The quality of content in ACI is due to the rigor of our selection process and to the incredible scholarship and credentials of scholarly bloggers publishing in their fields. Due to this selectivity in content and academic contributions, ACI is proud to highlight exceptional blog authors in order to showcase their work and inspire other authors… and today’s author spotlight is on Dr. Troy Hicks.
Dr. Hicks has a BA in English, an MA in Curriculum and Teaching, and a PhD in Curriculum, Teaching, and Educational Policy from Michigan State University. A professor of literacy and technology at Central Michigan University, he focuses on the teaching of writing, literacy and technology, and teacher education and professional development, including doctoral-level courses on educational technology. Dr. Hicks blogs on these and related topics at Digital Writing, Digital Teaching.
Digital Writing, Digital Teaching
Read on for ACI’s full interview with Dr. Hicks.
You have a BA in English, an MA in Curriculum and Teaching, and a PhD is in Curriculum, Teaching, and Educational Policy. Did you always have a leaning towards education? How did your academic interests come about as your schooling progressed?
My interests have always been centered on education, yes. There was a point in my undergraduate education where I saw an academic advisor and I became an engineering major for, as I recall, about a week. I went to buy the books for class, and I realized that my heart and mind were definitely in English and in education. So, I switched majors back to English and have been there ever since.
The primary driver for my academic interests can be traced back to my work as a writing center consultant during my undergraduate years. By adopting a collaborative, constructivist approach to dialogue with other students, I recognized the ways in which I could help them become or critical readers and skillful writers. Dialogue, thus, became the heart of my teaching practice.
Also, I had opportunity to work at the intersection of literacy and technology because that was the time that all students on campus began getting email addresses and access to their own personal webspace. At the writing center, then, we would help students think about how to create websites — complete with images, links, and media — in addition to the normal responses that we would provide on their academic papers. Thinking about the production of websites from a writing-based perspective has continued to inform my thinking ever since.
So, in short, I have been thinking about literacy, technology, and the places where they overlap since my junior year of college and I have enjoyed every step of the journey.
You’re a faculty member in this year’s Summer Institute in Digital Literacy, where participants explore “innovative approaches now being used by K-12 educators, librarians, and college and university faculty”. Thinking broadly, what are some of the main ideas or takeaways you most hope to instill in attendees?
Knowing that teachers face a variety of constraints in their day-to-day lives — curriculum, assessment, classroom management, assignment design, and of course the ever-present crunch of the clock — my hope is that K-12 educators who attend the institute will walk away with a renewed sense of inquiry and a set of very practical skills when it comes to using digital tools for reading and writing.
To put that in more concrete terms, my hope is that every educator coming to the event will bring a certain “problem of practice,” a question/project that they want to tackle in the upcoming school year. Then, over the course of the week, they will gain the skills and confidence to tackle that problem and implement project that is innovative and meets the needs of their students in their context. Ideally, they will learn about a few new websites, apps, and programs that they can take back to share with their colleagues as well. In turn, they will become digital literacy leaders in their own schools and communities.
Considering the wide traction & embrace of concepts like digital literacy, what can teachers and teacher educators do to help ensure that “authentic assessment, student centered technology interfaces, and teacher driven inquiry guide digital learning” (as noted in this post)?
I appreciate that you read the “Open Letter to Educators: (Re)Defining Digital Learning Day” post, as it is one of my favorites.
I think that I summarized this point best when I was teaching a doctoral level course on education technology this past spring. I told my students this — for every technology that you examine, in this course and beyond, you need to ask yourself what the creators of this technology have made assumptions about. What does the design of the technology tool soon about students and learning? What does it assume about teachers and teaching? What does it allow teachers and students to do that they otherwise would not be able to do without the technology?
Embedded in those questions, I believe, are ways to begin getting at the types of pedagogies and technologies we should embrace and really value. In an era of big data, ubiquitous computing, and media saturation, we need to help our students become critical, creative consumers and producers of digital texts. Asking those types of questions is a great place to start the conversation.
In one publication, you and colleagues explored digital portfolios and “blogging the centerpieces of their teacher-research group as a way to share their research and get input from their peers”. What was that experience like? Were there any benefits (or challenges) that participants didn’t anticipate?
