Using Technology and Personal Learning Networks to Grow a Community of Learners

 

As an aspiring pedagogue, I think it is important to make knowledge accessible in as many ways as possible with as few restrictions as possible. As an example, I met a brilliant physics student early in my academic career who was unfortunate enough to be sentenced to a few years in prison. I, and others, worried that academia was to become a dream for him because of his misfortune. Thankfully, he was able to continue his studies by way of distance learning. After serving his time, he was able to be physically present in the classroom. I also met a student who was sometimes unable to physically be in class because she was serving her country. So, at any given moment she had to be outside of the United States while she was pursuing her BA. For another student, a single mom, childcare is sometimes an issue, especially when it comes to accessing tutoring. Some students want to make use of tutoring and professor’s office hours but for various reasons cannot. However, with the broadening of the information highway come more opportunities for learning. More students are able to get the education they need, engage with learning environments, and continue their learning process despite whatever circumstances they face. By extending a student’s access to learning material, educators allow students to expand their personal learning networks (PLNs). Limited access and extended access platforms that are made available by way of the web allow students and educators to move academia beyond the classroom.

When the call came for a tool that would allow educators and students to communicate, share documents, and perform a number of other academic tasks, Blackboard won the bid. It’s motto: “At Blackboard, we’re shaping the future of education with big ideas that are transforming the face of education” (blackboard.com). The system maintains user privacy by assigning each user an unique user name and secure password so no-one can access grades, files, or any other personal information. School, department, and classroom announcements are posted on the student’s dashboard so that they can be seen upon logging into the system. Students are able to contact other students in the class and education professionals associated with the course they are enrolled in. Canvas, also a limited access system, is a similar platform that provides students with a few more tools to make managing their courses a bit easier. For example, in Blackboard the calendar and discussions almost function as stand alone tools. However, in Canvas the calendar function functions cohesively with calendar applications such as iCal and Google calendar. Discussions and announcements in Canvas are linked by the system and courses can be switched to read-only for the students rather than having access end according to the school’s license agreement. However, in both cases the systems’ securities place restrictions on its users. These limitations, sometimes depending on the permissions set by the instructor’s preferences, decrease a student’s ability to think publicly and collaborate.

The systems do not allow students to reach out to other classmates who may have taken the class or friends and family who have knowledge of the topic. While some believe this is a way for students to cheat, I argue that this is a basic lesson in building social capital. Students meet other students regardless of grade level while interacting with them on and off campus. If, for example, a freshman is struggling to understand concepts in a statistics course, then Blackboard prompts the struggling freshman to reach out to other students in the class or his/her instructor. But what if the instructor’s response is still a little confusing, or what if the classmates are also confused? The freshman will be caught in a bubble with limited resources. This shows that Blackboard and Canvas’s security places unintended limitations on the student’s learning process.

Blackboard and Canvas have teamed up with NetTutor to provide students with a online tutoring which began to extend its user’s access beyond the classroom. NetTutor is a tutoring module that allows students to connect with tutoring services provided by either their institution or an offsite tutoring company. The Math Center and the English Center at San Diego City College, for example, provides a tutoring service for the students enrolled in their institution using NetTutor’s World Wide Whiteboard. Students needing help with essay writing are able to upload their essays and receive feedback from fellow students who are employed by the English Center. They are able to participate in peer to peer virtual tutoring sessions where they have the ability to have a conversation with a tutor via webcam while also sharing a screen that allows them both to see the student’s essay at the same time. The tutor and the student can mark up the student’s essay in real time according to the rules of the tutoring department guidelines. Or the tutor can provide feedback based on the student’s areas of concern to be retrieved later.

An additional benefit of the Whiteboard is the ability to host group tutoring sessions in the same way. Blackboard also allows students to participate in many-to-many tutoring sessions where they share a virtual room with other students who are having similar problems with their essays. In this session, a tutor has the ability to have breakout peer to peer sessions and then bring the students back together to continue to their collaborative efforts. After the tutoring sessions are done, they are archived so that participants may revisit them as long as they have access to the school’s system. These sessions are private, so only the people participating in the virtual room may see the sessions. This has proven to be a wonderful resource for students, especially because it is already set up for them. They do not have to arrange the session. Instead, they simply request one through a link in Blackboard, show up in the virtual room at the agreed upon time, and the center handles it from there. While this is a useful tool, it is only a piece of the student’s PLN, which is not limited to one’s online presence but the online presence is a key component.

Although building a personal learning network takes time and energy to build, the result is a rewarding collaborative network that continues to grow throughout a student’s academic career. PLNs connect students with current and past students with whom they can work collaboratively with on homework, research papers, and projects. At the nucleus of PLNs are social connections made via social media because sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn depend on social connections to be successful. For students who are already a member of some social media organization, it is easier to begin a PLN because those connections have already been made. This network begins with family and friends but is quickly increased by new connections created in the academic world. According to Marc-André Lalande, “It is a network because these people are intern connected to other people and organizations that influence and enrich the interactions of your group through various collaboration tools usually referred to as Web 2.0.” In other words, the connections that students make do not simply add one additional person to their network; it adds a multitude of connections thus making their ability to collaborate much greater.

