#OcupaINSS vs #AmiNoMeEngañaLaDerecha: What Twitter data show (preliminary observations).

On June 17, 2013, a senior citizens’ organization occupied the main office of the Instituto Nicaraguense de Seguridad Social (INSS), the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute. The group is known as UNAM, the National Senior Citizen’s Union. For at least the past five years, UNAM has been trying to get the Nicaraguan government to grant reduced pensions. By law, Nicaraguans must complete 750 weeks of contributions into the social security system to be eligible for full retirement benefits. UNAM’s membership, by and large, fell short of the goal. Unfortunately, the regulations that would have enforced UNAM’s claim were done away with in the 1990s, as neo-liberal governments were voted into office. However, the Sandinista government led by Daniel Ortega, promised to reinstate reduced pensions. They have yet to do so. Now, with Ortega is well into his second term, UNAM’s protest took off. They occupied the INSS.

It is not my intention to review the events of last week, but I have compiled articles published in The Nicaragua Dispatch, which was just about the only news organization covering the occupation of the INSS in English (see bottom of this post). Instead, I would like to address the use of social media as UNAM’s protest unfolded.  Two rival groups engaged through social media. The hashtag #OcupaINSS was used by those who supported UNAM in its claim against the government. The hashtag #AmiNoMeEngañaLaDerecha (#RightWingersDon’tFoolMe, henceforth ANED) was used by those who supported the government’s position. Using Topsy Pro Analytics, I tracked the progress of each hashtag during the period between June 17 and June 27. Here are the results:

Total Activity (Green = #OcupaINSS; Blue = ANED)


  • In total, people shared over 145 thousand tweets. #ANED generated  80,560 tweets (about 55%), and #OcupaINSS produced 66,198 tweets (approximately 45%).
  • During the first  days of the period in question, #OcupaINSS had the upper hand. On June 21, #ANED starts trending. It would overtake #OcupaINSS in a matter of hours. #ANED kept the lead for the remainder of the period.#OcupaINSS declined significantly after the government-sponsored rally that took place on June 24.
  • #OcupaINSS peaked on June 22, as people shared the news of an attack on the protesters. #ANED, on the other hand, peaked on June 24.
  • The most shared tweets for #OcupaINSS and #ANED on their respective peak days are pictured below. The most circulated tweet for #OcupaInss has been shared 295 times as or this writing. It is a message of support for #OcupaINSS. The top #ANED tweet has reached 70 shares. It is a photograph of a group of senior citizens waiting to receive the so-called Solidarity Bonus, temporary, at-will government aid funded with money from  ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas).  The data from Topsy reflects retweets and replies for the entire sample period.

Topsy Pro Analytics also provides data for  potential impressions. The #OcupaINSS tweet potentially garners 592 thousand impressions. The #ANED tweet reached 12 thousand potential impressions. This can be explained by the number of followers each originating account has. @LuisEnrique is a Nicaraguan musician with a well-established international career. He has almost 500 thousand followers on Twitter. @jscomunicadores, on the other hand, is the official Twitter account for the communication’s arm of the Juventud Sandinista 19 de Julio, a Nicaraguan political organization affiliated with the Sandinista party. @jscomunicadores has a little over 24 hundred followers. It is safe to assume that most of them are in Nicaragua.

Other observations:

The decline of #OcupaINSS and the accompanying surge of #ANED might be explained by the events themselves, and by organizational factors. The decline of #OcupaINSS activity, for one, could be linked to the rally on June 24. The president of UNAM, Porfirio García, spoke at this event. He stated his organization’s willingness to come to an settlement. As of this writing, the Sandinista government has agreed to meet with UNAM regularly, to provide limited benefits, such as eye exams, to continue the  Solidarity Bonus. We can assume that reduced pensions would be discussed, but there is no certainty that they will be granted. From the @OcupaINSS twitter and Facebook accounts, sympathizers greeted the agreement. They issued a statement supporting UNAM’s decision to negotiate, albeit warned that the movement would remain vigilant.

In terms of organization, #OcupaINSS is not an organization in the traditional sense of the word. It is an ad hoc movement that came out in support of UNAM. #OcupaINSS did not trigger the protests in Managua, so it should not be regarded as the Nicaraguan equivalent of the so-called Arab Spring. Rather, #OcupaINSS should be considered as a short-term manifestation of public opposition to the government. The negotiation between UNAM and the government took all the impetus out of the protest. On the other hand, the Sandinista government has a well organized communication machine. This is a long-standing phenomenon. Thus, communication messages can be relayed quickly and efficiently, once a hashtag has been agreed upon. Furthermore, once the hashtag #ANED began trending, continued usage is not linked to any particular event. Even though it is a mouthful, and even though the hashtag uses up 15% of the 140 character limit, #ANED users can keep linking it to any instance where right wing media conspiracies can be implied.

The data at hand is copious, so I can only offer preliminary observations as to the types of messages that each group relayed using their hash tags. I’ll use the data from June 22 as an example, as on this date #ANED’s advantage was  695 tweets over #OcupaINSS. That is as close as these two groups ever came to each other. #OcupaINSS’ top 10 tweets included statements of support by  public figures, such as Luis Enrique (musician), Sergio Ramirez Mercado (novelist and former VP of Nicaragua), and Carlos Luis Mejia (musician). The hashtag also accompanied tweets by @LaPrensa, an opposition newspaper, and @Canal2Nicaragua, a television station. The rest of the tweets were issued by @OcupaINSS, a twitter account that was created ad hoc to provide information for supporters of the protest, and private individuals.

On the other hand, #ANED’s top 10 tweets primarily came from the account of Adriana Blandon (@AdrianaBlandon1). This user identifies herself as a college student. She has over 8 thousand followers. There were no identifiable public figures, or news media on the list. However, one of the tweets came from @jupresidente, the Twitter account of the Juventud Sandinista 19 de Julio. Most of the messages indexed with #ANED were statements of support, including the repeated use of the hashtag itself. Since A mi no me engaña la derecha is a declarative statement on its own right, the hashtag could be appended with any further explanation. There was only one informational message, inviting people to attend the rally on June 24.

