Other People’s Conferences

In my first few years on Twitter it took me some time to get used to all the group pictures being shared from various education conferences. I didn’t know what the hashtags were or what the most popular abbreviations stood for. The more educators I followed, the clearer things became as I learned my way around the edu conference scene.

I attended a couple of big conferences in the US and actually made some of those connections like the ones I had seen on Twitter. Nice and wonderful and also very expensive. Registration fees for major education conferences like the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) or the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) easily run into the hundreds of dollars, to which one must add travel, food and lodging costs if it’s not right in your back yard. Pernille Ripp, a frequent presenter and speaker at education conferences across the US wrote about conferences costs on her blog. So we need to consider that big conferences are literally not for everyone. We should ask ourselves what the consequences of that are and may be.

But that’s not really what I wanted to write about. Rather, I’m excited about a few things: National subject matter conferences abound and in my network I’m pleased to see more and more friends and colleagues taking on presenter and speaker roles. I am also impressed by and immensely grateful for conference attendees who live-tweet keynotes, panels or workshops. Case in point:

And finally, I am thrilled to see new levels of crossover attendance and speaker profiles.

This happens to be the week of the NCTE annual convention in Houston, TX, with around 7000 attendees. A whole bunch of folks I admire are gathered there and many of them are presenting or speaking on multiple occasions! Whether introducing the work of #DisruptTexts or Non- vs. Anti-racist organizations, exploring Latinx identity with students supporting students in crisis and engaging on so many other topics, I was starstruck from afar taking in the presence and nonstop activity of my colleagues.

Before I go on, please let me suggest some folks whose tweets you should check out along with the #NCTE18 hashtag:

@juliaerin80, @triciaebarvia, @nenagerman, @ValeriaBrownEdu, @TheJLV, @DulceFlecha, @MisterMinor,

I should note that I am not an English teacher. My special area is physical education. That said, I will also point out that I teach children from various language backgrounds in English. It is also true that I love books, am an avid reader. I’m a parent raising readers, writers and speakers. What English teachers talk about when they assemble in great numbers speaks to me because we are all tasked with supporting learners and learning. I hope I can be equally attentive when math, science and social studies educators share their collected insights.

It means something to me that a well known math teacher is a featured speaker at this conference of English teachers. I want this kind of crossover to be a bigger part of education’s future. And it doesn’t mean that we need to incur twice the expense to experience such a rich and multi-layered learning future. At least one advantage of networked learning is the possibility to share more widely, more generously, more equitably. That is part of our working present albeit with many miles to go. We do seem headed in the right direction, though.

As #NCTE18 strides towards its closing sessions and calls to action, I hope we can use this example to think about how we as educators, as colleagues benefit from sharing our conference experiences beyond our assumed audiences. How can we expand our communication flexibility to provide for fellow educators who are not on site? And more to the point, how do we build and sustain our curiosity for other people’s conferences? Which is to say sustain curiosity about their struggles and solutions and how they connect with our own. Which is to fundamentally recognize that we are talking about serving the students before us to the best of our ability. Because if we are as vested in professional development as many of us claim we are, how many of our efforts take us outside of our areas of expertise to look for connections, to build new bridges? Show me.

And one more thing, speaking of building bridges. Julia Torres and Lorena German raised money to sponsor the attendance of 24 local educators to attend the conference within 3 days! This is what visionary leadership looks like – it floats an idea and then gets stuff done and makes something better.

There’s a great deal we can learn from a conference experience by following a hashtag and digging deeper into resources and links. As I prepare myself for a large upcoming education conference, I know that I am learning even more by example.

 

What’s Worth Sharing

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I’ve asked myself this question often but as my attraction to and involvement in social media have grown, perhaps not often enough. When I arrived on Twitter in 2013 I lingered on the periphery, mostly lurking from a safe distance. My interactions with other users were typically non-controversial and in direct relation to a third point – an article, blog post or tweet. In the four years since that arrival, my usage has changed.

Besides sharing my own writing, I now like to highlight others’ contributions, share in their celebrations, empathize with their disappointments. I willingly enter into relationships and by the nature of the medium, our interactions become public record of those relationships. Given that, I find myself increasingly inclined to share more about my thinking and life in progress. At some point, I began offering increasing numbers of unbidden statements. I began saying things about what I was experiencing, feeling, thinking. Just like that. Without a particular shared reference point.

That kind of sharing only “works” when there’s some kind of reward and in social media speak that means generating a “like” or a reply, even. Someone or something else (a bot, perhaps) needs to respond in some way, in order for our processing brains to chalk up a success. More frequent interaction increases the likelihood of “successful” exchanges. Over time and with adequate repetition we become conditioned to both anticipate reward responses which further bolster our inclination to share our little hearts out. And algorithmic sorting, ranking and boosting work their magic to insure that we find it difficult to step away and shut it all down.

