Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘twitter

Twitter is just now experimenting with 280-character tweets instead of 140-character ones. Stephen Colbert saw the humour in doing this and tweeted:

The Twitterati will have more room to express itself. But this also gives hate groups and hateful individuals room to do disproportionately more damage.

The increase is also not sustainable. When 280 characters is not enough, is Twitter going to increase the quota again? It might cite its research on the numbers game and say no. But does it have research on the hate and vitriol that some individuals or groups receive regularly?

When these individuals or groups report these incidents, they are largely ignored or swept under the carpet. What data does it have on how often this happens?

Video source

When Twitter defended Trump’s veiled tweeted threat to destroy North Korea, what data did it use to call the tweet newsworthy? It probably played the numbers game (views, favourites, retweets) instead of considering what was ethical.

It is easier to increase the tweet character limit and to cite tweet counts. These implementations are lines of code and a superficial analysis away. It is more difficult to do what is right.

Doing what is right means drawing a line on the ground and not crossing it. What is right or wrong may change with time and context, but the need to keep drawing those lines does not. People need to know where you stand.

Local social media lit up last week after a performer from Henry Park Primary School showed the middle finger on national TV.

The aftermath was no different. As expected, the boy was given a talking to and he was remorseful.

The Twitter reaction thread was easy enough to analyse. For simplicity, the reactions fell into three main camps: Tweets that lauded the boy as a “national hero”, people who blamed anyone or anything other than the child, and all other reactions, e.g., leave the child alone.

These are the types of responses that give Twitter and other social media platforms a bad name. This is a pity given how educators worldwide have embraced Twitter as a medium for connecting and unPD.

Such blasé and negative responses were common even before Trump’s tweets became the new normal. Why?

There is the usually cited reason of facelessness. Online there is no one to literally look in the eye and subsequently face judgement. This encourages the mild to become be bold, and the already bold to troll.

There is a brutal honesty to such tweets because social niceties are sacrificed in favour of raw reaction. What people might not realise is that being on social media requires even more social awareness and skills in a faceless environment.

If conversations like these were conducted in-person, we might label them moronic. Our faces and reactions serve as mirrors so that discussants can gauge their own behaviour. Perhaps, somewhat ironically, the lack of physical presence holds up a mirror bigger and clearer about our lack of social nous.

Talks are the least effectiveness way to effect change, but they are a necessary evil because people still organise them and the talks can have extensive reach.

But when I conduct talks, seminars, or keynotes, I ensure that I interact with my audience richly in a few ways.

Why do this? Most speakers will use an “e” word like engagement or even entertainment. I do not play these games because I know my participants are smarter than to fall for that.

I use tools to interact so that my audience (listeners) become participants (thinkers, doers). I do not wish to merely engage, I want to participants to take ownership of learning and responsibility of action.

Beth Kanter shared some ideas last week. I am weighing in on my own and I suggest free tools combined with basic principles of educational psychology.

A backchannel is an online space for participants to comment, discuss, and ask questions while I am speaking or after I have asked them to consider an issue.

My favourite backchannel tools are Twitter and TodaysMeet.

Twitter is great when an organiser already has one or more event #hashtags that participants can use. This presumes that a sizeable number of participants already use Twitter or are willing to get on it quickly.

Twitter backchannel.

TodaysMeet is better when participants have not committed to any particular platform. If they can text or SMS, then can use TodaysMeet.

With my own free TodaysMeet account, I can create an online text-based interaction space and define how long it will be open for. I then invite participants to it by sharing the access URL. (Pro tip: Create a custom URL with and a QR code with this generator.)

One of the most recent versions of Google Slides lets you invite questions from the audience. The URL for participants to submit questions appears at the top of your slides and they can vote up the best questions. (Read my review of Google Slides audience tool.)

Audience Tool URL as overlay.

This is not quite a backchannel because it is not designed for chatter. It favours focused queries. This tool might be better for less adventurous participants who are not used to switching quickly between tasks.

Whatever the backchannel tool, its use must be guided by sound educational principles. You might want to provide participants with a space to be heard immediately instead of waiting till the end, or you want to monitor their thoughts, sense their doubts, or get feedback.

