Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Reflective Essay #2 EDC534

Beyond the One Dimension (No, Really!)

1st They Say:  From Vasudaven, Schultz and Bateman (2010, p. 443)

Paragraph….”In particular, we focus….”

Students who are given new modes of expression to use come to a new understanding of themselves.   Vasudasen et. al. refer to these understandings “new literate identities.. Authorial stances.”  Such a set of opportunities are seen as great ways for students to take personal ownership of the curriculum and to see life and all of its dimensions, “home, school and community” as places of learning that make their own lives more meaningful.  

1st I say:

I feel as though this is the sets of tracks of what this Digital Literacy program is doing for me over the year while all the while helping me view the parallel set of tracks I want to help my students along past, present and future.   This year is my second year as speech and debate coach in my school and the sixth year I have held a position since beginning my career.   In my current position I am the more politically informed moderator of a pair so I usually coach the students in the group discussion  event while my colleague, the English teacher, takes care of the speech (dramatic reading and presentation events).  As we have so many students in the group discussion event on our team, it has been a priority for my colleague and I to try to have students try out new activities because one important by-product of their collective congregating in the one event is that ultimately some of them have the chance of eliminating each other in rounds by out performing them as there are seven group discussion members in each round from all of the participating schools.   While it is less likely that they will knock each other out of preliminary rounds the chance increases as they move to other rounds.   But the main point has been that both of us coaches have to reinforce that one’s authorial stance does need to be expanded.   As we are an all male team weighted heavily toward a very male dominated event,having an authorial stance has two connotations.  The first being their ability to see themselves as competent in the event of speech that it one’s personal preference but to all the moreso find at some point their ability to have a sense that they are not limited to that event as an author (or speaker).  The second connotation is the question of mastery in relation to others or social power.  Our students sometimes cannot see that this is possible beyond the event of group discussion where they can be the alpha male.   We try on a regular basis to let them know that they will indeed have the euphoria of being the alpha male, or that guy when presenting their very best and confident self in any medium, probably all the while augmenting their skills set for later group discussion rounds.   All of this discussion is clear to me that it is deeply laden with irony.  Despite our best attempts to encourage these very intelligent and capable young men to expand upon their abilities, which is most certainly within reach, they have seen this particular category as the category of their high school speech careers.  

2nd They Say:  From Vasudaven, Schultz and Bateman (2010, p. 444)

Paragraph… “In recent years, with the advent of new technologies…”

The authors are greatly concerned that there is no symmetry between the lives of students in that todays youth are “engaged in a wide range of literacy practices outside of school…” but school is now designed as a precursor to taking a standardized test that yields results that are not in the students best interest and make their scores and therefore their learning a “tightly regulated and controlled” experience.  So the outcome is really a bifurcation of the theoretical (all the ideas learned in school) and the practical, all of the experience one can have as a multi-dimensional human being.

2nd I Say:

This quote brings this particular academic year full circle for me as a student.   In the Fall were assigned the 2015 NEAP Abridged Reading Frameworks to read for EDC 532.   It was in those pages that I first encountered the concept of cognitive targets framed as such.   I knew that there were such things as I have read plenty about Bloom’s Taxonomy of Skills (both the old and the new).   But as a would be constructivist who is constrained in my practice by the accountability and drudgery of preparing final exams I find that I have to become more precise in my criticism of final exams even if they will never go away.   For one main reason akin to the concerns of Vasudevan, et al:  They do not meet the cognitive targets that we may or may not specifically articulate to ourselves as a department (and maybe moreso outside of it).   In my career the only department  I have been in is an English department and I cannot say that those final exams were any different as they were a repetitive regurgitation of year long material.    

