In the New York Times, Sam Dillon reports on the ponderings of a higher education commission inPanel Considers Revamping College Aid and Accrediting". (To read the commission's reports, go here.) This is the same panel that has also considered introducing standardized testing into higher education. The panel is calling for more accountability in higher education and in the process attempting to remake education into a business image:

Charles Miller, a business executive who is the commission's chairman, wrote in a memorandum recently to the 18 other members that he saw a developing consensus over the need for more accountability in higher education.

"What is clearly lacking is a nationwide system for comparative performance purposes, using standard formats," Mr. Miller wrote, adding that student learning was a main component that should be measured.

Accountability is important, but the question is how to achieve it. Business doesn't have "a nationwide system for comparative performance." Of course, business has the pass/fail, or success/go-out-of-business model. Education doesn't have that "survival" accountability, although we're moving in that direction as state funding becomes less and less. Even so, would "accountability measures" be cost-effective? Just for a comparison, many businesses now are complaining about the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which implements better internal controls over financial reporting, as being too expensive. Jill D'Aquila in her article "Tallying the costs of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act" writes:

The survey also reveals that total costs of first-year compliance with section 404 could exceed $4.6 million for each of the largest U.S. companies (companies with over $5 billion in revenues). Medium-sized and smaller companies will also incur significant additional costs to comply with section 404, the survey finding an average projected cost of almost $2 million. Interestingly, the projected costs are higher than originally anticipated based on an FEI survey conducted the previous year.

... the number of senior executives describing SOA compliance as costly had nearly doubled since its enactment, from 32% to 60%.

Miller also said,

he hoped to build consensus among the panel's 19 members as they work to issue a final report in August. But he expressed impatience with some academics who, he said, seemed resistant to change and oblivious that they could be overwhelmed by increasing costs and other challenges.

"Those who are squawking the loudest are those who have a private place to play and a lot of money, much of which comes from the federal government," Mr. Miller said. "What we hear from the academy is, 'We're the best in the world, give us more money and let us alone.' "

I've heard this complaint from others interested in improving education: Educators are stubborn about change, and they want no outside interference. Actually, business can often be the same. Even so, society has a stake in learning outcomes, and universities cannot be impervious to societal influence.

Elsewhere in the article:

And the commission appears to be fulfilling that mission. In its public meetings, panelists from Wall Street and elsewhere in the business world have criticized academia as failing to meet the educational needs of working adults, stem a slide in the literacy of college graduates and rein in rising costs.

Hmm. So, literacy problems are higher education's fault. I've seen some reports in the media that students are less literate than in years past. Even assuming that it's correct, is it academia's fault? That would mean that these students entered the university at an appropriate level of literacy and in four years lost it? That seems to discount all other societal players in the literacy game. In improving literacy, we need to take an improve-the-system perspective rather than a blame-one-player perspective.

As far as rising costs, that's true of many institutions in our society. Look at medical costs and CEO salaries.

Miller, in the earlier article on standardized testing for higher ed, said:

he would like the commission to agree on the skills college students ought to be learning — like writing, critical thinking and problem solving — and to express that view forcefully. "What happens with reform," he said, "is that it rarely happens overnight, and it rarely happens with a mandate."

It's hard to disagree with wanting students to be able to write, think critically, and solve problems. How can we measure those skills in a meaningful way?

And from Nicholas Donofrio:

Another business leader on the commission, Nicholas Donofrio, an executive vice president at IBM, said he was not a strong supporter of proposals that would increase the government's regulatory role.

"But the government has some role to play because it funds the aid programs, so it has some hooks into them," Mr. Donofrio said. "We want these people in academia to get real about the problems and the issues."

There's a considerable number of accusations here. I'm not sure how justified they are. I'm also not certain that the answers to "the problems and the issues" are clear, nor that the corporate world has any answers. "For airlines, bankruptcy becomes business as usual." Consider also Ford's and GM's slide toward bankruptcy. In fact, "US company bankruptcies may surge this year." And, of course, there are always the CEOs who are paid astronomical sums. For instance, Lee Raymond, the Exxon chief who retired this past year, averaged $144,573 a day over a period of 13 years and received $400 million his last year (Greg Robb, MarketWatch.com). I suppose if universities had the option of going bankrupt, they would be able to "get real about the problems and the issues."

