I understand the notion that network literacy involves “writing in a distributed, collaborative environment” (Walker, qtd in Yonker) and that teachers of English composition should consider “how networks alter both understandings of writing and writing itself” (Rice 129), I also wonder about the public/social nature of networked writing practices.  Does teaching composition with new media in mind require that instructors and learners exhibit certain personality traits? To be able to embrace such networks as blogs and other social media, is a prerequisite to be an outgoing, extroverted individual? While I am very aware that there are a great many bloggers/facebook users/twitter account holders who would describe themselves and shy or introverted, I suppose I wonder how the social aspects of network literacy, the seemingly necessary sharing and interacting components, affect those who are more private writers.  It just seems that a pedagogy that involves technological approaches to teaching writing might also entail some more psychological/emotional considerations than more traditional (and perhaps outdated, according to the authors) ways of teaching English composition.

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Multiliteracies for a Digital Age–Chapter 5

As I read Chapter 5 in Selber’s book, I reflected on the attempts I’ve made to integrate more technology into my English classes, but have been complicated by issues of student access and computer familiarity.  I understand the nested contexts that are displayed on p. 185, but I also wonder about the social circumstances in which students live on an everyday non-academic basis.  Perhaps this is one layer beyond those in the figure, or perhaps Selber is suggesting that we address the social context within the other layers, but I do think student population is an essential consideration.  The first semester I started teaching at the college, I thought it would be helpful to post class agendas and handouts on the online course management system (for my face-to-face classes), so that students could access class materials if they were absent or lost an item or needed a reminder.  I spent a good deal of time learning about the system on my own in order to use it for my courses, but quickly realized that because students either lacked access to a personal computer or were unfamiliar with the course management system and the difference between it and the other online systems (for registration/grades/email), it was a time-consuming and frustrating endeavor.  I persisted in using the system for a couple of semesters, but eventually stopped due to its apparent ineffectiveness and under-utilization.  I know this was a minor undertaking, and is not necessarily the most inspired integration of technology in the classroom, but it offered me a glimpse into real life situations that present obstacles to the learning process, technology-based or otherwise.  I am not about to give up on digital literacy for my students, but I do wonder about addressing the social structures that impede its practicality. Is broader social change as much a factor as institutional systemic change that Selber is calling for? Are the two interconnected?

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Search Engine Society

“Just Google it.”

This phrase has become so common that “Google” is now a popular verb that is included as part of our standard vocabulary.  The act of online searching is embedded so deeply into our life fabric that is has infiltrated our language in such a way that we don’t even really realize it happening.  But it makes sense.  Search engines like Google are appealing to a time-crunched society because they make finding information fast and convenient.  We rely on them for such a wide range of everyday tasks that it only seems appropriate to utilize them for academic purposes as well.  I know that many of my students at the community college find comfort in the Google search; it is a familiar space for many of them, and one which seemingly does not require advanced computer skills to navigate.  Halavais addresses this tendency for student reliance on sites like Google when he mentions that, “It does not take much notice that college students today are likely to turn to a large search engine to make initial inquiries on academic topics, rather than to the library catalog or databases”(35).  While this may be the trend, Halavais also cautions that “students may have more confidence in their ability to find and evaluate information than is warranted”(36).   The familiarity that my students have developed with performing common web searches may lend itself to the kind of confidence to which Halavais refers.  But a general Google search is certainly not the most suitable way for my students to retrieve relevant and credible source material for their research projects, despite (or perhaps even due to) its apparent ease of use.

