Monday, October 26, 2015

Identity, Social Shaming and How On-line Friends are REAL Friends! So STOP Saying They're Not!

To warm up for Monday's discussion that my group was going to lead on the topic of Identity (until we were saved for one more week...), I decided to blog about one of the articles and my connections, to help compose my initial thoughts... 

The first article I chose on Identity came from the American Psychological Association and explores how "Psychologists are learning more about how teen friendships are changed by social networking and text messaging". 
Although there are infinite ways people can engage and interact online, the importance of friendship in the formation of a person’s identity remains the same. So what has changed? Maybe technology has just changed the way individuals can be friends with one another. There are apps and online spaces which often lend themselves to trolling, detachment and harassment, but have things really changed in terms of how kind or cruel people can be to one another? Social Media also can lend itself to opportunities for people who are afraid to reach out to connect, or empower a person who feels socially isolated the opportunity to present a positive version of themselves online.  

A great deal of online articles and videos explore the negative impact social media has on the identity formation of teens as they grow up in the proverbial fishbowl. In forming identity, friends play a significant role and how we relate to each other socially. However, what about teens who do not have friends, how does this impact their identity?  As stated by, Novotney, in the article “R U friends 4 real?”, “Being friendless in high school can have lifelong consequences on a person's cognitive, social and moral development.”  However thanks to social media, “socially anxious teens who might have been left out, now have a voice” and that one of the greatest benefits of social media “is its ability to bring meaningful friendships to people who might otherwise be shunned as outcasts”.  Novotney explores research that reinforces the benefits of the Internet in providing a space where individuals who might be too shy to interact face to face, are now able to have meaningful interactions online where they “dared to say more”. Within the article, there is an acknowledgement of the negative or the darker side of social media, particularly with arguments aligned with Turkle’s stance. But many examples are also cited where teens are developing a more positive sense of self because of the perception that they are able to connect with others “who really get them”.

Mirror Egg Reflections by LollyKnit, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licenseby  LollyKnit 
As I was reading this article, a point that I found compelling explored the fact that Social Media, and sites like Facebook, can help us display a positive version of ourselves, and this version is not necessarily one that is intentionally misleading . Although the ability to carve out one’s image can be thought as being deceptive, at the same time it can also be empowering especially if a person has low self-esteem. In being able to take control of one’s identity online, teens can then also feel more confident to get more involved than they would face to face.

Novotney also cites arguments on how a false projection of one's image can lead other dangers, also presented in Kate Fagan’s article “Split Image”.  Reinforcing the fact that sometimes as individuals carve out that perfect online image, there may be a tendency to play up the positive and downplay the negative, leading “to the sense that one is alone in one's own struggles”. Which can be odd, as you would think if you are playing up the positive, you would think others are doing the same. 

Although there are dangers of teens not truly embracing their own authentic sense of self or a self-image based on personal reflection, and is instead one that is based on the thoughts of others. Social media can be a space for people to further cultivate their identity because of connections and relationships formed in the online platform.

In connection to the RU Friends 4 Real? article, I wanted to share a video from @Boogie2988  who hosts the YouTube channel aptly named, BOOGIE 2988. After watching the assigned TED Talk by Jon Ronson, I searched to see if there were other widely advertised social shaming circumstances similar to that of Justine Sacco story. 

In my search, I discovered a long Twitter conversation between @Boogie2988 and his Twitter followers. What initially caught my eye, was Boogie’s Tweet, “Fat Shaming by Social Justice Advocates?” Huh?  Reading through the Tweets, it became evident that the gist of the conversation was that Boogie2988 was receiving support on Social Media after he was accused of being a sexist bigot online because he was a “Gamer”. Watch the video, where he explains more about his thoughts on Gamergate, “I am not a Bigot” or read his Tumbler post, “On Gamergate and My Role in It” so you can get a sense of what caused the controversy to begin with.

After reading the Twitter conversation, and noting the number of positive comments from followers, I became intrigued. This eventually led me to his autobiographical video, “Draw My Life”. 

I watched the video and cried. Really, I did. It was a heartbreaking story about a very large man, who from childhood had been beaten down by turbulent upbringing, poor health and poverty – yet one who found a sense of community through online connections. However in listening to his story, you could start to see the power of the Internet and Social Media, to connect those who are isolated or lonely and provide a space for personal connection. In perusing his YouTube channel, you really get a sense of how these online networks changed his life. At the end of Boogie’s video, he states that he is happier than he has ever been and he owes his life to his viewers and the difference they made in his life. Finding his voice online would have been critical in helping him form a positive self-image and identity.

This video may seem like a strange selection for this assignment, but I wanted to provide an example to support what was shared in Novotney’s article in how online friends are real friends and that these spaces are an important place for helping a person develop that positive self-image.

