Peace (in connections),
Last night, I took part in a National Writing Project video conferencing that was themed on how local writing projects — like our Western Massachusetts Writing Project — can broaden its presence in online spaces. My fellow co-director for outreach, Samantha Briggs, and I were invited to talk about WMWP’s Twitter account, which I realized has been around for ten years. The chart above was something I pulled together as I was thinking about the pros and cons of Twitter for an organization.
I had noted in the break-out table discussion that I wasn’t all that certain how successful the Twitter account actually is in reaching our local teachers on a scale that makes an impact. It seems like it has been more successful in making connections to other writing projects, and national organizations. That’s not bad, but I wonder if the focus might need to shift, if we are to be more centered on how to engage our WMWP teachers in the work of teaching, writing and learning.
Peace (in hashtags and tweets),
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),
Thanks to my friend, Sarah H, I took part in a three week online course around social media data analysis, and also with huge thanks to Sarah, she had been collecting Twitter information from the start of October’s Write Out project (connecting educators and students to place-based writing, and to the National Day on Writing), and she shared her files with me to use in the course.
I’ll share more some other time about the in-depth observations that I made, but the course itself revolved around three main tools for data analysis — TAGS, which can gather tweets into a spreadsheet; Tableau, which digs down into that data for more in-depth analysis of who was doing what, when, and with whom, etc; and Gephi, which can visualize nodes, clusters, connections and more. (The image above is a collage of some of the views I created with Gephi, to observe the interactions off the main hub of activity).
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by exploring some of these tools, but the course — called Social Media Analytics, offered through FutureLearn — was very helpful, in the ways they had us looking at the larger picture of social media landscapes (mostly Twitter, since others — like Facebook — are closed off from most analysis tools) before learning, systematically and step-by-step, how to set up and use Tableau and Gephi.
Personally, I found Tableau to be more useful than Gephi for the inquiry I was doing — which was based around my own questions of making visible the interactions that took place during Write Out and reflecting on ways to expand the reach of Write Out next year.
A handful of us, who already knew each other from other projects and connections, also created a private back-channel in the CLMOOC Slack, where we could share and ask questions of each other. I found that helpful for the beginning of the course, in particular.
I’ll write and share more later …
Peace (in the data stream),
An interesting discussion unfolded into the Equity Unbound hashtag the last few days as some of the organizers — who are university professors — launched a Twitter scavenger hunt, where people tweet mystery images and others tweet guesses as to what the image is.
The issue of accessibility to images and information for disabled participants, particularly those who use screen readers, sparked a discussion about the use of “alt-text” on images. If you don’t know what that is, alt-text is an option that allows you to layer some informational text along with an image, so that a screen reader for a blind participant, for example, can understand that an image has been shown and get some understanding of what the image is. (This is not to say screen readers are perfect, either).
On Twitter, you have to go into your profile on the web version and find the setting, and turn it on. It’s way at the bottom of the options. Once on, every image you post will give you a prompt on adding text to the image. But, the default for the setting is “off,” which seems rather strange. Maybe there is a technical reason. But I doubt it. (Mastodon, for example, has the default “on” for all users.) It’s also odd that the setting on Twitter for this is at the very bottom of the options, as if were a throw-away issue.
I tweeted out an idea off the top of my head yesterday morning as I was thinking about accessibility — what if the Equity Unbound community wrote a crowd-sourced letter to Twitter, asking for it to make the alt-text option to be default as “on” as a way to make the platform for more accessible. After a day of teaching in the classroom, I found that a bunch of folks had taken up the idea, and a letter was already underway.
Our friend, Greg, has been helpful in starting to share some online resources about this topic, and one of the links breaks down the types of images that might need alt-text for screen readers (such as informational images, photos with text in it, maps, etc.) and those that may not (decorative images). I also found a neat flowchart for making a decision about alt-text. There are also tips and tricks, and Alan even shared out a link about his suggestions for how one might write alt-text in a way to adds to the conversations.
Will Twitter listen to such a letter? Who knows. At times, it has seemed to ignore complaints and suggestions from its users. At other times, it seems like it has listened and made changes. If nothing else, it has all of us in theEquity Unbound network thinking about accessibility issues with digital platforms, and how to make the barriers of entry as low as possible for as many voices as possible.
Peace (write it for all spaces),
I could not attend the second Twitter Chat for Write Out last night, so this morning, I spent some time digging into the questions and the responses as part of my curation after the fact.
I loved the use of a haiku inspired by the work of others (that is so Writing Project, as Dave says in his tweet) and the sharing of explorations as well as the thinking around student writing and publication. It was nice to see some new folks in the mix and the conversation is another example of how networking builds connections. Which is a main goal of Write Out itself.
Peace (in the sharing),
PS — I pulled out just the haiku poems
Last night, Bethany hosted an amazing Twitter Chat for WriteOut, in which participants explored a sense of place, the value of maps as a literacy tools, whose stories are not being told and more. This curation does not collect every tweet (there were more than 250 responses to just six questions, if my count is right), but I tried to gather as many as I could that kept the discussion flow going. I apologize if something you tweeted that seemed important to you got left out of the mix.
From a personal stance, I found the thread about a common appreciation for maps to uncover stories to be interesting, and it makes me think about explicit teaching of not just reading maps (valuable) but also the making of maps to tell stories. And there is the notion of what is left off the map, of course, and whose hand is behind the construction of a map (and what they want to highlight and what they want to leave off).