Every semester when I introduce the first research assignment to my ENG 131 (College Writing) students, we spend a couple of class periods discussing and analyzing online search techniques and results.  While two or three hours may not be sufficient to ingrain critical searching skills into students’ research repertoires, I am convinced it is better than not addressing the issue at all.  The first time I taught College Writing, I made assumptions about my students as “digital natives”, which meant I did not feel particularly obliged to teach them how to navigate search engines.  However, I quickly realized that the ability to distinguish between reliable and inaccurate search returns is not “part of the average seeker’s collection of skills” (Halavais 35).  I know that even after sitting through a library orientation, in which the head reference librarian teaches students about the library databases and walks them through the process of performing keyword and subject searches, many of my students will still persist in using the worldwide web for their research due to its relative familiarity and possible database intimidation.  Instead of trying to strictly prohibit this practice, I now design lessons around assessing credibility of information found on the internet.  I ask students to bring some of their own web-based research materials to class and we examine external and internal evidence, writer credentials, web address extension (.com, .edu, .org, etc), links to other websites, date of publication, along with other factors to determine the reputability of their online materials.  Since I’ve incorporated these lessons into my College Writing classes, students appear to be more discerning consumers of online information, at least as far as I can see from the sources they use in their research projects.

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Multiliteracies for a Digital Age: Critical Literacy

As I was reading Chapter 3 in Selber’s book, I was drawn to the section where the author discusses the “Parameters of a Critical Approach to Computer Literacy.” On p. 97, Selber references James Gee’s notion of “primary” (acquired) and “secondary” (learned) discourses when he notes that,

“There is a distinct advantage for students whose primary discourses are well-matched to the secondary discourses they are being asked to develop and control.  And when this situation goes unacknowledged—and it often does—harm can come to those who have acquired non-mainstream discourses.”

Again I am reminded of the power that teachers wield as gatekeepers to the dominant discourse.   I have the authority to decide (at least in their English course) if my students can enter into a discourse that ultimately determines their academic and quite possibly professional “success.” Many (if not the majority) of my students are of cultural/racial minority and/or low-socioeconomic status.  Because their home, or primary, discourse differs drastically from that of the academic (secondary discourse), they enter the college with little to no knowledge of its mainstream expectations.  I consider it part of my job to “apprentice”(in the word of Gee) students who experience this mismatch of discourses into the academic world as best I can, which includes introducing them to the use of technology in an academic setting.  Validating their primary discourse while also guiding them into the secondary discourse is an essential part of this process, but it’s a complex endeavor that I still continue to struggle with.  I try to be explicit in my guidance, or apprenticeship, in an effort to work from an additive framework; by learning the dominant academic discourse in addition to their home discourse, they are becoming fluent in a variety of life situations.  I also encourage them to “question authority” in productive ways that I hope lead them to a more critical inquiry process.  By critically examining the dominant discourse, perhaps my students can extend their critical thinking skills to consider mainstream academic issues like technology access and use within the college setting.

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Keyword Continued….

I’m toying with the idea of changing my Keyword from “feedback” to “comments” or even “response”, though it appears that many articles use all three of these terms interchangeably.  At this point I am thinking of trying to trace the evolution of “comments” (I’ll stick to this for now) from the traditional pen-and-paper/ writing in the margins meaning to present-day more technologically-based online commenting and even audio comments.  Just a couple of questions I have thus far (aside from the possibility of changing the term):

1. When conducting research on the Keyword, should I be searching for articles that offer a specific definition of the term (which I have found to be difficult so far), or would it also be acceptable to find articles that use the term as part of a research project, and then determine/discuss the way in which those articles use the term (written “comments”/audio “comments”, etc.)?

2. Should I be aiming for a particular number of sources to complete my Keyword essay?  Below is a very preliminary list of what I hope might be possible sources so far:

Questions and Answers About Teacher Written commentary and Student Revision: Teachers and Students Working Together                                                                           Journal of Second Language Writing                                                                                         Lynn M. Goldstein

Written Comments as a Form of Feedback”                                                                      Studies In Educational Evaluation                                                                                            Inês Bruno, Leonor Santos

A Study of Voice-Recognition Software as a Tool for Teacher Response                           Computers and Composition                                                                                                     Thomas Batt, Sandip Wilson

Online Technologies for Teaching Writing: Students React to Teacher Response in Voice and Written Modalities                                                                                                        Research in the Teaching of English                                                                                             Loel Kim

I’m obviously going to continue to investigate other sources, but thought I would stop here and see if I’m on the right track…plus, I just had to get these questions and research ideas down before I forget!  Thanks to anyone who reads this “thinking/wondering out loud” entry….

