Writing From Models – Even Cooler Than I Thought It Was

Last week, I had a discussion with one of my Digital Journalism 2 students about using a rhetorical question as a lead or nut graph in opinion or feature writing. Generally, I hate the rhetorical question lead.

Why?

Because the answer to the question is the lead, or the nut. But I guess it works sometimes…

Then, I was struck right in my tender opinion that very evening by Pete Wells’ viral, scathing review of Guy Fieri’s Times Square restaurant, written almost entirely as a series of questions:

What exactly about a small salad with four or five miniature croutons makes Guy’s Famous Big Bite Caesar (a) big (b) famous or (c) Guy’s, in any meaningful sense?

Were you struck by how very far from awesome the Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders are? If you hadn’t come up with the recipe yourself, would you ever guess that the shiny tissue of breading that exudes grease onto the plate contains either pretzels or smoked almonds? Did you discern any buttermilk or brine in the white meat, or did you think it tasted like chewy air?

It goes on.

I shared the piece with my student, along with a critical take on media coverage of the Broadwell – Petreaus affair from Hanna Rosin in Slate, in an attempt to expose the role of tone in writing opinion. Needless to say, she got it.

At the same time, I delivered a “challenge,” something I give the kids from time to time in order to guide the learning environment.   It looked like this:

Challenge 2: Some of you are writing, some are doing photography, others video, some graphic design, others marketing; most of you are doing a number of task types. Choose one facet of what you have been or will be doing and find a GURU. Be prepared to share what you find.

  • Dude, What’s a Guru?
  • A Guru in this case is someone who does the task that you are doing or want to be doing – and someone who does it brilliantly! Bring an awesome example to share and discuss.

Some students are looking at PSA videos, others are reading Mike Royko, others looking at Pulitzer Prize winning photo essays. This student decided to mimic the style of Wells’ piece to express her frustration with the SAT. The piece poured out of her, from

“WOW!”

first draft to published in 48 hours. I provided a touch of feedback on organization, leading to a small expansion of two paragraphs. Otherwise, all her. Writing from models is powerful.

I was so impressed with the piece that I tweeted it as an example of writing from models. Within a few hours, someone even favorited the tweet.

It was Pete Wells. The student’s response? “WOW!”

Cool.

Final COETAILS Course Reflection – Creating a RUP & Publishing Policy

Crossposted from ZIS COETAILS Blog

For Course 5, I participated in a group revision and discussion of the ZIS Responsible Use Policy and the corresponding ZIS Publishing Policy via the online platform BasecampThe result of this project is a revised, single RUP for all ZIS divisions and a unified publishing policy, replacing the policy wedded to the RUP and the policy as outlined on the ZIS blogs landing page.

Initially, we were unsure about whether a single RUP or RUP by division made the most sense. Using Basecamp as a tool for sharing documents and discussions, we came to consensus that a single document made the most sense. The RUP may be translated into more “kid friendly” language at the ECC, Lower School, and even Middle School, but the policy will remain the same. Major changes reflect language around COPPA, which now reflects the letter and spirit of this law as a guiding principal behind the RUP. Additionally, the language has been tweaked to place an explicit focus on digital citizenship and media literacy for students and teachers. Additionally, the Lower School representatives were essential in adding student-centered language to this document, which absolutely represents what schools should be doing with technology.

The publishing policy places new importance upon student responsibility for published materials. Uniformly, staff from each division, students, alumni, and parents found the concept of student-owned product sensible and, generally, a given, which I found surprising. Perhaps we are reaching a new point of perspective on information literacy and “21st Century skill” fluency as a learning community in which the default is online authenticity and ownership, especially in academic contexts. Of course, students and families will be able to opt out of open publication or choose a “walled garden” approach in which they publish behind a school firewall (or veil, perhaps). As safety and visual information privacy concerns exist, they should be possible to address and solve on a case-by-case basis.

Course one and two of COETAILS formed the basis of this revision, but course four provided the inspiration for the project: technology’s catalytic effect upon learning. As my Digital Journalism course evolved this year, students grew independently fluent in a wide variety of ways and reflected non-linear learning in online platforms that I never explicitly taught or tangentially mentioned. Students used Instagram to explore if the iPhone could replace an SLR for journalists and gathered information via Reddit; neither of these arose through me. When students are free to explore digital spaces and create personally meaningful publications as they see fit, they will own them. Digital citizenship, like national citizenship, can be learned best through participation – democracy depends upon it. Maybe citizenship isn’t even the correct noun in this context, because we are focused on building skills for participation that shares, that makes, that adds value, that is ethical, that is honest, and that is above all active. At least in America, citizenship has become too often a passive concept. Maybe we need to shape digital leaders in a new, open, and democratic online community, leaders with the skills to resist corporate and government control of their communities.

COETAILS was a great opportunity to geek out, reflect, and learn. I’m proud that I and several COETAILS mates (I’m looking at you, Allens) worked together to create this new policy for ZIS. I look forward to conversations that follow the reworking of this policy (if they happen) and a student-centered technological paradigm at ZIS.