Education is important, and we should strive to improve it. I have no useful suggestions for doing so, just a few thoughts. It's not clear to me why a university should be run like a business, and it's not clear to me why business "experts" believe they have insights into improving university education. Do we hear much about educators advising the corporate world on business problems? It's also not clear to me why (assuming that they are) education "experts" are resistant to outside advice. Why not evaluate the advice rather than its source? I'm not even sure why this post is in my blog. I suppose it's here because I believe that although accountability is important, that present methods to measure accountability end up in dumbing down instruction and damaging student learning, as shown clearly in George Hillocks' The Testing Trap: How State Writing Assessments Control Learning, and that disturbs me. And so does the image of education as a business. I prefer images of learning and civic responsibility.

My last two posts have talked about listening to students. I just came across Susan Black's article "Listening to Students" in the American School Board Journal. She writes,

Giving students a voice in classroom decisions -- such as suggesting themes and topics to study -- and in school policies -- such as homework regulations -- makes schools less autocratic and more democratic. And democratic schools, researchers say, tend to have fewer discipline problems, more civic involvement, higher student engagement, and higher achievement. Plus, schools that genuinely seek and appreciate students’ ideas are more likely to see their school improvement plans succeed.

In contrast, schools that silence students can lead to their dropping out.

Students’ words matter, says Carole Gallagher of Indiana University, Columbus. In a 2002 study, she discovered that most school dropouts have been “systematically silenced,” not only in curriculum but also in how their schools are run.

Teachers in an Ohio middle school decided to listen:

By listening to their students, these teachers learned to look at them through a different lens that brought the kids into sharper focus. As a result, the teachers said they became less judgmental, more patient with their students, and more committed to helping them succeed.

The teachers also began to think more about their students as individuals, selecting strategies based on information they had gathered from the kids.

Part of motivation, according to self-determination theory, is autonomy and social relatedness. Teachers need to interact with students in ways that recognize the social, not simply the authoritarian. And students need some voice and control over their learning activity. How to achieve a good balance between competing needs to faciliate learning takes a lot of listening to all the voices concerned.

I came across this folk story at a testing blog, "Know Enough to be Dangerous":

The Three Tradesmen

A great city was besieged, and its inhabitants were called together to consider the best means of protecting it from the enemy.

  • A Bricklayer earnestly recommended bricks as affording the best material for an effective resistance.
  • A Carpenter, with equal enthusiasm, proposed timber as a preferable method of defense.
  • Upon which a Currier stood up and said, "Sirs, I differ from you altogether: there is no material for resistance equal to a covering of hides; and nothing so good as leather."

Every man for himself.

Rather than "Every man for himself," I would say "Every man from himself." That is, it refers to individuals' (and theorists') chains of experience that constrain their ability to think and learn, much like my son's interpreting situations in terms of his own experience, and again showing the viability of radical constructivism as a theory.

von Glasersfeld, drawing upon Piaget, was the architect of radical constructivism. According to this theory,

  • Knowledge is not passively received either through the senses or by way of communication;
  • Knowledge is actively built up by the cognizing subject;
  • The function of cognition is adaptive, in the biological sense of the term, tending towards fit or viability;
  • Cognition serves the organization of the experiential world, not the discovery of ontological reality. (Radical Constructivism: A Way of Knowing and Learning, 1995, p. 51)

These four principles refute that notion that one can access--or make progress toward increasingly accurate representations of--objective reality or truth. Rather, we simply construct models and revise those models as we interact with our environment. So, radical constructivists use the term "viability" to represent how well one's models fit one's experiences with the environment. For this reason, "good" teaching results from the ability to listen to one's students and respond to them in ways that help them construct viable models for their school experiences.

Similarly, "good" theory building results from the ability to listen to other theorists and respond to them in ways that helps one create a new model that is perceived to fit our experiences better than our previous models.

A few weeks ago, my wife related to me these questions from our son when he learned she was expecting:

Son (to mom): "How did the baby get there? Did you eat him?"

Similar to the story of the three blind men stating their opinions of the elephant's nature, academic theories derive from interpretations of experience--not from objective perceptions of reality.

I noted this earlier in "Is there anything new under the sun?"

learning to write involves a process of reflecting and acting on contradictions between students’ existing schemas and their present experiences.

... The concept of viability reminds us that reality cannot be directly perceived.

Although learning anything is a processing of resolving contradictions, or in Piaget's terms, a process of equilibrating between assimilation and accommodation, that learning remains an adaptation to experience rather than an insight into reality.

This is not an "anything goes" theory. Try jumping off the Empire State Building. Rather, it's acknowledging that at best we "see in a mirror dimly." What I'm wondering is how we apply this theoretical perspective practically to our other theories. When we say to "listen carefully" to our students, do we really see with more light?

Kathy Sierra of "Creating passionate users" has an interesting article, "Angry/negative people can be bad for your brain."

