I Can’t Quit You, Facebook!

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While I’d like to think that I sound like Otis Rush when I agonize over quitting Facebook, truth is, I probably sound a lot more like Jack Twist.

I find Facebook’s well-documented privacy shenanigans completely abhorrent, and, like Nancy Baym, I admire friends and acquaintances who have up and left. I’ve been trying to better understand my own rather visceral reactions to all of this and why I’m so hesitant to quit. Many who have left are fine with Twitter being their primary mode of online social connection. I’m not, and here’s why.

On Facebook, I’m connected to people I grew up with, went to Hebrew school or college with, to family members and to friends I’ve made in adulthood. They’re teachers, lawyers, journalists, professors, writers, nurses, doctors, engineers, social workers, artists, musicians, coaches, students, business folk, congressional aides, soldiers, and retirees. They’re Jewish, Hindu, Jain, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, secular humanist, and there’s a few who’ve dabbled in Santaria. Many, but not all, are to the left of center, and most are to the right of me. These are folks from every step of my life, and I feel a lot of warmth in that space. When I post anecdotes about or photos of my kids, people comment or like or share stories of their own. When I post interesting things I’ve read or watched or listened to, people thank me, or pass along what I’ve shared. It’s a validating space, not least of all because of the bonds of affection I share with these folks. At one point or another they’ve all been non-digital “friends” of mine; we all occupy a space in each others’ memories. I don’t really have the time — or even, in many cases, the inclination — to put in the effort to stay in close touch with every one of them. But each I feel warmth towards, and think they probably feel it towards me too; ultimately, it’s nice to share an interest in each others lives. While it’s possible I’d be able to recreate this without Facebook, I think it’s doubtful. It wouldn’t be a tragedy to lose, but I’d miss it.

On Twitter, I’m connected to people I know mostly through work; either through CUNY or edtech/Wordpress or scholarly connections. Though I tweet personal things quite often, this is primarily a professional network. With a few notable exceptions, the people who talk to me on Twitter (those who @ me) are people I’ve known outside of the digital realm. I’ve had no shortage of folks whom I’ve spoken to on Twitter who’ve never acknowledged my presence, and while I don’t take it personally, I do find it kind of rude in an abstract way. When someone eng@ges me, I try my best to respond.

My Twitter network, though larger, has nowhere near the ethnic, religious, or class diversity of my Facebook network. When I put out a question, generally people who are my friends outside of Twitter are the ones who respond. I know that’s not the experience of many of my Tweeps, but it’s been mine. The bonds of affection that characterize my Facebook network are rarely present for me on Twitter; when they do appear in a shared story or a knowing quip, they’re especially noteworthy. My Twitter network does inspire and challenge and inform me more than my Facebook network. But at the same time, if I disagree with something or try to engage someone on an idea, I am almost never satisfied by the exchange.

Someone (whom I’ve met and like very much) retweeted the other day something along the lines of “Facebook is for who you went to high school with; Twitter is for who you WISH you went to high school with.” Gotta say, this is one of the more obnoxious things I’ve read. I don’t like all the people I went to high school with; but I don’t hate the fact that I went to high school with them. I am what I am because of what was. I feel like there’s a lot of this kind of snobbiness and self-righteousness and posturing in my Twitter network (says a poster who’s prone to snobby self-righteousness). I know I’m free to construct the network I want to have, but since Twitter is primarily a professional space, I feel I mostly have to construct the network I need to have. There are certain people I follow because they say smart things, even if I don’t think I’d really like hanging out with them. That calculus isn’t really present for me on Facebook, which filters I think into my overall affection for the network. Twitter can be a warm place, but it’s not always: there are people in my network who’ve displayed serious anxiety about a decision or the arc of their lives, and who’ve been met mostly with silence. On Facebook when this happens, I tend to see an outpouring of support. Twitter is great, but it’s a wholly different experience from the one I have on Facebook, and couldn’t really fill the gap that would be created if I deleted my account.

I keep telling myself that the next Facebook privacy fuck up will send me packing. In reality, I just don’t know. Facebook, you suck. I’m gonna lock my info down, but I don’t know if I can quit you.

Our Course Blog Will Eat Your Brains

One of our goals in supporting Blogs@Baruch is to generate new models for online and hybrid instruction. We encourage the faculty we work with to confront the challenging question of what’s made pedagogically possible by using an online publishing platform.