Some final words:

As I said previously, this analysis is preliminary. I have yet to sort through the data and code it. However, I feel comfortable making some observations. First of all, it is clear that #AmiNoMeEngañaLaDerecha trended stronger than #OcupaINSS. Organizational factors should account for that, as the Ortega government’s communication strategies are not ad hoc. #OcupaINSS is ad hoc, and now that the INSS is no longer occupied, the hash tag has lost steam quickly.

Secondly, #AmiNoMeEngañaLaDerecha is not merely a hash tag. It is a statement, and as such, it can be used on its own, by anyone. The hash tag is not necessarily attached to a particular event, which gives it an advantage.

In third place, the role of mainstream Nicaraguan media is worth noting. Media organizations like @laprensa and @Canal2Nicaragua used #OcupaINSS to index news reports. This might be an issue of convenience, and it is not uncommon. Media organization reporting on events of public importance use the same hash tags as those who are partaking in said events. Here’s an example, from Wired magazine:

In this case, though, @laprensa’s use of the #OcupaINSS tag has another practical effect. It plays into the the narrative of right wing media manipulation because @laprensa is an opposition news paper. @laprensa is very open in its stance against Ortega. The paper commonly identify him as el presidente inconstitucional Daniel Ortega, unconstitutional president Daniel Ortega (see examples here, here, and here).  It should be noted that those who oppose the government can also claim that #AmiNoMeEngañaLaDerecha exemplifies left wing manipulation. Without coding the data, I offer no conclusion to support either position.

Finally, if you expect a Nicaraguan Spring of sorts because of social media usage, the events I reviewed here and their aftermath do not support this. Furthermore, social media is merely a tool. It is not a magic wand that creates revolutions and upheavals out of thin air. In Nicaragua, this tool also has limited potential. Only about 11% of the Nicaraguan population has internet access, and those who do have internet usually reside in urban centers. This means that movements that rely primarily on social media exclude more people than they include. However, the most important factor that hinders the opposition’s social media strategies is that they’re usually ad hoc and short lived. They are subject to changes in the political landscape, as everything else is. That is exactly what happened with #OcupaINSS, though some might argue that the movement isn’t dead. I would suggest that movements can only survive if it has long term goals. #OcupaINSS did not. It’s rival hashtag does.

Coverage from the Nicaragua Dispatch:

  1. Nicaragua’s Senior Citizens Fight for Pensions.
  2. Sandinista Thugs Attack Elderly in Nicaragua.
  3. Catholic Church Denounces Mob Violence.
  4. Embassy Warns about Pro-Government Protest.
  5. Pension Protest Leader Appears at Sandinista Rally.
  6. Elderly, Gov’t Reach Agreement: No Pensions

#OcupaINSS (Versión Español).

El 17 de junio de 2013, la Unidad Nacional del Adulto Mayor (UNAM) se tomó el edificio del Instituto Nicaragüense de Seguridad Social (INSS). UNAM reclama su derecho a la pensión reducida, y esta reciente acción es parte de una lucha de años. Sin embargo, hay un factor nuevo: el reclamo de UNAM ahora cuenta con el apoyo formal de un grupo informal denominado #OcupaINSS.

#OcupaINSS no tiene una organización definida. Es un movimiento que surge de las redes sociales, una amalgama de individuos, más que todo jóvenes de la zona urbana, que tienen acceso a la internet y que utilizan el hashtag #OcupaINSS para organizarse y divulgar información. Esta es una entrevista que brindaron algunos de los ¨miembros¨de #OcupaINSS al programa Esta Semana.

El periodista Tim Rogers, de The Nicaragua Dispatch, recientemente se preguntaba si #OcupaINSS sería el primer movimiento nicaragüense en hacer la transición de lo virtual al mundo real. Es muy posible que así sea.

Sin embargo, hay que reconocer, como lo hacen muchos en #OcupaINSS, que esta protesta no nace de las redes. Nace del reclamo de los adultos mayores organizados en UNAM. Las redes sociales lo que han brindado son herramientas para ampliar la participación, que ahora involucra a ciudadanos y ciudadanas que no están directamente afectados por la falta de pensión.

Ahora bien, el auge de #OcupaINSS ha provocado una contra protesta que involucra al aparato informativo del gobierno sandinista. Si hay algo que los Sandinistas han logrado dominar es el ámbito informativo. De hecho, en Nicaragua los canales televisivos se van a cadena nacional cada vez que Daniel Ortega lo ordena. Su esposa, Rosario Murillo, es la Coordinadora del Consejo de Comunicación y Ciudadanía. Murillo  tiene espacio garantizado en los canales oficialistas todos los días. Adicionalmente, el partido de gobierno ha establecido una fuerte presencia en las redes sociales.
La pregunta es, ¿quién las usará mejor?

Eso depende del objetivo y del contra-objetivo. Por ejemplo, si el objetivo de una de las partes es informar, el contra-objetivo del rival será desvirtuar la información. El caso del reporte de ataques a la Universidad Centroamericana ofrece un claro ejemplo. La tarde de hoy, 24 de Junio, el siguiente mensaje empezó a circular entre los simpatizantes de #OcupaINSS.

La información resultó ser falsa. @ OcupaINSS tuvo que retractarse

El problema es que el rumor y la disculpa le sirven al contrincante.  Esta imagen circula también.

Divulgar información no es una tarea sencilla. Quienes lo dicen, creen simplemente que informar es enviar un tweet o una foto sin contexto. Informar requiere contexto y requiere verificación, especialmente en situaciones de conflicto. Eso es lo que pasa en Nicaragua en este momento. Hay un conflicto irreconciliable, en el que ambos bandos están haciendo uso de la tecnología para divulgar sus mensajes. La desventaja la lleva OcupaINSS, desgraciadamente. El movimiento que no tiene jerarquías ni una organización tangible, tampoco tiene infraestructura.

