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In the semester that I have been enrolled and participating with TED 4590, I have used more technology than I ever have in my previous fifteen years of school combined. Throughout this class, and especially in this final project, I was forced to push myself beyond my boundaries and experiences with technology. I am not the type of person to seek out technology. I have a computer, a tablet, and a smart phone, but my typical technology use only includes searching google, checking my email and the school website, texting, and playing games. I don’t use social media like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, but this class required me to do so, and while I was initially resistant, I now think that even if I never choose to use it for personal use, I at least see how it can be utilized in a classroom.

The very first thing that I had to do for this class was to create a Twitter account and send out at least one Tweet a week. I did do this, typically tweeting toward the end of the week, either on Thursday or Friday, or occasionally at the beginning of the week. Mostly, I Tweeted either about articles I had read about technology in the classroom, the readings for the month, or something to do with history or English (my topics of study). For instance, one of my first Tweets was about whether or not I thought Twitter should be utilized in the classroom. I Tweeted that I was not totally convinced that it should be used as a “snark valve,” which was what one of the articles we read for the class said it was used for.

Next, I had to create a blog on which I posted once a month, which totaled to four blog posts. This I did always at the end of the week, on Friday night. The blog posts were in response to the readings we read for the month. I typically did my blog posts on only one topic, even if the readings might have been over a couple of different topics, with the exception of the last blog post that I made. I did this so that I could really focus on one of the topics instead of only providing a shallow review of everything I read for the month. I also had to respond to at least two of my classmates’ blogs before class met for the month. I made a conscious effort to respond to different people each week so that I was not always responding to just the people in the class who I as friends with. I tried to respond to a question or an important issue that the writer brought up in his or her blog post. For instance, with the last blog post, I responded to one person’s comment that they didn’t understand why there was such a disparity between one school district to the next in terms of technology availability, which I tried to explain my understanding of to the best of my ability.

There was also a flipped classroom assignment, where I had to create a video that potential students would watch and learn from so that they could do some work in class. Specifically, I did my assignment over the “STEAL” method of characterization. I learned this method in one of my practicum experiences, and I thought that it was simple enough that students would not necessarily need to ask a lot of questions about it before practicing it. Basically, it means that students determine what a character is like by finding quotes in the book or story about what the character says, thinks, the effect he or she has on others, the character’s actions, and what the character looks like. I chose to do this because it was something that students could easily learn to do in about fifteen minutes and then practice on their own before they came to class to do an assignment with it.

One assignment that we were supposed to do for the class was a Tweet-up. I wish I had been able to do it, but I was confused about when the Tweet-up was supposed to be, and by the time I realized when it was supposed to be, the time had already passed. Since it was led by another student in the class, there was no way I could do it after the time had passed. Because of this, I still do not know exactly what a Tweet-up is.

For the final month of the class, there were two assignments, in addition to the weekly Tweets and monthly blog posts: an App Review and the final project. For the App Review, I chose to review Microsoft One Note, Adobe Voice, Studyblue, Quick Key Mobile, and Nearpod. I chose these apps because I could actually envision using them in a classroom or for myself as a student. I had heard of Microsoft One Note at a staff meeting at one of my practicums and I had used Nearpod before in one of my classes, but the rest I found on the internet and imagined how I could use them in a classroom. I spent a lot of time reading reviews for these apps to determine if they would actually be useful in a classroom. I also only chose apps that I could use with my iPad, since at the very least, even if students did not have iPads, I would be able to use some of these apps on my end.

For the final project, students were supposed to choose a website and create a narrative for how it could be used in the classroom. I chose the website Storify, which allows users to create a story using information from social media and the web. I decided that I would have students use if for a journalistic style writing assignment where they could choose to do a movie review, an editorial about some issue that is important to them, or an article about some event, preferably one they have attended. As an example, I chose to make my own article about an event, which allowed me to explore the Storify website and its features. I also had to decide what was the most important information that people would need to know if they were going to use this website and put it into a brochure for the other students in our class. I personally thought that the most important things for people to know about the website before using it is that it allows the teacher to validate the type of writing that students do on a daily basis, but it also raises questions about ownership and citing of material, it does not allow all students equal access to sources—since students have to have accounts with certain sites in order to use information from them, and it is not immediately user friendly, requiring time to explore the website before bringing it into the classroom.

For me, the most important part of the class overall was the chance to experience using all of these different forms of technology. As I said earlier, I probably will not keep my Twitter account, but I think it was important to have the opportunity to use it and see its educational potential so I could decide for myself whether or not I would use it in my own classroom. Specifically, for the Twitter and blog accounts, I think it was important to see something that students could easily be accountable for on a weekly or monthly basis. Even if I don’t use these technologies in the same way, I could still see using them in a way to keep students accountable for keeping up with their education at regular intervals.