Basically, it's that emotions are contagious, or you become like who you associate with. Of course, folklore wisdom already has this concept, as in "birds of a feather flock together." Our ESL/EFL students pick up the accent of their instructors, albeit influenced by their own language. However, folklore, as she notes, also has notions that are wrong, or at least suspect in their application:

And there's this one we hear most often, especially in reference to comment moderation--"if you can't say whatever the hell you want to express your anger, you can't be authentic and honest." While that may be true, here's what the psychologists say:

"Psychologists now say that this is a dangerous myth. Some people use this theory as a license to hurt others. Research has found that "letting it rip" with anger actually escalates anger and aggression and does nothing to help you (or the person you're angry with) resolve the situation.

It's best to find out what it is that triggers your anger, and then to develop strategies to keep those triggers from tipping you over the edge."

In the case of folklore on being happy, Kathy brings in research supporting it, research on mirror neurons and emotional contagion. The importance of protecting one's happiness cannot be underestimated:

So, when Robert [Scoble] says he wants to spend time hanging around "happy people" and keeping his distance from "deeply unhappy" people, he's keeping his brain from making--over the long term--negative structural and chemical changes. Regarding the effect of mirror neurons and emotional contagion on personal performance, neurologist Richard Restak offers this advice:

"If you want to accomplish something that demands determination and endurance, try to surround yourself with people possessing these qualities. And try to limit the time you spend with people given to pessimism and expressions of futility. Unfortunately, negative emotions exert a more powerful effect in social situations than positive ones, thanks to the phenomena of emotional contagion."

This sounds harsh, and it is, but it's his recommendation based on the facts as the neuroscientists interpret them today. This is not new age self-help--it's simply the way brains work.

Kathy also touches on the fact that happiness is good for one's health, which I had read about. One study, for instance, showed that positive emotions were "associated with greater resistance to developing a common cold" What I didn't know was that it improved one's reasoning. She writes:

Happines is associated most heavily with the left (i.e. logical) side of the brain, while anger is associated with the right (emotional, non-logical) side of the brain. From a Society for Neuroscience article on Bliss and the Brain:

"Furthermore, studies suggest that certain people's ability to see life through rose-colored glasses links to a heightened left-sided brain function. A scrutiny of brain activity indicates that individuals with natural positive dispositions have trumped up activity in the left prefrontal cortex compared with their more negative counterparts. "

In other words, happy people are better able to think logically.

A key work here is "suggest," meaning that it's not ironclad. Other factors are likely involved. The two studies I keep quoting clearly show that inflexibility in one's position shuts off thinking. Is it possible to be happily inflexible?

Perhaps, this is rather simplistic, but I'm wondering if happiness in general can lead to being better able to learn. That is, Is being better able to think logically related to, or does it lead to, being better able to learn? Lots of questions. No answers right now.

HigherEdBlogCon is looking at the use of technology in Admissions, Alumni Relations, and Communications & Marketing this week. Presentations and links included:

Monday, April 17, 2006: New Media in Admissions

The Teeming Web
Case Study: Blogging and Podcasting for Student Recruitment
Freshmen Reveal Their Secrets: The Mansfield University Podcast
Student Voices Online: Podcasts as a Department Marketing Tool

Tuesday, April 18, 2006: New Media in Alumni Relations

Alumni E-Networks: Using Technology to Engage Alumni and Constituents
Online Networks: A New Tool for Alumni Relations - How Third-Party Social and Business Networking Sites Can Benefit Alumni Communities
Social Networking: What Is It and Where Does It Fit in the Alumni World?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006: New Media in Communications; Resources for Further Learning

Podcasting Agriculture News
Using Wikis to Facilitate Communication, Collaboration, and Knowledge Sharing Among Admissions and Administrative Personnel
How Can I Learn More About New Media?

Special: Links to More Applications of New Media in Higher Education

Communications and Alumni
Advanced Organizational Communication
“What’s hAPPening!”

Library and Information Resources
The FLICC/FEDLINK Environmental Scan wiki

Teaching and Learning
College v2
Jason Heath’s Bass Page
Skate of the Web

The ESL Program at Kean University received an ELMS (Education of Language Minority Students) Grant from the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education for the purposes of implementing software to help our students to learn English. One software program that we acquired is Citation

In the grant team's discussions of how to use this software, we have focused on its notetaking capabilities to improve students' reading and writing abilities. Some of our ideas include having students take notes on everything related to the class: lectures, readings, activities. Others were summarizing readings, excerpting importation quotations, and responding to the summaries and quotations. We also considered having students review their notes at the end of the semester (and also throughout), reflect on them, and use them as a springboard for an essay on their learning.

