Tag Archives: digital writing

Jamming, Hacking, and Connecting at #NCTE14

It’s been a whirlwind at #ncte14, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it so far. Here’s a rundown of a few of my favorite moments:

(1) Going for a river run with my former HS teacher / forever career mentor / PaperGrader blogger extraordinaire / generally awesome person, Sarah Zerwin (aka Doc Z).

me n' doc z

me n’ doc z

(2) Lunch with former methods instructor / another forever career mentor / joyous human and great friend, Kim Parker and the amazing Elliott True (#ETatNCTE!)

(3) Beverages and long conversations about surviving graduate school with JPEE compatriots Christie Toth and Bonnie Tucker, featuring reflections on how finishing a PhD changes both everything and absolutely nothing at all (but mostly nothing at all).


#ETatNCTE! this is the happiest kid in the universe, ppl.

(4) Presentation with incredible teachers and friends Dawn Reed, Aram Kabodian, and Jeremy Hyler, chaired by our co-digital-thinker Troy Hicks, where I met a couple Boston teachers who made it to NCTE and added a few dozen more tasks to the to-do list.

(5) Late night conversations (sometimes featuring being locked out of our hotel room) with NCTE roommate / NWP and MSU PhD genius / Social Network buddy Andrea Zellner, who led the coolest Hack Jam session this morning. Sarah, Dawn, and I hacked the convention hall and thought deep thoughts about how hacking helps us reimagine spaces (a few deep thoughts below).


#ncte #hackjam fun

This is my fifth NCTE, and every year I’m reminded why this conference is a non-negotiable one for me; not only do I have the opportunity to reconnect with incredible people who have shaped my career, but I get to brainstorm, collaborate, co-create, and generally challenge my own thinking and writing. In the hackjam session, for example, I was reminded how powerful “hacking” can be, and was inspired to bring some hacking ideas back to Boston with me. We had a few minutes to freewrite after we hacked. Here are a few of my in-the-moment thoughts:

I’ve avoided the exhibit hall always. It’s a scary place where ppl try to sell you stuff, where the “Common Core” is written on everything, where test scores drive sales and agendas, where PEARSON lives. Ick.

Tasked with getting “all the free stuff,” it felt fitting – HAHA! I will go to this place I detest and jack them of all the free crap they give you so that you’ll buy stuff, and then I’ll remix it. What followed, I did not expect.

I talked to those sitting around me about how hacking helped us reimagine the space of the vendor-thick exhibition hall; suddenly, I was looking for things I could repurpose, reimagine, and recreate, and the general malaise I always felt about the exhibit hall was lifted. I was searching for colorful things, things I could rip up, cut up, tape together, or stick to other things. When we returned to the session, we (in collaboration with others who had also hacked the exhibition hall) created a banner (pictured above) with all the free stuff we had gathered. The banner invites participants to create their own story, with bins for “characters,” “settings,” and “conflicts.” Presenters shared other resources for hacking in the classroom, like X-Ray Goggles, which lets you “hack” websites (thereby teaching you, or your students, some basic web authorship and coding).

The session challenged me to think about the skills students need for the 21st century — is one of these skills the ability to hack — to look at a space, a tool, a thing, and reimagine it? This is at the heart of innovation.

How can teachers help students learn how to do this? How are digital tools part of this learning? What kind of classroom supports this kind of thinking, learning, making? The mind boggles.

Also I’m going to write a book with Jeremy Hyler on interdisciplinary collaboration and digital literacies. IT’S HAPPENING. Along with about a thousand other projects I’ve saddled myself with in the last few days. Because that’s what these conferences are for, yo. More reflections to come, I’m sure.

NCTE 2014: Integrative and Innovative Pedagogies, E-05

Hello from Washington, DC! I’ll be presenting with my amazing colleagues and National Writing Project geniuses Troy Hicks (@hickstro), Dawn Reed (@dawnreed), Jeremy Hyler (@jeremybballer), and Aram Kabodian (@AramKabodian) today at #NCTE14 in session E-05 in Maryland 5-6 — come find us!