Any time that a teacher makes her experience in the classroom (or reflecting about the experience in the classroom) public, she opens up part of her professional life as well as a little bit of her soul. Though many teachers say that they value collaboration and openness, they are afraid of being critiqued, especially by their peers.
In order for that particular project to work, we needed to establish a safe, trustworthy community. We also needed to talk about the benefits of making our work public (which comes from a rich history of teacher research) while also thinking about what it means to do so with blogging. At the time, blogging was a relatively new concept (both the action of writing the blog post, “blogging,” and the technology itself, “blogs”). We were fully immersed in a project where teachers felt vulnerable, and then I asked them to make their work even more public.
So, the benefit, as I’m sure you can guess, is that they made stronger connections with one another and, in turn, became more confident leaders in their own school. The challenges were unique in the sense that they all chose different ways to represent themselves — and their students — through digital media. As with all (digital) identities, their portfolios were the best representations of themselves. They learned how to discern what could and should go into their portfolio, representing the big ideas from their teacher research as best they could in a new, digital environment.
You’ve recently Tweeted a call for blogging teachers for an upcoming book. Can you tell us a little about that?
Sure! Here is the blurb for the book, and it will be published later this year by Teachers College Press:
When teachers write, good things can happen. Writing helps us understand ourselves and others. Writing makes our work as educators more visible. Writing builds knowledge and traces our line of thinking and judgment through all the uncertainty we face. Through writing, we explore joys and challenges that puzzle us.
This is a book for those who want to support teachers in writing.
Shoulder to Shoulder: Working with Teacher-Writers is a practical book about how to work well with teacher-writers, intended for those who lead professional development. In contrast to guides that speak to teachers directly, such as advice books on writing and guides to teacher research, this book recognizes the important role of those who support teacher-writers, believing in their power and potential. It is designed for those who work as leaders of teacher-writers, such as teacher educators and literacy coaches. People like these are already offering professional development opportunities for teacher-writers, often already with an explicit goal for teachers to write during or after their work. However, they also know just how hard writing can be for teachers, and they often struggle to elicit writing, to support teachers as they write, or to find audiences for the teachers’ work. Shoulder to Shoulder illustrates how to encourage, lead, and sustain teacher-writers, especially in group contexts.
Anne Elrod Whitney, Penn State University
James E. Fredricksen, Boise State University
Leah A. Zuidema, Dordt College
Troy Hicks, Central Michigan University
I’ve collected a list of about 150 teacher bloggers that will be included as an appendix in the book.
In your post on the ReThinking Digital Literacy Conference, you noted that speaking “off-the-cuff” sometimes leads you to overthink your responses, and mentioned that your post would contain “not entirely overthought answers”. The overthinking part seems to keep some educators from blogging more frequently, more openly, or from even getting started in the first place. What advice can you give for those who want to blog but whose overthinking inhibits relaxed, honest writing?
Well, to quote the overused mantra of a certain company that sells athletic gear, “Just do it.”
At the time I began my blogging in earnest (2006), much of the conversation centered around the idea that academics shouldn’t blog because they would only be speculating about research in process, they would be giving away all their ideas, blogging would never be seen as a form of scholarship, and many similar arguments.
And, as the last decade as shown, I don’t think that many of these concerns have caused as much concern as the skeptics initially predicted. If anything, we now have movements toward open courseware, open access journals, massively open online courses, academic software produced with open licenses, and even more other “open” educational ideas that I am surely missing.
Old models of what it means to be a scholar are changing. The phrase “public intellectual” used to be reserved for someone quite famous like Noam Chomsky, who was both public and outspoken.
Yet, now every academic (and teacher) has the opportunity to become a public intellectual.
This is in no way to say that Chomsky didn’t deserve the recognition, nor that quality doesn’t matter; if you are going to speak out, you need to be well-informed, thoughtful, and a bit provocative.
What it does mean is that I think educators, especially those of us at the university, have a unique platform and opportunity with blogging. We can raise our voice, and elevate the voices of others. In doing so, the initial spontaneous ideas that make it on my blog will likely transform into something more powerful later on.
Digital Writing, Digital Teaching