As for a being a theology teacher under similar restraints as those described by Vasudevan et.al.,  I am grateful for having an understanding department that wants to grow out from this position into something increasingly more holistic and authentic in its direction and mission.   One personal part of the journey for me in trying to maintain a sense of intellectual independence from the prevalent testing mentality began last year when I realized it was time for me to put my hand at writing course proposals for electives.   I had never done this before but it appears to have been the highlight and most practical creative potential I’ve tried to actualize in between my 2009 Writing from the Soul course at Andover Newton and this course in Digital Authorship at URI.  For one thing, writing electives for our school would mean that they would be offered to our seniors only, who do take AP exams but not regular final exams.  So therein lies a great degree of diversity when it comes to assessment.   With that in mind, I cranked out four different course proposals.  Two of them were particularly multimodal in their scope, one being a course on church architecture, art and music.   As for application to daily life, I do have the sense that our students will prefer their whole lives to live in buildings as opposed to camping and in said buildings would like to have walls furnished and as human beings music will likely be an enjoyable soulful activity throughout their lifespans.   

So in addition to wanting expand our curriculum in a multimodal way, I have been inspired by what I have been challenged to do by having to join Hitrecord.org.    At that site I have had to go public.   I have had to be willing to have a public persona with an audience.   I am in the process of evolving my longtime project on Church music, architecture and art that has been a part of my course for a number of years.   At its inception it was  an in house set of presentations with Google slides.  There was no connection to life beyond the school.   In the next iteration it became a project of interaction with the use of Pinterest.   Because of the way I see the world now in  a more multidimensional way because of my experience in the course and on Hitrecord.org I know now that project needs to evolve more and expand to students current experience of faith communities and not being about analysis of buildings but interactions they have in communities   and the possibilities of expanding their horizons through pilgrimages to new places that are communities of living faith.   That new iteration will follow the graphics below in my final project.  

Evolution of a project on Church Architecture, Art and Music

Stage One:  When it was about creating some Google slides...

Stage Two: When it moved to Pinterest and became interactive.

"Reading Framework for the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress." Reading Framework for the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress / NAGB. N.p., 2015. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

Taj, Mohammed. "What to Do in Group Discussion(GD)Round." YouTube. YouTube, 15 Mar. 2014. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

Vasudevan, L., Schultz, K., & Bateman, J. (2010). Rethinking composing in a digital age: Authoring literate identities through multimodal storytelling.  Written Communication, 27(4), 442–468.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Audience problem in Halverson et. al. vs. Levine

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Reflection on the Experience of Joining and Contributing to Hitrecord.org

Reflection on the Experience of Joining and Contributing to Hitrecord


I had quite a myriad of emotional responses when joining Hitrecord.org as a class assignment.  I felt empowered, inadequate, mildly alienated and yet clearly welcome throughout my journey of clicking through various projects, brand new or highly developed.

On the continuum of competency and incompetency, which includes my feelings of empowerment, I came quickly to realize what kind of risks I would not take or maybe had no business even considering.  Primarily, all of the components involving visual arts were beyond my abilities and to some great degree so were the poetry writing opportunities.  That is, especially with the poetry, the time frame and so many other professionally responsibilities made me not want to even consider to do anything so soul searching and personal as poetry for mass viewing.   That is not to say that I don’t have this type of aesthetic dimension to my personality.   As a religion professional and scholar I explored this dimension of my life when I took a course called Writing from the Soul I took at Andover Newton in 2008 that was taught by Dr. Nita Penfold.  I was greatly enriched by that opportunity and I found that I had an unexplored writing talent that I had not been considered properly before and really had not the time to develop as a young father, spouse and full time teacher.    But the conditions were different in that course than they are in contributing to hitrecord.org.  We had twenty students in that class and of course hitrecord.org is open to a seemingly limitless audience.     

