Tag Archives: Twitter

EDUCAUSE 2012, Part the Second

I went to my first ever EDUCAUSE convention in Denver this past week.  I Storified it already, and that was a good way to give a general feel for what it was like for me to be there (other people have given good general run-downs as well, about the three keynotes,  the range of vendors and products in the Exhibit Hall,  some aspects of the never-ending MOOC discussion,  and the CIO’s perspective via Twitter, and also in panel discussions.

It was really something.  I call it a “convention” rather than a “conference,” because there was a huge trade-show element to it that, while not completely unexpected, was pretty unfamiliar to me.  Probably because I’m never the one who companies are trying to sell things to (unless you count books).   I’ll tell you what, you don’t see people in outfits like the one pictured to the right every day, not even at anthropology conferences.

EDUCAUSE appears to me to be structured to expose CIOs to a variety of products, and in particular to sell them on those products (its being described as a “prestigious conference for IT and CIOs in higher education” in one of the blogposts linked to above pretty much supports that impression).  Educause (the organization) also appears to use EDUCAUSE (the convention) to provide a space for CIOs to talk to each other about what is happening on their campuses.  There’s a CIO track that is clearly marked in the EDUCAUSE program, and it’s interesting to think about the bubble that CIOs (and other high-in-the-management-structure academic IT professionals) move through in EDUCAUSE, and what that means about how they do or don’t get exposed to the more academic presentations that are also a part of the program.

I was tremendously worried about our 8AM on Friday session time, but it turns out for a variety of reasons that our Visitors and Residents presentation was well-attended by really engaged EDUCAUSE-goers. I was co-presenting with my colleagues Lynn Connaway, from OCLC, and Dave White, from Oxford University.

We benefited in part from a lack of competition–the trade show was over as of the night before, and the keynote speaker was yet to come.   But people really wanted to hear what we had to say about how people interact with the web, and in particular really wanted to talk about how the ways they and their constituencies uses of the web could map to this pole-chart (given as an example by Dave, who was walking them through the exercises):

We managed to capture (via a variety of GoogleDocs, and cell phone pictures of whiteboards and notepads) about 20 maps of individuals.  They are a delightful variable bunch.  For example:

This is a digital collage of four of the maps that our session-goers generated about their own modes of engagement.  The top pole is Personal, the bottom pole is Institutional, the far left is Visitor-mode, and the far right is Resident (if you’re forgetting what those terms mean, I’ve blogged about our project more here , and here, and you can always read about it on Dave’s blog here.).  Essentially, we were trying to get them to think not just about the digital tools they used and places they visit, but what they really did with those things, and how that mapped to the V and R continuum in relation to the spheres of their personal and institutional lives.

Here’s what happens when you highlight just the Facebook part of their maps:

Facebook is literally all over the map(s)!
Some people use the private messaging part of FB more than wall-messages and other public forms of Facebooking, so that puts FB on the V side of things.  Some people only use FB for personal things, which puts it way at the top of their maps.  Some people use it nearly exclusively in Resident mode, with lots of wall  posts and other activities that leave persistent digital traces.  The number of long rectangles, indicating FB use that spans personal and institutional lives, as well as movement along the V and R continuum, are lovely demonstrations of just how wide the range of types of engagement with Facebook can be.  And, that’s just one example.

A couple of things crystallized about the V and R analysis we’ve been working with as I talked it through in the session, especially in relation to thinking about how people engage (or don’t) with the services and tools provided by their institutions.  I think about, for example, the struggle to get students to communicate within Learning Management Systems, when we know that they’re communicating all over the place on Twitter, on Facebook, and via text.  One problem may well be that people expect to be able to hang onto the content that they generate in these systems (perhaps a problematic assumption, but a powerful motivator nevertheless).  So, if they build a social network (and all of the attendant content and relationships) within an institutionally-based system, they will not be able to take it with them when they leave the institution.  With Facebook, on the other hand, just because an individual changes jobs, schools, what have you, doesn’t mean they will have to migrate all of their digital content to another system–they can just friend or unfriend, change their security settings, etc. (*I KNOW these are problematic assumptions.  I’m making an argument here that people are motivated at least in part by these problematic assumptions about how this stuff is Theirs).