The visualisations I am referring to are not images and videos. These are show-and-tell elements which are attempts to engage, but have little to do with interacting with participants.

My most common strategy of participative visualisation is to incorporate data collecting and collating tools like Google Forms and AnswerGarden.

Both these tools require user inputs that can be visualised. For example, I could ask the room which major phone platform they are on: Android, iOS, other in a Google Form.

The data they provide is collated in a Google Sheet and can be visualised in a pie chart or bar graph. The relative proportions are more obvious to see than asking the participants to raise their hands.

There are many tools that do what Google Forms and Sheets do, possibly a bit quicker and slicker. But these normally come at a premium. The GSuite is free.

One way to visualise a group’s grasp of concepts is to use a word cloud. For example, I am fond of asking participants what they consider the most important 21st century competencies.

AnswerGarden word cloud.

I invite them to share words or short phrases in an AnswerGarden in brainstorming mode. The most commonly cited concepts appear large while the less common ones become small.

The purpose of such illustrations is not just to leverage on the fact that we are visual creatures and the visuals make an immediate impact. I want participants to get involved in real time and this helps also me illustrate how the technology enables more current forms of learning and work.

One of the worst things I could do as a speaker is talk about something that the audience has no interest in. As it is, some or most of the people there might be present as an obligation and not by choice. So I try to find out what they might want to learn.

I often use Google Forms to find out beforehand and present the popular suggested topics in the form of a chart.

With smaller seminars, I might use Dotstorming to determine which direction to take midway through the event. I ask participants to suggest areas to explore and they vote on topics each others topics.

Dotstorming is similar to Padlet in that users input ideas on online stickies. However, Dotstorming allows me to let them vote on the best ideas and arrange the notes by popularity.

Dotstorming example.

The idea here is to give the participant a say in what gets covered or uncovered. It is about providing and fulfilling user choice instead of focusing on a potentially irrelevant curriculum or plan.

My perennial favourite for quick-quizzing participants is Flubaroo, an add-on to Google Forms for auto-grading quizzes as well as providing feedback and answers to my learners.

Google Forms has since upped its game to offer quiz-like functions, but it still lags behind the leader, Flubaroo in some ways. This site provides a detailed breakdown of a Forms quiz vs a Flubaroo one.

Quiz is coming!

The point of quizzing is not just to keep participants on their toes. Some might be driven by such a challenge, but all benefit from evaluating themselves in terms of learning. The results can also be an indicator of how much my talk was understood.

I am fond of using Padlet and Google Forms for pitstops and one-minute papers.

Pitstops are pauses in my sessions for participants to collect their thoughts and think of questions. They are an opportunity for them to see if they can link the negotiated outcomes with their current state of learning, and to see where they still need to go.

A takeaway or “dabao” (in local vernacular) is a terminal activity in which I ask participants to tell me their biggest learning outcome from the session.

In both I find that there is an even mix of planned and unplanned learning outcomes. This is a good thing because the internalisation and ownership of learning is important, not just the blind reception of information.

I do not only like to connect with participants before and during a talk, but also after it. I do so a few ways.

I leave my social media information in one of the final slides.

Contact me.

If I use a backchannel, participants can contact me indefinitely on Twitter and up to several days or weeks after on TodaysMeet.

I also use my blog to reflect on the events and to answer questions I might not have been able to address during the session.

A few times every week I get harassed, pleaded with, bribed, cajoled, threatened, insert-thesaurus-word-here. All because I was an early adopter of Twitter in 2007.

I can probably count on just one hand the number of people who have been polite about asking for my Twitter handle.

Twitter reminds me that I signed up in early 2007, but I posted my first tweet only in October that same year.

Since then I have tweeted regularly and fended off the curious, lazy, greedy, aggressive, etc. coveters of my handle.

But Twitter will not verify my account because I am not a brand or famous Ashley. Surely the labour of love over the last decade is worth that acknowledgement.

Once in a blue moon I check the stats that Twitter maintains for my account. Every time I do that I say, “That’s typical!”

