Information Bubbles and the Internet

I have only been on Facebook since October 2011.  It was odd inviting people into my daily life who I haven’t seen in a very long time or perhaps never knew that well to begin with.  Many of these people have also aged since I knew them in the first place and there are days when I feel like I’ve inadvertently hosted a party in my living room for a bunch of opinionated codgers I wouldn’t spend five minutes talking to in person.

Then there are my other friends who seem “well-read”, to me.  They are intellectual, esoteric, and have a gentle wit, able to use their words, skillfully.  They send links from TedTalks, The Washington Post, and NPR and they help build my intellectual world and make me feel like a better form of myself.

I have had my finger on the Defriend button more than once telling my husband, “If so-and-so spouts off one more time about President Obama, citing Rush Limbaugh as her information source, I AM going to defriend her.”  Then I have waited because I have some thought in the back of my mind that it’s a good thing for me to know about this friend’s point of view.  I can’t relate to it, don’t agree with it, but many people say they feel the way she does and if she can help me understand where that mind-set comes from, I guess it’s good.  See, I’m also still a little reticent.

We do enough self-limiting of the information we expose our minds to.  Now, it seems that the information powers of the Internet, such as Google, are further culling links that have been coded to not be of our interest.  I have heard arguments against the personalization of the internet in terms of privacy, but another valid concern is that having more and more information that supports the way you already think does not help you to be a broad-minded thinker, speaker, or Facebooker.

Eli Pariser, in his TedTalk, presents us with some evidence about how searches for the same topic, by two different people, on Google, can result in completely different results.  I didn’t realize this was happening.  I’ve always heard about the rating system of Google links and thought we all got an even crack at the top-rated sites.

Eli asked the decision-makers about Internet information dissemination, who it seemed may have been in the room, to consider the journalistic practices of newspapers since about 1915.  At that time in US newspaper history, it became evident that journalistic practice wasn’t  open-minded or encompassing of multiple points-of-view, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions.  Press practices were altered and we have experienced at least a form of unfiltered reporting for about a century.

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This is probably going to be an international debate with some uneven information access until a balance between customization and flow of varied information is achieved, somewhat.  In the meantime, be thankful for your Facebook friends who challenge you with thinking you find unsupportable.  You need to get their perspective from somewhere.

Notes on Geeking Out

How did humans keep a lid on their creativity and interests prior to now?  I hardly know anyone who isn’t making, publishing, and sharing something in some form, whether it’s a picture of a batch of stellar cookies on Facebook or a house-produced video on YouTube.  But then those posts lead to links, which lead to links, and in time, special interests gravitate together and online minicultures are created.

The Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project (pgs. 28-34) assigns what many find to be a hobby gone too far as a skill level called “Geeking Out”.

Geeking out involves learning to navigate esoteric domains of knowledge and practice and participating in communities that traffic in these forms of expertise. It is a mode of learning that is peer-driven, but focused on gaining deep knowledge and expertise in specific areas of interest.

Geeking out takes time and deep pursuit.  First, one must spend hundreds of hours reading and learning who are the already recognized experts in the field.  Studying their work and style, you may then experiment with  what you have to add to the body of work that is at least up to acknowledgeable level and hopefully, carries something unique.  There is terminology and references to standard examples that all become part of the required vernacular of participation.

…geeking out involves developing an identity and pride as an expert and seeking fellow experts in far-flung networks. Geeking out is usually supported by interest-based groups, either local or online, or some hybrid of the two, where fellow geeks will both produce and exchange knowledge on their subjects of interest.

As  a literacy teacher, this finding made a connection for me to nonfiction reading and writing.  In pursuit of the rigorous standards of the Common Core, students select a topic about which they already have some background knowledge and interest.  Writing from their prior knowledge and new learning, they take the position of expert in this particular area and write to teach others in the class.  Even in elementary school we are teaching students that everyone has something to learn and everyone has something to teach.  The next step would be to publish their teaching online at a site where others with similar knowledge levels are posting.

Rather than purely “consuming” knowledge produced by authorita­tive sources, geeked out engagement involves accessing as well as producing knowledge to contribute to the knowledge network.