Sin embargo, eso no es insalvable. OcupaINSS tiene contactos y tiene presencia. Han organizado atención médica y colectas de víveres. Es obvio que la motivación y el apoyo existe. Lo que falta tal vez es la organización. No se puede informar desde una cuenta OFICIAL sin asumir la responsabilidad de verificar la información.

Ese es el reto.

Mentoring with blogs

I began experimenting with blogs in 2005, as a way to promote collaborative writing in the classroom. I have to say that my first experience was a case of unbridled enthusiasm for technology, but I was utterly unprepared for what would happen. I had bought into the notion of the digital native, that mythical creature that is practically born with a silver keyboard in his or her hand, and that can seamlessly float from one technology to the next. Needless to say that this experience taught me a lot about how people think about and use technology. It’s not as simple as people like Marc Prensky make it sound.

My first attempt was in a remedial writing class. I was an adjunct, teaching at Ave Maria College of the Americas (now Ave Maria University – Latin American Campus) in San Marcos, Nicaragua. I wanted a way for students to post quick responses to simple questions, so that they could practice their grammar and spelling. What I did not expect was that my students would get bogged down by the technology, which became a distraction that took attention away from the true goal of the assignment. I never tried it again with that course, even though I taught it every semester I was at AMCA.

My next foray went slightly better. In fact, I started this blog because of it. I modeled my blogging assignment after Danielle Stern’s portfolio assignment, a version of which can be found here.  I also decided that if I was going to use a blog to mentor students as they made sense of course content, I should be writing as well. I started producing mini-essays, which used multi-media examples to illustrate course content. All of them are filed in the “class notes” category of this blog.

There are problems with this approach, though. You have to be very selective with the videos you include, because even though blogs make it possible for us to write with multimedia, we have no control over YouTube. Copyrighted content might be perfect to illustrate a point, but it is also likely to disappear. So now, I’m actually thinking about going back and cleaning house. The other issue to think about is the public nature of blogs. I may choose to make my writing public, but my students’ privacy needs to be protected. At a minimum, they should have a choice in the matter. That said, it is easier to protect student privacy when everyone is contributing a “centralized class blog,” rather than using the “hub-and-spoke” model (see Mark Semple’s post). I can create the blog as a private space when it’s centralized, but I can’t guarantee that in the “hub-and-spoke.”

That leads me to my current thinking about blogs. Part of it was inspired by Mark Semple’s entry on Professor Hacker. The other part came from reading about research diaries. First, I really liked the idea of creating different roles for students, which is something that Semple discusses. I find that it is a good way of giving them experience in different types of writing.  I adopted Semple’s roles (first reader, respondent, searcher), divided the class into teams, and created a posting schedule for them. I also created a rubric for the assignment, all of which can be accessed here.

I also became interested in using a research diary . The benefits diaries have been extensively documented, especially in terms of their value for the professional development of teachers (e.g., Jarvis, 1992). However, diaries can fulfill similar functions for researchers. They are a tool for reflection (Borg, 2001; Janesick, 1998). Borg specifically discusses several advantages of research diaries. They establish a record of project development, document past ideas and their subsequent evolution, help organize procedures, and document decision-making (p. 171). As I envisioned it, the diaries would also support collaboration among students.  They were expected to read and comment on their peers entries, and were encouraged to share sources, insights, and tips.

In terms of classroom management, the diaries helped me keep track of what students were doing, which allowed me to step in at the appropriate times, rather than waiting for their project’s conclusion.  The assignment description is available here. Since the assignment is still ongoing, I can only offer some preliminary thoughts as to its assessment:

1. Making the diaries into a relatively low-stakes assignment made a difference. Students contributed very detailed entries.

2. Modeling portions of the research process and sharing my own experiences as a researcher may have also been beneficial. It set the tone for the blog, and it may have reduced the level of stress that comes with assignments in general.

3. Students used the comments feature of the blog to brainstorm, provide feedback, and share resources. Peer reviewing has been ongoing, judging from what they have documented on the blog, and also by what they have expressed to me during office hours.

I am still trying to find ways to improve these blogging assignments, and I am thinking of adding some kind of an exit interview  if I decide to repeat this project. As it stands, their final reflection is a built-in tangible assessment of the experience, but I feel short interviews would be very beneficial for me, as the person who designed this assignment.

Anyway… work in progress.


Works cited:

Borg, S. (2001). The research journal: A tool for promoting and understanding researcher development. Language Teaching Research. 5(2), pp 156-177.

Janesick, V. (1998). Journal writing as a qualitative research technique: History, issues, and reflections. Qualitative Inquiry. 5(4), pp. 505-524.

Jarvis, J. (1992). Using diaries for teacher reflection on in-service courses. ELT Journal . 46(2), pp. 133-143

#NBCFail and the new Heidi Game (updated)

I have been watching the olympics faithfully, but not on NBC. It’s one of the unexpected benefits of visiting my homeland, Nicaragua. Unlike NBC, our local licensee, Canal 10, is showing the London games live, and though their commercial breaks are often clumsy, at least they’re not the subject of a widespread backlash, nor has anyone from Canal 10 taken to Twitter to complain about whinny viewers. Nope, that was Vivian Schiller, NBC’s Chief Digital Officer.

I understand tape delays. It’s like Les Moonves says, if you don’t use the tape delay, you wouldn’t have anything to show during prime time. If you make your money from selling commercials, prime time is where you want to show your premium content. The thing is, though, that you can still monetize the olympics while airing the signature events live, and without infuriating your audience. In Canada, CTV is doing just that. Its live telecast of the opening ceremony broke audience records for Canada, just like NBC’s did for the US. The big difference is that while NBC is garnering a lot of ill will from the audience that uses social media, Canadian viewers love CTV. I just wish NBC would stop pretending that tape delays are live. Why not call the olympic prime time coverage what it is, a highlights show?

