I’m going to start this reflection with a story. A few years ago, as a graduate student, I was completing my preliminary exam. I had two large questions that each required papers of about 30 pages. I decided to conduct a personal experiment (Or would it be called an action research project?).
For one question, I conducted the research, note-taking, drafting and revising in a traditional way. I printed the articles I needed to read and highlighted or took notes on the printed copies. I hand-wrote summaries on the back side of the articles. If I used a book, I used sticky notes and paper clips to mark significant passages. When I was finished reading, I spread out all my materials on the table before me and created a typical outline. Then I sat down to type my paper from the outline. When I quoted something, I had to re-type the quotes and I manually created the reference list. I was constantly flipping between print resources and stacking and re-stacking the sources.
For the next question, I decided to do everything digitally. I used Mendeley for both my reference manager, reader and citation manager. I created folders for different aspects of the question and dropped articles into the folders as I found them. Book chapters became PDFs and my note-taking and highlighting occurred within the PDFs and Mendeley. When I was finished reading, I basically had my outline created, because I had already created the folders. As I was writing, I used a second screen, so I could read my sources while writing and copy/paste quotations when needed. Searching for ideas between sources was easy with the search feature or key words. When the search results were displayed, I could instantly see how my various sources related to the key terms.
I reflected on the two different methods of research and writing and learned a few things:
1) Using the traditional method slowed me down – which wasn’t always a bad thing. By flipping through sources and having all of them spread out around me, there were more incidents of serendipity. By re-reading or glancing at something, I made new connections with other ideas. I had more time to reflect on and refine my thoughts when writing because I had to physically handle the sources. My physical interaction with the text also provided a different way to remember things. I could visualize the text (pictures, page number and location of paragraph, along with my notes) and recall more about the details of the reading.
2) Using a fully digital method was more efficient and produced a longer paper. Using the search feature allowed me to quickly identify the ideas I wanted and the copy/paste feature made using quotations easier – which led to me including more quotations (with explanations) than the traditional method. However, there was less serendipity. Once I had filed articles and ideas in their folders, I didn’t cross over much and the search feature took me directly to the item I wanted without paging through other parts, which may have led to new considerations.
3) In the end, both methods worked. I passed my prelims with favorable comments. So, neither method was “better” for the end result. That means that when selecting the method (or tool) I need to consider other factors such as time, the need to collaborate, and whether or not I may re-use some of the source material in the future.
But, what is the connection of this long story to Chapters 3-5 in Digital Reading?
Authenticity is key! In Chapter 3, Franki stated that students in her classroom “were not using technology because it was “cool” or because is was the assigned day for a particular tool or app. They were using a particular piece of technology when it made sense for their learning” (p. 26). As a new teacher in the mid-90s, I knew that my schools were very focused on making sure students had “technology skills” so I spent time teaching PowerPoint, search strategies and HyperCard (who remembers this?). But, in isolation – so students didn’t learn to select when to use the tool. They dutifully completed the software-focused projects, learned the ins and outs of the program, and went back to what they were most comfortable using before the “infusion” of technology.
Has much changed? I still see projects assigned that require all students to use the same tools, and the “choice” part of the project is in the topic. We (meaning I) need to do a better job in exposing students (including pre-service teachers) to a multitude of tools, guide and model thinking about how/when to select a tool, and remind them of the multiple choices available. As Franki stated, assigning exercises isn’t authentic to what real readers do. Rather than exercises, the work students do should help them grow as readers and writers. Franki highlighted another teacher, Diana’s experience with her 6th graders who informed her “We know how to use the tools, and if we don’t we’ll figure it out. What we need to know is how to use them in school and what you want us to do with them in class. The computer doesn’t get in our way. It’s that we don’t know what you want from us. We know how we use the tools, but we don’t know how you use them” (p. 31). Wow – insightful students!
This gets to the point of chapter 4 – intentionality. When I completed my prelims, I was intentional in seeing how the different processes would work for me so I knew how I could incorporate digital technologies into my academic writing toolbox. To do this – I needed to have an authentic purpose to use the tools without just focusing on learning the tools. In other words, I couldn’t just attend a workshop or seminar on the tools and be expected to included it in my knowledge base. As Angela Maiers stated, “Being “tech-comfy… does not guarantee [readers’] proficiencies automatically grow into new and sophisticated literacies or online competencies as infor-sumers, critical thinkers, and savvy participants in digital spaces” (p. 47). I have learned that just because my pre-service teachers use Twitter in their personal lives, this doesn't mean they know how to use it professionally. I need to be intentional in helping them apply the skills they have learned to using Twitter as a Professional Learning Network. They are tech-comfy – not always tech-savvy.
To do this, Franki illustrates the importance of listening to our students with her story of the two boys who were watching the LEGO videos of football. By asking them what their learning goal was, Frankis found out how they were analyzing the video for particular football moves – not just watching the entertaining video. We (meaning I) need to take more time to ask questions of our students, give them time to articulate their thinking, and really listen to what they can teach us. This means trusting students to dig deep in their own learning, which is often hampered by the well-being scaffold that we (meaning I) provide through overly structured assignments, rubrics, and graphic organizers. I need to trust students more to select the tools that guide their learning.
This summer, I’m starting a new experiment – digital reading of Digital Reading. For my prelims, I used Mendeley and PDFs on a computer. That meant using a keyboard and mouse. Just last month, I got my first IPad and since Digital Reading was available as a download, I thought I would try it on the Ipad. Just today on Twitter, Cathy posted a picture of a quote she enjoyed in the book and through that picture, I came to realize how I can better interact with the text using the drawing and highlight tool.
Franki states, “I hadn’t realized how much of my reading goes back and forth between tools and how many more connections I make between texts than I did a decade ago” (p. 68). As I sit here and type, I have my IPad beside the computer and I’m checking Twitter as the same time. My smartphone is almost always within reach, because I constantly have questions about what I’m reading or watching. I love connecting with other fans when I’m watching a TV show or back-channeling with others during a conference. Being connected and part of a community is embedded in the everyday routines of my life.
But, Franki warns that “In our hyper connected world where we seemingly have access to information at any moment. It’s important to notes that it’s not just the act of being connected to someone else that helps us make meaning as readers…there must be a meaningful purpose, an authenticity to it and a diligence in our approach” (p.70). Creating these networks, - between content, ideas and each other is essential for students and their life-long learning. As Sir Ken Robinson observes in this RSA Animated video – our education paradigms have to change to prepare our students for a future that is increasing needing thought workers – people who can think creatively, divergently and innovatively.