Twitter in the Classroom?

Depending on how many people you follow on Twitter, it could be impossible to keep up with Tweets during a real-time discussion. Imagine a screen with fifty or so Tweets, updating every ten seconds, and only about 20% of them being from students in the class.  In order to organize the students’ Tweets, we used the hash tag #Torgchat and the website Tweetchat.  Many students didn’t take my suggestion to use the Tweetchat site, and if you’ve done much teaching, you probably already realize that there’s lots of times you’re talking but nobody’s hearing anything you say.  I used to blame the students, but now I’ve accepted that part of the teaching environment and am trying to figure out what I might do about it.

NCTE, Twitter, writing, Las Vegas

By using the hash tag #Torgchat, the website Tweetchat could collect just the Tweets from our discussion and collect them on one screen.  This can now also be accomplished through the Twitter search feature, but one thing Tweetchat does is put the hashtag in automatically. Students participated via their phones or computers. I teach at a school where the price of a laptop is included with tuition, and before you start to figure out how you will manage this yourself or start booking times in the computer lab, you should know that my first uses of Twitter to enhance classroom discussion didn’t go very well. Still, you might have suggestions for me or ways to improve on what I set up for the class.  More next post on how we used Twitter, what I didn’t like about it, and what I plan to do in the Fall of 2012.  Love to hear of your own plans you’re formulating.

In November of 2012, I’m a part of a panel discussion related to Twitter. You can read more about that here.

Using Twitter in the Classroom to Facilitate Discussion

Using Twitter to Enhance Discussion in the Composition Classroom

I started with Twitter in the spring semester of 2012. I invited students to create accounts so that we could use them along with classroom discussion. We talked about privacy and potential problems with going public with writing, and I told the students that they might have a good reason for not wanting to use social media. One student shared a horrific story of Facebook identity theft and harassment. I also noted that I sometimes consider abandoning my online life, and that I’d enthusiastically support any student who wanted to skip the social media component of the class. We all, I thought, would benefit from some powerful voices warning about the dangers of being too digitally connected.

Twitter, NCTE, discussion, social media, pedagogy

Even though I was worried that there would be students who would see my offer as a way to get out of some of the classwork, all of my students signed up for Twitter.  I think there were less than five who already had an account.  One or two of the students had internships during which it was their primary job to Tweet and write Facebook posts.

Here was my starting place: in addition to doing our regular, go around the room, sharing to begin each class session, the students would also Tweet a highlight of what they planned to say.  So the idea was that students would listen to the one or two students who talked AND at the same time, Tweet comments to the class or as a “reply” to one particular student.  I thought of this as a kind of transparent note-taking process.  It used to be I’d write down golden lines of something someone said or jot down a question I had for later, but with Twitter, these notes could instantly be put up on the screen for everyone to see.  Maybe we’d see from the Tweets that many writers were gravitating toward the same lines from our reading, or that the writers in the class had some of the same sorts of questions. For example, if more than one student didn’t understand what I meant when I said student work should strive for “intellectual ambition,” perhaps our discussion could dig in on that feature of my expectations for their work.

In the coming blog posts, I’ll share how my idea worked, what I learned, and what I plan to do differently in the Fall of 2012. If you’ve used digital texts in the classroom, I hope you’ll join in the conversation.  Have you thought about how social media might impact classroom communities? Have you used Twitter in your classroom? If this article interested you, I hope you’ll consider signing up for periodic updates by typing your email in the upper left hand corner of this page.  Thanks!

 

The DJ as Modern Day Storyteller: Talking About Adam Banks’ Digital Griots

So you think your iPhone, some computer in the classroom, or the Blackboard online platform is just some neutral tool?  In this week’s episode of the READ, WRITE, & TEACH digital book club, I was joined by my colleagues Carmen Kynard and Roseanne Gatto so that we could discuss our reading of Adam J. Banks’ Digital Griots:  African American Rhetoric in a Multimedia Age.  It’s a book that interests me because as a writer and teacher who hopes to be professionally relevant in the years to come, I believe it’s important to be able to speak into digital spaces.  Early in the podcast Roseanne points us to these lines where Banks describes one of the goals of his text:

This book looks to scratch, to interrupt, to play a while in the grooves of two records–disciplinary conversations about African American rhetoric and those about multimedia writing–to begin to blend and loop them while posing one question:  how can African American rhetorical traditions and practices inform composition’s current endeavors to define, theorize, and practice multimedia writing? 