What strikes me about all of this was the support from Boogie’s followers. What provoked the attack on Boogie sounded very much like the unthinking Social Media attacks apparent in Jon Ronson’s TEDTalk, or what Shaun Horsman shares as the ‘mob mentality’ that condones hostile behavior. But what gives me hope is that with the story of Boogie, there were those willing to go online to show support. Boogie would be a celebrity to some in the Gaming community, but he was an easy target. Maybe there is hope for all users - adults or kids - in becoming better people online. 

Reference: Novotney, A. (2012). RU Friends 4 Real?. Monitor on Psychology, 62-65. Retrieved from


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Citizenship is Citizenship. Digital or Otherwise.

What does it mean to be a Citizen?
13/52 : Charte canadienne des droits et by Eric Constantineau -, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License 
 Eric Constantineau - 
I’m going to start off this blog post with the classic start-with-a-definition-model that I learned from my grade 8 students. So, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Citizenship is:
·       the fact or status of being a citizen of a particular place
·       the qualities that a person is expected to have as a responsible member of a community

When we look at digital citizenship there really should not be any separation from the meaning of “citizenship”. To be a “citizen of a particular place” can be extended to the digital realm, as in Social Media. And “the qualities that a person is expected to have as a responsible member of a community” can also just be extended to on-line communities. So why is there always this separation of the “digital” from “citizenship”?

Makes sense, right? To further explore this question, let’s look at how Ribble defines digital citizenship, “Digital citizenship can be defined as the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use.” If you take away the “with regard to technology use”, does it not overlap the citizenship definition? Perhaps the key to exploring digital citizenship is to stop emphasizing the digital component, and instead just look at what it means to be a good citizen or even... a good person.

This is why as part of my major project with Genna Rodriguez, we looked at the Essential Skills of 21st Century learning as having “Citizenship” as one of its components and not digital citizenship, as we felt that on or offline, people need to embrace the philosophy and fundamentals of what it means to contribute meaningfully and ethically to society and the world with or without technology. This philosophy can also be seen in Jason Ohler’s article, “Character Education for the DigitalAge”  Ohler emphasizes this as a way of teaching digital learning and not separating the digital world from the real world. The part of his article that really reinforces the path we are taking for our project, can be seen in the following, “If we want to pursue a future that celebrates success not only in terms of abundance but also in terms of humanity, we must help our digital kids balance the individual empowerment of digital technology use with a sense of personal, community, and global responsibility.” To help students become better citizens in the online global community, we need to help them see the importance of being a good citizen face to face. As teachers we have the opportunity to show students that bridge of the online community with that of their face to face community, and how this civic and global mindset can be present in both spaces.

Larry by Trev Grant, on Flickr
   Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licenseby  Trev Grant 
Just like Ohler, Michael Fullen also makes a call for educators to embrace character leadership with students. Over the course of this term, I have been researching his work as part of my major project with Genna Rodriguez. In his paper, "Towards a New End: New Pedagogies for Deep Learning", Fullen calls for a need for schools to examine “new pedagogies for deep learning”, skills which would “prepare all learners to be life-long creative, connected and collaborative problem solvers and to be healthy, happy individuals who contribute to the common good in today’s globally interdependent world" (p. 2).
Fullen’s definition of citizenship is “global knowledge, sensitivity to and respect for other cultures, active involvement in addressing issues of human and environmental sustainability.” (p.3). Note that Fullen’s definition is quite different from those explored earlier, as it explores a much broader notion to include environmental sustainability. I like this definition. Why? It acknowledges respecting other cultures and the earth. There is a deep connection to what makes us human, that respect for others and the environment.

Michael Fullen's "The New Pedagogies" - This Video is a brief overview of the 6C's and applications to learning. 

I had been considering how to combine this global perspective of citizenship with one that also examines the digital realm, so this was the explanation that I had created for our major project, “Citizenship is knowledge or sensitivity to show respect for other cultures and active involvement in addressing global issues. As well as understand human, cultural and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior.” It is not succinct, but neither is anything else I write.

So when you look at Fullen’s and Ribble’s definitions of citizenship (yes, Ribble’s does incorporate that “digital” component), there is such a huge gap in what it means to be a citizen. So the question is, how can we connect Fullen’s definition with that of Ribble’s? Or perhaps the question is, what would be the benefits of doing so? If we were to focus on a positive and more global-minded definition, would that encourage everyone to think with more compassion and empathy online?   

