Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ephemerality: Digital Learning Strategies

Alas, poor xTraNormal, I knew you. A web tool of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.

Except you were finite. And now you’re gone.

I wrote about how awesome xTraNormal was in my new book, Digital Learning Strategies: How Do I Assign and Assess Digital Work, and then discovered, with horror, that the web tool had dried up just as I submitted the manuscript. The book came out touting the wonders of making movies just by scripting the actors textually and now it’s done for.

This blog post is meant to serve two purposes. One, the disappearance of the web tool underscores how important the task is versus the tool, and two, to offer some alternatives to xTraNormal that teachers can use.

The whole point of using a web tool like xTraNormal is to engage kids in writing, specifically writing dialogue, being able to tell a complete story while navigating conventions, grammar, figurative language and powerful vocabulary. Oh, and also to have fun doing it. Writing was the objective, and xTraNormal provided an engaging way to do it.

In the book, I wrote about xTraNormal as a brain-based application that provided a visualization of the writing. Students wrote, yes, but they also controlled (Strategic and capable use of technology and digital media, yo!) options for characters, settings, character movement, etc. Here’s an example of what it looked like from an xTraNormal video shared on Youtube:

In this example, the creator actually integrates several content pieces to create the video; there’s the historical characters that were chosen as well as the discussion of balancing equations in both mathematics and chemistry. How well would a kid have to understand the content to be able to create something like this? How awesome would it be for kids to create a bunch of these to solicit feedback about revisions or misconceptions? What changes in instruction and assessment when these digital creations are touted as viable products of value that demonstrate deep levels of learning? Also of note here: this is a new version of content area literacy - writing in a content area using domain specific vocabulary with tools of the 21st Century.

Perhaps you’re beginning to see why I think it’s such a travesty that the tool is dried up.

So, to recap, the task matters more than the tool, but in this case, the tool was a pretty cool one. Note that I’m advocating for the writing here, but I have to be mindful of engagement with the kids. In terms of that engagement and to add some new tools to your digital toolboxes, I’d like to point you toward the following posts/resources that deal specifically with alternatives to xTraNormal:

Even though it’s gone, this situation is a good reminder that web tools can be ephemeral and like puddles--could be there one day but could be gone the next. It’s never a good idea to over-rely on any one tool. Staying task-focused and pulling from a toolbox of digital opportunities, whatever is available at the time, is where it’s at.

For those that got the book already, consider this an addendum. I’m including the link to the document on so you can download as a PDF and add to your digital device. THE LINK IS HERE.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Film Canon Project

I am so excited to finally be able to share the Film Canon Project from my colleagues Heidi Hayes Jacobs and Frank Baker. (Click the Hyperlink to visit)

This website and the accompanying resources are the culmination of several years of work collecting and curating films that are valued for their timelessness and impact on culture, education, and thinking.

The website release is coinciding with the release of the new book series Contemporary Perspectives on Literacy which includes a book devoted solely to Media Literacy. In the book, Jacobs and Baker explore the role that media, specifically film, plays in the preparation of our children to be ready for college or their chosen career. Their chapter is specifically on designing a film curriculum and analyzing the impact that film has on multi-mediating content, engaging students, and a new platform for deep analysis, discussion, and research.

On the website, you can explore films by grade level, type, and release date. The films include basic information and links to resources through the Internet Movie Database. In some cases, the trailers are linked as well. Visitors to the website can also submit films to the database.

The solid gold piece of this website is in the resources section, where visitors can explore scripts from Oscar-nominated films, gain access to Frank Baker’s considerable resources in his media clearinghouse, and access multiple resources related to film in different eras and in different countries.

One of the reasons I’m so excited about this is because it supports work I’m already doing with teachers, particularly around the Common Core Standards. In the reading standards for literary and informational text, specifically standards for the Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, students are asked to consider multiple types of media to comprehend what they are reading and researching. As students get older, the standards shift from considering multiple types of media to evaluating specific mediums for impact and which are the best to emphasize the story or text. Eventually, students will speculate, with evidence from multiple sources, why a specific representation in a particular media is more effective than other representations.

Additionally, our colleague Allison Zmuda uploaded a blog post about the values that the Netflix company seeks in its employees. The timing of her blog post is awesome, considering that access to film has never been easier thanks to services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. The philosophy that the Netflix company strives for are pretty good philosophies for our students to strive for as well in the classroom.

I encourage you to visit the Film Canon Project and see the types of films that they have curated there and perhaps submit your own suggestions for films to include. As multiple types of media are increasingly available thanks to technology, websites like this one will become more and more important as we seek structure and priorities in the mountain of resources available.