Although Citation is convenient with respect to searching and writing up references in different styles, actually, all of these activities can be done without Citation. We'd like to use Citation in a way that takes advantage of its capabilities to move beyond simply replicating print possibilities. If anyone has any thoughts on to be innovative with Citation, I'd appreciate hearing them.

They say / I say

They say/I say : the moves that matter in academic writing is a lovely introduction to academic argument by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein that shows how academic argument is a dialogue in which an individual acknowledges what others are saying and at the same time makes a space for what s/he is saying. The chapter headings summarize the book fairly well:

Part 1. "They say"
ONE: "They say" (Starting with What Others Are Saying)
TWO: "Her Point Is" (The Art of Summarizing)
THREE: "As He Himself Puts It" (The Art of Quoting)

Part 2. "I Say"
FOUR: "Yes / No / Okay, But" (Three Ways to Respond)
FIVE: "And Yet" (Distinguishing What You Say from What They Say)
SIX: "Skeptics May Object" (Planting a Naysayer in Your Text)
SEVEN: "So What? Who Cares?" (Saying Why It Matters)

Part 3: Tying It All Together
EIGHT: "As a Result" (Connecting the Parts)
NINE: "Ain't So / Is Not" (Academic Writing Doesn't Mean Setting Aside Your Own Voice)
TEN: "In Other Words" (The Art of Metacommentary)

Besides showing "the moves that matter" in an easily understandable way, the book provides templates to help students make these moves in their own writing. Graff and Birkenstein anticipate "naysayers" on templates as being prescriptive and "stifling creativity," but respond by noting their classical history and present modern examples from academic journals. Then adding their own voice, they write,

One virtue of such templates, we found, is that they focus writers' attention not just on what is being said, but on the forms that structure what is being said. In other words, they help students focus on the rhetorical patterns that are key to academic success but often pass under the classroom radar.


In showing students how to make such moves, templates do more than organize students' ideas; they help bring those ideas into existence.

For ESL/EFL students, making explicit the implicit is crucial in learning to write an academic argument. And this book does that in a way that captures the essence of academic writing and represents it in a down-to-earth way. Although written for L1 composition, They Say / I Say is a book I plan to read and re-read this summer and incorporate into my classes next fall.

Last week at HigherEdBlogCon held quite a few good presentations on libraries and the potential for using blogs, wikis, podcasts, RSS, IM, etc.

Susan Herzog taught Blogging 101, providing a good overview of the use of blogs in libraries, including a bibliography page on blogging and much more.

John Blyberg wrote "Patrons in the driver’s seat: Giving advanced tool-sets to library patrons." One tool among many he mentions is a virtual card catalog that allows users to share their personal card catalog with the public, something like del.icio.us, but with "vintage-looking catalog card[s]." Other tools include wi-fi, RSS, and even AADL-GT, a gaming tournament.

There are 13 other presentations for this week: too much to report on, but well worth the time to read. Here's a breakdown of the sessions by title:

Blogging in Libraries
Blogging 101
Subject Librarian 2.0? - ‘The Song Remains the Same,’ It’s Just a Cover Song Using New Instruments
Blog Applications At a Small Academic Library

Podcasting in Libraries
Podcasting 101: the Basics for Librarians
Learning to Speak: Creating a Library Podcast With a Unique Voice

Leveraging Web 2.0 Technologies
Blogs, Wikis, and IM: Communication Tools for Subject Specialists
An Online Research Toolkit - Exploring Web 2.0 for Library Research
Using RSS to Increase User Awareness of E-resources in Academic Libraries

Issues in Libraries
Open Access for Teachers
Upon the Shoulders of Giants – Building Library 2.0 Together, From the Platform Up
Web 2.0 and the Small College Library: How to take over the World

Making Information Work Harder
Building a “Wall of Books” From a Library Online Catalog
Go Where the Patrons Are: Outreach In the Age of Library 2.0
Google Maps and You: Five Steps To Including a Google Map On Your Website
Patrons in the Drivers Seat: Giving Advanced Tool-sets to Library Patrons


Here's an interesting story from Idries Shah's book Tales of the Dervishes:

One dark night a dervish was passing a dry well when he heard a cry for help from below. 'What is the matter?' he called down.

'I am a grammarian, and I have unfortunately fallen, due to my ignorance of the path, into this deep well, in which I am now all but immobilized.' responded the other.

'Hold, friend, and I'll fetch a ladder and rope,' said the dervish.

'One moment please!' said the grammarian. 'Your grammar and diction are faulty; be good enough to amend them.'

