Monthly Archives: February 2018

Why No One Follows You on Twitter

angry bird

Earlier this month, I gave a reading assignment in my social media class to read and reflect on an article called Why No One Follows You On Twitter. It was really interesting to read the feedback my students gave on that article. It actually has spurred a great deal of introspection on my own goals and philosophy about using social media. I thought I’d share a bit of those thoughts here.

Probably the most common student response I heard was, “Why should I care how many followers I have?” In other words, the students who expressed this idea hadn’t bought into the idea that a large Twitter following was a worthwhile goal in the first place. That’s fair enough. After all, one student shared an article about the lack of value in having a large number of fake Twitter followers. Clearly a large number of followers by itself isn’t enough. If one is trying to build a large following simply out of vanity, I wouldn’t see a lot of value in that either. Twitter is about conversations. It is about feedback. It is about learning new things. And for some, it is even about being a leader or an influencer.

I would much rather have a smaller network of authentic connections than a large network of people (and spambots) where I have little or no actual connections or influence. I think anyone interested in using social media for serious purposes such as business, marketing, or professional development would feel the same way.

A couple of students remarked that they had little to say on social media, perhaps stemming from being young and inexperienced. My response to this is that everyone has some expertise that others don’t have, and would like to have. My daughter is only 16 and didn’t view herself as an expert in anything. I pointed out that she is far more knowledgeable than I am in the area of softball, and that she has even been paid to coach and provide feedback to young girls just learning the game. So it is all a matter of perspective.

We have been reading the book Show Your Work by Austin Kleon in our class. The philosophy behind that book is to do your work, your problem solving, your struggles publicly, because chances are others have similar problems they are trying to solve, or because there is someone out there who wants to hire you to solve those kinds of problems for you. Doing your critical thinking and problem solving in public takes guts, and a little faith that it is worth it, but showing that process not only has the potential to help others, but also shows people who are interested in hiring you for your skills, either as an employee or a client, what you can do.

When you are sharing what you are learning, you are providing something of value to others. That is what will build your follower count, and your followers in turn will feed into what you are learning and your knowledge base.

Finally, there were some technical things that students new to Twitter picked up on, such as private DMs or direct messages, and deciding to set up up a public or private account. Again, the DM function is useful and I use it on occasion. However, I am fully aware of the fact that our online privacy is an illusion. Our information is only as safe as the platforms we are using. Case in point, one rogue employee could choose to spill the beans on even the President of the USA, if desired.

Regarding the public vs private accounts, or maintaining multiple accounts on Twitter, I can see the rationale behind all of these. My teenaged daughter says I am “trashing up my feed” when I tweet about a variety of things that my followers might see as “off topic” and perhaps she is right. I know that some well known internet personalities have different profiles and channels for different things they are trying to accomplish. For me, I see my online profiles as an extension of myself. In other words, my digital self is myself. I try to keep it as real as I am able, so sometimes I’m serious and businesslike, and sometimes I am playful and joking around. I’m like that at work as well. Oh, who am I trying to kid? I’m mostly just joking around! But I don’t try to deceive anyone about who and what I am.

 

 

 

Making Animated Gifs

I’ve been making animated gifs since the early days of the world wide web. In fact, I might even have made some before I ever accessed the web, I don’t really remember for sure. I just know this technology has been around for a long, long time and it makes me smile that people are still using them to communicate ideas.

This weekend, I’ve been making a few gifs for fun. I haven’t made any for a while, so I decided to make some just as a refresher. I have to say, it seems much easier now than it did back in the 1990s. I used Photoshop to make mine. I’m sure there are other ways as well, but Photoshop is a tool I have and like to use whenever I get a chance.

If you are just working from a video file, making an animated gif is a cinch in Photoshop. I made this gif of Jim Groom and Martha Burtis from a DS106 class video they recently made together. The video made me laugh, so I decided making a gif was in order.

I downloaded the DS106 video from YouTube using the PwnYouTube bookmarklet. Over the years, this has been the best option I’ve come across for retrieving video content from YouTube. The file saved as a MP4 video that I then opened directly in Photoshop.

photoshop screen shot

When you open a video in a recent version of Photoshop, it will display it with a timeline at the bottom. Editing was a breeze. Just move the playhead slider to the part where you want your clip to begin, then click the scissors tool on the left. Do it again at the end of your clip. Select the pieces of video before and after the clip you want to keep, and click the delete key on the keyboard. After that, you should have just the video you want to be in the gif.