Once the nucleus of the network has been created, the student will need to grow it and begin to interact with people within the network in a way that makes them active participants. One way that students can do this, for example is by communicating with their network what they are thinking about a particular subject, posting questions related to a particular assignment, or by announcing that they are working on a project publicly. On Facebook, this will begin as a simple post: “My current assignment is a rhetorical analysis of a scene from Beyonce’s Lemonade music video. This is going to be fun!” This post is not directed at anyone particular but can easily start a conversation about the topic that will lead to collaboration. The conversation is already saved in a string. The student only needs to save the conversation for later retrieval. Conversations can also be made private through Facebook’s inbox option or messenger application. In both places, participants of the conversation have the ability to share articles, links, and other source material. Furthermore, they can have productive conversations about the topic that could prompt students to reconsider or delve deeper into a topic. In a similar fashion, students can make use of hash tags to catalogue tweets regarding conversations that could possibly lead to further research.

Blackboard, on the other hand, does not allow students to reach out beyond the classroom in this manner; consequently, it is a limited access educational tool. Social media, on the other hand, is an extended access tool. Limited access tools place restrictions on the user and the user’s PLN. Blackboard restricts the PLN to instructors and classmates who are enrolled in the class. Conversations about the course material and projects are either limited to email or controlled by the instructor. While students and instructors in the classroom are able to share links and materials with one another, it must be done while the discussion is open, for once it is closed that ability is lost. Extended access tools such as social media allows students to have some agency. They are able to begin conversation threads, keep the threads open, and revisit them at will. Furthermore, the conversation is open to anyone with some knowledge of the subject to add to the conversation or for others to simply agree or ask questions that could help to move the project along.

Some believe that using social media is simply a distraction and should be avoided while studying. Irrelevant conversations, games, and breaking news can be a distraction, but there is also a great deal of writing happening on social media. According to Clive Thompson in Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, the act of moving thoughts about homework to social media changes cognitive behavior (51). Sharing one’s ideas publicly causes the thinker to consider his/her audience. Thompson explains, “By putting half-formed thoughts on the page, we externalize them and are able to evaluate them much more objectively” (51). Moreover, it allows others in the PLN to have some idea of what the student is thinking, add ideas, or ask questions like what do you mean. This clarification process does not happen when students are thinking in a bubble. Instead, the student faces a cognitive brick wall that provides no answers and progress stops. However, since educators are aware of this cycle, they can help to expand the students PLN by providing them with tools that will foster public thinking and reduce instances of facing the cognitive brick wall. It is important to note that I am not arguing that social media become a primary tool for instruction, but instead, it is a supplemental tool for expanding one’s PLN. Associate professor Chris Werry at San Diego State University comments: “I see social media being adapted in key areas of academic life—publishing, teaching, disciplinary organization and action—and I think it has a lot of potential, but it’s all still very uneven and fragmented, and particularly in the humanities, there needs to be far more coordination, and institutional/ disciplinary support” (SDSUblog). Werry’s sentiments are echoed by other educational professionals. This is a valid concern, and so far, I’ve not been able to find research that demonstrates how social media could be used in this way. The search continues, but in the mean time educators find that Wikis are fulfilling that need.

Because wikis are a hybridization of an extended and limited access platform, it allows students some agency while allowing the instructor to maintain control over the curriculum. According to Vanderbilt University, “A wiki is “a collaborative tool that allows students to contribute and modify one or more pages of course related materials.” Wikis are collaborative in nature and facilitate community-building within a course” (cft.vanderbilt.edu). While this is true, the student participating in the course could share the link with others in his/her PLN because the pages are on the web and limits permission to publish to students enrolled in the course. Therefore, students may continue a conversation about the course material that began in the classroom with others in their PLN. Furthermore, other professionals and educators could possibly stumble upon the site and want to contribute resources to the professor’s site, with permission of course. This adds to the professor’s professional network as well. Another possibility, an educators dream, is that a past student who has joined the professional world will want to add to the resources or continue to use those resources later, hence the extended access.

Some professors find that using wiki pages and blogs in the classroom have been helpful. These tools fall into the extended access category because the student has access to them for the life of the site, (both wikis and blogs have been around for quite some time) and they both allow the student to share ideas posted on both sites with others in their PLN. Wikipedia had a bad reputation for a long time after the site began. But like any new tool, it needed time to be developed into a useful and user-friendly tool. My professor used a wiki to post all documents related to the class, announcements, assigned reading, and the class schedule. Communications between the class and the professor were handled via editable pages located on the wiki. Changes to the editable pages and changes made by the professor prompted an email to everyone in the class. While this could be done it Blackboard, it was easier from a student’s perspective to use the wiki than to use Blackboard. If users needed to find a document used referred to in class, then users only needed to type key words into the wiki’s search bar. Blackboard, however, requires users to recall the instructor’s system. For the most part, instructors are aware of how hard it can be for students to find documents on Blackboard and some of them take the time to make it as easy as possible.

The same is true for using blogs in the classroom. I personally had never blogged ever in my life because it seemed to me that anyone who blogs has something of particular interest to one or more groups of people in cyberspace, and I did not think I fit that bill. But after participating in a digital rhetoric class, I realized the tool could be the answer to problems faced by educators and students alike. Christopher Pappas tells us that using blogs such as edublog.com, kidblog.com, or wordpress.org can help in the following ways:

  • publish assignments, resources, and keep students and even parents up to date on class events, due dates, and content being covered.
  • help students master content and improve their writing skills.
  • publish their writing and educate others on a particular topic. (Pappas)

These advantages are also ways that blogs can extend the students’ PLNs. In my digital rhetoric class, for example, we were asked to respond to assigned reading and publish the response to our individual blogs on wordpress.org. Both wikis and blogs encourage public thinking and allow students some agency. Both are also tools that help extend students’ PLNs.