OTM & dana boyd on Internet Age Restrictions, Privacy, & Implications for Schools

Ohhhh, so that’s where the 13-year old concept comes from! When teachers talk about Facebook – and we do, oh yes, we do – the age restriction is always in the background and often the subject of conversation. Cyberbullying in middle school? Solution! The age restriction on Facebook. Does it have the force of law? I always scoffed at the idea, but it actually does in the United States. On The Media‘s current podcast addresses the issue of the age restriction resulting from the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and parental perceptions and decisions around it. I found parental perceptions of the age restriction informative and the implications of privacy violations by the very free web services like Facebook or Gmail that kids are clamoring to use fascinating, particularly in terms of the implications for educators.

When educators speak about privacy concerns, they worry primarily about cyberstalking or cyberbullying – interactions between people, facilitated by technology, that go horribly wrong. However, COPPA isn’t built to protect children from other people, per se, so much as it is built to protect children and their personal information from institutions or corporations. That’s fascinating. This concept is a game changer – privacy is more about protecting children from becoming the products of free online services, sold to advertisers for targeted marketing and come-what-may, than about protecting children in public interactions online.

dana boyd points out, however, that parents have mixed views of the age requirements of Facebook: only 53% of parents reported knowing that Facebook had a minimum age, and 35% of those believed it to be a recommendation rather than a requirement. Only two parents from this group “referenced privacy. Amidst the open–ended responses, the notion of maturity or age appropriateness came up frequently. Some parents highlighted maturity with respect to content; others referenced maturity with respect to safety issues like bullying and strangers” (¶50). In short, most parents who know there is an age restriction view it more like a movie rating than a restriction. Privacy is a slippery concept that is obviously hard to define.

At my school, we are having discussions about the “Responsible Use Policy” and our school publishing policy as we move to more and more student publishing online – e-portfolios in the form of blogs, an online student newspaper, and multimedia publication via Youtube, Soundcloud, and so on. Our policies state that they are “informed by” COPPA, and our focus for protecting children’s privacy should focus on those under 13, generally students in the middle school. Of course, this is not to say that we should be careless with how we handle demographic or personal contact information for anyone, student or otherwise, in our institution. But, as dana boyd points out, a regular approach of law enforcement and others teaching kids about online safety is to suggest lying for safety. She states in this podcast that a large number of kids on Facebook identify their location as Afghanistan or Zimbabwe, because these come first and last in the alphabetical order of countries, respectively. The flip side of this message is that lying gets kids access, as boyd points out. Ironically, it is lying that subjects Facebook and free email providers to the vagaries of COPPA, because they are then automatically holding, mining, and marketing the personal information of children under 13. Students are opting into violations of their privacy through lying in ways that they believe will keep them safe from a threat that may not exist or is, in my opinion, quite overblown.

The implications for teachers are many. First, we should work with kids under 13 to identify the sources of actual threats to their privacy, that they are the products and not the customers of web services like social networks and free email. Second, we should craft an environment and a curriculum for students over 13 that focuses on personal responsibility, honest and ethical participatory citizenship in public communities, and conscious use of the Internet with its myriad tools and sporadic pitfalls. To that end, I have proffered an edited version of our online publishing policy that states the following:

Publishing via the Internet is encouraged at (our school). It is viewed as an effective way for students and faculty to publish their work and ideas to the broader world because it:

  • includes broad representation from all students/groups within (our) school community
  • reflects the academic and social values of the (school) Mission & Philosophy
  • encourages students to produce their best work for publishing through a process of revision and to accurately reflect their developing levels of skills
  • creates an opportunity for students to discover how to be positive, respectful, contributing members of an open community
  • serves as a springboard for peer review, reflection, and collaboration with a global community of learners
  • encourages the conscious development of a positive online presence or “digital footprint” for every child

The US Children‘s Online Privacy Protection Act, while not binding on the school, has informed (our school) guidelines with respect to Internet publishing and privacy. The US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act defines a child this way: “The term “child” means an individual under the age of 13.” As such, we recognize that (our school), in which all students are 13 or older, needs to provide a safe, guided approach to managing online presences or “digital footprints.” The following expectations apply for all members of (our school) community when preparing material for Internet publishing on (our school) Web Site or on external websites for school-related purposes, like blogging, posting media, or collaborating with others.

  • Students are solely responsible for what they choose to publish online.
  • Students publish material online with the understanding that their published content should adhere to academic and/or professional norms and appropriately reflect (our school’s) Mission & Philosophy.
  • No current, specific demographic or contact information will be published which will identify a student, faculty, or staff member (i.e. home address, telephone no., etc.).
  • Personal information regarding faculty or staff members will not be published without prior permission.
  • Online publishing is a public activity, and every effort is made at (our school) by teachers and administrators to teach and model appropriate public behavior in an academic context.
  • Students involved in specific academic activities which use Internet publishing as an integral part of their academic experience (i.e. student newspaper or literary magazine) should understand that their names and/or pictures may be published in relation to work undertaken as part of these activities.
Student Publishing Statement
Content published by students is not intended to be official (school) communication and does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the school. (Our school) is responsible only for official content published through official channels.
Can a change of policy result in any actual changes of procedure, values, or perception? I’m hopeful that a statement of values may be a first step in the right direction. I’d love any and all feedback on these policy ideas, as well.