Monthly Archives: July 2018

Questioning Twitter

This week, I’ve introduced the five key questions of media literacy to our online #digme406 class and asked them to use these questions to think about the Social Media platforms they use. The five key questions of media literacy are:

  1. Who created this message?
  2. What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
  3. How might different people understand this message differently from me?
  4. What lifestyles, values and points of view are represented in; or omitted from, this message?
  5. Why is this message being sent?

I think these questions apply not only to “media messages”, but media platforms as well. The software applications that we use are also constructed and contain biases of the creator, just as any other form of media.

For an example, I will work through an analysis of Twitter here.

  1. Who created Twitter? 
    • The founders of Twitter are Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone,  and Evan Williams. There is controversy surrounding the founding of Twitter (Carlson, 2011). From what I can tell, Jack Dorsey was the engineer who thought of the concept and Noah Glass was its champion at the original parent company Odeo. Some say that CEO Evan Williams snookered the Odeo investors by convincing them that Twitter was heading nowhere and buying back their shares from them. The stock has since increased in value over 1,000 times.
  2. What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
    • Twitter’s original appeal was that it was compatible with phone SMS or text messaging. It was succinct, limited to 140 characters. Many people found this brevity invigorating. Get to the point! Do it with style! As with most social media applications, if you have an app installed on your phone, it will alert you when someone sends you a message or something else interesting is happening. Simplicity rules the day here.
  3. How might different people understand this message differently from me?
    • Twitter has been an invaluable tool to me over the years. While others were sharing photos of their lunches, some of my best Internet friends and I  held Twitter “chats” discussing a variety of topics related to teaching and learning. I have built a world-wide network of contacts who share my interest in improving the experience of school for students. Some people think it is mainly for fun, and I use it that way too. I also see it as a way to connect with people who know more about things I would like to learn about. I think it can be used to build a professional learning network. Some people see it as a tool for spreading propaganda and hate. Some people see it as a good way to be attacked by online trolls, or to mess up and lose your job, so to them it is dangerous territory. It is actually all of these things. But driving on highways in cars is also dangerous, but it gets us where we need to go. I see Twitter like that as well. Learn how to do it effectively and safely.
  4. What lifestyles, values and points of view are represented in; or omitted from, this message?
    • Let’s begin with the omitted points of view. I think a big POV (point of view) omitted from any social media platform is the POV that rejects the need for always-on communication. I don’t personally carry a smart phone. I use technology enough as it is, to not need to carry a mobile computer in my pocket sending me constant alerts. I want downtime to recuperate from the fast paced digital life. This habit and attitude runs contrary to the end goal of social media; the goal of gaining my attention. These technologies are purposely built to entertain and engage us, to distract us away from other things we might spend our time on.
    • A represented point of view is one that recognizes the human need for connection, and this technology meets this need. It also acknowledges the fast-paced, busy lives we lead. It expects that most users of Twitter will be mobile users.
  5. Why is this message being sent?
    • The ultimate purpose of building a service like Twitter is for it to earn a profit. This profit comes from advertisers who pay to access the millions of people who give their eyeballs and attention to the Twitter application. (The way that attention is gained is described back in question #2.)
    • Another purpose that a service like Twitter is created is to enhance and improve the lives of its users. I think many designers and engineers do what they do with this aim in mind. However, sometimes I think the first goal, earning a profit, sometimes directly competes with the second goal of improving lives.

 

References

Carlson, N. (2011). Real History of Twitter. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/how-twitter-was-founded-2011-4

 

Definition of Social Media

This week in my #digme406 class, we are exploring definitions of Social Media. According to Kaplan & Haenlein (2009) Social Media is

“… a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content.”

In other words, it is a digital media form that simplifies online publishing for average users. Web 2.0 as opposed to the original World Wide Web (version 1.0) does not require particularly extensive technology skills. To publish commentary on a web page in Web 1.0, you needed to know HTML and you needed to obtain hosting, among other things. To publish commentary in a Web 2.0 environment, you need to be able to sign up for an account on a service that simplifies everything.

Myspace and Facebook were created around the same time in the early 2000’s. Facebook won out, largely due to its simplified and uniform interface. Both services were free, but Myspace was highly customizable and more akin to Web 1.0. Facebook was easy to use for everyone, so it won out and became the giant social media service it is today.

Other social media platforms have since come along , challenging Facebook directly, or carving out a special niche of their own. There has long been a trend in the technology world for big, successful organizations to gobble up and integrate smaller competitors. For example Facebook now owns Instagram and Microsoft owns Skype, along with a couple of hundred others.

For everything there is a season, and Social Media orgs are no different. Young people have moved away from Facebook and into greener pastures, although plenty still are using it. Time will tell which technologies will be around for the long haul and which will go the way of the dodo. But one thing is certain—it is hard to beat technologies that are simple and easy to use.

Reference
Kaplan, A.M. & Haenlein, M. (2009). Users of the world unite! The challenges and opportunities of social media. Business Horizons, 53(1). Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bushor.2009.09.003

Coding Success in C#

I’ve been working on a web application for an agri-technology company here in Kansas. I’ve been away from web application development for a long time, and this project has been built using .NET. I’ve never made a web application in .NET.

