Digital Writing Marathon: Keeping Teachers Connected in a Rural State
“With the advent of Web 2.0 tools, cell phones and a social networking phenomenon, writing has become a part of the adolescent growth experience in ways that it never has been in the past…Communicating in the 21st century inevitably leads to writing—writing text messages, writing instant messages, writing e-mail messages, writing in Web spaces like wikis and blogs. Writing is how teens communicate, not only with friends in their area but with teens across the world” (Stephens & Ballast, 2010, xiii).
As writing moves into the digital realms, professional development and collaboration are following quickly behind. Teachers face both challenges of space and time–proximity to one another for support from fellow teachers and the time crunch that every teacher faces when seeking ways to implement new ideas. From July of 2010 to May 2011, Dakota Writing Project teacher-consultants led two different cohorts of elementary and secondary teachers through an “open” digital writing marathon experience. Since it’s first year of implementation, DWP has made it an annual event.
The “Runners” and the “Route”
The first cohort was composed of eight teachers from South Dakota and two teachers from Iowa. It was the teachers’ first experience with National Writing Project. For four weeks, participants were exposed to various digital writing environments and read the anchor text Using Technology to Improve Adolescent Writing (Stephens & Ballast, 2011). They posted reflections of their experiences and readings each week in the discussion area of TappedIn.org and conducted live chats with their fellow participants, discussing the week’s environment.
During September of 2010, the second cohort began its first leg’s experiences in conjunction with other professional development offered by South Dakota’s Region 3 Education Service Agency (ESA).
The first leg exposed the participants to TappedIn, Diigo, and VoiceThread. Tapped In is an environment that offers synchronous and asynchronous discussion, link-sharing, and file uploading/storage. Diigo offers social bookmarking, discussions, and online highlighting and commenting. VoiceThread, another online tool, allows for document, image, and video uploading for presentation sharing and commenting.
The second leg of both cohorts’ marathon was in January of 2011. Participants experimented with GoogleDocs, Glogster, and Prezi. GoogleDocs, an online writing tool, has the collaboration of writing at its heart. An online, interactive poster of images, text, video, and sound spotlights Glogster and presentations come alive through Prezi’s elements.
The participants implemented lessons relative to the experiences and readings into their own classrooms for both first and second semesters. At the end of May, the public participants shared their experiences in a Prezi presentation.
The goal of the endeavor was to expose more teachers to using technology to teach writing and to find new avenues of teaching writing to their population of students. Through the text and the hands-on experiences throughout the year, the teachers’ repertoire of writing tools grew—along with their confidence in using those tools in their teaching. Following the first leg of the Marathon, a participant commented, “I have enjoyed the synchronous chats on Tapped In. The assignments to investigate the various technology environments has been good for me. I look forward to implementing the lesson I created, as well as hearing from my classmates about the success of theirs. So far, it’s been a great class.”
Ultimately, the experience sought to widen the community of who our colleagues in the profession of teaching really are—to implement NWP’s philosophy of “teachers teaching teachers.” Through conversations and collaboration throughout the process, teachers grew in their trust of one another and have come to rely on each other for input, advice, and support. Another participant stated, “I have really enjoyed the class! I have been impressed with the level of sophistication of my classmates, the caliber of the teachers (and how helpful they are), and how useful the material will be in my classroom…”
Visit DWP’s website to find out how to participate in the Digital Writing Sandbox.