Top 10 List for Writers

My social media news feeds are abuzz with thoughts of back-to-school today. For many teachers around the US, students have already returned. Here in Michigan and at points north in my home and native land, K-12 students will return on September 2. At Michigan State University, our fall semester officially kicks off on August 27th. It seems I have only nine days to get that syllabus in shape?! Yikes!

In my role as the Director of Graduate Certificate Programs in Educational Technology and Online Teaching and Learning at MSU, I’ve been thinking, with colleagues, about effective ways to support our students’ development as writers. Many students who come to our programs tell us that they haven’t written anything substantive for a long time. Others tell us that they did very little academic writing as undergraduates. Certainly most of our students tell us that they have little experience with multimodal composition. And yet, as a program we expect our students to communicate their thoughts clearly, for many purposes, audiences, and using a range of digital tools.

Though it’s not quite as scintillating as the trending Top 10 lists on Buzzfeed, I’ve put together a list of ten things every student in our Graduate Certificate and Master’s degree programs should know about writing. I’ve prefaced the list with a little context for why the list is important. I follow up on the list with a set of exemplars and two critical questions to help students develop essential metacognitive skills as writers.

Here’s the link to the full document with preface and exemplars, but I’ve copied the Top 10 List here so that  those of you who genuinely think this list IS as scintillating as Buzzfeed don’t have to wait 😉

The Top 10 List

1)   Writing is thinking. Evidence of critical and sophisticated thinking is communicated to others through clear and concise expression of those ideas in written and multimodal formats.

2)   Know your purpose and let it guide you. Ask yourself whether your purpose is to persuade, inform, entertain, question, tell a story? As you write, ask yourself how each paragraph contributes to that purpose.

3)   Think about the Gestalt. When using multiple modes to express your ideas (e.g., images and words) think about the affordances of each mode and the Gestalt of the elements you’ve chosen. When images and words come together, their combination should, in fact, communicate more meaning than each of the components would communicate as individual elements. That’s what Gestalt is.

So, as you compose, ask yourself – what ideas can I communicate effectively with this image? How can my words connect with, expand or enhance the meaning in this image? How can I create something that communicates layers of meaning effectively through the combination of the image and words? Remember that there are lots of ways to communicate meaning – through shape, color, position on the page, structure of words, video, mathematics, graphs, maps…etc.

4)    Writing and multi-modal composition take time. Do not expect to do your best work at the last minute. Life, of course, has its own struggles – and we recognize the constraints that many students face. That said, when you give yourself time to iterate, you will usually be happier with the end result.

5)   Own your status. As a graduate student, you are a member of the academic community. You have a voice and others in this community can benefit from hearing it. As you examine research, synthesize it, and communicate your understanding of a topic, you are actively engaging in a conversation with OTHER members of the academic community who have thought about the same issue. As Dr. Anne Curzan recently opined, academic writing and citation should be thought of as the enactment of this human conversation. Please read her blog post for additional perspective on what we mean by this idea:

Also, please watch this short video, created by MSU graduate student Ha Nguyen, which focuses on the idea of academic integrity and citation within the academic community:

6)   Learn APA style. In CEP 810, we ask students to purchase the APA Style Guide, borrow it from the library or use websites like for information.  The APA requirement is related to #5.  All communities have ways of thinking and writing. The APA style guide can apprentice you into our community of educational thinkers, writers and leaders. Chapters 3 & 4 are about clarity of written experession — please review! APA style also includes knowing how to correctly cite the work of others. Not every piece of writing/creation that you do for your MAET or Graduate Certificate course work will require citation, but when you need to use it, the APA style guide can help you get it right.

7)   If you want to be a better writer, use mentor texts. Read what other academics write, examine the work of former students, read the work of other students in your classes. As you read, read critically. Ask yourself – what makes this argument especially compelling? How did this author structure that paragraph? What turns of phrase has this author used to good effect? The articles provided in your coursework can serve as mentor texts too. You may not be asked to write the same types of articles for your coursework, but academic articles should always have a clear focus, a structure that makes your understanding of the argument easy to follow, and precise language.

8)   Think about your audience. Write for them. Who will be reading your work? What information should you include so that your audience can benefit from your ideas? What assumptions have you made about what your readers know? Can you trust those assumptions? Although all readers construct their own understanding of texts, it is your job as a writer to ensure your intended meaning is as clear as possible.