David Warlick tells us that building a personal learning network is much easier with the advent of the Internet and social media and that we should begin by picking the type. He describes the first as a personally maintained synchronous connection, which is traditional network that allows the user to with people and resources (13). Warlick argues, “Today, however, you can enhance this PLN with new tools such as chat, instant and text messaging, teleconferencing (using iChat, Skype, uStream), Twitter, and virtual worlds such as Second Life” (13). It seems that Blackboard’s online tutoring can also fit into this category, for it allows the student to video conference with tutors and other students and the geographical barriers are bypassed. The second type of network Warlick describes is the personally and socially maintained semisynchronous connections, which looks a lot like “children with a string of chat windows open on a screen as they do their homework, adding the occasional comment to the chat” (13). This is where Facebook fits in; it provides opportunities for “collaboration that doesn’t have to happen in real time” (13). This type of PLN is easier to maintain because it works well with a student’s busy schedule. The student posts an idea or question but is able to walk away from the conversation. Another plus is that others are able to join the conversation as long as the string of conversation, the post, stays on the news feed. It also defies geographical boundaries, so an uncle in Alaska who teaches history can join the conversation with a niece in Georgia. The third and final type is the dramatically maintained asynchronous connections. “The first two types of PLN,” Warlick explains, “connect us with each other, but this type more often connects us with content sources that we have identified as valuable” (14). Warlick describes the tools necessary for this type as “aggregators such as Google Reader, Netvibes, and Pageflakes” (14). Included in this category are tools such as Podcasts, Tedtalks, YouTube, journal articles, news articles, and more. To further enhance this type, it is wise to make use of “social bookmarking services such as Delicious” (14). Figure 1 below is an image provided in Warlicks essay that shows how the technology, the Rich Site Summary (RSS) accumulates information for the student. These services allow users to bookmark and categorize or tag sites they find as they do their research. Note taking services such as Hypothes.is and Diigo allow students to not only markup sites and documents found on the sites, but they also allow the users to see public notes. This helps to keep notes and bookmarks in one place. These tools all have one thing in common; they encourage public thinking and collaboration.

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-1-17-16-pm            The conversation about the usefulness of technology in the classroom has shifted to how to use technology to best serve the students as well as the educators. One would be hard pressed to find a classroom without a smart podium or a Promethean board. Now, the debate is whether social media is a useful tool in the classroom or not. Purdue University claims, “Social media is now being recognized as an accepted form of instruction in some instances, and groups such as Scholastic Teachers provide excellent support and tips for instructors.” This is to say, teachers are teaching students how to use technology to their advantage since they cannot escape its presence. For example, when a teacher asks students to tweet about a response to a documentary they have finished in class with a particular hash tag, it provides an opportunity for every student to be heard and for every student to hear from his/her peers. It also catalogues notes about the documentary for later reference by using an application called Pocket. As another example, if a teacher requires students to write a blog post about a reading before class, then other students will be able to markup their classmates’ posts using Hypothes.is or Diigo. This conversation begins before the students enter the classroom, so a lot less time is spent on urging the students to speak. They can simply pick up where they left off or use the class time to further clarify statements made in their reading responses.

An added benefit of using technology in the classroom is the way it supports various learning styles. It would be a disservice to students to ignore the fact that each brings to the table unique experiences and abilities that could enrich the classroom. According to Rebecca Whittenburger, “One major benefit of using technology both inside and outside the classroom is being able to meet the needs of students’ individual learning styles, particularly for those students with unique needs, such as non-English speaking students and those with physical/learning disabilities.” Technology directly supports ““blended learning,” which is the practice of combining traditional teaching with computers.” This teaching method allows educators to deliver information to students in a way that best suits their learning style.The “one-size-fits-all” teaching model perpetuates the still apparent systematic marginalization in the education system and the elitist attitude that if a student does not understand the curriculum maybe it is because they are not cut out for university level education. The use of technology in the classroom as a tool to present information in various ways disrupts that fallacy and gives educators the power to educate and students the power to learn. It supports the variation in learning styles and breaks the barriers to the exchange of information in the classroom. Whittenburger shares a list of ways in which technology supports individualized learning styles:

  • Students can interact with the technology at their own pace and review material when necessary to aid understanding or memory.
  • Computer-based tools help students develop their visual kinesthetic, aural, and oral skills.
  • Students with physical disabilities can use computers with adaptive devices so that they can participate fully with their classmates.
  • Computers help students transform data from numbers to graphs or translate words from one language to another. (Whittenberger)

Helping students realize their full potential is an important piece of the educational paradigm. Educators are doing students a great service by helping them learn how to use technology in a way that enhances their education and by helping them build their own personal learning network. Warlick says, “Learners become amplifiers as they engage in knowledge-building activities, connect what they learn, add value to existing knowledge and ideas, and re-issue them back into the network to be captured by others through their PLNs” (15). Figure 2 is a map of the flow with the focus on the student. In this model the each-one-teach-one model is reinforced and grows a community of learners.

