Writing Matters

In a few weeks, I’ll be presenting at a writing classroom and pedagogy conference called Writing Matters.  This year’s theme is “The Work Of Writing,” and will feature panels and presentations from a variety of K-16 teachers.

This semester, I’ve been teaching my Freshman composition courses at SUNY Cortland through a blog, which we utilize in the classroom for notes, assignments and links, as well as outside of it for homework writing assignments, commenting on the work of others and viewing strategic classroom content in a central location.  The experience, on the whole, has been a success- students are writing, talking about writing, and learning through writing.

Here’s the abstract for my presentation:

The Connected Classroom: Writing, Blogs and Student Collaboration

JD Richter

The writing classroom has evolved quickly enough over the past few decades that the introduction of digital technologies no longer maintains the aura of novelty that it perhaps once did.  Inside and outside of the classroom, students are writing in modes that increasingly situate them at the keyboard: emails, YouTube comments, instant messages, Tweets, status updates, Blackboard submissions, and even the writing of computer code are all legitimate forms of writing our students might be familiar with. Similarly, students compose and contribute to “webtexts” in unfamiliar and under-explored ways: through the sharing of links, “pinning” on Pinterest, liking, subscribing, following, upvoting, moderating, even contributing to Wikipedia. Online knowledge communities, while possibly the most-impactful single site of public human-to-human communication at the present time, have yet to be fully understood and utilized in most writing classrooms.

Blogging platforms allow a community of writers to contribute in a centralized location within teacher-set boundaries.  Here, students can post their writing, comment on the writing of others, engage in discussions, link to outside content, and read over the work of their peers.  Blogs allow students to write for new audiences, rather than engaging only with an “audience of one” in their teacher.  Students write and respond to one another, to “guest posters,” to articles and videos they might share, record and strategically examine.  Class notes are available to students and privileged viewers at all times, as are posted assignments, schedules, itineraries and other documents.  Utilizing editing features, students are able to go back and re-visit their work to correct for errors, suggestions, and criticisms, learning to write in a project-based process.  

How might writing teachers utilize and augment the digital literacies their students are developing?  How valuable for 21st century students is the ability to work, collaborate and write seriously and academically in an online setting?  Should media literacy occupy a core place in curricula and classroom learning outcomes? What might be gained, lost or changed?

Participants in this session work in real-time to contribute to a sample “session blog,” a WordPress site set up specifically for this individual session.  Small bits of writing and reflection submitted by session members demonstrate the advantages and disadvantages of running the writing classroom through an online blog.  We’ll examine how classrooms can utilize traditional “overhead notes” as a visual aid, in this case integrating hyperlinks, video files, sounds, animations, Prezi links, etc. into a web document students can view at home, comment on, even connect to their LinkedIn profiles.  Depending on computer and smartphone availability, we’ll work to compose a paragraph together in a Google Doc linked to a page on the sample blog, as well as to edit a student paragraph in a similar manner.

We’ll also look at the downfalls of blogging in the classroom, and discuss the constraints and dangers this software might place on classroom conversation and functioning.  Lastly, we’ll examine the ways in which we talk to our students about this mode of writing: the types and genres of content they should be posting, the system of teacher moderation content undergoes, the goals, habits and learning outcomes the blog is meant to encourage and achieve.  

What are the advantages and disadvantages to equipping our students with software tools allowing them to write in “virtual classrooms” from their home computers, from the car backseat on an iPad, from the schoolbus on a smartphone?


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