Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Retreating: In and Out of Cyberspace
Bill Tucker

The 2010 Retreat of the National Writing Projects of Michigan had a digital and a network presence unlike any meeting in my experience. It began on a wiki, it developed in concurrent meetings, wiki discussions, and tweets flitting across the twin auditorium screens, and it concluded with the launching of new interest groups for the coming year: the Holocaust Educators, the WIDEPATHS Network and the Michigan Portfolios Network. In some ways it felt fragmented and in others very personal.

Attending from the Eastern Michigan Writing Project were Karen Chichester, Nick Kalakailo, Kim Pavlock, Barb Webster, Judy Wycoff, and Bill Tucker.

A visionary keynote by MSU Professor Danielle DeVoss helped us define what digital literacy is: networked, collaborative, multimodal, re-mediated, re-mixed, policed, critically engaging, and democratic. Her introduction also foreshadowed an important book from the National Writing Project coming out in October: Because Digital Literacy Matters. DeVoss is one of the co-authors, along with Chippewa River Writing Project’s Troy Hicks and the NWP Co-director Elyse Eidman-Adahl.

The subsequent two days of the Retreat gave teachers the chance to meet with interest groups (e,g. summer institute, summer writing camps, web presence) to compare notes and learn from other sites. One evening we launched a Writing Marathon from a cafe in Mount Pleasant. One morning we spent studying the Continued Funding Applications of other sites to see new possibilities for our own.

Looking forward, we saw opportunities to engage in specific projects that might become statewide institutes in the summer of 2011. First, the Holocaust Educators’ Network, which is a national K-12 network exploring the dimensions of social justice in schools (contact Charbaugh). Then WIDEPATHS, the digital literacy inquiry group that first met in 2009 and plans to build on that work in 2011. And the Michigan Portfolio Network, which is mostly a web site at the moment. But the hope of this network is to promote authentic assessment of writing, by compiling benchmark work at all grades in all genres and to sponsor conversation about writing assessment at the state level.

The problem with the digital environment is you’re never sure where your attention should be—on the screen, on your computer, on the speaker, on the respondents in the audience. Remarkably, though, you always have a chance to recapture what you might have missed, because the Retreat Wiki, with its notes and documentation is always there at http://nwpmichigan.wikispaces.com/NWPM_Retreat_2010. Check it out.

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