Social Media Promised a Voice For All, Instead We Got Troll Farms

This is a remix of UP Tech Talk S06E02: Trolls, Tales, Twitter, and Thoughts - my conversation with cohosts Ben Kahn and Maria Erb of UP's Academic Technology Services

My preface: I grew up in a different media environment in the fifties and sixties. My information flow was controlled by big corporate media gatekeepers - network TV, record industry, newspapers, magazines, Hollywood.  I taught a media studies class in the seventies and eighties. It was all very McLuhan - how TV was shaping our thought.

When the digital revolution (and later social media) came along, my first reaction: "This is great. The barriers to entry are down and the media gatekeepers are dying off." I was publishing print on demand paperbacks and later multi-touch eBooks with my students. I was blogging, posting "how-to" videos on my own YouTube playlists and excited to network on Twitter chats with colleagues. I was advocating for my students to do the same - be content creators, not just consumers. 

I thought that social media would emerge as a low-barrier way for people to share information and that the "best content" would rise in a "marketplace of ideas." But now I realize that because of the algorithms, we're not in a common media space. We say we're on Facebook, but the Facebook that I see is different than the Facebook that somebody else sees. The social media business models hype "engagement" and the most outrageous content rises to the top. Trolls and bots further game the algorithms and we end up awash in "junk" news.

Maria, Ben and I discussed the current state of social media, where we've been and where we're heading.

Peter, Maria and Ben

“WW III is a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.” ~ Marshall McLuhan, “Culture Is Our Business”, 1970, p. 66

Here's a collection of essential reading on the subject

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Image credit:  Adobe Spark  - UnSplash / ian dooley @nativemello

How to Tweet Live Video of Your Presentation with Meerkat

Meerkats-Auckland_ZooNo doubt you’ve heard of Meerkat and its coronation as the next big thing at the recent SXSW conference. If not, think of it as a mobile video streaming app that piggybacks on Twitter. Imagine a live video stream of Romney’s “47% moment,” and you’ll see why Meerkat has caused a stir. 

To quickly check it out, search #Meerkat on Twitter and you will be inundated with “LIVE NOW #meerkat” tweets – followed by a url. Click on the link and most likely you’ll find a screen that says “STREAM OVER. Tune in next time @so-and-so is live.” (Plus an invitation to download the app and follow the Tweeter). I’m guessing that most Meerkasts are people testing it out for a few seconds. But you might also get to watch a live screencast of a band rehearsal or a breaking news story. Time will tell if Meerkat is the next Instagram or Ello.

If you have downloaded the app its easy to sign up with your Twitter account. Don’t be afraid to try your own test Meerkast. Most likely no one will tune in so you can check it out in private. If any viewers start watching you they will appear as Twitter icons at the top of the screen. You can decide if you’re having a bad hair day and it’s time to shutdown.

I recently “Meerkasted” (is that now a verb?) a talk I gave to a small gathering of colleagues at the University of Portland. The app was easy and effective enough to demonstrate to me that Meerkat could be useful for reaching an off-site audience at presentations and other events. Meerkat doesn’t provide an FAQ, so here’s what I’ve learned through experience or research. 

In advance:
Meerkat allows you either begin a live stream immediately, or “schedule” one for the future (no sooner than 5 mins). If you choose to schedule, then others who follow you on Meerkat or Twitter will see your promo tweet (with an image you can upload). They can choose to subscribe via the Meerkat app or simply check back on your Twitter stream at the appointed time.

It could be my bad luck, but I tried to “schedule” a Meerkat multiple times and was never able to get it to work. (If someone knows the trick to that or has any other Meerkat tips, please leave a comment below.) So instead of scheduling it, I just tweeted out an advance notice to tune in to the event with date and time. Then I started a live stream just before I began the talk.

Tech tips for set up:

  • At this point it’s iOS only, but Android is sure to follow.
  • Meerkat is a bit of a battery hog. I suggest having your iPhone on a charger.
  • You’ll need a mount to hold your iPhone. I use a Square Jellyfish “Spring Tripod Mount.” It clamps securely on my iPhone 5s and provides a junction to a standard tripod. It’s adjustable enough to accommodate the larger 6 series and most iPhone cases. With a mini tripod, you could set up your iPhone on your lectern.
  • Be sure to set your iPhone in portrait format. If you try to shoot in landscape, Meerkat will zoom in and convert the image to portrait anyway.
  • The front facing camera works fine and points the iPhone mic in your direction. If you set the camera fairly close to you, it allows you to check your position in the frame. 
  • Stick with a headshot. While you can view a Meerkast on any web-enabled device, it’s really designed for the intimacy of iPhone viewing. I had a Keynote presentation going in the background, but kept it out of the frame. (There’s too much contrast to try shoot video of a person in front of a presentation screen.)
  • If you have the iPhone set up within a few feet of you, its mic should work fine.
  • If you choose to use iPhone’s iSight camera remember that the built in mic will be facing away from you. You’ll be “off-mic” unless you add external microphone. You could use a small directional mic, but you’re making this all it too complicated. Meerkat is useful because its simple. You could use a headphone mic, but do you really want your live audience to think your listening to music? 
  • My experience and some contact with other users suggests that the sound / image sync is more stable when you use your cell network rather than wifi. In my tests, it was always flawless over cell, wifi got out of sync half the time. (Another reason I keep my grandfathered unlimited data plan with AT&T.)  
  • There’s 10 sec delay between you and your Meerkast, so I wouldn’t spend too much time focussed on your iPhone. 
  • Your Meerkast audience can tweet in comments which will appear on your Meerkat app. (That interaction works best when you are doing a intimate Meerkast over your latte). I found them too small to read during my presentation. If you want to follow Meerkast tweets while presenting, you could have another device with you at the podium dialed into Twitter. 
  • You could respond to tweets coming in and do the whole “backchannel” thing, but that can get complicated during a presentation. Unless you have someone else to follow and respond to your Meerkast tweets, keep it simple and focus on your live audience.

