Thursday, April 7, 2016

Transmedia Literacy and the Wicked Problem of Tech Integration Part 2

From my own reflections and observations made from the last five years of setting up writer’s workshop tech lab space, and from connecting multiple applications in a project based learning environment, here are the affordances of Docs over previous text production tools...

Immediacy of Feedback

Musicians are normally trained with an expert guiding them in the moment of their playing, rough areas can be iterated and repeated after each moment of coaching.  Nothing is more powerful for the learner than the master playing along simultaneously pushing the learner into new areas.  
When I play guitar with a teacher, I don’t hear my mistakes, don’t get caught up in what I can’t do yet, but can focus on the flow within the structure of the music.  When alone, critiquing my own recording is brutal, the music I heard in my head while playing is nothing like the transparency of the recording.

A video posted by Chris (@cdveston) on

Why should writing be any different?  By leaving comments or suggestions in live time, writing is changed from a “cave” activity the learner goes through alone, to one of in the moment mentoring, moving the learner through a kind conversational, call and response flow.  Writers should not be left to critique their own playbacks, but have the support and encouragement of teacher and peer.  

Multiple Entry Points

Students often think and produce differently from environment to environment.  School instills its own sense of identity with social hierarchies and a sometimes overwhelming auditory experience.  Extroverted students that thrive sharing documents synchronously in a common lab space have the advantage of language prosody, affect, and body gesture combined with digital space.  Introverted students may be better advantaged in the comfort zone of their own choice of cave.  Going back and forth between spaces opens up more moments of strength for each student.

New Metacognitive Lens

Using Draftback an extension to Google Docs, a stop frame video is created of a document.  In definitive published work we often don’t get to see the wild difference in iterations involved in the writing process.  This awareness, for the learner and for the teacher, spotlights the failed attempts within a system of writing, and validates the tinkering and prototyped quality of writing.  Previous tools could still show a display of multiple drafts, but seeing the document visually reconstructed key by key before your eyes is like the difference between a photograph and film clip, one allows the viewer to step back and mentally piece together the steps before, during, and after - the other projects you into the moment of the frustrating pauses, flurries of productivity, mad deleting, and visual formation of structure in writing.

Socio-Cultural Aspects of Writing

Zone of Proximal development gets simplified into “logical next step learning”.  That is not what Vygotsky researched and wrote about.  That take on learning seems to focus on the world of larger steps the learner cannot do.  Tools in the learner’s environment are cognitive catalysts - tools being anything from the social interaction within the environment, tech devices, and language itself - the environment extending into digital space.  School diminishes this potential in writing because of the obsession with individual measurements requiring individual units of production.  Most students are so conditioned into this individual mode of production that it can be very disturbing to enter a communal digital work space and have another classmate make changes to a document.  However, even working in separate spaces of a communal document opens up a much greater amount of student interactions about writing.  Young writers need authentic audience and when that audience is immediate, critiquing, and crossing into boundaries of co-creation, then the mindset of writing as a social construction, a radical collaboration, are explicit.  (more about how critiquing through the comment function crank up this social aspect of  learning)

Crowdsourcing Editing and Revising
How wasteful are we with our knowledge?  Twenty third graders working together in pairs, groups, and as a class will produce near perfect documents as far as grammar and spelling goes.  This leverages an awareness of dispersed knowledge as students gravitate toward their strengths.  When students are debating about correct grammatical form then the learning outcome of agency is already reached.  The teacher’s role shifts to event organizer.  This gives purpose to grammar and spelling beyond just do it right because the adults want you to.  I first heard, “be the guide on the side not the sage on the stage” at a PD workshop at Region IV in Houston from a 50+ year old woman from the panhandle (go back and insert drawl).  But sometimes I think we should be both, guide, and sage on stage, but let’s blur that stage perimeter into a Boal Theater of the Oppressed participator act where there’s no real delineation between actor and audience.  

Collective Intelligence

Humans have always developed tools in obligated response to a survival threat.  I would argue that our creation and mastery of collaborative tools is a global imperative.  The future problems facing our students will be so much bigger than an individual or governing body - the contributing to and manipulation of collective intelligence will be a necessary skill in response to global need - limited resources, preservation of habitats, pandemic, oppressive leadership, rising sea levels...  Students researching in groups in collaborative formats are part of this training.  Guiding students through jigsawed tasks are first steps but the end goal is not just divided labor, but teaching the awareness of group strength by members of the group naturally fitting into their best contributive role.  Hive research in which every student contributes to a massive collection of notes that then break into affinity groups. (more on inquiry below)  We will always need our caves for encapsulation of thought, but building from Dewey’s defining knowledge as verb, and expanding the action out from self to group to massive hive, it is this collective knowledge as collective action that will define us.

Dispersed Learning

For project based learning, Google Docs creates a critical digital space where all learners can contribute, critique, or and add to others’ work.  Ideally, depending on the group maturity, students self organize the division of labor.  An Activity Theory model of processing how tools, rules, community, and division of labor all interact to move learners toward objectives, keeping in mind that larger learning outcomes may far outweigh intended objectives.  What this model makes clear is that the use of the tool is not the objective, but the active agent for the learning outcomes.  As mentioned earlier, our current school models focus on predictable, linear, packaged learning outcomes that invalidate the larger learning outcomes, particularly the “soft skills” framed by the new ISTE student standard draft and, even though we are now more than fifteen years into the 21st century, the skillset detailed by 21st century learning skills.

Unforeseen Appropriations

In a recent podcast with Reshan Richards, creator of the Explain Everything App, he conceded that the new collaborative live time workspace update will bring adaptations that the creators cannot foresee.  This frames where we are with our current tech tools like Google Docs.  What attracts teachers is the efficiency of collecting digital work and giving feedback, basically using the tool to economize a process they have always done.  That is a natural first start, but the larger learning outcomes will most likely be a slower process.  It would be incredible to think that the ubiquity of photographic and video recording equipment at everyone’s fingertips makes us all digital storytellers threading our narratives through Facebook and Instagram streams, moving back and forth between symbolic forms in a transmedia-transcoding post-Gutenberg Secondary Orality polychronic communicative medium mashup.  

The reality is that most are still teaching and learning in unidirectional channels, very much in continuity with our hierarchical placement of text over the more sensory mediums.  Traditionally, text is for the sacraments manipulated by ecclesiastical elites, the graphic narratives on the walls are for the poor, illiterate masses.  The real questions is whether administrators, teachers, and parents can let go of our premeditated learning objectives and create the space for the larger unpredicted outcomes and validation of diverse mediums of communication?  The manipulative narratives of the power elites have long ago capitalized on the bridging of text with more sensory mediums, just see any political ad media or Super Bowl commercial for examples.  Why would we separate our most powerful form of narrative creation from our students language development when most of their symbolic landscape is based on manipulative transmedia narrative?

see part I and 
part III
part IV


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