9)    Understand genre. The conventions of a blog post – a unique, web-based form of writing that usually includes opinion and multimodal elements to support the written text — differ from the conventions of a traditional research report, scientific article, annotated bibliography, white paper, article summary, description, how-to text, a fairy tale etc. The types of writing and expression that we ask you to do in the MAET and Graduate Certificate programs may be new to you. Mentor texts can help you to analyze genre – or the specific way that information is composed to serve a particular purpose. Once you understand the structural or genre-specific expectations for each type of writing/expression, you will be better able to craft your ideas in a way that is consistent with assignment expectations. Please use the exemplars provided below as a starting place.

10)     Nothing is ever perfect. There are only drafts. Revision is part of the process. The feedback you receive on your writing from instructors and peer reviewers is meant to help your drafts become more clear, concise, critical, purposeful, compelling, creative, and powerful.







Sew Green: Sew White at #MACUL14

The Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning (MACUL) conference kicks off tomorrow and my colleague Leigh Graves Wolf and I will be hosting a mini maker faire at our Master’s in Educational Technology booth in the MACUL exhibition hall (booth #124).  If you’re interested in learning how to create a felt badge that lights up, then stop by or sign up to be sure of a spot at the maker table:

You will also find an array of materials to help you make explicit connections between this activity and your curriculum.

How to Sew a Circuit into a Felt Badge


Two pieces of felt (Green and White, preferably)
An LED light (Green or White, of course)
A coin cell battery
A coin cell battery holder
Conductive thread [length will vary depending on your ambitions]
Scissors for cutting thread
A needle
Garden variety white thread
[long enough to sew around the badge]


1. Put the battery in the battery holder. The “plus” side should be facing up. The plus sign should also be facing toward the “E” shape of the battery holder.

2. Thread the conductive thread through one end of the diode on the battery holder. Tie a knot to connect the thread to the diode.

3. Thread a second piece of  conductive thread through the other end of the diode on the battery holder. Tie a second knot.

4. Puncture the felt with the ends of the LED light. The light bulb will be on the outside of the badge. The two ends of the LED will be on the inside of the badge, attached with conductive thread to the battery holder.

5. Once punctured through the felt, bend the ends of the LED so that they’re flat against the felt — you’ll have to bend them down too so that they don’t stick out the sides of your badge.

6. Before you sew, check to make sure the positive end of the battery holder is connected to the positive end of the light; the negative to negative. Test this by seeing if your light illuminates when you touch the ends to the diode. You will extend this same circuit with conductive thread. Remember which end of the light attaches to which end of the battery holder.

7. Position your Battery Holder below the ends of the LED light so that you can sew the conductive thread through the felt and around the ends of the LED light. You only have one strand of thread for each end. Threading the needle with the conductive thread can be a bit tricky…but don’t lose patience!

8. Once you have both ends of your LED light sewn into the felt with the conductive thread, you should have an electrical circuit and the light should be shining!

9. Put the back on your badge by sewing it together with the other square using the regular white thread. The battery should be on the inside.

10. Once you’ve sewn it, together, attach an MAET button under the light.

You can leave the top of your badge open so you can remove the battery…but if you sew it shut, it will last many days!  The light pictured above has now been shining non-stop for six days…

And voilà! A wearable circuit that glows Spartan spirit!

Thanks to Scott Westerman, MSU’s Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations for helping us pilot this project!

This project was originally inspired by the great things happening at This post and this post were especially helpful to us! Thank you!

How to Make a Paper Circuit from your MACUL Name Badge

This Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (March 12-14)  I will be at the Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning (MACUL) Conference in Grand Rapids, MI. Unlike most conferences where I present sessions, at this conference, I will be at the Master’s in Educational Technology Booth (124) in the Exhibition Hall hosting a Mini Maker Faire with my colleague, Leigh Graves Wolf.

Here’s one of the activities that we’ll be doing with our MACUL Maker Colleagues.

How to Make a Paper Circuit from your MACUL Name Badge


MACUL Name Badge
Tiny LED Light {or similar}
Double-sided Scotch Tape
Copper Tape
Coin Battery


  1. Decide where you would like to place the light for meaningful effect. Do you want to light up the “i” in your name on your name badge? The “M” in MACUL?

  2. Plan out your circuit. Based on where the light will go, decide where to place the battery and how long your copper tape will need to be.

  3. Cut the copper tape in half. You’ll need two lines of tape, placed very closely together to make the circuit work. Plan the placement of the two pieces of tape on your name badge.

  4. To make the circuit, position one piece of copper tape so it will connect to the negative side of the battery; position the other piece of tape so it connects with the positive side of the battery. Use Scotch tape to fasten the battery to your name badge.