So I think the first priority in searching through hitrecord.org was ego management: how would I find projects that would not highlight my incompetence and/or being a publicly identified fool.    There were three possibilities that immediately jumped out for me.    I took two of them.   I wrote an installment for the weekly ongoing writing project.  Despite the fact the challenge that was posted was already closed I decided to try it because the next one was not posted and I was behind enough in my work that I wanted to seize the day.   That particular prompt was writing a short story about encountering a doppelganger.  While this is a common theme in writing I wanted to make sure in writing a story like that I would filter out influences and not run the risk of being derivative.   My most recent literary encounter with a doppelganger were the two sets of them in Charles William’s Descent Into Hell.    So I wanted to both avoid any explicit religious connotation as Williams did.   I found that writing it and sticking to what I know, being a speech and debate coach was a way to draw from my experience and thus Kevin Harper was born and I had him meet his doppelganger in an Impromptu speech round at a suburban Massachusetts high school.  As that was the event of choice the story was titled ImprompTWO.    I wrote about the same number of words as a few other already published tales, roughly twelve hundred.  I actually did not finish it and I don’t know if it is going to end up supernatural as a horror story, a dream/fantasy or a conspiracy.  But I am slowly learning that deadlines and time frames are a very good antidote for perfectionism and other forms of creative paralysis and hitrecord.org’s timeframe submissions for certain projects mirrors the insights provided for us at the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy when challenged by the Spaghetti-Marshmallow tower.   And on the whole, I want specifically to appropriate Buckinghman’s insight about mediated versions of the world and speak to again later on.   (Buckingham, 57)  So as it stands now, the website Hitrecord only demonstrates my strengths and competence and I have already used the edit feature to go back and refine any errors in grammar.   

I also wrote three irreverently humorous etiquette lessons for the modern adult for the Modern Day Book of Manners for Adults project. Here is the first one. And the second one.  And the third one.  I had no problem firing three of them off on three subjects I have a fair amount of intimate knowledge: being a theology teacher, riding on bike paths and drinking tea.  Again, Buckingham’s focus on mediated versions makes it clear to me that I played to a strength I would rather not admit to and struggle to diminish in my life, sarcasm.  But it is something I have already cultivated and other authors, especially Burgess, related how the most ideal authorship probably reflects the most idea of researching, in that there is a “commitment to empathy” with the subject. (Burgess 5)  In this case my etiquette jokes are relatively harmless but move me down the continuum of being a sophisticated Don Rickles (RIP) as opposed to what the highest potential of meaningful communication Burgess identifies when recalling the work of John Durham Peters.   “the test of meaningful communication in this sense is to do with presence. For the storyteller, the digital story is a means of ‘becoming real’ to others, on the basis of shared experience and affective resonances. Many of the stories are, quite literally, touching.”  (Burgess 10) So that I know my story ImprompTWO has the potential to be that in that I am demonstrating a willingness to affirm the experience of students and try to enter into that world they know first hand, my etiquette entries have a decidedly less empathic emphasis except that others can be touched by acknowledgment of a frustrating experience, common or uncommon.

Besides those two actions, I am aware of  where I felt some ambivalence when considering other possible contributions to the website.  Did I have a right to contribute to the Art of Breaking Up?  I’ve been married for seventeen years and I’ve had no break up for over twenty years.  But the book seemed to be more open ended than just romantic relationships.  My most recent break up had to be with my last job, which was well over a decade ago.  I can see the value in such a book as a public service for those who need to negotiate the complexity of life after another person (or organization) is left behind or leaves.       

Three find slightly problematic was the cultural differences I had with the website.   Was this site, founded by Joseph Gordon-Leavitt and others, a production company primarily for the young and youthful?   I know some of the contributors appeared to be  over forty and a few look over sixty, but it seems all actual video recorded introductions were clearly presented by women and men under thirty.   Is there enough of appeal in that demographic.   I must acknowledge it looked somewhat exclusively white also.    So does collaborative media production on an online setting default to the cultural position of those who matter?   Was I viewing implicit bias toward a white middle class youthful secular liberal stance or was it more inclusive.   As a religious moderate with a sense of humor  I still found that the the God Creates Stuff made me a little annoyed.  I am not sure what to make of the project.  If it is about God as an intentionally insane character or caricature, is this a reinforcing of stereotypes of religion or religious people as anti-intellectuals and a belief in the supernatural that is seen as something that is only akin to mythology?    Or can it be that the current mindset is that religion is trivial?  Full disclosure, I am a fan of Stephen L. Carter’s Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religion and I think his thesis is rather compelling.   Carter is a Baby Boomer and Episcopalian while I am a Roman Catholic early Gen X’er  and I think that this age disparity is likely reflective of those commitments and life stances in terms of religious affiliation or non-affiliation that engender a sense of distance from the average Hitrecord participant.