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-1-31-14-pm

Educators can make building a PLN a key element in their curriculum that they could build on throughout the school year or semester. The first assignment could be a test that helps students discover their learning style. Once they have studied what their learning style means for the way they take in information, they will be presented with the three types of PLNs as outlined by Warlick. Students will then decide which type they would like to have and begin to formulate a plan for setting it up. As their time with their instructor continues, students who actively participate will see their network grow, and they will complete assignments that give them many opportunities to use it. They will see a difference in the way they study and the amount of time and effort required for tasks. They will also see a change in their level of thinking, a change they can be proud of.

These are not new philosophies; a number of educators have already begun making the shift to extending learning beyond the classroom. Educators in K-12 and in college environments have already begun to use alternative means of giving their students a broader audience. Chuck Rybak explains, “My main goal in utilizing CBOX [Commons in a Box] was outreach; instead of being trapped in the cul-de-sac, I wanted students to see their projects emerging within larger discussions and communities, thus allowing them to reflect on their place in, and relationship with, the humanities in general.” The idea is that students who are encouraged to write to a broader audience while in an educational environment are more likely to engage in thought provoking and productive discourse later. Furthermore, since social media encourages this, why not teach students to flex their cognitive muscles while they have the necessary support? This is how educators can make the connection between reading and writing rhetoric to the real world.

Technology is a useful tool that can enhance learning inside and outside of the classroom. By harnessing its power, students have the ability to build and grow their personal learning network (PLN). While limited access educational platforms such as Blackboard and Canvas centralize classroom material and provide some additional resources that make an effort to broaden PLNs, they still trap students into what Rybak calls an educational cul-de-sac. This in no way encourages public thinking and collaboration. Educators should teach students about PLNs and help them to follow Warlick’s plan for choosing and developing one of their own in order to empower the student to take control of their own education. It is more beneficial for students to be taught the collaborative skills needed to function in the real world early in their academic career. Learners are more engaged and have buy-in when they see that they can add value to the cultivation of their own knowledge. While Blackboard and Canvas are educational tools that facilitate the transfer of information and the storage of data, it fails to meet some of the needs of today’s students. If the tools could incorporate the social media element then systems would prove to be tools that have grown with the changing times. However, until then, it is up to the educators and learners to take control and create a learning network that operates as an orchestra. PLNs allow learners to be networked and receive information that works in concert with the each other.

Advertisements

Who’s Speaking, Please?

According to Patricia Roberts-Miller, “just about any political viewpoint can be put forward in a demagogic way–it isn’t restricted to one position on the political spectrum.” This, according to Roberts-Miller, blocks progress. A clear example of this is seen in the 2016 presidential election. Donald Trump used social media to his advantage; rather than truly addressing critical issues that affected the American people, he accumulated votes by farting in a room. The people who left the room were people who were disturbed by his unsophisticated behavior and people who were on the receiving end of his bullying. His campaign closely resembled a racist, mysogynistic, and xenophobic collection of Facebook and Twitter posts. America’s decision to elect Donald Trump is directly related to the decision made by social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to ignore posts spouting hate speech because of the fear of taking on the first amendment.

I understand that it is easier to blame social media, but in reality, we cannot ignore the user’s role in the story’s trending. Facebook, like other social media sites, makes use of an algorithm to report which news articles, whether true or flat out false, are trending. And since it is Facebook who is using the algorithm, we want to blame them for the story’s popularity. But if we stop for a moment to think about it, Facebook is not sitting at our computers liking and sharing completely false stories. Even if we are not the ones clicking the story, our Facebook friends are helping to move fake news stories to the top of the pile. Facebook simply allows it to happen. Andrew Stafford of the The Sydney Morning Herald, that “There’s some evidence the astroturfers, in particular, are on the march. British writer George Monbiot recently told of being contacted by a whistleblower that worked as part of a PR team paid to infiltrate comment threads and forums, doing the bidding of their corporate clients. The whistleblower worked under 70 different usernames.” If all it takes is to flood the system with a particular kind of response, then how will any company or consumer get a true picture of what the public likes (pun intended). According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook dominated the election because a remarkable number of users do not actively access real news. Instead, they get their daily dose of gossip disguised as news via their Facebook news feed. But there is enough blame to go around; Google is being blamed for part of this debacle.

According to the Wall Street Journal, false news stories generated and shared via Facebook and the 2016 election was affected by Google searches which provided false and misleading stories as the top results. Better late than never, right? Because someone or a few someones flooded Google with propaganda meant to sway the election in their favor. This is not unusual. Unfortunately, this propaganda, along with a barrage of hate speech, is protected by our constitutional right to speak freely. This double-edged sword is the root of the issue of internet anonymity.

Who knows where people truly stand on any issue? The reality is that many people avoid invoking their freedom of speech because they  are afraid of a backlash. Unfortunately, there are people who do not understand that two people do not have to agree on everything to be friends. On the other hand, there appears to be far more people who could care less about a backlash and even less about fact. Some of the people in this group quickly share stores that have no factual evidence to support it. Stafford writes in his article, “The sad truth is that controversy outrates reason every time.” So it it’s not Facebook who pushes the false stories to the top of our feeds, it’s the people sharing the garbage on their timeslines, liking the posts, and even commenting on it. Facebook, like Google and other media sites, use an algorithm to determine what’s trending.

