Crawford Kilian, Writing for the Web, 4th ed., Self-Counsel Press: Bellingham, WA, 2009.

I just finished reading Kilian’s Webwriting guide. I would enjoy teaching English from this text. Kilian does a good job of putting communication into our clickety-quick context.

Kilian maintains a good Webwriting blog with lots of useful resources. Here’s my summary of key points and resources from the text:

  1. The Interactive/Constructivist Communication Model: When you write online, you need to think beyond the standard instrumentalist model of communication. That model says your sender transmits a message to a receiver, with the intent of making the receiver do something. Kilian says nuts to that: online, you’re having a conversation. Sender and receiver constantly change roles, interacting to jointly construct message and meaning. Corporate writers often have a hard time getting this (see Chapter 6).
  2. 25% Slower: that’s the oft-quoted stat from Jakob Nielsen on how much more slowly we read online. Paper has better resolution than computer screens. Our screens are getting sharper, but even on the iPad and Kindle, Nielsen found reading speeds 6% to 10% slower than in printed books. Write acordingly online: keep it short (Kilian says 100 words max!).
  3. Orientation, Information, Action: These three principles should guide all writing. Online, first orient your readers: make it clear to them where they are and how to get around your site. Inform them: be clear and correct (spell things right!). Then direct them toward action, whether it’s leaving a comment, contacting Congress, donating money….
  4. Advocacy and Marketing: Chapter 8 concisely summarizes tips for persuasive writing. The section on propaganda types, myths, and devices could make nice bite-size handouts and classroom activities.

Some online style guides cited:


consumer + producer = conducer: It’s not just wordplay; it’s the paradigm for citizenship in America (and Earth!) 2.0:

Coming the day after U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan released the National Education Technology PlanDigital and Media Literacy: A Plan of Action provides four broad strategies and 10 specific recommendations on how to provide students and adults with the knowledge and critical thinking skills to sort through the overwhelming amount of digital information they receive every day in our media-saturated society.

“Full participation in contemporary culture requires not just consuming messages, but also creating and sharing them,” writes [Dr. Renee] Hobbs. “To fulfill the promise of digital citizenship, Americans must acquire multimedia communication skills and know how to use these skills to engage in the civic life of their communities.”

This is why the Commission recommended that digital and media literacy be integrated as critical elements for education at all levels through collaboration among federal, state and local education officials, and that public libraries and other community institutions be funded and supported as centers of digital and media training [Amy Garner, “Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan of Action,” Knight Commission, 2010.11.10].

The new citizenship requires knowing not just the Constitution, but Google and Flip cameras. Teachers, get to work!

Imagine a mobile computing device that puts word processing, Web browsing, and videoconferencing in your hands for less than what you’d spend on one family dinner at Perkins. Think that might have an impact on the market?

If the Indian government has its way, we’ll find out next year. Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sabil just unveiled a prototype touchscreen tablet that could market for 1500 rupees — $35 — or less. The minister says Indian tech students and professors designed it. They cut cost by using open-source software and, of course, Linux. The device runs on a memory card instead of a hard drive (remember the advantages of solid state). For a few rupees more, you can add a solar panle, boosting appeal for remote users (and for me when I’m camping!).

Steve Jobs might not need to start quivering yet: this same ministry made a splash last year with announcement of a $10 laptop that has yet to materialize. But Minister Sibal says this new gadget is ready for production: “We have reached a (developmental) stage that today, the motherboard, its chip, the processing, connectivity, all of them cumulatively cost around $35, including memory, display, everything.”

India envisions this tablet primarily as an educatinoal tool. If this thing works, we could equip an entire classroom of kids with Web-capable devices for the cost of one good laptop. Textbooks and graphing calculators cost more than this. I’d feel a lot more comfortable requiring students to haul around a $35 piece of equipment than an electronic device so expensive the school has to require parents to buy insurance.

Robert Hawkins, senior education specialist at the World Bank, sees the following Top 10 Trends in ICT and Education for 2010. DSU majors in tech and ed, pay attention!

  1. mobile learning: walk and chew gum? piece of cake.
  2. cloud computing: smaller terminals, bigger world
  3. one-to-one computing: everyone will be packing!
  4. ubiquitous learning: does that render the term homework obsolete?
  5. gaming: how better to learn teamwork?
  6. personalized learning: tech helps us figure out where each student should start and deliver what each student is ready for
  7. redefinition of learning spaces: fewer big-box classrooms… more windows!
  8. teacher-generated open content: the lesson plan revolution will be wiki’d and blogged…
  9. smart portfolio assessment: …and so will student work, constantly updated and reviewed
  10. teacher managers/mentors: teachers move from font of knowledge to learning partner (Toby! this is it!). In other words, less “Here’s what you need to know” and more “Let’s figure out what we should know… and how we should find it!”

Media literacy can be a huge part of Dakota State University’s technology mission. Especially in our digital media courses, we need to teach our students how to interpret and create messages and meanings. In Speech 101, I’m looking for ways to help students meld the basic skills of traditional speech communication with all the technology we have to connect with broader, distributed audiences (stay tuned for our Model UN coverage on DakotaStateUtube!)

But to teach and learn media literacy, teachers and students need to interact with a wide range of multimedia artifacts. When we share existing content and incorporate existing work into new products in the classroom, how do we determine fair use?