  5. Stick the copper tape down on your name badge — being very careful to ensure the the pieces are placed very close together. The LED light is SMALL. To get a good connection, there should be very little space between the two strips of copper tape.

  6. Place the LED light strategically. Test it by pressing it against the strips of copper tape with the tweezers. Does it light up? If not, flip the diodes.

  7. Stick the LED light down onto the copper tape using the double-sized Scotch.

  8. Voilà! You have a paper circuit and a very fancy MACUL name badge!

This project was inspired by the great things happening over at


Cooking with TPACK

I just today had one of those moments that made me really, really happy to be doing the work I do.

In the summer of 2011, I took a chance on the development of a creative introduction to TPACK (Koehler & Mishra, 2008; Mishra & Koehler, 2006) for MAET students that I knew, if done well, would be fun, memorable and might even support students’ understanding of the complexities of teaching with technologies. If done poorly, however, I knew that it would be an epic fail, memorable for all the wrong reasons. (Oh — and +1 risk because Punya Mishra was my boss.)

I named the activity Cooking with TPACK. The premise was simple. By having students do a familiar kitchen task with familiar tools that were or were not especially well suited to the task, I would leverage metaphorical thinking as a bridge to more abstract understanding of TPACK.

Before students walked into class, they selected a kitchen tool from among those laid out on a table – a whisk, a wooden spoon, a can opener, a butter knife, a vegetable peeler, a teaspoon. Next, students selected a random number from a hat. The number corresponded to a center that had been set up in advance. Students worked in pairs. At each center, there were ingredients, a bowl or plate of generally inappropriate proportions for the task, and instructions. Make a fruit salad. Slice bread. Mix yogurt and honey. Make whipped cream. The trading of tools was not allowed [insert firm teacher voice here].

IMG_1848The students set about their tasks and immediately, the laughter began. Cutting plums with a whisk is pretty funny. The juice squirts all over and the end result is a bit of a mush. It was easy for students to understand the obvious lesson about the repurposing of tools. Though difficult, one can slice peaches with a teaspoon. Everyone was envious of the student who picked the knife — except that she had to make whipped cream and it was of little use. If the bowl is too small to accomodate all of the yogurt, you have to think differently about the task. That particular realization brought about a great conversation that focused on the context in which all of our “tool use” occurs.

In general, the conversations that ensued about TPACK were incredibly charged and powerful. By deconstructing the parts of the framework, we constructed an understanding of its meaning, and also of its implications for teachers using technologies in classrooms.

IMG_1894Technology — that was obviously the tool, but also the ways that a tool can be used. As the students deduced immediately, you can have the right tool for the task, or a tool that you have to repurpose to get the job done. When repurposed, some tools work better than others. It’s also surprising how they never noticed all of the ways to use a vegetable peeler.

Content — that was the task. Make a fruit salad or whipped cream.

Pedagogy — that was the technique. This was the set of possible methods one could use to accomplish the task. And for the fruit salad group, they also had to think about pedagogies/techniques for each of the fruits that laid before them on the table. Do you cut a banana the same way you cut a plum or an apple? These questions became obvious as the activity progressed.

Reflecting on their experiences, students considered the interactions of all variables and, in the end, came to understand that characteristics of the task/content, tool/technology, and the pedagogy/techniques constrained options but also afforded creative solutions. They recognized how the food itself (i.e., the students) possessed different properties that required different techniques/pedagogies but would also have benefitted from different technologies. That plum would have been way less mush had it been cut with a knife rather than a whisk. The banana on the other hand, didn’t mind the whisk so much.

As they ate the breakfast they had just made for one another, they considered the aesthetic quality and the taste of the food. Maybe it didn’t look the way fruit salad usually looked, but did it taste as sweet? Their minds and tummies were full.

Two years on, I’m so pleased that this activity has now been adapted for online, on-campus and overseas students in the MAET program — and most of all, that students and teachers all seem to have embraced the spirit of the fun that inspired the idea in the first place.

So, what was that happy moment?

Well, a quick search today on YouTube of “cooking with TPACK” returned more than a dozen videos of teacher colleagues engaged in this activity from their home kitchens.

[happy dance]

Dream. Come. True.

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Koehler, M. J., Mishra, P., & AACTE. (2008). Introducing TPCK. In AACTE Committee on Innovation and Technology (Ed.), Handbook of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) (pp. 3–29). New York: Routledge.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017–1054. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9620.2006.00684.x

Taking Delight in Graduate Students’ Successes


As a graduate student, I have thought a good deal about the nature of student-professor dynamics, and about the investment one makes or feels in students when, like, you, they are already grown up. It’s easy to feel invested in children because, well, they’re children. But what is it that graduate student advisors and instructors feel toward their students when they succeed? Pride seems a little paternalistic or even a little presumptive — can professors really take credit for students’ achievement at this level? Last week, I found myself thinking about these questions when one of my students earned some much-deserved recognition for work she did with colleagues in a class I lead last summer.