Thankfully, some of the social media companies are beginning to take this control back. Despite Facebook’s claim that they “want people to feel safe when using Facebook,” the company found no wrong doing on the part of the user who posted memes about Michelle Obama being a monkey after the meme was reported. Racists, sexists, and xenophoics happily shared numerous tweets bashing and disrespecting innocent people. The public has been speaking out against the hate and it seems that social media and news outlets are listening. According to USAToday.com, for example, Twitter has begun to “suspend alt-right accounts” in response to their hate speech. Google is reconsidering how ads appear on their sites and the media is pushing hard to combat false news. There is hope. #SocialJusticeChallenge #DoSomething

Project One Proposal

As an aspiring pedagog, I think it is important to make knowledge accessible for as many students as possible with little regard to geographical  position. As an example, I met a brilliant physics student early in my academic career who was unfortunate enough to be sentenced to a few years in prison. I, and others, worried that academia was to become a dream for him because of his misfortune. Thankfully, he was able to continue his studies via distance learning. After serving his time, he was able to physically be present in the classroom. I also met a student who was sometimes unable to physically be in class because she was serving in the military, so at any given moment, she had to be out of the country while she was pursuing her BA. Another student is a single mom, so childcare is sometimes an issue, especially when it comes to accessing tutoring. Some students want to make use of tutoring and professor’s office hours but often times cannot for various reasons. But thanks to the unlimited reach of the internet, more students are able to get the education they need and desire. More students are able to engage with learning environments and continue the learning process despite whatever circumstances they face. With the broadening of the information highway, comes more opportunities for learning. Limited access and extended access platforms that are made available by way of the web allow students and educators to move academia beyond the boundaries of classroom.

With the advent of social media, the internet has become a source of entertainment. This powerful tool has become educational; maybe harnessing and refocusing that power can make the tool that it was was intended to be—a learning network. Alison Seaman responds to Shelly Turkle’s argument that technology leads to isolation with a rebutal from an educator about personal learning networks (PLN): “Shelly Terrell, a connected educator and co-founder of the Twitter stream #edchat describes a PLN as “the people you choose to connect with and learn from” (Seaman 3). I would like to examine this idea further. According to Small Business Trends, there are “20 Popular Social Media Sites Right Now”: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr, Reddit, Snapchat, WhatsAp, Quora, Vine, Periscope, BizSugar, StumbleUpon, Delicious, Digg, and Viber (smallbiztrends.com). Each of these sites cater to particular crowds for specific reasons. However, some users have found ways to use some of these sites to get help with their homework. It would be interesting to consider the pros and cons of using these extended access platforms as a way for students to collaborate on assignments and projects. I suspect the issue of privacy will be a major concern for both students and educators. However, the ease of using sites such as Facebook to pitch ideas for a research project and possibly get like-minded “friends” to discuss the project should be celebrated, but the fact that such sites are easily and often hacked causes it to be ranked pretty low on the educational tools scale.

When the call came for a tool that would allow educators and students to communicate, share documents, and perform a number of other tasks, Blackboard won the bid. It’s motto: “At Blackboard, we’re shaping the future of education with big ideas that are transforming the face of education” (blackboard.com). However, the system’s intended use places restrictions on its users. And according to some of them, the system also has unintended limitations. Nonetheless, the power of the web provides opportunities make the platform more user friendly and more effective. Part of that is the introduction of the virtual white board.

The English Center at San Diego City College uses the World Wide Whiteboard, a platform embedded into Blackboard, to tutor students in essay writing. Students are able to upload their essays for feedback, view worksheets, participate in virtual tutoring sessions, or review archived tutoring sessions. I would like to examine this platform using Clive Thompson’s book, Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better along with other texts. I think it would be interesting to consider questions like: what do students think about the platform, are there limitations, what are the limitations, how does the response to these questions change as the student’s skill level changes, and how does Thompson’s claim about public thinking apply.

Also of interest is the use of wiki pages and blogs as an extended access platform in the classroom. I am from the generation that recalls digging through volumes of encyclopedias and other reference books for material. Some of my generation, to include myself, could not bring themselves to trust a website that allowed allowed just anyone to create pages and deliver information. Furthermore, I personally had never blogged ever in my life. It seemed to me that anyone who blogs has something of particular interest to one or more groups of people in cyberspace. But after participating in a digital rhetorics class, I have realized that the tool could be the answer to questions posed by educators and students alike. I hope that I will be able to include this platform in my research as either a limited or an extended access educational tool.

My project is three fold. First, I will conduct a survey of the top social media sites in order to determine which of those would empower a student to “think publicly.” Next, I will juxtapose my findings on the the extended access platforms (social media) with my analysis of the most popular limited access platform, Blackboard, along with an analysis of  the World Wide Whiteboard. I hope to extend the conversation about the impact of technology in the classroom. But more importantly, I hope to synthesize the findings of others before me on the subject in order to clarify the progress that technology has allowed educators to make or the lack thereof. I would also like to provide my own experiences with technology and the tutoring process as an education professional. I think this work could be especially useful since the push for technology in the classroom is more prominent in discussions about reaching the students where they are along with the a push to professionalize tutoring, another intricate part of the education process. I also plan to include the firsthand experiences of a few of my colleagues in order to increase the credibility of my work.

Annotated Bibliography

Blackboard. “About Blackboard.” 2016. 30 Oct. 2016, http://www.blackboard.com/about-us/index.aspx.

This site will provide me with background and contact information about the company and its product that I will need in my discussion of how Blackboard has and will continue to serve the academic world.