So coming back to the question: What’s worth sharing?
Definitely not everything. And of course, it depends.

While transitioning to the New Year 2018 I found myself in an idyllic Alpine winter wonderland. I was so swept up with emotion in this setting that I gladly shared images with accompanying reflections about the ways I hope to claim 2018 as my own.

The way the familiar will ask me to embrace its changes and I’m not sure I’m ready but I do it anyway. #my2018 pic.twitter.com/CwDJEXvX9D

— Sherri Spelic (@edifiedlistener) January 1, 2018

While I was collecting these images and sharing them directly I asked myself the purpose. And one of my answers was to create a real-time record of my impressions for myself. Of course, there was also the desire to seek resonance with friends and colleagues. Perhaps some would also be able relate and even appreciate the beauty I was aiming to spread in my timeline.

I decided these images and these ideas were worth sharing. And I was rewarded. Generously.

The reward mechanisms that ultimately fuel our devotion/addiction to our social media and other digital activities of choice emerge as remarkably strong, influential and challenging to divert once they have established themselves in our neural pathways. That’s a reality that should give us pause. Along with the question of what’s worth sharing, we need to remain equally curious about and attuned to asking ‘what is the cost?’

Balancing value and cost, exposure and privacy, noise and quiet, outward and internal – these also belong to #my2018. That seems worth sharing.

 

image: ©edifiedlistener 2017

Nobody’s Version of Dumb

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Shoes by Vincent Van Gogh CC0

I spend a lot of time on Twitter. I follow more people than I can actually keep up with and miraculously a bunch more follow me and I apologize that I can’t just follow right back. I’m overwhelmed. I lose threads and also get lost in reading. I miss a lot and what I catch can probably be attributed to Twitter’s algorithmic sorting which keeps the folks I most interact with close to the top of the tweets I will see. It’s an imperfect system. My interests and responses are being guided, steered, nudged to achieve the golden data outcome of ‘maximum engagement.’ As long as I keep clicking around on the platform and rewarding the algorithm that delivers those precious “In case you missed it” messages, I am holding up my end of the user-platform bargain. Twitter stays in business and I cultivate my little networked worlds almost as intricately as my 9 year-old’s Minecraft creations.

Then along comes a short thread like this:

There’s more but that’s the core.

I know this lamentation. It is familiar and well worn and different figures deploy it at different junctures. Of course, @gsiemens is not just anybody. He’s a public intellectual, well recognized in the tech and higher ed circles I frequent. So I also hesitate to publicly push back on this particular take. But, alas. I get tired of authority type voices telling me and others that Twitter is making us dumb.

Speak for yourself, I say. Rain on your own parade, not mine.

Look. Not everyone who comes to social media is looking for a fight. We have not arrived here to recreate Greek forms of debate. We are not showing up so that we can rattle our intellectual sabres. We are not turning up to punch each others’ academic lights out, argument for carefully crafted argument.

I, for one, came because I was looking for others who could help me grow. I was in the market for good writing and good people and I found them. The longer I stayed and the more I engaged, good people found me. Good writing – I mean, strong, critical, robust and also sensitive writing walked right up to me and said, “Hi!” I got involved. I created adjoining spaces and fashioned a new home to welcome some of that rich writing. And I found art, humor, compassion, support, care, and (*praise hands*) Black Twitter. My life has been tremendously enlivened and broadened through my social media connections. I am a smart person who is more open, more aware, more vocal and more critical due to my connections via social media.

You will rarely find me putting up my verbal dukes on Twitter but I will support those who do it well. When authority type voices trot out these blanket statements about our shared intellectual demise, they offer a point of view that can be as narrow and constrained as those they accuse of the same offense. And often such voices enjoy the comfort and yes, privilege, of established recognition through institutions, publications, speaking invitations and considerable social media reach. These statements seem to come when these, usually male, individuals no longer feel “challenged” – when their membership in the social media ‘Gifted and Talented’ program is losing clout.

When I first ran across this thread, I wanted to ignore it. Give it the ‘ho, hum, somebody’s bored’ non-response. But the annoyance stayed with me because I felt in those few tweets that my experience and the experience of too many others were being denied. And thoughtlessly so.

Some of us are here for community; to gather and confer with the like minded. To remind each other that our presence matters. For someone with a particular kind of status, this aspect might easily be overlooked. Not for me. I come to Twitter to prove to myself again and again that I have a voice and know how to use it. In other circles, my voice, my presence runs the very real risk being inaudible, invisible. But for an authority voice type, this instance may not occur or even register.