This religious identity question for me as a possible contributor to the site also helps me explore another of Burgess’ concerns regarding the nature of authorship. Namely, to what degree am I an expert or a lay person when it comes to religious knowledge.   I hold a Master of Divinity degree but as a non-ordained person my authority within my religious tradition is usually relegated to my classroom.   I gather it might have been better to contribute something to this project that is a parody in that the very invitation is akin to the story of the development of lomography.  “to offer resistance to the ways in which the rules of ‘professional photography’ repress ‘ordinary’ creativity and continually redraw the boundaries between amateur and professional.” (Burgess, 4) So I think this multivalent dynamic.    I am professional and amateur at once, to the degree that I am a professional in the classroom and having a Divinity degree , it means I have had to at least dabble in a number of practical disciplines including communications, preaching/homiletics, worship and music, pastoral care, and church administration.   I know that to be a professional in one area does not make one a professional in all areas, yet the professional training yields transferable skills, a concept Richard Nelson Bolles has emphasized in his job hunting book What Color Is Your Parachute? for decades.   

To bring it full circle, what contribution would or could I make as a religious person and somewhat of a cultural moderate to conservative relative to other contributors to the site.  Burgess quotes De Certeau’s Culture in the Plural.  “Every culture proliferates along its margins. Irruptions take place that are called ‘creations’ in relation to stagnancies.” (Burgess 3)  While I would have been a considered a consummate cultural insider (excepting my Catholicism) fifty years ago being a white middle class educated male, now a contribution to Hitrecord makes me a peripheral player in how cultural discourse has shifted.  So might I be better being the cultural subversive as some parts of the dominant culture found Hitrecord could be considered the uncritical populism that needs to be treated by radical subversion, the vocation of one of my heroes, Kalle Lasn.   This experience is consonant with the insights of Peter Levine
“But cultural identity is always contested; it provokes debates, parodies, and expressions of dissent as well as consensus. In other words, it requires the use of a public voice to defend or criticize forms of expression.”  (Levine 120)  And this makes me want to affirm Hitrecord, not just for the opportunity for contribution it presents, but also for its democratic and transparent accountability in paying its contributors.  But regarding this opportunity of contribution and trajectory of its projects, Hitrecord moves beyond simulation to reality.  Buckingham raised this legitimate concern in 2003 regarding the expectations for high school students but as for graduate students in our course who have more of a prospective audience of students, colleagues and superiors this attenuates the simulation dynamic as we are  now empowered to see these activities of digital authorship as truly within reach.  (Buckingham 127)


Bolles, Richard Nelson. "Petal 3: I Am a Person Who...Can Do Particular Things." What Color Is Your Parachute? 2012: A Practical Manual for Job-hunters and Career-changers. Place of Publication Not Identified: Ten Speed, 2012. 31-33. Print.

Buckingham, David. Media Education: Literacy, Learning and Contemporary Culture. Cambridge: Polity, 2003. Print.

Burgess, Jean (2006). Hearing ordinary voices. Continuum: Journal of Media & Culture 20(2), 201-214.

Levine, Peter. (2008). A public voice for youth: The audience problem in digital media and civic education. In L. Bennett (Ed.), Civic life online: Learning how digital media can engage youth (pp. 119 – 138). John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, MIT Press.