I shared these two tweets recently:

This were the returns as of yesterday.

The numbers indicate the tweet views. To keep the screenshot readable, I cropped out the engagements which were 37 and 16 respectively.

What is typical is that I can share something on education and it will walk on stubby legs, if at all. But when I share something that rides on popularity or celebrity, it takes long strides.

That seems typical of reactions on Twitter. That is also sad given that I prefer to tweet as an educator about education. Such action and content is not as “sexy” and it cannot compete with entertainment. It should not.

However, blaming the nature of the tweets and their linked content is focusing on the symptoms. A deeper fault is likely mine and yours. It is mine for not cultivating a bigger following of passionate educators who will share and retweet. It is yours for not knowing what the rules of the game are and which to break.

I have been around the Twitter block since January 2007. I have learnt that sometimes I have to block and report other Twitter users.

The first category is scammers and spammers. Both might be bots or semi-bots that send scams and spam to #hashtagged chats, or to @handles publicly or via private DM. Blocking this group is essential for a clean and focused Twitter experience.

The spammers and scammers are easy to spot. They tend to have:

  • nearly identical messages sent out to different people
  • identical or nearly identical messages sent from different accounts
  • different profiles but the same personal website URL
  • dubious-sounding claims, promises, or links

The second category is trolls. This is an ugly, venomous lot. They tend to be attracted to celebrities and the entertainment industry, but a few wander into the edu-Twitterverse. Trolls need to not only be blocked but also reported to Twitter so that they can be blacklisted or removed.

The trolls are tend to be negative, but not critically so. The problem with this definition is that what is negative depends on how tolerant a person is. A tweeter can be negative but constructive, and that does not make him or her a troll. Trolls tend to attack people instead of ideas. It is best to observe that person over a period of time to gauge overall behaviour and monitor the responses that others may have.

The third category is people who do not know how to use the right handles. This might be something reserved for people with unique handles like me (@ashley). I get lots of misdirected tweets and retweets every day. Make that every hour. No, make that every minute.

Sometimes this is an honest mistake. Other times these tweets are from Twitter newbies or lazy tweeters.

If the tweeter seems to have made an honest mistake or is a newbie, I take less drastic action by muting instead of blocking.

I block recalcitrants. If I do not block or mute these folk, I suffer a slew misdirected messages from them that were intended for someone else. The messages can be abusive, personal, x-rated, or otherwise undesirable.

In the last year or so, I have noticed a surge of poorly curated “myfollowers” lists. This is when people I do not know or follow add me to their “myfollowers” list. These folk could be spammers, scammers, or newbies.

If they are not educators, I tend to block them. If they are and have added me by mistake, I remove myself from their lists (original guide).

  1. Visit your profile on Twitter
  2. Click on lists and then on “Member of”
  3. Visit the profile of the person who created the list
  4. Block that person for a few seconds
  5. Unblock them

Why not simply grin and bear with the spam, scam, trolls, misdirected tweets, or improperly curated lists? I know that ignoring the problems will not make them go away. Not doing anything is defeatist and irresponsible. I choose to be empowered, not helpless.

I failed to get verified as @ashley on Twitter.

When I read that Twitter was opening up the Twitter verified account to anyone, I thought I would give it a go. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Apparently, something ventured also led to nothing gained.

I jumped through hoops and provided information in a form. It took a few days for me to receive this rejection email.

Twitter rejection email.

Twitter did not say why I could not get a blue check mark against my handle “at this time”. So, maybe much later?

I can guess why the verification was rejected though. I am not a celebrity Ashley or an otherwise famous one. My account is not of enough public interest.

It does not matter that I have had @ashley since January 2007 and that Twitter is the only social media platform I believe in and am active on.

It does not matter that I have ignored threats and monetary offers for my Twitter handle.

It does not matter that I promote edu-tweeting when I can.

A little over 2000 followers does not pass muster. It is a drop in a celebrity ocean. This is my fault since I block between 30-50 people every day for assorted Twitter sins. Imagine how many I would have it I did not stand my ground.

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