I'm working on a doctorate in education, and my research focuses on potential uses of digital communication media (online discussions, blogs, wikis, etc.) in teaching writing. In particular, I am interested in how teachers of English language arts, humanities, or social studies might incorporate digital interactive writing into the writing process, such that online discussions might serve as a sort of pre-writing activity for essays, stories, or other written compositions to help students develop and articulate their ideas.

For example, students might use discussion forums to discuss debatable issues in preparation for persuasive essays on the same topics (which could potentially be published on blogs or wikis). Or they might use a blog post as a seed for an essay, inviting comments from other students to help them develop their ideas. Or they might begin to develop a story idea through an online chat in which they role-play characters in dialogue. Or they might use instant messaging to brainstorm subtopics for a class wiki involving collaborative research.

Has anyone used Web 2.0 media in this way with their students? If so, I'd be very interested to hear some of the details. If not, what do you think about such an approach? Many thanks in advance!

(For more on this topic, I invite you to check out my blog, Authorship 2.0.)

Tags: blogging, discussions, english, instantmessaging, socialstudies, wikis, writing

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Thanks so much, Connie, for your thoughtful response to some of my questions. In the spirit of ongoing dialogue, I have a few more, as well as some responses to some of your questions, but I am going to separate them into threads in an effort to work some of the unique qualities of this medium...

You ask, "Do we ever do things and then are done or is everything a work in progress?" I believe that on some level, everything we author is a "work in progress" and that our ideas and our authored works continue to evolve as we continue to live and interact. However, in the practical world, there are also written products, which we must declare to be complete at some stage for some particular purpose. A journalist must submit a complete article or column for publication on a particular day, a novelist must complete a book for print publication, a graduate student must submit a complete thesis in order to graduate. We may return to these works and continue to develop them, but once we publish them, they become coherent, free-standing products. There may be different versions of the same work, but each is a product in its own right.

Thus, I think it's important to teach students about what publication really means, even as that meaning is in flux. While I totally agree that the relationship between various types of writing and communicating is complex and interesting, in order to examine some of those relationships, we must apply some working definitions for those various types. So in that vein, I am curious about the relationship between interactive, reciprocal written communication (such as this online discussion), and freestanding, independently written and published works (such as a blog post, journal article, or dissertation). Granted, the lines are ever blurrier, but still, there seems to be a difference between writing that the author considers to be a coherent, free-standing piece versus writing that occurs in conversation. I may use ideas and even some text I've composed in this online discussion in a blog post or some of my academic writing, but I still consider the parameters of each task to be somewhat different.

A recent Pew study indicates that many students do not consider their textual online communication to be writing. I wrote about this in one of my blog entries, and I continue to think about the implications of this. I do think the state of such things is evolving quite rapidly, that we are in very new territory, and that old frames and categories do not always work. But I also think that we each have a role to play in shaping that evolution, and that we can both acknowledge the organic changes, such as the dynamic definition of writing and its parameters, and also use what we know as teachers and writers to guide students toward improving their writing across media and contexts.

So, if that makes any sense, do you believe that all the interactive writing your students are doing is helping them to write better independently?
Connie, can you say more about how you think your students' writing might be improving with the use of the network? Beyond increasing student engagement and the quantity of writing that they are producing, do you think that the Web 2.0 experience is also improving the quality of their writing?

Whenever I read your descriptions of what you've done, I am amazed. Hope your summer is going well.
Hey Steve,

Thanks! One more example of how your visionary CR2.0 is working for teachers out there in the real world... I'm in Cambridge now, showing a number of networks to people: cr20, my class network, Fireside... and Marielle and I might get together this week to discuss use of web 2.0 writing tools, making a f2f connection. So cool, so very cool, what you've done. Would you ever have thought it'd come so far? You've got such a major network going, with spinoffs all over the place, teachers meeting all the time online... and in real life... big changes happening because you've created such a powerful vehicle for exchange...