Our session is entitled “Integrated and Innovative: Five Stories of Technology-Rich Instructional Partnerships.” It focuses on how practitioners in K-12 with partners in higher education have integrated technologies in meaningful and innovative ways with their students. Specifically, we’ll showcase the practices of teachers and provide frameworks for thinking about what innovative practice might “look like.” We’ll also share how our partnerships within and beyond our institutions brought us together, shaping our thinking and practice.

Session Resources

I wanted to share a few resources here for people to access during and after the session. My section will be short, because I want to hand it over to Dawn, who is the real star of the show. I’ll describe a few frameworks for thinking about innovative practice, along with a framework I developed out of my dissertation work with Dawn, which argues that teacher practice with technology can either facilitate classroom tasks or fully integrate technology with content and pedagogy.

Here are our slides:

We will also be tweeting throughout our session (#ncte14) and hosting a backchannel on TodaysMeet. Hope you can join us — digitally or physically!

Update: here’s a PDF of the TodaysMeet Backchannel (link below!) It was a great session, thanks to all who attended!


Becoming Digitally Organized

I really like things in my life to be organized. This has only become more true with time. As a kid, I was moderately organized. I loved things like trapper-keepers and page dividers and binders, and I was a little obsessed with labeling things. However, my backpack was usually an unmitigated disaster and the desk in my bedroom was a repository for stacks of papers, books, old homework assignments, etc.

As I have gotten older, I have come to detest clutter. With the possible exception of books (which I hoard), I have become more likely to throw out something important than to keep something unimportant. I therefore (predictably) love how most of my work has moved onto digital platforms, because this has eliminated much of the clutter from my life.

Or has it?

Digital Clutter

While my life is certainly dominated by far fewer stacks of paper, binders, and bills thanks to the remarkable capacities of my digital devices, my world is no less cluttered. The clutter is just harder to see. How many hundreds of websites do I visit every single day? How many logins and passwords do I keep stored in the back of my memory? How many digital tasks await me at any given moment, cluttering up my browser window with more tabs than I can possibly keep under control?

The clutter became even more visible recently, when the number of Google accounts in my life increased from two (one for grad school, one personal account) to three (another for work!). I have always kept my inbox carefully filtered and foldered, and have never let it get out of control. With the addition of the third account, I (temporarily) lost my ability to keep up.

I am on a constant quest to become a more effective digital curator of my online content, and this is more true for me now that I’m a digital learning specialist than it ever has been. While I have enjoyed keeping track of my favorite blogs and websites using feedly and have done well organizing my emails, I only recently figured out a system for archiving and organizing the ever-growing pile of web content that I refer to on a regular basis for both work and personal use.

The Importance of Curation for Connected Educators

In the first #bpsplnchat on Twitter for this year, many of our participants voiced interest in learning more about digital curation (which is good, because my colleague and I are hosting a webinar on the topic tomorrow — feel free to join us!). This is no surprise, because educators are constantly being bombarded by the “next great thing.” The next web app, tool, resource, site, software, device — you name it. Educators are sharing the resources they find in social media, in ed-focused Twitter chats that only continue to grow in number and participant rates. Educators are excited, overwhelmed, and stretched thin by the multitude of resources that fly through their feeds and emails on a daily basis.

The problem? It’s hard to know what to keep, what to let pass you by, what to share, and how to organize that which you want to remember or archive for later. Enter digital curation and the skills and literacies associated with keeping up with, and decluttering, your favorite online content.

Curation Literacies

One major digital skill for the web 2.0 world is tagging, which enables you to assign labels to articles, links, pictures, videos — any online content you want to keep and access later. You can tag just about anything online these days, from hashtagging on Twitter to tagging photos on Flickr or videos on YouTube. But most people fly right by the tag section as they upload content, not aware of the incredible power of tagging for curating content. Don’t bypass the tags! You never know when they’ll come in handy later!

Another skill is getting all of the stuff you want to read to go to a single place, taking advantage of your favorite sites’ RSS feeds. Maintaining and organizing your favorite feeds is sort of like having your own newspaper — you tell your feed management tool (as I noted, my favorite is Feedly) what content you want it to go grab, and it generates a constantly-updated list of articles from your favorite websites.