Adam Banks Digital Griots Kynard Sirc Rice Torgerson Gatto

Digital Griots by Adam Banks

Digital Griots is a call to action for every teacher who isn’t working to enable students  to enter into the digital space in a meaningful way.  This is a text that connects the role of the African griot storyteller to the role of the modern day DJ.  In this podcast you’ll meet my colleague Carmen, who is the director of First Year Writing at St. John’s University.  Carmen is mentioned several times in Digital Griots, including a reference to her article, “Wanted:  Some Black Long Distance [Writers]:  Blackboard Flava Flavin and other Afrodigital Experiences in the Classroom.”

My fellow composition teacher Roseanne wonders if as a white lady she’s got any business bringing a Jay-Z text into the classroom or teaching a hip hop themed course.   She also tells a pretty funny story about the time she and her friend went to a Buju Banton concert and were pretty much the only white people there.  (don’t worry if you don’t know Buju’s stuff; I didn’t either)  I’ll save the “punch line” to the story for those of you who listen to the podcast.  🙂

Roseanne and Carmen join Banks’ in his “playful” challenge of Geoffrey Sirc and Jeff Rice.  Banks writes, “And while I see value in both Rice’s and Sirc’s arguments in favor of the ability to play freely in texts and techniques in the writing classroom, their desire to lift, sample, and loop concepts from black traditions freely for their their mere applicability without concern for the culture or context that produced them, the mixtape as rhetorical practice offers composition pedagogy and digital writing theory far more than a whimsical pursuit of the cool.”

Banks’ primary objection is stated here:  “Now how Rice is able to claim that he “invented” a rhetoric of something, much less a rhetoric of the cool (Rhetoric of Cool 5, 113), given Fab’s description and many of the texts he himself cites, I have no idea, though the various traditions he links together in his study of cool help make the book an intriguing one.  My playful rib aside…”  (118-119).  This is a section of the book that Carmen brings into our discussion.

As for myself, Banks’ Digital Griots furthers my understanding of what a POWERPLAY literacy can be.  Language can be used to access power; of course language can be used to oppress and control.  For all the reasons you understand that it’s important to read and write, those same reasons can be applied toward an understanding of how important it is for a writing teacher to help others into digital spaces where they can be heard.

If you’re a teacher or student, I’d like to hear from you about how technology is or is not being used in your classroom.  Do you see technology as a neutral tool that does what you want it to, or do you think that the tool has a lot embedded in it that seeks to direct  or influence you?  If you’re a technology user, especially in a classroom or literacy program, how much of the conversation in Digital Griots is ongoing in the spaces you inhabit?

Thanks to Roger D and C Milli for providing the music!

Some links that might interest you:

You can link to the podcast here or

you can search “Digital Book Club” on iTunes.

Thanks for reading!

Facebook and Blogs as Instruments for World Peace?

from Bruce Barrett founder of IWAGEPEACE.ORG

When I started to make the mental move from basketball coach to writer (not that a person couldn’t be both) the two writer/teachers I began to read were Donald Murray and Peter Elbow.   Many of the professors and teachers around me let me know that these two men were considered to be from the “expressive” school of composition and that if I followed their methods then my classroom would not be a place for political and social change.   In the years that have followed, I have not found the warnings about expressivism’s lack of political impact to be true.

In the writing classrooms I inhabit, my students write in what Murray called a daybook (think writer’s journal) and they use Peter Elbow’s guidelines for sharing their work with one another, and what happens after that often takes on political implications for the classroom and beyond.

What follows are my notes for the reading of a text I choose because I’m thinking about technology, multimodal texts, and how those terms relate to the act of writing.  The text did its work of giving me more to consider, but it also got me to thinking about the social and political change that occurs when people read and write together, whether this happens passing sheets of paper back and forth, posting on Facebook, or creating websites.  If you have any doubt about a blog’s ability to spread any sort of message, take a glance at the map that goes with this blog and check out the location of some of its readers.  Whoa.