'If that is so much more important than the essentials,' shouted the dervish, 'you had best stay where you are until I have learned to speak properly.'

And he went his way.

This story reminds me of the psychology study, which I mentioned in an earlier posting, "Emotion overrules reason," that found that staunch Democrats and Republications are "both adept at ignoring facts,"

The study points to a total lack of reason in political decision-making.

As someone said thousands of years ago, "There is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9), at least when it comes to understanding human behavior. Our pet theories can "immobilize" us, preventing us from seeing others' perspectives (see again "Everybody's an Expert" by Louis Menand).

So, where does this take us? For me, I return to a paper I wrote on the application of radical constructivism to writing in another language. Radical constructivism is based on Jean Piaget's work and is a perspective on knowing by Ernst von Glasersfeld, who asserted that knowledge is constructed actively by an individual in a way that fits one's experience, that provides a viable explanation of one's experience.

In looking at how students learn, many simply accept that learning is "merely a straightforward process of building upon students’ prior experiences and filling in schemas with new data, or knowledge. Rather, learning to write involves a process of reflecting and acting on contradictions between students’ existing schemas and their present experiences."

In looking at how teachers interact with students, we might believe "that these contradictions should be resolved in favor of the teacher’s “correct” model. The concept of viability reminds us that reality cannot be directly perceived. Teachers, as well as students, construct models representing their experiences rather than an actual reality. Thus, the student’s schema may not only be coherent according to his or her experiences but may also be insightful and effective. ... [Thus], we must listen closely to hear what is productive in the students’ models and build from there (Confrey, 1991, 1998)."

So, although this notion may not be new, still it is worth repeating: Listening may be a instructor's most valuable asset for learning how to teach.

John Liang, Timothy Grove, Sydney Rice, and I presented papers at TESOL 2006 on the theme of "Moving Toward Self-Assessment in L2 Writing."

John Liang began with an "Overview of Self-Assessment in the Second Language Classroom." His overview handout here (.doc) also has a good bibliography on self-assessment.

Next, I talked about using "Course-Embedded Assessment" (.doc) to help students learn to assess their writing. Generally speaking, course-embedded assessment refers to program- or institution-wide assessment embedded in general education courses in order to focus the curriculum on student learning. In my classes, I've incorporated the program rubric for assessing L2 writing in all aspects of my first-year composition courses--from modeling, using it to guide my feedback, having students use it to guide their feedback to others, and to guide their own self-evaluation--so that it becomes part of their mind-framework for looking at writing rather than remaining fragmented information and forgotten as soon as the semester ends.

Sydney's paper looked at "Focused Self-Assessment" (.doc) presenting three basic steps for students to become self-editors:

1. Provide input and examples of both effective and ineffective language use.
2. Involve students in peer review and peer editing, as well as self-editing.
3. Provide students with the key for productive self-editing.

Her approach uses "methodical and uncomplicated" rubrics, an approach that makes it clear and gives to students the tools for editing and revising their writing. Here are her other handouts (all are .doc): Summary, Overhead figures.

Timothy Grove discussed "Showcase Portfolios" (.doc) for helping students become better self-assessors. When students have to select and present their best work, they begin to learn how to evaluate their work.

John Liang ended the colloquium talking on "Toward a Three-Step Pedagogy for Fostering Self-Assessment in a Second Language Writing Classroom" (.doc). The three steps are:

Stage 1: Extensive teacher modeling
Stage 2: Teacher assessment with guided and independent peer assessment
Stage 3: Peer assessment leading to guided and independent self-assessment

One point John mentioned that occurred in all of our talks was the need for rubrics or something that would give structure to the students as they began to learn to assess their learning.

The Higher Ed Blog Conference is is full swing now. Last week, Monday looked at podcasting and screencasting. Tuesday had two sessions: one on integrating blogs and blackboard, and another on using blogs to bring Chinese and American marketing students together.

Wednesday had empirical blog studies. One compared blogging to traditional paper writing, coming up with mixed results. Another Ethan Watrall and Nicole Ellison, professors at Michigan State University, screencast their "Blogs for Learning: Case Study." They assert that the main barriers to implementing blogs are technical. However, they also note four other challenges, as perceived by students:

1. Felt like "busy work" or a "chore" for many at times

2. Too overwhelming to read all the posts and comments

3. Felt uncomfortable posting on the posts of other students; had trouble locating interesting content in others' posts.

These findings are not limited to blogs. Students generally complain of too much work and that much work is not necessary. So do teachers, and just about most people in general.

