[Every week a ‘Monday Morning Message (MMM)’ email goes out to all doctoral students from a faculty or staff member in the CU Denver School of Education and Human Development. Here’s my second one, which came out today.]
[Please join Dr. Heather Johnson and me for one or both of our two Spring 2019 social media workshops for SEHD faculty and students!]
In my previous MMM, I noted the power of having an active and visible online presence as part of our professional and scholarly work. In this MMM, I want to follow up on some of the ideas that I articulated in my previous message.
I had an opportunity recently to participate in a gathering of CU Denver faculty and staff at which we discussed and debated the merits of including our digital work in our tenure and promotion portfolios. I advocated strongly for the idea that the more visible we are, the more impact we can have. Not every scholar or educator wants to be a public intellectual. But for those of us who want our ideas to spread and who actually want to influence practicing educators and educational systems, participating in these online spaces is critically important.
Unfortunately, two decades after the Internet became accessible to the masses, many educators still are slow to realize the possibilities that accompany our new digital tools and online environments. As a faculty member who has an outsized social media presence (53,000+ Twitter followers; video series with 100+ million views; one of the top education blogs in the world, etc.), I can attest that there is great power in being engaged in relevant online communities. Every day I learn with P-12 and postsecondary educators who are doing amazing things in their domains.
One of the reasons that I think many educators and faculty are hesitant to participate in social media spaces is that we incessantly hear about the negative aspects of those platforms. Tales of “Bad Twitter” are legion, for example. We hear less often about the numerous ways to use “Good Twitter,” professional blogs, YouTube channels, Instagram accounts, Pinterest boards, Facebook groups, and other platforms in ways that are productive and empowering. There always will be those who engage with our work in negative ways, but we can utilize a variety of strategies and techniques to manage our networks, decrease our exposure to bad actors, and engage with the audiences that we are trying to reach in order to share ideas and resources and have productive conversations.
I would encourage you to see how the following scholars are engaging online. They are great models for how to use social media in empowered ways for research dissemination, policy advocacy, and educational impact.
- Tressie McMillan Cottom, @tressiemcphd, tressiemc.com (sociology and higher education)
- Julian Vasquez Heilig, @professorjvh, cloakinginequity.com (P-12 educational equity)
- Chris Emdin, @chrisemdin, chrisemdin.com (#HipHopEd and science education)
- Sara Goldrick-Rab, @saragoldrickrab, saragoldrickrab.com (college affordability)
- Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, @vamboozled_, vamboozled.com (educator assessment)
- Bruce Baker, @schlfinance101, schoolfinance101.wordpress.com (school finance)
What these postsecondary educators recognize is that if we don’t engage online, we cede conversational ground, policymaking influence, and mindshare around good educational practices to others who ARE willing to chime in, regardless of how inaccurate or harmful their contributions are. That’s the ultimate point of this week’s MMM. Are we just going to sit back while others offer misinformation and educationally-unsound practices or are we ready to engage?
Image credit: Social media class, mhmarketing
[Every week a ‘Monday Morning Message (MMM)’ email goes out to all doctoral students from a faculty or staff member in the CU Denver School of Education and Human Development. Here’s mine, slated for tomorrow.]
If you ask them, many faculty members and staff will admit that they wish that their work was more visible. They feel that they are making solid contributions to the field, and they wish that their work had a larger impact on other scholars, policymakers, and practitioners in their discipline. Unfortunately, traditional mechanisms for getting the word out about our work limit our overall visibility and impact. For instance, publishing an article in a peer-reviewed journal may move us closer to tenure and promotion but prevents most practitioners from accessing our work because of paywall and other barriers. Similarly, presenting at conferences may bump up our visibility and standing with colleagues but has little to no impact on policymaking or practice outside of that event or our closely-defined academic realm. For those staff who are doing great work but are not publishing or presenting, the opportunities to have a larger impact may seem few and far between.