Blackboard. “Kiedra Taylor” 2010. https://sdccd.blackboard.com/webapps/portal/execute/tabs/tabAction?tab_tab_group_id=_1_1, 24 Oct. 2016.

This is my personal Blackboard page. I will use my access to the platform to provide an analysis of the system from both a student’s and an educational professional’s perspective. Hopefully, the fact that I have worked with the program for  will give my paper some credibility.

Boyd, Danah. “Literacy: are today’s youth digital natives?” Sept 2008.

This chapter of the book will provide the language needed to help provide context for my own argument and analysis. Boyd discuss the issue of access to the internet for young people and their digital illiteracy. She explains that even though young people are able to access the internet via mobile devices, we cannot assume that they know how to use the applications beyond basic use. This suggests that technology in the classroom could be frustrating for students who do not have access to an actual computer or laptop which could unintentionally spread the digital divide even more.

Kassorla, Michelle. “A Primer for Edtech: Tools for K-12 and Higher Ed. Teachers.” Digital Network Lab. 26 Nov 2013.

This article is one in a series of articles about technology in the classroom and as study tools. It provides testimonies from educators about how to harness the power of technology for the advancement of academia. The testimonies also explain how educators can slowly incorporate technology in their current curriculum.

Thompson, Clive. “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy.” 2013.

I will use this article to provide context for earlier arguments about technology and “awareness.” The author discusses the philosophical implications of being plugged into social media. I would like to suggest that this act of constantly checking Facebook and snapchat statuses could possibly be used to academia’s advantage.

Seaman, Alison. “Personal Learning Networks: Knowledge Sharing as Democracy.” Digital Pedagogy Lab. 2 Jan 2013. http://www.digitalpedagogylab.com/hybridped/personal-learning-networks-knowledge-sharing-democracy/, 24 Oct. 2016.

This article discusses the loss of human connection with the advent of technology. It also introduces the idea of personal learning networks (PLN). The author claims that not fully understanding how to use the technology is what cause users to be cut off from human connection and not the technology itself.

Watters, Audry. “The Future of Education: Programmed or Programmable.” Digital Pedagogy Lab. 4 Nov 2014. http://www.digitalpedagogylab.com/hybridped/a-primer-for-edtech-tools-for-k-12-and-higher-ed-teachers/, 24 Oct. 2016.

This article attempts to clarify where we are as far as making education accessible via the web. She talks about how the educational paradigm has shifted, for what reasons, and to whose benefit.

World Wide Whiteboard. 2016. https://www.worldwidewhiteboard.com/, 24 Oct. 2016.

This site along with information gathered from a conference session lead by whiteboard developers will explain how educators and students will be able to move the learning process beyond the classroom. The platform allows both teachers and tutors to host session via the web and even share documents for feedback.

Mania, Anthony. “20 Popular Social Media Sites Right Now.” Small Business Trends. 4 May 2016. https://smallbiztrends.com/2016/05/popular-social-media-sites.html, 10 Oct. 2016.

This article tells us which social media sites are the most popular. The article also provides information about the role of social media in the technological world.

Fishing for Information: Social Media as a Study Resource

We all know someone who is good at math, someone who is great at writing and editing, or that someone who always seems to have great ideas. Thanks to social media, I have an open line of communication to other academics whether it’s other students or professors whom I work with. Because of this, I am able to post questions or concerns about an assignment that I am working on. One or a few of them may respond with information that could shed light on whatever I’m working on. Sherry Turkle, a Professor at the Massechusetts Institute of Technology, refers to this as a “Personal Learning Network (PLN)” (DigitalPedagogyLab.com). For example, when I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong on a math problem, I posted a picture of the problem along with how I tried to solve it and maybe a specific question on Facebook. My math friends would reply with something like ‘you factored it wrong’ or ‘you should reduce it first.’  In another example, when I was not sure about something I was writing, I posted a request for help to my friends and someone may ask me to inbox them what I’d written so far. One would think that a friend would want to show off what she/he knows, but that is not the case. I’m lucky to have friends who genuinely want me to understand. So I get the help that I need, and they get to say they saved a brain cell.

It seems reasonable to assume that teaching students how to build their own PLN would relieve some of the stress of studying because they would not be working in a bubble. This is what Clive Thompson refers to as “public thinking” in his book Smarter Than You Think. I would imagine that educators’ hearts would be warmed by Facebook statuses written by their students that read I finally understand how a topic sentence relates to a thesis statement. Or, on the other hand, a student would find it convenient to post questions to his/her professor on an open access site rather than a limited access platform such as BlackBoard Learn. By tightening the access gap, educators can reach more students and students would find it easier to communicate with his/her professor. It would be interesting to juxtapose limited access technology such as Blackboard Learn with extended access technology such as social media sites in order to learn which is most conducive to learning.

 

Adapting to the Technological Age

According to Nicholas Carr’s article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid,” published in the July/August 2008 edition of TheAtlantic.com, people today have become too dependent on technology, especially the internet. He explains that people’s ability to remember and concentration on information has decreased because the internet and other technology, for the most part, does this for us. Carr further claims that we are no longer reading in the traditional sense, that the way we read has changed because of the various ways that we can access information. Moreover, he claims that these technologies have affected the way that people write. Because of all of this, Carr says, the maleability of our brains and our natural rhythm have been affected. Carr’s skepticism is understandable, but I’m not fully convinced that the internet “is making us stupid.”

