National Writing Project

Dakota Writing Project Provides a Different Kind of Technology Hotline for Teachers

Date: April 2008

Summary: Through a state initiative, teachers in South Dakota found themselves facing classrooms in which every student had a laptop. Dakota Writing Project's hands-on, online E-Marathon gave them some keys to using the laptops creatively to improve students' writing and learning.


When Anne Moege, teacher-consultant at the Dakota Writing Project (DWP) in South Dakota and teacher at Mitchell Middle School, attended the NWP Writing and Technology Professional Writing Retreat in the summer of 2006, she was captured by a vision.

What if there was a "technology hotline" for teachers struggling to implement the new laptop initiative in her state?

"Thank you for calling the WWLI (Wonderful World of Laptop Initiatives) hotline. If your idea of technology integration means showing students PowerPoint presentations of your class notes, press 1. If you've never heard of the terms 'wiki,' 'blog,' or 'discussion board,' press 2. If you have lost your Internet connection, have no idea where your students' X: or H: drives disappeared to, or need other technical assistance, press 3. . . ."

Thus begins "What a Wonderful World? ", Moege's article reflecting on the process that she and several colleagues went through when the seventh grade students at their middle school in Mitchell, South Dakota, were awarded a grant that supplied one laptop for every student, a so-called "one-to-one grant."

"I may make light now of the early challenges we faced, but most days, an 800 number to a technology hotline would definitely have come in handy," Moege writes.

Moege was fortunate to receive a different kind of helpline: the Dakota Writing Project's E-Marathon , which Moege called her "introduction to true technology integration."

Help Was on the Way

DWP's E-Marathon, supported by the NWP Technology Initiative through a capacity-building minigrant, was designed as a way to offer an online professional development opportunity to experienced teacher-consultants to explore different digital environments for writing, teaching, and learning.

Participants learned about Google Docs through collaborating on various documents.

Why a marathon? DWP Director Michelle Rogge Gannon, who conceived the idea, explains, "We called it a marathon not only because our teachers were familiar with the concept of a writing marathon, but because it went on for a long time. The marathon began in July and didn't end until May."

The marathon was held in two sessions, each lasting several months, with time at the end of each for participants to adapt what they were learning to their classrooms.

Hands-On Learning

Rogge Gannon explains the weekly structure: "The participants would perform writing tasks and explore a particular technology environment for one week. It could be, for example, digital storytelling, Nicenet , weblogs, Tapped In , wikis, or . We followed that on the next Monday night with an online synchronous discussion in Tapped In to discuss what their experience had been, what they had learned from it, and how it might be adapted for the classroom."

For example, in the 2006–2007 E-Marathon, participants learned about Google Docs through collaborating on various documents—adding stanzas to poems or suggestions to brainstorming lists, and making comments on pieces of writing. Then they met online to discuss and share their reflections and experiences.

After the teacher-consultants became acquainted with these environments they selected one or more of them to experiment with in their own classrooms, focusing on integrating writing, learning, and technology effectively, and sharing their questions and lessons learned with their online colleagues.

It was this introduction that helped Moege think about her students using laptops as more than just fancy textbooks and heavy word processing tools.

Spreading the Word to Other Teachers

Of the digital places Moege explored during the E-Marathon, she writes, "The great thing about these spaces is that they do not apply solely to my content area of language arts. Teachers and students of all content areas and levels can benefit by exploring these and other online spaces."

It was this introduction that helped Moege think about her students using laptops as more than just fancy textbooks and heavy word processing tools.

She and other Dakota Writing Project teacher-consultants who experienced the marathon have shared their work in their educational communities as well as nationally. "As a result of my technology exploration through the electronic writing marathon, I was able to pass on what I'd learned about Nicenet and, and much more," she writes.

Moege wants to continue to share tips—to have an ongoing helpline with others—which is why she decided to write about "how things went down" at the Writing and Technology Retreat in her article "What a Wonderful World?"

"With the laptop initiatives becoming more prevalent across the United States . . . it's important to examine and share the successes and failures of the laptop experience in order to reevaluate how to go about effectively implementing a one-to-one initiative, which requires understanding technology integration and training teachers for their new roles," Moege writes.

And through the opportunities created by the NWP Technology Initiative, she has found ways to do just that.

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