Rebuilding my Eco-System

Newsblur Care Package
Newsblur Care Package (Photo credit: Zack Fernandes)

The last few days, I’ve been reading and collecting a lot of information.  Once upon a time, as I mentioned a while back, I had a system that allowed me to very easily share items I’d collected to a web site.  I used Reader plus Delicious and then Javascript to embed.  Delicious had a tool for that, but that went away when Yahoo sold it.  Ever since, I’ve been trying to replace my system with something new. So far, I haven’t found the perfect thing.  I’ve signed up for Newsblur. So far I like it, and there are lots of sharing options. I think I’m going back to Diigo, which allows me to post items on my blog automatically.

However, I have a slight problem, which I think can be fixed with iftt.  For the newsblur iPad app, where I read a lot of my feeds (I like the size and convenience), Diigo isn’t available.    But I think I can go to an intermediary and then post to Diigo, which will then post to the blog.

Here’s the thing.  I like reading things on my iPad.  It is really built to be a very nice consumption machine.  But taking those things that I consume and remixing them is really hard on the iPad.  There’s no having multiple tabs option.  Most of the stuff that’s built in for sharing isn’t for sharing to a blog and then adding commentary.  Heck, it’s even hard to post to Google plus where you have more than 140 characters.  I guess Facebook does too, but *shiver*.  Maybe the iPad needs to get better at this, but I think the rise of the iPad explains, in part the decline in blogging and creating.  I blame Facebook and Twitter, too.  The world has moved to a consume and tweet it world.  God, I sound old.  I’m actually okay with some quick sound bytes.  I use Twitter and Google + a lot.  But I don’t always want to limit myself to reading and writing 140 characters, and that’s what I feel like some of the apps on iPads encourage.  Read this article, then post it to FB or Twitter, sometimes without allowing even a comment.

If you’re wondering if software matters, it does.  The way interfaces are designed can determine how we interact with information, whether we’re going to be consumers or producers. No one should just accept what comes with your machine.  Hack it to be the way you want it.  When I get some more time, I might create a better system from scratch, but that’s a summer project.  For now, as they used to say, “small pieces, loosely joined.”

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Speaking out

This is somewhat related to my Joining post above.  These issues are on my mind a lot lately.  The Internet makes it at once easy to participate in something and easy not to.  One can watch a forum, blog, Facebook, Twitter, email thread go by and not say a thing.  Or one can jump in and participate in ways both positive or negative.  Too often, the participation leans to the negative.  Because it’s easy to spout off your opinion or inveigh against the person posting.  But increasingly, I think it’s important to find ways to jump in, and better yet, to do something about whatever issue is at hand.  I’ve seen a couple of these kinds of things happen recently.  Kathleen Fitzpatrick points to one, and Audrey Watters and I have discussed another.  I know these events and postings only in passing via my Twitter stream.

Mostly I am guilty of simply letting something go by, even if I’m disturbed by it, even if I feel my opinion might shape the conversation in positive ways.  And I think too many people do that.  Neither Audrey nor Kathleen did.  And I’m not talking about something super dramatic necessarily, just things in places where one might legitimately help things get better.  And I don’t mean feeding the trolls either.  I mean arguing with someone, or supporting someone, or even, in major cases, reporting someone.  Because if we just let stuff happen, then we can’t be surprised when things turn out in ways we didn’t expect. Increasingly our discourse and discussions are happening primarily online, and I think the tendency sometimes is to think that if it’s just online then it doesn’t affect the “real world.”  Well, online is the real world now and what happens there affects what happens in the real world.  So, for example, how women do or don’t participate in the tech world is hugely shaped by how they’re discussed online or by what happens when they post in tech forums (I’m looking at you, Slashdot and Reddit).  It’s not like Vegas. What happens there doesn’t stay there. It bleeds over into the real world.

I’ve started participating myself, more locally.  There are issues that matter to me.  And I really do believe in the saying that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.  Basically, I think I’m done with letting others speak for me.  And I’m ready to do something about some of the issues I care about.  I may be beating my head against the wall, but hey, if you don’t try, you’ve already failed.

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What to do with social media

A person I follow on twitter has I followed everyone he follows, some 5000 people, so that he can start fresh. He’s trying to get more bang for his buck, and recognized that he was caught in the wrong feedback loop. He was more interested in getting more followers than in getting value from people he did follow. Reading some of the responses makes me feel old. I’ve been blogging since 2003, on Facebook and delicious since 2004, and tweeting since 2007. Most of the people who responded mention joining twitter in the last year or two.