Formulating this kind of push back takes energy. It takes energy away from some things I’d rather read and write about. And I don’t wish to expend more energy delving into the right-left Twitter divide article which prompted these tweets. When George Siemens claims that his network is fairly homogeneous, that is something that he can fix if it’s a priority. But to drag us all down into a space that he in a later tweet describes as “closed, intolerant, narrow minded, and short sighted” is decidedly unfair and unnecessary and I refuse to be placed there by proclamation from on high.

Maybe this is precisely how and why I persist on social media: Refusing to be placed somewhere by someone who is not me. I place and position myself. I speak my own mind. I pick my own battles. I am nobody’s version of dumb.

 

Note: The image is from the The Met collection of Public Domain images which is well worth a visit.

The Unsettled Here and Now

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I’m going to get personal for a minute here.

Sometimes I can be particularly observant of what’s going on around me and also in me. At present it feels like my powers of observation are a little out of whack. And I think this has to do with my increased traffic on social media platforms.

Since the US Presidential election, I’ve delved more deeply into my online engagements. Twitter has become my primary news source as well as my go-to space for a sense of community in troubled times. As incredibly grateful as I feel for the tremendous wealth of good will, necessary political resistance, and human warmth I experience, I also recognize the slow drain on my attentional and emotional resources.

Every day and on every tweet that I raise my #resist flag, I know this is what I must do, at the very least. I have picked a side and it happens to be against the incoming administration and majority aggressively Republican legislature. Even though I am geographically very distant, I experience the sense of dangerous and targeted upheaval on a very personal level. I fear for individuals as well as systems. And as I watch a group of overwhelmingly white, straight, so-called Christian males parade before multiple TV cameras and announce their policy plans, I feel sickened to know how quickly the country will likely find itself flat on its back not knowing how it got there.

I fear for our individual and collective exposure through our very willing and often enthusiastic embrace of digital tools and platforms which offer us convenience, speed, and seemingly unlimited choice. We are, at the same time, in fairly constant danger of becoming hostages of all the data we give away daily. With our clicks and instrumentalized acquiescence, we have created our most sophisticated and unforgiving monsters yet, which still maintain a miraculously rosy veneer of being society’s new great helpers.

All told, I’m feeling a lot of fear.

At my core I am an educator. My dialogues with students provide some of the richest contours to my thinking and doing. I look forward to starting classes soon in order to get grounded again; to be brought back to my core mission of helping students “Get fit, get better, and get along.”  We’ll have conversations about how we include, nurture, challenge and respect each other. They will remind me about the importance of fair play and being kind to one another. They will remind me to keep working on being my best. Perhaps more than at any other time in my teaching career, creating a classroom where fairness, openness and care are built into everything we do is the most important work I can do – for my students and for myself.

 

image: Spelic/@edifiedlistener

Naming Names

Alec Couros raised a question on Twitter.

The responses were swift and many. Multiple lists of Twitter personalities, representing a handful of recognizable networks of folks in both PK-12 and higher education appeared. Much gratitude was conveyed and several statements of mutual admiration shared. My own Twitter handle showed up in more than one list. This is always an honor and I do not take such recognition lightly. Generally, serial responses of Twitter users singing each others’ praises through hashtags such as Friday Follow #FF and #SundayScholars are positive moments on a platform where on the other end of the behavior spectrum extremely vicious and harmful attacks on individuals and groups can be unforgiving, relentless and a daily phenomenon.

I also appreciate Alec’s question about the people who push and stretch our thinking about education and the wider world. The question itself is an invitation to think carefully about the connections between our online encounters and our inner processes to take on new ideas, or wrestle with controversy, or to simply to place ourselves on a spectrum of experience. Who are the people who make this happen for us – perhaps regularly? The many lists which emerged today suggest more than popularity metrics and that is important to acknowledge.

At the same time, as the train of responses grew longer and the overlapping increased, intermingled with congratulatory back and forth, I had an odd feeling. Even as my own handle cropped up here, and then there, and then again a little later, I felt a little strange.  If I step away from several personal connections I find among these varying clusters of mentions, I see lists of names and handles which suddenly lack a necessary context. So many names of people whose work and presence I value piled up in various 140 character combinations – somehow today this felt like a let down.

Because when I name a name, I want you to know exactly, explicitly why. Considering our world in which data (often numerical) takes greater prominence, creating lists or collections of names and handles suggests that this is enough. Get the Twitter handle, follow, welcome fresh insights. If only it were that simple.