Brick City citizens by ¡Viva la Cynthia!, on Flickr
 Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  Â¡Viva la Cynthia! 
Fullen in his work also states that Character Education should be explored when looking at elements needed for deep learning. Fullen defines Character Education as “honesty, self-regulation and responsibility, perseverance, empathy for contributing to the safety and benefit of others, self-confidence, personal health and wellbeing, career and life skills”. (p.3)
Teaching character learning would really connect to citizenship as it would look deeper into how we should treat one another.  Lewinsky, Turkle and Jonson all explore the importance of demonstrating compassion and empathy and the importance of this extending to the digital world. Harmony McMillan in her post, “Lessons from a 4 year old Conversationalist” also had shared these observations and notes a need for teachers to “help our students learn to see past a Twitter handle or a Facebook profile, and truly see the story behind the flat screen.” Harmony nails the importance of teaching empathy to that online platform, when she implores us at the end of her post, “What kind of learning opportunities are you creating to help your students develop empathy and compassion?”  I see a connection to her approach to that of Fullen’s definition of character education, as her exploration of digital citizenship also includes the need for “empathy for contributing to the safety and benefit of others”.

Maybe in exploring with students how to be more empathetic and the importance of taking care of each other, we can create that concept of digital citizenship that focuses on ways to help one another as part of what we integrate into our teaching with the Digital Citizenship Continuum. AshleyDew and Branelle Zenek, both comment in their blogs the importance of teaching students’ empathy in Social Media, and the power of focusing on the positive in online communities. I also appreciate Ashley’s comment, “that we need to spend less time focusing on the negative and instead focus with our students in how we can make a positive impact on online spaces”.

The LEGO Movie Collectible Minifigures : by wiredforlego, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License by  wiredforlego 
Going forward, we need to look at redefining Digital Citizenship so that it incorporates definitions for both Citizenship and Character learning. In doing so, we can help elevate the online platform and more fully realize opportunities the Internet offers in bringing together global communities. 


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Major Project... Sharing the Learning

This past week, Genna Rodriguez and I presented our Professional Development sessions on Digital Citizenship and integrating technology with Balanced Literacy. Overall the reception from teachers really good. Teachers didn't mind taking lessons they already had from different curricular areas, and looking at ways the elements of Digital Citizenship could be integrated. Basically it was just a matter of transferring the lesson into the Digital Citizenship Lesson Framework and adding in the elements. One person had commented that they liked the fact that just by looking at the framework you could immediately see that the lesson focus was still on Curricular outcomes, Digital Citizenship was one of the aspects of the knowledge and skills to be explored.

One of the benefits of these Professional Development sessions is the opportunity to collaborate face to face, but afterwards there is an opportunity to connect other teachers to these lessons. I had asked teachers if they were okay with sharing their work to be posted on our project website for the Essential Skills of 21st Century Learning, and many had sent in their lessons. One of our goals is to provide authentic examples and ideas from teachers in the field sharing their work. We are hoping that through Office 365, we can develop a repository of Cross-Curricular lessons that incorporate the elements of the Continuum that other teachers can access, thereby building and expanding capacity.

In addition to our morning Professional Development sessions, we also had afternoon sessions which looked at how teachers can integrate technology under the framework of the "7C's" or Essential Skills of 21st Century Learning. The model we proposed for creating and integrating Technology Tasks as a station into Balanced Literacy went over very well. To get teachers started, I collaborated with Genna and our English Language Arts consultant, and created "Tech Task" cards for students to go outside the typical "take online Reading Quizzes". The purpose of the afternoon was mainly to explore with teachers the 4C's framework adapted from the genius of Tony Vincent and his Learning in Hand website. Our framework follows the same general ideas as Vincent's work, but we've adapted it to suit the technology available in our division and for a variety of classroom audiences. This is the framework:
1. Set the Course
2. Provide the Content
3. Support Creativity
4. Capture Responses

If you are intrigued, be sure to check out his video on "Sprucing Up Learning Centers".

Teachers seemed very excited to have time to collaborate and complete their own task cards based on the examples we created. Again, one of the goals of our site is to provide these Curricularly Connected ways teachers can connect the Essential Skills to classroom learning and teaching practice.

Here is our Powerpoint for the Middle Years session, which has a slightly different presentation focus than the Primary session.

Here are a few task cards from the Primary and Middle Years sessions. Note that there are more in the presentation link! What I'm enjoying most about our project is the opportunity to build a vision for how we are going to integrate technology. The initial idea may have come from Genna and I, but the best part is, working shoulder to shoulder with other teachers to make it happen. In having teachers involved in the building we are trying to build from ground up... not top-down.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

An Update on My Major Project, Just in Time for Digital Citizenship Week!