I feel their pain, though. I’m constantly reevaluating what I’m doing in these networks. Who should I friend in Facebook versus Twitter? I’m constantly thinking about dumping Facebook. I blog on my own domain while most new folks join .com domains. Am I promoting myself or learning? How much time should I spend in these networks? I don’t have easy answers. The answer is 42. And the answer is yes.

I am promoting my work, but it’s not about me. I’m part of a larger cause. I’m also promoting my school–honestly. And I’m trying to educate about my field, about women in CS, etc. So there’s a little selfishness in my social media use, which makes me a little squeamish because I don’t like being artificial. I try not to be. I try to say what I think, and if people like it, they like it. If they don’t, they don’t.

I switched fields a couple of years ago, which has meant rebuilding. What I’m finding is that there’s a core of people who started blogging, etc. about the same time I did. If they’re still at it, we follow each other in various media. Many higher ed folks have stopped connecting with me and I with them because what I say and what they say are no longer related. While I follow a lot of k-12 people, not that many follow me, or so it seems. And CS people tend not to be on social media, which strikes me as problematic when we have an image problem.

I do find blogging valuable. I like the chats on twitter. I get a lot of information there that I find useful. I wish more of my colleagues tweeted and/or blogged. I’ve enjoyed connecting with the few who do. And I wish I could figure out what to do with Facebook. It’s a constant reassessing, I guess.

What social media I use

Earlier this week, Jackie talked about using Twitter and how it’s been going.  She finds Facebook more “conversational” for her, but Twitter still has its purposes.

Obviously, I’ve been reinvesting my time here.  I spend most of my time online reading other blogs.  It makes sense to me to up my contribution again in that medium.  And I like writing and I want a bit of a record of my teaching so that when I go to plan next year, I can see what works and what doesn’t.  I’m sure some people come here and say tl;dr, but that’s okay.  I’ve seen some other people start blogging more again to work against the Twitter and Facebook mentality of 240 characters (or at least shorter posts).  And I think that’s a good impetus.

Over the last two years, I’ve pulled back from contributing to most social media, mostly due to time constraints, but as I’ve settled into my new job, I’ve felt not only that I have time to participate, but also a need to participate.  My school knows about all my media participation.  I post about my activities at school and often my school will retweet or post to Facebook some of the things I do.  Which is fabulous.  So part of my writing is appropriate for PR.  But also, I learn a lot, and I learn a lot more when I’m actively participating.  So here’s where I’m building my efforts.

Twitter:  I tend to check in with Twitter in the morning after my morning blog reading/posting.  I shifted the people I follow to mostly K-12 educators.  That has been really helpful to me as those folks post articles about teaching and discuss teaching in many ways.  I’ve also participated in several scheduled chats via Twitter, which I also find helpful.  My favorite of those is #isedchat, a chat specifically for independent schools.  Most teachers are public school teachers and have to deal with very different issues than those of us who are IS teachers.  Most of my participation is during those chats.  Besides a post or two in the morning, I mostly follow.  And I think that’s okay.

Facebook: I am thinking about getting rid of my Facebook account.  I haven’t even logged in lately and frankly, I find it kind of creepy.  It’s not a professional space for me and I don’t want it to be a personal space.   And I have issues with their privacy policies.  So that might go away.  I’m on the fence still.

Google+: I really like Google+, but I’m not following that many people and/or the people I follow are not posting much.  So the traffic is low.  Which is sort of a good thing.  The people I’m following there are different from the people I follow via blogs and Twitter.  And I think that’s a good thing.  In fact, the blogs I read are generally not the same people I follow on Twitter either.  Google+ encourages more writing than Facebook or Twitter, but not as much as blogging.  It’s a good place to post an article and write a brief snippet about it.  Some people have suggested that they’re going to use it as a blog, which, frankly, I don’t have any desire to do. But I do like the slightly more thoughtful nature of it.  It’s slower than Twitter, less silly than Facebook.  That may be a factor of the people not the tool, but that’s the feel of it for now.

I’m still searching for a different social bookmarking tool.  I’m sticking with Delicious for now, but I want something new.

Another tool that I’ve used a lot less is Flickr.  Partly that’s a function of my not taking as many pictures, but it’s also because the pictures I take on my phone automatically go to Google+, which is very convenient.  I could set it up to go to Flickr as well, but meh, don’t really care.  I like Flickr very much, and recommend it to people all the time, but I’m not as invested in it personally.

So that’s where I am with social media.  There are things out there I haven’t really touched: Tumblr, StumbleUpon, Digg, etc.  And maybe I’m old school, but so far, I like where I am.

