Keeping Tabs on Books, Read (2019)

Books Read in 2019

For a few years, I have taken part in the Goodreads Reading Challenge, in which you set a goal (mine is usually around 100 books) and then at the end of the year, the site spits out an infographic with some basic information that I always find interesting. I also like to scan back through the “books, read” list to remember the reading journey I had during the year.

Peace (in pages),

Write Out Twitter Analysis (Part Four): Tweets, Retweets and Mentions

WriteOut Sorting of Tweets, Retweets, Mentions

I’m trying to take a closer look at what happened on Twitter with the Write Out project in October through network analysis. I’ve shared out the nodes and clusters and edges of the two-week project and then dove into cross-hashtag analysis and the timeline of user activity

The graph above sorts out all overall tweets during Write Out into the categories of original tweets (something new that a user added to the hashtag of #writeout); retweets (a tweet from someone else that a user tagged and forwarded back into the stream); and mentions (where a user not just shares someone else’s tweet, but adds some of their own commentary or text).

This network analysis look is valuable from a post-project perspective because it indicates how much original material was flowing into the project, and also, whether people were active (tweets, mentions) or non-quite-active-but-not-quite-passive-either (retweets). Part of this flows from how easy it is to retweet, and there’s no real way to know from this kind of analysis whether a person retweeted and then did something else as well (such as created something original as a result of the retweet). It’s also difficult to know if the retweets were fly-by users — someone not really involved in the Write Out project, but who saw something interesting worth amplifying.

It’s heartening to see that the main clusters (yellow and blue here) are mostly original content — either tweets or mentions — which indicates a level of involvement that we hoped to see when designing invitations and activities. Ideally, in a Connected Learning project like Write Out, the overall sense of activity involves original media being shared out and noticed, so some retweeting makes sense.

It’s the green/Mention element that most interests me most, and I wonder if I can dive back into the Tableau software (used for this network analysis) to get a closer look at what people were doing, and who. When a user takes the time to notice, and do something more than just hit the retweet button, it shows a much higher level of engagement. A Mention tweet indicates not just recognition, but also response, and in that responding, the possibility of interaction and sharing.

For us, as facilitators of Write Out, these are the golden moments, for it could be that one person is inspiring another to react or remix or make note of something important. It could be that someone is taking the spark of Write Out and through a Mention, sharing it with a secondary network (sort of like the cross-hashtag analysis from an earlier post). A Mention also tells the maker of the original tweet that there is an audience that is interested, and noticing, and that kind of spark of responsive activity is a powerful element of learning, making, exploring, connecting.

Peace (making sense of it),

Interactive Fiction: Story-Wrestling with AI Dungeon

Someone on Mastodon shared out that a new interactive fiction game app – AI Dungeon — was free for a limited time (still is, as far as I know, for now), so I took the plunge and tried it out. It’s quite fascinating, as the AI software brain spins an elaborate story from your text-based responses, questions, actions. There were some basic themes built into the game but I decided to test out a more open-ended option and set my story of a musician/spy into motion.

Here was the initial story set-up I set into motion:

You are a traveling musician who has been sent to spy on a neighboring kingdom. The road you travel brings you through many small villages. You meet many other musicians, and maybe more than a few spies. What do you do?

As I understand it, after a bit of research and computation, the AI brain sends story narrative back based on its interpretation of my actions within the game. Hints in the game suggest that more complex the user language/words are, the more the AI will learn and adapt to the story.

Interestingly, there were definitely times when I could feel the AI tugging my story into its known corners — I ended up in a cave a few times — as opposed to truly letting my activities guide the story forward on its own path. The AI writing itself was remarkable coherent, for the most part, although sometimes, when it either provided dialogue or used mine, things got a bit convoluted in the context of who was speaking.

The developer site explains (and deeper technical explanation here):

AIDungeon2 is a first of its kind AI generated text adventure. Using a 1.5B parameter machine learning model called GPT-2 AIDungeon2 generates the story and results of your actions as you play in this virtual world.
Unlike virtually every other game in existence, you are not limited by the imagination of the developer in what you can do. Any thing you can express in language can be your action and the AI dungeon master will decide how the world responds to your actions.

It took me some time to find a rhythm of my own, to stay true to my sense of character (actually, I’m still doing that as I keep playing) — I’d have them (me?) pull out a guitar or saxophone or harmonica, now and then, and use music to discover mystery — and not let the AI be the one in charge of the story. It was a bit of story-wrestling, in a fun way.

At this moment (as I write this blog post), this is what happened after I played my saxophone:

You play the saxophone, which causes the water around you to ripple slightly. Suddenly, a bright light shines through the hole in the rocks. You look out into darkness and see a tall figure emerge from the cave entrance. It’s face is covered with black hair and its skin is pale white.

After a few mornings of “playing the story,” I still had not gotten too far into where my character was actually going and trying to do (other than spy), and why they were going there, although I had met my fair share of interesting characters (again, some seemed to have been yanked from some other game world into my own) and entered some intriguing rooms. I broke mirrors, used keys, sent messages via guitar string, ran from one person and found another person, took a horse for a ride, and more — all with text-based storytelling, guided by AI database.

I’d love to see where AI Dungeon goes. It’s still being developed and the brothers behind the company hope to fund their project through Patreon. I can’t afford the $5 month, their lowest tier (I wish there were something even lower, but I feel like a cheapskate even suggesting that), but if there’s a way to keep playing and supporting a version, I’ll do it.

You can read my story from a link generated by the app (you don’t seem to need the app to read the story, which is helpful).