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Wondering About Wikis

Being relatively new to the wiki “scene”, I decided to investigate this web tool a bit more, and found myself giggling that the first result that popped up from a Google “wiki” search was from Wikipedia.  Of course, I shouldn’t find that particularly surprising; Wikipedia has become ubiquitous when searching for virtually any topic online.  Speaking of Wikipedia, I might as well add a note about our class discussion of this website.  Derek asked if anyone “forbids” the use of Wikipedia in their assignments, and while I don’t prohibit students from using the site as a reference when first researching a topic, I ask that they do not cite it as one of their main sources.  When I have asked my students whether or not they think they should use Wikipedia as a source when conducting research, I’ve found that many of them are averse to using it, citing the fact that “any old person” can make changes to entries.  This leads to me to my first question about wikis: is it indeed the case that anyone can edit a wiki?  I’m assuming I could create a class wiki that would only permit those who had a username and password to access the page, but I suppose there are also open-access wikis, no?  I was under the impression that content (on a site such as Wikipedia, for example) is fact-checked and monitored somehow (by the creator of the page?), but I guess I’m not sure.   One possible concern I would have about the idea of “open editing” in a class wiki is whether students could delete and/or change each others’ posts in ways that might be unproductive or even offensive.  I doubt this would happen very often, but obviously some “wiki rules” would need to be established to ensure the tool is used effectively.

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Multiliteracies for a Digital Age—Chapter One

It was interesting that Selber noted that “faculty in English departments are rarely (if ever) consulted in institutional matters of computer literacy” (22).  I think this is indeed the case at the institution where I work.  Decisions involving technology use and placement on campus are made by committees that may or may not have members representing the English Division.  This is most likely due to a common assumption that “English people” are not exactly authorities on the technology topic.  However, I also recently realized that none of the Course Masters for the English courses that I teach (ESL, Developmental, Freshman Composition) include any Learning Objectives related to student use or understanding of technology.   If the English faculty at the college do not demonstrate through these official course documents that they are actively incorporating computer literacy into the curriculum, then why would these instructors necessarily be consulted on such “institutional matters”? It seems that there needs to be some more deliberate engagement with the topic of computer literacy if the academic discipline wishes to become a part of the institutional conversation.

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‘Literacy’: Overused and Under- Considered?

The first part of Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola’s article reminded me once again of the highly political nature of language.  When the authors discuss the way that ‘literacy’ has been used as a cure-all for what ‘ails’ the nation (poverty, social stratification, racial inequality), it is clear that the term’s meaning has been oversimplified.  I was particularly struck by a couple of quotes by Stuckey on p. 354, including her recognition that, “Far from engineering freedom, our current approaches to literacy corroborate other social practices that prevent freedom and limit opportunity” and “We must take responsibility for the racism throughout…children’s earliest years of schooling by literacy whose achievements can be seen in the loss of a third or more poor students by schooling’s end.” These quotes reminded me of a study I conducted a few years ago on “sharing time” discourse in schools, in which I examined the work of Sarah Michaels (1981), who calls attention to the role of teachers as conscious acceptors and appreciators of “ethnic or subgroup differences in discourse style” that “may ultimately affect the children’s progress in the acquisition of literacy skills”(440-1). As a result of Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola’s piece, in conjunction with previous work I have read on literacy acquisition, I naturally start to question my role as an English instructor at a community college where the majority of my students are cultural minorities.  Because I teach ‘academic’ English literacy skills, am I contributing to the perpetuation of dominant elite ideology that ultimately aims to keep certain ‘other’ populations in their oppressed places?  Is this question just a bit too deep for this blog entry?  I’m also interested in the authors’ second part of the article, in which they suggest that alternative terms be offered to better encompass the meaning(s) of ‘literacy’, particularly in an age when technology plays such a role in our everyday lives. I wonder…does a change in terminology lead to a change in perception of a particular concept?  This is a potentially powerful thought…

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Gliffy and Etherpad Thoughts

