It was 2007, I was just finishing up my BS degree in communication technology when I received a google alert on my name one day. Honestly, I had felt a little vain when I set it up but I saw how this could be helpful especially considering the uniqueness of my name.
Someone had written a blog post and mentioned me!
I didn’t have a blog and really didn’t know any bloggers so this seemed really strange. I discovered that the post was about Twitter as a tool and explored how people were using it. I was on Twitter. My supervisor at the time had said that it was something that I should check out and so I created an account and started tinkering with it a few months prior.
The blog post was a rant about the best ways that people were using twitter and comparing how they should not use twitter. Two accounts were highlighted and an example was made out of them – your’s truly was the prime example of how to NOT use twitter.
I remember being pretty mortified, I think I killed my account for awhile, I think I changed my name when I eventually reactivated it. After some time I finally got a little mad. I mean I was a student. I was new to this online platform and so was everyone else; it had only been around for a little over a year. The whole thing was a big experiment as far as I was concerned. So I tweeted some boring stuff. There are worse things in the world. I ended up tweeting a link to the offending post stating “I guess no one cares about my soup”.
I’d like to think that I’ve come a long way in my use of twitter. But I still use experimentation in dealing with new tools and I’m sure that I’m not using tools as intended at any given time depending the context. But I don’t think that I should stop doing that. I may look silly sometimes and I may come off the wrong way but I learn a lot in doing it and then I write posts like this one sharing what I’ve learned… and… I think that is valuable. I’m not just experimenting in a vacuum. I am thinking about context, I am thinking about different vantage points, and I am thinking about how my uses impact others. But I am experimenting.
Still, I’m prone to getting sucked in by that voice of authority stating the right way to use tools. It is a strange dichotomy. This post is largely about me trying to work that out.
Right now there are a ton of things converging and diverging in my world. I’m just back from the #DigPed PEI conference where I took the digital literacies track but it is also the last two weeks of #DigCiz and Maha Bali has charged us all to define what digital citizenship looks like for us and on whose terms are we encouraging it using the tag #MyDigCiz. These two things together have me taking a hard look at what I am doing and questioning some of my practices in terms of being a person in the flesh and on the internet. I’m realizing that #MyDigCiz has a lot to do with critical self-reflection and continually trying to understand connections. At the same time I’m realizing that experiments are risky and not just to myself but to others.
I mean I am luckier than most. I have a self-reflective nature and a community of scholars that help me to build digital literacies and consider multiple contexts regularly; it’s called Virtually Connecting. As a community we are in almost constant dialog about what is ethical and what is not. How we can elevate voices that don’t get heard. What is working technically and how we can adjust environments for better connections. We are thinking about what is happening in the background when we go live and record. Who might walk into the frame and do they want to be live on the internet. It’s not perfect. We too are experimenting and learning. But we are also thinking critically, adjusting, and persisting.
You’d think this stuff was old hat for me. But it is not. I’m constantly readjusting.
One of my favorite moments at #DigPed PEI was the twitter chat. I didn’t do much tweeting. Those of us that were more experienced at twitter grouped up and gathered in the big open room – the Market Square. There were these loungy couches around the perimeter but some of us gathered in the middle and began a verbal in the flesh conversation/online twitter chat. I loved this moment so much because it ended up being a great liminal space. Those of us who gathered in the center of the room took time to talk but also time to read twitter and to tweet. There was tons of “dead air” interspersed with bits of verbal conversation. It wasn’t a show or a presentation, there was no front of the room, it was a conversation among people in the flesh who were on the internet at the same time. It was beautiful for someone like me. People jumped in from that outer ring from time to time while others were just quietly on their computers. The verbal conversation was a great mix of people with varying levels of experience in terms of presenting/attending conferences but like I said most were pretty established with using twitter and other forms of social media. Out of this conversation, a few key questions (particular thanks Audrey Watters) have led me to remember how I’ve developed certain methods around tweeting but also helped me to question some of my approaches as well.