Fortunately, we now live in an era where anyone can have a voice. We are no longer constrained by the whims and dictates of editors, broadcasters, governments, and other information gatekeepers. If you have a computer or a smartphone, the costs of creating one’s own newspaper, radio station, TV broadcast, photography studio, or other publishing channel are essentially zero. They just take new forms: blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, Instagram and Snapchat accounts, and so on. But two decades after the Internet became accessible to the masses, we still are slow to realize the possibilities that accompany our new digital tools and online environments. As a faculty member who has an outsized social media presence (53,000+ Twitter followers; video series with 100+ million views; one of the more visible education blogs in the world, etc.), I thought that I would follow up Dr. Verma’s February 2018 MMM contribution with a few thoughts of my own.
First, recognize the tremendous power that is at our fingertips if we choose to take advantage. A few minutes of our time, a few clicks of the mouse, and we have the ability to potentially reach many thousands or millions of people. Few journals or newsletters can make that claim. Instead of wondering why the work that we do never impacts practice, or wishing that our work translated better into policy- and decision-making, we can put our work in places where professionals and legislators can find it, learn from it, and use it. My blog posts and tweets, for instance, reach audiences that dwarf my readership in academic journals, often by factors of a thousand or more.
Second, this work doesn’t have to take a lot of our time. The traditional path of publishing in a research journal and then reworking it for a practitioner magazine can be re-envisioned. As we do our day-to-day research and professional preparation work, we come across and create resources that would be immensely helpful to others. That amazing article that you just read? Hit the tweet button and share it with others, preferably using a few key hashtags. That new protocol or resource document that you just created? Hit the record button and give us a several-minute audio overview – along with a download link – that explains how we might use it in our practice. You have expertise and experience in a particular area and hope to influence policy and organizational decision-making? Push that button on your smartphone and make a short video that helps us think about that issue in more robust ways. As we do this work, we become a trusted voice, accessible to others who care about the things that we do. Oh, and by the way, publishing to multiple platforms can be automated, saving you time and energy that can be better spent in other areas.
Third, realize that there can be incredible worth in publishing our thoughts in less formal ways. Shorter sound bites, smaller blocks of text that focus on a particular idea or resource, a quick reflection on a reading or an experience, using non-academic voice to explain complex topics… all of these can help us refine our own thinking but also impact and influence the thinking of others. For example, the most valuable aspect of my blog is that it gives me a place to wrestle with ideas, reflect, try out thoughts, and attempt to make meaning. But the second most valuable aspect of my blog is that it is public, allowing others to see my thinking and offer resources, suggestions, critique, and dialogue that extend my work in new directions and make it better. That interactivity – that ability to work together to create value – creates nearly-unlimited potential as we tap into our collective experience and expertise. Rather than being a one-person idea transmission platform, my blog instead becomes a learning and dialogue space for a global community.
Finally, note that the barriers to this work usually are neither technical nor organizational. Instead, it is simply a matter of us choosing to share our thoughts, our expertise, and our resources in places other than age-old publishing outlets. There are people all around the world who are eager to interact with us and to learn with and from us if we shift our mindsets a smidge and give them the opportunity. When we push out helpful resources on our Twitter feed, when we connect people to ideas through our videos, when we shape people’s thinking through our podcasts and other conversation outlets, we move beyond our small, local, disciplinary communities and join the global community of people who are trying to make the world a better place. That sounds pretty good to me. How about you?
Image credit: Social media class, mkhmarketing
C Thi Nguyen said:
Jamieson and Cappella’s book is the first empirical study into how echo chambers function. In their analysis, echo chambers work by systematically alienating their members from all outside epistemic sources. Their research centres on Rush Limbaugh, a wildly successful conservative firebrand in the United States, along with Fox News and related media. Limbaugh uses methods to actively transfigure whom his listeners trust. His constant attacks on the ‘mainstream media’ are attempts to discredit all other sources of knowledge. He systematically undermines the integrity of anybody who expresses any kind of contrary view. And outsiders are not simply mistaken – they are malicious, manipulative and actively working to destroy Limbaugh and his followers. The resulting worldview is one of deeply opposed force, an all-or-nothing war between good and evil. Anybody who isn’t a fellow Limbaugh follower is clearly opposed to the side of right, and therefore utterly untrustworthy.
