Thursday, June 28, 2012

The cards are stacked in favor for the first Global Writing Project Summer Institute

It’s a picture perfect setting for the first day of class.  The grass is green the sky is blue, the weather is perfect and the floating stack of playing cards make great seats.  No I’m not imaging things, it’s true. The Global Writing Project (GWP) Summer Institute really has floating cards as seats.  How is this possible you might ask? Well, The GWP Summer Institute is located in a 3D immersive environment known as Second Life.  Peggy Marconi, associate direct of the Oregon Writing Project at the University of Oregon, had an idea to counter the federal budget cuts for professional development of educators in the US.  Armed with a team of experts in literary arts, technology and 3D immersive environments, Peggy opened up this idea to all educators from around the globe.

 On June 25th 2012, the first ever literary arts professional development summer institute in Second Life began.  Classmates gathered from different corners of the world including, Lagos Nigeria, Rodos Greece, Washington DC and Oregon USA.   The first day consisted of an overview to the class, interactive lessons on using the 3D space, professional photo shoot for all participants (aka avatars) and meeting fellow classmates.  It was a full morning of adjusting to a totally new and exciting environment.  Reflecting on her first day in the GWP Summer Institute, Anastasia Bekou, an English Teacher in Greece, noted that the experience “was exciting!”

The second day had some technical difficulties.  The voice chat feature wasn’t working, but it didn’t stop the participants from effectively engaging through the chat box with presenters and fellow classmates.  The topics presented ranged from “Setting Web Preferences” to “Using art as inspiration to write in the middle grades” and provoked interesting discussions.  

Regardless of the learning curve or technical difficulties, one thing is for sure. Everyone is excited to see what happens with this new approach to educational professional development and the global connections that ensue.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Project DIRECT at AERA

On April 16th 2012 in Vancouver BC, the paper "Rural Educators in the 21st Century: Using Evidence-based Practices with Communication Technologies" was presented at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in the poster session of Division C - Learning and Instruction/Section 7: Technology Research. Alongside my co-author Lynne Anderson-Inman, we answered a stream of questions about the uniqueness of Project DIRECT to interested scholars from around the nation. One passerby, whom also works in professional development, expressed such an appreciation for the project he will be joining us in Second Life as a guest to witness this magic in action. One thing was quite evident at AERA this year,  there is a push for more innovative means of professional development and Project DIRECT is among a handful of initiatives leading the way.  If you or anyone you know is interested in visiting Project DIRECT in Second Life, please be our guest. For an invitation simply send an email to

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why Twitter?

Twitter is undoubtedly a hot topic and has probably hit your digital palette at least once in the last year. However, there is a bit of a learning curve and this can be reason enough to put off one of the most powerful social media tools on the market. This quick overview and tutorial will hopefully peak your interest and encourage you to spread your twitter wings and fly...up, up and over that tiny learning curve.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Emerald Empire Reading Council and ORA's Winter Institute

A reminder about the EERC’s Writing Workshop program on January 9 from 4–6 at the Lane ESD.

Can there be more to writing than the traits and assessment? We think so! We will explore some other aspects of writing such as the importance of motivation, choice, audience, and purpose. We will look at some writing categories proposed by Ralph Fletcher in What a Writer Needs and some others from Jeff Anderson’s new book, 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know as well as explore Katie Wood Ray’s idea of close study. There is no charge for the workshop but registration would be appreciated. Questions? Reply to this message. To register, just reply to this message to say you will attend.

Don’t miss an opportunity to hear nationally acclaimed experts in the field of teaching writing and teaching adolescents at the ORA Winter Institute, February 10 and 11 in Portland at the Crowne Plaza hotel. On Friday, Katie Wood Ray will present to K-5 teachers about writing while Kylene Beers and Bob Probst will share their expertise with working with adolescents. On Saturday attendees will learn about the Common Core State Standards from Penny Plavala and then choose from a number of break-out sessions by Northwest educators and consultants:

Morning sessions:
Barbara Swanson Sanders: Best New Books to Enrich Your Curriculum (K-5)
Mary Palmer Nowland: Authentic Conversations about Writing (K-6)
Mindy Larson and Donna Kalmbach: Effective Writing Conferences in the CCSS Classroom (4-8)
Sue Lenski: What RTI Means for Content Area Teachers

Afternoon sessions:
Robert Young: Light the Fire with Nonfiction (K-5)
Carol Laritzen: Meet the CCSS Literacy Requirements in Science with Reading and Writing (2-8)
Barbara Swanson Sanders: Best New Books to Enrich Your Curriculum (6-12)
Betty Shoemaker: Read Like a Reader, Read Like a Writer: What’s the Difference? (6-12)

To register, visit

Monday, November 28, 2011

Presenting on Digital Storytelling in Second Life by Mickey Stellavato

When approached to give a presentation on Digital Storytelling in the immersive world of Second Life, my first reaction was “Uh, I’m not sure about that…” I, like many others I’m sure, had an uncomfortable first-response to the idea of “presenting” through an avatar on something I’m quite passionate about, rather than in the first-person. It was, however, a paying gig, and as a graduate student with children, that was a welcomed offering. And, besides, it was something new and I have a predisposition for trying new things at least once.