The most important thing to me about the flipped classroom assignment was determining what I thought students could easily learn outside of class without the teacher there to answer questions. Before doing this assignment, I thought a flipped classroom was something I would never use because I did not like that students would not all have the same access to technology and would not be able to get help outside of class if they needed it. Since doing the assignment, and discussing flipped classrooms in class, I have learned that teachers can put the videos on cds for students that do not have wi-fi, and students could go to the school library or check out a computer in order to view or listen to the flipped classroom video. There are also plenty of things that are very easy to grasp for most students that teachers do not have to waste precious time in class teaching. I had to evaluate what I thought would be easy for students to learn without teacher help, so I decided on teaching students a tool for characterization rather than teaching them about one character, because they might come to a different conclusion about a character than I did if they can do characterization for themselves.

For me, the most important part of the app review was researching the kinds of apps that are out there that could be used in a classroom. I may not use all of these apps in my classroom in the future—for instance, I probably won’t use Quick Key Mobile since I am not a fan of multiple choice tests or quizzes—but I know where to look to find apps that have been used by other teachers. It gives me the opportunity to see how other people are using apps that I am already using as well. Doing this assignment allowed me to see the possibilities for apps that could be used by teachers, students, or both.

Finally, the most important aspect of the final project, for me, was finding out everything that I needed to know to explain how to use Storify to other people. The purpose of the assignment was to find a website that someone could actually use in their classroom, and if I was going to use the website in my own classroom, I would have to teach others how to use it. Even though I would not necessarily consider myself proficient with a technology, if and when I bring technology into the classroom, I know what to look for and what students and teachers would need to know before using a website. I know what I need to do in a website before bringing it into my classroom, and how to make myself very familiar with the website and its requirements before introducing it to my students and being blindsided by certain problems that I might not have been expecting.

I could see plenty of similarities between the technologies and assignments I have done this semester and other technologies I have used or other experiences I have had. With Twitter, though I have never personally done this myself, I thought of sending a Tweet as a more modern way of sending a telegram. Since one of my endorsements is in history, I try to make as many connections between today and yesterday as possible, and with both a Tweet and a telegram, people are limited to as few characters as possible, so people have to be very conscious about their word choice to most effectively communicate their ideas. To be honest, it took me about ten minutes to compose each Tweet because I kept writing more than the character count would allow, so I would have to go back and revise before I could actually post the Tweet. In the same way, people who sent telegrams would have to have carefully crafted their message before paying the money to send it, because to send more than a few lines was very cost prohibitive.

Writing the blog posts reminded me of posting to the discussion boards that I have used within the Blackboard system. For both technologies, I would type my posts either in Microsoft Word or Google docs first and then copy and paste the text into the posts so that I could more carefully monitor my word count and not have to worry about accidentally posting before I was ready. For both, I could also expect to respond and be responded to by other people in the class. Both are ways of communicating that do not necessarily allow for the most efficient back and forth interaction between poster and responder, but they do allow people to post their thoughts and their thoughts about what other people have written.

With the flipped classroom assignment, I was reminded of watching “how-to” videos on Youtube, and I believe that students would also be reminded of the same when they watch flipped classroom videos. Because what I did was a step by step process, it could easily be labeled as a “how to characterize” video. It equated classroom instruction with more informal do-it-yourself instruction for me.

The app reviews reminded me of when I decide to download apps for my iPad. I never go quite as in-depth as I did for this assignment, but before downloading any app, I at least read the first three or four reviews and look at how many stars the app has been given before I decide to download it. For pleasure or for education, I never pay for an app, with the singular exception of paying for the Blackboard app so that I could more easily access my assignments and grades on the go. I went through a similar process of deciding what I needed to know about an app before downloading it for the app review assignment as I do on a daily basis with apps I choose to use for my own benefit.

For the final project, using the Storify website reminded me of using google docs, if for no other reason than that it automatically saved what users wrote. I have never used anything else like this website, with the possible exception of google docs, because in google docs, one can incorporate pictures and text. Storify goes the extra step by allowing the users to pull information dierectly from social media and incorporate it into your own writing, including pictures, videos, gifs, Tweets, and website links. Since I do not use a lot of technology, I have never used technology like this before, but the finished product does remind me of the digitally born stories we read within this class, in that it incorporates more engaging material within a piece of work to further illustrate an idea or support a point. For me, Storify allowed users the convience of google docs with a beautiful final product similar to “A Game of Shark and Minnow.”

What I have learned most from Tweeting every week is that it is a good way to check student progress when students are not in class every day. Because I knew I had to Tweet every week, I made sure that I had something that I could Tweet that was somewhat related to the class or to my content area. Sometimes I could make it more fun and interactive, such as a question where I asked Tweeters to identify their favorite “Shakespeare burn,” and sometimes it was much more direct and informational, such as a tweet where I simply provided links to articles about using technology in the classroom. Twitter, I learned, provides users with a way to get information out in a very quick and concise fashion, and even though I found it initially difficult to use, struggling with limiting myself to 140 characters or being confused about how to use a hashtag, in the end, I learned that it is a very efficient way to communicate with a large group of people.