The author insists that he notices a difference in his ability to access and recall information. He reports that other tech-savvy professionals have also noticed this change in themselves. And while we can all relate, the testimonies of these professionals are not enough to says for sure that the internet has caused any harm to our neurological abilities.

Carr admits that there is not yet any measurable evidence to support his claim that our brains are practically turning to mush because of the internet. Instead, he presents the results of a study performaed by scholars at the University College of London that basically revealed that internet users are reading more but not the way people traditionally read. While this contradicts traditional reading behaviors, it is not alarming. Rather, it is revolutionary. People have learned to access more information in different ways. Carr quotes the author of the study as saying, “[i]t is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense.” So what if readers have learned to access more information in a shorter period of time? It doesn’t necessarily mean that people have stopped reading books all together. The author even presents evidence from a neuroscientist that tells us that the human brain “break[s] old connections and forms new ones,” which weakens his claim that we should be worried. As the human race and its technology evolves, one should expect the human brain to evolve in order to process the new expectations.

Fear and anxiety surrounding the unknown is quite common, but those emotions do not usually last long. Some skepticism, the author tells us, can be healthy. This healthy skepticism allows us to protect ourselves as internet users. As the web grows astronomically over time, the amount of information available to us becomes overwhelming, so we have to learn new strategies for discerning good information from useless or flat out wrong information. However, this is not impossible to do.

Notwhithstanding the seemingly endless amount of information available to us, I for one am still skeptical about doing away with hard copies of books. Like Carr, I find it hard to focus on a piece of reading for long periods of time while using technology. However, I do not see this as irresolvable. I, like others I’m sure, am aware of the affect that technology has on me and I adjust accordingly. As a matter of fact, since so much of the reading that I need to do is online, I use the speech option on my computer to read the text for me while I read along. This allows me to access the information visually and audibly. As a result, I am able to focus on the reading and I retain more information. I wouldn’t call that stupid; instead, I would call it adapting.

The Complicated Nature of Digital Literacy

Danah Boyd, a social media scholar and youth researcher, asserts in the chapter”Literacy: Are Today’s Youth Digital Natives?” in her book, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, that the discourse about “digital natives” fails to address the challenges of some teens in that group. Boyd explains the emergence of the term “digital natives,” discusses the subsequent emergence of new technologies, and then moves into a discussion about the political ramifications of the digital divide that grew simultaneously with the concept. The author’s purpose, then, is to highlight the socio-political causes of the digital disparity in order to persuade academics and educators to participate in the movement to increase digital literacy.

Boyd claims that identifying the digital populace as either “digital natives” or “digital immigrants” detracts from the issue of accessibility. Her explanation about the various ways in which teens access digital media illustrates how the disparity grows.

Talk of digital natives may make it harder for us to pay attention to the digital divide in terms of who has access to different technical platforms and the participation gap in terms of who has access to certain skills and competencies or for that matter, certain cultural experiences and social identities. (192)
Those who have computers at home are able to access the media more often; therefore their digital literacy skills are usually greater. Those who do not have frequent access are in a constant state of playing catch-up. This disadvantage, when not adequately addressed, leaves this subgroup of “digital natives” far enough behind that it is harder to compete with their cohorts. I can relate to this because when I was in the seventh grade, I was one of those students who did not have a computer at home. There were no computers in the library yet, so the only computers I had access to were at school. A few years went by before I could regularly access a computer and a few more before I learned to use one to do anything other than play Frogger. I was one of those people who were digitally illiterate; I was behind. This is not to say that it is impossible for the disadvantaged to catch-up, but it is a challenge nonetheless. So Boyd’s argument is somewhat valid.However, it lacks adequate support. There is no data to support the author’s claim. Instead, she seems to rely on the credibility of other authors and researchers who discuss some of these issues earlier.
The author suggests that censoring “problematic content” fails to provide users the opportunity to flex their academic muscles. Boyd uses the controversy about Wikipedia’s trustworthiness as an example. This familiar example allows the reader to better understand the censorship issue. She claims that “[students] need to know how to grapple with the plethora of information that is easily accessible and rarely vetted” (181). In other words, protecting students from seemingly incorrect information weakens their academic muscles and fails to prepare them for a world run by propaganda.

At first glance, one would think that “digital natives” have no problem accessing and making use of digital media. However, being able to access the internet from a digital device does not make one tech savvy. According to one example that Boyd uses, some have access to the internet, but because it is sometimes a little sketchy, students choose easier platforms (194). It is “easier” to ask someone else because of the limitations. This, according to Boyd, is a distraction. She states, “The rhetoric of “digital natives,” far from being useful, is often a distraction to understanding the challenges that youth face in a networked world” (194). So this limitations are just one example of the “distractions” that some young users face. Although Boyd’s argument is reasonable, her lack of statistics makes it hard for someone without prior knowledge or experience to accept.
Sources:
Boyd, Danah. “Literacy: Are Today’s Youth Digital Natives?” It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. Yale University Press, 2014, pp. 176-198.

Don’t be Duped; Learn to Write!

What if the only written word ever published was written by the President of the United States? What if that president was, oh I don’t know, Donald Trump? What if the only written word the citizens of the United States read came from Trump and the media was controlled by Trump? What if you, an upstanding citizen, wanted to question Trump’s rhetoric? How would you do it? Luckily, we have a super power that allows us to do just that. Richard Young and Patricia Sullivan quotes David Olson in their essay, “Why Write?: A Reconsideration,” published in Classical Rhetoric and Modern Discourse; “…writing makes us not only more perceptive readers but more willing to challenge the authority of the written word” (216). So writing, then, is a powerful tool for communication, especially for political discourse.