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Cleaning the digital cobwebs

Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve gradually retreated from the kind of gung-ho online enthusiasm I had previously engaged in.  I still find much of value online, but I find myself either easily overwhelmed in spaces like Twitter or Facebook, and now, Quora, or not stimulated enough by blogs and other longer form digital media.  When I started considering a move to K-12, I expanded the number of K-12 oriented blogs and Twitter users I followed and I gradually reduced the number of Higher Ed media I follow.  I no longer read IHE or the Chronicle, and I’ve dropped many Higher Ed bloggers who write primarily about their lives as faculty and complain about various issues in Higher Ed.  I’m no longer interested (sorry folks).  There are a handful of people in that category that are interesting enough writers to keep me reading or write on a variety of different topics.

But there’s still some culling I need to do, and I’m going to look seriously at the Twitter and Facebook friends I have.  The benefit of Facebook, for me, is keeping up with far-flung high school, college, and graduate school friends, many of whose lives I’m interested in not just for personal reasons but for professional ones.  Amazingly, I have many friends involved in technology even when they started out as poets or history majors.  But I don’t need 350 people.  My feed gets clogged really quickly.

Twitter offers a lot of interesting ideas and links, but there, too, I have too many people I’m following.  Now that I know what I really benefit from the most, I can eliminate the people who post things of little value to me.  I do like to be diverse in the kinds of people I follow, but I don’t want to have to cull through tons of unimportant or uninteresting tweets to find the good stuff.

I think a lot of this, too, comes from having less time.  I have 15-20 minutes increments where I can pop in and check my reader or Twitter.  I’m always looking for things that I can use in my own teaching as well as things I can share with my teachers.  I can’t waste the limited time I have.

I’m also trying to streamline many of my online practices.  The reason I liked delicious so much was that I had an easy way, via my browser, to save a link and then I had an RSS feed going to a page I curate for my teachers and the links also went to Twitter.   Some of that was, of course, for self-promotional purposes, back when I was trying to be a consultant, but now it’s so I can provide information to my colleagues quickly and easily.  I looked around the other day for an alternative to delicious and frankly, there isn’t anything I want to use.  Delicious is clean and easy, so until I get the word that it’s going to go down completely, I’m sticking with it.

But other accounts, I’m getting rid of.  I used to join every new Web 2.0 site that came down the pike.  Now, I wait to see if it’s worth it. 

Clearly, I’m keeping the blog, even if I read fewer blogs than before.  Unlike Twitter and Facebook, which have become like giant parties where half the people are drunk and half the people are people I don’t know, the blog feels like a quiet dinner party I’m hosting at my house where friends I’ve invited are here and a few random folks drop by to say hello.  I need that intimate feel more than ever now.  So here I go, off to reduce my connections, maybe down to the Dunbar number.

The Facebook Dilemma

It’s all over the interwebs that Facebook’s latest changes to privacy setting is evil.  Plenty of famous people have left FB.  Plenty of people I know have left Facebook.

I’m on the fence.  My kids are on Facebook and for my teenager, especially, it’s a nice way to see what he’s up to.  It serves as a conversation starter.  And you know, I like to keep an eye on them in case trouble arises.  Also, my dad’s friends are all there and they let me know how he’s doing, also important to me.  And then there’s all the old friends from elementary school, high school, college, whom I wouldn’t know anything about if it weren’t for Facebook.

But, I’m not a fan of the how difficult it is to set privacy settings nor am I a huge fan of having my information used for advertising purposes.  But, I already do that in other ways–credit cards, grocery store cards (at least FB doesn’t know what food I eat (yet)).  And while I may feel a bit squeamish about that, it’s not like I didn’t know.  I mean, I get the service for free.  They have to make money, so naturally, it’s all about the ads.

Right now, I have everything set to “friends only” though honestly, I’m not entirely sure about that.  That’s what it says, but who knows.  Which is part of the problem, yes?  And then there’s the fact that my “friends” on Facebook run the gamut from people in my field I’ve met briefly to people I see every day to family to former students.  Not all of those people need to know everything about me.  Which is why I don’t post much there.  I could make things more granular, but it’s a hell of a lot of work.  I’d have to group my friends and then go through each of five or six different privacy areas and set what each group gets to see.  Also, I have tried to change my network, but it’s so school based still, I have to tell it what year I am.  Really?  I can’t just be a resident of the Philadelphia area?  I have to have gone to school there.  See, I don’t want to be in my high school or college or even graduate school network.  I don’t live near those people.  I  have little in common with them except that we attended school together 20 years ago.  And every network I’ve tried to join requires a college email.  Hello, we didn’t even have email back then.  Either that or I didn’t go to school around here, but I live here.  Hello?