From blogging, I learned about a format where students could have an audience wider than just their teacher and even just their peers. Like in this class, teachers could require their students to read their classmates’ blog posts and respond to a few of them each week or each month, and all students would be able to express themselves even when there is not enough time in a class for each student to share their ideas in a traditional discussion. Students would benefit from reading their classmates’ reactions to books or ideas learned in class by seeing different perspectives, and they would also benefit by knowing that they were writing for real people. One of the biggest issues in writing classes is how to get students to write for a wider audience, and by posting on the internet, even though it might open students up to comments from unkind indiciduals, their work could be read by other  people, giving them the sense that their writing is not just for the sake of the class, but for the benefit of others as well. That is how I felt about my own blog posts, and I believe that that is how students might feel as well.

I learned a lot about the flipped classroom. Before this class, I always thought it was the worst thing that a teacher could do to their students, to make them learn outside of the classroom where they could not ask for help and might learn information incorrectly. However, in this class I learned that there are many different ways to do a flipped classroom, and teachers could use it as often or as little as they want. I learned that it also depend quite a bit on the class that an individual teacher has and whether or not they are responsible enough or advanced enough to be responsible for their own learning. Under the right circumstances and with the right content, a flipped classroom could be a great relief both to teachers and students, freeing up class time for students to explore what they learned the night before and get help with actually putting what they learned into practice.

From the app review, I learned that not all apps are created equal. For instance, I found three for four different apps that could be used for grading multiple choice quizzes and tests quickly, but after taking a look at each of the apps, I found that the only one I would actually use in my classroom is the Quick Key Mobile app that I actually reviewed. While the other apps performed similar functions, and some even had what looked like a more professional set-up, the reviews for the other apps were not very positive and the interface and instructions were more difficult to navigate. Just because an app is the first that appears in the app store when a key word like “grading” is searched does not necessarily mean that that app is the one that should be used in the classroom. Teachers should spend time carefully researching what they should bring into their classroom, because the work they put in on the front end of deciding what to use will only make things easier for them on the back end, because they will have chosen the best possible app for the situation.

The final project taught me that it is important to first master a technology before showing it to others. If I had just quickly picked a website for the final project without trying it myself, when it came time to present it in class, I would have had a lot of trouble demonstrating the website’s features to others, since I would not have known them myself. I also learned that it is important to pick technology that students will actually want to use. After looking at several different websites that I could use in a classroom, I decided on Storify because I know that so many students today do most of their writing on social media. I think that students would actually want to use this website because they get to incorporate Facebook posts, Tweets, and Instagram pictures into their writing, and many students use these websites to post their own thoughts and pictures. Using Storify allows students to utilize social media as a legitimate source of information, which I believe validates their own use of social media, and I have learned that it is really very important to try to reach students with technology that matters to them.

During this semester, I actually switched majors from education to English, so I will likely never actually teach in a high school classroom. My plan is to get a Master’s degree and teach at the collegiate level, so I can still use technology in a classroom, but it might be used slightly differently. Since I currently plan on teaching at a college, I might use Twitter as a way of keeping in contact with students if the class does not meet everyday. Most likely, if I used Twitter, I would use it to remind students of upcoming assignments on a weekly basis and have students Tweet questions to me when I cannot see them in person.

Since I would be teaching English, I would have students use blog posts as a way to engage with the texts that are read for class. I would have them post on one of the pieces per week, and the posts would not have to be long, but it would be an easy to check and see if the students have actually done the reading and understood it enough to engage with the text on a critical level. Some students do not like to talk in class, so this would also serve as replacement participation points for students who do not like to talk in class.

While I do not see myself actually establishing a flipped classroom with my class, I might use the screen casting technology I used for the flipped classroom assignment to record the lessons that I plan on teaching in class for students who might not be able to make it to class. Instead of discussing in class, they would have to write an additional blog post to respond to the lesson. These videos would also be available for students to view in case they needed to review what was discussed in a class period before a test or if for some reason they did not take notes or remember well what was said in class. For me, the video portion of the flipped classroom assignment might be the most useful thing I used in this class, and it is what I see myself most likely using in my future classes, though not necessarily in a flipped classroom format.

In my future classroom, not all students might have the opportunity to use tablets, but most will probably have smart phones, so I could easily do what I did for the app reviews and recommend apps that will supplement student learning for my class. Using the apps would not be required, but it would be something available for students to use if they wanted help with the class. If it was available at my school, I would ask to bring in a tablet cart one day of class to show students a few apps that they could use to supplement their learning or for help if they needed it. I do not really plan to use the apps in class, as not all students would have equal access, but I would research to find out the apps that could help my students outside of class when they would not necessarily be able to talk directly to me.

Finally, in my own classroom, I could see myself asking students to use Storify either as a replacement for the blog posts or as an additional, more lengthy and more formal writing assignment. If I chose the first option, they would still create weekly posts, but it would be more informal and more of a space where students could connect what they were reading in class to their own lives. They could incorporate images and videos that either helped them understand the reading or explained how other people interpret the work, and they could react by explaining how they interpret the work differently than most people do. It would be much more of an exploratory space than the blogs would be, and would allow students to bring in how other people who aren’t necessarily scholars interpret or respond to great works of literature. If I chose the second method, I would likely use it only once in the class and have students explore a specific question that is brought up in a work of literature. They would still incorporate other perspectives, but they would also need to incorporate scholarly works into their posts. In a composition class, I might just have student complete the same assignment that I would have given to the high school students, but with higher expectations. I think I would choose the first option over the second, but the benefit that blogs have over Storify is that students would only need to send me the link to their website once for me to be able to view all of their posts, while students would have to send me the link to each one of their Storify posts in order for me to see them. While I find the format of Storify more engaging and interesting, I might also get frustrated with having my inbox clogged each week with email links.