Another thing that was just made more clear to me (although I was already fairly convinced of it before) is that it’s important for institutions (and the people who work for them) not to confuse particular digital tools or places with specific modes of engagement or behavior.  There is no universe in which Facebook ALWAYS = Goofing Off, however much people may use Facebook as an equivalent to time-wasting.  There is no universal mode of engagement with Twitter.  Some people use it as a news feed.  Some people use it to connect with friends.  Some people use it as a clearinghouse for all of their professional contacts and relevant content.  “Being on Twitter” is a meaningless statement without knowledge of the content of that presence.  In the same way that a person can be in a cafe to meet and be with friends, or to be alone to get work done on an article they are writing, or just to be in a place to get a cup of coffee and then leave, the places/tools on the internet like Twitter and Facebook are given meaning by the intentions of the people who use and inhabit them.

NPR, Social Media, and Changing Human Behavior for the Better.

NPR

NPR is once again doing me a great service, in broadcasting just the right stories to help me think about all of the things in my head.

Recently, researchers collaborating with Facebook released this report on how people’s FB networks affect their behavior in terms of registering to vote.  One conclusion that caught my attention was that people’s closest friends (in particular, those FB friends with whom they interact a great deal, and who are likely to also be in their face-to-face network) were particularly influential in people’s decisions to register to vote.

On Science Friday, our friend Ira Flatow brought in Todd Rodgers, a social psychologist who has experimented with the phenomenon of politicians dodging questions.  His intent was not to prevent the dodge (that would be amazing, if hard to imagine), but rather to investigate people’s reactions to the dodge, and to try to figure out ways that people could think critically about the content of what candidates were saying.  He pointed to two strategies in particular:  in a television context, having the original question displayed on the screen allowed viewers to keep the original question in mind (and therefore more effectively judge whether or not the question was ever answered), and using SMS like Twitter as a way of calling out the dodges (this has been done by Fox news, with the #dodge hashtag).  The point is to allow for people to not just evaluate what is a dodge (and therefore have more information about how candidates approach issues that voters might consider to be important), but to be able to communicate with other people in one’s network about that dodginess, and therefore disseminate the critical thinking process across a wider range of the potential electorate.

Ira brought James Fowler, one of the authors of the Facebook study, into the conversation, and what resulted was a very interesting discussion of the reasons that people would or would not change their behavior.  Central to the discussion was the idea that people are most affected by the people they are surrounded by and connected to.  People are, apparently, most likely to change their minds or behavior because of what someone they know and care about does or thinks.  They are far less likely to be affected by distant friends of friends.

But NPR didn’t stop there–they broadcast another report, this one about the role of teachers’ expectations of students in student success.  The research discussed looked at how teachers responded to training around expectations of students (in a context where it is clear that high expectations can lead to greater student success).  The most effective training, that is, the training that changed teacher expectations of students for the better, was that which emphasized behavior.  Teachers who were given behavioral strategies for dealing with disruptive students that allowed them to communicate high expectations fared far better than those teachers who were simply told that they should have high expectations of their students.

For me, the common thread in all of these discussions is the continuing importance of face-to-face interactions and relationships, and the role of behavior in shaping the thoughts and motives of people who are making judgement calls about people and information.  This is important to me not just because I am an anthropologist, but because I am an anthropologist who works in an academic library, and who is doing research on, among other things, how it is that people make decisions about what information is reliable, and which is not.

Amanda French tweeted the other day, “email is made of people.”  Which is funny, obvious, and brilliant all at once.  We cannot forget that SMS are also made of people–Twitter is people, Facebook is people.  Therefore, understanding how and why people behave the way that they do must be central to any analysis of the impact of social media and other digital tools/environments.

