tumblr tags – 10 minutes in a one-shot won’t do it

So, I saw how Stephen Francoeur is using Tumblr as a commonplace book, and thought that might be a way to solve a problem I was having with my iPad-dominated workflow — how to corral and find the stuff I come across serendipitously, and the stuff I come across more intentionally in Google Reader.  So I am on tumblr, but I am really bad at being on tumblr for real – I haven’t even found anyone to follow yet.

I think that workflow issue might be a topic for another post.

Today, though, I want to make good on my promise over there that some of that stuff might show up here.  One common thread in the things I’ve saved over there is examples that show how complicated evaluation really is – especially when it is not accompanied by the kind of disciplinary expertise that most first-year students don’t have.

I’ve been tagging those 10 minutes in a one-shot won’t do it

One example digs into Politifact – a resource that the composition faculty and I talk about in WR 222, an advanced composition class that focuses more on public than academic discourse.

While the course we use it in isn’t focused on academic discourse, this discussion at the American Historical Association blog is — particularly on the different ways that legal scholars and historians approach the same question, which makes the task assigning a singular and simple “true” or “false” rating to a political claim more complicated than it seems.

The claim in question relates to recent laws and measures that regulate voting — more specifically, do claims that use historically specific terms like “Jim Crow” and “poll tax” to make claims (by analogy) about current measures stand up to scrutiny?  Politifact has evaluated three such claims in the last two years.

First, the AHA argues that Politifact “did its homework” in each of these cases –

Each time, Politifact editors called on historians to help them judge. Each time, their analysis and resulting judgments raised important questions about how historians, journalists, and politicians evaluate the nature of truth and how the past can best be mined for constructive analogy.

The list of historians and legal scholars consulted is lengthy and impressive.  The AHA points out some of the ways that historians and legal scholars differ in their approach(es) to the question – historians may be more likely to take a broad view of the question, while legal scholars examined questions of results and intent in a more focused way.  Overall, the message seems to be this – that the question “is this a suitable comparison” isn’t simple – and isn’t well served by the truth-o-meter approach.  Many of the scholars questioned brought up subtleties – that individually could tip the meter either way, but taken together points most of all to the conclusion that “it’s more complicated than that.”

And perhaps this is the issue. Politifact admirably works to educate the public on the accuracy of politicians’ references to the past. Sometimes this is a straightforward task; often it is not. Politifact generally seeks to confirm or disprove one-for-one correspondences between the present and the past. The historians cited by Politifact appear more willing to allow for comprehensive thinking; recognize that categories like “Jim Crow” aren’t cut-and-dried; and accept the idea that intent matters. Historians, less attached to the tyranny of the Truth-o-Meter™, are more willing to engage questions by explaining issues of continuity and change, and greatly enlarging the context. Though Politifact has made a concerted effort to include historians in its analysis, the Truth-o-Meter™ might not be readily calibrated to measure their responses.

This doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop using Politifact in WR 222 – like it or not, the discourse that class examines does reflect the assumptions of the meter of truth, and it’s a useful addition to the boatload of resources I throw at them.  But I’m also sending this discussion to the faculty who teach that class.  Because this is just one example of what I am sure are many situations where “it’s more complicated than that” seems to be the best response to the truth-o-meter (and I’m sure some of those examples come up in class).

And just like all the subtleties the historians bring up show the limitations of the truth-o-meter for adjudicating complex questions, all of these examples show the limitations of any kind of list, or tool, or crutch that can be used to “teach” evaluation in 10 minutes in a one-shot.

crowdsourcing mutual aid (information)

Mutual aid itself is probably inherently crowdsourced?

This is a mapping project – Hurricane Irene Clean Up Efforts – with the tagline “ordinary people help ordinary people.”

As the site says “disaster responders can’t be everywhere at the same time.”

People can report their projects, or projects they know about, categorize them, map them and generally get the word out.  Need can also be reported. Reports can be categorized as: Clean up efforts; Damage; Information Sources; Media Outlets; Severe Weather; Supplies Needed; Transportation; Water & Sanitation

Election 2.0

Keeping an eye on the process -

Tracking the polling places – how long does it take, are the machines working.  Sharing this information can help the voter make the most of their time, but the implicit goal is also to ensure that any questionable practices at the polling places don’t stay under the radar.

My Fair Election – A mapping application that lets you rate your polling place.  Not much information here, really – and maybe that’s because there’s an easier way to share this info, that a lot people are already using -

Twitter election watch

Twitter Vote Report was described by Information Aesthetics as a grassroots election monitoring system… that features an innovative use of Twitter as the main infrastructure for distributed data collection.

Twitter users can mark messages #machine to report problems with voting machines, #wait to report on wait times, and #votereport for all kinds of polling-related messages.