Over the past week I have been living and breathing Digital Citizenship... and yes there have been times that it has left me quite light-headed as it can be pretty heavy! A huge part of my week was preparing myself for a Digital Citizenship Parent night that I helped to organize. One aspect of the evening was focused on point of view of educators and the integration of the Digital Citizenship into learning, resources for teachers, students and parents (via I am Stronger and the Regina Catholic School Division Resources) and tips to further assist parents about opening the conversation about social media with teens and tweens. Within the context of my presentation I tried to take the point of view of the resources out there that parents can access to work in conjunction with what we were trying to accomplish from a school division level as well as from the perspective of the Ministry. My presentation transitioned well into a presentation from the Internet Child Exploitation ICE Unit which included members from the RCMP and the City of Regina Police Department.

Their presentation was eye-opening and thought provoking. Although some might say that it focused on the negatives and the dangers that might be presented when teens get in over their heads. I do think that the message has to get out there. If just for the reason that parents need to understand the importance of having open conversations with their children about social media. Just as Ohler points out in "Character Education for the Digital Age" parents and teachers need to prepare youth for using social media to improve how we interact and communicate, but at the same time, we need to ensure that they are safe too.

How this presentation fits within the context of my major project is it provides components for building community and collaboration between parents and teachers in educating students about digital citizenship. We will be using this presentation (in part if not whole) in part of the Digital Citizenship page.

In addition to this presentation, we happen to also have Digital Citizenship Training for teachers at the elementary level as well as middle years. In these sessions teachers will be able to "unpack" the Digital Citizenship Continnum, explore resources from our school division as well as those from I am Stronger  and in grade alike/similar groups create lessons that integrate Ribble's Elements of Digital Citizenship as presented through the Continuum within different subjects focusing on outcomes. I will definitely point them in the direction of also checking out TeachInCtrl's site that Danielle Maloney shared in our Google Community Discussion space, with her reference to Edutopia's Digital Citizenship Week: 6 Resources for Educators.

If you are interested, feel free to leave comments regarding the Digital Planning Framework that I have posted. Within the lesson planner document, teachers may include Curricular outcomes, Digital Citizenship elements, identify the Essential Skills as well as assessment and typical planning content. Genna Rodriguez, my project partner and I would love any feedback!

In addition to creating lessons that focus on authentic integration of digital citizenship, we will also be exploring digital integration according to our 7C's or Essential Skills for 21st Century Learning into Balanced Literacy. Genna and I will be sharing this presentation with colleagues this week. The presentation contains sample task cards for teachers in integrating the 7C's into Balanced Literacy.

Here is the Digital Citizenship and the Balanced Approach to Learning powerpoint so far... With these professional development sessions, Genna and I hope to help teachers see not only how Digital Citizenship can be integrated into learning, but the other Essential Skills as well. This includes, connecting, creating, collaborating, critical thinking, communicating, curating. (See image at top of post). Therefore the focus of our project is not only to share with teachers the definition and description for each of the Essential Skills, but ways teachers can integrate them into their planning.

Digital Citizenship, Engagement and Breaking Out of Our Social Bubbles

When you ask teachers their views on Digital Citizenship and how it should be integrated into learning in their classroom, one would definitely get mixed reviews. Part of what I do as a Digital Fluency Consultant is to help provide professional development regarding technology integration, and assist teachers with integrating the Digital Citizenship Continuum into learning. Prior to Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to lead several Professional development sessions at the Regina Catholic School Division Teacher Institute #RCSDInstitute on this topic from different curricular areas and grade levels.

During a session with a group of High School teachers, many ethical questions were brought up about considerations that have to be made for the digital divide, as well perspectives represented in social media. We went into great depth considering the social media bubble that can unknowingly encase many of us, if we are not aware. 

Bubble 2 by Ali Smiles :), on Flickr
  Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by  Ali Smiles :) 
Within our discussion a point was made that although social media can be great for connecting with others to explore different perspectives, are we actually doing this? When we follow individuals on Twitter, are we just following people with the same interests and backgrounds as us? In doing so, are we reinforcing the same perspective or viewpoint that we might already hold, thereby not providing the opportunity to see other world views. It was brought up that when someone doesn’t have the same perspective, and it makes us uncomfortable, how does the average person react? Do we consider other opinions, or do we just unfollow these individuals? This question has lead me to wonder, how my views are being shaped and reinforced on Twitter. Although social media can be a great space to see a variety of perspectives to widen our world view, it might be possible that we are not exploring alternate viewpoints and instead are just seeking affirmation. 
#life : #bobbivie + #writes #54 by bobbi vie, on Flickr
  Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licenseby  bobbi vie 

After this discussion I started researching the effects of Twitter and the reinforcing bubble effect of social media. It has become clear that other students in our ECI 832 class have also been spending some time reflecting on  the effect of Social Media and how we engage with the world. Fellow classmate, Laura Hunter, explores in her blog post, “Constant Connections” the impact of social media not only on herself, but on her daughters. She wondered whether social media is just a platform that is allowing us to become superficial as it “allows us all to hone in on meaningless snapchats, Facebook posts, and work emails” Turkle would agree and probably say that these superficial connections are diminishing our ability to really develop meaningful interactions face to face, “because we keep our phones in the landscape” or in our peripheral vision.

