Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Digital Is... Resource Development Retreat: Thoughts on Why I Was There

Karen Chichester (EMWP Technology Liaison)

In January, I was one of fifteen educators from across the country that was invited to attend the National Writing Project’s Digital Literacies Resource Development Retreat at the Purple Sage Ranch about an hour west of San Antonio, TX. During my three days there I met some amazing people, each of whom had a personal story to tell about how technology has affected their teaching practice. Our task was to take our personal stories and craft them into pieces for the Digital Is.. website.

Digital Is... is not a “how-to” site nor is a list of tools. It is a place for anyone to tell his or her story about technology and teaching. It is also a place for discussion about those stories. It is also a place when a reader can see how technology is used in real classrooms at all levels. It’s a place to help jumpstart conversations and thinking about the digital world and how we as educators begin and continue our journey in this new media environment.

As I sat there that first night, I wondered what kind of stories these other people came to tell. I discovered each one had a different story. For example, Meenoo Rami, Philadelphia Writing Project, was there to tell how she uses Twitter for professional development and how she started #engchat, a weekly chat for English Teachers on Twitter. Steve J. Moore, Kansas City Writing Project, wrote about how he blogged every day of his first year of teaching. Lacy Manship, University of North Carolina-Charlotte Writing Project, was there to tell how having her first grade students document what occurs in her classroom each day using a Flip video camera. Joe Wood, Area 3 Writing Project (UC-Davis), wrote about how he got started with technology and about using Google Earth to tell stories. These are just a sampling. Believe me when I say there are many more.

I was there to write about my challenge of using Google Docs and text-to-speech to engage my students in writing. I thought this would be an easy task since I have been telling different versions of this story at conferences and it was the basis of my demonstration lesson last summer. While my critique group gave me many insights into my piece, I found the ongoing collaboration with others both with me in Texas and from my digital professional learning network to be most helpful. Following my podcasting partner Joe Wood’s lead, I tweeted out a link to the Google Doc I was creating. (Earlier, Joe and I had moved to different locations at the ranch.) We began to converse over Twitter and on our documents as we wrote. Shortly, Steve Moore, who was sitting across the room, chimed in, quickly followed by a friend of mine in Michigan and a superintendent in Virginia. In effect they were watching over my shoulder and commenting as I wrote.

It quickly dawned on me that I was experiencing the process that I use with my students from the writer’s perspective. That in and of itself, gave me a greater understanding of why my process worked so well. That immediate feedback is empowering and has a much greater impact on my piece than any comments that would have been written on a printed draft.

Wow. This was why I was there. Despite my appointed task, I was there to learn more about myself as a teacher, a learner, and a writer. This epiphany was reinforced at every meal where we discussed teaching and education. These colleagues became my friends, mentors, and Words with Friends opponents. This three day experience changed my view of myself and my profession more that I can say.

This what NWP, EMWP, and Digital Is... are really about. They provide a context for our learning, support for our professional development, and supportive colleagues who will hold your hand as you grow as a person. Most importantly, they provide new ideas and open up a world outside of your school. If you ever have the chance to attend a NWP retreat, go. It may affect your view of yourself more than you could possibly guess.

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