However, the issue is not just about tape delays. American audiences are using Twitter to complain about NBC’s handling of the olympics as a whole. For instance, their decision to replace Akram Khan’s tribute to the victims of the London bombings of 2005 with an interview with Michael Phelps drew plenty of criticism.

NBC felt the edit was justified, though. It’s something routine, they said. Moreover, they did not stream the opening ceremony because they insist that it was just too complex for the internet. The opener needs context, which their anchors, Meredith Viera, Matt Lauer and Bob Costas would provide . The thing is that the context included memorable gaffes, such as Meredith Viera’s offhand comment about Tim Berners-Lee, and Matt Lauer’s quip about Madagascar. If this was an attempt at humor, Viera and Lauer failed, at least according to those annoyed viewers who took to Twitter.

As if this wasn’t enough, NBC has repeatedly spoiled its own primetime broadcast. The network holds back the main events, such as the Ryan Lochte – Michael Phelps show down in the 400 IM, only to reveal the outcome prior to the telecast. Missy Franklin’s gold medal performance in the pool was likewise spoiled, when the network decided to air a promo of her interview in the Today Show just minutes before showing the actual swim.

Spoling is nothing new. It’s a common activity that has emerged within what Henry Jenkins and others have come to call participatory culture. Spoiling is like a game, a challenge that extends the pleasure that people get out of watching television (see Jenkins, 2006). However, when NBC spoils itself, there is no challenge and no skill required. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of how participatory cultures operate online. These are cultures that take shape because of the technologies that allow people to create, share, and debate easily, and to feel that “their contributions matter” (Jenkins, Purushotma, Clinton, Weigel & Robinson, 2009, p 7).

NBC’s heavy handling of criticism on Twitter shows the opposite. The network clearly underestimated the backlash its complaint against Guy Adams would garner. Alerted by Twitter, NBC filed a complaint against Adams, a freelancer for The Independent, and got him  suspended from Twitter  for publishing Gary Zenkel’s email address. Zenkel is the president of NBC Olympics, and Adams encouraged irate tweetizens to email their complaints to this NBC executive. This is a violation of the Terms of Service, according to Twitter, though it is debatable that a corporate email should be considered private information. If it is, discontented twitter users didn’t buy it, and neither did The Independent and other critics. In fact, the entire incident was characterized as censorship of the worse variety, and also as hypocritical. After all, Spike Lee was not banned for tweeting what he thought was George Zimmerman’s home address. Twitter took plenty of flack for its role, and it reinstated and apologized to Adams. NBC rescinded its complaint, and now the network admits that they “didn’t initially understand the repercussions” of their action against Adams. That’s a pretty big admission. It makes me wonder if NBC understands how Twitter operates as a culture.

Granted, the peacock network is achieving its ratings objectives, but it has done so at the expense of the goodwill of some of the most media savvy fans of the olympics. These individuals are part of a new type of culture that has been enabled through our ability to connect, access, and share information. Yes, American audiences are watching NBC, unless there are other choices. Some of the more media savvy viewers are already bypassing NBC altogether. It’s not that hard. Just go to Reddit or Lifehacker, or read Jeff Jarvis’ column and you can learn all about it.

It’s obvious that today’s audiences are more savvy and can become vocal quite easily because the tools to express discontent are readily available. It’s the same tools we use to find out the results of olympic competitions before NBC’s primetime telecast. However, NBC goes on, and I can’t help but wonder if the peacock network is intent on matching the infamous Heidi Game of 1968.

To NBC’s credit, they did apologize for the Heidi Game. As of this writing, they haven’t acknowledged the barrage of negative comments posted on their Facebook page, and the only gesture to the audience, as far as I can tell, is that Jim Bell, executive producer of the olympic telecast, has responded to complaints through Twitter. For instance, here’s what he said about spoiling the results.

It’s a start, but is it enough? Bell also shared this entry from Business Insider on Twitter. I don’t think that something  titled  “Shut your pie-holes, people: NBC’s Olympics Coverage is Perfect” is going to win too many points for NBC. Surprisingly, the thousands of Twitter users availing themselves to the #NBCFail hash tag haven’t latched on to that one.

Let’s just hope that NBC gets better at harnessing social TV for the next olympic games. After all, they did buy the rights until 2020.

Google +

Getting an invitation to Google +, if you’re interested in social media at all, feels like finding a golden ticket to the Wonka factory. It’s rare, and when you finally get it, you access an exclusive space that probably few among your Facebook friends are privy too. In my case, I have 100+ FB friends, yet only about 7 are on Google+. The reason is pretty simple: Google is throttling access to their social media platform. Yesterday, July 6th, they opened up a brief window of opportunity. Their aim was to double their user base. They must have achieved their goal very quickly, as the window shut down within hours.

I managed to get on the platform. An invite that had been sent to me on July 5th finally made it through, and now I’m part of the beta test group. I was able to send out a couple of invites, but as far as I can tell, only two people were able to join. I also tried a workaround posted on cnet. Still waiting to hear on that one as well, and I have serious doubts that it still works. In the mean time, this is my take on Google +.

Beta testing hype: When restriction translates into interest.

Google beta tests are not always restricted. In fact, anyone can go to Google Labs and test out their prototypes. We hardly ever hear about low profile projects, like Google Transliteration, Follow Finder, or Google Body, and for good reason. Many ideas probably don’t make it past the initial testing phase. In the meantime, though, we are helping Google with our free labor as beta testers. In return, we get to play around with prototypes.