Finally, bookmarking is being transformed by web apps that store your bookmarks in the cloud and turn bookmarking into a social activity. Because it wasn’t enough that we now have social media sites for everything from professional networking to personal cat-photo sharing, video sharing, and music sharing — we also need to share our bookmarks sometimes! My favorite tool for this is Diigo, which we’ll talk about in the webinar on Tuesday. However, Delicious has been around for a long time, and new web apps for social bookmarking continue to crop up. This video from Common Craft explains social bookmarking.

The key is to be strategic about how you curate and which tools you use. Having a thousand new accounts to help you keep track of all of your existing online resources and links is only going to make your digital life feel more cluttered — not less. So ask yourself, where does your digital life need a little re-org? And what housekeeping tools will help you turn your digital life into a well-organized, well-oiled machine?

On Being Connected

Along with a crisp breeze, a craving for apple cider and donuts, and a lot of misty rain (at least here in Boston), the start of October brought with it the start of Connected Educator Month. As promised in my last post, I have set out to post once a week on a topic related to #ce14, but I have to admit — when it came to writing my first post, I was stuck.

The internal dialogue went a little like this:

I could write about Twitter. But being connected isn’t just about Twitter. I could write about how being connected isn’t just about Twitter! I could write about Facebook. Or Instagram! Or PINTEREST! Why am I so focused on social media? Being connected isn’t just about social media. I could write about how being connected isn’t just about social media! 

It usually doesn’t take long for me to land myself in a contemplative, reflective stupor. Before I knew it, my attempt to pin down a topic for my first post had become a lofty attempt to loosely define amorphous terms like “connected” and “network” and even “educator.” *Sigh* I hate it when this happens. (sorta)


When I thought about what it means to me to be “connected” in my work, it actually had nothing to do with the digital technologies and tools I now use to stay connected with my educator networks, which at this point stretch across the country and span the globe. For me, being connected has always been about maintaining lasting relationships with a few key educators who have shaped my professional identity. A few things have helped me stay connected in meaningful ways, but they don’t have much to do with Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest…. you get the idea:

I don’t let my teachers disappear from my life.

I still maintain contact with my high school AP English teacher Sarah Zerwin (go check her out on Twitter and follow her blog, which she co-authors with her equally amazing colleagues) and my ELA methods teacher Kim Parker, who lives here in Boston and helped me connect with my current landlord — also a teacher. See how that works? These two people alone, because they are so connected themselves, have helped me expand my networks extensively in the past few years.

I go to conferences. 

Which I both love and hate. Conferences exhaust me — I’m actually a pretty shy person at first, and don’t like awkward social situations. However, conferences allow me to reconnect with already-connected educators, like my friend Dawn Reed, a co-author, co-thinker, and friend whose writing on Digital Is and work with the Red Cedar Writing Project never ceases to inspire. Or my ever-on-the-cutting-edge friend Troy Hicks, whose mentorship made my dissertation work possible and who has challenged and pushed my thinking forward. I reconnect with these people (and Sarah… and Kim… and others…) at NCTE each year, and at the same time build new relationships. Some of these are fleeting, to be sure — others will shape and define my career.

I listen.

At least, I try to. Sometimes I’m better about this than others. Sometimes my hearing gets a little selective. Sometimes I get too caught up in one conversation and forget to listen to another equally (or more) important one. But I place a lot of value on first listening, then talking. This is hard for me, people. I really like to talk. And I often think I’m right, which makes it even harder. But I’ve put a lot of conscious effort over the past 2-3 years into listening first. Listening to the teachers in my dissertation study talk about why they could/couldn’t, would/wouldn’t, or should/shouldn’t use a new digital tool with their students. Listening to the chat trends on Twitter among educators who are already connected. Listening to my new coworkers in an effort to figure out the contextual landscape of Boston Public Schools. Listening again to my mentors from years past — like Kim, Sarah, Dawn, Troy, and so many others — and recalling their wisdom.