I share a fair amount on the web. Not as much as many on Twitter but more than most in the world. I often filter other people through me via my tweets and I’m sure I deviate from their intended meanings – I am my own person after all. I live tweet many keynote speakers and session presenters. After doing this for awhile and being self-reflective about it I realized that there was a lot to be said for context. Hearing some snippet of what a speaker has said out of context can convey a completely different meaning. Then I have to ask where does my interpretation of what a speaker has said start and what they actually said (or what they meant in a particular context) end – and how does the random person who encounters that tweet perceive it? What responsibilities do I have to the content, the connections, and the speaker? What if I hear something wrong and share something that creates confusion? What if I start a conversation between some people that are going to hate one another? What if I say something in public that will hurt someone? If any of this happens how do I atone for this? Will I even realize it?
Upon this realization I remember making a conscious choice to stop using quotes, for the most part, in these kind of tweets. I did this on purpose. My point in not using quotes is that I’m taking some responsibility for the content of that tweet. I don’t want there to be a perception that I’m quoting directly – unless I do but it is rare in the scope of my tweets. This is my little indication that I’m doing the best I can in 140 characters to interpret and not mimic. But that’s not written down anywhere – that is not a best practice – that is an Autummism… but the thing is I’m not sure anyone “gets” that but me. I think many people assume the quotes. They assume that I’m word for word transcribing the talk. I don’t know how to assert that I’m a human and not a recording or broadcast device. I’m not trying to be a journalist, I’m not trying to be a camera, I just want to be a person who expresses her experience and uses social media to process that experience… more on that in a bit.
Until a few months ago I also used to never put the handle of the speaker in each tweet. I would send out one tweet at the beginning stating who I was hearing and interpreting but all subsequent tweets would not reference the speaker. But then there is a problem with attribution and does it look like I’m spewing the speaker’s rhetoric on my own? After getting called on this it might have been the first time I googled “how to live tweet a keynote speaker” (or something of the like) and low and behold there were a set of “best practices” that sure enough stated that you should tag the speaker in each tweet. So I started doing that.
Yes! Best practice to the rescue. Now I can finally start using Twitter right.
But now that I look back I realize that many of those articles were geared toward folks that were doing some kind of media production, were trying to sell something, or were interested in hitting a specific analytic. Wait!… That ain’t me babe. I’m not sure that I’m the intended audience of those articles but I didn’t get that at that time.
The thing about “best practices” is that they are problematic in that they strip nuance out of these contextual experiences. During our conversation some noted that this tagging in every single tweet basically sent the speaker a barrage of notifications which could be annoying. Furthermore, these had the potential to start side conversations that resulted in even more notifications. These side conversations are complicated by the “meaning problem” that I started to outline earlier. Because a meaning which is based on an interpretation by the person reading the tweet, in the context of the interpretation of the person who composed and sent the tweet, can be very different than the intended message of the speaker. It feels like you are almost asking for trouble. This problem is going to be present regardless I guess but my beef is with the “best” in best practice.
Who is that best for again? And how is the “best practice” better than my experimental Autumm practice? It seems either way the vulnerabilities persist.
Another tool I have started using is mobile live streaming and I think this does a good job of taking some of the problems I just discussed off of the table. It is pretty clear when I am on camera and when the speaker is on camera and the speaker just gets to speak for themselves. This technology is fairly new and there are a ton of best practices on the web mostly geared at video and sound quality and creating an experience for the virtual audience. The problem with the live streaming over tweeting is that I don’t live tweet a speaker only for the other people on twitter who may read those tweets or for the speaker themselves – I do it for myself too. I gain perspective considering those multiple contexts and constraints. It keeps my mind engaged in a different way than if I were listening without writing or even if I were listening and taking public or private notes. I know through my work with Virtually Connecting it is not about creating a great experience for a virtual audience as much as it is about creating a reciprocal experience between those on each side of the camera. Or at least that is what it is about for me and others that I surround myself with… I suppose this is where digital citizenship comes in.
I don’t just use social media and the public internet to channel other people who are speaking at conferences. I don’t just use images, video, and text to speak to an audience. I experiment with these things to learn about myself and the world around me. To explore multiple contexts and points of view. I have public conversations about topics that no one has easy answers for so that I can learn, maybe not the right answers but to perhaps be able to ask better questions, in community. I reflect on my experiences based on various forms of feedback that I receive and I make adjustments. I try to do better. This is not a research project, this is not reporting, this is not a course… this is a part of who I am.