Overall, whether or not I use every technology I learned about in this class is not necessarily important. What is important is that now I feel much more comfortable incorporating any technology into my classroom and I have options for what to use and how to use it. I cannot say that I am an expert on technology, but now I know that my students will not be an expert on all technology either, and I know how to learn what I need to know about technology to become proficient enough to use it in my classroom.

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Critical Engagement with Technology and Gamification: Issues with Technology in Education

For those of you who read this blog, I believe that I should begin this post by letting you know that this post will be a little different from the others I have done. In the past, I have focused on only one topic for the entire post. This week, the post will be divided into two parts: critical engagement with technology usage and gamification in the classroom. Let’s begin with taking a look at critical engagement with technology as discussed in Cynthia L. Selfe’s article “Technology and Literacy: A Story about the Perils of Not Paying Attention.”

Part 1: Technology and Critical Engagement

Selfe begins her 1999 article with two quotes. The first is from Getting America’s Students Ready for the 21st Century and claims that technology literacy is as essential to students in the modern world as traditional literacy and it is important to teach students these skills to prepare them for life (Selfe 1999). The second quote, a quote by Bill Clinton taken from the same book, reads, “We know, purely and simply, that every single child must have access to a computer” (Selfe 1999). Selfe spends the rest of the article essentially arguing that because the first quote is true, the second quote, that all children should be able to access technology, is not enough to get students technologically literate.

One of her first points in the article to this effect is that many writing teachers are uncomfortable using technology and prefer to avoid it altogether. Selfe writes, “We have convinced ourselves that we and the students with whom we work are made of much finer stuff than the machine in our midst, and we are determined to maintain this state of affairs” (Selfe 1999). She goes on to say that teachers see a choice between using technology and not using technology, and when faced with this choice, many teachers choose what they see as the safer course: not using technology. This may have been true in 1999, but I do not think it is true any longer. While there are certainly teachers who are unfamiliar with or resistant to technology, they no longer have the option to ignore it. In 2015, teachers are required by their school districts to integrate technology into their lessons. My mother has been a teacher for close to thirty years and if she had been given the choice that 1999 teachers had, she definitely would have chosen to avoid it, and she did in fact avoid it until it became unavoidable. Now, she must use technology in her classroom, utilizing the iPads that the school paid for. In fact, the reason that this blog exists is because of the technology course required to become a teacher.

However, the reason that technology integration in the classroom has become a requirement rather than a choice is that technology usage and application has only increased since 1999. Even though I would personally put myself into that camp of teachers who would avoid technology if they could, in today’s age, it would be doing our students a huge disservice not to integrate technology into instruction. The need for technologically literate citizens will only increase as technology improves. Again, though, Selfe does not believe that simply integrating technology is enough.

Selfe insists that teachers “need to recognize that we can no longer simply educate students to become technology users—and consumers—without also helping them learn how to become critical thinkers about technology and the social issues surrounding its use” (Selfe 1999). One of the main issues that she addresses is the difference between the technology accessibility between white middle to upper class students and minority lower class students. Again, her statistics are from 1999, but the same problems still exist today. Students who live in low SES districts attend low SES schools. Low SES schools do not have the funds to get every student an iPad or a computer. Some of the schools may not even have enough money to get every student a proper textbook, let alone advanced technology. Because minority students are more likely to be low SES students, they will grow up to have less access to technology and fewer opportunities to learn how to use technology that could prove important to their future.

Students need to be taught how to think critically in any situation. Students don’t go into history classes to memorize names and dates; they go to learn how to ask and answer big questions about events and movements in history (for instance, when do revolutions occur?). Students don’t go into English classes to memorize characters and plots; they go to learn how to manipulate language and communicate effectively. In the same way, technology should not be utilized in a classroom just for the sake of utilizing technology; because it is such an integral part of modern work and communication, students need to be taught to consider key issues dealing with technology. What is ethical use of technology? How can technology be more equally accessible to minority or low SES students? If it can’t be more accessible, how else can minority and low SES students gain the skills, knowledge, and quality education that they will need for their future careers? These are the questions we need students to be asking and answering. If we want students to go on to become contributing members to society, they don’t necessarily need to be able to manipulate PowerPoint or Edmodo or any particular technology application, but they do need to know how to ask the questions and investigate the answers that can lead to change in the world.