00 am Election Day
real time results for #machine aat 8:00 am Election Day

Of course, the opposite problem might attach here – too MUCH information to make anything specific to my situation find-able.  Not to mention no Twitter user could possibly be entirely confident that the election won’t break Twitter.

ETA – Another twitter project.  Election Protection: You Have the Right to Vote. 1-866-OUR-VOTE.  The twitter feed gathers and broadcasts reports of voter suppression and other problems.  Users can also report problems using state code tags in this format:  #EPstatecode (i.e. #EPOR), and zip code tags (#EPzipcode).

Please let me know about similar projects in the comments!

Looking back at the campaigns -

The 10 most viral videos of the 2008 campaign (from Politico)

The campaign in posters (from Caleb Crain)

Dipity Election Center – mashing up election information and dipity’s timeline tool (from Dipity)

I never thought I’d really have to update those screenshots

Raise your hand if you thought that del.icio.us was never ever really going to change?

Yeah, me too.

my bookmarks at the new delicious

my bookmarks at the new delicious

No more weird URL — it’s at http://delicious.com

So far, so good?  I’m going to miss the little star that says I have a new fan.  And some other things I haven’t discovered yet.  But after four minutes with it I can say nothing has bugged me excessively.

what do comics and documentary filmmaking have to do with libraries?

Nothing, really? Except maybe…

I spent the weekend working on a project Shaun is just starting – a documentary that takes a geographic look at why Portland has become such a central place for comics creators and publishers. He’s had to push his production schedule way up because the Stumptown Comics Fest, which has been in September, moved to April. So he doesn’t have the student crew he is planning to have yet (if you know a talented student filmmaker at OSU or WOU who would like some independent study credit – email me) and none of his volunteer crew was available on short notice to spend the weekend in Portland.

So it was just him and me filming 24-Hour-Comics-Day. That really means it was just him, with me to do the stuff that required more than 2 hands – holding the mike was a big part of my day. The 24 hours in question extended from 10 am Saturday morning to 10 am Sunday morning, and the artists and writers who participated spent this time around a table at Cosmic Monkey comics in northeast Portland. Their task was to produce a 24-page comic in 24 hours from start to finish.

Around 20 people signed up for the event, about 20 showed up and about 20 were there much of the time — but as Leigh Walton (who liveblogged the whole event – check it out) said, they weren’t always the same 20 people. When we walked back in on Sunday morning there weren’t 20 people there, but there were more than 10 and some of the people who were gone were gone because they were done already.

(No, we didn’t stay the whole night. The camera did.)

The people there ranged from first-timers who may or may not have ever put together a comic of this length, to established names like Jim Valentino (creator of Normalman), Neal Skorpen (doing his fifth 24 hour event) and David Chelsea (participating in his TENTH 24 hour event). And people were doing the event for all kinds of reasons – which is one of the more interesting things about these timed, creative contests I think.

When we do things like the 48 hour film project or the IDC, it’s usually to see how good of a film we can make in that period of time, yes. And when we talk to people about how we’ve just done a short film in 2 days or a documentary in 5, that marathon-like aspect of it is what people focus on — the idea that you do these things like people run a marathon, to see if you CAN do these things. If you have what it takes, the strength, the speed the stamina, or whatever. And there’s a “best time” variation on that — even if you know you CAN create a comic in 24 hours or make a movie in 48, there’s still – how good of a thing can you make in that time?

But with these creative contests – there are so many more reasons why people do these things. When we do the film contests part of it is pulling a community together in our smallish part of the state that’s interested in this kind of creativity – the Willamette Valley Film Collective idea. And that community aspect also came through loud and clear this past weekend — Shaun was thinking about how doing film as his scholarship is interesting because unlike writing books or articles, you can’t make a movie all by yourself. At the very least, you need your wife to hold the mike. And the artists and writers in the room were on the opposite side of things – what they do, they do by themselves a lot and having the chance to do it in a room with other people was part of the draw.

But another reason why people do these things – has nothing to do with marathons at all. Some people sign up for NaNoWriMo, 48 Hour Film, Script Frenzy, International Documentary Challenge or Madison’s Mercury Theater Blitz not to see if they can create a play or novel or movie in that time period – but to see if they can create a play or comic or movie or novel at all. Whether because they need the deadline, or the community of people doing the same thing fuels the competitive drive, or because they haven’t been able to manage doing it a little at a time and they need the excuse to just drop everything and put some sustained effort towards creating — they think “this is how I can finally get it done.”

So what has this to do with libraries? Well, probably nothing. But after I went to Picture Poetry to read the live blog of the event, I stuck around a bit reading Leigh Walton’s posts about Portland and comics and publishing — and I was struck by this older entry which starts off with the observation that “the distribution and retail network for comics is broken like whoa.”

