Can the #IndieWeb Improve Better Readers and Writers Online?

fake news headline
I have long believed the best way to improve student reading and writing performance in online environments is to provide students with their own domain on the web. In fact in the ten years I have studied children reading and writing online I believe our skills around reading and complex problems solving have declined as we retreated into walled gardens.

Why? The rise of the silos

The earliest research in critical evaluation came not from educators but from marketers looking to improve how a potential audience would view their sites as credible. This development cycle lead to better presentation and ease of use of web based tools. This phenomenon exists in our devices and our networks. Markets will always respond this way.

Soon the users are left with few decisions  to make. Three decades later students now get fed an algorithmic news feed in an environment that behaves in ways they do no not control. Their friendships and social hierarchies get influenced by the feed. Children, and more often their parents, readily share treasure troves of personal data.

Fake news. How did we get here?

When alumni of the New Literacies Research Lab get together to talk “fake news” we shake our heads. We know how we got here.

You ignored us. Our schools were either not nimble enough or failed to heed the warning. We rang the storm bells as loud as we could.

For almost two decades now we warned of the imminent need to teach critical evaluation skills. Study after study demonstrated a generation of students could not or would not examine multiple sources beyond very surface level cues.

Worse we found with online reading comprehension we might actually amplify historically rooted and persistent achievement gaps. Children living in poverty have fewer opportunities and less quality instruction. We have found a statistically significant difference exist Even after controlling for prior reading ability students of color and low SES students, using free and reduced lunch as control variable, score below the mean of their richer peers. While the differences existed in critical evaluation you can also conclude that no student in our studies (5-7 year old data now) really paid sourcing any mind.

Others have found similar results.

We knew that the literacy spaces our students live in became increasingly networked and reading must socially complex texts unfolding in real time present great challenges to students. In fact we built a simulated internet inside a social network because we knew networks would drive knowledge. In fact our chat bots, before chat bots were a thing, tried to coach and influence students from a messenger like interface. Primarily that is how we delivered assessment items.

We knew we knew almost nothing about synthesis across these spaces except a few efficacy tests of graphic organizers and think aloud protocols. Yet we knew multiple source reading and argumentative writing were key and tried to embed learning events into role play. Important work continues in this area. We will explore a variety of tools that both assess and train students to integrate information.

More importantly interest driven inquiry or reading across perspective fueled places changes the reader and the text. We have long called for the use of tools to aid readers (Coiro and Killi doing awesome work here). In fact we have developed theoretical learning environments that combine encountering bias read alouds with social networks environment. In fact Ian and I had put in an NSF grant to build this space. This grant will build on these efforts.

While we examined the sociocognitive acts of reading others investigated new literacies from a more sociocultural perspectives and documented how students lived their literary and adolescent lives online. Originally the web was built by people as they did their identity work. Children today are no different except they do this work in social spaces designed to manipulate their interest. The algorithmic feed controls their social interactions. In today social media landscape the identity work of our students is often for sale to the highest bidder. Agency is central to reading and encouraging people to own their data in spaces they control is essential to the future of the web.

Fake News? Where Do We Go

We also believe the path to becoming a better reader relies on becoming a writer. Children excel in production based literacy environments. The critical evaluation of online sources is no different. Any classroom exercise around sourcing must involve readers reflecting on their process and interacting in social spaces for reading. Webelieve the best way to do have students understand how the web shapes meaning is to use the web to make meaning. Part of any intervention should embrace students publishing on their own domain with parents and students in control of their privacy.

We also believe that technology tools can assist in both the measurement and development of writing skills.

We also believe teachers should be central in educational research. Part of any intervention must encourage educators to build, share and remix resources while reflecting on their learning in the open. We can not tackle critical evaluation alone. Furthermore we must recognize that our teaching corps requires a basic understanding of how you read and write on the web and the lack of skills in our teachers is a national crisis. Students will never be ready for computer science classes in middle school and high school if they are taught by educators who can’t add a link in an email let alone build a web page. By encouraging teachers to network through the use of OER sharing we can address the lack of skills.

Literacy and technology is just a much disciplinary literacies than it is a digital literacies or new literacies. There is no tech industry anymore. Each field as specific ways of being and language used in online spaces. In every industry this has meld with some level of computer science. At the heart of each of these grammar and syntaxes is HTML.


Does participation in a simulated reading environment while encountering bias think-alouds lead to increased critical evaluation skills and improved argumentative writing?

What affect does writing from their own domain have on self-efficacy measures of a writer?

What affect does writing have on student opinions about the influence of media and social media on their health and identity?

Can a learning platform that assesses writing growth, coaches students, and empowers teachers to create a reflective network of student websites that driven by feedback?

My Idea. Yours Welcome Here!

I want to apply to this grant with a concentration on reading and writing. We would create a series of biased read alouds either simply using embedded videos that trigger on point or click or possibly remixamble WebVR built on Aframe where students could have greater interaction with avatars.

At the same time every student in the study will be given a domain. They will use this as their writing space. There will be specific tags for different types of writing.

Using other technologies called microsub and micropub APIs, a teacher control dashboard will be created that allows the educators to write comments to students, see comments they leave each other, give private feedback, add sources for students to read, watch conversations across chat.

At the same time meta data parsers and machine learning will be collecting and tracking growth of specific writing traits. Chatbots will be available to the teacher and the student to improve their writing.

This would be a multi-year grant.

Basic timeline:
Year One- Curriculum and Tool Development
Year Two- Formative Design Research
Year Three- Efficacy Study using Switch Replication Design
Year Four-Analysis and Tool Refinement

Get Involved

Reach out if you would like to get involved with the grant. The Letter of Intent is due 6/22 and the Application would need to be wrapped up by end of July to get all the appropriate approvals.

7 responses on “Can the #IndieWeb Improve Better Readers and Writers Online?”


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