Flogging the Dead Horse of RSS

If you’re reading this and don’t know what RSS is you likely also don’t recall the term “Web 2.0“. Really Simple Syndication for me was the poster child technology for the era where the early internet began to shift from a place where only certain folks with technical skill and software could contribute to the web to a place where user-generated content was now dominant and more importantly, anyone could easily interact with that content. RSS allowed you to subscribe to specific content and people.

One of my early blog posts tried to articulate the power of this technology by using the metaphor of a “research team” Other educators curating, thinking and sharing ideas that were useful to me. All I had to do was click a subscribe button and whenever I had a moment could go to my aggregator Bloglines, Google Reader (which was still the best) and currently Feedly and see any updated or added content. While those of you who have never used RSS in this way, I can’t describe how magical and amazing this technology was. Suddenly I was being introduced to really smart folks doing really interesting work and they were just giving it to me. I recall a few years earlier I had been to a conference and the speaker invited folks to sign up for his newsletter and he described it as having the best people in the world finding the most current educational research and having it sent to your inbox once a month. That’s essentially what I was able to do except I chose who was on my team and what topics they were to research. This journey started in 2004.

Fast forward to 2014. I was asked to create a course on sustaining digital literacy.  The course is a few key principles including these:

  • Educational research is changing. While traditional research still matters, we also recognize teachers are researches and can learn much from their experience about what learning can and should be.
  • Emerging ideas can be accessed and explored more quickly. Because of technology, we know about new ideas and practices sooner. We no longer have to wait for a white paper to tell us if they fall under “best practice” we can try them out and research ourselves.
  • We now connected directly with experts.

It’s that last one in particular that this post references. I have included a module on RSS to allow my students to create their own research teams on topics of interest. Because I’m old, I still have my students set up Feedly accounts and plug in the RSS feeds of their classmates and hopefully add other blogs to their feeds as well. And like blogging, I realize only a handful will continue but I want to expose them to the power of sharing their own research/learning via blogging and how to find others who do as well via Feedly.

This term I received this bit of feedback:

 I think that Feedly and the RSS feed seem to be too much and becoming outdated. With current social media, I would most likely receive alerts when people/groups that I am following have updated posts.

And I think it’s true. I don’t use RSS the way I did in 2004. That said, I remember reading that blogging was dead ten years ago. And while it’s maybe not trendy, many educators have seen its value and maintained a presence. Apparently, RSS has some valid uses as well but like most everyone, I tend to use social as a place to find new and emerging ideas. But I also think using Twitter and Facebook to haphazardly find content lacks intention and depth. I also value reading a person’s blog over time to understand better their voice and context. So I’m asking for some advice on how to update my module on finding research. What replaces RSS feeds? What works for you that goes beyond “someone on Twitter/Facebook shared….” to something that is more focused and intentional?

Here’s hoping I have a couple readers left who do this thing where they’re brave enough to leave a comment.

Update: Thanks to Reclaim Hosting for fixing my comment issue when it had nothing to do with them. They are just good people. Seriously the best hosting service around.

Still Amusing Ourselves To Death

As much as I love the ability to connect with current practitioners and other smart folks around innovative and interesting ideas in education, we have a wealth of knowledge that lives in the recent and more distant past that is often overlooked. The bombardment of “new” through current media offerings tends to overshadow the truths that have been shared, considered and proven over decades and centuries.

When it comes to understanding media and communications, there are no better thinkers out there than Neil Postman and Marshall McLuhan. If you’re reading this and have never heard of these men, I would highly encourage you to seek out their writings.

I just finished re-reading Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman’s critique of the impact of television on our world.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.

I suppose some might not be able to see the connection between television and the Internet and while there certainly are differences, I found the parallels to be glaring. Without doing a full review here, I simply wanted to focus on one of his major points. He looks specifically at the way TV news is primarily entertainment and journalism is secondary at best.

No matter where you look today, the pace at which news is delivered, the emphasis on sensationalism and the sheer numbers of outlets, has turned important information and conversations into banal and destructive natterings. Postman might have suggested the same thing with television but the Internet, like it is want to do, has amplified this.

Postman didn’t have a problem with TV being a platform for entertainment. He thought it was well suited to make people laugh and be amused. His argument was that it was not a format designed for serious topics that required depth and time.  Although I didn’t have the context I made a similar argument about social media. That post is almost 10 years old. It’s only magnified in truth today. The places (Twitter mostly) I valued as a place to get to know people has turned into a dumping ground for soundbites and flawed opinions. In general, I don’t think people are smarter or more informed and part of the current polarization and divisions in our world are a direct result of social media. Its benefits for me lie in knowing more folks and finding other spaces to do meaningful work.