Marc Spooner Twitter Post
Other questions I have been considering since my High School Digital Citizenship Session revolve around whose voices are heard in social media. Marc Spooner, professor at the University of Regina, is one of these individuals who creatively uses social media to tweet on behalf of those whose voices are silent due to lack of access to technology. For more than a year, Spooner has been quite active on Twitter sharing issues related to the housing crisis for low-income families. Being a social justice advocate, he is an example of a person who speaks on behalf of those in need and evidently sees the power of people made possible via Twitter.  What if everyone started using Twitter to bring a voice to the silent? If more people made an effort to retweet an alternative, less-heard perspective then this could make a small difference in bringing about social change through social media.

To further ways social media can be used for more than sharing the trite or mundane, an article, by Mary Elizabeth Williams, “UsingSocial Media to Build a Better World: A Culture of Amplification” explores this point precisely. Williams shares an experiment where an individual did a study and noted that men are more often retweeted than women. So as a social experiment, this person made a point of only retweeting women to tip the scale the other way. Did it make a difference? In a small way, perhaps it did, at least in providing a sense of self-empowerment. Williams points out that although the average person cannot make a direct impact Mass Media with the content of magazines and television, they can make an impact at a social media level. William further states, “…let’s remember that when we’re only getting a certain kind of story and a certain kind of perspective, we take it as the norm. Let’s understand that’s incredibly limiting and painfully reinforcing.” For this reason, it is up to us to be aware of who is not being represented, and remember that the dominate voice is not the only voice.

So how does all this connect to education? In teaching digital citizenship, we need to examine with students the social bubble that can emerge when you restrict your lens to circles of “Birds of a Feather”. Yes it can be affirming and fill one with warmth knowing that someone else “gets you”, but how does it stretch or grow a person’s understandings of other perspectives, if your world view is not challenged but instead constantly reinforced? Why is it beneficial to be exposed to viewpoints that make you squirm?

Is it possible that others will pick up on the power of social media for social justice? Apparently in fact it has already happened. In a news story from CTV, “Social Justice Found It’s Voice in Social Media in 2014”. It was reported that “those tuned into the web's global conversations believe 2014 will be remembered as the time when social justice advocates found their voice.” A point made within the article that resonated with me is as follows:

"We're no longer looking at social media simply as something that allows us to share pictures of what we had for breakfast or to play games when we go online. We can also use it to do more meaningful things like perhaps improve the world around us for those who might be disadvantaged."

single 1 by Adg
  Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by  Adg's Screen Caps 
This story from CTV was quite elevating. Maybe collectively people are becoming a little more aware of the power of the people afforded through social media - and that  the voice of those unrepresented can finally be heard. However, my bubble of optimism burst when I was reminded of Sherry Turkle’s article, “Stop Googling, Let’s Talk” from the course readings.  Turkle once again shares all the problems with social media and problems that arise due to our need to be digitally connected in helping us form real human lasting connections. Turkle through her interviews states that people “don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.” Are all these possibilities to do good in providing a voice for the marginalized, quickly dashed due to lack of manners or etiquette? Although Turkle should be applauded for sharing this opposing viewpoint and being the word of caution in this digitally connected world, I’m getting tired of her soap-box-negative stance. It turns out that I’m not the only one. After reading through reflections from other classmates and their reactions of the course readings, I found a kindred spirit in Amy Singh. After reviewing Shelley Turkle’s video, Amy noted in her post, “Now Entering the Apathetic Age”, that Turkle’s viewpoint that our world is becoming more apathetic due to over-consumption of technology is really just negative and points out that “we can work with technology and be empathetic.  We may need to build these skills, but it can be done.” I would have to fully agree with Amy. Are teens really anymore apathetic today than they were 20 years ago? Hello, hasn’t anyone watched “The Breakfast Club?? Teens are really not that much different than they were when I was young. Many of us I'm sure can relate to being self-absorbed, aloof individuals who were overly connected to friends via the phone. 