Marielle, just had to say that to Steve--so grateful that we get to be a part of this marvelous new world. Hope we get together this week. I'll send you the schedule shortly. Thanks for starting this forum!

Hi Connie!

What grade level and number of students do you teach? I can't agree with you more on how blogging leads to discussions and how willingly the kids love to write. I find their writing to be more honest and passionate, and unguarded for the most part. Their inner voice somehow comes out. I would love for my students to each have their own blog, but with seventy two students I just possibly cannot manage them all. I would love to hear from someone who can make it work. Now, my advisory is a different story. I would love for them to get involved in a global project of some sort, any ideas?

I had so many parents last year who had no idea what blogging was all about. At the end of the year, they thanked me for introducing it to them through their child and that they too were happily blogging away. This year, in addition to the class blog, I am going to have a blog just for the parents, a newsletter, question/answer sort of thing. I feel it's important to keep the parents in the loop as to what is happening in the classroom, especially since their child is at the age where they want to keep everything private, especially from their parents!
Amy, I love your idea of having a parent blog. What a great way of keeping them in the loop and giving them a voice! Thanks for the idea.
Amy, I love your description of how your students' authentic voices come through with blogging. It's a testament to the power of true authorship, isn't it?

As for global projects, are you familiar with Taking It Global? It's a global network for students and teachers interested in getting involved in global community action. TIGed is designed for teachers who want to collaborate with other classes on projects. Members come from all over the world. Very interesting stuff...
Hi Marielle,

I am new to Web 2.0 and just now finishing a summer course on the topic. As you can imagine, my head is spinning!

I teach high school-level screenwriting/playwriting (as well as theater arts) and plan to empower my class with these tools. I greatly appreciate reading the thoughts and comments shared here; my own thoughts have expanded as a result, a testimony to the power of Web 2.0, the power of collaboration.

Traditionally, in my writing class, I have found it effective to host brainstorming sessions in which all participate. Together, with prompting by me, we flesh out story ideas. I will be interested to see what will happen when we use a virtual white board in place of a real one.

I have also been pondering using Web 2.0 tools for fleshing out dialogue. I could assign a two-person scene to two writers with each of them playing a part. I imagine (especially for those who struggle with dialogue) this might produce some exciting results and be fun in the process.

One problem I am having is knowing what tool to employ, as there are so many. I expect with time and experience, I will begin to know which tools work best for each application. I am grateful for conversations like this where I might pick up a specific recommendation. So, for all those reading... keep 'em coming!
Thanks for joining this discussion, David. I agree that discussions like this really help to expand one's thinking. I, too, appreciate the opportunity to have an authentic experience of the benefits of Web 2.0 that I envision for students.

I think there are a host of exciting ways to use Web 2.0 tools in your teaching, including those you mention. As for brainstorming, you might want to play around with Mindmeister or bubbl.us or one of those sorts of collaborative concept mapping tools. One of the benefits of using such online "mindmaps" is that you can project them in the classroom and then let students add to them (or create others) later outside of class. You can even embed them in blog posts.

Live chats are great tools for working through dialogue. Any instant messaging software can be used for this. There's a fascinating account of how two adolescent girls start stories by role playing characters this way in an article by Angela Thomas called "Fan fiction online: Engagement, critical response, and affective play through writing." I have had students describe similar methods, though I have not yet tried it myself.

You may also want to consider setting up a virtual classroom in Tapped In, which includes a live chat feature. Transcripts are sent to the teacher, and then you can forward them to students (I wish they were sent directly to students as well), who can then use the text as a story starter. This also works well for brainstorming discussions.

