Kathleen Black Yancey in her recent NCTE report Writing in the 21st Century (pdf) touched a chord for mobile teaching of writing.
Yancey sketches a 19th and 20th century history of writing in America, and mentions the changing spaces of composing, from pen and ink, to pencil, to ballpoint, to typewriter, to stand-alone PC, to networked PC/camera.
Here, she centers on a few observations that take me into mobile learning and mobile learning software.
- Our current model(s) of composing are located largely in print, and it’s a model that culminates in publication. When composers blog as a form of invention or prewriting, rather than as a form of publication (which I did in composing this text: see firstname.lastname@example.org ), what does that do to our print-based model(s) of composing that universally culminate in publication?
- How do we define a composing practice that is interlaced and interwoven with email, text-messaging, and web-browsing? As Mark Poster observes, composing at the screen today isn’t composing alone: it’s composing in the company of others. How does that change our model(s) of composing?
- How does access to the vast amount and kinds of resources on the web alter our model(s)?
Composing is ubiquitous, Yancey claims in a statement designed to redefine the teaching of composing from K – 12 on. And so sites of composing are open for teaching and learning on the fly. But on the fly doesn’t mean without pedagogy. It means that because we can’t control the environment for composing or teaching composing, we need a strong, well-grounded pedagogy
I’m all for saying goodbye to the print-based aims and means of composing, but people are still heavily invested in it. It’s safe, known, bounded, academic. I watch students draft and edit in Word then paste a finished version into the wiki for presentation. They love that grammar checker, spelling checker, and word count; they love that double spacing; they love that paper. They love it because they have developed writing practices suited to paper from working with paper – like interlinear editing – and have yet to become deft at online and networked versions of those practices.
Anyway, a few points for mobile teaching and learning, starting from Yancey:
- Where in a composing process based on paper (the model students bring with them) would a second or third person enter – and how? By IM, txt, email, comment? a look over the shoulder? Where in the process is the trial balloon of posting ideas and chunks to a blog or wiki for feedback from others? What does the text look like at that point? It might be ThreadMode on a wiki, or something less structured, or (yikes) something more structured. (Going to articulated sentences too early in the process make it difficult to rip them down to restructure.)
- What has to be unlearned or challenged as the site of composing changes?
- Look to how txt poetry has been composed for a start, and look to how people compose txts. The other morning, I watched a woman compose and send a 3 line txt msg on her qwerty phone between ordering, paying for, waiting for a coffee. On other mornings, when the coffee line was long, I composed and snapped a pic, annotated it with a note – about waiting in line – and posted it to Brightkite for whoever was looking in. What’s the process engaged there? What’s the exigence?
- Composing goes on between other activites in the same composing space. Even as I compose this blog post, I’m doing some directory maintenance on a server, flipping between composing in ecto and deleting files in Transmit – and still having time on my hands while wait. Not two writing tasks, but two tasks. Walking and chewing gum.
- To teach composing open to mobile learning, we may have to start with writing that stays online, that is not meant for print. Change the ends – the delivery – and the means might have to change.
- Look at the physical, social, and cognitive activities that people engage and draw on when composing in the interlaced social space – composing in the company of others – to develop a model of composing. Start with the environs.
And then consider what a mobile course in 21st century composing might look like.