The people who read my blog and follow me on Twitter are a whole different group of people, so sticking with just those means I lose connections to people who are just on Facebook.  So it’s a dilemma.  And I haven’t decided what to do yet.  I feel like I need/want to be there for lots of reasons, good reasons, but I also feel that their business practices are problematic.  So I’ll keep thinking about it for now, see what the fallout really is, and decide what to do later.  I feel very Scarlet O’Hara about the whole thing.

Parents knowledge of kids’ social lives

Social computingImage by lorda via Flickr

The New York Times has this brief article on how parents don’t really know how often their teens are checking into social networking sites. My first thought was, duh. Even tech savvy me who sits next to my kids while their on the computer probably doesn’t know everything. And I don’t think I should know *everything*. My parents didn’t know everything. Sometimes, when they dropped me off at the mall, I went somewhere else. Sometimes, when I said I was at Jennifer’s house, I was really somewhere else. Not behavior I’m proud of, but fairly typical. And it’s why my kids are not allowed out of the house. 🙂 Not really, but I certainly will be checking in with parents, etc. when my kids go out.

I went digging for the original research (can I say I hate it when people don’t link to that stuff), and I couldn’t find it exactly. The web site for Common Sense Media, the group responsible for collating such research, seems like an interesting place. They seem to have the right idea about approaching media, teaching kids to be critical of the media they consume, and helping parents learn what’s going on in their kids lives. I’ve actually forwarded the link to some local educators. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about such sites. I feel like I work really hard to keep up with what my kids are doing, and obviously, my field keeps me abreast of the latest trends. But, I do know there are parents out there, who are just oblivious to a lot of the technology their kids are using. They either come down on the “no way am I letting my kid have a cell phone” side, or the “I have no idea what this stuff is, but surely it can’t be bad.” The hard part is that even with a lot of information, it’s hard to figure out how to help your kids manage their social lives, whether they’re mediated by technology or not. I suppose a site like this helps, but I still think parents need to use that information and be critical of it. New reports come out all the time, for example, about the effects of video games and other media on kids. I worry that parents sometimes rely on these kinds of places to tell them what to do. And no site, no matter how good, can sort out all the complexities of parenting in the digital age.

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Expertise

I managed a little more writing today, amid the chaos of channeling the kids’ energy appropriately and the sounds of “why can’t I”. Today, I began thinking about and writing about the idea of expertise. Academics (an others) complain that blogs are written by non-experts and are therefore prone to promoting bad and inaccurate information. What I’m trying to reconcile in my mind is the respect I have for experts such as scientists and my skepticism toward those experts. For example, I don’t like the way right-wing religious folks discount evolution or global warming or the causes of cancer. On the other hand, I don’t like to be told I’m not an expert in something because I don’t have the right degrees or publications or whatever. In academia, there is only one path to expertise and if you haven’t taken that path (or veered from it in some way), you have no right to speak.

Enter the blogs. There are some “experts” writing blogs–hooray! And they are getting their expertise out there to a larger audience. On occasion, they have to deal with people who’ve made up their minds based on incomplete or incorrect data, and they often show how they come to their conclusions, revealing not just the content they have expertise in, but also the process of arriving at conclusions. And that’s good for everyone. And there are blogs written by non-experts that are very, very smart. While they may not always have the deep knowledge about a subject that an expert does, they often have a very different context for what they know that is sometimes broader than an expert’s knowledge. Of course, it depends on the subject. One is less likely to trust a non-expert’s opinion on particle physics than on politics.

I’m reading more deeply into this issue and these are just my initial thoughts. I probably have blind spots about expertise, given my own fraught history of not being considered an expert for lack of the right credentials. But it’s a fascinating topic, to be sure.

Fear the Blogs

So, my project for the summer is to restart, for about the umpteenth time, a book project about facing fear and anxiety over social media tools. Thankfully, I have two wonderful colleagues, Leslie Madsen-Brooks and Barbara Sawhill helping me out. We decided to dive in after our latest presentation on the topic and have set ourselves a fairly ambitious deadline to get something written. I suggested that we start with topics and ideas that we feel most close to, which is different for all of us, and see where that takes us. Since I wrote a whole dissertation on blogs, that’s where I started.