And so when Sundi Richard and I started to ask questions around the idea of digital citizenship, having public conversations using video chat and Twitter seemed like second nature. When we decided to do it again a few months later we purchased web space and gave a home to some things like a schedule and an articulation of the context in which we were interested in talking about digital citizenship. By that time I had also found time to read Rhizo14: A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade by Jenny Mackness and Frances Bell and it gave me pause. I was in Rhizo15 and found the facilitator Dave Cormier to be attentive and deeply concerned for those that were experimenting with him around a complex topic for which there was no clear easy clear cut answer. However, this paper painted Dave as having control and influence over the group but neglecting the needs of those that were not having a positive experiences. That some participants had learned a great deal in the course but that others had been somehow damaged (the paper seems unclear to me on what this damage was and even feeling deeply embedded in Rhizo15 I’ve never figured it out) and that the facilitator should have had more control or something.
So, I wondered if our little #digciz project should have a disclaimer of sorts, perhaps a set of standards, or a defined code of ethics. I knew that we would never reach the scale of Rhizo14 but I saw no reason why we should not be concerned by the same ethical implications. I wanted to be clear that I was concerned about all those that were going to choose to engage with us but that at the same time that there were some dangers inherent to being on the public internet and that we would not be able to control every connection. That I have a life outside of #digciz and that I would not be able to watch 24/7.
I proposed this to Sundi and we created a page for this but we really struggled with articulation. Eventually, we decided to let the community own it and during the first week we would encourage the participants to build this statement themselves. Our first Twitter chat was more active than either of us had imagined but no one seemed interested in building such a statement. The page remained blank. We continued discussing digital citizenship anyway.
I think this was right for us and for the group that we ended up getting. We could have put on the breaks and refused to continue till we defined a disclaimer, list of ethical points, or a statement of some kind. But we didn’t. We decided to keep experimenting.
I think we all struggled with coming up with some set of standards for several reasons. For one we are a pretty new group and I don’t think that group members have even really defined what they wanted from the group. As a community comes together and solidifies I think that they sometimes feel a need to define themselves, but that takes time. For instance I had a hand in composing the Virtually Connecting manifesto and point to it often when defining that work. But I also think that our approach to subject of digital citizenship had something to do with this. We were bypassing some of the best practices on the subject and instead asking questions that were more complex and so reducing it back to a simple statement or a list of some kind just didn’t seem right.
As for me, I think that #MyDigCiz is somehow rooted in a sense that by creating a list of rules and practices we might give guidelines to some but that those guidelines will not speak for all. That like online, as in the flesh, the complexities around how we live and how we impact each other have more to do with deep fundamental attitudes surrounding relationships, empathy, and an ability to see multiple contexts than they do with following a list.
Of course the rub is that not everyone is ready to be self-reflective digital citizens. And so sometimes we create best practices, community statements, codes of ethics, etc. because we have to start somewhere. I think these are especially important for instance when dealing with young children and I don’t want to be condemning of those efforts (I understand that perhaps I have come off as hypercritical in the past) – they are important and needed – I just think that there is another conversation that is not really being discussed. I guess my point is that I think the best practices are not working by themselves and that we need more.
One thing that I did take from the Sunlight and Shade paper was that online courses including, and maybe especially, MOOCs are not going to be an enlightening experience for everyone… I think we knew that but research often tells us things that we instinctively know.
What is becoming really clear to me is that none of this is happening in a vacuum. I see the use of public, social, digital, tools changing and shaping all of the time. I see them used to commit atrocities and then in other cases used to shine a light on atrocities. I know technology is not neutral but I also know that people’s use of technology is not neutral either. We are learning from each other and shaping the way that we affect one another through the use of these tools. I see the free experimentation of the use of technology when done with what John Dewey referred to as the “habit of amicable cooperation” as an affront on formulaic prescribed best practices that may only be best for sales numbers and media clicks. I know that the idea of citizenship is a problematic one and that digital citizenship is an even more problematic. However, I think that we have a better chance at finding a way to live together by developing an ability to see connections than in being able to follow the rules.
My next stop in this journey will be the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute at University of Mary Washington and there will be lots of ways that you can participate virtually from Twitter to Virtually Connecting and I’m sure I will live stream a bit. However, I do want to encourage you – if you can by any means – attend in the flesh. I think that this is going to be one of the foremost learning events of the year if you are interested in getting past the hype and taking a close look at your own practice of teaching with digital tools.
Image Credit CC-BY-SA 4.0: Autumm Caines, Market Square UPEI