(sometimes withershins, widershins or widderschynnes) means to take a course opposite that of the sun, going counterclock-wise, lefthandwise, or to circle an object, by always keeping it on the left. It also means "in a direction opposite to the usual," which is how I choose to take it in using it as the title of this blog. We're all in the same world finding our own way.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How Social Media Affects our Education

So after reading this Chronicle post via tumblr, I started thinking about social networks and the classroom experience.

There’s all this emphasis on having your own blog, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, but what about the skill it takes to read and listen to those things?” he said. “For all the technophilic love given to networked communication and peer-to-peer learning, it’s not the best educational mode—there’s something about linearity and dialogue that works better than the chaos you saw today.

I think part of the inherent breakdown within the discussion this article talks about is partly the medium, and partly the education of consciousness and interaction with networked modes of communication.

Regarding the medium: Twitter is not the best venue for these kinds of discussions. There is an internal lack of stability that does not allow for a consistent and organizable flow of conversation. True, it has gotten better over the years, but a nested timeline like the Plurk interface where each update is its own dropdown conversation, and tangential threads can easily be removed to their own thread

or even a shared document like in a Google Doc would better allow for a discussion because different subjects could be fleshed out and, more importantly, contained. The form of the website itself dictates, in part, the way we interact with it just like a film is different from a book even if they have the same story.

As packets of information, tweets are not an effective tool. Using them for discussion is similar to reading a play by Shakespeare but only reading one couplet at a time with significant pauses in between.

It also seems a mistake to have everyone in the same room tweeting at the screens in front of them. It helps keep the conversation on track, yes, but it also creates an environment of enforced silence where the only expression of ideas is through the screen, through twitter. Why not let everyone go home and sit in their pajamas to tweet? They may be distracted by other things, but the comfort factor can easily help relieve the stress of using the Twitter platform for discussion.

Regarding consciousness: Just like with any other skill, it takes practice to master communication through a social media platform. Some of us are better equipped than others to the demands of digitized communication. I for example can run two small blogs, a tumblr, personal Facebook page with two shared pages through work, multiple emails, a plurk account, a twitter account all with some degree of success in part because I know how to focus and refocus my attention and can conceptualize the ways in which my multiple online presences interact with each other, with my audiences, and with how much attention I give them.

This is a learned skill.

One that with developments in technology we are learning at earlier and earlier ages.

If I may use another analogy, some people can only text one person at a time (and even then are pisspoor at following through)
Google Gooeys on texting
 While other people can juggle several conversations at once without feeling overwhelmed.

Using social media at the level necessary to promote meaningful discussion requires a base understanding of not only the dynamics of the social media, but also people. If I flood someone's feed (be it twitter, or otherwise), there is no chance for response. Conversely if I do not update enough, my input is not contributing.

Digital and social media will never surpass the linear flow of a classroom discussion for direct transfer of information, but they have other benefits.

There is a record of the conversation being had that can be referenced repeatedly. You don't have to be there to take part. Linking and further networking provide opportunity and access to further information (outside articles, et. cetera). Digital communication and social media are vaguely atemporal in that they do not require a strict linear progression of information. You can revist, add to, or critique any point of a conversation at any point. The text (as most concrete signifiers of communication) is malleable and moveable in ways that verbal conversations aren't.

For example, for a group project in a class I took my freshmen year of college, we created a Facebook group that surprisingly still exists. Utilizing the social media as a tool, we were able to have meaningful discussion, in part because we chose a format that was most meaningful and helpful to our needs.

Twitter can never be that because it is too disorganized and too short. Tumblr because it removes length constraints has some options that make it more useful than Twitter, but the interface is still missing the traceable cohesion required for meaningful communication. I think that plurk has a better interface, but suffers some of the same limitations as twitter for size of posts. Things like Google Docs (or the now defunct Google Wave) offer probably the best option, but are also more unwieldy and disorienting as a shared experience.

In short, I think the classroom experiment as described in the article fails not on a why, but on a how.

A Second NaNoWriMo update!

I fell behind in my writing last week and am struggling to catch up, but I'm past the halfway point. I have the long Thanksgiving break to get some work done, so I hope to get well ahead in the next few days.

Ethan has since dropped out, deciding that while the NaNoWriMo process is cool and definitely an amazing cultural and social experience, it's not his way of writing. I respect that and am still sending... encouragement from time to time. I on the other hand have reached the point of obstinate. Having started and made it past the halfway point I am more determined than ever to finish successfully. The process has become a challenge for me, and I will win, encouragement from other people or no.

The farther I get into this, the more I'm realizing that the characters and the story have a life of their own to me. Sometime in the next week I'm going to write the suicide of one of my characters. It makes me terribly sad because I know it has to happen and I have to put him through painful hell to get him there. The groundwork is being laid and at this point there is no alternative. It hurts to write because he doesn't see it coming.

Anyway, some choice excerpts since my last update:
I squished a very pregnant spider today. Felt bad about it despite the utter hideousness of the thing. I tried to warn it and shoo it toward the window, but it wouldn’t listen to me, so it had to die. It was that or burn the building down and I rather like where I live.
Anyway, food. I made it. People love me and unanimously voted me queen of the dorm and are officially starting a petition to secede from the University so we can operate under a benign monarchy with me as its head. It’s good to be queen. Maybe as a queen I can have tea with Elizabeth II. That would be amazing.
As you can see, Myra has quite the voice. She's not bossy so much as occasionally demanding.

Adrian on the other hand seems a bit more subdued.
It started to snow last night and did not let up until early this morning. I awoke to the most amazingly tranquil and breathtaking scene outside my window. I wanted so badly to capture it with my pen, but as with many things that are this beautiful, it was fleeting. Like a spring butterfly it alighted upon my nose and was gone as I stood there blinking. Jonathan and Eleanor and a few of the neighbor kids were out the door and frolicking in the powder before I was properly awake. The curse of being a teenager, I suppose, our bodies are a war zone of biological weapons priming and immunizing us for adulthood, we need all the rest we can get and yet give ourselves very little.
 We'll see where this goes from here.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A NaNoWriMo Update

As some of you may know, I'm participating in NaNoWriMo this month because Ethan... convinced me to.
Since we're more than a week in and I'm still only behind by about a day's worth of writing, I thought I would give you some choice sentences and phrases:
These first two are from Part 1: Letters from Mitchell
After dinner, we played a rousing game of monopoly. I was wholly unprepared for how cutthroat a game of monopoly could be.
And two:
"Alright, Mitchy-boy time for us to get intimate."
I blinked as she took a step toward me and slowly placed her hand on my chest.
“Go on the other side of that tree and clean up, you stink!”
With a shove, she turned me around and pushed me toward a tree that grew right at the water’s edge.
This last one is from Part 2: Letters from Myra
[My roommate] was known as the Barbezonian on her roller derby team, a flailing whirlwind of pink death.
The more I write, the more I'm starting to wonder about Myra.