A Master’s student whom I taught in the MAET Overseas cohort in Ireland contacted me via email. She is currently taking a literacy methods course and as an art teacher, she was unsure about her approach to a literacy-focused research project. We chatted for about 45 minutes, got caught up on recent goings on, and had a very constructive conversation about how she might proceed with her assignment. During our discussion, she also told me that she had decided to present a research poster, developed with colleagues during our summer courses in Dublin, at a graduate student conference at MSU. I was absolutely delighted by her initiative and wished her the best. The poster, which reviewed extant literature on parent-teacher miscommunication also offered practical solutions for building better home-school partnerships by using digital tools. As their instructor — I was totally impressed by the work for its intellectual rigor and its applicability to classroom practice. During our open poster review session in Ireland, other members of the overseas MAET community reviewed it, and loved it, too. The students’ work generated quite a buzz of discussion around this very important issue.

And so, I was simply delighted to learn that judges at the graduate student conference also saw great value in this work. My student and her colleagues who co-authored the work were honored with one of five poster session awards for research excellence! Hooray! Hooray!

And then, I started to wonder why I was taking such delight in their success. I didn’t create the poster. I didn’t write a single word that went on it. I certainly didn’t present it — in Dublin, or in E. Lansing. So why was I feeling so pleased? Why, even now, as a teacher of teachers, do I derive such joy from their achievements? In thinking about this, I have come to realize that the best I can do as a graduate student instructor is to create opportunities and learning structures that enable excellence to flourish. Come to think of it, this has always been what I have tried to do, whether teaching young children, adolescents or adults. Although there is always content that needs to be communicated from me to students, the truth is, that in most cases, I mostly try to frame the learning activity and get out of the way so that students can create things.

And so, I guess the delight I took in this poster session award  was deeply connected to a feeling that the activity itself had some value and that the learning ecology in which it was developed allowed these students to show the world their best. In some way, I guess there is delight to be taken in the knowledge that work I have done behind the scenes created a stage on which others could succeed.IMG_2500

I offer my sincere congratulations to Blair, Pilar, Jillian and Laura — and also my thanks, because their successes have prompted me to reflect on my work as a teacher educator. Always learning…

What is learning? What is technology?

This week, I started teaching the first year cohort of MSU’s Master’s in Educational Technology program in Dublin, Ireland. My colleague, Kristen Kereluik and I, asked our students two questions on the first day: What is learning? and What is technology?

Always trying to embed an opportunity to explore the affordances and constraints of different tools for learning, we recorded the question about learning on chart paper.

For the question about technology, we used Wallwisher, a tool that I blogged about a while back. You can see the wall on which students wrote their thoughts below.

Not surprisingly, we discovered a couple of things about the pros and cons of using Wallwisher for a synchronous brainstorming session. First, it doesn’t refresh automatically as a Google Doc would. The conversation was stilted by students not seeing what others had posted. Second, the instructor had to continually refresh while also responding to students’ thoughts — not so easy. We decided the tool might work better for asynchronous idea sharing.

Importantly, I share these images because they offer evidence of how our students were thinking about learning and technology on the very first day of their program. I wonder how they will answer these questions differently (if at all) on the last day of the first year program here in Dublin, or on the last day of their degree program in three years’ time. I’ll be working to support change over the next four weeks — but I’ll be very interested to learn which of their ideas are most intractable, and which of them morph into something different.

Online Learning, Educational Transformations and Me?

One of my students, Brent Zeise, shared this infographic with me (originally published at  I found it incredibly compelling and so I’m sharing it here. I’m currently teaching CEP 820 — Teaching Students Online, in the Master’s of Educational Technology Program at Michigan State University. For me, this infographic is a reminder of the dynamic and powerful context that is constantly shaping this course. Online learning has become a major educational force, particularly in higher education. The students I teach are, most often, K-12 classroom teachers who want to explore the affordances of online learning as a supplement to their face-to-face teaching. Many, too, are interested in designing online courses for virtual schools or new online learning intiatives in their school or school district. Suddenly, I feel a deeper sense of responsibility than ever. The students in my course are at the vanguard of a transformational movement in K-12 education. As teachers, we are often most influenced by the teachers we have….gulp. Feeling humbled and nervous, but determined to model exemplary online instruction for those who will be shaping the pedagogical landscape of online classrooms around the world. I just hope I can keep up!