What I am getting out of some of our findings in the Visitors and Residents project is that people are primarily influenced by those who are firmly embedded in their own social network (whether that network is a digitally-facilitated one, or not).  This helps us answer questions like, Why do undergraduates (in particular, freshmen) ask their friends about their research papers rather than their professors?  Answer:  they are drawing upon their social network.  They frequently try to ask friends who have taken the relevant classes for help, but their professors are not a part of the first line of inquiry, despite frequently being the “best” ones to go to for answers.  As they go through the higher education system, and acquire more experts in their close social network, the ability to ask experts for advice nicely overlaps with the content of their social network (this is particularly true of those who go on to graduate school in a particular field).

The importance (and authority) of people’s face-to-face social networks is shot through all of the reports above.  It needs to be in the front of our minds when we try to analyze the behavior of students and faculty in the current information environment with which they (and we) are confronted.   And it cannot be enough for those of us who work in higher education to simply tell students what is best for them.  That clearly doesn’t work.  They need to be shown, they need to be embedded in the social networks that comprise the university community so that they can engage in the behaviors that result in success.  Abstract discussions about what is successful and effective will never be enough.

THATCamp, Digital Humanities, Hammers and Nails

Hey, y’all, I went to THATCampSE in Athens GA this weekend, and it was very cool.

In addition to getting the chance to reconnect with friends and colleagues, I had the opportunity to meet entirely new people and think about unfamiliar things–or at least, about familiar things that I really need to think about in new ways.  While in Athens, I got to engage in conversations about pedagogy, human interaction, graduate training, and digital libraries.  I learned about tools I can use in teaching (and other contexts), and connected with a set of scholars I hope will be collaborators and co-conspirators in projects I haven’t even come up with yet.

I was struck by the history of THATCamp (as presented by @amandafrench in her opening remarks at the start of the meeting) as an oppositional un-conference that would be all of the things that traditional conferences like MLA are NOT:  fun, informal, unstructured, unhierarchical.  THATCamp schedules are made the day of the conference.  THATCampers come from many different fields and disciplines.  THATCampers are academics, applied practitioners, veterans in their respective fields, and novices.  THATCampers are humanists, programmers, hackers, and luddites.

THATCamps have also been happening for a while, so there is an increasing number of THATCampers who are “repeat offenders.”   The intense feeling of being new-to-it-all (where “it” could be Digital Humanities, THATCamp, or just the particular group of people who arrived at THATCamp SE) was palpable, and fun.  How long can it last?  And is it what THATCamps of the future will look like?   How could some of that energy be transferred to more traditional conferences in the humanities?  How could traditional conferences learn from some of the things that are already happening around them, or in other fields, to give practitioners the opportunities for fun and connection that they are clearly craving in inventing things like THATCamp.  There are things that get built during THATCamps now–what more can THATCampers do to build on what has gone before, so it’s not just about the new and novel, but about building something that can inform future endeavors?

It makes me think of the big AAA conferences, and how people’s experiences transform through time.  It’s almost developmental:  graduate students present formal papers, young scholars finishing grad school attend job placement events and network like crazy.  Established scholars only go into panels as discussants, and senior scholars attend discussions and business meetings.  The ones who’ve really made it in the field (or, those who figure things out before the rest of us do) never leave the bar, cafe, or book room, and spend the conference doing the real scholarly work of reconnecting with colleagues over a meal, a drink, the enjoyable experience of seeing each other face to face after years/months/decades and diving back into a relationship that has been sustained via email, Facebook, Twitter, or even phone calls.   People tweet in concert with panels and other discussions at conferences (the “backchannel”)–even at MLA.  These things are not just possible but in practice in many corners of academia.   So, it will be interesting to see what the future of THATCamp holds, when the relatively fragile oppositional identity of THATCampers transforms into something more robust and defined on its own terms.

