jenna mcwilliams

[learning sciences program]

::indiana university::

"you don't just give up / you don't just let things happen / you make a stand / you say no //"

sleeping alone and starting out early: an occasional blog on culture, education, new media, and the social revolution.
re-mediating assessment: wherein we consider the possibilities for participatory assessment models in education.


Doctoral student, Learning Sciences Program, Indiana University (expected 2013)
Areas of interest: new media and participatory cultures, open education / open access

Master of Fine Arts, English (Creative Writing / Poetry Emphasis), Colorado State University (May 2005)
Areas of focus: film studies, discontinuous narrative, foreign languages and literatures

B.A., English, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI (1999)
Areas of focus: colonial literatures, gay and lesbian literatures, memoir, French language and literatures

Massachusetts Educator’s License, English 8-12 (2007)

Research as activism: All educational research is social activism, and all educational researchers are social activists. There is no such thing as politically neutral educational research. All statements of research findings are statements of a belief system about the role of education, and all researchers must therefore conduct research that both aligns with and serves to articulate that belief system. Further, all researchers must make their belief system clear, to themselves, to the communities they work for, and to policymakers who make decisions about those communities. They must always ensure that their belief system aligns with the needs and interests of the communities they work for, and if there is a conflict then the community's interests always trump the belief system of its researchers. If the ethical conflict is irreconcilable, then the researcher must find another community to serve.

The community I serve: I work in the service of working class learners, on whose backs our education system has been built. While ongoing efforts toward “educational equity” sprung from honest and honorable impulses, the dominant conversation about equity promotes ideals that too often fail to serve the needs of working class kids. It’s also premised on a lie: That anyone who works hard enough can escape even the most desperate of economic conditions. We might call this the “bootstrapping myth.” If it really was true that anyone who works hard enough (i.e., anyone who pulls herself up by her own bootstraps) can achieve academic and therefore economic success, then it would also be true that everyone could, in theory, achieve academic and economic success. But if this were true, we would no longer have a working class, would no longer have people to work in the service industry or take jobs in manual labor. Our economy cannot operate without a working class; if working class kids started matching the grades and test scores of the middle and upper class kids, we’d simply adjust accordingly.

I accept but do not embrace this reality, and I therefore want to work in the service of learning communities for whom mainstream markers of academic success are either unrealistic or inapplicable. I wonder: How can we make a college education a possibility for every student while also preparing every student for trajectories that may not include a college degree? How can we empower working class learners to confront the Great Lie of the bootstrapping myth, and how can we help them to make informed, meaningful, and satisfying decisions about their educations, their careers, and their lives? How can we educate working class kids in their own best interests?

My research focus: I agree wholeheartedly with the assertion by Schwartz & Arena (2009) that assessment is a normative endeavor. What we decide to assess, and the strategies we employ in order to assess it, become our belief systems about the nature of learning and about what is worth teaching. I’m interested in developing alternative assessment systems and frameworks that can make explicit an educational approach that empowers, values, and supports working class kids. Currently, my focus is on developing assessments that support learning gains on traditional educational benchmarks while also making it possible to make claims about students’ preparation for future learning contexts and about their proficiencies in areas not measured by traditional assessments.


Participatory Assessment Project, Indiana University’s Learning Sciences Program (September 2009-present)

Principal Investigator: Daniel T. Hickey

Research activities include: collaborative design and implementation of reading and writing curricula in the secondary English classroom; development of assessments to support and help teachers interpret student learning gains; data collection and interpretation of student learning gains; and collaboration with teachers to develop and refine modules that reflect the assessment principles of this project.

SociaLens book development project, Bloomington, IN (December 2009-present)

In collaboration with a team of researchers, I designed and implemented research protocol for qualitative inquiry into organizational new media literacies and design thinking proficiencies. I helped to complete case studies of a range of organizations, including a cooperative supermarket, a pharmaceutical supply company, and a national corporate training organization. This work led to development and testing of a tool to assess individual and organizational proficiencies in new media fluencies and design-thinking approaches.