Peace (playing it),

Further Defining Digital Literacies: Narrative Disruption and Story Amplification

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE narrativesI’m slowly reading and digesting, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

Words have power. Stories have power. Who gets to tell those stories with those words wields power, and shapes the narratives. A critical look at this truth of storytelling is the center of the section of the definition of Digital Literacies where the use of multi-modal narratives either hem or cloud in our understanding of the diverse world, or open it up to new views.

This particular section of the NCTE document (second to last section) focuses on providing our students with access, understanding and use of digital tools — from audio, to video, to game design, to image, to words, to whatever we can’t yet imagine — to tell and share their own stories in meaningful ways in digital spaces as well as critique others. (There is a token nod to ‘print-based literacies,’ too). There’s a bit too much educational jargon in this section for my tastes but I still appreciate the depth of the thinking and the phrase of “heightened awareness” rings true.

The definition section here also hints at understanding the pros and cons of these various digital tools, in ways these tools might expand our sense of self and community — for example, how visuals might add an emotional impact a story — and maybe work to inhibit these same aspects, too — so how visuals might emotionally impact a story, but with false heartstrings.

This passage stood out for me, too:

“Learners also need sustained opportunities to produce counter-narratives that expose and interrupt misguided texts that do not represent the fullness of their identities or life complexities. “

The phrases of “misguided texts” is both powerful — yes, to countering destructive narratives that misinform us — and troublesome — who determines what text is “misguided” and needs disrupting? And how does one teach that kind of lens without shaping our students’ world in our own set of values? I suppose we teachers accomplish this by making sure our students question everything, even us, with a critical eye, but particularly, to question those texts that focus on their own heritage, their own language, their own customs and religions, their own communities.

The next sentence also helps answer this question, too, by noting that

“… learners need opportunities within the curriculum to author multimodal stories in order to examine power, equity, and identities and grow as digitally savvy and civic-minded citizens.”

Literacies are a key to the world. Stories can unlock the doors, or bar them shut. Honing literary techniques to tell our stories and to parse through the stories of others is a key skill in the digital age we live in. We could all practice more of that.

Peace (disruption),

Book Review: Emmy in the Key of Code

With Kwame Alexander as a mentor and inspiration, author Aimee Lucido has crafted a beautifully-written free verse novel with Emmy in the Key of Code that artistically embeds computer coding into story narrative. This is hard to explain, for while there are books that using computer code as a narrative hook during this STEM/STEAM push, here, Lucido (herself a technology insider) pushes that even farther, using scripts and code as a way to dig deeper into Emmy, a newcomer struggling to find friends.

There is all sorts of Java script used, as Emmy learns about the beautiful underpinnings of code, and as she experiences and filters a complicated world through If/While/Then statements, Boolean numbers, brackets and commands, and all of the terminology and concepts of logic and design. Some of the later pages of the story are powerful in this regard, where elements of the story are written as raw computer code, as Emmy grapples with some difficult topics in her life.

I think this merging of programming and narrative is intriguing, and it never feels forced in Emmy in the Key of Code. It feels like a natural fit for Emmy’s story, and the use of free verse poetic writing gives Lucido plenty of room for story innovation, and she takes advantage of that right from the start.

This free verse novel would be a nice fit in any upper elementary or middle school classroom, and might provide a nice roadway into computer programming. I wonder how we might inspire students who have some knowledge of computers to write stories in this vein, where the coding architecture becomes the narrative frame?

Peace (010101010),

Write Out Twitter Analysis (Part Three): Where The Hashtags Meet

WriteOut CrossHashTags ALLI’m trying to take a closer look at what happened on Twitter with the Write Out project in October through network analysis. I’ve shared out the nodes and clusters and edges of the two-week project and then dove into the timeline of user activity. Today, I want to look at how the #writeout hashtag connected with other hashtags.

This is important because of the cross-pollination effect. What I mean is that when a user with affiliation to different affinity networks makes connections through hashtag combining, it potentially expands the various networks. So when a participant in #writeout includes the #nwp or #findyourpark hashtag, now all people who follow the #nwp and #findyourpark hashtags see the content of #writeout.

Purposeful cross-pollination of content across hashtags in a single tweet is a powerful megaphone. So what do we notice with this kind of analysis, done with the Tableau software?

WriteOut CrossHashTags Top10 (2)

First, the obvious. The Write Out project is supported and hosted by the National Writing Project (and the National Park Service) so the #nwp tag makes sense, as does the #clmooc tag. CLMOOC (Connected Learning MOOC) was an earlier initiative of NWP, and folks in CLMOOC (like me) step easily into projects like Write Out, which is built on similar foundation of connected learning principles.

Second, there are plenty of hashtag connections to the National Day on Writing, which makes sense, since we planned Write Out with the NDOW timing in mind, and made many explicit invitations to NDOW folks to think about place for their writing.

You may notice the variations of the NDOW hashtags, such as #whyiwrite and #ndow, though, as no one single hashtag ever surfaced. There are also hashtags affiliated with NWP sites, who were sharing within their own smaller network while also drawing lines to the larger initiatives.

The one hashtag, and the activity seems substantial, that surprises me is the #savedbythepbl one. I don’t remember seeing it in the #writeout stream all that often during our two weeks in October, although project-based-learning (I think that is the PBL referenced) and place-based-learning (another PBL) have many overlaps, and perhaps the folks who use that hashtag were exploring and creating in sync with Write Out in a way that wasn’t visible at the time. As a Write Out facilitator, though, I am making notes about remembering that hashtag for next year. Those folks were doing something.

Other smaller hashtag clusters like #dance and #grafitti and #onthisday are ones I am not sure about, in regards to connection analysis. It may be that some daily prompt or activity caught someone’s attention. Or it may be that there was overlapping sharing going on, invitations within affinity networks that went beyond what we were seeing. That’s what we hope is always happening. This kind of deeper look makes some, but not all, of that more visible.

Peace (pollination),