After the session:
Since Meerkat only streams in portrait, a YouTube broadcast of your Meerkast will look like it was shot by someone who doesn’t know enough to shoot their video in the desktop-friendly landscape mode. Nonetheless, Meerkat allows you to save your livesteam to your iPhone at the end of the session. You could then upload that to YouTube or use in another context. That save feature seems to work fine for shorter streams. I tried to save a 50 min session and it failed.

Another option for saving your livesteam is to add #katch hashtag in the title of your Meerkast. Katchkats will automatically create a YouTube video and post it back to Twitter with your Twitter handle. (If you forget, you can tweet a #katch hashtag via the Meerkat app anytime during your session and your Meerkast will be saved). #Katch places some limits on lengths of Meerkasts – it failed to save my 50 min session because of it’s length. Note: If you shoot a Meerkast in landscape and save via #katch it still ends up on YouTube in portrait.

Bottomline:
Meerkat is easy to use, but the product is ephemeral. If you really want to share a high quality record of your presentation, you should be using another platform like UStream.

When I Meerkasted my presentation, I stayed focussed on the audience in the room. Meerkat was set up, running and other than staying in the frame, I ignored it. Since I was unable to save the presentation, I have no permanent record of the event. But I had a tech in the room tuned into to my Meerkast checking in on his headphones. From what he told me, it went fine. I had a dozen Meerkast viewers who didn’t tweet much. But that was fine with me since it was a test run. I’m keynoting and running some workshops at Southern Oregon University Ed Tech Summit next month. Tune in on April 17th and see Meerkat in action. 

Image Credit Wikipedia / Vườn thú Auckland

Classroom Tech: When Less is More

I recently was a guest on the UP Tech Talk Podcast produced by University of Portland’s Academic Technology Services and hosted by Maria Erb (Instructional Designer) and Sam Williams (Dir of Academic Tech Services). Kudos for the great ATS podcast studio!

We had a lively 18 minute discussion about my UP social studies methods class and technology’s role in instructional design – it opened like this …

What’s the least amount of technology you could use to get the job done?

Maria: Peter, so glad to have you on the podcast. We just had a great conversation … you managed to rattle off probably half a dozen Web 2.0 tools that you’re using just like you were a fish swimming in water; it just seems so easy and natural for you. I’m just wondering, how do you go about choosing which tools you’re going to use for these great projects that you’re working on? What piques your interest?

Peter: I think it really begins with seeing yourself as a designer of a learning experience. You work with the tools you have and with the setting you have. You’ve got X number of students; you’re meeting once a week; you’ve got three hours with them. You think about the instructional goals that you want to achieve, and then from there, you say, okay, so what kind of tools are out there. For example, there was a situation where I wanted them to collaborate and design some lessons. I wanted them to be able to share their work with one another and be able to comment on it. I also think it’s important that there always be a public product, because I think we find our students producing content for their instructor as opposed to … which is kind of a ritualized thing as opposed to real-world content.

And ended with this exchange …

Sam: Are there any words of wisdom around it’s not about the technology that you could leave us at the end of this podcast?

Peter: I would say the big question is what’s the least amount of technology you could use to get the job done. Taking something and making it prettier by putting it on a white board when you could have written it up on the chalk board really doesn’t get you anywhere. I think that the transformative part of technology is getting it in the hands of the students so that they can research and create and produce in ways you couldn’t do without it. For me, those are the essential elements that I’m looking at, not simply just something that’s a bright shiny object.

Text transcript (word file) | Show notes and links | Podcast at iTunes: #12

The University of Portland uses the SmartEval system to gather student feedback on courses and faculty. Here’s a few comments from my UP students that are relevant to this podcast:

  • Peter challenged us to think and be designers of curriculum, instead of just lecturers. We learned how to get students working and thinking critically in the classroom.
  • I liked that the focus of the class was on making a product.
  • He also showed us how to move from the lecture mode to engaging students as architects in their own learning process.
  • Very well connected with other educators on Twitter. He has promoted every student in the class using his connections to help us build professional connections and build a professional online presence.