The potential answers are vast. They include, but are not limited to, extending the classroom by tying together face-to-face meetings; creating opportunities for the social consideration of course material; imagining a range of audiences; staging larger assignments; inviting and providing a platform for students to easily create and share work that is visual and/or aural in nature; providing a tool for nurturing, reinforcing, and tapping into the sense of community in a course; and, of course, easily sharing course materials with students.

Faculty who are relatively new to teaching with technology usually design course sites that take advantage of one or maybe two of the possibilities above. So, I have to give it up for Mikhail Gershovich and his students, who are absolutely killing it on the course blog for “Topics in Film: Fear, Anxiety, and Paranoia.” I’ve tried not to blog about this course blog because I don’t want to be seen as buttering up the boss. But when students showed up this week for a presentation dressed as zombies and attacked one of their classmates, I simply had to bite the bullet and write about this awesomeness.

They’re using their blog for a variety of purposes:

First, Mikhail uses it to share information with his students so that they can easily access course readings and find their way to a wide range of required and recommended films, compiled from disparate locations.

Second, the students are posting in a rotation to very specific prompts that he spent much time designing, and which mix an emphasis on close readings of text and film, allow students to write to reflect, and encourage students to find visual representations of their ideas.

Third, Mikhail has very much constructed the blog as a kind of social glue, tying students together by encouraging all to get Gravatars (though only some have… I’m surprised Dr. G hasn’t docked their grades), to comment regularly, and to write freely.

Fourth, the students will be using the blog to develop and present remixes or re-enactments of short sections of films they’ve engaged this semester, and will write to reflect upon how going inside the productive process impacts their perspectives on both the themes of the course, and the art of film overall.

So, kudos to this group: this is a ton of work they’ve taken on, and they’ve done so openly, creatively, and collaboratively. Mikhail has taken advantage of various support services in the most productive way, from the library’s subscription to the film repository Swank.com, to his Twitter network (where he crowd sourced ideas for films, readings, and discussion), to his awesome educational technologist — me — who he’s consulted on both technology and assignment design. We’re lucky to have their model to build upon.

I encourage you all to check out the site, and to scare the students by leaving some spooky comments.

*note: Jim Groom posted about this course blog simultaneously.

Blogs@Baruch Semester in Review: Part Three, Course Blogging

Blogs@Baruch was used in approximately two dozen courses this semester, in disciplines that included Fine and Performing Arts, English, Sociology/Anthropology, Journalism, Library Information Systems, Communication, History, and Management.

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WPMu continues to provide a flexible platform for our faculty members to structure and explore online communication and composition in their courses. Course blogs this semester have been used to aggregate individual student portfolios in a Do-It-Yourself Publishing course, for students to share and comment upon Shakespeare Scene Studies, to blog about journalism internships (password protected), to write about food and sustainable agriculture, and to show off their multi-media reporting. Students have debated current events on a blog devoted to reading and discussing the New York Times (password protected), blogged about blogging as journalists, and added stories to Writing New York. Some faculty members have been using Blogs@Baruch as their course management system, while others have used it to try to create public writing opportunities for their students.

For a full listing of course blogs, see our “projects” page.

One project in particular embodied the excitement some faculty members and students bring to their work on Blogs@Baruch. Professor Shelly Eversley, in the English Department, had her American Literature students produce pod and vodcasts that analyzed texts they had encountered over the course of the semester. Buoyed by Cogdog’s “The Fifty Tools”, I did an hour in class on free digital story telling tools (including Voice Thread, Yodio, Gabcast, and Podcast People), and also gave some advice on how to construct a story that balanced narrative, analysis, and style. The students produced amazing work, which they collected here in advance of their voting for the initial American Literature Podcast Awards (the ALPs). They ended the semester with an awards ceremony, and have continued to post their thoughts about the class to the blog in the week since.

Here’s two of my favorite videos from the class:

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Prof. Eversley’s project exemplifies the useful energy that multimedia tools can help students invest in their coursework. These projects are not substitutes for the critical engagement with a text or a canon that some might argue can only be attained through writing an essay; rather, they are additional paths towards that engagement. These students were excited about showing off their work, used the city as a laboratory and an archive, helped each other master the technology, and showed deep engagement with their chosen texts. This is good teaching and learning, and we’re happy to support any faculty member who challenges herself and her students to use a variety of tools and literacies in their effort to produce knowledge.

Kudos to all of our intrepid faculty and their students for providing us with yet more examples of innovative pedagogy on Blogs@Baruch. We look forward to Spring 2010, and in particular two film courses that will be taught on the system. Blogfessors, come on down!