The result is a rather striking parallel to the techniques of emotional isolation typically practised in cult indoctrination. According to mental-health specialists in cult recovery, including Margaret Singer, Michael Langone and Robert Lifton, cult indoctrination involves new cult members being brought to distrust all non-cult members. This provides a social buffer against any attempts to extract the indoctrinated person from the cult.
The echo chamber doesn’t need any bad connectivity to function. Limbaugh’s followers have full access to outside sources of information. According to Jamieson and Cappella’s data, Limbaugh’s followers regularly read – but do not accept – mainstream and liberal news sources. They are isolated, not by selective exposure, but by changes in who they accept as authorities, experts and trusted sources. They hear, but dismiss, outside voices. Their worldview can survive exposure to those outside voices because their belief system has prepared them for such intellectual onslaught.
In fact, exposure to contrary views could actually reinforce their views. Limbaugh might offer his followers a conspiracy theory: anybody who criticises him is doing it at the behest of a secret cabal of evil elites, which has already seized control of the mainstream media. His followers are now protected against simple exposure to contrary evidence. In fact, the more they find that the mainstream media calls out Limbaugh for inaccuracy, the more Limbaugh’s predictions will be confirmed. Perversely, exposure to outsiders with contrary views can thus increase echo-chamber members’ confidence in their insider sources, and hence their attachment to their worldview. The philosopher Endre Begby calls this effect ‘evidential pre-emption’. What’s happening is a kind of intellectual judo, in which the power and enthusiasm of contrary voices are turned against those contrary voices through a carefully rigged internal structure of belief.
Read the whole thing and recognize that this pertains to numerous online communities, not just those on the political right. The psychology of all of this is pretty concerning. And for those of us who are searching for solutions, the one offered – to completely reboot your social circle – is incredibly unlikely for most people. No easy answers here, but plenty of room for concern…
Image credit: Echo, magro_kr
Information literacy has been a hot topic of recent conversation. Many folks believe that web sites that traffic in false information and ‘fake news’ may have influenced the last United States presidential election. Traffic on the Snopes web site, which debunks false rumors, has never been greater. Ideological separation also is being driven by the ways that we sort ourselves in our schools, neighborhoods, friendship groups, political affiliations, and faith institutions. Already often isolated from the dissimilar-minded, we then also self-select into individualized news media and online channels that can result in walled-garden ‘echo chambers’ or ‘filter bubbles.’
To combat our growing concerns about fake news and filter bubbles, we’re going to have to take the task of information literacy more seriously. And that means rethinking some organizational and technological practices. As I noted in a previous blog post, our information landscape is changing both rapidly and drastically. Today we have a digital, online, hyperconnected, interactive, global information landscape that often is free or low-cost, fosters decentralized creation and participation and sharing, is frequently real-time, and has exponential reach. This landscape stands in sharp contrast to our older analog landscape that relied on ink on paper rather than bits in the ether, was expensive and thus primarily oriented around experts, fostered consumption and scarcity, and was fairly static and slow to change. As learning institutions bestowed with the societal charge of preparing informed citizens and knowledge workers, schools must help their students and graduates master the dominant information landscape of today and tomorrow, not just yesterday. And right now most schools are struggling…
School leaders can do several things to foster information literacy, combat fake news, and increase students’ information and technology fluency. One critical leadership behavior is helping educators understand that information literacy is everyone’s job, not just that of the librarian or media specialist. Being an informed citizen, being a critical thinker, being able to deeply and thoughtfully analyze complex texts – these have all been traditional student roles in schools but they are taking new forms in our emerging information spaces. Given the complexity of our new information landscape, we no longer can trot students down to the media center a few times a year to learn from the librarian about trusted voices, credible sources, and appropriate citation. All educators now must integrate information literacy in authentic and meaningful ways into ongoing digital and online work with students. Using our disciplinary expertise and experience, we thus can appropriately contextualize critical discernment. In other words, we must help our students dissect and understand subject-specific media such as false videos about the environment or websites dedicated to political untruths or viral myths about health care while they have us available as content area experts to help guide them.
