Remixing Writing: A Digital Essay

In late February, English teacher Jim Burke posted a discussion thread on the English Companion Ning sharing his initial thoughts on a new digital essay assignment he planned to try with his students this spring.  Today, Burke Tweeted one of the student digital essays created in Prezi; you can read the digital essay, which utilizes text, graphics, and videos, to remix and create a new kind of essay.  What other kinds of literacies do you see embedded in this work?  I think it would be insightful if somehow the student could share her thoughts on how this medium worked for her and if she felt her Prezi creation captured the voice and ideas she wanted to convey to her audience; it would also be interesting to know if she prefers writing and composing in this way to traditional writing and how this medium may have impacted her writing and thinking processes.

Ultimately, Burke let students decide what mediums they wanted to use for creating the digital essay; I’m looking forward to seeing what directions his other students take as they complete their projects.  I would really love to hear students (either through blog postings or video interviews) share their decision-making processes and how they went about crafting their digital essays.  I admire and respect Burke for giving his students creative latitude and being willing to work with a diverse range of learning products the students, which can be challenging the first time you pilot a new project.

I am currently collaborating with two of our English teachers to co-design and co-teach research and content creation for digital research projects.   Susan Lester (10th Honors World American Literature/Composition) and I began our project about three weeks ago (read more in this blog post), and I’ll be working with John Bradford (11th Honors American Literature/Composition) as of Tuesday for the next month or so on his twist on the project (more details coming soon).  In both of our collaborative projects, we felt our students were not quite ready  in terms of skill sets or prior learning experiences to completely open up the possibilities for a digital research “paper” or project although students do have creative latitude in choosing and designing their multigenre elements that will be integrated into the wiki based “text”; students also have the option to integrate multimedia into each section of their wikified “papers”.

In both of these learning partnerships, the three of us  felt torn in wanting to open up the options and not setting up students for utter frustration (to the point many would completely shut down) in terms of combining two advanced skill sets (new research skills and content are being introduced); for many of our students in these sections, previous negative encounters with technology as a learning tool have left them a little tentative, so we wanted to find a happy medium of challenging them without completely overwhelming them.  We are all looking forward to seeing what kind of creativity and depth the students infuse into their projects, and hopefully, this group will be ready come August to take the next leap and embrace more freedom in choosing their mediums!

Inspiration: “My Head’s On Fire Generating Ideas” by Jim Burke

Check out Jim Burke’s slidedeck for what had to have been an incredibly inspiring and thought-provoking presentation to the Michigan Reading Association on strategies for getting students to think in his high school English classroom (and I think they are applicable in any subject area).    In this slidedeck you’ll see familiar as well as inventive strategies for creating conversations for learning with students.

I’ve been a fan of Burke’s for many years (I think everyone who has taught high school English in the last decade or so is a fan), and it is exciting to follow him and be inspired by his work through social media.  You can follow him on Twitter, his blog, or through the wonderful English Companion Ning; I also love his “Weekly Reader” digital anthology. Additionally, I recommend his book, What’s the Big Idea?  Question Driven Units to Motivate Reading, Writing, and Thinking, for your personal and/or school professional collection.

As I’ve been pondering the intersection of collaboratively written research papers and multigenre projects for Spring 2011, a discussion thread initiated by Burke about his exploration of possibilities for digital essays has had me ruminating in recent weeks on ideas for digital research “papers” or “texts” (hint:  I’m using these terms in a broader context outside the traditional concepts associated with these words)  for this spring; I will be sharing my ideas a little later this week here on the blog.