Saturday, April 08, 2006

If Not Books, Then What?

span style="font-weight: bold;">Preamble.
Feel Free to Skip it While I talk it,and Jump to the Links and to Play in Them.

A long time ago, in a teaching job far, far, away, I worked with a colleague who was deaf, having lost her hearing late in life. She didn't sign, but could read lips reasonably well. In many meetings, we'd do ok if the conversation wasn't quick, by which I don't mean short, but fast-paced. When you're on to a topic that excites you, upsets you, is urgent in someway, you tend to talk faster, or with different degrees of emphasis.

So when conversations were quick, and lip reading wasn't going to sustain communication, I'd move to a keyboard and write what I wanted to say, and my colleague would read and respond.

Speech at normal speed worked. Writing a quick speed work. They were cognitively analagous. Made sense. Could-keep-my-thoughts-in-the-moment kinds of acts.

However. Sometimes. I. had. to. talk. to. my. colleague. over. the. phone. And. then. my. speaking. slowed. down. Each. word. was. uttered. then. a. full. stop. while. the. TTY. operator. typed. what. I. said. and. sent. it. to. my. colleague. for. her. to. read. When. I. was. done. speaking. and. it. was. her. turn. to. talk., I'd. say. "OVER." to. the. operator. who. would. signal. my. colleague. to. reply.

What I found when using the phone with TTY operator was that I would lose thoughts. My thinking-in-conversation habits were based in part on a certain space, on visualizing what I wanted to say as I was saying it. So I often start to speak and have in mind a sense of where I'll go with a sentence or thought or burst of discourse, even though I don't always get there or change my mind mid speech. But in talking to TTY operator at a slower pace, I couldn't keep that thought outline in my head. So the conversation was less rich. Sentences were shorter.

The point: The technology changed how I thought and communicated. It shifted cognition, communication, and understanding. It changed how wrote (if we take spontaneous speech as a kind of writing, and after Tara Shankar's presentation on Spriter, here yesterday, I think we can).

Aside: Yesterday, Kathleen Yancey cited Charlie Moran who had noticed that when students word process, they're often working in a screen space for a document meant to live a print life. There's two levels of cognition going on their. It's also worth noting, by the way, how many of Kathi's screen shots were of storyboards, diagrams, notes of different kinds done with pen, crayon or colored markers, on paper and as a way to plan digital spaces. So we saw maps of eportfolios, sketches for a power point slide. Students thinking in dual spaces at once: print-->digital::digital-->print = digital<-->print, with distinctions blurring.

See for example, my daughter's Quizilla story. She intersperses the story with quiz questions because she's writing in a free quiz making site that's become a social networking site. She often writes these stories by hand, on paper, when we're on long car trips or when she's in room and can't use our one computer (which is in the kitchen) because someone else is on it. The stories blend her interest in anime/fantasy genres with her love of horses and riding. The layout doesn't allow for traditional dialogue (she presents dialogue in script format because she does some acting on occasion in the community theater) and her writing pulls in online chat shorthand.

Others who take the quizes or read the stories might rate them, so she's getting instant feedback. She logs in and chats with other writers, using one discussion board as way to role play, and other on occasion where they'll do a story chain, each post advancing the story.

The site offers social networking, journaling and other features. So she's immersed in writing. Finding feedback and review. And become more fluid and fluent in both the technologies and in working with words.

She's reading quizes, taking quizes, and making quizes, which means she's really reading stories, engaging stories, and writing stories. And forging an unique online identity in that community.

So she's found a discourse community of sorts. Not academic, but it has all the elements: shared literature, vocabulary, interaction, peer review, conferences (online via discussions), presentation.

What else though? Technology changes how you think, habits of mind and ways of seeing. Birkerts' The Gutenberg Elegies is premised on loss, what technology is costing us in habits of minds and ways of seeing and making knowledge. The old, slower, more deliberative (he argues) pace of print, with writing by long hand, holding books is giving way to the quick IM and browse. Synthesis gives way to Remixing.

So what does remixing mean for teaching research?

From I Found It on the Internet: Coming of Age Online by Frances Jacobson Harris, some key observations:

1. Libraries are formal information systems/places.
2. Students' habits are informal.
3. Things do not have to be either formal or informal because the Internet, to which libraries are linked, is an example of an . . .

. . .Information and Communication Technology
Barbara Fister's (See from her vita this reference "Teaching Research as a Social Act" and Teaching the Rhetorical Dimensions of Research.) research shows that successful student researchers, those who get A's, often begin their research communicatively, by which she means they don't just choose a topic and then a thesis and then sources, but they engage in discussion on ideas with others, sometimes faculty and other experts, and begin writing prior to and during research. She also argues that it's possible to create assignments that help foster this communicative role.

Fifth Canon: Delivery. I'll play a snippet of my other daughter's William Carlos Williams presentation at some point in the discussion. You'll hear an academic assignment turned into a kind of Bud Abbot and Lou Costello routine. You'll hear deliberate remixing, and a tweaking of plagiarism. You'll hear a performance, her research and writing not just delivered, but (en)acted.

Everyday, sitting there on your laptop technologies now make sophisticated delivery simple and easy to do. So naturally people are going to use these tools. Our students will use them whether we ask them to or not.

Is it a loss? I don't know. But we do know that changes in the technologies we use to think and communicate and make sense of the world, change how we see, understand it, live it, think it and, of course, write it (Isn't writing an articulation of what we see, understand, think and live?).

What does this mean for teachers, students, and publishers?

Textbook publishers know that we're not in the book business. We're in the pedagogical tools business. Books, for last several hundred years, just happened to be the most useful way to provide pedagogical tools, mainly materials and structures for teachers to use to help students learn.

