Friday, October 21, 2011

Digital Pedagogy

Next month I'll be presenting at NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) in Chicago with Karen LaBonte and Sarah Fidelibus, (a.k.a @klbz and @verbalcupcake.)  Our presentation, aptly titled by Karen is, Fly me to the moon: Making that giant leap into digital pedagogy. (If you are going to NCTE we are presenting session C.34 in the Hilton Continental Ballroom.)

I proposed the session initially and sought out co-presenters on several social networking sites. Karen, Sarah and I have never met. We collaborated on our presentation in Google Docs.  My post about that.

Recently, while working on a last minute ISTE proposal, it was pointed out to me that 'digital pedagogy' is not a widely used term yet.  A quick Google search turns up a few smallish groups using it within larger nings and a few references to the phrase being used in some university teacher education programs, but that's it. By the numbers of results returned "21st century learning" is roughly 150 times more common on the internet than "digital pedagogy" even though, in context they mean almost the same thing.

Digital pedagogy is the result of the process that is transforming education through the influx of computing resources into our classrooms. With increasing numbers of computers on student desks the methods and expectations of teaching and learning are changing. The rate of change however is highly variable; often dependent on the individual teacher, sometimes in concert with district initiatives.

I find digital pedagogy being implemented in two forms, or perhaps phases might be a better word because the first should lead to the second given time. Digital pedagogy is most often first implemented as a mirror of the existing classroom. In time digital pedagogy, hopefully becomes much more like a window.

The Mirror:
In the first, and most common case, I see digital pedagogy being a very simple mirror of traditional pedagogy.  Teachers who used to give quizzes on paper now ask the same questions using an on-line tool. Readings that were done in a textbook are now delivered digitally as a PDF, Word document, or a publisher's website. In many cases students are still required to print their work to turn it in. The classroom is using less paper, but content and pedagogy are actually very similar to the way they were the year before.

There is nothing wrong with this mirroring. The process of converting what is comfortable for teachers and students to a digital format is a necessary first step. For many teachers it represents a huge, and potentially terrifying, leap. It requires them to learn a variety of new tools, take risks, rely on technology they may not trust, and spend time creating digital versions of material they are used to feeding into a copy machine. (Is it any wonder so many are reluctant to embrace educational technology?)

There are many great benefits to this first push to digitize. Students and teachers are both learning how the technology works. They solve problems together, learn to negotiate on-line spaces, figure out hardware and software issues, and share their successes. They are pioneering their own digital experience. And, to be honest, much of what you would see in my own classroom may be just a mirrored digital version of the classroom next-door.

The Window:
The second phase of digital pedagogy, the window, comes when teachers try something that can not be done effectively or efficiently without having technology in the classroom. These are the truly digital pedagogies. Many of these are just emerging, being used by comparatively very few teachers, and are still considered cutting edge. I'm working toward adding more of this to my own practice.

These transformational digital pedagogies often involve reaching far beyond the classroom. Skyping with an author or another class, building a wiki collaboratively with other students and blogging for a global audience are just a few examples of that. You can also see transformational digital pedagogy in student products that reach real audiences, involve long-term collaboration, and solve real problems. You will also see flipped classrooms, social networking within the classroom, and the creation of digital media by students.

I find the true value of digital pedagogy in the use of digital tools to promote communication and collaboration both within and beyond the classroom.  We can use it to push our students to produce authentic products and push those products to real audiences. Our world has become digital and our pedagogy must as well.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Writing Mentors

So the title of this blog is only partly correct.  I do teach English and I do teach great kids, but I also teach future teachers and I teach a lot of educational technology to current teachers. Some days it really feels like everybody wants a piece of me, including myself.  I'm responding to the demands on my time in one of three ways: Do it, Delay it (schedule for later) or Delegate it.   I have not been very good at that last part. (My husband might disagree.)  Then I spoke with a friend.

"You should have your university students become writing mentors for your freshmen English students." She was very proud of this idea, and she is the department chair for the course I am teaching at the local university.

Still that just seemed wrong. Using my pre-service teachers as mentors to my own students somehow seemed like a conflict of interest, like cheating, like getting them to do my work for me?

"I would be using them." I decried.

"Go ahead, use them." These were her exact words and, well, she is technically my boss, and the person in charge of their teaching program.

Comments on a student paper
So this week I asked my freshmen students to request writing mentors through a Google form. Only fourteen of them did that first day.  That night I asked my pre-service teachers to volunteer to become writing mentors. Ten (out of 22) signed up.  I matched them up, sharing the freshmen student writing that was already in Google Docs with a volunteer mentor.

The early results are fascinating.  The mentors have the time to leave thoughtful and detailed comments on the student writing. The students love the feedback. Fifteen more students have asked for writing mentors. Even though several of the mentors have willingly taken on more than one student, I still have a waiting list of students who want writing mentors.

I am learning more about the pre-service teachers in my class by being able to read their comments to my freshmen students.  I have seen that some really understand how to push a student's writing and others are more focused on minor issues.  It has made me realize that commenting is a skill I must actively teach to the future teachers.

My attempt at delegation has lead me round full circle. Now when I open a Google Doc to view my freshmen student's work I find I am also analyzing the commenting skills of one of my university students.