So in the end, I decided that for me, “being connected” has little to do with the web 2.0 technologies that I use to stay connected, and much to do with the f2f relationships that have allowed me to curate, foster, build, and listen to the educators who populate my networks.

Certainly in future posts I will share the ways in which digital technologies have helped me enrich and engage these networks. However, it’s also important for us to remember the many ways in which our networks begin with those human connections that mean so very much to our learning, development, and growth as professionals… and as people.

Connected Educator Month: A Post Series

Mark your Calendars!

October is Connected Educator Month! I know you just ran over to your calendar (or, perhaps more appropriately, pulled up your Google Calendar) and excitedly marked the first day of October with a giant orange circle. I mean… this is really exciting stuff, right?!

In honor of #CE14, I’m going to do a post series here on Gone Digital exploring digital professional engagement and the use of social media (both as a professional and in the classroom, with students). This is something that has been on my mind over the past few years, as I became twitterate (twitter literate) and developed different digital practices and identities on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, and eventually (but only intermittently) Instagram. And these are only a few of the big ones — new social media spaces are popping up faster than you can download the apps. According to this list of the 15 most popular social media sites based on web traffic, I am only familiar with the first 10, and I only regularly use 7 of them (though I use many that aren’t on this list, as well).

I used to find this frustrating, wishing the digital world would slow the heck down, already. After all, as a Digital Learning Specialist, it’s sort of my job to stay abreast of new technologies and to think deeply about their role in teaching and learning (and that extends far beyond social media). But now, I embrace the high-speed, can’t-catch-up whirlwind of new digital tools, searching out new (preferably open-source) technologies that might do more than enhance teaching and learning, and actually transform it.

Transforming the Work of Teaching

And that’s what teaching is all about, right? Transforming the minds and experiences of young people? That’s also what connected educator month is about (at least for me) — exploring how teachers can transform their work by connecting with educators beyond the four walls of their classrooms. But don’t take my word for it:

My dissertation research illustrated to me just how transformative “connectivity” can be for today’s educators. Those teachers who maintain networks far beyond their classroom walls, who connect at conferences, online, or over coffee, find spaces to reflect, critique, and transform their practice. Certainly, teachers have always done this. But today’s teachers are “networked” in ways they haven’t been before. Their professional networks extend and persist in social media (as I explored in a recent article) and become more robust in online Professional Learning Networks (PLNs).

Yesterday, my coworkers and I started working on an online digital learning series for Boston teachers in celebration of connected educator month. This work got me thinking about what it means to be a connected educator, the role of social media in fostering connected education, and what exactly constitutes “connected” in a world where tweets come and go faster than you can read them, where tags archive and curate online content for future use, and where educators have a wealth of available spaces in which to present, share, store, create, and design content. In what ways are these connective possibilities transforming what it means to “be a teacher” in the 21st-century… if they are at all? And what role does social media, specifically, play in all of this?

The Series

Here on Gone Digital, I will focus specifically on social media, because I’ve had social media on the mind lately. Despite the fact that many teachers and students use social media constantly in their lives beyond school, many districts have locked down social media within schools. This is because, like it or not, unlocking social media is akin to popping the top of a giant can of worms. There are a multitude of issues surrounding opening up social media to students and teachers, and these include student safety, network infrastructure, and the availability of appropriate professional development. Mention opening up social media to 100 principals and teachers, and I would guess that half of them would shiver in horror while the other half would light up with excitement. It’s not as easy as hitting a button.

But that doesn’t mean social media isn’t transforming teaching and learning in meaningful ways. And that’s what this blog series is about — how teachers are using social media to both transform and make visible the work of teaching, and how they are using it with students to transform their digital learning and literacies. Starting next week, I’ll post once a week, focusing first on how teachers are building their professional networks both online and in f2f environments enhanced by digital engagement, then moving to ways teachers are using social media in the classroom to engage students.

If you have examples, ideas, comments, thoughts, musings, frustrations… whatever, tweet me (@lizhoman) or comment below. And stay tuned!