Academic Proposals, Social Media, teaching, Technology

ISTE Follow-up and MixedInk Session Recap

I returned from Denver last week having had a whirlwind two days at the ISTE Conference in the enormous Denver Convention Center. Although I didn’t catch the major keynote addresses in person or manage avoid all downtime by jam-packing each of my days with sessions from morning until night, I did have a good time meeting with people whom I’d only corresponded with via Twitter before and swapping ideas in person using more than 140 characters for most of our exchanges. I also saw a few presentations, notably Howard Rheingold‘s talk on “Crap Detection,” that I particularly enjoyed and helped me cement some of my ideas about the importance of emphasizing critical thinking, research, and evaluation skills in my own teaching — something about which I hope to post in the near future.

Most importantly, perhaps, is the session that David Stern and I put on about how MixedInk can be used in the classroom (for the official program description, see this link). While I’d done a small poster presentation at UT-Arlington last fall, the ISTE Conference was undoubtedly the largest venue at which I’d presented — a fact about which I was both a bit nervous, but also very excited. However, once the session got underway, I quickly realized that presenting at a conference was very much like my everyday job — teaching about new concepts, methods, and content. David and I were fortunate to have a receptive, attentive, and eagerly participatory audience who engaged with our question and posted good responses to our prompt about the value of technology in the classroom. This group asked good questions and offered interesting suggestions about how to use MixedInk — a few of which I’d never considered before, which made it particularly nice to get to learn something from the participants.

So, I’m now able to add a few ideas to my list of uses for MixedInk in the classroom based on the suggestions that attendees. A few of the most interesting were that MixedInk could be used within a school setting, but beyond the classroom to get feedback from the student body about suggested school policies or classroom rules. This use shares much in common with the original vision for MixedInk, which was established as a tool for public political participation. Therefore, this suggestion essentially uses that framework and applies it within a school setting. While time and access to the website would likely be the challenges to successfully establishing, for instance, a public forum developed to draft a suggested off-campus policy, I nevertheless can see MixedInk working well within this context to help students feel connected to the rules which affect them on a day-in, day-out basis.

Another idea was that MixedInk could be used as an individualized, yet collaborative tool for note-taking. As I read this suggestion, MixedInk would serve as the centralized place for all students to take and then post their class notes. Once this step was done, each MixedInk project would serve as a collective repository for other students to consult to see whether they gleaned the key ideas from the day’s lesson or missed something vital. While I like this idea, and think that there’s a lot of good potential and pedagogical value with crowdsourced notes (a la Brian Croxall), I’m not sure that this use fully takes advantage of MixedInk’s remixing functionality. Perhaps if the notes were over an in-class debate, or the assignment was to watch a debate and then synthesize a response about which side was more convincing and why, this approach would have more applicability, but I think the assignment, and its end product would have to be carefully considered to make using MixedInk valuable in this context.

Additionally, we also got some nice feedback (presented in reverse chronological order) in the midst of our presentation via the Twitter backchannel:

So, all-in-all, it was a successful outing with a great audience that provided some thought-provoking suggestions about MixedInk’s use that I hadn’t considered. The experience also made me excited about the potential for presenting in the future, so I’m in the midst of browsing around online checking out various Calls for Presentations. If anyone has suggestions about good conferences that are similar to (but undoubtedly smaller than) ISTE, I’d love to hear about your experiences there and which ones were good places to present and/or hear interesting presentations. Thanks again to David Stern for presenting with me, and to Vanessa Scanfeld, MixedInk co-founder, for getting me involved in this proposal initially.

For reference’s sake, I’ve included here the PPT presentation we used, as well as a few documents that MixedInk has produced about how their website can be used in the classroom.

Academic Proposals, Social Media, Writing

ISTE MixedInk Session: And the topic is…

Well, the day is finally upon us. Dave Stern and I will be presenting on using MixedInk in the classroom at a Bring Your Own Laptop session at 1:30 Mountain Time today.

After the Google Form poll that I conducted asking participants to vote for what topic they’d like to write on, we had a majority for something dealing with “The Value of Technology in the Classroom.” So, as I’ve done many-a-time before, I wrote an essay question that we’ll share with the participants this afternoon. However, if anyone attending wants to get a head start on brainstorming, or if anyone not in attendance is desperately curious to know what I came up with (and how could you not be?), I thought I post the question here.

To what extent do you agree with Georgetown University professor David Cole’s characterization of the effects of technology in the classroom?

“I’ve barred students from using laptops in my classes for two years now, and it has manifestly improved student participation and the level of engagement and discussion. And no wonder — allowing students access to the Internet is like putting several magazines, a telephone and a television monitor at each students’ seat and inviting him or her to tune out and browse, talk or watch TV anytime their mind starts to wander. It is corrosive of an engaged classroom.”