On Monday, I was at a social event with some folks I hadn’t seen in quite a while (hey, to any of you reading this!) and they, of course, asked how things are going. I told them that I’d just returned from a conference where I’d given a presentation. They asked, on what?, expecting me to say on something to do with technology in education. I said fear. They did a double take. I explained that my colleagues and I had decided that the underlying reason for much of the resistence to social software was fear. They said, oh, and I thought it was because I didn’t want to share my personal life with the world. I corrected them briefly that we weren’t talking about fear of setting up your Facebook profile, but of using social software in teaching and research, which can be done in a private setting or with other kinds of parameters that reduce exposure. We’re talking about using these tools professionally, in learning, not to talk about what kind of pajamas we’re wearing.

Only 9% of the population has created a blog, so I don’t expect creating and maintaining a blog to appeal to everyone, but just as very few students continue writing or doing math or thinking about sociology after they leave college, the experience of blogging can have lasting effects. I’m sure that students exposed to sociology look at the world differently than they would have otherwise. But, given the small number of people who do blog, I decided to start by writing about reading blogs. My husband has been a consumer of blogs since the dawn of Slashdot and he reads only a handful of blogs regularly, and he *loves* them. When he spouts off about something he read on a blog and starts making connections, I tell him he needs to get his own blog, and he agrees, but then he never does it. There are many more like him.

When I gave my talk at University of Mary Washington, it was reading of blogs I started with first. When I described my argument to my husband, explaining that I wanted to dispel the myth that all blogs were stupid, he said that would be simple, just have them read Tim Burke or Janet Stemwedel and you’re done. Of course, the problem is, that even showing them these blogs isn’t always enough to dispel their disdain for blogs. Those are outliers, they say. The rest are rubbish. And I wanted to take the argument a bit further. I wanted to say, hey, blogs are just as good as some peer reviewed material. Heresy! And I think they are in many cases for many situations, even within academe. At the very least, we can surely say that peer review is not above reproach. (See Janet’s blog for stories of cheating and tragedy in peer review.)

So I shouted out to my twitter faculty friends a question about whether they allow their students to read blogs. I got some funny responses about how much power faculty have to “allow” their students to do anything. So I rephrased it to ask if they’d let their students use blogs in academic work. Faculty on Twitter are necessarily more open to social media than many others, and so I got the expected answers. Many, in fact, required their students to read blogs, and many encouraged it, and used blogs as a way of teaching digital literacy and critical thinking skills. Which is what I usually say to the skeptics, and now I can point to actual real live faculty who use blogs in just that way.

Journalists are afraid that blogs are going to put them out of business and I started thinking, wondering, whether faculty had that fear as well. Despite my saying that blogs can be just as good as peer reviewed material, I think that unlike journalism, the audience for the two media are different people. And, I think, that students don’t actually read many blogs. But the faculty who do resist, the ones who ban not just blog reading, but using the Wikipedia, they seem to not trust their students to be able to make good judgements, and rather than teaching them how to, they keep them away from “bad” material. But what else might be at work there? That seems somehow too simple. Any skeptical faculty out there, or any people who work with skeptical faculty who have thoughts?

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Random Paragraphs of Crap (Because Bullets aren’t Enough)

I am inspired by Laura’s post on attics and basements. While I’ve managed to clear out a considerable amount of clutter in the living spaces of our house, the storage areas are another story altogether. We have three: the basement, a tiny attic, and a shed (we have no garage). I’m not going to tackle those today as Mr. Geeky has promised to help this weekend, but I am going to dig out my bedroom. Somehow over the last week, everything has gotten dumped in my bedroom. It’s driving me nuts. No more!

To gird my loins for such a task, I’m planning a trip to our local diner for breakfast. I’m going to walk there so I feel better about the calories I’m sure I’ll consume. There are a few minor household purchases to make: dishwashing detergent, milk, kool-aid (an insistent request from both kids). I need to look into birthday party options (we have two upcoming, always a crazy process). Otherwise, I’m not looking at the to-do list.

On my other blog, I’ve begun a summer-long project to review a huge number of social software sites. So far, I’m not hugely impressed, but I fully expect the majority to be mediocre at best. I’m going in alphabetical order, but I hope to categorize a bit once I have a few under my belt–maybe monthly. Anyway, feel free to check it out.

This week has actually been a busy one. I finished up a video for a conference I wasn’t able to attend. I started designing new business cards. I worked on the PTO web site. I perused a variety of freelance jobs (not much worthwhile), and I started work on an article. And none of that am I getting paid for. Well, if the article is accepted, then I’ll get paid for that. I’ll leave with with the video, which I really enjoyed doing:

Open Up: A Video for IALLT 2009 from Laura Blankenship on Vimeo.