Part 2: Gamification

On her blog Metawriting, Deanna Mascle wrote two posts about gamification: “Why Gamification” and “Students Respect the Badge.” In “Why Gamification,” Mascle discusses why she thinks that gamification works better for her students and their education than more traditional grading systems, and in “Students Respect the Badge,” Mascle talks about how her students respond better to being given “badges” as awards for achievements rather than traditional grades. Gamification, as Mascle uses it, is using a game like format (specifically a video game like format) evaluate student learning. Mascle, in “Why Gamification?” describes why she chooses to use gamification as opposed to traditional grading. She writes, “I have found that once a grade is given that all learning stops. Students stop working and move on mentally. Gamification is a much better match for my goals for my students than a traditional classroom grading structure because we can use badges to mark progress or achievements without stopping the forward momentum” (Mascle 2014). In her slightly earlier article, “Students Respect the Badge,” she discusses another benefit, saying, “The outstanding contributors to the class blog were clear and their efforts were rewarded. I have used badges for assessment for several semesters now and it is very interesting to me that students don’t argue grades determined by this method” (Mascle 2014).

Both of these are definitely excellent reasons to at least try gamification, but they also raise a couple of questions for me: If students are given badges and not grades, what goes on their report cards? And what is exactly so wrong with students arguing their grade (to a certain extent)? The first question, I believe, is very much open to debate. On the one hand, the goal of school is to get students engaged in learning and critical thinking, and if gamification rather than traditional grading can make this happen, this is definitely something to pursue. On the other hand, students cannot be evaluated in “badges,” lovely as they may be. They may measure student achievement, but they seem to be less quantitative than is needed for a report card. The teacher could turn the assignments into formative assessments in which the students receive the badges as feedback but not any actual grade, but then the work that students are doing for these assignments has no effect on their overall grade in the class. I, for one, would be somewhat angry as a student if I had to write all semester for a blog or journal of some sort and was expected to put actual work and thought into the posts and then never received any sort of grade for it. I think this question is a tough one to answer, and if you have an opinion on it, please let me know in the comments.

As to the second question, I feel I should begin by explaining what I mean when I ask what is exactly so wrong with students arguing their grade (to a certain extent)? I personally think that arguing a grade develops argumentative skills that students will need later in life, like in asking for a raise in their future job. Make no mistake, if a student argues every grade they ever receive, even the most patient teacher in the world would get frustrated and angry, which would probably end up even more negatively affecting the student’s grade. However, sometimes students and teachers evaluate their work differently, and what fulfils the assignment to the student does not always fulfil the assignment to the teacher. In these cases, I think that students should be allowed to argue why they think they deserve a higher grade than they received without feeling like they are annoying the teacher or will suffer any punishment from the teacher as a result. I may be alone in taking this opinion, but I believe that arguing a grade is a good experience for a student and a good opportunity for him or her to possible genuinely convince his or her teacher that they deserve better than what they got. Teachers are not infallible, and students need to know, in my opinion, that they are allowed to disagree with them, even if they will never come to a mutual agreement on the grades that students receive. Again, this is just my opinion, so if you have a different one, please let me know in the comments below.

Using Interactive Texts to Connect Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives

I am part of a dying breed. Despite being born in 1994 and essentially growing up with technology, I am not technologically savvy. I am not fluent in the digital age, and to use a term from Marc Prensky, I consider myself much more of a digital immigrant than a digital native. I will never learn to use digital media as my first language, because I waited too long to make the effort to learn. For me, technology will always come as a second thought, a second choice to older, more outdated methods of communication. To be fair, I certainly use technology in my day-to-day life, and usually without any major problems: I use text messaging to communicate with my friends and family, I use internet databases to conduct research for my classes, and I use websites like Netflix to take care of whatever entertainment I find myself in need of. And yet, I find myself struggling with other types of technology.

The high school students I have taught and likely will teach tend not to feel the same way. Most of them are digital natives and consider themselves part of the digital native culture. They use their technology all the time. While I have gone weeks without looking at my cell phone, many of the students I have had the pleasure of knowing cannot even go one class period without their cell phones. These students demand more technology in their lives. They may not tell teachers that they must have cell phones, computers, and iPads in the classroom, but the way they learn and the way they choose to learn dictates that technology must be present in the classroom. For someone like me, who would use as little technology as she could for lack of interest and understanding of it, this poses a certain problem, both in ability and relatability.

I don’t have any social media that I keep out of choice. People constantly ask me to connect on Facebook, and are astounded when I tell them that I do not have one. Only briefly did I have a Facebook page, and I only had it because I was required to have it. I got “friend requests” from people I knew during the time when I had it, and I explained to them that I would not add them as a Facebook friend because I did not intend to keep the page when I was done with the class, and sure enough, as soon as I was finished with the class, I did indeed delete the page. When I did so, I was upset by the fact that I was informed that for two weeks after I chose to delete the page, it would still be in existence, waiting for me to log in to Facebook to stop it from being deleted permanently. Who was Facebook to question me on my decision to remove it from my life? To be fair, many people would want such an option, as for many people, social media is an integral part of their lives, but because I again believe I find myself in the minority of people who do not want such things to be a part of their lives, I merely found it frustrating. I much prefer face-to-face social interaction with the people I intend to talk with, and I believe something is lost when communication takes place through screens.