In a post titled, "The developerWorks Power Architecture challenge: Man's best friend (outside of a dog)" Joshua Fruhlinger writes:

But when it comes to the books that make up the bulk of our reading lives, the vast majority of us are still reading words printed with ink on paper bound with glue and string.The reasons for this are numerous and pretty easy to rattle off:

* E-books can be physically uncomfortable to read (whether you're sitting at a desk looking at a monitor or squinting at a tiny PDA screen).
* They're not portable if you have to read them on a desktop computer; if you read them on a laptop or PDA, you can't read if you run out of power.
* There's a number of often incompatible formats that the files come in.
* And the user's ability to access the book's content is often restricted by various digital rights management technologies. (It's notable that the Baen Free Library, one of the more successful e-book outfits, gives away books that are DRM-free -- and, for that matter, free as in beer. I guess it's easy to be successful when you don't expect anyone to pay you!).

On the other hand, old-school paper books are generally easily portable, use reflected light and are thus easy on the eyes, don't need batteries, and can be read as often as the reader wants and even lent to others. And they're still readable after the sort of abuse that would send any piece of electronics to the scrap heap.

Fruhlinger's words ring true. Thus, textbooks that try to do online what they do in print will not succeed as ebooks for all the reasons above. The questions to ask are these --what are students being asked to learn? how can they best be taught? A book is good for supporting a lot of ways to learn, but that codex book meant to be used/read in codex ways won't work nearly as well on screen as it does in print. So what does work online? In what context? How will it be taught and within what virtual educational context? How will assignments be made, learning measured? And and will teachers and students engage and build upon the concepts, ideas, and information delivered in this new book? Figure out that, and you've figured out ebooks in education. And you can figure those books won't look anything like books. Wonder what we'll call them?

Social spaces -- if these are habits and ways students network and share information, do they belong in the classroom?


No, really, MySpace



The TLT Group's Exploration Guide for Educational Uses of Blogs and Wikis offers a really good resource for help guides, articles, and other resources.

Here's another use of Wiki's.

Matt Barton's students began writing Rhetoric and Composition: A Guide for the College Writer in a wiki. Follow the link and see how it easy it is to contribute, join, compose in that space.

Books Won't All be Read: Some will be Played:
In each class, students will play a "chapter" of the overall story, one that contains a beginning, middle, and an end, and last about 30 to 40 minutes. From: Revolution, one of the game prototypes at MIT's Education Arcade.

Or will books become tutorials/visual theaters that merge text, animation, graphics, and activity?:

Clear Your Throats: Podcasting Is Easier than Ever

iTunesU: Apple's resource for educational podcasting.

Fern Shen, writing in the Washington Post, "IPods Fast Becoming New Teacher's Pet," describes how some schools have gone from banning students from bringing IPods into the classroom to using the technology for teaching.
Kids are podcasting -- reading poems, doing book reports, and coming up with other ideas -- and idea casting for new podcast ideas: "We could read parts of books, to show why we like them. We could do interviews. If there's a field trip, we could make a recording of it and post it," said Mohamed El-Sayed, 10. "Kids anywhere will like to hear about us."Kids are motivated in part because the technology is new and cool, but also because the work is, published, or cast. Kids are making podcasts that they hope other teachers will use. Their learning is becoming a tool for others to learn. Also, teachers are finding that by not making everything automatically cast, students work harder to get good stuff in. Students do research in books and on the Internet, write scripts, perform roles --a town crier during the Revolutionary War, for example. "Kindergartners are taking loaner iPods home to practice their vocabulary words, and English as a Second Language students are using them to practice English."

. . .an Anthropology professor at Brandeis got a grant to buy iPods for students. The initiative is expanded now and is called "The iPod Experience" You can read about it here:
Students developed two-minute audio texts for each of the paintings in an exhibition at the university museum. They posted them on a university site for everyone in the school to download. This semester students are developing oral history materials to use in a walking tour of a neighborhood in Medford.

eLearning Utopia: iPods Meet Course Management in theClassroom By Robert ViauProfessor of English & Interdisciplinary Studies
Questions: What type of pedagogical content could be delivered through audio files? When and how would students and instructors be likely to use audio files with pedagogical content?

Farther south, technologists at the University of Iowa are honing their own homegrown ePortfolio systems. Via an overarching electronic portfolio project, students in the school’s College of Education are treated to four different flavors of ePortfolios. The flagship initiative at Iowa—Digital BackPack—is a system that, much like UMD’s, provides a series of individual repositories into which every student can store files. On the surface, each portfolio is nothing more than a glorified Web page to organize presentations, documents, and images for others to peruse. Behind the scenes, however, the Digital BackPack is an elaborate, homegrown content management system, a place for students to store all the evidence of their education and curriculum-driven conceptualizing.

--quoted from Matt Villano: ePortfolios >> Hi-Octane Assessment

What role will publishers play in supporting these e-portfolios? What's more telling about the passage is the linking of portoflio to content management (and digital repository). As publishers, of course, we're learning how to think about a learning objects repositories. But the degree to which students and professors are creating (ePortfolio is one example; a lesson plan site such as Merlot is another) learning repositories and managing them and turning them to mulitple uses (Multiple use examples: ePortfolio can be used for course assessment of a student; department assessment of a course or of a program; college assessment of a department; student can reuse the same portfolio to get a job or apply to graduate school; or a professor in a department can use the same content to do research on how students learn.). The story of databases and eportfolios is really about how students and instructors are using learning content and artifacts in new ways. To the extent publishers are in the content business, they need to understand ePortfolios, content management systems, and learning object repositories (all variation of the same thing) and what instructors and students require from these tools.

Digital Writing Across the Curriculum:

Elgg: Learning Network as Social Space:

Multimedia as composition from Todd Taylor:
Work from Todd's students:

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