As someone who embraced social media early on, I was able to see what it could do to benefit our world. I wasn’t oblivious to the downsides but encouraged its use as a way to connect to smart people. Blogging was a way to provide a voice to anyone with an internet connection. I still see it as a potential space for deeper thought, however, long-form blogging, in particular, is not all that popular. If I was smart enough, I might even be able to determine how many folks clicked on this link and how many have made it this far. <insert joke/fact about how my writing isn’t engaging enough> Today I’m much less enthusiastic about the potential of these spaces and Postman’s writing has unfortunately fostered less hope. We are much more interested in amusement than truth. This is not a conscious decision as Postman argues but rather as a result of the nature of these mediums.

“Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.”  Neil PostmanAmusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Trying to be a truly informed citizen today is almost impossible. As an educator, this is where we have an enormous challenge. My work and presentations have me dabbling at this and yet being frustrated by the cultural tsunami of trite, bias and untruths bites that flood our feeds.

“Television is altering the meaning of ‘being informed’ by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation. Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information – misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information – information that creates the illusion of knowing something, but which in fact leads one away from knowing.”  Neil PostmanAmusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Swap “Television” for “Social Media” and I think it’s still true.

At this point I have a couple of personal responses that I’m trying to deploy:

  • Talk less. I’m not likely to engage in any type of political discussion or even important educational conversations on social media.
  • Question everything. No matter what perspective or bias, assume it’s likely false. Hold your opinions until you’ve taken the time to investigate.
  • Utilize the right spaces for the right purposes. Social media, in my view, has always been best to socialize. This space has always been best to think out loud. Face to face extended times with the right people can be fruitful places for deeper discussions.

I’d encourage you to read something with some historical context because as much as we see the current age as so new, smart folks like Postman saw this coming a long time ago.

“To be unaware that a technology comes equipped with a program for social change, to maintain that technology is neutral, to make the assumption that technology is always a friend to culture is, at this late hour, stupidity plain and simple.”  Neil PostmanAmusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

 

 

Sandlots and Outdoor Rinks

I played a lot of sports as a kid growing up in southern Manitoba. Hockey in the winter, baseball in the spring, golf in the summer and football in the fall. In all cases, I played in leagues but I also played them without adult supervision or organization.

In Canada, outdoor neigbourhood rinks are as prevalent as sandlots and baseball fields. I remember being about 7 years old and taking my skates and stick to the local outdoor rink, tieing my skates in the heated shack and heading out on the ice. There were kids, teenagers, and adults. Everyone played. You tossed your sticks in the centre of the rink and divided them up. Then you played. If the teams seemed uneven, you’d make a quick adjustment but mostly you just played. You learned to play with kids who were way better than you and kids who were worse. Some kids certainly had the puck more than others but you just played. While you did keep score, it mattered little as the next day you showed up and totally different teams were formed and usually a slightly different crowd.

In the summer, a similar experience happened on baseball diamonds and sandlots. We mostly played “scrub” because we didn’t have enough players but we made it work. Same with football. Every fall evening in September and October, we gathered at an amazing playground with thermoplastic playground marking designs and anti slip sports coatings like the ones at bestplaygroundmarkings.co.uk and played. Sometimes they were 6 of us, sometimes 12 or so. We’d also play basketball. When I was 12 had my Dad put the net at 8 feet so we could dunk. My Dad also had a tennis court build at home so we can play together, which is regularly maintained with the help of Tennis Court Maintenance contractors.

Since I was also playing organized sports I occasionally had to pass on one of these backyard, impromptu games. I liked playing on a team and competing but I also really liked just playing. I remember the freedom of trying to catch a pass one-handed or making a behind the back pass with my buddies. I also remember trying to put the puck back between my legs and shooting and having the coach yell at me for being a hotdog. In my backyard rink, everyone tried that kind of stuff. It was fun. I guess we were all trying to be hotdogs.

I was thinking about the social spaces I reside. Mostly twitter, facebook, Instagram and snapchat. To me, twitter and facebook have evolved to be the organized spaces. There are rules and competition. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but at one time, these spaces were more informal less judgment. Snapchat is where I follow my family, friends and their kids. I love seeing snaps of babies walking or dogs barking or the occasional goofy filter. No one is trying to market anything, it’s just people being people. It’s my sandlot and backyard rink.

I’m not really saying all that much here, just a random reflection on a Saturday night.

The #deanie Awards

Last year I started this on a whim.

I decided to make it the second annual #deanie award.

 

I stated much of what was behind these awards in that post from 2015. Let me add to that a tweet I made for David Truss as he develops a twitter guide for educators.