Again, most students today are the opposite of myself: they use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media websites and apps every day. They do not just use it as a form of communication, but also as a source of entertainment, something that I, at least right now, cannot begin to fathom. My opinion is that everyone I want to talk to I can talk to in person. However, many students will choose to use social media instead of face-to-face interaction, because for them, it is easier (at least from a certain standpoint) and more conventient and interesting. This is another source of disharmony between myself as a teacher and my students. While I can respect their use of technology, I cannot see the appeal for myself, at least at this time, which can make it difficult to relate to students.

Perhaps the gap can be bridged with reading, or at least, the medium in which it is presented to students. While many students find it easier and faster to access reading online through their phones, computers, tablets, or whatever other device they may possess, I prefer the feel, the look, the experience of reading a book, a story, or an article printed on paper, no matter many trees had to die in the making of Hamlet, to the experience of reading a work on a computer screen. I like the feel of the paper between my fingers, and I love the smell—yes, the smell—of an old book, two sensory sources of satisfaction that are lost when reading online. Personally, I also really enjoy seeing the physical progress I am making through a work, as the pages on the left side slowly but surely begin to outnumber the pages on the right side of the piece. When I saw that I needed to read “digitally born” articles for my class, I initially planned to print off the articles and read through them in the more traditional way, to which I had grown accustomed. Most students would not even think to print the articles off unless they were instructed to do so.

Once I accessed the pieces, entitled “Snow Fall” and “A Game of Shark and Minnow,” I was distressed to find that the multimedia portion of the pieces would not be accessible in a print version. With a small amount of anxiety, I realized I would have to soldier on behind the computer screen. What began as “soldiering on” turned into a genuine interest in the stories, and not just for the writing, but also for the multimedia parts that I would have initially preferred to have done without. Jeremy Rue, author of “The ‘Snow Fall’ Effect and Dissecting the Multimedia Long Form Narrative,” describes some of the technical achievements in “Snow Fall,” a piece by John Branch. Rue writes, “There is a scrolling mechanism (called jquery.inview) which will trigger actions as the user scrolls. For example, it will play a video, graphic animation or change some CSS properties like fading the background” (Rue). This, to me, was the most impressive and engaging of the features added to the text. The author of the article could have just added hyperlinks to more information, or inserted videos on the side for the reader to watch if he or she chose, but instead, the scrolling mechanism forces the reader to become more involved with the story.

This was accomplished even more successfully, in my opinion, by Jeff Himmelman in his piece, “A Game of Shark and Minnow.” At one point, he writes, “For the final touches to the arrowhead, Yanto used a hammer and a rusted, machete-like blade” (Himmelman). When the reader scrolled to read the text, a video also began playing, that showed a person hammering a piece of metal into a type of simple weapon or tool. No amount of description would have truly done justice to the image in comparison to an actual video. Because it was activated by the scrolling mechanism that can also be seen in “Snow Fall,” the reader had no choice but to view it gain a better understanding of what the author was trying to convey. For someone like me, who would not ordinarily seek out such “supplemental” information, even if it was offered as a video to click on on the same page, it added a dimension to the story I would otherwise have lost out on.

In an article about “Snow Fall,” written by Paige Williams, which is itself interestingly written mainly through other people’s tweets about the article, Patricia Thompson of the New York Times tweets, “At 15,000 words and 14 print pages, this is one of longest continuous narratives the NY Times has ever run” (Williams 2013). The article was at least that long on the web, and yet, it was able to keep people interested in it enough to keep them reading. A big reason for reader interest in the piece is that through the use of multimedia interactive features of the text, such as videos, map projections, and even a simulation of the avalanche itself, the reader is able to become more engaged with the text. For myself as a “reluctant” technology user, it was a user friendly way to use media in the text. The reader only has to scroll. For students who are proficient technology users, the interactive features appeal to what they are used to or enjoy seeing in their own lives.

The writing itself of both pieces is good enough to keep an English major hooked, while the interactive text features are enough to keep even reluctant readers hooked. This seems to be a great way to bridge the gap between what I know and am comfortable with (reading/writing) and what most students know and are comfortable with (technology). Perhaps even more advanced students could make their own interactive texts with their own pieces of writing and publish it on the web (if they so choose). The possibilities of these internet born texts are limitless. While I would personally still prefer a print article or book, since I know many or most of my students would not, I need to be a little flexible and meet them in the middle with something like reading an interactive text with the hopes that they can learn what they need to while doing it in a more memorable and enjoyable fashion.

TLDEUNO

Intended Audience v. Actual Audience: the Unintended Consequences of Posting on Social Media

I can’t tell you the number of stories I have heard about people who have posted things on social media that have come back to bite them because they were seen by someone who was not intended to see it. For example, one of my friends told me about someone who posted a long rant about how much they hated their job on their Facebook wall, complaining about their boss, their coworkers, and the type of work they had to do. This person apparently forgot that she was Facebook friends with her boss, and when he saw the post, he left a reply that told her that since she hated everything about her job so much, she could find a new one, and there was no reason for her to come back to work the next day.