Students also saw benefits:

1. Gives all students a chance to express themselves ...

2. Many students preferred blogging over hard copy papers.

3. Some participants enjoyed the exposure to new materials and the ideas of their peers, but did not feel that it enhanced their understanding of course content.

4. Were not concerned about privacy implications of blogging

The authors were surprised by #4, but I'm not quite sure why. It seems to be fairly common knowledge in the press, and I'm also not sure why it would be considered a benefit.

Watrall and Ellison also plan to set up a "Blogs for Learning" (blogsforlearning.msu.edu) website beginning in the fall, a website that will be a resource for teachers, researchers, and all.

Eleanor Chute ("Slow readers have difficulty trying to catch up, study says," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) writes about the difficulty slow readers have in catching up:

Helping older elementary school children who are struggling to read is even harder than some of the experts think.

A study involving 50 schools in the Allegheny County suburbs -- the largest of its kind in the nation -- showed that the intensive help provided for such students improved skills for third-graders but was less effective for fifth-graders.

And even where there was improvement in both grade levels, the help wasn't enough to catch up with the strong readers, who were continuing to advance.


When she heard that third-graders fared better than fifth-graders, Robin Pleta, a resource support teacher at Eisenhower Elementary School in Upper St. Clair who participated in the study, likened it to learning a golf swing.

"If you can catch it and correct it early, it's a little bit easier to correct it. By the time you get to fifth grade, you've had five years of practicing skills that haven't served you well," she said.

Dr. Torgesen said he was both surprised and disappointed to discover that the interventions didn't work as well for low-income children.

"This amount of instruction doesn't appear to be enough or the right thing for many of the kids who need it the most," he said.

Stanovich in his classic paper "Matthew effects in reading" wrote about the problem of slow readers falling further behind as they advance through grades. His work suggested that interventions were needed to help students catch up. However, this study shows that it may be too late even by the third grade for native speakers. What do these results say about Generation 1.5 students or language learners in general? Forget about nativelike pronunciation. Can they ever catch up in vocabulary, grammar, and reading in general? How does this study's results inform the bilingual education vs. immersion controversy?

Another finding, as Dr. Torgesen reported, was that poverty works against interventions. This finding matches the California five-year study on Proposition 227 that "the strongest predictor of academic underperformance" is poverty.

Hmm. I wish I knew more about why poverty is such a strong predictor. However, there are always exceptions. I wish I knew more about the successes. That might be more informative about what it takes to become fluent in reading and in language learning.

I had to return early from the Conference on Teaching, Writing, & Technology, but that one day yielded some interesting thoughts.

Kathleen Yancey, (Professor and Director of the graduate program in Rhetoric and Composition at Florida State University), started the conference off with her talk, "Composition as Material Practices: What That Means and How That Means for the Teaching of Writing in the Early Twenty-First Century." One notion that caught my interest was that "different portfolios create different kinds of students." She compared print portfolios to being like a book, a finished product, and digital portfolios to being gallery-like with multiple paths that may not have conclusions. I think this claim has some validity, but is it necessarily so? Having a digital background could easily influence how one approached creating print portfolios, and vice versa. Even so, I will start thinking about how I might introduce my students to the notion of portfolios not having conclusions for all of its paths but rather being an ongoing exploration.

Yancey quoted Alan Luke as positing a "need to 're-invent' the discipline" and herself for a "need for a new vocabulary" of "texts/technologies/circulation." The likelihood of "re-inventing" a discipline is remote. Nevertheless, having this attitude of always seeking new ways of seeing and doing is crucial to learning, and sometimes having new vocabulary, even if for almost the same things, can help one achieve a different stance from which to see things anew.

In another sessions, Laura McGrath (Assistant Professor of English, Kennesaw State University), discussed the need to prepare students for different rhetorical situations, audiences, products, and purposes for a new global society. In doing so,she broke down learning objectives into three types:

Functional = create blog and blog intries; integrate images and hyperlinks

Critical = think critically about the power of communication technologies as well as their dangers

Rhetorical = assess available communicative possibilities; write for real readers;master conventions of Web writing; make appropriate choices in terms of presentation/style, tone, content; develop understanding of how ehtos is created, communicated, and maintained

This is a useful breakdown of keeping objectives in mind when designing one's curriculum. I wonder a little about the "critical" perspective. Up front, I think developing a critical awareness of anything is an ongoing process and a bit of exposure to it can help stimulate its development. But I imagine that a developed critical awareness depends much upon content knowledge, in the case of communication technologies, not only how they are used in a variety of ways in depth but also how they intersect with societal practices. As compositionists, we tend to be more aware of communication technologies but, again I imagine, considerably less so in other disciplines, simply due to our lack of content knowledge. When I take this perspective and then consider the time constraints in a course and student needs for functional and rhetorical understanding, I'm not sure how much time can or should be devoted to helping students develop a critical perspective. I often wonder how much of our perspectives in curriculum design is affected by where we are in our own intellectual growth, neglecting to take into account the path and time required to reach our present outlook.