At the risk of sounding like I really like my hammer and see nothing but nails, I was struck again by the utility of the Visitors and Residents paradigm.  Where V&R helps me is in thinking of the variety of ways people engaged with the “digital” part of the DH umbrella we were all playing under this weekend.  Many people, especially those with previous THATCamp experience, had already put profiles on the website, started following fellow THATCampers on Twitter, proposed sessions for the Camp, in Athens, etc.  Those people were already THATCamp residents–they were Campers in a way that was visible on the internet not just to the people they would be sharing physical space with in Athens, but also with (potentially) anyone following the #thatcamp hashtag on twitter.  At least one of the “residents” has already blogged about the experience.

Some clearly approached THATCamp as a visitor–they were less visible on the web in their participation, but attended and proposed sessions, and did a lot of unconferencing in face-to-face ways.  Perhaps some of them are writing about it now, and it will end up in a publication (online or otherwise).   Perhaps they will simply talk about the experiences, the tools they learned about, etc with their colleagues, or share in other less-digitally visible ways.

Does that mean the residents are doing it right, and visitors wrong?  No, I don’t think so.  These are ends of a continuum.  There is a range of ways to effectively engage with THATCamp, just as there is a range of effective ways to engage with the internet.  And while the community being built through the collective experiences of THATCamp is very visible online, so much of the work is done in face to face contexts augmented with online tools like social media and other collaboration facilitators (making manifest @amanda french’s suggestion on Friday that “if it’s only online, it only half exists.”).  These digital tools do not take away the need for face to face interactions, but they can transform our starting point in those interactions.  The conference can begin before we get there, and continue long after we are gone.

I likewise wonder about this brave and increasingly less-new world of Digital Humanities.  I think there’s probably a visitor-resident continuum in that community, too, with one end where the digital = the tools people engage with to enhance or go deeper into relatively traditional humanities content, and the other end of the continuum is where the digital = utterly transformative not just in what can be done in terms of analyzing content, but also in revolutionizing the very meaning of what it is to be a scholar in the humanities.

It’s not just the “humanists” who are dealing with that potential transformation–these tools are turning the social sciences, arts, and STEM disciplines upside-down, too.  THATCamp-type comings-together can encourage our engagement with this (forgive me) new normal, where disciplinary boundaries are not walls but starting points, where technology gives us not just tools but new places to go with our work.

Science Friday, Digital Scholarship, and the End of the (Academic) World as we Know It (with apologies to REM)

                         

If I didn’t listen to NPR, I think I’d never come up with blogpost ideas.  This time, it was listening to Science Friday that did it.   Ira Flatow was interviewing Michael Nielsen, whose book, Reinventing Discovery:  the New Era of Networked Science appears to be something I should get my hands on.   During the interview, Nielsen discussed the Galaxy Zoo, a project that allows non-scientists to get into NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope archive, and help classify galaxies by shape.   So far, more than a quarter of a million people have participated in the project.  That’s scaling up something fierce, and something that would not have been possible without the kinds of digital tools we now have at our disposal.  It’s also a kind of crowdsourcing. a kind of knowledge production made particularly possible and accessible by tools like wikis, blogs, etc. 

Crowdsourced knowledge is trusted by Digital Residents (so far as we can tell) far more than by Digital Visitors, who still seem to insist on institutionally produced knowledge as the authoritative standard.  Some fields, such as Bioinformatics, have scholars working with projects so novel that the peer-reviewed literature just has not been produced in enough quantity to be helpful to researchers when they are actively engaged in their research–they turn to blogs, tweets, emails, phone calls, and face to face conversations to keep up with the field–the latter two happening, I suspect, only after quite a bit of the first three take place.