I’ve made some desktop applications in C# using .NET and Visual Studio, which made me think I could assist with this project. But, I’ve never dove into an existing project like this and tried to make useful modifications to it. So this is another first for me.

Today I built a piece of code that I think will be useful for solving one of the problems on my to-do list. It is a console app that reads a specialized JSON file, a GeoJSON actually, and converts it to a CSV file. When I started looking at solving this issue, I thought it would be a matter of reading a JSON text file, parsing it, and re-writing it out in the new CSV format. Well, it’s a lot more complicated than it sounds.

I wound up using a couple of data structures in C# I was familiar with, a List and a DataTable. I suspect if I was smarter, or found the right example, I might have been able to do it with only one of these. But alas, I have been hacking away at this issue for some time now. Anyway, for now it goes from .GeoJSON -> List -> DataTable -> CSV. I thought I could go directly to the DataTable, but because GeoJSON is JSON data within JSON, my attempt to skip the List caused a problem.

It’s a lot of shuffling of data, not very elegant, but it works. Now I’m going to see if I can optimize things a bit, and integrate it into the bigger application.

Teachers As Learners

I think one of my frustrations as a student was with teachers who’ve forgotten what it is like to be a novice learning something new. I have to wonder how many teachers ever intentionally put themselves in the learner seat?

I’ve long felt that it is important to do this regularly so I never forget what it is like to be a student learning something new for the first time. One of the things I like about where I work, K-State Polytechnic, is that we value and emphasize industry experience with our faculty. Everyone who teaches in a technology field here has some industry experience to bring to bear in the classroom.

I think far too many teachers have spent their entire lives in school, never having experienced other contexts for working and learning. That doesn’t fly in computing. You wind up obsolete in a hurry if you aren’t always learning something new. This summer I am learning about ASP.NET. A few years ago I had the opportunity to do some applications programming using MS Visual Studio and .NET framework, but didn’t do anything significant with the web side of things.

I recently took on a new consulting work project that involves updating an existing web application. Let me tell you, this is some of the most challenging learning I’ve ever done. Trying to understand the logic of software that someone else has built well enough that you can make useful changes to it is tricky and takes a lot of time. I’ve spent over a month just trying to get the source code I was supplied to compile and run.

I was finally able to get that to happen this week! At long last, I have a system that runs locally and I can tinker with it without disturbing the actual production system that this business relies on for its livelihood. Wouldn’t you know it—less than a day after I got things working for the first time, I started getting compile errors again. It made no sense. All I had been doing was looking through source code. I hadn’t changed or saved anything (or so I thought).

It took several hours, but finally this evening I figured out how to make the error go away and I am back in business again

I suppose one thing that I’m learning in all of this is basic humility. Computers tend to keep you humble if you work long enough with them. They are constantly changing and evolving. And they aren’t very smart. One small accidental change can upset your whole program.

But over time, you start trusting in your ability to solve problems and to persist through adversity. I suppose if there is one skill I would like to model for my students it is that—you can do it if you stick to it and don’t give up.

If there is one piece of advice I can give other teachers is to regularly put yourself out of your comfort zone and take on some challenging learning. That will help build empathy with your students who don’t seem to be learning quickly enough, or working hard enough or really anything that isn’t working out as planned. Learning is tough business and it is hard to remember that when you are always teaching something that you’ve learned long ago.

 

Using Live Video Conferencing

I remember the first time I did a live Skype call with someone. I was acquainted with him, but didn’t know him well—only through the Internet. I had no camera on me because my computer was old, but I still felt very awkward looking at the live video feed of him. It took me a long time to get used to the idea of doing live video conferences because it was new and strange to me.

Actually, the idea isn’t new at all. AT&T invented a video telephone in the 1960s. They market tested it, and it was a failure. People didn’t like it and I get it. But today, I’m a believer in the video conference. It is so easy to do with the technology we have.

Things are shifting today, actually in the opposite direction I think. In the 1960s, people were quite comfortable with having both telephone conversations and face to face conversations. I’ve noticed that young people today are having less and less of either type of real-time conversation. They are mediating their conversations, so they can consider, parse and edit every word that is said. I’m not saying this is right or wrong, but I think it imposes unnecessary limitations on their life and workplace skills to do it this way.

That is why I am always experimenting with different techniques to engage with students. I think it is good for all of us to stretch beyond our comfort zones, to learn new skills and bring them to bear on solving the problems that life presents us with.

This semester in my DIGME406 online class on Social Media, we are experimenting with using Flipgrid. The little bit that we’ve tried it seems to have worked pretty well. We all have different schedules and I think it is difficult to try to do live conversations. Flipgrid seems a nice compromise in that regard. It mediates the conversation, so you can record a video and try again if you don’t like it before you commit it. You can also upload a video that has been edited if you wish. And it is asynchronous so it works with anyone’s schedule. So I’m excited to see how that works out.

Me with a telepresence robot

The previous time I taught the online version of this class, I gave an assignment of visiting with me in real time using a telepresence robot. A few students tried it and liked it, but ultimately, I gave up on that one because I had a really hard time with the tech working for everyone, and also some people simply didn’t want to try it I think. We ended up using Skype or Facetime, and even a POTS (plain old telephone system) phone call. But I still like the idea of having a live chat with each of my online students. Distance education is so isolated for everyone involved.