Day 50 Occupy Wall Street November 5 201 by david_shankbone, on Flickr
 Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licenseby  david_shankbone 
So what’s this all about? Can we be selfish and apathetic as well as social justice activists all at once? Of course! Is social media making people more selfish or self-absorbed. It's doubtful. One just has to look at the impact the Occupy Movement had on raising issues regarding poverty and the discrepancy between the rich and the poor. How did this message spread? Social media. With any technological change there will be pros and cons. What it comes down to is the character of the individual who wields the device and their understanding of how the device impacts their life and those around them. This fact in itself reinforces reasons as to why educators need to ensure that Digital Citizenship is integrated into learning and is part of the conversation. 

In closing I share a TED Talk, "Youth Activism in the Era of Social Media: Emily's Entourage at TEDxLMSD". This TED Talk is a primary example of how social media can be used for social justice among teens. In the video, Julia and Coby Kramer-Golinkoff share how they used Social Media to share the story of  their sister, Julia and her battle with Cystic Fibrosis to "rally people and mobilize change" and create awareness about the effects of CF through Social Media. It's a great TED Talk and demonstrates the power of social media and how millenials are exploring ways of sharing in authentic, meaningful ways.  

Monday, October 5, 2015

Exploring and Extending Perspectives of "Adventures in Twitter Fiction" - FINAL DRAFT FOR REAL!

Hello members of EC&I 832, due to my over clicking nature, I accidentally published my critique before it was ready. So I am posting a link to that blog post, all in the hopes that you will click on the link when you are reading it in the EC&I 832 Hub of aggregated posts. Please do not read the other one on the TED Talk by Andrew Fitzgerald, not that you would have wanted to... as it was evidently in Draft form. Arrggghhhh!

Exploring and Extending Perspectives of "Adventures in Twitter Fiction" - TED Talk by Andrew Fitzgerald - FINAL DRAFT...

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Exploring and Extending Perspectives of "Adventures in Twitter Fiction" - TED Talk by Andrew Fitzgerald

Critique of the TED Talk presented by Andrew Fitzgerald, 

"Adventures in Twitter Fiction" 

"Adventures inTwitter Fiction" is a TED Talk, where the presenter, Andrew Fitzgerald reinforces the point that Twitter allows for the blurring of fact and fiction, real world and digital world, flexible identity, anonymity - and what these tools provide as building blocks for creative experimentation.

Essential Questions:
Some of the essential questions, examined within the context of the TED Talk include:
  • How can different digital mediums change the way stories and other literary works are not just shared, but created?
  • How does flexible identity, anonymity and engagement with the real world change the way writers interact with their audience? 
  • How can Twitter allow for creative people to push the boundaries of what is possible in this platform, and how will it alter what we define as a story?

Fitzgerald explores in his TED Talk, how the short story is experiencing a renaissance of popularity in a brand new form, primarily because of the affordances made with social media. Many writers today are using the power of social media to connect directly with an audience as a means of generating feedback. In this new format, there is no longer a mediator between the writer and audience, providing a more "organic" mode of natural connection. The lack of barrier allows for more creative experimentation in not only the interaction between author and audience, but the manner in which the story is produced. This new format is created, when there is a combination of the live communication and the serialization of written fiction.


Literary Magazines such as the The New Yorker are even stepping into this new wild and "unmediated frontier" with experimentive storytelling. Fitzgerald explores how many authors are testing the boundaries of this medium in vastly different ways, allowing for a variety of reading experiences. One author, Jennifer Egan, convinced The New Yorker to start a fictional account where her story, "The Black Box", was composed specifically with Twitter in mind in 140 character "bits". In addition to the unusual way in which the story was told, for nine days, it was shared in a serialized format as a series of tweets, eventually totaling to over 600. With the story unveiled in such a non-traditional way, readers could tune-in and await in suspense until the next tweet was shared.


Image Source: Twitter Crimer Show
Other examples of fictional writing on Twitter can be seen in the short story, "Evidence" by Elliot Holt.  In this tale, Holt weaves together a story through a series of tweets through multiple Twitter accounts. This format allows the author to capture the voice and perspective of all characters line by line, thereby allowing for greater authenticity. Twitter has also become a platform for parodying television, which can be seen in the Crimer Show. In this case, the Twitter story sounds like a television episode, but told on Twitter. If you wish to tune in, you can't, as the show is now advertised as being only available through "re-runs". There are also other examples of non-fiction storytelling which can be seen in RealTimeWWII, which documents real events of World War II day by day - thereby connecting us to the past, like a digital desk calendar. 

What are the Implications?

