August 22, 2011

“Digital Is” Website Accelerates Teacher-to-Teacher Learning and Collaboration

Category: Educational Practice
Digital Is graphic of words describing meaning

Over the course of four days earlier this summer at a lush retreat in Seattle, I had the opportunity to write and engage with some of the most exciting teachers I’ve been able to interact with in my career. Aside from the fact that I spent most of the day typing up notes on my iPad, the lush environment was a perfect retreat for allowing me to reflect thoughtfully on what practices had contributed most to my students’ writing practices over the past year. And the best thing about this opportunity to write while being surrounded by brilliant minds and abundant nature was that the focus was on the role of digital tools in guiding student writing. The retreat was hosted by the National Writing Project, and I was there to collaborate for a site called Digital Is.

Recently, Global Kids’ Barry Joseph mentioned the National Writing Project’s “Digital Is” website as a space “to build a community amongst educators exploring how the digital age is changing how we write, share, collaborate, publish and participate in the digital age.”

For me, Digital Is has been difficult to describe. It’s kind of an online social space – the comments, feedback, and dialogue I receive from participating challenge me and help guide my teaching pedagogy. It’s kind of a professional development service – the work on the site is the kind of authentic, meaningful information that is usually lacking in the after-school meetings my teaching colleagues and I are required to sit through weekly. It’s kind of a depository of lesson plans – the work on the site is shared openly.

At its heart, Digital Is embodies the potential of what happens when teachers get to teach teachers. Through discussion, soliciting feedback on lessons and teaching practices, and curation of highlighted work, Digital Is takes the work teachers are doing with their students and makes it accessible for anyone.

Advocating for Teacher Professionalization in Digital Age

If it is not entirely clear by now, I’m kind of a big fan of Digital Is. Yes, I contribute to the website, but I think what I’m most excited about is the way a space like this allows teachers to help shape the discussion of digital tools in the classroom and how they inform our pedagogy; it is a site that naturally elevates the teaching profession in a time when popular media focuses on blaming teachers. The site places the onus of responsibility on teachers to engage in a conversation of what digital means to traditional classrooms; it is a conversation they are frequently excluded from.

Over the course of the four days I was in Seattle, I spoke with teachers that were sharing their work utilizing Google Docs, Multimodal assessment, Scratch, and motivating boy writers. Some of the projects I saw other teachers working on, including a yearlong inquiry taking place in a Detroit public school were often jaw dropping:

NWP Resource-Poem from D Filipiak on Vimeo.

The work I see these other teachers doing acts as testament to what quality educators can do when they are empowered and inspired by their students. And Digital Is passes this enthusiasm along to a larger population of educators. I can’t help but get excited when I begin showing the possibilities of curriculum that are revealed in this space.

While at the conference, I spent a bit of time thinking through initial ways that Google Plus can be applied to classroom spaces. I also focused a large amount of time thinking through the potential of Geocaching and QR codes to create offline hacking experiences for students – I’m still writing about this work and the feedback I took from the retreat was invaluable.

What’s interesting about being a contributor and member of Digital Is (which is free, by the way) is that the process of contributing to the space looks a whole lot like the ol’ fashioned writing process: there is focus on thinking through purpose, audience, receiving feedback, and revising work to share to others. By contributing to this professional space, teachers emulate the kinds of practices we’re aiming to guide our students to adopt while also contributing to the growing body of knowledge trying to figure out how to move writing into the digital space of the twenty-first century.

Abundance of Resources

While I mentioned earlier that the site is a depository of other teacher’s lessons or ideas about teaching, I want to make sure that I emphasize that this site is not about simply copying lesson plans of successful teachers. In helping highlight others’ work, the site is shaping teacher pedagogy–updating it for future educators. Digital Is is also helping shape a growing understanding of literacy practices as they are embodied by young people today. Collections – curated by certain members on the site – allow individual lesson plans by teachers to be collected together in to expansive examples that survey bigger ideas in teaching and writing. Recent collections create conversations around the potential of digital tools for social change, utilizing participatory media, and engaging young children with digital media.

In an earlier post on DMLcentral, I discussed the need for researchers to work in formal learning environments. Later on, I wrote about why the phrase “new media” was problematic for traditional education settings. In many ways, Digital Is acts as an ideal response to these concerns; because the platform is open for anyone interested to join and contribute, I am hoping that DMLcentral readers will check out what’s happening at Digital Is. In fact, as my last blog post called for an ongoing discussion about the expanding understanding of multiliteracies, I intend to continue this conversation through Digital Is with the long-term goal of spinning off explicit curricular content that can demonstrate multiliteracies curriculum that teachers are currently creating.

If you’re a teacher, there’s plenty of work that is being shared over there that you will be interested in. If you are not a teacher, your feedback and insight is valuable – there is an entire community of teachers at Digital Is that would love to get your thoughts about participatory media practices and how they shape our day-to-day instructional practices.

Banner image credit: Digital Is website tag cloud