Upon brief exploration of Gliffy in class the other night and a subsequent post-class visit to the site, I am excited to discover that this online tool presents some potentially promising practical (alliteration unintended…but fun nonetheless) classroom applications. Aside from ‘designing’ more ergonomic and tech-friendly classroom spaces to possibly present to college administration, I could also use Gliffy’s online diagrams to create graphic organizers for my ESL classes at the college. When I teach the students about Comparison Essays, I produce my own Venn Diagrams and T-Charts to help them better visualize their ideas and make connections between words and phrases, so I could certainly see Gliffy assisting in this process. The combination of various pre-made charts and the option to create an original diagram makes the program very appealing indeed. Since I try to incorporate a great variety of visual aids into my teaching at all levels, I think this program could offer some valuable support to my lesson planning.

In addition to Gliffy, I could also envision Etherpad being a useful tool in my classes. My ESL students are involved in A LOT of group work, and many times I ask them to collaborate to create parts of essays. Currently, since students don’t have access to computers–at least not college-provided–in most classrooms, they write on actual paper (which I am now beginning to think is rather absurd since beginning this class…) and I display their hand-written work on the overhead (via document camera) to read and evaluate together. Etherpad makes this whole process seem rather inefficient and outdated. If I had the students use the program to type their work in groups and then offer comments to each other, similar to what we did in class the other night, I believe these activities would seem much more collaborative and interesting for the students. The only real problem lies in having to reserve a room in the computer lab so that all students have access to the technology required for Etherpad. I do reserve rooms in the lab throughout the semester, but it requires extensive pre-planning as lab space is at a premium and rooms tend to be booked weeks ahead of time. However, even if the classes were able to have one or two sessions using this program, I think they would benefit from the experience.

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The Keyword Search Begins

While discussing the Keywords project in class the other night, I blanked.  I scoured my mind for a term that would resonate with me and that could possibly offer me some professional insight, but nothing came to mind.  I think the whole idea of situating the word within the writing subfield of technology/computers made me hesitate, and I somehow felt restricted in my possible choices, since I am relatively new to this subject matter.  However, as Derek started listing some keywords on the board, I realized I might be able to extend some of my recent research interests to this particular project as well.  I want to give a big shout-out to Joe (http://joetorok.wordpress.com), whom I believe came up with the term “feedback” as a possible keyword.  I conducted research for a previous course on the effectiveness of written feedback on L2 learner essays, and completed a couple of mini case studies in my own ESL composition courses that dealt with the issue of written feedback.  Due to my current interest in this topic, I intend to examine it in further detail for the Keywords project.

I have done a preliminary search in the journal “Computers and Composition”, and found some potentially useful articles about L2 learners and e-feedback, but I need to investigate more sources that discuss the history of the term “feedback”, and specifically how it has been and continues to be used in the context of Computers and Writing.  I’m afraid that setting a Google Alert for “feedback” would turn up a lot of irrelevant information, but I’m considering narrowing down the term (perhaps “computers and written feedback”, or something similar) to try to increase my chances of receiving useful article suggestions.

As for article content, some of my initial thoughts are to try to find pieces that deal with the evolving definition of “feedback” in the writing classroom, from the classic paper-based written feedback to more technologically-based e-feedback for papers submitted in online formats.  I am still undecided about whether or not to look at the term strictly in the context of L2 learners, but I am leaning toward keeping it open to a more general population.

Update: I eventually settled on the word “response” for my Keywords project, as it seemed to be a term that was used more often by scholars when discussing teacher input on student writing.  I found phrases like “response to writing”and “teacher response to student text” provided me with more helpful search returns than “teacher feedback”.  However, it is worth noting that even if the word “response” appeared in the title of certain studies/essays, other words like “feedback” and “comments” were used by authors interchangeably throughout their work, signifying a synonymous relationship among the different terms.

In my research, I discovered that “response” takes on a variety of forms, from pen-to-paper written response to online typed commentary and even response aided by voice recognition technology that does not require the instructor to compose comments by hand at all.  Technology is changing the definition of “response” to student writing and is creating new possibilities for collaborative response mechanisms (back-and-forth via email/online commentary, etc.) that may not have been imagined when the term was first employed in composition classrooms.

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