How the Internet is Revolutionizing Education

The Simple View of Online Reading — It’s Time to Push Back

Screencast Gallery - CEP 891Reading comprehension researchers will know that the simple view of reading (Gough & Tunmer, 1986) presents reading (and reading comprehension) as a function of two factors: (a) decoding ability (D) and (b) language comprehension (LC), a composite skill that is not well articulated by the model,  but that is generally understood to include vocabulary knowledge and auditory processing skills that permit comprehension of oral language too. As Paris & Hamilton (2009) discuss, the simple view falls short for several reasons. First, the equation R = D x LC suggests that D and LC should be weighted equally. Developmental research, however, suggests that as children grow, decoding and language comprehension skills will grow at different rates (e.g., Paris, 2005). The contributions of decoding and/or language comprehension to the index of reading comprehension should therefore vary according to developmental stage. Plus as Nell Duke outlined during a presentation she made to our Reading Comprehension doctoral seminar last semester (CEP 912) the simple view doesn’t take into consideration the many variables outside of language comprehension that have been shown to influence comprehension. Motivation to read, interest in the topic, genre, background knowledge about the topic, executive function, knowledge of reading comprehension strategies and the reader’s ability to apply them, cognitive flexibility, text structure, culture, reading context, the reader’s epistemic stance…all of these variables and many many others have support in the literature as correlates of reading comprehension. In brief, the simple view of reading fails to capture the true complexity of reading comprehension processes.

This week, in CEP 891, a Master’s in Educational Technology (MAET) course that I’ve been invited to co-teach with Paul Morsink and Rand Spiro, we are investigating definitions of online reading. Students have been asked to respond to the following discussion prompt grounded in quotes from Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

Given the empirical, theoretical and observational evidence that you’ve read and explored so far, how do you now respond to these two claims from Nicholas Carr’s book?

(1) “the digital environment tends to encourage people to explore many topics extensively, but at a more superficial level” (p. 138) and (2) “skimming is becoming our dominant mode of reading […] scanning is becoming an end in itself — our preferred mode of gathering and making sense of information of all sorts.” (p. 138)

Do you agree with these claims? Are these descriptions of online reading sufficient? deficient? or something else entirely? Please share your thoughts!

So far, several students have expressed agreement with Carr’s definitions of online reading. They agree that we are skimmers and scanners; they agree that online, we read more, but less deeply. A few dissenters, however, see that this may be too simple a view. Admittedly (though perhaps I shouldn’t be showing my cards just yet) I agree with them. I don’t disagree that skimming and scanning are hallmark online reading strategies. To me, however, reading online — a term that tends to be used in the singular — is much more dynamic and complex. Like its print-based analogue, ways of making meaning online cannot be simply defined by a such a narrow view. It’s time to push for broader, plural definitions of online reading that take into account the reader, her purpose, her context, culture, background knowledge, motivation, interest, executive function and cognitive flexibility, her understanding of internet text genres, structures and symbols.

Our students will also be posting video clips of two different types of online reading as a way to see how dynamic our online reading comprehension processes are. With their permission, I’ll see if I can post links to their screencasts next week.


Carr, N. (2010). The shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains. New York: W.W. Norton.

Gough, P.B. & Tunmer, W.E. (1986). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7(1), 6-10.

Paris, S.G. (2005). Re-interpreting the development of reading skills. Reading Research Quarterly, 40(2), 184-202.

Paris, S.G., & Hamilton, E.E (2009). The development of children’s reading comprehension. In S.E. Israel & G.G. Duffy (Eds.), Handbook of research on reading comprehension (pp. 32-53). New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Top 10 Ways to Ensure Teachers Will Never Integrate Technology

Sometimes, when I’m trying to figure out what TO do, it helps to first think about what NOT to do. I’ve found this to be a particularly helpful strategy when I’m designing professional development or thinking about a particularly difficult problem. Setting up the antithetical somehow helps to sharpen my focus on what I’d like the solution to look like. So, when I introduced the idea of tech leadership in schools to my Master’s of Educational Technology Students in Rouen, France, I asked them to think about what NOT to do. Group 1 crafted a Top 10 List of Ways to Ensure Teachers would NEVER Integrate Technology. Group 2 crafted a Top 10 List of Tech PD Fails that would surely turn teachers off the notion of tech integration. I thought their ideas were pretty clever — and spot on!