My own library has launched a Digital Scholarship Lab, and while we expect that at first, there will be a large Digital Humanities component, I think it’s no accident that we are naming it Digital Scholarship, and Nielsen’s book makes me think my hunch is a solid one–these digital tools are, as he said in the interview I heard, fundamentally transforming the ways we construct knowledge, broadly defined.  This transformation is not limited to a particular field or discipline, it is global, and it is utter.

 
It is also frightening and destabilizing to many traditional academics, who see in digital tools as a way to trivialize, ignore, or fail to achieve the insights gained through traditional scholarship with old fashioned tools like books, paper,  images, and manuscripts.  Peer-reviewed journals are increasingly threatened by Open Access, blogging, and twitter, as primary ways to share and discuss scholarship.   Twitter and blogs make it possible to have a “conference” at any time, no matter where you are in the world–we do not have to wait for a national disciplinary conference to engage in scholarly exchange, nor do we want to wait anymore.

Nielsen pointed out that junior scholars and senior scholars tend to be happy to get on board with radical changes, and I can see why:  junior scholars are a part of the changes, they are fish in the water already; senior scholars are in a position to actually make change happen, and they are senior scholars, so less is at stake for them.  Scholars in the middle of their career, either trying to get tenure, or just post-tenure and now with even more work to do, may well feel that they’re being told to change doing everything that, up to this point, had been working out just fine for them.  It might be like coming up to someone halfway through their dissertation and insisting that they try this new reference management system.  Or making someone who is writing a book switch word processing software just as they are writing their conclusion.

I don’t have a conclusion here, just a string of thoughts that have come to an end (for now). 

SOPA Protest Outcomes, Activism vs. Everyday Life

Several high-traffic sites were down yesterday, on a kind of a strike in protest of the so-called anti-piracy legislation that was working its way through congress (SOPA in the House, PIPA in the Senate).  The momentum of the legislation has significantly slowed, thanks to the counter-lobbying carried on  yesterday by users of the internet, and people who produce some of the content that ends up on the web.  Up until yesterday, apparently, the voices being heard by Congress were primarily those of publishers and other people who profit from the content of the internet.

At any rate, it was something I was curious about–to what extent would the website strikes actually affect the everyday lives of people who use the internet?  So I sent out an email, I blogged, and tweeted.  I got the most responses via email, from people I know face to face (my collaborators in the V&R project would have something to say about that, I’ll bet).  For the most part, there was very little impact–I heard back primarily from faculty, who said that they could, for the most part, do the things they’d intended to do online yesterday.  Those things included using their university email, Google, Google Scholar, and Google Books, Twitter, and university library websites and databases.  A couple of professors occasionally use Wikipedia to help clarify terms for their lecture prep, and they had to google for alternate sources.  A couple of colleagues were stymied in non-academic activities by the lack of Craigslist and Wikipedia, but for the most part, the academic work of the experts in their respective fields was relatively uninterrupted.

One faculty member reported that her graduate students who rely on Wikipedia for clarification of technical terms were suffering a bit yesterday.  The most suffering probably was experienced by undergraduates and high school students, if this twitter stream is any indication. 

But many people took time out of their day yesterday to call their legislators in protest against SOPA/PIPA.  Even though sites like Google were up, they included links to information and petition sites.  I initially wondered what the impact of the strike might have been if Google had shut down, or Twitter, or (*gasp*) Facebook.   Why not really take things down, scare the hell out of people, make them feel what they’d be missing where it would be really obvious (in a way that copyright concerns seldom are in everyday life)?

Here’s what I think:  the content that flooded Twitter, Google, and FB yesterday was largely about SOPA, PIPA, what was at stake, and how to fight it.  If those sites had also been down, a powerful platform for activism would also have been unavailable.  I don’t know if this was by design, but leaving the big SMS and Google up was a really effective way to both show a little bit of what the internet would be like under the proposed legislation, and to really flex the internet’s ability to facilitate activism on a grand scale.

For now, it looks like it worked.