In the same session, Tara Shankar (M.I.T. Media Lab) introduced her spriting tool. (Sprite = speaking + writing.) From the abstract of her dissertation defense:

Spriting in its general form is the activity of speaking "on the record" that yields a technologically supported representation of oral speech with essential properties of writing such as permanence of record, possibilities of editing, indexing, and scanning, but without the difficult transition to a deeply different form of representation such as writing itself. This thesis considers a particular (still primitive compared to what might come in the future) version of spriting in the form of two technology-supported representations of speech: (1) the speech in audible form, and (2) the speech in visible form. The product of spriting is a kind of "spoken" document, or talkument. As one reads a text, one may likewise aude a talkument. In contrast, Shankar uses the word writing for the manual activity of making marks, while text refers to the marks made.

Shankar found that spriting facilitated peer collaboration with elementary children throughout the revising and talking process unlike the one-time (or few times) collaboration of writing. In fact, the children showed a sophisticated sense of genre and language while spriting. It allows students who lack writing skills to develop their understanding of language, organization, and other genre skills crucial to formal education, and as Shankar states, "spriting can serve as a stepping stone to writing skills."

In an earlier posting, I asked, Should we blog in the classroom? One aspect of answering in the affirmative is looking at the social aspect of learning. That is, when people work together, play together, learn together, it's simply more engaging, interesting, and motivating. Katrina Rinaldi, a high school senior, has written quite a few articles on student perspectives on technology (in Students of Explanazine). In her article Students on Student Technology -- Why We Like Xanga (Part 1), the social dimension of technology and learning is prominent. Her article is worth reading in its entirety, but here are some excerpts:

Human contact. Something every human yearns for -- especially teenagers. ... Thankfully, with Xanga, when you can't be with your friends physically, you can at least browse their thoughts online as well share your own ideas.

Xanga is an online blogging site that now also allows you to accumulate a social network. ....

I prefer Xanga to Myspace because it's more personal. ...

The main attraction of Xanga for me and my friends is the ability to write and post your own thoughts and ideas, quotes and passages from books, or even pictures. You also get to read your friends' posts, and comment on them. Xanga certainly helps us understand each other better -- you learn to see people differently when you really understand where they are coming from and how they think.

Xanga is also an amazing resource for keeping in touch with friends. ...

Interaction with friends is necessary for friendships to continue, and Xanga is a great way to make that interaction happen. It works if you're separated by continents, or simply stuck inside because of weather or punishment. I think it probably seems like time wasted to parents, but a good deal of the time teenagers spend on Xanga should be considered social interaction. While that may not seem like a huge thing to some parents, but believe me, it is.

There's not much to add here, but for me Katrina highlights the need for teachers always to keep in mind how to build communities of personal interaction and friends in the classroom. In my readings, I see a lot about the need for interaction and the social, but little about "friends."

Friday morning, I'll head out to a two-day (actually two half-days) conference at the University of Amherst Massachusetts: Conference on Teaching, Writing, & Technology, K-College

New technology is providing new venues for writers and for teachers of writing, offering us all exciting possibilities and different perspectives on what writing is, can, or should be. As tech-savvy students post blogs and teachers engage with new software to organize their courses and share student writing, technology challenges our definitions and practices of writing instruction. The Conference on Writing, Teaching, and Technology, K-College, will be an opportunity for teachers from all grade levels to share ideas, methods, and projects on integrating technology effectively into the writing classroom.

Kathleen Yancey and Charles Moran will be featured speakers. A couple of sessions will focus on first-year composition and one will look at the use of weblogs in the classroom. Looks like I'll have an opportuntiy to learn.

In a few weeks, our English Department will have a poster session on "Best Practices" in teaching. Mine will be on using blogs and wikis. Of course, I present the usual rationale for using blogs and wikis, but for me the highlight of presenting this poster was reviewing my students' blogs and seeing again how they were able to tie their writing into their own interests. One of my students, for example, has an active interest in things Japanese, applying the name "yukiseguchi" to her blog. She wrote about how to wear a kimono ("Flutter your sashes") and geishas and inserting great images, too.