Click the file menu:  File -> Export -> Save for Web (Legacy). A window opens that allows you to save the video as a GIF file. Be sure the GIF option is selected. Set Colors to 256. Set Dither to around 87%. Click Save, and give your file a name. That’s it! You made an animated Gif!

photoshop example 2

School According to Tetsuya Ishida

Last week we were listening to the audiobook The New Education by Cathy N. Davidson  in our digital media class. She was describing the surreal paintings of Tetsuy Ishida, a Japanese artist who depicted the dehumanizing aspects of being a student in Japan’s schools. In his images, people are reduced to the pieces and parts of machines that can easily be replaced, packed up, moved around or discarded as desired.

We decided to explore these images and work on a surrealism media project of our own. Here are some of the pictures we found. I will discuss our own project in another post. For now, take a look at the work of Ishida:

Ishida 1

Tetsuya 2

Tetsuya 3

Gaining New Twitter Followers

This post I recently found in my Twitter feed was helpful on the question of gaining followers on Twitter. https://www.socialquant.net/more-followers-on-twitter/

Some highlights include:

  • Create a list of great content producers.
  • Optimize your bio for keywords.
  • Use images in your tweets.

To it, I would also add add

  • Tweet during big events like Super Bowl. (As did Oreo cookies)
  • Tweet using a trending hashtag (My class’ Star Trek video)
  • Interact with popular and influential people (Austin Kleon)
  • Regularly share great content (Show your work)
  • Volunteer to share your expertise (Collin Mac – answers photography questions in online forums)
  • Be funny
  • Tap into memetics

Blogging Revisited

When I began blogging in 2006, I became connected with a number of other teachers who were also using blogs. We would visit each other’s website and read each other’s posts and leave comments. This was an form of social media. We were doing that well before Facebook and Twitter hit the scene.

When I started my blog, I had the mindset that I would write reflections of what I was working on in the classroom and not really worry if anyone would read it or not. I figured the chances of someone being interested in what I had to say were slim. If someone read what I wrote, that was just extra gravy. Mostly I was writing for my own benefit.

I have been re-reading a book called Writing to Learn. William Zinnser, the books author, talks about how the writing process is our ticket to learning in just about any endeavor. He holds that writing is one of the best ways to reflect on whatever the problems are that you’re trying to solve and or whatever it is you’re trying to learn.

When I was working on my doctorate, I fell away from keeping a regular blog or even participating on social media. I realize now that it was a big mistake to do that. I even realized it at the time, wanting to blog about what I was thinking and learning, but the emotions that went along with that kind of work were too raw and too strong for me to make public. That is precisely why I should have overcome my fears and done it anyway.

In the book, “Growth Hacker Marketing” by Ryan Holiday, he talks about how growth hackers are bypassing traditional marketing channels with social media. He says the traditional approach to writing is to go away in isolation (exactly what I did) and return after the work is finished hoping to promote the it to readers, and gambling that the entire endeavor will pay off.

Holiday argues that with the growth hacker approach, the author blogs about the work as it is in progress, and interacts with interested readers along the way, using their feedback to hone and tweak the work into something that has PMF or Product Market Fit. In other words, the writer gets a critique along the way and is able to hone the final product into something that will be well refined into something highly desirable by its intended audience.

I wonder how much the motion picture industry would be improved by taking this approach? Wouldn’t movie fans everywhere love to be able to view the dailies as they come in! A daring film production team should try this, and let people see behind the scenes as the film is being made, every step of the way. After all, that is exactly how Andy Weir wrote The Martian, before it became a finished blockbuster novel and movie. He let his audience follow his progress and provide crowd sourced feedback making The Martian have perfectly optimized PMF. If the original story was crafted this way, why not have the film follow a similar process?