Google’s high profile launches are another matter.  Gmail and Google Wave, for example, were both tested under an invite only model.  Gmail started as a very restricted service. Invitations were hard to come by, as Google only allowed its users to invite two additional people to the test, according to the Boston Globe. For Google Wave,  the company invited 6,000 developers to the beta test, and then rolled out the product to an additional 100,000 users.  I was never able to get an invite for Gmail, but I did manage to finagle one for Google Wave. It just wasn’t what I expected, and I jumped off the wave within a week. I wasn’t the only one, apparently, as Google abandoned Google Wave last year.

Restricting the beta test certainly keeps Google from exceeding its capacity to sustain a social network. Yet it also achieves something else. The restriction just makes Google + more desirable. The early adopters do a great deal of word of mouth marketing for Google. We write about our experience on the site, and we offer our invites to Facebook friends. The truth is that we want them on Google +, because the whole point of a social networking platform is to be social. If none of our friends are on Google+, who are we supposed to interact with?

Right now, we all seem to be hanging out with other geeks, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Everett Rogers, author of Diffusion of Innovations, described the process whereby innovations, new ideas, and new technologies spread. According to Rogers, one can categorize individuals according to their innovativeness, that is, their willingness to try an innovation. The first category, which Rogers calls “innovators” is made up by individuals who are willing and able to take greater risks. What makes them innovators, though, is not merely the fact that they can take risks. It is the fact that they have access to the innovation before anyone else, often because they have social contacts with the creators of the innovation. In this case, we should consider technology bloggers, like Pete Cashmore or Leo Laporte, to fit this category.

The next category is the early adopter. Like the innovators, they are willing and able to test out the innovations, but unlike the first group, early adopters lack the direct access to the epicenters of innovation. They are just chomping at the bit to get in, however, and when they do, early adopters are key. They do a lot of the leg work that leads to higher adoption rates of the innovation. In the case of Google+, early adopters like myself are not only testing out features on the site. We are also actively trying to get our friends into Google+. Don’t be surprised when some of your FB friends start posting messages on their wall, offering to send invites to whomever wants them. That’s how Google+ will spread for the time being.

One of the interesting things about the launch of Google+ has been the sporadic availability of the invites. Indeed, Google+ opens up the site, enables users to invite friends, and then clamps down again. No one knows when this bursts Google generosity will happen, or how long the portal will remain open. It can be a few hours or barely minutes, which is why the Los Angeles Times suggests that if you want be an early adopter for Google+, your best bet is to check the Google+ site periodically. Perhaps then you’ll get lucky.

Google + features: My favorite things (of the one’s I’ve actually tried)

By now, there are dozens of reviews about Google + features. Circles and hangouts are the most popular. Circles is essentially a different way of organizing the people you follow. By default, Google+ gives you four categories, friends, family, acquaintances, and following. The labels are self explanatory, but in case you miss it, Google+ provides you with a definition of what they mean by these terms. Friends, for example, are “your real friends, the ones you feel comfortable sharing private details with,” whereas Following is people you don’t know at all.

You can argue that Facebook and Twitter also allow you to create different categories and lists of friends, followers, and people you follow. However, I’ve found working with Twitter lists is very awkward. Groups, though arguably better, is not drag and drop, and this is where circles is far easier to use. Circles is drag and drop, and you can create as many circles as you wish.

Sharing is also designed with reminders about privacy in mind. In fact, you can’t post anything to Google+ without specifying how it will be shared. Public makes it available on your public profile, and copies everyone who has added you to their circles. Yet you can also choose to share only with your friends, coworkers, family, bowling team, or whatever combination of groups and people you wish. Again, Facebook has something similar, but it is not built into the sharing mechanics, and you don’t have to specify how your posts will be shared.

Perhaps my favorite feature is the ability to edit my posts after the fact. I can add, delete, and correct anything, no matter how long ago it was posted. There is a glitch, though: the edit function does not work with photo albums. That is something that I hope Google+ will fix.

As for hangouts, I haven’t been able to test them out yet. The people at Mashable describe hangouts as “Google+ killer feature” . Even without testing it out, the ability to video chat with 10 people at one time is much better than what Facebook has to offer.

There was also one thing that puzzled me at first, the incoming feed. I didn’t get the point of having it. Essentially, the incoming feed holds posts that are shared with you by people who are not in your circles. Right now, it is of no use to me, as everyone seems to be sharing within their circles. Eventually, I’m guessing that it will be come the spam feed, and I like the idea of not having to deal with the spammers that plague my Twitter profile.

With the deluge of information about Google+, I think it’s more useful to wrap up this post by sharing some resources about the new social platform. Here they are:


  1. Google+ First Impressions (Mashable)
  2. 9 Things Google+ Needs for me to ditch Facebook (PC World)
  3. Google+: 5 Features and Drawbacks (PC World)
  4. First Impressions of Google+ (Hackcollege)
  5. Google+ vs Facebook: See how they compare (PC World)
Privacy issues:
  1. Google + may carry dangers for photographers (The Washington Post)
  2. Gearing up for Google+Privacy Settings (The Wall Street Journal)
How To’s, Tips, Tricks, Add Ons, and Other Goodies

Fan studies: The different and the revisionist

You can’t have PCA without a fan studies panel. Better yet, if you are in anyway interested in fan studies, this is the spot of the week. My first stop was a session titled “Counting and recounting the players in fan culture.”. The three panelists, all from Old Dominion U, discussed fandoms from the perspectives of marketing, transmedia storytelling, and ACA-Fandom.” Of these presentations, I was particularly interested in marketing, and ACA-Fandom.

In terms of marketing, Diane Cooke, from ODU discussed the role of fan communities as marketing tools. This is a fascinating subject for me, as I am most interested in about the intersection between fandoms and corporate cultures. In the textual poachers model, fandom is about establishing a moral economy, which necessarily pits fans and corporate interest. However, I find myself often thinking that it can’t be that simple. Nothing ever is, and this is why I chose to study fans who interact in spaces that are furnished by corporations. Diane Cooke’s presentation addressed a related topic. Based on the work of Peter Morville, she suggested the “Markets are conversations.” Furthermore, the corporate players involved in these conversations are actually tying to be responsive.