Another example I saw online was a person who used Facebook to complain about the way he was treated by a police officer the previous day, being pulled over and forced to clean up the side of a highway, saying that it was an abuse of power. As it turns out, the police officer who had pulled him over saw the post and filled in all the details that the poster had left out, like the fact that the person was driving under the influence of alcohol and had thrown all his empty containers on the side of the road. The police officer said he was being generous by not arresting this person and instead only making him clean up his mess. I can’t quite remember, but I believe that the person ended up deleting his post, shamed that the truth came out.

One final example, and this one from my own life: During high school, my sister logged onto Facebook to brag about the fact that she paid someone only two dollars to do her PE homework, which consisted scoring a game of bowling by hand. Of course, someone from the school ended up seeing the post and it found its way to the gym teacher. When she showed up at school the next day, he informed her that she would have to redo the homework in class.

These things happen all the time: people will post about the pains of spending time with their in-laws, or about a party they went to when they had called in sick to work or canceled plans with a friend, or post pictures of themselves doing illegal things. Most of the time, the truth will out: the in-laws will respond angrily to the post, the boss or friend will reprimand the poster for shirking their responsibilities or ditching their friend, and the police will find out about the illegal activities and the person might find themselves behind bars. However, all of these cases have one thing in common: the person who posted did not expect the people who “found them out” to be their audience. In most of the examples I mentioned above, with the exception of my sister, the people who were finding themselves in trouble for their Facebook posts were adults. If adults, from whom we expect a certain amount of responsibility in their online interactions, are struggling to navigate the world of online communication, what can we expect from teenagers, who have the much more difficult position of balancing their reputation with their peers with their reputation with their authority figures?  

The problem of the intended audience is the exact problem that Danah Boyd addresses in “Identity: Why do teens seem strange online?” the first chapter of her book It’s Complicated. In it, she writes, “The intended audience matters, regardless of the actual audience. Unfortunately, adults sometimes believe that they understand what they see online without considering how teens imagined the context when they originally posted a particular photograph or comment” (Boyd 2014). Teens, for the most part, when posting online are not posting for their teachers, parents, future employers, or anyone else who they might need to impress in a semi-professional setting. Teens are posting for their friends, and while they are looking to impress them, the way they do so is very different from what they might to impress their teachers. For instance, my sister thought she would be impressing her friends with the fact that she got someone else to do her homework for her; obviously, it did not impress her teacher. Boyd believes that adults need to keep in mind the fact that teens aren’t posting for them before they judge what teens have written.

“Teens,” according to Boyd, “often imagine their audience to be those that they’ve chosen to ‘friend’ or ‘follow,’ regardless of who might actually see their profile” (Boyd 2014). One might argue that someone could set their privacy settings so that they only reach their intended audience, but it isn’t always easy to understand how to do this and some teens just don’t know about this. Teens expect the people reading their posts to understand when it is not for their eyes. Context is important because teens, and everybody, really, want “to have control over a given social situation” (Boyd 2014). Even adults would be upset if someone who wasn’t part of a conversation suddenly jumped in and offered their opinions on it. In addition, certain things are appropriate in certain contexts when they would ordinarily not be appropriate in other contexts.

Boyd writes, “May teens post information on social media that they think is funny or intended to give a particular impression to a narrow audience without considering how the same content might be read out of context” (Boyd 2014). Even something as simple as the sentence “You’re such a nerd,” takes on a completely different meaning when exchanged between two friends who both like Star Wars than when it is said by someone who thinks the Star Wars fan is laughable for enjoying the movies. Out of context, someone stumbling on the conversation in which this sentence is used might just assume the latter, and consider the person writing it to be a bully. That is, of course, not at all what is intended in the first example.

So, understanding that you are not the intended audience for a teen’s Facebook post and that you don’t necessarily have all the information you need to judge it is an important part of beginning to understand teens’ online communications. However, I think that more important than just understanding this, teachers have a responsibility to teach students that what they post to Facebook will have a much wider audience than they expect. After all, not all potential college admissions officers or future employers will be as understanding of the fact that they were not the intended audience for a picture of a night of drunken revelry. More importantly, students need to be aware of this fact and take on the responsibility of making sure that what they post can only be seen by those they want to see it or that they keep their posts appropriate for a wider range of audiences. Yes, it may take some of the fun out of social media by mixing it with learning and responsibility, but isn’t it far more important that students have a bright future to look forward to when they leave their partying phase? This is just my opinion, but I believe that educators have a responsibility to prepare students for the day when they no longer have people who understand that they simply weren’t directing their “I hate my job” post at their boss. Please let me know what you think in the comments section.

