(Re)Mediating Social Technologies — CCCC 2009 — Session B21

  • Dawn M. Armfield, “On the Go: Mobile Technologies and Literacy”
  • Daisy Pignetti-Cochran, “What are you doing? Teaching with Twitter?”
  • Kimberly A. Schulz, “Social Presence in the Online Writing Classroom: Community-building through Social Networking Technology” (with comments from Laura Gurak)

I do the “suck air in through my teeth” thing whenever I hear
statements about how kids today “naturally” take to digital media.  If
they hear that, they may get the idea that those of us who have
acquired textual literacy just came to it naturally — as if we didn’t
work hard to acquire that literacy. And students who are told that they
are naturally good at digital literacy might get the idea that they’re
doing something wrong if it doesn’t come to them effortlessly… people
who are good at digital literacy have spent countless hours immersing
themselves in the digital world — doing things that mainstream society
considers wasting time on Facebook, pouring inane thoughts into a
Twitter stream, blogging endlessly about minutiae.  In a similar way,
we developed our own textual literacy by spending countless hours
staring at black marks on dead trees, looking at boring books without
any pictures. Kids today are digitally literate because they see the
immediate value of investing time in their product (whether they
measure that value in terms of the number of Facebook friends they
acquire, number of people following their Twitter streams, ratings and
views in YouTube). 

Since I am not a heavy user of my phone (I use a Tracfone, the cheapest and simplest model I could find, I am conscious of conserving my calling time so that I don’t have to buy extra minutes, and I wouldn’t think it’s worth it to get an unlimited calling plan, I found this panel very useful.  There’s plenty of room for an analysis of the data — I’d like to see some over-arching patterns that emerge, not from a single narrative about a single classroom experiment, or even a panel that combines several such narratives, but a survey that examines many such studies and categorizes them.  Such a study would take a lot of time, which is why I want to read someone else’s study rather than write my own.

The following notes are a rough transcript, lightly edited. [Bracketed text reflects my own thoughts, responding to the speaker’s presentation.]

Dawn M. Armfield, “On the Go: Mobile Technologies and Literacy”

Phones in the classroom are nearly ubiquitous. Obstacles include cost, pedagogical uses, student acceptance, and questions of literacy.

Nobody in the audience seemed surprised to hear that students were playing games on their phones during class, but I thought I heard a few gasps at the suggestion that students were taking pictures of exams.  Armfield was not too concerned about in-class cheating with phones because her classroom uses collaborative writing assignments — she does does not test.

Cost. What seems an astronomical cost for a HS student could conceivably replace a laptop for a college student [Do phones come with full-size external keyboards? Is it really possible to compose a whole paper on a phone?] Lots of free applications for Apple phones. Reading a textbook on a mobile tends to be less expensive than print books.  Phones may even be better at facilitating teacher-student interactions… laptop screen become a barrier, the phone preserves eye contact.

Pedagogical: Lectures, engagement, meaning-making.  We can distribute documents, but making meanings out of these little devices – engage students b/c they are multimodal within one device. Invokes Gee’s support of educational games, “Not educational games, but video games that have an engagement property that leans towards learning.”   If you just  use  your phone for lecture you are missing out on meaning-making.

1989 Chrstina Lind on using computers in the classroom… We hear that our students are writing a lot more with computers, but are they writing well?  (Armfield says yes.)  A citation that I couldn’t catch… suggests that computers will improve writing. Armfield says mobiles will improve writing as well.  Text-message speak is “a start” – they are writing.  Sherry Sigh (sp) on digital kids taking ownership of their media. Digital kids often embrace remix culture… re-use of other electronic expressions. Armfield has seen students creating amazing things with their mobiles.

[There’s the suck-air-in-through-my-teeth.  Yes, they do embrace it, but it’s really easy to do it poorly, it takes considerable effort for the student to discern between high-quality polish and caffiene-fueled inspiration, and takes even more work for students to produce polished work.  I suppose having students complete a practice project and then having them work together to set criteria for a major project would be one way to approach the issue.]