I also think the final question — about whose stories remain hidden in public spaces like National Parks and other historic sites — is critical for teachers to help students grapple with. Using primary sources and other historic materials, we can find those stories, and bring them to the surface in interesting ways. Park spaces are part of a nation’s memory, and we can’t forget the stories of those who have been lost or purposefully marginalized.
Peace (gathering and collecting),
It started with a poem about not having a poem to write about. Or rather, a morning where Bud Hunt didn’t post an image to inspire poetry, as he has been doing all month. I am a creature of writing habit, so when the prompt wasn’t there, I still had to write a poem, and then shared it with Bud on Twitter.
no image found ..
I went searching
for the poem,
but came up
empty and silent.
holes to hide in.
We best leave
them be, let them
slumber until awoken,
bears after winter
foraging for food.#npm18
— KevinHodgson (@dogtrax) April 21, 2018
From there, Bud wrote a poetic response, on Twitter, and I heard an echo of a famous poem in his opening lines, so I tweeted back with my own poem. Dave Cormier jumped in and before I knew it, we were doing some poetry ping pong.
You can nearly hear the works of Poe, Whitman, Angelou, Williams, Wordsworth, Dickens, and others, if you read carefully enough in our Twitter poems. Not that we were being true to the poems, only that we were building off the familiar.
I gathered them up into a Twitter Moment (my first stab at Twitter’s curation tool). Take a look. I think I got them all.
For all the talk we have of the worries and dangers about social media, a small experience like this — a poetry riff that emerges only from creativity and connections — is a gentle reminder of the possibilities that come when people and ideas flow together, with humor and humanity.
Peace (in poems),
Last month’s theme in CLMOOC to “audit” our digital lives and activities has been quite valuable. I’ve done some weeding of followers/following in Twitter and beyond, and cut back on my email notifications designed to draw me into social media spaces. I’ve spent time thinking about the role of social media, and my use of it.
One observation that I made about myself is this: On Twitter, my identity is mostly as a teacher, talking learning and connecting with other teachers. But on Mastodon (a federated social network free of corporate influence), I feel like I am a writer.
Of course, there is overlap — I sometimes write about teaching in Mastodon and I sometimes make and share other kinds of work than educational pieces on Twitter — but my digital identity has sort of solidified in those spaces on one spectrum or the other (at least, in my head).
I noticed this landscape as I was culling through and removing hundreds of followers and those I follow on Twitter (literally, I think I cut back on nearly 1000 people, and counting, as I continue to prune), and thinking about why I would keep whom I kept. Mostly, those who remained were connected to education. Which makes sense. I write a lot and share a lot about being a teacher. I ask for resources from other teachers. My hashtags that I follow in Tweetdeck are nearly all related to learning and teaching.
In Mastodon, that is not the case. There, I write and share spaces with other writers. Some are fellow teachers (with overlaps in Twitter, even) but even they are less likely to go on about teaching. We write about other things there. I’ve taken to writing in a “small stories” section of Mastodon with regularity. I also share small poems and pull out small quotes from books I am reading. (Small as a form of writing is a common theme for me in Mastodon).
Now, some of this observation of Twitter-teacher/Mastodon-writer is due to the folks who inhabit the spaces, I think. I have long been connected to other teachers, mostly through National Writing Project, since my first day of Twitter, thanks to the guidance of my friend, Bud Hunt. My entry point was a network of teachers, with mostly a United States connection.
In Mastodon, what I see are all sorts of other people in other professions, from other parts of the world. There are computer programmers, social activists, social service workers, artists and animators, professional clowns and more. I’ve tapped into something grander than Twitter, and it feels like a more nurturing space for writing. Maybe that’s because Mastodon is still fairly small in size and reach. It’s also due to the underlying philosophical concept of Mastodon — that the users are in control of the network, not the network itself (for, there is no main organization overseeing it all — it is spread out across many servers in a federated space).
And here? This blog? I think this blog is the space is where those two worlds — teacher and writer — often intersect, collide and sometimes even crash.
Peace (writing it, learning it, teaching it),
I followed a link to a Twitter Analysis tool via Networked Narratives as part of an examination of our digital lives in the spheres of social media. This all connects nicely to the Digital Audit of this month’s CLMOOC. Convergence is nice.
The Twitter Analysis tool provides a useful visual glimpse of a single user’s interactions in Twitter. Mine is no surprise. I do a lot of sharing and writing and working in the early morning hours (like, eh, right now), and I will often use various devices and platforms throughout the day.
You can see the time period earlier this month where I took a step back from Twitter — and I wrote about my weeding out of Twitter followers and folks I have been following — and then NetNarr brought me right back again.
The NetNarr folks — Alan Levine and Mia Zamora — also shared out a larger networking analysis tool, which CLMOOC has used before, to show various interactions. The TAGs Explorer for NetNarr is here and open to check out. I am one of the open participants, but both Alan and Mia have university students in classroom experiences as part of NetNarr.
All this analysis of our Twitter activities remind us the where we tweet, and when we tweet, and how we tweet, and hopefully leads to discussions or reflections on why we tweet.
For me, it’s simple. I am a better teacher and a better writer, and a more thorough digital explorer, thanks to my connections and interactions on Twitter. Despite all of its messiness and despite the concerns over privacy and harassment, I still find Twitter to be one of the many places where my tribe hangs out on a regular basis, and shares, collaborates, makes, and reflects together.
That remains a powerful draw.
Peace (analyze it),