There are several implications in using Twitter as a platform for not only sharing fictional stories, but for creating them. It is one where the mode in which the story is created and produced, is blended with the platform or the stage on which it exists. Allowing the audience a sense of intimacy and connection not only to the plot and characters, but a sense of community created with this type of sharing.  In releasing a story bit by bit, as in the case of "The Black Box", audience members could join in the community of readers all awaiting in suspense for the next tweet. With no one able to read ahead, there are further potentials for publicity for The New Yorker and the author, by encouraging discussion in a platform already built for conversation. It conjures up images of old fashioned radio shows where families and communities gathered together to hear weekly broadcasts.  How can this type of storytelling build connections not only within members of the community, made up of followers and readers, but with the writers and the audience? Can this new platform, often criticized for its shallow connections, offer the same sense of connectedness that people would have experienced almost a century ago? 

Although I appreciate the potential for writers to connect with their audience through social media; as well as the opportunities Fitzgerald shares in this "new frontier" for creative experimentation, "where access to the tools is the only barrier to broadcasting". I can’t help but wonder what are the sideline benefits of broadcasting the story in this form. Is it just a media stunt or opportunity for writers to garner publicity and a following for their writing? Is this a platform merely a space where they can give an audience a taste, in hopes that they will buy the book for the polished version of the story later on? Or is it purely just an opportunity for the writer to truly engage with their audience and gain feedback in the creative writing process, allowing fans a sense of connectedness to the formation of a story. One can only hope that for the purity of the medium, that the latter would be the case. It is interesting to note that Egan, author of "The Black Box", only produced the one story in this form, making me wonder if it really was just for publicity.  Not wanting to be jaded or skeptical, I decided to look for other Twitter serial writers. After a quick search, I discovered other Twitter short stories  One was aptly named, the Very Short Story, which are stories by @sean_hill. He asks followers to "send me a noun and I'll use the ones that inspire me in a story." Here is a perfect of example of interacting with one's audience and engaging them in the writing process. However it is important to note that he is also writing a book of his Twitter stories, and advertises it on Amazon.  Hmmm... purity of form??? Then again, whom am I to criticize, the guy has to make a living. 

Now What? As Educators, Why Should We Care?

Image Source: Mashable 20 Twitter Short Stories Written by Mashable Readers
As I listened to Fitzgerald's presentation, I immediately started thinking of ways this platform could be used to connect the Connected  to literary works and writing. Would students be interested in exploring writing one tweet at a time, through micro Twitter stories, as shown in the Twitter contest created by Mashable, 20 Twitter Short Stories Written by Mashable Readers? Maybe Twitter could be a way to demonstrate to students that as a teacher, I am trying to connect. Imagine exploring with students the subtle nuances of communication that only can be demonstrated in 140 characters or less. Showing students the skills needed in being deep, while demonstrating brevity

In addition to discussions regarding the medium in which to tell a story, using Twitter in this manner would also lend itself to discussions related to Digital Citizenship. Teachers could revisit Fitzgerald's comment, how "access to the tools is the only barrier to broadcasting", as this ties in to the first element of Digital Citizenship - Digital Access. Students could explore who is not able to access this form of writing and whose voice is not present in this wild frontier. Perhaps, students could compose the stories of the marginalized and share them on Twitter as part of a social justice project.  

Part of the Digital Access discussion should also be around the issue of the age one must be to access social media, and why companies like Twitter have Terms of Agreement regarding the age of users (Twitter states you must be over 14 years). So although there are all kinds of great ways one can connect with this form of writing, with younger audiences it would have to be through the teacher as the guide of the Twitter account.  If teachers were interested in engaging students in "fake" writing on Twitter, there are sites such as Classtools and tools like Twister

As a final note, if you are interested in using Twitter for older students, Twitter has a site, Tips for Educators in exploring Twitter Literacy, and would further lend itself to discussions regarding Digital Citizenship. Educators can peruse topics ranging from: what is Twitter, ways teachers can connect with students,  how to keep your account secure, defining personal boundaries, tweeting thoughtfully, and considering the context. Bravo Twitter, that's definitely showing some responsibility for the medium by providing these tips!


Fitzgerald, A. (2013). Adventures in Twitter Fiction [Video file]. Retrieved from

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Connecting is Good, Yet Why Can't I Help But Worry?

Photo Credit: Brickdon via Compfight cc
This weeks readings were an exploration of the Digital Immigrants vs the Native users in Social Media. Not only did Prensky miss the mark as rapidly articulated in the video, Do Digital Natives Exist?  the term itself is misplaced. White's terminology or explanation of the Digital Visitors and Residents makes way more sense. I really like his point in how all individuals regardless of age, can pass into either role based on context and engagement. I really appreciate how Amy Sign, states it in her blog post this week, Digital Natives/Immigrants in Imagined communities and the digital citizenship quandarywhen she says, "One doesn’t have to look far to see that being ‘born into’ a digital age doesn’t equate someone who is able to navigate the muddy waters of ‘digital citizenship’." She goes on to allude to the awful case of Amanda Todd and how easily things can turn from bad to horrendous.  This is something too that I consider when I think of the Resident vs. the Visitor. Even though students are deemed as "getting it" - it's evident that often they understand how to use their devices (for the most part, I have more to say about that), but do they understand how to wield them responsibly? Yes kids love social media, but aside from setting up a profile, are they aware of the darker side to social media and how to exist within it's parameters safely?