Now that my dissertation is completed, I’ve returned to my old stomping grounds of social media and blogging only to find that things have changed. No one is really reading a lot of small name blogs anymore. Everything has shifted to social media and it’s short bursts of information and visual memes. Social media has almost completely replaced the blog as a communications media. Sure, there are still successful blogs out there, but I’m not feeling the sense of community in the blogosphere that once was there; maybe I’m missing it.

However, I’ve gotten a lot of benefit from going back and reading my old blog posts from a decade ago. I think I will continue to benefit as I return and reflect on things I write. So I think I will return to my original mindset about blogging. I will write for myself, and if someone else benefits that’s even better! Who knows? Maybe something I’m working on and writing about will resonate and people who share my interests will reconnect with me because of this effort.

How I “do” internet

Yamato

Saw friend tweeting about WWII battleship Yamato
Asked about his interest in naval history.
Learned his father landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day with the “29th”
Replied that he must be proud of his father
Googled “29th”
Read some 29th history on Wikipedia.
Saw it had a unit landing with 1st infantry division on d-day
Remembered 1st is based at Fort Riley, KS
Wondered why 1st Infantry Division was not hyperlinked in Wikipedia article I was reading
Decided to create hyperlink
Clicked edit on Wikipedia page
Saw the non-HTML wiki style code.
Googled how to make links on Wikipedia
Found tutorial that showed how
Remembered that Wikipedia edits are more likely to stick if I login
Tried logging in to Wikipedia but couldn’t remember password
Requested password reset
Password didn’t arrive in regular email, so I checked special spam email account
Reset Wikipedia password
Made Wikipedia edit
Reflected on what had happened
Wrote this

Authentic Writing Assignments

 

File Photo writing a letter to US Marine
writing letter to US Marine

One of my deepest frustrations that I felt as an undergraduate student were the “contrived” assignments that I was given in the courses in my major of computer science. In my introduction to networking class, we did a lot of readings from the textbook and memorized a lot of facts for the exams we took, all while I was working as an IT director redesigning and installing my first network at the school where I was working. In my database class, we did some case studies of fictitious companies from our textbook, and actually created some databases in MS Access. That was happening while I was working for a municipal utilities department responsible for creating databases that tracked and reported data on water usage in the city.

Now I’m on the other side of the equation, a college teacher. I realize that sometimes we have but little choice but to “make up” scenarios for students to explore and experience. However, when it’s possible, I am a big believer in setting up authentic learning experiences. The more realistic a learning experience is, the messier things can get. I think this may be one limiting factor that makes educators favor the contrived over the authentic. We can make things cleaner and go smoother if we pre-plan every detail in advance. But life never works that way. Usually in life when we embark on a new project, we have no idea of how things will ultimately turn out.

One of the greatest things that our digitally-connected world has to offer students is a learning environment in which the classroom can extend out into the world. This can happen in numerous ways. For example, Mystery Skype is an activity where classrooms in different parts of the world can connect and play a guessing game trying to learn where the other class is located. Experts can interact with students through live video conference, or other online platforms like Twitter.

In many writing assignments, the work is assigned by the teacher, then the student completes the writing work knowing full well that the only reader of the work will be the teacher/grader. If you’ve ever read this type of writing, it often consists of the student writer imagining what the teacher expects, and typically the writing is just as artificial as the assignment.

Early in my teaching career, I was frustrated by my students’ writing.  I wanted to have writing and communication assignments that were more authentic and real than the teacher-as-audience type of assignment.  I read a piece by Connecticut middle school teacher Paul Bogush, describing how his students were motivated by writing for a global audience, rather than the traditional teacher audience, and it spoke to me.

Why not have students write for a wider audience? Why not assign projects and assignments that have potential for having an impact on the outside world? In a world where information is freely available but the quality varies wildly, why not have students share what they are learning with the world? What great practice it is for students to share what they learn and believe, so long as they are asking deep questions, and doing what they can to find evidence-based answers to these questions.

One suggestion I’ve read, and I forget where I found it, is to simply write a letter to a loved one about what is being learned. Explain something complex in terms that a non-expert can understand. I think that is a good place to start. I’m still exploring this idea. How can I create assignments and projects that students will get excited about working on? How can I get them to want to make a difference with the work they are doing in school? I think the more real, the more authentic, the more relevant these assignments and projects are, the better.