Project New Media Literacies, MIT (2007-2009)

Principal Investigator: Henry Jenkins

As this project’s curriculum specialist, I led design and testing of a multimedia curriculum intended for use in the high school ELA classroom. In collaboration with researchers at Indiana University and at MIT, I collected and analyzed field notes from seven schools piloting material from this curriculum.



Interview with CBCradio: Spark (March 28, 2010).
Computers are hard. Who's to blame? Available at

Interview with CBCradio: Spark (November 19, 2009).
On New Media Literacy: Practical strategies for equipping young learners in a new media age. Available at
Interview with the BBC: BBC News Hour (May 8, 2009). On Rupert Murdoch, the news pay wall, and the future of print journalism: a conversation with Joshua Benton. Available at

Clinton, K., & McWilliams, J. (May 1, 2010). A Model for Reading in a Participatory Culture. AERA Annual Meeting, Denver, CO.

Hickey, D.T., Honeyford, M., & McWilliams, J. (May 1, 2010). Participatory Assessment: Remediating Curriculum for the 21st Century. AERA Annual Meeting, Denver, CO.

Honeyford, M., Rupert, R., & McWilliams, J. (November 18, 2009). What is Assessment for?  Creating Participatory Classrooms for Readers and Writers. National Writing Project Convening: Digital Is...., Philadelphia, PA. 
Honeyford, M., Rupert, R., McWilliams, J., & Sykes, L.(November 20, 2009). Reading in a Participatory Culture: New Media Literacy Practices and Discursive Assessment Strategies for Critical and Creative Engagement with Classic Texts. National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention, Philadelphia, PA.
McWilliams, J. (Oct. 24, 2009). Participatory Assessment for New & Traditional Literacies: Positioning Assessment to Support Participation. Home, Inc., Semi-Annual Media Literacy Conference, Boston, MA.
Honeyford, M., Rupert, R., & McWilliams, J., The "Rise of Writing": Meeting the Challenges of Researching, Teaching, and Assessing Writing in a Participatory Culture (October 9, 2009).
McWilliams, J. (May 2009). Opening Keynote: Project NML's Teachers' Strategy Guide: What We've Learned. Project NML Spring Conference: Learning in a Participatory Culture, Cambridge, MA.
Reilly, E., & McWilliams, J. (August 2008). Roundtable Discussion. Salzburg Academy: Salzburg, Austria.

McWilliams, J. (August 2008). Multimedia Presentation: An Overview of Project New Media Literacies' Teachers' Strategy Guide. Project NML Teacher Workshop: Cambridge, MA.

McWilliams, J (May 2005). Same as it Ever Was: Class, race, and gender in Romero’s Living Dead trilogy. Colorado State University Graduate Student Conference, Fort Collins, CO.

McWilliams, J. (November 2008). Media Gallery: What is Reading in a Participatory Culture? NCTE Annual Convention: San Antonio, TX.

McWilliams, J. (Oct. 2007). Poster Session: Introducing Project New Media Literacies. Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference, Nashua, NH.

Curriculum Specialist, Project New Media Literacies (March 2008-June 2009)
∼Led development of the project’s first Teachers’ Strategy Guide: Reading in a Participatory Culture and worked with pilot teachers during first implementation phase.
∼Helped to plan and coordinate a conference and workshop for teachers piloting the guide. Led field work and data collection during pilot program.

Education Outreach Coordinator, Project New Media Literacies (September 2007-March 2008)
∼Led outreach to local, regional, and national education and research programs.
∼Headed up testing of curriculum and media resources through focus groups and site visits.

Administrative Assistant, Mary Crow—Colorado Poet Laureate (Fall 2002-Spring 2004)
∼Scheduled meetings, wrote grant proposals, and contacted local, national, and international writers.
∼Coordinated all aspects of various public poetry and creative writing programs.
∼ Prepared and monitored semester and yearly budgets.