Despite appreciating my students' posts, one thing still troubles me: Few of these students continue to blog after the course ends. Nancy McKeand (Random Thoughts) asks, Why aren't we all blogging?. There's no easy answer, but it's unlikely that we're all made from the same mold. Some like sports, others music, and others, still, video games. One of my students moved from blogger over to myspace, where she is still active.

Perhaps we shouldn't worry about whether students like blogging or continue to blog. When in high school, I enjoyed basketball, but I didn't like the speed drills. However, they were great for developing my stamina. And perhaps that's how we should consider blogging. That is, Is there some benefit from blogging? Besides, we could also ask how many of our students continue to write essays after graduating. Should we, then, stop requiring essay writing? Hmm. I'm assuming that writing essays has some benefit. Does it?

TESOL's new interest section, Second Language Writing (SLW-IS), published right before the Tampa conference its inaugural newsletter, SLW News (accessible by interest section members only), which provides current news on second/foreign language writing theory, research, and pedagogy, including reviews of books and software, calls for papers, reports on research, SLW coverage from K-16+, and more.

If you'd like to get to know those involved in SLW-IS and help out at the same time, SLW News has editor positions open for the Book Review Column, Research Forum, and Context Columns. From Margi Wald, SLW News Editor:

Book Review Editor

The book review editor will compile and manage a list of new books of interest to SLWIS members, publish the list on the SLWIS website, solicit submissions, coordinate with publishers to have review copies sent to potential reviewers, and write reviews him/herself as desired.

Research Forum Editor

The goal of this column is to provide a venue for researchers to share research questions, preliminary results, and areas of interest and for members to keep abreast of current research in the field. The research forum editor will compile a list of brief reports on recently completed or in-progress research projects by SLWIS members. This editor will also compile summaries of conferences and presentations on L2 writing outside TESOL. Furthermore, this editor will solicit reports and summaries from SLWIS members, as well as choose a format and a system of categorization for reports.

Context Column Editors

Given SLW News’ goal of encouraging submissions related to a variety of educational settings, especially traditionally underrepresented contexts, we are seeking editors for our Context Column to ensure strong, broad coverage. Ideally, we will have several editors for this column, each of whom would represent a particular educational level or context. Possible contexts include, but are not limited to, elementary, secondary, 2-year or community colleges, college/university, community programs, and professional institutes; both ESL and EFL contexts should be represented. Editors will solicit articles of relevance to people working in the chosen context and coordinate with the SLW News editor to ready articles for publication. If interested, please note the context you would like to represent.

To join SLW News, candidates must be members of TESOL and SLW-IS (primary or secondary). If you are interested or have questions about the newsletter, please contact Margi Wald, SLW News editor. For general information on SLW-IS, email our new chair, Jessie Moore Kapper. For those TESOL members interested in joining SLW-IS, email members@tesol.org to change your preference. The SLW News Mission Statement and Call for Submissions can be found here.

TESOL has a new interest section: Second Language Writing (SLW-IS). Actually, it was accepted back in July 2005, but it takes time to become active. Still, SLW-IS is growing strong with more than 200 members. Here are excerpts from a message written before the TESOL 2006 conference from its first and now immediate-past chair, Christina Ortmeier-Hooper:

The new SLWIS provides a forum for researchers and educators to discuss and exchange information in the area of second language writing. Specifically, our goals are

∑ to increase awareness of the significance of writing in teaching ESL/EFL

∑ to encourage and support the teaching of writing to ESOL students at all levels

∑ to provide a forum to discuss issues of writing assessment and the placement of second language writers

∑ to disseminate and promote research on second language writing

The hope is that SLWIS will facilitate communication about writing across teaching levels and settings. Recent research on the scope of second language writing scholarship suggests that most of the field’s nationally (within the United States) and internationally circulated scholarship is produced by scholars in postsecondary education at research-intensive institutions. Other contexts for writing (pre-K through 12, 2-year colleges, community programs, international K-12 schools, etc.) often have much larger populations of ELL/EFL writers, but scholars, particularly teacher-researchers, in these settings do not often receive support for researching and writing.

In light of that, the new SLWIS provides us with the opportunity to initiate more research and scholarship in these underrepresented contexts by supporting new collaborations and partnerships across levels and by providing a forum for discussing shared experiences. Indeed, the SLWIS will hopefully bring teachers, teacher-researchers, and second language writing specialists together, from across nations, across institutions, and across grade levels, to discuss the unique needs and concerns of ESL/EFL writers. Along with the Symposium on Second Language Writing and the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) Committee on Second Language Writing, the SLWIS at TESOL hopes to broaden the scope of L2 writing research and to help teachers and administrators further their understanding of second language writers.