I likely won’t remember a link or idea you shared. What tends to remain for me is who you are as a person. It’s why when someone shares something a bit unusual or personal, it grabs my attention because I get a sense of who they are and it becomes the basis of a continued connection. The reason I post things about golf, naps or other goofiness is the hope that it might connect me to someone with the same interests, brighten someone’s day or just break the endless stream of edusharing. I’m not opposed to sharing links and ideas, but I don’t know we need more of that. I’m trying to fill a void and spend time focusing on relationships and connections. There are many ways to do this, the #deanie awards are just one way to do so. You’ll notice that most of these are very specific and often superfluous. For the most part, this is my efforts to pay attention to people. Because of the randomness and stream of consciousness approach to these, there are inevitably people that I just forgot to mention and for that I’m sorry. Yes, you run the risk of potentially hurting someone’s feelings for being left out. But often times, we choose to do nothing when we run the risk of offending anyone. I’m sure there are many people that just because of my own lack of perception and focus, I’ve missed. Please forgive me and celebrate those who I do call out. Better yet, if someone’s award sounds interesting to you and you don’t follow them, give them a follow and a shout out. They are all really cool and interesting people which is why they got this very meaningless award.

Here are your 2016 #deanie award winners and some of their thoughts as well.

 

Anyone Want To Have a Real Conversation?

The reason I was drawn to blogs 10 years ago was the raw and natural tone they afforded. No longer publishing was relegated to perfectly edited prose but favored conversational, authentic voices. My recent foray into snapchat is largely about exploring the same thing but perhaps to a greater degree.

Arriving at ISTE for the 8th year in a row, it’s difficult at times not to become jaded. I’m not even talking about the overblown corporate presence but rather the way in which discussions and ideas are void of authenticity. What takes precedence at ISTE and most larger events are buzzwords and platitudes. Sessions that use words like “transform”, tweets that garner retweets because of their catchiness and conversations that lack depth.  Time after time, people will reference the hallway conversations, that for many who are experienced conference goers, mark the best learning. This is true in part because they’re more intimate and further are more authentic. People will speak more openly about struggles. They’ll talk about success and quandaries with humility. They aren’t putting on a show or trying to impress anyone. And yet so much of the online interactions lack any nuance, questioning or depth of thought. The social spaces I used to frequent to see people experiment and play with ideas have turned into something far less interesting.

That’s what fascinates me about snapchat. It’s raw and real. It’s much more difficult to fake. The culture of users expects things to be less polished. There are other spaces to showcase your best work but snapchat isn’t that space. The use of the word “branding” bothers me as it perpetuates the emphasis on carefully managing identity. There’s nothing wrong with that but that mindset has taken a space like twitter and turned it away from many of the casual and social interactions, to one where chats and platitudes dominate the stream.  You might not agree but to me that’s the tragedy of the commons.

It’s also why of late my online interactions have migrated to spaces like Voxer and Slack. Creating closed spaces with people I trust allows me to have the kind of conversations I want to have. Some might say they are echo chambers but those I interact with in those spaces are conscious of this pitfall.  We may not be as diverse as we’d like, but we’re able to have powerful conversations weaving in and out of minutia. In many ways, this is likely a natural progression of moving from networks to communities but it does bother me that those larger spaces seem unaware of the changes. Things like retweeting compliments seem to be ploys to “build their brand”. In addition those whose only activity is autotweeting links make me wonder if they’re really human. I’m not suggesting that’s wrong, but overuse of these kinds of actions have an impact on the overall way we use a space.  I’m not a Reddit user but it seems like a space for more authentic ideas. I also find it interesting that both Reddit and Snapchat have very similar interfaces that lack the elegant design and feel of many social networks. I’m guessing that’s intentional and helps maintain their vision of places where people can be real.

I watched the Ignite sessions today, and they were all very good. For my tastes, they were too good. I’ve done ignite talks in front of large audiences in a big room, and they certainly lend themselves to seeking perfection. You rehearse every word because it’s not the kind of place you want to mess up. I’ve participated in other Ignite style events that not only were less perfect and less scripted but in the end fostered better conversations. That said, I understand why they are different, and it’s mostly a product of the environment and context. But that’s what much of ISTE is to me. I’m also willing to concede that’s just my style and others like it that way.

I’m not abandoning twitter or facebook but will certainly continue to use it in the ways that Howard Rheingold envisioned.

 

socialglue

The challenge is to find a place to take that social capital and use it to challenge and provoke deeper, more interesting ideas. While I have more followers than ever on twitter, I feel more alone there than I ever have. 

Snapchat is totally idle chatter.  The classic complaint about social media about not caring what people had for breakfast at the local breakfast downtown Austin spot and the mass amounts of minutia have always interested me. Sometimes your breakfast is important to me. Sometimes they way you share that is fascinating. But mostly you sharing that is a way we build relationships. The unfiltered sharing of yourself indeed builds trust and in the end relationships are our most important job as educators.  In my experience, this is often which the richest learning and conversations begin.

If you want to follow me on snapchat, I certainly follow you back in efforts to see this more unfiltered stories and shares.  And since you’re already here, this is another one of my early snapchat stories. This time it’s my day at Ipadpalooza, which by the way, is one of my favorite events as it tries hard to allow for provocative conversations. It’s about the only place that would accept my session entitled, Airing of Grievances. Thank you Carl Hooker.