Now, that kind of statement would not fly under the transgressive, textual poacher model. “What do you mean corporate players are trying to be responsive? Don’t you realize that whenever they get involved in anything, they wreck it?”

That may be so, but I’m a pragmatist. Fan communities are no longer marginal to the way in which the culture industries operate (BTW… that’s also a Jenkism). Rather, fans are really seen as valuable brand advocates, which is why D. Cooke’s presentation was so engaging for me. Her project was about mapping fan conversations about the release of the Beatles Rock Band game, and it uses a rhizomatic perspective.

Now, if you’re not familiar with rhizomes, or you know them in another context, perhaps, they are a metaphor for complexity. Deleuze and Guattari came up with it, and they used it to explain how we can construct knowledge, and understand complex phenomena. Rhizomes are essentially surface roots, which spread in different directions. The analyst and the critic of culture would be well advised to follow the rhizomes, wherever they may lead. In this sense, rhizomatic theory is different than other philosophical perspectives about knowledge. Rhizomatics is about connections and disruptions, whereas the more traditional way of understanding knowledge is about specialization and deep respect for authority.

What makes rhizomes so well suited for projects that map web-based interaction is precisely this idea of surface, and even unpredictability. In nature, you can’t really predict where a rhizome will go (yes, rhizomes are real. They are actual roots… next time you go to the grocery store and pick up ginger root, you should know that’s a rhizome). In an online environment, you can’t predict what will become a meme, be forgotten, lay dormant and then re-emerge, be taken at face value, or what impact any of it may have. If anything, you can follow a phenomena, and you can map it and describe it, but you can’t expect to fully comprehend it.

“The rhizome is huge, so how can you maintain conversations?” That was one take away from Cooke’s presentation. As she described the process of mapping, you have to be aware of the various stakeholders that are involved in this conversations. You have the official ones, which are essentially the corporations that have incorporated the internet into their marketing efforts (that would be ALL OF THEM), and the consumers, which include fans. Fans will take to the internet, and share information, and official stakeholders are always keeping an eye out.

I don’t mean that in the sense of spying. I mean it in the sense of recognizing the opportunities that fans create for brand extension. In this sense, Cooke described fans in ways reminiscent of Muniz and O’Guinn’s brand communities. They keep up with the developments that pertain the objects of their fandom, and they share information and speculation about these objects.

Cooke’s colleague at Old Dominion University, Danielle Roach, spoke on “Pre-Jenkins ACA-Fandom.” Her work brought in a feminist perspective on ACA-Fandom, by suggesting that feminist scholars who wrote about fandom before Jenkins published textual poachers had been left out of the historiography of fan studies. I wholeheartedly agree with the argument, but I can’t help but wonder if the omission of individuals like Janice Radway is not only due to the declining fortunes of feminism (Roach’s argument), but could also be the result of the ways in which we label and self-identify our work. I mean, did Janice Radway ever say she studied fans?

Still, why aren’t we including much earlier work on fandom as part of the historiography of the discipline? Perhaps is because starting points, or foundational stories if you want, are often arbitrary. However, the ways in which power structures play out and influence academic disciplines should be taken into account. I found that to be Roach’s most valuable contribution, and that was my main take away from her discussion of the historiography of fandom.

Teaching Media Literacy with Googledocs

Today, I tried something new with googledocs. It’s probably not really new, but it was new to me, and I felt like I had discovered it.

Well, I had not, but it was exciting, and it all started with this video.

This spreadsheet was posted in February of 2011. It shows us real-time crowd sourcing. The collaborators are thousands of volunteers. Their task: to translate  hundreds of voice messages coming out of Egypt during the uprisings that pushed out Hosni Mubarak from Arabic into English. These messages were then re-posted as tweets. You can read more about this project, and the Speak2Tweet technology that made it possible here.

What does any of this have to do with my intro to media class?

No, we did not contribute to the spreadsheet. What actually happened is that we used Googledocs to collaborate in the classroom. The topic was advertising, and my students went on a youtube scavenger hunt.

I have been teaching a session on advertising techniques for a few years now, and I use a hand-out developed by the Media Awareness Network, which describes 15 such techniques. I like it because it is clear, and it gets the job done, at least as far as an introductory course is concerned. Until now, my modus operandi had been to look for suitable examples on my own, but I realize that this sidelines my students. I wanted to put them at the forefront. So, I gave them the handout, asked them to get in groups, and instructed them to find examples. I created a googledoc, and shared it to the entire class. They copied and pasted the urls, and now we have a document that they created, as opposed to something I came up with. Here is the result. Unfortunately, I was unable to create a screencast as the students were compiling their lists (it was sooooooo cool, just to see the document coming together in real time). I will try again later on.

We did have a lively discussion, which went beyond the advertising strategies listed on the handout. This Volkswagen commercial, for example, prompted an exchange about portrayals of “ideal families” on commercial advertising. We detected quite a bit of nostalgia, as this ad reflects an upper middle class household, where only one parent works outside the home.

This ad, on the other hand, initiated another discussion about limits. How far can you go in an ad before you cross a line?

As an instructor, I am beginning to play around with interactivity.  Googledocs certainly allowed us to share insights about content that I would probably have missed, had I been solely relying on my own resources. In fact, I probably would have never come across many of the commercials that my students shared with the class. This is because recall definitely played a role in how my class looked for examples. Indeed, several students selected commercials they remember watching as children, which also provided a good opportunity to talk about what makes commercials stand out.