Center for Social Media to the rescue: the American University group offers The Code of Best Practices for Fair Use in Media Literacy Education. It’s not a definitive legal guide or list of rules of thumb. The Center for Social Media actually rejects “cut-and-dried rules” (some percentage of pages, certain number of seconds of video) and emphasizes that “Fair use is situational, and context is critical.”

A key point in determining fair use is transformativeness. Simply duplicating and distributing material is asking for trouble. If you “add important pedagogical value,” you can start making a case for fair use. Teachers and students transform material when they use an excerpt to illustrate a point and orient discussion. They transform material when they use selections from other texts to demonstrate their own learning and creativity.

The Center for Social Media makes clear that transformativeness and other guidelines are not final answers or license to sample and mash at will. You still need to obtain your materials legally, give due credit, and be a generally responsible digital citizen.

But CfSM also notes that getting sued for using various media in class is “very, very unlikely.” They know of no instance of an American media company suing a teacher over classroom use of materials. And even if you do cross a copyright line, you’re more likely to get a cease and desist letter, not a “Go Directly to Court” card.

Encyclopedia Britannica is publishing a blog series on “Learning and Literacy in the Digital Age.”

The SVO of that sentence — The Encyclopedia Britannica is publishing a blog series — is a fine synecdoche of what’s going on with our brains and social knowledge.

EncyBrit offers the following questions for its bloggers. Here are my Sunday-morning swings at these profound issues:

Will students continue to learn in classrooms? DSU’s graduate program already has at least as many off-campus students as on-campus. (In one class I took, off-campus outnumbered on-campus 2:1.) My wife is pursuing ordination as a pastor through an online seminary program that meets on the Luther campus for just two two-week sessions each year. Online resources will expand opportunities for students, especially adult students, to get training and certifications without interrupting their work and family life.

People still want to get together. Teachers and students generally feel they can communicate most effectively in person. But as Internet tools advance in capability and ubiquity and as we get better at using them, we will find ways to “make the channel richer” — i.e., to convey more of the social cues, the emotion, the body language, the signals that human interaction more informative and satisfying. As that channel gets richer, learning online will feel less isolating, and more students and teachers will find it a suitable substitute for traditional classroom learning.

Will students still use print-based libraries? Do they now? I’d love to do a survey of DSU students to see how many have actually picked up a book in the Mundt Library.

I hope print materials will stick around. I find a profound difference in how I read online and how I read when I’m holding a book. I can feel it even with my netbook. I can rotate my display and hold my computer sideways to read a full page (especially a PDF) in portrait format. In that format, I hold the computer like a book. My fingers are out of typing position. I can’t suddenly punch in a URL or click as conveniently to check my other e-mail or RSS reader. I’m more likely to sit and read that single document longer. Holding the computer like a book feels more contemplative, more patient, more… right.

But then I cut my teeth on the paper library. Kids growing up with Kindles may not feel the same comfort and tranquility I feel interacting with old paper books.

Just remember: books boot instantly.

Will they learn to read and write on the basis of traditional rules of grammar, the building blocks of writing as a potential artform, or merely at a level sufficient for texting and search-engine utilization? Here I don’t anticipate a major change. We’ve been teaching the traditional rules of grammar and writing as artform for generations, but even pre-Internet, how many could compose a truly artful and effective business letter? The Internet, with so many convenient venues for self-publication, may reveal more writers who can produce essays and other literature worthy of public attention. It will also capture a great deal more of the informal chats and semi-literate rantings about work and sports and TV and sex and everything else that makes up the bulk of everyday communication. I doubt online tools will decrease our language skills; they’ll just record a lot more of our generally sloppy language skills in e-print (much to the joy of linguists everywhere).

Will reading even be necessary when (and if) we reach that brave new world of direct “brain-to-brain communication”? – the “mind meld” some fear and others eagerly await. Numerous cultures, like our Lakota neighbors, transmitted knowledge from generation to generation without ever developing reading on their own. Even in our text-heavy culture, we learn all sorts of tacit knowledge by experience and practice. Reading is certainly necessary, but it is far from sufficient for mastery in most fields.

Reading is an artifact of cultural practice and available technology. Build a better means of transmitting explicit knowledge (“I know kung fu“), and certainly reading will become obsolete for learning. The bigger question will be not what technology might replace ink on paper or electrons on screens, but what effect that technology will have on our minds (See Leonard Shlain’s The Alphabet Versus the Goddess for the effects of alphabetic literacy on our brains.)

Kim Bartling, professor of communication studies and theater at the University of Sioux Falls, posts the blogs of her students in USF’s CST409 Theatre of Social Change:

In Sioux Falls:
In New York:

The course description:

This class will expose students to the critical issues and creative methods that lead to theatre of social change. Through research, writing and empirical exercises, the class will explore the connection between the artist and his/her community.

This J-term course fascinates me. It’s grounded in experience: students get out of the classroom to see and use theater as a means to understand and change the community. They use blogs to simultaneously reflect on their experiences and connect with the world they hope to affect through their learning.

Kim’s project appears to epitomize the sort of methodology Toby and I believe in, an approach to knowledge that values our personal experience yet always directs us outward to connect with the community. Kim’s use of blogs in this course puts her students’ learning in the spotlight, challenging them to analyze and explain their experiences in ways that will be valuable beyond the classroom, in ways that everyone of us can learn from.

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