As directed, I downloaded the Second Life program to my laptop, and with the help of Alina Padilla-Miller—Project Direct techie academic extraordinaire—I created my first SL avatar, trying to shape the body as closely to my own as possible. For some reason I had this idea that by “presenting” myself in Second Life as close to my real self as possible, I would somehow be more “truthful” or “authentic” (both very contested terms in my fields of anthropology/folklore/communication). I realize now in hindsight, I should have chosen the golden robot and called it a day, as a few of the “attendees” to my presentation were wild and wacky versions of themselves. One “man,” (it could have been a woman in the “real” world) was wearing a top hat and tails, while s/he periodically sipped on a glass of champagne. One’s physical choices are, however, limited—in particular, I was uncomfortable with the required use of make-up in the female avatars. It was impossible to find one that did not have at least some make-up on its face and, needless-to-say, this blatant male programming “error” pushed my feminist buttons. Moreover, I ended up raiding the “male” closet for clothes that were more to my liking and personality, and eventually created a person I was at least somewhat comfortable.

As the 7:00 presentation drew closer, I watched people appear in the designated “classroom,” a large grass plateau on an island somewhere in the world of Second Life. People, mostly educators from around Oregon, sat on large stone circles and I stood in front of a large screen that would become the location for my PowerPoint presentation. As I began, I was surprised by how easy it was to talk to people I couldn’t see or hear, although they could hear me and I saw their responses through a chat window. In fact, I enjoyed the environment of open dialogue between myself and those attending. Rather than wait for me to finish completely, as is often the case in presentations, as issues or ideas came up, people “spoke” out, asking questions and making personal observations, thus creating an interactive discussion that was quite a bit like a conversation in the “real world.” With the help of Padilla-Miller, I was able to have them go to a particular website in order to view a digital story and then we would briefly discuss it back in our classroom. Functionally, this process is quite simple, although working out certain glitches, for example the embedding of video directly in a SL presentation, would keep everyone at the same pace. Otherwise, I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of the process itself. I have no doubt that anyone could learn to run all the technological aspects of an interactive presentation in very little time.

Most importantly, and perhaps more specifically, are the possibilities this process allows for educators, students, activists, and advocates. Having worked with youth who are trauma survivors, I have heard participants state that digital storytelling is a liberating process for them because they could say things in their stories “they couldn’t say face to face;” immersive environments potentially afford the same kinds of freedom from judgment. It also allows for people from all over the world to work together, using digital tools at the cost of an Internet connection. Although other programs such as Google Chat or Skype allow for a similar gathering, I find that being freed of the physical allows for more focus on the task at hand, in this case, sharing important information about the process of digital storytelling with youth in a time of unprecedented funding cuts and limited processes of personal expression. And who doesn’t like the idea of presenting to a global audience in your pajamas?

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Reflection of Project DIRECT by Rebecca Toews

My name is Rebecca Toews, and I am a “newbie.”

While this statement is true in many parts of my life, in this context, I recently had the opportunity to join two dozen rural educators while they were introduced or re-introduced to one another in a virtual world known as Second Life. The teachers who attended Project DIRECT’s weekend workshop in Medford last weekend prove daily that they are ready and able to use technology in their classrooms and in their own continuing education. #wearelivinginthefuture.

Most of the teachers in the room were not from large or wealthy districts; they came together from rural districts where resources and time to learn new techniques are often not supported by the bottom line. I grew up in one of those districts, in a small town in southeastern Minnesota-- and coming from a household of two teachers I heard the frustrations of the rural schoolteacher often. But this program effectively alleviates some of those concerns and is bringing teachers together virtually for support and learning.

As a graduate student in the Communication & Society program at the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon, I felt honored to be learning from, and with, these amazing people. Many of the teachers had been working together virtually through Second Life for the past year, many were coming to the virtual world as “newbies” but all seemed excited to be part of the program.

As I sat watching one duo at the workshop demonstrate how they use multimedia tools to help students create high-tech presentations and video projects, I realized how far we have come and how much farther we need to go. In their tech-friendly classrooms, these teachers harness the technology1 our “digital native” children already are interested in and many are already using. Another educator demonstrated how he uses an open-source course management program2 to engage students in their own online learning classes-- a fascinating way educators can connect to their students outside of the classroom as well as within it!

At the SOJC we train undergraduate students to be effective journalists and engaging storytellers. We do this not simply to introduce the newest bells and whistles that are available, but because these tools add to what the student is trying to convey to her or his audience. In the K-12 classroom the same is true. Students can create innovative projects that enhance their classrooms and reinforce the core curriculum.

Now as I contemplate pursuing my own future as an educator I am a little more confident that there are some people on the right path, a progressive one that involves technology instead of shrinking from it or being fearful of it. Classrooms these days are alive-- or at least they can be.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Project DIRECT workshop 2011

This small photo essay is a quick recap of what happened this weekend at Project DIRECT's workshop in Medford Oregon.  It was rich, welcoming and overall just a fantastic experience for all that came.  I will be writing and sharing more soon so please stay tuned.