Tech reviews: A few of my favorite things

Oprah has her favorite things, but if you want to be nit picky about it, this post is not intended to emulate her. I was actually thinking of Maria von Trapp, or rather, of Julie Andrews’ singing about a few of Maria’s favorite things. She liked kittens. I, on the other hand, like kittens on YouTube. I think of myself as a tech savvy individual. I own a MacBook, I can program a DVR, and I have several twitter accounts, which I manage somewhat efficiently using a twitter client. However, ever since I came to Trinity University, I’ve come to realize that I had overestimated my savvy. Sure, I could insert video into a PowerPoint slide, and I also had my own blog, but that was the extent of my use of technologies in the classroom, and I was fine with that.

Until I came to Trinity, that is. And it is not just because now I can afford a Blackberry with the data plan (as opposed to salivating every time I saw one of my friends updating Facebook from their Blackberry). The timing was just right, as I arrived as Trinity was transitioning to the cloud. Yup, we are one of the schools who are using Google apps.

Tmail, Trinity’s version of gmail, is probably the one app we are all using on campus. It’s just like Gmail, and very soon we’ll be able to switch between Gmail and Tmail without having to log off and on. GoogleDocs is also part of the suite available at Trinity. I have discussed some aspects of GoogleDocs  in a previous post, and I will be writing some more on the challenges I’ve encountered using it in a future entry. This time I just want to discuss my other favorite Web 2.0 technologies, and how I’m using them.

Prezi: presentations beyond powerpoint.

Prezi is definitely at the top of my list. Prezi is a presentation tool, and it is far more versatile than Power Point. Indeed, powerpoint limits you to slides, whereas Prezi gives you an entire canvas to fill up with your ideas, and you can organize your thoughts as you would do if you were creating a mind map. In terms of design, Prezi includes 10 different templates, and you can also create your own style sheet. Finally, Prezis are very dynamic, since you can add video, and create basic animations. For example, this is a Prezi that I created to discuss the future of newspapers with my intro to mass media students.

As much as I like this tool, Prezis have limitations. The main one is that you can only embed video from YouTube. Furthermore, if you want to embed audio, you have to convert your file to FLV or SWF format. Also, wordpress does not embed Prezis, unless you use the gigya shortcode. That can be really frustrating, especially if you are not familiar with coding. However, the beauty of the web is that, if you keep at it, you can always find someone who figured out the solution to your computing problem. I guess this is why one of my colleagues, Aaron Delwiche, says that we can all be programmers now.

Dropbox: File storage on the cloud

I’ve had my MacBook for a couple of years. I wrote my dissertation on it, and I use it more than any other technology that I own. Last spring, I started getting a little concerned about the age of my computer. I’ve heard the horror stories before, about people losing all their files to a hard crash of their hard drive, or God forbid, the death of their mother board. At that point, I had almost completed my dissertation, and even though I had several copies scattered around in flash drives and emails, I felt it was time to back up everything. I did what most people would do. I bought an external hard drive, formatted it for the Mac, and dragged and dropped everything to it. I’m glad I did. As it turned out, my hard drive did die. However, I have never been able to use my external hard drive on a PC. Since that is what I have at the office, that’s actually an issue.

Or it was, until I heard about Dropbox.[1]

With Dropbox, you can synch any number of computers and/or mobile devices to your dropbox, and any files you save, change, and/or delete from your dropbox folder will update automatically across devices and platforms. Dropbox offers 2GB of free cloud storage, and you can get an additional 250 MB of space by referring your friends. Moreover, if you register a .edu account, Dropbox will give you 500 MB per referral. You can invite your friends directly, or you can share your referral link with anyone. Here is mine. Feel free to use, or not.

This is my dropbox, or rather, how my dropbox looks like online. However, it is not how I use it the most. I’ve downloaded and installed the dropbox desktop client on my home and office computers. This creates a folder on my hard drive, and it automatically updates and synchs everything to the most recent version. As long as I remember to close the files, they will synch.

If 2GB is too little for your needs, take a look at SugarSynch. It is basically the same service, but with 5GB of space for free. I’ve installed it, but haven’t really used it yet. However, here is a review of SugarSynch, by Shep McAllister for HackCollege. He actually has used it uses it. I merely have it on my laptop, but have yet to do anything with it.

Evernote: “Have you noticed me taking pictures of the your handouts?”

When it comes to technology, I’d take cues from Shep any day. Shep writes for  HackCollege, which is a version of Lifehacker for the college crowd. Shep was a student of mine at Trinity.  Last fall, he asked me if I had noticed him taking pictures of the my handouts.

I had not noticed, and I even felt a little inept. Shouldn’t I be able to see such things going on in my classroom? I supposed that if I had a strict no-technology rule, I probably would have. It also would have helped to have X-ray vision, since I teach in an amphitheater-style lecture hall. While it isn’t ungodly large, you would have to constantly walk up and down the room if you want to keep track of what everyone is doing. I hardly ever do.

In any case, Shep was actually digitizing his notes. He’d take a quick picture of a handout, and upload it to Evernote.

Evernote is note-taking 2.0. You can type, scan, or record notes directly to your favorite device. I have since tried it on my blackberry (a little cumbersome, since I’m still getting used to the virtual keyboard on the torch, which I insist on using just because I have it), the iPad, and my laptop..

Now, I know that I could share files, if I wanted to, directly from Dropbox. However, with Evernote I can compile different materials into a single note, and then organize the notes into shared notebooks. So far, I’ve created two of these. I use them upload recordings from lectures, annotated PDFs that I use for my own class prep[2], assorted videos, and links to prezis. I think of it as my very own academic smorgasbord. This is what one of my Evernote shared notebooks looks like.

So far, the only drawback I’ve had using Evernote is that I can’t record a full lecture directly to an audio note. I tried it once, and could only capture about 10 minutes of semi-coherent rambling [3] before I exceeded the space limit for the Blackberry app. I don’t have this issue if I simply use Blackberry’s own voice notes recorder. I can tape the whole thing, and then upload to Evernote. Once up there, I can access the content from any computer, share it, and if I’m feeling especially ambitious, I can convert the audio files to MP3s, clean them up on garage band or audacity, and voila! I have a podcast.[4]

These are tools that I use daily, but they are not the only technologies that are available for instructional use. If you know of any cool tools, please let me know.


