The Invitation of Space

While at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting’s General Session, I wrote about my initial experiences with the NWP. Donalyn Miller was on our minds as we, a group of 1,300 or so teacher-consultants, considered how we moved from silence to whispering. Here’s what my pen did:

I love paper with no lines, so it’s strange I own a giant leather-bound journal full of them. The blank page is intimidating in a lot of ways, but it can be freeing too. I see the opportunity to write in whatever font size I want to on blank paper. If I’m feeling a bit empty, I can write in BOLD ARIAL 20 CAPS LOCK, but if I hit a stride of wordiness I can sink into a more timid 10 point Times. The space and my words are married in whatever way I design in the moment. They are awkward partners at times, I’ll admit, but they are stuck together.

There are no lines in the National Writing Project, only the invitation of space waiting to be filled by whatever I’m able to bring. That kind of environment can sustain an entirely different sort of ecology than a fancy journal with lines and filigrees at each footer. The distance between writing and editing, of teaching, learning, and failing are all mitigated by the space in which they occur.

Podcasting is a Cinch!

Ever considered podcasting, but thought it was too involved? Too technical? Too much work? I’m here to tell you that it’s a Cinch.

It was only in February that I learned of this service from Thomas Maerke, Casey Daugherty, and Keri Franklin of the Ozarks Writing Project.

I couldn’t find the original tweets, but I have the audio I first heard:

As it is with most good things in education, they were taught to us by someone else!

Using Cinch online is fairly simple if you’ve got a mic and an internet connection. Sign in using your Twitter or Facebook accounts per the directions on the site or create a cinch user name for free. I have been using the iPhone app as well (lower left).

Starting a Cinch podcast using the iPhone app is pretty darn easy. Here’s what you need to do after you download the free app and launch it:

The first thing you’ll see is a recording screen like this with a text box, picture square, publish button, and friendly recording controls at the bottom.

Once you click “record” you’ll see the audio levels in the mic picture.

You have the option to pause/resume while recording, which is nice. Below is an embedded version of my short test message (being recorded in the picture above)

After you hit the publish button you’ll see another screen with some choices to upload/share on Facebook/Twitter as well.

If you don’t have either Twitter or Facebook selected, then it will only publish to, so you have it backed up there (in either a private or public album) in case you want to edit or re-record it before you do any sharing. While you’re uploading, the app goes to a pending screen where you can track the progress. The largest recording I’ve uploaded was 8 minutes long or so, I’m not certain if there is a limit.

When you’ve gotten the file uploaded then you can listen on your phone or go online and you’ll see this:

You can download, link to, or embed your audio from there! See, podcasting and audio sharing is a cinch!

Finding the New Me(dia) in Composing


I spent this past weekend with an intimidatingly credentialed group of educators (I believe I was the only one without a PhD in progress). Writing Center directors, Composition program directors, professors and teachers of all variety in the greater scope.

This incredible workshop was sponsored by the University of Missouri-Kansas City, who played host to teacher, programmer, designer, and writer Anne Wysocki of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her talents and expertise helped us cultivate a series of conversations about Digital New Media Composition.

As an animator and former Apple designer, her strong background in understanding the experience of “text” created a unique opportunity to look at the craft of teaching writing from a new angle. I tagged our session on Twitter as #Wysocki.

I took so many notes, I haven’t hardly had the time to go back through them and process! Working Creatively With Digital New Media Texts was the workshop’s title, and it led us to explore many exciting places in composition, instruction, and design.

Defining “New Media” was first on the agenda. Anne talked with us about “periods of time where people are more alert to the immateriality of ‘text.'” Right away I was excited to dig into the philosophical nature of what it means to compose.

New media texts pay attention to their own materiality. They don’t give up the responsibility of their shape to another authority. The tools (like Prezi) that divorce the space a text exists in from what the text does are truly new mediums. New media composition should make you consider and value the process and space of your composition. If you’ve used it, you know that Prezi’s space is very different than what pen & paper afford you.

My favorite new buzz word from the weekend was “Remediation.” No, not that “remediation” but “ReMediation.” The putting of something into a new medium. Previously, I would have just called this a mashup or remix. This is one of the skills I want my students to showcase as a digital literacy. Their skills as readers, writers, and thinkers hinge on new tasks like this. They want to remix YouTube videos, do digital versions of scenes from books, and make fresh what they’ve experienced as flat.

By far, the most fun part of the weekend workshop was when we were turned loose with an hour to work within our new context for composition. We were just allowed to play, to tinker, and to proudly create very sloppy “re-mediations” of our ideas. It was wonderful to see a room full of writers, teachers, and professors working with a new tool (to most): Prezi. This is the kind of practice I want to encourage in my classroom, a sort of turning-loose of the curious explorer in each of us.

In a perfect world where I had more than an hour, I would have written a poem about my word (I chose to use one word as a peg and then find Flickr images to fit it) ennui and then used the composition space on Prezi to craft a multi-modal tour of global images tagged with the term from the creative commons. I would have coordinated more interrelated series of pictures so the poem could have be explored in stations in the digital space, rather than using dis-conjointed photos (which worked decently). I would have mixed and edited a score for the Prezi and been more intentional about my audio and visual palate of tone and color. I got to try a little bit of this with my black & white wheel of images using no text and the Deathcab for Cutie song. Maybe I would have put the song lyrics or chorus in parts on each image too. Here’s what I came up with during our time (this is after I tinkered with it all day too):

.prezi-player { width: 550px; } .prezi-player-links { text-align: center; }

Anne’s workshop left me with this big question: What are the conventions for “reading” your text? Is it intuitive? Does your composition take into consideration how the “reading” will take place? Using new media involves setting up an atmosphere where writing and text has to be designed (not done). Composition is not a singular, static, & set act, but a dynamic, divergent, and dialogical device for exploration. Incubate your ideas and compose within the bounds of the medium, whether that is Flash, HTML, transparent text, or something like Prezi. Use the medium to build in opportunities for invention and innovation to crop up on their own outside of your design.

As far as educators are concerned, digital new media offer an environment whose scope permits exponentially more points of entry that immediately validate and encourage engagement with learning spontaneously. Prezi allows for such composition, making differentiation more possible and fluid than ever before.