The post itself is mainly a long excerpt from another person who is explaining why he shops online for comics instead of supporting his local shops — and if you read it, doesn’t it sound a lot like people talking about libraries? I mean, there’s the overwhelming difference that if you choose between an online shop and a brick and mortar shop you’re choosing where to spend your money, while if you choose Amazon over your library you’re choosing TO spend money — but other than that, a lot of what they’re saying sounds exactly like what we say in libraries — even down to the “let’s put a coffee shop in to be more welcoming.”

Which gets me thinking about the community aspect of things – and the role that the community plays in supporting people who just want to see if they can do stuff, produce stuff, create stuff, and more that the 24 hour comics drawpocalypse represented. In other words, I think I’m saying if we’re just a place to consume information, whether that information takes the form of comic books or academic books, I’m not sure we can compete with the Amazons and what have you. I mean, I’d rather do the consuming part at home on my couch, all things being equal. But all things aren’t equal, because we’re about more than consumption. One of the reasons that people get out and go to their local yarn store is for Stitch and Bitch night, one of the reasons people go out to the comic store is to draw a comic in 24 hours — libraries are also spaces where people don’t just consume, but also create, and create together with other creators — how can we build more into that aspect of what we are.

What does social networking overload really look like?

Last year, Rachel and I reported on a survey we did the year before that looked at how librarians feel about different social software applications like blogs, wikis and the like (is that right? I think so – it’s a really long time ago now). We mainly found out that we should have asked some different questions, which is what always happens when I do surveys.

But there was one thing that was really, really striking – most people reported not doing a ton of social networking (and I’m talking about things like blogs and wikis, not Facebook. And this was 2 years ago so things have probably changed). But in terms of how often people have edited a wiki, for example, I bet things haven’t changed that much.

Anyway, most librarians weren’t doing a ton of social networking. AND YET –

Almost everyone (97%) reported that they liked exploring new technologies.

Almost everyone (85%) reported that they were encouraged at work to explore new technologies.

And this is the big one – almost everyone (70%) reported that they had enough time to explore new technologies.

And yet. They weren’t doing it. So we theorized that the reason for this was a time issue, but it wasn’t the time issue that people usually talked about. Setting up accounts, figuring out how tools work — librarians have time to do that. That part is easy. The hard part for most of us is the time it takes to actually engage with a new group of people (or put together enough of the old group of people to make it worthwhile).

And I’ve certainly found that to be the case.

Which is a long way of saying – I actually looked at my Twitter account today. I know, right? I have said in multiple presentations that I don’t use Twitter, and I don’t. But as is the case with many other things that require accounts – I have one. So the second Pengrin story launched today and there’s a Twitter component. That was apparently all it took. Just like this whole experiment means I can choose to just read stories and not really play the ARG, this story means I can just read stories and not really have to do all of that work that it would take to make Twitter fun.
I enjoyed the first story quite a bit but I’m expecting to really have fun reading this one. It’s blog-based (young character = LJ, parental characters = wordpress), the emo teen-ish character makes an Emily the Strange reference in her first paragraph and a Twin Peaks reference in the third — and as an extra added bonus for me there’s a slowly evolving meta conversation in the comments.

I don’t know the classic book it’s connected to – The Haunted Doll’s House, but Slice does have a creepy doll picture representing it on the main site, which is awesome.

So this is apparently what it takes to get me to invest some energy in Twitter, at least for today. It will be interesting to see if I feel like I “get” Twitter any better at the end of this week than I do right now. It usually takes real engagement with a social tool like this for me to understand its cool factor. That usually happens right about the time I start to notice that the tool is changing something about how I think about something on the web – whether that something is information, other people, or whatever. I suspect this won’t be enough to do it, but I’ve been wrong before.

It was this post today on Unit Structures that really got me thinking about all of these connections. Because this isn’t all to say that I don’t get why lots of people do like Twitter – I actually do. But I think there’s some truth in the guess Rachel and I made about our survey data — that sometimes even when the social or informational or educational or other payoff is there for the taking, developing new social networks takes work, and energy — and sometimes we have to pick and choose where to spend it.

learning in public and other musings on higher ed

Two things this morning – both touching on issues of digital learning, learning communities, learning socially and the big question – is higher ed closing students off from the kinds of tools and skills they’ll need to be lifelong learners?

Writer Response Theory provides this exercise to help students find their Social Bookmarking Soulmates. Basically the assignment is really, really, really simple — the student finds someone who shares an interest with them on a social bookmarking site, and then writes a profile of that person on their blog. So I think it’s really more of a brain-mate than a soul-mate that’s the goal.