[1]I actually learned about Dropbox from Aaron Delwiche.
[2]Preview (for the Mac) now allows you to annotate PDFs. NitroPDF, on the other hand, is a good solution for the PC, as it can upload directly to Evernote. There is no NitroPDF version for the Mac.
[3] Sometimes I honestly wonder what the students think of the rambling. This was especially true when I decided to discuss encoding/decoding.
[4]This is the first semester that I’ve made recordings, with permission from the students. I decided to do it because for the first time I have several students who are entitled to special accommodations. This is one way in which I can provide that.

Teaching with new media, or how I went paperless and learned to love Google

It’s official: I’ve taken my courses fully paperless. It is a new experience for me, and even though I had used blogs in the past, this new experiment adds important changes to the mix. The first relates to the platform, which is no longer wordpress. The second change is about classroom privacy, as I have restricted access to the course blog to the students registered in the course. The third adopts a different model of group blogging, by assigning students to a critical reading community. The final change incorporates google docs to facilitate management and assessment of exams and traditional term papers.

Google sites: Our new home.

When I first incorporated blogs into my teaching, I searched for a platform that was easy to use, albeit versatile. WordPress fit that bill. It was highly customizable, and after some trial and error, I was able to communicate my expectations and set standards that student posts had to meet. Indeed, I remember introducing the assignment to my first group, and sensing their bewilderment upon being told that they could not just post whatever they wanted. “Do you mean we can’t just talk about Kanye?”

Not exactly. What I meant is that they could talk about Kanye as long as doing so illustrated at least one of the issues that were being addressed through the course readings and/or lecture. “The whole point of this assignment — I said — is for y’all to use the tools you’re learning about in class to analyze popular culture.” I shared my own work as an example of how to do this, but I never required students to actually comment on anything I wrote. I now have mixed feelings about this decision. Part of me wishes I had asked for student comments. That would have given me feedback, and it would have been another way of assessing mastery of the material.

Hindsight… sigh…

My experience with WordPress was very positive, but I have moved away. I’m now trying out google sites for the first time.

Why? part of it has to do with on-site support. The institution where I teach has subscribed to Google apps for education, and we are currently in the process of rolling out different applications. Two of these are Google sites and Google docs. Since I also wanted to keep traditional term papers and exams, integrating Google docs into the course design seemed like a logical solution. I could keep the course almost paperless, but to keep it simple, I had to abandon my home on WordPress. Why have students use two different platforms when they could manage everything from their student account?

It just made sense to move.

The Media Audiences Site

(click the image to enlarge)

I created two sites. This screen shot shows the basic setup of the one for Media Audiences. The site has evolved into its present form, as I keep adding features. The latest addition is the “featured responses” section, which is basically a collection of what I consider to be the best work produced by students in the class. Think of it as the Media Audiences wall of fame.

Wall of fame

Each week, students write a response to the course readings. This is due at the beginning of the week, and it is meant to help them prepare for discussion. Granted, it doesn’t always work because being prepared for discussion does not necessarily make people more likely to participate in the actual discussion. Shyness is still an issue in the class, but people have other ways of participating and contributing. They can comment on each other’s work, for example, and have those comments be part of the participation grade. To make this easier, and to give everyone a chance to receive feedback from their peers, we formed self-selected reading groups of four. Each student only reads the people in their groups.

Naturally, there is a disadvantage in this arrangement. Self-selection has been an issue, and the “featured responses” section is meant to correct that. Unfortunately, at this point in the semester, reading good responses is entirely voluntary. It was never part of the original grading scheme, and I can’t include it now.

Sigh… one of the issues I’ll correct in the next version of Media Audiences.

The other addition to Media Audiences is google docs. I use it as a course management service, as it allows students to share their work with me, and I can, in turn, provide feedback right on their document by adding comments.

For me, this has been one of the best features of google docs. However, the functionality is limited compared to word. In word, you can actually track changes to documents, and the markings will show up right on the screen automatically. In google docs, if I want to delete or alter anything, I have to highlight it, or strike it out manually so the student will see it.

Another way in which I use google docs is to provide feedback to the weekly responses, and to manage grades. In terms of feedback, I realized early on that I could not just post my assessments directly on the student’s website. Indeed, critiques of student work are, and should always be confidential, whether you grade on paper, or electronically. My solution was to create a separate “feedback document” like the one below. I only add to the feedback document when there is a substantial point to be made. I mean, I’m not going to write an extensive entry to correct typos, but I will write one to encourage clear writing and argumentation:

In terms of grading, I have created individual spreadsheets for each student in the class. I post the grades there, along with brief comments, if warranted.

Students can view, but cannot edit the feedback document or the grading sheet, and I only share these documents with the individual student to ensure confidentiality. The only drawback of this system is that I have to keep a separate master grade sheet, and I have to update it by hand because separate google spreadsheets will not link to each other (or at least I haven’t figured out how to link them). Google docs is not like excel, and I can’t plug in a function that will compile all my grades into a single spreadsheet, like I would on excel linking my grade master sheet with the individual grade sheets is extremely tedious and time consuming. Google provides instructions, in wonderful googlese. You can read them here. The bottom line is that you have to manually input the formula into every individual sheet. Furthermore, you have to define the linking parameters for individual cells within a sheet. If you have 70+ students, it’s just not worth the trouble.  Hence, I rather keep entering the grades manually.  It’s worked fine so far, and people can keep track of their grades. That’s all I want.

So far, the experience has been good. In terms of resources, I now only print out my attendance sheet. I share presentations (done on Prezi because I can’t stand powerpoint anymore), notes, research examples, comments and materials with the class, and I have even begun experimenting with Evernote, pdf annotation, and audio files. I’m rolling Evernote feature out tomorrow, so we’ll have to see how people react to it. More on that later.