Don’t worry — it’s not graded and no additional research is required. If you’re following my Twitter stream, or that of MixedInk, we’ll get out the link for the project this afternoon so those of you not at ISTE can feel free to jump in and contribute to our project remotely. We’ll look forward to hearing from you!

Academic Proposals, Technology

ISTE Arrival and Acronym Overload

Finally the day is nearly upon me. Months after having submitted a “Bring Your Own Laptop” proposal and learning of our acceptance, I’ve finally arrived at the Denver Convention Center and will be presenting on MixedInk in the classroom with MixedInk co-founder David Stern on Wednesday afternoon. I’m excited about the presentation (and the fact that we’ve got 125 people registered to attend!), and also having the chance to get a sense for the conference and its rhythm by attending a variety of sessions tomorrow.

Because I arrived relatively late after an extended odyssey on Denver’s public transit from the airport to the convention center, the activities for the day seem to be winding down, so I don’t think I’m getting a great sense of the level of activity and intensity that’s likely to prevail during the big sessions and keynotes. I’m a bit daunted by having to work my way through the astoundingly thick program guide and having to make decisions about what to attend, which is one of my tasks for the evening.

However, I’m also excited about having some networking opportunities and getting the chance to meet and hear from people who’ve I’ve followed on Twitter and on blogs during the past eighteen months or so. Already I got the chance to make a face-to-face contact with Russ Goerend, a teacher from Iowa who I’ve followed and corresponded with online during this past year. In fact, Russ even wrote a blog post on my behalf during this past year. Tomorrow will hopefully continue to be productive both in terms of attending sessions and in terms of meeting people who I’ve only known through their writings — both the extended and the 140 character varieties.

So, now I’ve got to head off and hunt down food, my far-flung hotel room, and work on putting the finishing touches on our presentation by refining my thoughts and experiences on MixedInk. David, my co-presenter and I, decided to put the topic for the hands-on portion of our presentation to a vote (via Google Forms), and it looks like we’ll be writing on something about the value of technology in the classroom — surprising, right?

Here are the results for the statistically-inclined:

Oh, and one final note on the other part of this blog’s title: Acronyms…they’re everywhere here. I’ll try to create some type of photo essay illustrating their prevalence, but in the meantime you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Pedagogy, Social Media, teaching, Writing

Calling all Social Studies teachers!

Perhaps this title (in its deliberate provocativeness) will persuade people to click the link to this post when clicked in their Twitter feeds. Or perhaps it will be off-putting. I guess I’ll check the stats tomorrow and find out. Nevertheless, I’ll get to the reason that I am in fact calling all Social Studies teachers (or other interested educators who read this blog and would be willing to offer feedback).

MixedInk, the excellent collaborative writing website about which I’ve written previously*, is in the midst of conducting surveys amongst English and Social Studies teachers to figure out ways that they would use MixedInk’s capabilities within their own classrooms and for what types of assignments. To help figure out this out, they’ve put together a survey on Survey Monkey, which can be accessed –> here <–.

So here’s my plug: If you have a few minutes to spare and would be willing to offer some ideas about how you’ve used MixedInk, or even might use a tool like MixedInk, it’d be immensely helpful as they figure out how to refine their website and target it to teachers and improve its pedagogical features.

*For those interested in my previous musings about MixedInk, you can read my initial review and thoughts on classroom implementation, my thoughts on using MixedInk in my classroom for the first time, my and Vanessa Scanfeld’s accepted proposal for our “BYOLaptop” Session at this Summer’s ISTE Conference in Denver, my more refined thoughts on best practices for using MixedInk in the classroom, and my thoughts on what criteria students use in evaluating one another’s writing via tools like MixedInk.

Pedagogy, Social Media, teaching, Technology

The most important criteria in peer evaluation?

Today we read the most recent collaboratively-written essay that I assigned my classes with MixedInk. We’re currently studying Congress and its operation. For the past few years I’ve had my classes read excerpts from a book by Morris Fiorina about the true operations of Congress, which he argues are pork barreling and casework rather than law-making. Typically, this essay proves challenging for students given the high level of writing, sophisticated vocabulary, and relatively nuanced argument. Most importantly, I think the essay is really interesting and it certainly provides a different look at Congress than we get from our rather benign (if not celebratory, in a political socialization kind of way) textbook.

Before we read the final winning essay, I led my class off today with a question for which I asked the students to write a brief paragraph response: “What criteria were most important in your evaluations and ratings of the MixedInk essays?” I’m interested in process-oriented questions like these to not only make students more aware of their own intellectual approaches, but also because I’m interested in doing some data and anecdote collection in preparation for my upcoming presentation on MixedInk in the classroom at this summer’s ISTE Conference.