How To Use Social Media to Network Your PLN

 LandscapeI’m getting ready for the fall semester at University of Portland School of Education where I teach grad and undergrad social studies methods class. Our class blog EdMethods.

This year I’ve decided to become much more purposeful in training my students on how to use social media for their own professional growth. As a proof of concept, I thought I’d crowdsource for some ideas that I might incorporate into my social media course strand. If it’s such a useful tool, time for some “dogfooding.”

I posted the following tweet

Social media tweet

With more than 140 characters to work with, I posted the following to a number of my Google+ communities and LinkedIn groups.

LinkedIn queryWithin hours the replies started to come in. In less than 48 hours I had received enough feedback to collect them in Storify. View directly here or embedded below.

(Storify won’t collect G+ discussion threads or anything from LinkedIn. So I did my best with text only.)

How would you teach aspiring teachers how to effectively use social media to network and for their own professional growth? Add your ideas in the comment below.

Image credit: Vocational training for S.A.T.C. in University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Class in Pole-Climbing in the course for telephone electricians, with some of their instructors. University of Michigan., ca. 1918 U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier:165-WW-119A(1)

Learnist: Pinterest for Educators?

The Hirano family, left to right, George, Hisa, and Yasbei. Colorado River Relocation Center, Poston, Arizona., 1942 - 1945
Illustration from Learnist board: Incarceration of Japanese Americans During WWII

I was looking for an online content creation tool to use with my pre-service history teachers at the University of Portland. Our course blog. It had to be an education-friendly, social network that would allow them to post a variety of content, annotate it and provide tools to comment on each other’s work.

They were tasked with designing document based questions (DBQs) that included a variety of source material – text, letters, posters, video, audio. Each DBQ needed an engaging generative / essential question worth answering. It would utilize a series of documents with scaffolding questions designed to help the reader to answer the DBQ’s generative question. See full lesson here.

I considered a variety of social networking curation tools – Pinterest, ScoopIt, etc and posted the question to one of my Google groups. Features I was looking for included: ease of use, space for annotation, user comment, sharing and embedding options. Eventually I settled on Learnist. After reviewing the feedback and trying a few tools our, I settled on Learnist. From my perspective, it’s useful tool with a short learning curve. It lacks many formatting options, but that’s something I like. I’d rather have students focus on content than style.

Learnist proved to be a valuable tool for the students. They were able to post their work and gather feedback from their peers. Since Learnist can be embedded in a blog, they were able to use them as the foundation for guest posts on my blog. See student Learnists here.

Eventually students used the content as the foundation for our class publication of an iBook

Here’s a sample lesson that I created using Learnist Incarceration of Japanese Americans During WWII. I’ll be posting samples of student work soon.

Here’s some comments by my students on Learnist:

  • I enjoyed using Learnist. If anything, it’s a helpful cache of lessons to fall back on in the future. I know that I would like to teach a lesson on the Irish War of Independence, and Learnist provides a useful tool to use in the future. However, the format of Learnist does not lend itself easily to a stand-alone lesson. Rather, it provides the backdrop for a more in-depth and exhaustive lesson, a backdrop student can visualize and access from home. The aesthetics could be improved on the site, such as the use of a full screen document viewer, and more interactive visual presentations. ~ Peter
  • I’m with you, Peter. Learnist is a good idea, but they have a ways to go in terms of developing a user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing experience. Developing our lessons was fun though, and I could see myself using this in some capacity down the road ~ Damian
  • As for Learnist, I think it was a very cool idea, and I really enjoyed reading through some of the lessons that the other students created. ~ Cory
  • As for Learnist, I liked seeing others’ boards. I liked seeing how others were forming their follow-up questions and receiving help from my classmates. I think it is a cool site that I will use once I am a teacher, especially if my school is technologically savvy (fingers crossed!). ~ Christina
  • It was also interesting to see the different ways that other students used Learnist to get different outcomes. I’ll admit, however, that I don’t think I’ll be using this in my classroom anytime soon. It’s just a little bit too clunky for me, and I think that there are other ways that students can create DBQs that are a whole lot easier. ~ Heather
  • It was very interesting to see how everyone used Learnist for their DBQs. After browsing several of the projects, it became clear that people viewed the website in different ways. Now that I have finished my project with Learnist, it is hard to imagine using it in the classroom. Personally, there are just not enough formatting or board layout options to make the site useful for me. Whenever I use technology, the more that I can personalize my project the better. ~ Collin 

Image Credit: Their son was serving in the US Army fighting in Italy, while the Hirano family was incarcerated in the Colorado River Relocation Center, Poston, Arizona.
The Hirano family, left to right, George, Hisa, and Yasbei. Colorado River Relocation Center, Poston, Arizona. 1942 – 1945
Records of the War Relocation Authority
National Archives Identifier: 535989

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