Here are some “Golden Lines” and some of my thoughts related to Kathleen Blake Yancey’s “Made Not Only in Words:  Composition in a New Key.” 56:2  CCC. December 2004.

  • “Never before has the proliferation of writings outside the academy so counterpointed the compositions inside” (298).  My students write regularly on blogs and I have them form groups to investigate an issue within writing studies, write a collaborative research paper, and present it to the class via a multimodal text.  While those are activities within the courses I teach, I also talk daily about scholarly sources, signal phrases, parenthetical citations, and an MLA works cited page.  I was just walking to class and thinking about how few of my students will use these “skills” (what else to call them?) after college.  I was also thinking how rarely I use those skills in my writing. If I were a teacher and writer mostly publishing in scholarly journals, I would use these features of writing a lot, but I think of myself as a novelist, a short story writer, and an essayist.  Most of the reading I do does not contain parenthetical citations.  I hang onto to teaching that part of writing because my students are mostly just getting started at the university and I imagine that they will have to do this sort of writing to successfully navigate the university.  If the latter is true (that students will read scholarly sources and write research papers) then I think the quote from the Yancey article that begins this bullet is an observation worth consideration.
  • “How is it that what we teach and what we test can be so different from what our students know as writing?” (298).  I want to take my students beyond what they know as writing.  I want them to think critically about the texts that bombard them.  I want them to equate writing with thinking, to begin to see the phrases that ripple across their mind as revisable thoughts.
  • “At best, it could help foster a world peace never known before” (301).  We weren’t blogging in my courses yet, but this sentence reminds me of my own classroom, where the Jewish immigrant from Russia became best friends with the Muslim student from Pakistan.  These students wrote about the world was set up for them to hate one another but our classroom at St. John’s University became a space where they could work together and become friends.
  • “At this moment, we need to focus on three changes:  Develop a new curriculum; revisit and revise our writing-across-the-curriculum efforts; and develop a major in composition and rhetoric” (308).  Sentences such as this one cause me to wonder my place in Writing Studies, as a professor with an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English Education.  Writing Studies sounds like something to which I can belong while an Undergraduate Major in Composition sounds more like something within which I will always be slightly unqualified to teach, at least when it comes to my terminal degree.
  • “In composition, we need to learn how to read and write e-texts–synthesizing, questioning, evaluating, and importing from them–databases and catalogues, hyper-texts and archives, Web essays and portfolios” (318).    If you are already trying to teach students to be critical–to question information as it comes toward their thinking–then I don’t think this seems like such a big step, at least the first part.  Read and write online, perhaps watch various online video including documentaries, and apply Yancey’s “synthesizing, questioning….”  As I write this, I hear many of my students telling me how much they hate the “critical lens” assignment.  Many of my students are being asked to do something they despise in whatever they mean when they say “critical lens.”  I don’t think reading and writing have to be things to be dreaded.
  • With regards to technology, especially something such as a set of Power Point Slides, “If we continue to partition it off as just something technical, or outside the parameters governing composing, or limit it to the screen of the course management system, or think of it in terms of the bells and whistles and templates of the PowerPoint screen, students in our classes learn only to fill in those electric boxes–which, in their ability to invite intellectual work, are the moral equivalent of the dots on a multiple choice test” (320).  I think the E-Portfolio has the strong potential for becoming the new five paragraph essay, a prefabricated form which limits thinking.

NCTE asks, “What are some of the most important changes you have seen in teaching and literacy education?”

Not so long ago, I was very content as my students and I wrote together with pens on paper in what Donald Murray called the daybook.  If some of my administrators hadn’t encouraged me to integrate technology, I don’t know if I ever would have tried to weave it into our writing.  The students and I are still after intellectual seeds on paper, but we’re all also typing up our drafts into blogs, customizing the looks of the virtual pages we publish, and we have much easier access to each other’s work.  Students who used to write just for the teacher now write for an authentic audience:  at least their classmates or if they choose, for thousands on public blogs or in their Facebook posts.   It used to look like the world was gravitating towards a seat on the couch watching television or playing video games, and now many of my students are daily, sometimes obsessive, writers.  I’m excited and also anxious about what all this will mean for literacy.