I think my nephew, Jake, is a great example of someone who is completely geeked out.  Always an irrepressibly talented young man, he didn’t get into an art field in his 20’s and instead works a blue collar job at a net-making company.  But Jake has developed an active film-making and photography life by just going ahead and making projects and then promoting them to the interest groups they pertain to.  He recently celebrated his 1000th subscriber so he definitely has a following.

Jake’s mom is a champion Bulldog breeder and trainer.  She has entered her obedience-trained dogs in many contests such as America’s Funniest Home Videos and was recently a top-10 finalist on America’s Got Talent. Her dog, Gabe, is often used in videos along with Jake’s son, Taylor.  Here is a recent production for a Pet Hub video contest, combining the niche interests of both Jake and his mom.  Watch it and give it a Like.

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Why Don’t We Post? Why Don’t We Comment?

I have just finished reading the section from Jeff Utecht’s book Reach on becoming part of a community.  E-mail aside, I only have about a year of experience at community participation.  I started my cooking/travel blog, Bergamot Orange exactly one year ago and I only joined Facebook last October.  I have thought quite a bit, over this time, about participation.  Some blogs I read are about the nothingest of topics and then have 25 comments that follow.  Most, however, seem to post along fairly regularly, many creating some very thoughtful, well-written entries and get no comments most of the time and one or two faithfuls on occasion.

Facebook is another format where over time, you realize there are about 20 people out of 200 who carry the conversation.  Maybe another 20 percent chime in to seasonally post photos of their families and then there is a big silent majority.  I can feel them hovering around in the cyberlands, but they don’t post anything revealing about themselves and they don’t indicate their likes about a post from anyone else.

And that reticence to participate in others makes me double-think before I post on my blog two days in a row.  I question if what I have to say is so important that I am putting it out there in the world even occasionally.  Blogging frequently is just going to get irritating.  That exact thought also prevents me from linking blog entries consistently to Facebook.  I’m not sure my ice-thin group of Facebook friends wants to hear all this from me.  They are going to think that I believe I have something to say, constantly, that they need to hear.  People don’t really like that.  I guess that in the case of blogging, I need a bigger circle.  I need more strangers in my network who just share my common interest and don’t worry about the social promotion it may appear to carry.

Leaving a comment on a blog where I’m not known is a different self-doubt.  Have you ever read a blog and been inspired to leave a comment, perhaps even written it up and then stopped and backed away, one letter at a time, until you disappeared again, entirely? I have and for me, it’s because I’m not sure that that particular blog community is open to new members.  I’m worried about appearing creepy by just bursting into an already known forum.  I guess the solution here is to just be brave and see what happens.  I don’t mind when people I don’t yet know read and comment on my blog, in fact, I really like it.  Other bloggers would surely be as happy as me to read a fresh voice in their dialogue.

So many things in life can easily take us right back to middle school and joining social networks is yet another.  I actually love that I have been assigned to blog as much as I can and go forth and comment.  Hopefully, I will create some new contacts and break through a little of my networking shyness.

How to Know When You’re Really Blogging

One of my goals throughout this course is to develop my professional blog, capturing and sharing my process as I develop a 7th grade humanities course I will be teaching.  A blog is the perfect platform for capturing the instructional value of the racks of books my students will be reading, individually or as class-shared literature.  It will also give me the space to write reflections on instructional decisions I make and lessons I teach, synthesizing literary and social studies themes along with literacy strategies.  I can see how my documenting and reflective thinking will build and refine over time.

Because I love the process of blogging, I would like to involve students in writing blogs, too.  I have already considered the benefits of student ownership and individuality in publishing their writing and we are always trying to find ways to help students connect with an authentic audience rather than write to complete assignments.  Blogging provides this audience. What I think I want most for my students, though,  is to experience the self-discovery that occurs through blogging over a period of time and continually touching back to previous thinking and writing while moving forward with new thoughts.  I really believe that writing helps you discover what you believe and what you want to say, but it often takes us several increments of crafting our thoughts on paper to discover it.