Reporter, Holly Herald/Fenton Independent, Spinal Column Newsweekly (2000-2002)
Responsible for seeking out and reporting on local-interest and feature news stories, along with assisting the papers’ editor with photography, layout, and copy editing.

Assistant Director, Public Interest Research Group in Michigan (1999-2000)
∼ Ran all aspects of a grassroots consumer advocacy campaign.
∼ Hired and trained a staff of approximately 30 high school and college students.
∼Met with local, state, and national politicians, ran press conferences, wrote press releases, and managed fundraising activities.

Senior Lecturer, Suffolk University (Fall 2005-Spring 2007)
Taught advanced composition and literature courses focusing on study of the essay as a literary form and on the basics of writing compelling, engaging, and creative expository and argumentative essays.

Lecturer, Bridgewater State College (Fall 2006-Spring 2007)
Taught basic and advanced composition courses emphasizing the idea of argument as dependent on awareness of context.

Lecturer, Newbury College (Fall 2005-Summer 2006)
Taught remedial and advanced composition, literature, and business communication courses.

Graduate Teaching Assistant, Colorado State University (Fall 2003-Spring 2005)
Taught four sections of COCC150, College Composition, and one section of E210, Introduction to Creative Writing.

Apprentice Poet, Literacy Through Poetry Program (Fall 2002-Spring 2004)
Taught the art of reading and writing poetry to at-risk elementary school students throughout the Poudre School District in Fort Collins, CO. Forty-five-minute lessons focused on reading and writing original poems, which were anthologized for the class at the end of each semester.

Writing Consultant, Colorado State University (Fall 2002-Spring 2003)
Served as a writing tutor helping undergraduate, graduate-level, and foreign and ESL students and non-students develop, organize, and focus academic, creative, and professional writing.

print publications
Hickey, D.T., Honeyford, M.A., & McWilliams, J. (in press). Reading Moby-Dick in a Participatory Culture: Organizing Assessment for Engagement in a New Media Era. For Journal of Educational Computing Research, Special Issue: Young people, Learning and Social Media.

Hickey, D. T., Honeyford, M. A., Clinton, K. A., & McWilliams, J. (forthcoming, 2010). Participatory assessment of 21st century proficiencies. In V. Shute & B. Becker (Eds.), Innovative assessment in the 21st century: supporting educational needs. New York: Springer.

McWilliams, Jenna. "Book Review: 'Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology,' by Allan Collins and Richard Halverson." eLearn Magazine. November 17, 2009. Published online at

McWilliams, Jenna. "Book review: Teaching the New Writing: Technology, change, and assessment in the 21st-century classroom." THEN: Technologies, Humanities, Education, Narrative. June 15, 2009. Published online at

blogs and online writing
  • February 2009-present: sleeping alone and starting out early (, an occasional blog on culture, education, new media, and the social revolution. key topics: education, new media, participatory cultures, social justice, journalism, open education, film and book reviews, popular culture, the social revolution.
Selected Posts:
education and educational research


equity and informed citizenship


participatory media



  • February 2009-present: re-mediating assessment (, wherein we consider the possibilities for participatory assessment models in education. Key topics: assessment, social justice, participation structures, open education, NCLB.  
Selected Posts:
  • December 2007-June 2009: blogger for Project New Media Literacies ( Key topics: reading, writing, and teaching in a participatory culture; educational research; blogging; media studies.
Selected Posts:

2005 First Place: CSU Outstanding Literary Essay Award
2005 Honorable Mention: Academy of American Poets College and University Prize
2004 Associated Writing Programs Intro Journals Award
2003 Academy of American Poets College and University Prize
2003 Honorable Mention: Ruth Lilly Prize
1999 Outstanding English Student Award
1999 Honorable Mention: Oldenburg Award (Poetry)
1998 First Place: Oldenburg Award (Poetry)