I think this is one area in which these tools offer a qualitatively different writing experience. For example, if you are writing dialogue while role playing a character against another character, it's probably more likely to sound authentic. The fact that you can have a live conversation that is recorded verbatim as text is a huge asset to the writing process. The student interviews in the Thomas article express the particulars of this approach far better than I can. I look forward to hearing how things go with your students...I hope you'll keep us posted.
Hi All,
Thanks for this exciting forum. David, I wanted to add to Marielle's excellent suggestions the possibility of using GoogleDocs for writing together. It might be a perfect answer to what you're thinking about here:

"I have also been pondering using Web 2.0 tools for fleshing out dialogue. I could assign a two-person scene to two writers with each of them playing a part. I imagine (especially for those who struggle with dialogue) this might produce some exciting results and be fun in the process."

Google Documents is as easy to learn as can be. Just get on and go... after a little messing around. You can have students write back and forth to each other in different colors, for instance. You can record and comment on changes, leave notes to each other on side columns as ideas accumulate. Here's a tour of Google Documents.

You are asking tremendously good questions... fun to be all in this learning together. It'll be great to hear how things are going through the year.
Hi Marielle,

I agree with your statement a few entries back that kids today do not associate their online social networking/texting as writing......but that's the beauty of all of this, because they are reading and writing. I heavily use a class blog as part of my writing program, and I see a huge growth in the delivery, content, and overall organization of their writing from the beginning of the year to the end, and this definitely connects to their formal essay writing. My kids also go back and self correct their spelling and grammar errors. I've never really looked at my blog as being a jump start for a writing activity per se, but it does initiate many classroom discussions. Usually the blog is a continuation of the discussions we are having in class over something, and the kids want to continue talking. Many times it becomes the lesson I wanted to have in class but didn't have time for. For example, if I wanted to get some poetry in, but other things took precedence, I would assign it as homework for the blog. This year I plan to incorporate video in the blog and have the students respond to that. Show a video on cyberbullying and have them write a reflection to be discussed in class. Something of this nature.
Thanks, Amy, for sharing more details about your classroom practice...As I've said before, the more teachers document and share the teaching and learning going on in their classrooms, the stronger the field will be.

I certainly see your point about "the beauty" of kids viewing writing as fun, engaging, and purposeful rather than a grueling chore, as is so often the case with classroom assignments. I think that the point that the study I mentioned was making, though, is that students don't consider their social communication in text to be writing because they view writing as a dull, cumbersome exercise (as it often is in school) rather than as a means of substantive, meaningful communication with real audiences (as it is in the world outside of school), and that when educators validate and build upon the social writing that students are already doing, that can help to engage them in writing more broadly. In other words, we should take back the definition of "writing" and spin it in a more positive light. Rather than colluding in preserving writing's bad rap in school, we should actively participate in changing it. We should celebrate the power of the pen (or the keyboard) rather than keeping it a secret.

The study indicates that kids are eager for their teachers to take advantage of Web 2.0 tools in the classroom and help them become better writers by increasing opportunities for purposeful, engaging writing as well as guidance about how to write effectively across media and contexts. So it's up to us as teachers to help our students make the connection between the recreational writing they do already with other types of writing that can help them advance their goals in life. For example, people in the world outside of school don't usually write "persuasive essays," per se, but they write editorials, proposals, cover letters for job applications, evaluative reports, book or movie reviews, political ads and speeches, and all sorts of other authentic written products intended to persuade an audience that a particular viewpoint has merit. If Web 2.0 tools can help us help our students practice real writing, then we should be maximizing that opportunity, as you clearly are.

The power of employing real audiences for student writing is long celebrated, yet still highly underutilized in schools. Your comment about kids being motivated to self-edit their writing when they know others are reading it is very important. My students long ago always did a better job of that when they were writing penpal letters or magazine articles or otherwise publishing their writing to an audience beyond the teacher. With Web 2.0 media, the relationship between author and audience has changed in significant ways, and the implications for teaching writing as true communication--and illuminating the power of literacy in general--are clearly enormous.

Thanks again to you and others for sharing such rich examples of how you are bringing these points to life with your students.



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