Kim Cofino wrote about a meeting she had with the English department at her school.  She indicated that they agreed that blogging was an interesting alternative form of publishing, but were unconvinced about the further merit.  Together, they looked at a blogging scope and sequence published by Will Richardson in Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom (pg. 32) and ended up gaining an awareness that blogging is “a thoughtful, consistent, metacognitive practice that builds over time”.  They could then get excited about blogging as a tool to bring their readers and writers to higher levels of thinking and accountability.

I am challenged myself with this scope and sequence to move my blogging up from replicating the static elements of a classroom web page to becoming a site that reveal my continual learning and reflection and that of my class.

  • Posting assignments (Not blogging)
  • Journaling, i.e. “this is what I did today.” (Not blogging)
  • Posting links. (Not blogging)
  • Links with descriptive annotation, i.e., “This site is about…” (Not really blogging either, but getting close depending on the depth of the description).
  • Links with analysis that gets into the meaning of the content being linked. (A simple form of blogging).
  • Reflective, metacognitive writing on practice without links. (Complex writing, but simple blogging, I think. Commenting would probably fall in here somewhere).
  • Links with analysis and synthesis that articulate a deeper understanding or relationship to the content being linked and written with potential audience in mind. (Real blogging).
  • Extended analysis and synthesis over a longer period of time that builds on previous posts, links, and comments. (Complex blogging).

Three Blog Week

It might have been different, this week, if I didn’t live in Tunisia which is 7 hours behind Bangkok.  If I lived in that time zone, when I woke up on Sunday morning I would have had no notification from the COETAIL director.  In that case, I would have gone about my usual Sunday routine of shopping at the market and cooking for the week.  Instead, as  Jeff was posting the documents for Course 1, at the end of his weekend,  I was just waking up, checking my gmail.  What I read for Week 1 was that I would need to do the following:

1.  Set up an RSS Reader and follow 20 blogs

2.  Learn to navigate the COETAIL website

3.  Learn to write a blog post and how the COETAIL  site works

I thought this sounded a little stiff, but I knew the program was rigorous and I had better jump in with both feet.  First step:  set up a new blog for this project.  I am developing the curriculum for a new 7th grade humanities program at the moment and I have already been thinking about establishing a blog to capture all of my research and thinking, and hopefully encourage some of my middle school teacher friends to converse with me, so I chose to take the leap to a dedicated website with my own URL address.

I have had a blog for a year now.  I started a cooking/travel blog one year ago, using Blogger called Bergamot Orange.  I’m ready to take this site to another stage, too.  I thought as long as I’m reinventing, why not migrate Bergamot Orange from Blogger to WordPress and create a URL address and new look.  Done.  That was Sunday.

Monday morning, I asked my friend Gwen, who is also in the cohort, what she had done.  She had also started her own blog and helped me set up my RSS Reader.  I emailed colleagues asking for their favorite professional blogs and subscribed to those as well as all of the blogs on the course outline.  I went home and read several of those blogs.  That was Monday.

Tuesday, Gwen told me, “We messed up.  We are meant to have a blog on the COETAIL website.  There are videos and instructions for how to sign in.”  It was only then that I saw the hand-holding videos and realized that we had to have a blog on this site.  I couldn’t just link my other new site to this conversation.  So I created my profile, asked for my third blog of the week, and finally watched all of the videos on the COETAIL site.  They were really helpful, by the way.  But it took me till Thursday.

I’m going to keep my professional site at meaningfromprint.com.  I will go ahead and build in reflections on the social studies and literacy learning I am doing, including UBD links to literature I will use and other topical studies, like Islam, which will be a year-long integration in my class.  I will continue to build bergamotorange.net, my blog about my life in North Africa.  This is another important aspect of my life balance and enjoyment of being an international teacher.  And I will keep my new blog, Literacy and Technology, on the COETAIL site so I can be part of the conversation with all of you great educators.  I know, I’m thinking about a better name, but I’m a little low on ideas after this week.

Please join me at any of my links.  You will get to know the real me that way, much faster.  And now that I’ve accomplished the learning goals for at least the first week through self-study, I’m going to enjoy the weekend playing with my blogs.

I do agree with Jeff that a glass of red wine is the key to successful blogging so I raise my glass to the cohort.  I am looking forward to meeting you all.

Julie