If we truly want to help each other see and take advantage of what’s available, we need to spend more time (which many would claim we don’t have) to provide the necessary context. If you have followed this blog for a while you will know that @AudreyWatters and @TressieMcPhD have rocked my intellectual world in significant ways over the last 3 years. You will have heard me crow about my online mentors and explain precisely which people allow me to claim Twitter as a sort of online homebase.

Context, context, context – we are going to need more and more of it in our information-overloaded existences, not less. We may not need to follow all the wonderful folks who are writing and challenging, protesting and clarifying – but we will need the critical referral that connects us to the blog post, the rebuttal, the upcoming event which meets us right where we need to go next. Recently, I was introduced to @schmutzie’s (Elan Morgan’s) Five Star Mixtape in which she assembles a weekly cross section of  blog readings and found one post which literally opened my world up to an understanding I wasn’t even aware that I was lacking. So sometimes it can be a single piece of writing or a video or podcast that tips the scales. Let’s also remember this when we create lists. We need both the people and their work.

Yes, please tell us whom you appreciate and why and then feed us with the substance we need to go further. Provide us with the tools to get beneath the surface. Retweet with a comment. Leave a comment on the blog itself. Name names and wrap them in context. These days that can be a genuine gift.

Twitter Talk, Year 3

I want to talk a little bit about Twitter. I do this periodically in different forms and I am still learning as I go. And I want to address folks who are perhaps new to this thing and are perhaps weighing the costs and benefits of engaging.

Some thoughts from my previous posts strike me as still true and relevant. On the one hand, I am quick to extol the virtues of this non-stop stream of eclectic content. On the other hand, I wonder about some challenges of engagement including, but not limited to overwhelm and unanticipated negative exposure.

Here’s the stuff I appreciate about Twitter now:

  • My people. Yes, my people. Through this platform I have developed relationships that matter. I have met people who encourage, support and challenge me. Over time I have learned about their lives, their concerns, their joys and struggles. And I, in turn, have been able to share my own. Safely and authentically.  It’s worth underscoring those last two words, because they are not a given on Twitter or other social media channels. This fact reinforces my gratitude for the community I enjoy and prize.
  • I think it’s making me smarter. The more I read, comment, re-read, and dialogue with others, the more thoroughly I am forced to clarify my thinking and develop my own positions.  This is definitely good exercise for my brain and my social and intellectual development building stamina, strength, flexibility and power.
  • I have opened myself to the world in ways I never thought that I would. Increased and more varied reading has prompted me to write more, to reach a growing audience, to explore areas of interest which extend well beyond what I thought I knew. My work is intentionally visible and public. That fact surprises me even now.
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Visible and public – on purpose. ‘Author, Audience and Parts of Speech’

  • Twitter allows me to distribute my work more widely. I blog here on my personal space, I use Medium for other posts, I’ve become a publisher and editor and I tweet (@edifiedlistener). I specifically use Twitter to share my content and to boost writing and perspectives I consider valuable. These actions go hand in hand for me. Without the contributions of others, I would not be out here engaging.
  • I’ve learned to have more fun. It took me some time, but I’ve developed my use of humor in under 140 characters. I chat more back and forth with friends, have begun to incorporate the occasional GIF, and find myself literally laughing out loud while scrolling through my feed.
  • My use of Twitter is still quite primitive relative to others. For me there is just the platform. I don’t use an add-on organizer like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck yet. I have 1 or 2 lists which I don’t really use. I’m okay with that. Efficiency is not my point at this stage.
  • As my follower count has climbed, the currency of established significant relationships on the platform has also increased. Meeting more & new folks can be invigorating and potentially distracting. Maintaining significant relationships requires a special effort and, in a fast-paced forum such as Twitter, a certain degree of vigilance. Making wise choices about whom you engage and recognizing how they affect your energy becomes more important.
  • My connections on Twitter have opened doors I didn’t even know existed. Thanks to @EdSpeakersCo I had the opportunity to travel to Denver for ISTE 2016 to address affiliate conference organizers in a keynote smackdown. Conversations with fellow independent school bloggers led to an accepted workshop proposal for the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) People of Color Conference to be held in December 2016. In this respect, Twitter has done more for my professional and career development than Linked In ever could.

This list is longer than I anticipated. As much as I aim to resist the trap of jumping on a particular branding  bandwagon, it is not lost on me that with this post and others I have written specific to this single platform, I am fueling the corporate machinery that keeps it all going. This post ends up as a wonderful display of brand loyalty and customer enthusiasm; a textbook testimonial. I want to acknowledge that and my conflictedness over it.