The above picture is a list that my A Period class generated today. The numbers in parentheses next to each criterion reflects how many students included that element in their responses. The aspect I found most interesting (but also one that came out later in our conversation) had to do with one rating essays based on the author’s perceived academic reputation (which in many cases is well-deserved). One initial question I had when exploring MixedInk and discussing its implementation with the site’s founder, Vanessa Scanfeld, is how high school’ social dynamics play out in the evaluation process. Well, it appears that social dynamics and reputations do play a significant role in the minds of most students. However, whether this element is stronger than the other criteria is another area for further investigation that I’ll have to pursue.

The final point — that students avoided reading and rating essays that were too long — I interpreted as reflecting both an aversion to voluminous reading, and the pragmatic necessity to do other homework.

I’ll be interested to see if this pattern continues to hold true for my other classes, or if they’re willing to be as honest with me regarding their approach as A Period was. Perhaps it was simply the early hour that caused my students to let down their guard and speak honestly about how they approached this task, but I think not. In the next go-round of MixedInk I’ll try using pseudonyms (or more likely random numbers) that will at least provide a mild deterrent to students in terms of know who the author is. However, I have no illusions that this measure will be a fool-proof one as students will nevertheless likely share their identities, but this at least makes those snap judgments and evaluations based merely on name alone (hold on, am I writing about peer evaluation dynamics or the appeal of shopping at Neiman Marcus?) slightly more difficult.

FY-collective-I, here’s the link to the text we read. If anyone has tricks about how to embed a Google Books document into WordPress, I’d be very interested to hear them. My standard VodPod trick isn’t working here. C’est la vie.

Pedagogy, Social Media, teaching, Technology

Further MixedInk observations and follow-up, or “My slowly geminating best practices list for MixedInk”

Wow! I had no idea when I started writing the title to this blog post that it would quickly spiral out of control into a Victorian novel.  Well, if it were a Victorian novel, here’s what the cover would look like:

That brief visual digression was in part brought to you via Picnik, an online image editor. Pretty savvy, no? Now on with my MixedInk follow-up!

As I wrote about yesterday (or early this morning, depending on what time zone you’re reading this in) I’ve got a presentation to be prepping for in late June, which means I’ll now be taking more copious and rigidly structured notes about my experience with using MixedInk in the classroom. At this point I’ve used MixedInk a number of times now (more with my sophomores than with my freshmen, something I hope to remedy this next semester) and have noticed some definite patterns as to what type of assignments work well with this software tool versus which ones do not.

This topic of my presentation at the ISTE conference came up at dinner the other night with my wife’s family who we’re presently visiting in Philadelphia. In the course of explaining the process of how MixedInk works to my mother-in-law, who just retired this year after twenty-five years of teaching middle and upper school students at an independent school, I realized two important things: 1) that the process and steps of working through a MixedInk writing topic is a rather involved one, and 2) I need to become more concise in my ability to explain its functionality. As perhaps I’ve mentioned here before, concision is not my strong suit.

Related to the first point is the fact that not all types of writing assignments work well with MixedInk given its multi-step writing, revision, and rating process. One of the by-products of using MixedInk for a writing project is that it generates a deep familiarity (perhaps bordering on annoyance or exhaustion) with the topic and/or text about which one is writing.  My sophomores made this fact quite apparent to me after we used the tool to engage in a close textual analysis of our textbook author‘s portrayal of early humans. In that instance the topic that I had the students write on was too narrow, which meant that by the end of the process the students had seen the key quotations from the text and one another’s analysis so much that they had lost any motivation or desire to discuss it in class.

I had much better success with my most recent foray, which involved writing a response to a so-called “historical puzzle.” I adapted and scaled down this assignment from one that a college professor had assigned in a Medieval History course. The puzzle requires that students closely read six accounts of the same event, in this case the Islamic invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 711 CE, in order to achieve two things: 1) suss out the authorial bias that distinguishes the Christian accounts from the Muslim ones, and 2) determine the order in which these documents were authored. However, the students could not simply answer these questions, but instead had to justify their responses with quotations from the text and logical reasoning to support their conclusions. The exercise not only exposes students to the idea of historiography and the ways in which the interpretation of the same event can change over time, but it also pushes them to worry less about the right answer and instead focus on the reasoning and substantiation for their argument. In short, its a good, valuable assignment for getting students to practice the habits of historical thinking in a safe, low-risk setting.

