Digital Writing Marathon: The Planning Process
For implementation of our Digital Writing Marathon in the summer, planning begins in April. Recruiting of participants and facilitators take place through e-mail list-serves and on the DWP website. Graduate credit is offered to participants (with credit fees) and registration fees and text purchasing are required. These would not be a necessity to run the marathon, but they open options for teachers and allow for financial supplement to fund the marathon with paid facilitators.
Facilitators are designated and meetings take place in the “home” site. In its first year of implementation, the Writing Marathon took place in Tapped In. The Digital Writing Sandbox now uses NWP’s Connect site as its hub. Discussions surround our choice of environments and organizing the experiences of the participants. Duties are divided among the four facilitators—tutorial responsibilities, facilitator duties and schedules, assistant facilitator duties and schedules, and communication with participants. Throughout the process, open communication takes place between facilitators—editing tutorials, observations about the process and participants, and troubleshooting for problems and snags that arose.
To stay true to the mission of enhancing the teaching of writing, the site and assignment surrounding it needs to keep writing at the center. The exposure to the site should cultivate ideas and brainstorming for future use with students with sensitivity to the ease of student usage and navigation. The environments should be engaging to both the teacher and the student.
Internet service and servers vary from school to school. Experimentation on the part of the facilitators and planners needs to take place before implementation to assist with troubleshooting and foresight in its future use after the marathon experience. The first priority was choosing a “home” environment. As we thought about various websites, we determined that it must have these elements:
- Chat feature—for weekly meetings.
- Discussion thread—for reflection and ongoing conversations
Without a face-to-face meeting, a chat becomes the class discussion. With this experience’s focus on writing, a chat is a very appropriate way to communicate with the class about teaching writing. The discussion threads not only supplement the weekly chats and assigned readings, but also build the community of the class. As the teachers use the technology, thoughts and ideas inspire deeper conversations that can sometimes be limited in the focused chats.
As we have gained more experience with the process, we have come to rely on a few other features because of the ease it lends to the weekly chats and assignments. However, with extra planning from the facilitators’ end and preparation on the part of the participants, a site could function without these if there were no other options or issues arose with the functional side of the site:
- A tool to project documents or text–for agenda & protocols; participants can post their reflective sentences before the discussions around those statements begin.
- Link sharing—for easy navigation between the home site and the other environments.
- File sharing—to upload tutorials, transcripts and other documents.
Tapped In offers a “Notes” to “feature” on the home page. This was used to project the chat’s protocol. There is also a “Whiteboard” that can be used for the participants to post their 2-sentence reflections of the week’s assignment. Without these tools in the site, a protocol would either need to be sent to participants and posted in the chat at the beginning of the session, with the facilitator leading the transitions during each spotlighted person’s time of reflection.
Points of Interest
Once the “home” site is chosen, the other tech environments can be chosen and experimented with. Cost efficiency (FREE!) plays a large role is choosing the tools. Past writing marathons have included such experiences as Internet Classroom Assistants (i.e.Nice net), digital storytelling (using iMovie or MovieMaker), podcasting, del.ici.ous, wikis, and weblogs (blogs).
There is a plethora of resources available both on the internet and within the software of our computers. We wanted to make sure that we could represent as much variety in our choices as we could. Using our experiences from previous digital writing marathons, we tried to include resources and tools that represented these categories:
- Digital storytelling—VoiceThread offers a non-traditional experience.
- Online classrooms—TappedIn has a K-12 feature for teachers to use with their students.
- Collaborative writing—GoogleDocs embraces collaboration in its documents.
- Discusson threads—TappedIn, VoiceThread and Diigo offered these options.
- Research tool & website collection resource—Diigo also offered bookmarking and note-taking
- Information presentation—VoiceThread, Glogster, and Prezi provided different views and tools for various purposes.
There are other resources available online that list a collection of tools for writing in digital spaces. Links are listed on the bottom of this page.
Tutorials for the participants are written. It is important that the facilitators experiment with the sites themselves as they work through the process. We have found the following to help with the process:
- Write your tutorial from the perspective and mindset of a beginner—start from scratch.
- Add screen shots and visuals.
- Anticipate the problems that will arise—research comments others have made about the challenges—work with colleagues. Have a “back door” way of accessing the technology, if possible.
- Collaborate whenever possible.
- Write in a step-by-step format with clear, concise directions.
- Test the tutorial before implementation with the participants.