School leaders also must recognize that in order for students to be actively engaged in – and critical consumers of – digital and online information channels, they must have access to technologies and online environments that often are heavily filtered or completely blocked. We can’t help our graduates be citizens and critical thinkers within spaces to which they don’t have access. This is particularly true if we want students to be actively involved within political, scientific, and other digital spaces rather than passive recipients. For instance, teaching online information literacy by pre-selecting a small handful of resources for students to analyze is vastly different from teaching students to navigate and make sense of our vast, complex online information commons.
School leaders also must create safe spaces for teaching and learning about controversial topics. Imagine, for instance, a high school government teacher who asked her students to follow the primary social media channels of the two primary political parties here in the United States. On the Republican side, students could follow GOP websites, Twitter feeds, and YouTube videos and subscribe to conservative blogs such as RedState, HotAir, Instapundit, and Michelle Malkin. On the Democratic side, students also could follow relevant websites, Twitter feeds, and YouTube channels, along with liberal blogs such as Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, Democratic Underground, and ThinkProgress. Sprinkle in a few other sites such as The Hill, Politico, FiveThirtyEight, Fox News, and CNN and we can see how real-time social media could be an incredibly powerful lens through which to view, discuss, and understand government in action, not just as abstract concepts from a dry textbook. I’m not sure how many teachers would be willing to try this, however, given schools’ traditional aversion to anything controversial. Principals and school systems must be willing to buffer a few anxieties in order to enable these kinds of meaningful learning experiences.
Schools also have to stop treating students as ‘digital natives’ who already are knowledgeable about and proficient with technology. Youth fluency with social and gaming technologies may imply certain levels of technology comfort but does not mean that students have the ability to use digital tools in academic- and work-productive ways. Not only is the ‘digital natives’ concept disproven by research, it also seems to grant us permission as educators to avoid the difficult challenge of fostering technology- and information-fluent students because we supposedly have little to teach them. Schools’ reluctance to own this challenge – perhaps because of our educators’ own lack of technology fluency – results in findings like the recent study from Stanford University that showed that students’ current information literacy skills are abysmal.
Finally, school leaders should recognize that those teachers who enable youth to actively interact and create online also are creating opportunities for students to learn essential lessons about responsible participation, sharing, contribution, etiquette, and digital citizenship as natural extensions of their classwork. This approach is far more meaningful and impactful than a few isolated media literacy sessions or digital citizenship lectures. We say that we want engaged citizens and critical thinkers. So let’s do a better job of preparing our students to be thoughtful consumers and active contributors within our new technology-suffused information spaces.
What is your school doing to help students with fake news and filter bubbles?
[cross-posted at Front and Central]
Image credit: Fake news figure, Stuart Rankin
Check out the new hashtag, #principalsinaction.
This is a great way for principals to share what they’re doing in schools. If you’re a school administrator, follow the hashtag to get ideas from your peers. And, of course, also share out your own awesomeness!
My newest article is out. This one is about some general guidelines and principles for school districts to consider as they formulate their social media policies. A segment is below. You can read the full article online or in AASA’s School Administrator magazine.
Consider your tone. Districts everywhere are doing everything they can to put digital tools into the hands of students and staff because of the powerful learning opportunities that they enable. And then they usually create policy documents that hector and admonish youth and educators about all of the things they shouldn’t do. Tone is important. You don’t want to undermine your own efforts.
Consider what policies of empowerment and encouragement might look like versus districts’ typical lists of No’s and Can’ts and Don’ts, particularly if you want to encourage innovative, technology-using educators to work for you instead of someone else.
Don’t be agoraphobic. Humans are inherently social and we make meaning together. Connection to each other and the outside world often is educationally desirable. The learning power that can occur in environments that are “locked down” less tightly is vastly greater than those that filter or block outside experts, communities of interest, or other classrooms.