While the output of the assignment is the profile of “here’s my soulmate” on the blog, what they learn about that specific contact is really not the point – the point is to show students that informal, asynchronous collaborative learning spaces exist and that finding these spaces and making connections within them is a part of learning today. And tomorrow – this is a major part of how they will need to learn when they leave the academy.

From the blog –

During the assignment, students are at first skeptical that they will find anyone with similar interest. Usually it is not till they find a “Gem,” or exciting link, through someone else’s tags that they see the value in the exercise. More importantly, the assignment hammers home the ways in which social bookmarking can help them become part of a network of scholars, collaborating albeit indirectly at times.

That’s certainly how this worked for me — I didn’t “get” the value of my del.icio.us network until I found some of those gems, and noticed that those gems tended to come from the same people over and over again.

I don’t think this exercise works if it’s not done in public – in an open, public, virtual space. There was a related post yesterday on Blackboard’s blog about their Scholar product – the social bookmarking service that exists within the Blackboard walled garden. It does look a lot better than it did to me when I checked it out about a year ago — the social networking features are easier to see and use, and there are instructions for exporting your scholar bookmarks out to another service (which didn’t work for me when I tried it, but I didn’t try all that hard).

But I still don’t think that this assignment could work as well within the LMS. Nothing could compare to del.icio.us’ user base, but it goes beyond that. There’s something essential about making these kinds of connections out in the world – interacting with experts, hobbyists, other students, professionals and everyone all in the same place. And in learning how to find those people who are useful connections because they are useful. Learning how to do that kind of information evaluation is, I think, a necessary 21st century information literacy skill – and one that can’t be supported by the closed-off LMS environment.

Which leads me to this story out of Toronto. A first-year student is facing academic honesty charges and expulsion because he is (was?) the listed administrator for a Facebook study group connected to an intro Chemistry course at Ryerson. He’s facing 147 counts – one for each member of the group. None of the other group members have been charged. After the course professor found out about the Facebook group, he changed the students grade from a B to an F and recommended action be taken against him, citing a rule that forbids “any deliberate activity to gain academic advantage, including actions that have a negative effect on the integrity of the learning environment.”

First – what does that even mean? Doesn’t studying in ANY form count as a “deliberate activity to gain academic advantage” ? I mean, the next clause makes it clear that penalties won’t be limited to just those deliberate activities that have an negative effect. But that’s not really the point. The student in question is maintaining that what is being attacked here is the venue – that this virtual study group is no different than the face-to-face study groups you’ll find in any university library on any campus any day of the week.

And it looks like he might be right. The Toronto Star article linked above quotes the student advocate in the case extensively, and she’s clearly advocating one side. But no one has come forward with any evidence at all that students in this group were doing anything more than time-honored study group activities like “I can’t figure out this problem. Can you help me.” No one has shown any evidence (and given that this is a virtual space, you’d think it would be there to be shown) that students were exchanging answers, doing each other’s homework, or passing work they did not do off as their own, which is the main point of this statement from Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-Commerce Law (crazy title).

Beyond this, the students in this course were apparently given different questions to prevent exactly the kind of cheating this student is being accused of facilitating. What’s really dismaying here, is that these students – if these initial impressions are true – are engaged in exactly the kind of learning behaviors we should be encouraging. There’s no evidence here that the learning that a student would do when it comes to these chemistry problems would be better if it was done in solitude, and I think there’s a lot of reasons to think that the learning could be better with collaboration.

I’m biased here – in favor of social learning and study groups. The Collaborative Learning Center in my library is one of my favorite parts of the whole building.

the CLC in the Valley Library

Tutors and graduate assistants provide drop-in tutoring in the evenings, and during the day they’re joined by supplemental instruction tables where groups of students enrolled in large courses with high failure rates work with a professional tutor on a weekly basis.

Ryerson has more to say in this CBC article than they did in the Star. This quote jumps out –

[Ryerson spokesman James] Norrie said the university understands the nature of Facebook and its groups.

“This is not a bunch of old academics sitting around a table saying, ‘Oh, this scares us.’ That’s not what’s happening,” he said.

They say that, but given what we know so far it really looks like the opposite of this statement is true. Not just that the university doesn’t understand the nature of Facebook and its groups (though it looks like maybe they don’t) but that they don’t understand the nature of social learning online in a much larger sense than this. Which is what brings us back to the social bookmarking ideas above. When these students leave Ryerson, their ability to find groups of people engaged with the same problems they’re trying to deal with — whether they’re professional or personal problems — is going to be a fundamental part of their ability to learn and solve those problems.

And like it or not, a lot of that networking and learning is going to happen online. And it might be scary to think of a world where the number of resources available to students goes beyond a study table in the library or the answers in the back of the book, but that’s the world we have. And our students deserve the opportunity to learn how to learn in that world.