Student Acceptance.  Traditional documents (.doc, .docx, .pdf) are all widely available on mobiles. “I think they’re more beautiful on my mobile devices than they are in PDF form.”  With new media, students are apt to participate.  

Sigh: Digital kids concurrently developing online practices of multitasking… comparing multiple online sources… trying on new identities.  

Armfield: note that kids do think about what they do online, and there’s a hierarchy about how they respond to one another. [Yes, we need to remind ourselves fo the hard work that goes into being digitally literate.]

Gee’s  36 principles of litreracy… chooses 5 of his principles.  Active critical learning, identity, self-knowledge, X and insider principle.    

In the post-MTV generation, students interpret the world through the media they create;  their attitude towards their texting symbols is carfully chosen and they’re conscious of the meaning these characters hold.

To encourage active critical learning, go beyond the lecture. Videos are great, but what are they doing the videos for, where are they posting them, who is commenting on them.

Insider principle – the student is a part of what is being produced.  What comes out of the class is not just the instructor lecturing at them.

Daisy Pignetti-Cochran, “What are you doing? Teaching with Twitter?”

Recalled her experience on lockdown when her university reported a student on the loose with a gun.  (Turned out to be an ROTC student with a practice rifle.)  An aha moment connected to crisis communication.  At UW-Stout, a laptop university.  How to evolve from quick discussion board posts, moving from formal writing to informal writing.

Students describe themselves as “Facebook addicts,” paying no attention whatsoever to their laptop orientation, preferring instead to use the technology.  Twitter is “just like my Facebook status”.   But do students actually have the skills to use all this technology?  Facebook makes the pasting of links and choosing of thumbnails so simple that students don’t really think about the process.

[Great point… Facebook makes digital composition look very easy, but students are just clicking multiple choice options and filling in blanks, which gets them producing quickly, but only within the confines that Facebook provides for them.  They’re painting by numbers, rather than expressing themselves through design.  Students who can create pages from HTML and CSS have a much deeper understanding of the web, but those skills aren’t appropriately for every class in which online content creation would be valuable.]

Problematic to suggest that students are all digital natives, because students don’t always  have the skills to make the most of these.

Lila Fever, “Twitter in Plain English”  The Daily Show, Twitter becoming more mainstream.  “How do you use Twitter?” Twitter calls itself “blogging for lazy people”

Journal writing, informal writing, public writing.  For their final exam, Daisy’s students have to reference their Twitter stream.

[DGJ: Self-selection in the student feedback about Twitter… students who didn’t respond to your Twitter request for comments wouldn’t have been so motivated to post negatives. Of course, since it’s an online campus, some of that is assumed.]

Kimberly A. Schulz, “Social Presence in the Online Writing Classroom: Community-building through Social Networking Technology.”

Does informal social content increase a student’s sense of community in an online classroom?

How to get dialog going between students – students post the bare minimum.  Even if you create an initial online icebreaker, do people really remember that activity?

PEW 2008 75% of 18-24 have online profiles.  Only 12% have blogs; 1 in 3 read blogs.

Even though 90% of students had online profiles, but in a class activity less than 12% had personalized their class profile with links to their various online profiles.

iTunes U at the University of Minnesota

Laura Gurak (chaired) interested  in what happens when universities co-opt the students’ social spaces.   Noted that Shulz shouldn’t feel disappointed that the end result of her research project was not what she expected; she learned that profiles themselves don’t motivate student to connect.  Described a TinkerToys assignments in which the different groups could only use text, only images, text and images, video with sound, and sound only.

Gurak found the students were “natural” when they slipped into the audio podcasting for a practice session. She noted the presence of a very large technical support team for a group of some 90 students.  I wonder how much of the “natural” talent she saw in the students’ final products is really the end result of much effort and back-and-forth contact with the technical support staff?