Rather than offer advice, I prefer to share my experiences (overwhelmingly positive to date) and leave it to you to determine what this platform might have in store for you. I am writing this after 3 years of fairly steady engagement. I feel like my growth by all measures here has been organic and manageable. I’ve had time to adjust and expand my parameters of engagement. And that has felt healthy. Which is saying a lot considering that we’re talking about social media.

Come for the intellectual buffet, stay for the kittens:

 

 

10,000 Characters

How many words might that add up to? How many pages? How many minutes of reading would that entail?

Like many other Twitter users I have some feelings about the lifting of the 140 character limit and potentially expanding it to up to 10,000. I had and have feelings about the shift from favorites as stars to hearts indicating a “like.”

I read the articles and posts describing Twitter’s downfall, death, corruption and fight for survival because this is the social media space that best meets my needs so far. And every time I feel myself about to say something sentimental about how and why I “care” about Twitter, I slap myself upside the head and remind myself that like hundreds of other corporations this is one more that is aiming to generate shareholder profits via my ongoing display of “care”: filling their platform with thousands of data points per hour.

And so it was with great relief that I read an article which made plain for me exactly what is at stake with Twitter lifting its signature 140 character limit. Will Oremus argues convincingly that it’s not about the length of the tweet:

What’s really changing here, then, is not the length of the tweet. It’s where that link at the bottom takes you when you click on it—or, rather, where it doesn’t take you. Instead of funneling traffic to blogs, news sites, and other sites around the Web, the “read more” button will keep you playing in Twitter’s own garden.

After a while, you may notice that this garden has expanded to take in territory that once lay beyond its walls—and that those walls are a little higher than you remember them being. Stories published on Twitter may not be available elsewhere. At the same time, Twitter might start to exercise some control over which stories available elsewhere will be allowed inside its garden.

The title of his post: “Twitter Isn’t Raising the 140 Character Limit. It’s Becoming A Walled Garden” says so much. And what it revealed to me was how much corporations are vested in guiding consumers in the “best way” to enjoy a service or product. Brand loyalty is even more important than ever. Attracting an audience or following is one thing, but to keep your audience tethered to your platform/service/product long enough for them to receive adequate ‘experience enhancers’ in the form of specifically targeted advertising; that is fully another.

And seen that way, I can’t believe that I have fallen in so deeply with all of this. How many terms of use have I knowingly accepted without so much as glancing at the details of my unique surrender? How widely and generously have I distributed my cookies among countless third parties?

So if Twitter changes its character limit, I have essentially all the same choices I have every day. To stay or go. To feed the insatiable monster or reduce my offerings. In truth, I’ve already become quite comfortable in my little garden space. Some things have begun to take root and grow, even thrive on some days. I appreciate the many neighborly interactions with other gardeners. And the wealth of our conversations is generated by the fact that none of us live in our Twitter gardens. We all come and go, check in and check back out. We bring our experiences from elsewhere and re-examine them back in the garden.

 

And yet, this garden with walls or without, is hardly built for permanence, although we like to behave as if that were the case. Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey was quoted in a USA Today article describing the company’s logic in contemplating the change:

Dorsey has pledged to challenge long-held beliefs and conventions at Twitter in an attempt to reignite user growth.

“I’ve challenged our teams to look beyond assumptions about what makes Twitter the best play to share what’s happening. I’m confident our ideas will result in the service that’s far easier to understand and much more powerful,” Dorsey said during the company’s third-quarter conference call.

What struck me here was the idea of “long-held beliefs and conventions” in a company that is just over 10 years old. “Long-held beliefs” move fast in Silicon Valley and therefore for the rest of us, too, apparently. And “reignit[ing] user growth” is every company’s headache. That upward growth curve simply can’t go on forever the way it started. But that seems very hard to accept if you made so much money (or amassed so much attention) for a while there. If Silicon Valley insists that 5-8 years is time enough to have established “long-held beliefs” then none of us should be surprised when these same corporations begin to speak of “glory days” after 15 years in the market.

Understanding why companies do the things they do with us and supposedly for us has to become an additional priority in our digital day-to-day.  This pains me. I would really rather not bother. But there is too much at stake. How much have I already shared and surrendered? What happens if rather than introducing higher walls, bulldozers arrive and the Twitter garden is made over into a giant strip mall?

This is why we need to keep our eyes open. If you catch me saying that I “care” about Twitter – remind me that Twitter does not care much about me. Twitter cares about Twitter’s survival which now is only measured in economic terms, suitable for Wall Street exchanges. 140 or 10,000 characters of expression will neither provide the cure nor seal the demise.

Someday we’ll look back and laugh.