The ability to communicate effectively gives a person a bit of power over their audience, but if the people in the audience are aware of certain conventions, then they are able to challenge the speaker’s argument. Young and Sullivan quotes Walter Ong as saying, “…there is no way for persons with no experience of writing to put their minds through the continuous linear sequence of thought…” (216). In other words, without having practiced the art of writing, it would be challenging for someone to think and speak logically or even to recognize the rhetorical moves of the rhetor. Of course there is some evidence that contradicts this, but for the most part this statement holds true. The most persuasive person is usually the person with above average speaking skills. They can con skin off of a snake and then sell it back to him for top dollar. However, if the audience is familiar with the logical structure of writing, then they may engage in the discussion rather being propagandized. Writing can be hard, but the benefits of learning to do so are immeasurable.

Sources:

Young, Richard and Patricia Sullivan. “Why Write?: A Reconsideration.” eserver.org. http://eserver.org/courses/spring2000/76101c/young.html. 26 Sept 2016.

“Public Thinking:” Thinking Out Loud in the Classroom

Thinking inside of a bubble can stifle the thinking process. Traditionally, a student goes to class, listens to the professor’s lecture, and then goes home to do the assigned homework. While in class, the professor’s lecture may have made perfect sense. All of the dots may have appeared to be connected, but neither the student nor the professor knows for sure that any learning has taken place because the student has not yet been allowed to demonstrate what he/she knows. But if the professor assigns the reading before hand and provides a space for open dialogue about the reading before class, then he/she is able to gauge how much the students have learned from the reading; the professor is then able to base his/her lecture on what the students do not know.

According to the chapter, “Public Thinking,” in the book, Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better by Clive Thompson (journalist, blogger and writer) writing in public internet platforms “can help clarify our thinking” and make connections (51). So if a professor asks students to do a reading assignment before class and blog about it on the class website before their next meeting, then a number of things could happen: students have the opportunity to be exposed to the reading before the lecture, discussion about the reading begins with the students without interference from the professor, and resulting points of clarification bubble up so that the professor knows how to shape his/her lecture. In other words, the professor casts a line with the reading as bait, and the students approach the reading with their individual perspectives and previous knowledge. Consequently, they begin a string of discussion about the material and their minds are primed to receive the new information. Each student makes a contribution to the dialogue. Their contributions overlaps with another, thus filling in some gaps. The gaps that remain are filled in with the professor’s contribution to the conversation during lecture.

Resting at the core of Thompson’s claim is a kind of Aristotelian idea. Aristotle walked about the Lyceum discussing some profound idea with his students. There were questions and answers posited by student and professor alike. Although the hypothetical class discussed in this post is not physically gathered together as they discuss the reading, they are communing in cyberspace, so the result is similar. They are thinking in a public space that allows them to share ideas, and that strengthens the learning process. Thompson writes, “…knowledge has always been created via conversation, argument, and consensus” (69). So it makes sense that this time honored way of gaining knowledge is practiced in the classroom since the expectation to learn resides in that space.

The potential for great ideas to form using this model is great. Thompson explains how friends, Okolloh (Nigerian blogger), Hersman (website developer), and Kobia (programmer), made connections and were able to bring a great idea to life thanks to Okolloh’s blog. Her thinking in public a space allowed others to add to her ideas. Thompson’s illustration demonstrates the value of thinking in public spaces. In a classroom setting, this would look like a group project hashed out via some internet platform like Facebook, Google Docs, or other forums.

I am a supplemental instruction tutor at San Diego City College. I see various examples of students accessing knowledge. The examples that seem to be the most effective are the ones that encourage the students to think publicly, for they allow the students to demonstrate what they have learned before they go off to ponder the new material. This model empowers students and allows them to be active participants in their education.

Sources:

Thompson, Clive. “Public Thinking.” Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better. Penguin Group, 2014.

About the Author

My name is Kiedra Taylor, and I’m a San Diego State University student majoring in Comparative Literature and minoring in Rhetoric and Writing Studies. I began participating in social media because it was required for a part-time job many years ago. I decided it can be an effective way for me to communicate with family and friends, so I continued to be active in the social media world. People all over the world have been using social media to quickly share propaganda. Therefore, it is a form of literature worth examining.

I believe that by integrating rhetoric and literature scholars can firmly connect the act of writing and the resulting art to actual social, political, and economical issues. Since literature exists beyond the pages of books and because I spend a great deal of time analyzing arguments, I hope to learn how to write rhetorically so that I may share my criticisms in conversation with others.

First blog post

My name is Kiedra Taylor, and I’m a San Diego State University student majoring in Comparative Literature and minoring in Rhetoric and Writing Studies. I began participating in social media because it was required for a part-time job many years ago. I decided it can be an effective way for me to communicate with family and friends, so I continued to be active in the social media world. People all over the world have been using social media to quickly share propaganda. Therefore, it is a form of literature worth examining.

I believe that by integrating rhetoric and literature scholars can firmly connect the act of writing and the resulting art to actual social, political, and economical issues. Since literature exists beyond the pages of books and because I spend a great deal of time analyzing arguments, I hope to learn how to write rhetorically so that I may share my criticisms in conversation with others.