MixedInk turned out to be an ideal tool for this type of assignment for a variety of reasons. Firstly, although the students were dealing the same textual excerpts, each one tended to gravitate to different passages or phrases, so that the entire class didn’t end up reading the same quotation over and over again in the remixing and rating phases of the assignment. Secondly, the way in which the assignment is framed a “puzzle” or mystery to be solved makes it somehow more exciting or compelling. Finally, the goal of the assignment was to remix one’s original essay by drawing on the ideas, reasoning, and evidence of one’s classmates in order to create an essay that garnered the highest ratings from one’s classmates. As a result, the fact that students could see one another’s responses and answers through the transparency-creating feature of MixedInk provided them with alternative perspectives that would both challenge their initial interpretations and also provide them with material that they could use to improve their own essays.

Given that MixedInk topics lead to the creation of one “winning” entry, this topic also seemed ideal because it would generate a single document that the classes could then read, critique, and discuss before learning the correct answers about origin and dates of each document’s authorship. Moreover, because the classes wanted to know the correct answer, reading through this “winning” entry didn’t seem like a needless chore or an unnecessary re-tread of material because it provided a clear point of comparison with the right answer. Although I stressed to students that the accuracy or lack thereof in terms of their conclusions about the relative dates of authorship was not important, knowing the correct answer still proved compelling to students at the end of a process where they had invested a substantial chunk of time into a narrow range of documents.

One area where I hope to have more specific discussion and provide clearer guidance for the students is in terms of the criteria for rating a peer’s writing. It seemed that this portion of the process occurred rather quickly and without a clearly articulated sense of what one should be looking for. Perhaps having the class collaboratively develop a very specific rubric for the assignment before starting the rating stage would lead to a more careful and critical reading of the other entries. Nevertheless, the winning essay from this assignment was quite strong in its reasoning and use of evidence and provided precisely the type of counterpoint I’d hoped to have in contrast to the correct answer.

So, for those of you looking for the easy way out of this post, here’s the Reader’s Digest Version:
•    MixedInk a great tool for in-depth writing;
•    Especially strong for “problem solving” type writing assignment;
•    Requires substantial time investment;
•    Don’t skimp on time spent establishing criteria for “rating”

Academic Proposals, Technology

“Congratulation, and welcome the 2010 ISTE Conference…”

I’m not sure I ever mentioned this on my blog (probably as a way to prevent any intellectual espionage from taking place thereby dooming our chances at acceptance), but Vanessa Scanfeld, the co-founder of MixedInk, and I submitted a proposal for the 2010 ISTE Conference about using MixedInk in the classroom. After a few months of waiting for the various proposals to be reviewed, I learned earlier this month that our session, which is in the “Bring Your Own Laptop” division, was accepted and that our session is tentatively scheduled for June 30. This came as exciting news that was also opportunely timed to coincide with the start of college acceptance season, so I too was able to enjoy the thrills of being able to put on my new ISTE sweatshirt and brag about how only 29% of applicants in the BYOL division were accepted. How élite!

In any event, I’m quite looking forward to participating in the conference, though this will undoubtedly be the largest event of this type that I’ve attended and certainly my larger than my previous foray into conference presentation at the UTA Active Learning Conference.

Here’s our presentation proposal/description:

This hands-on workshop will provide attendees with the opportunity to experience what it is like to be a student engaged in a collaborative writing assignment. Participants will work together to (1) write short submissions, (2) remix language and ideas to create new, improved versions, and (3) rate to help determine the group’s best piece.

MixedInk’s collaborative writing platform has been used by the White House, Congressional offices, news agencies, and others to enable public participation. This session will demonstrate how the same process applied in the classroom yields a relevant, interactive learning experience that advances 21st century literacies.The session will include a brief introduction to MixedInk’s software and a hands-on collaborative writing segment. The session will conclude with a conversation distinguishing MixedInk from other collaboration tools, exploring various classroom applications, and discussing implementation.We explore how the structured process of writing, remixing, and rating encourages students to take creative risks, provides unique exposure to a range of peers’ perspectives and writing styles, requires critical analysis and evaluation, provides an opportunity for teamwork, offers a venue for constructive criticism, and teaches the complex task of recognizing and synthesizing compelling concepts.

As a result of the session, participants will understand:

* how MixedInk’s software can be used to engage students in writing and improve student learning across subject areas

* how MixedInk’s process differs from other collaborative writing opportunities in the classroom.

* effective techniques for structuring a collaborative writing project

* how to launch a collaborative writing project and guide students through the process

* ways to evaluate student performance in a collaborative setting
* potential outcomes of implementing this process in the classroom

In my next post I’ll have a follow-up about what I’ve done with MixedInk in the classroom recently and some additional things I’ve learned about how its implementation is made more effective and compelling. Until then!