In Michael Wesch's video, An Anthropological Introduction to Youtube he explores the participatory nature of social media, particularly with Youtube, and emphasizes the benefits of "connection without restraint" and the opportunity the platform offers for "tremendously deep communities". I like the idea of connection without restraint. But as an educator, and the dangers that are often presented with Social Media, can this lack of restraint be dangerous to those who maybe lack self control or the wisdom to behave appropriately face to face, never mind behind the seemingly anonymous perspective behind a computer screen?

Years ago when Charlie Bit Me was popularized (not just popularized, it eventually became the most viewed video in Youtube history), I joined the masses in replaying that video for friends, family, and students (shhhhh... I admit it... I used some classtime to watch a cute video... and I know I would do it again someday!) over and over again - giggling over those delightful and charming British brothers! Although I found the original video adorable, I found the remixes - fascinating... and sometimes annoying or downright ridiculous, as in the remix, Charlie Bit My Finger... Off! (okay, I kind of liked it). What was interesting is how fascinated my students were of the remixes. Was it the connection they made to often other teens who were remixing and sharing the videos? Were they inspired by the creativity of the remix? The daring to take a risk and offer that point of connection? What was it? Other than the fact that the videos were sometimes funny, why would a person watch video after video?  Is the fascination due to the sense of community created, or as Wesch points out, that we all collectively become fascinated by the same thing? Maybe it's the fact that the average person can be part of the entertainment - not celebrities, not politicians - but average people with a digital device  wanting to engage us in the conversation and this is that authentic connection that draws us in.

So I get why people love it. Maybe it's for the mindless entertainment and connection we feel or maybe it's a bit like being a distant observer of other people's lives. Sort of like what was explored in the movie the Truman Show, which was only made in 1998, yet really personifies a little of what it's like watching Youtube in our world now. I'm not knocking it and saying it's all trivial and boring, as I do have my favorite Youtube channels (like Kid-Snippets), but there are some elements that get a little Truman-like or just invasive. Perhaps this preference for a polished show, like Kid-Snippets, is part of the era I grew up in.  Is it a generational or Visitors vs Residents thing?

The question becomes what is entertaining to different groups? When we look what appeals to different interest groups, I can't help think of a time when my students were begging me to watch "Squirrel Boy in a Tree". Not trusting a group of grade 8 boys and their recommendations for a Youtube video in front of the class, I of course said no. Later, I checked it out to see what the fuss was.  Basically the video was about a kid yelling in a tree, swearing about a World of Warcraft video while his brother verbally tormented him and recorded the mental abuse. Nice.  It's aptly named, Greatest Freakout Ever. Interestingly enough, it has 13,143,428 views (unfortunately I have contributed 2 of the views of this pointless video). Let's just chalk this video up to being a prime example as to reasons why Youtube can be a bit of a waste of time and unfortunately become a platform for bullying. The interactions in the video, are certainly the polar opposite to the fun-loving relationship between Charlie and his older brother. Squirrel-boy probably never stood a chance to his older brother, and the best part is, the world can watch his embarrassment over and over again. Not everything needs or should be shared, and makes me wish that there was more of a behaviour police for family bullying even between brothers.

The part that really gets me though, is that I had students who enjoyed that video (as did millions of others) and thought it was hilarious. So now not only do we have to contend with movies and television shows which push-the-envelop in terms of appropriateness and what we call entertainment, we now have Youtube to do the same. It's not that I'm against Youtube, but in a lot of ways, Social Media can sometimes feel like the Wild West. Where almost anything goes, as long as it doesn't break the law. Where are the sheriffs? Yes, there are police who police the Internet for the really dangerous stuff out there. But what about mean older brothers, who polices them? There are parents (and...where are these kids' parents?), but it's doubtful that many are on Youtube. So going back to Wesch's statement regarding, "connection without restraint" and  "tremendously deep communities" - it's evident that there is definitely lack of restraint demonstrated in this case, and the community is most likely not exploring any deep connections.

Well all this negative talk is diminishing the lustre of Charlie and his brother... That was a great video. I enjoyed being part of the community who also enjoyed those sweet little boys.  Maybe it's not all bad. If you ever wondered where are they now, check out the clip below.  It's nice to see that Charlie and his brother still seem like a couple of sweet kids, who get along great except for a little chomp here and there.