#tldeuno

The Dangers of Plagiarism

Plagiarism:

The word looms like the sword of Damocles over the heads of students and teachers alike. When I was in high school, each school year began with a stern lecture from each teacher about what would happen to a student if he or she was caught plagiarizing. I shivered as they said words like “failure,” “no credit,” and even “suspension.” The same lecture would get repeated before any major writing assignment. Before we wrote our five paragraph persuasive essays, we needed to be reminded that plagiarism would absolutely end our academic careers. It left us, or at least me, quaking in my boots for fear of anything that came even close to plagiarizing. To an extent, it worked. I never attempted to plagiarize anything in high school years, or at least, I never did anything that I considered to be plagiarism. The terror of the consequences that I might face if caught proved a powerful deterrent to plagiarism. Any time I would attempt to write something that involved research, I started sweating bullets at the thought that I might not be citing correctly or that my words were too close to the information I read in the book and I would be accused of plagiarism. I would fail the paper, maybe even the class, and would be labeled a cheat and a thief and that label would follow me for the rest of my life. I would never again be able to be trusted.

I can’t speak for every student, but I know that I was too terrified of plagiarism to ever even try copying one phrase into my papers. Of course, it wasn’t just fear of the consequences that kept me from plagiarizing. I mean, I don’t refrain from murder or burglary just for the fear of winding up in prison…I just genuinely believe that those are bad things to do. For me, the consequences only made me afraid of what would happen if I “accidentally plagiarized” something. I certainly wouldn’t be taken at my word that it was an honest mistake, not with all the warnings teachers gave us about plagiarism. I would just have to be careful to never make a mistake. That was the only solution.

However, research has shown that not all students are as scared of plagiarism as I was (and still am). According to Barry Gilmore, author of the article “Write From Wrong,” more than half of all students who participated in a study admitted to plagiarism (Gilmore 2014). He also adds that the internet has made it significantly easier for students to plagiarize, with websites designed specifically for that purpose. Schools have tried to combat the issue in various ways, one of which being the use of “turnitin.com,” where teachers can have students submit their work to check for plagiarized passages or papers. However, both Gilmore and Cynthia Townley and Mitch Parsell, authors of “Technology and academic virtue: Student plagiarism through the looking glass,” find issue with the website.

Gilmore only finds issue with the website based on the fact that there are ways for students to get around it, for instance by simply not using a resource found on the internet. Townley and Parsell, however, believe that turnitin.com is inherently wrong, as it assumes that students will try to cheat, and thus breaks trust with the students (Townley and Parsell 2005). They go on to say that trust is absolutely essential to the learning process, and it makes perfect sense. If students believe they are expected to cheat, and using a website like turnitin.com will certainly send them that message, then of course they will cheat. Students live up to the expectations that you set for them. Not to mention the fact that students will be rightfully upset to be treated like criminals. I had a practicum experience at a school that used turnitin.com, and it was easy to tell that many of the students did not approve of it. Who could blame them? I certainly wouldn’t want to be treated as if I was going to try to get away with intellectual theft if not for the fact that my work was being checked for it. You wouldn’t put someone on parole if they hadn’t ever committed a crime, would you? It may help teachers catch some students who do actually attempt to plagiarize, but more than anything, it would make all students feel as if they were not trustworthy.

And what about the students who “accidentally plagiarize?” I mentioned at the beginning of this post that when I was in school, I was always afraid of accidentally plagiarizing when I used research for a paper. Many people do not believe in “accidental plagiarism. For instance, most of the English teachers I have ever met scoff and roll their eyes when their students tell them that they “accidentally” used the same phrase or paragraph found in another work without citing it. To be fair, there are certainly people who plagiarize and then would use the excuse of “accidental plagiarism” to get them out of trouble. Is it possible to “accidentally plagiarize?” Alise, a blogger who wrote the post “Discussion: The Statistical Probability of Accidental Plagiarism,” believes that the answer is yes. In fact, she claims that this answer is backed by science. Cryptomnesia is the official term for taking an idea and believing it is yours without knowing that you are actually stealing it (Alise). Alise herself cites an article by Cracked.com, which interestingly does not actually cite any sources for their article, though they do mention some examples of its occurrences. I personally believe that accidental plagiarism is absolutely possible. One of my teachers used to advise her students to refrain from doing any research before they had written down all of their ideas, because they might accidentally use the same phrasing that a book or article did when writing about the same thing as their sources. I know that it has personally happened to me a few times, but I always ended up checking and fixing it before I turned it in.

However, I always wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t fixed it first. Based on the severity of the lectures we were given in school about the evils of plagiarism, I doubt I would have been shown any leniency. I am not advocating that we let students get away with plagiarism. It is definitely a very real problem that needs to be addressed, but I believe that instead of punishing the students for what might legitimately be an accident, we should work with them to give them the tools and confidence to write their own original works. Of course, that’s just one person’s opinion, so if your opinion is different, please let me know in the comments.

Alise. (2013, April 19). Discussion: The Statistical Probability of Accidental Plagiarism [Alise in Wonderland]. Retrieved from http://readerswonderland.com/2013/04/discussion-the-statistical-probability-of-accidental-plagiarism/

Gilmore, B. (2010). Write From Wrong. Independent School, 69(3), 106-113.

Townley, C. and Parsell M. (2005). Technology and academic virtue: Student plagiarism through the looking glass. Ethics and Information Technology, 6, 271-277.

tldeuno