What Does a Qualitative Researcher Do With Quantitative Twitter Followers?

keys-525732_1280I received a notice this morning from Twitter congratulating me that I reached 3,000 followers.


Congratulations? For what? 3,000?

Granted, I am flattered that this many accounts would see some value in following me on Twitter, but like all numbers, it is only a number. Numbers have no meaning in themselves, not even existing until we call them into existence, giving them some meaning in the process. As soon as that purpose fades, so does the number. Do you remember losing your 6th tooth? How about your 8th first date? 10th homework assignment? 13th paycheck? How about 23rd birthday? Surely your 31st paycheck? 45th time at the supermarket? 51st time you went into a vehicle?

Shall I go on?

Numbers are numbers, not even existing until we make them and then assign them value, losing it as quickly as our interest. After all, 5% unemployment only matters depending on which side you are on. So to speak.

Twitter seems to find this valuable, though like most numbers, I am suspicious.

What does it mean? Is it good? Bad? Part of the club? A wannabe? Something to celebrate? Reflect upon? Lament it is too little? Too much? Does it make me happier? More money? A better retirement (ha!)? More original teeth? A fan club? Haters? I have little context for it, and thus am not sure how I am expected to make meaning out of it. They must find something useful there or I would not have received an automatic message about it.

Perhaps that is the key–how valuable is it really when it gets sent based on pre-existing coding?

Makes me wonder, why does somebody else have to make meaning for me? I am somewhat capable of making meaning on my own, and as such find value only in conversations, shared ideas, challenges, support, suggestions, and the like. Perhaps I am being negative, though while I am getting a blog post out of it, in an odd way it did evoke a reaction in me. Hmm, there you have it.

That could as easily happen with 300 as 3000, and is more likely closer to 30 with those who I engage with on a regular basis, those who celebrate ideas like #ds106 or #dLRN15 or #5Papers or even #moocmooc (with all its paradigm-bending pesky questions). Alas, numbers don’t matter for those of us who are not selling things or reliant on them to prove something to someone about something.

My ideas and constant inquiry has me interested, and if 3,000 adds to it, then wonderful! If it doesn’t, like Klout scores, I am not worse for the wear.

I am much more interested in making meaning than counting, as often the counted is meaningless until those of us who inquire more deeply come along. Long live our interest and passions, none of which are readily reducible to a number.

Goodness, did I just say that? Perhaps there is something about this 3,000 after all . . .

A Writing Goal, or Goals, for November

DidYouKnowOk, I always have more I want to write about than I have time in which to do it, but now that #DigiWriMo has officially started, insofar as there is anything official with this online writing / sharing / professional development / community-building / creativity-inducing / entertainment / (and dare I say) self-promotion fest, it only makes sense to start at the beginning.

What do I want to do this for? What are my Digital Writing Month Goals? Hmm, thinking of Kirkpatrick’s evaluation work (something integral to one of the courses I am teaching right now at UMass Boston), it is useful to think about the end at the beginning. So, what do I want my December 1 to look like? Continue reading “A Writing Goal, or Goals, for November”

I am a Nancy White Groupie

I will confess to you, dear reader, that I am a Nancy White Groupie.

No, I don’t follow her to see her on stage (who can keep up with that schedule, even to those places I cannot at times find on a map), nor do I toss my unmentionables (I have nothing that is unmentionable, BTW) to her across time and space for her benefit, though I would gladly share chocolate with her when I am able (or drinks when she visits New York). As a matter of fact, I have not even seen Nancy F2F for some years now (how she remains young while I grow older is the magic of memory and avatars, I suppose), though thinking of her always brings a smile to my face.

It is that smile that I want to consider.

I am not saying this because she had a screenshot of a Twitter conversation (yes, a real discussion, cf. Jenny and Jenny again) I had with John Mak (after an interesting exchange on his blog) during her #change11 MOOC session this past Monday (recording and slides etc. are here). I am saying this because she has a way of engaging people that gets creative juices flowing, even when it is about the most challenging of topics.

Take her session this past Monday. She asked us to consider change, especially related to creating a space for change. I was entirely engaged during the discussion, including the interactive whiteboarding she championed (see a screenshot to the right) that I watched without writing on. I could not write on this board because I was struggling with processing what she asked us to consider. I watched others. I was actively engaged in writing in and reading the chat stream (little surprise?) Because I like to think more than I like to draw. Because I believe reflecting on is an interactive and engaging activity. Even at the end of the session, I was not clear exactly what happened, what we (I) learned, nor what to do with it. Even here near the end of our week with Nancy, I struggle with her notion (or a notion she shared) about #socialartist. Even through some DM messages yesterday, somehow Nancy brought a positive spin to it. She didn’t leave me where I was–she encouraged and guided and urged me on, all with what I can only imagine being a smile on her face of knowing that we have to experience change ourselves–she can not tell us what will happen, but rather guide us to the edge and then steward us across.

Through all of this, Nancy makes me smile. I feel reassured and encouraged as she engages in online discussion and interactivity with a group spread across the globe. I don’t think it may matter to her how we react and engage; I think she cares more that we do react and engage. Perhaps in that variety of ways of approaching this lumbering issue of #change11 Education, Learning, and Technology, the issue is not so much about doing this or that right (as if there is a right way to experience education, learning, and technology), but that we move past our comfort zone, as only there will change (of the status quo) live.

Perhaps that is the (or a) point; change comes whether we want it or not, but if we engage in learning that pushes our boundaries while engaging in some aspect of community, the change may benefit from our shared exploration and thus be more fully realized. Borrowing from our actor-network theory colleagues, our learning network constantly changes, with technologies coming and going along with the people around them. This change really is the only constant. What can we do with all this change, especially so our voices get heard and we become part of it while not getting rolled over by it?

Ahh, that is what I think Nancy may really be getting at . . .

Making Sense of Complexity – Engaging Others in #change11

I just attended an interesting webinar that George Siemens facilitated during an Open Access Week session at Athabasca, Making Sense of Complexity in Open Information Environments. While his work got increasingly theoretical, there is one thing he mentioned that caused me to stop and think about my current involvement in #change11, the MOOC that I have been discussing for a few weeks now.

In this iteration of a massive open online course, there is not an established form of scaffolding for participant focus (there is not a central Moodle platform, or course home where we all come to gather around). Instead, we blog or Tweet or whatever as we work through the course, and we are encouraged (invited? forced?) to devise our own mechanisms for processing and engaging with our content. I have decided to use my blog and Twitter to process this experience and what I learn in it, and while this generally works for me, it also relates to some ideas that Dave Cormier mentioned in his post earlier this week, and which we developed a little more in George’s webinar today. All this freedom comes at a cost — I am continually struggling to address my 3rd course goal, Revise my network to be wider and more inclusive. Without a central focus or location, it can be quite a challenge to develop a sense of community, or networked learning perspective. Yes, I am begining to comment on more blogs of other participants, as well as increase my Tweeting, though I am still struggling to be able to connect with others in more than a passing way.

While I prefer online communication as a mode of social connection, I am increasingly disoriented by the sheer scope of participation in the MOOC, and thus am really struggling to find a small (or any!) social connections of more than a passing or very focused interest. I know, this certainly does not happen naturally in a centralized course location, though it is an Internet-sized challenge to find this in the wider Web. Yes, it is relatively easy to locate Tweets and blogs and such through the use of the #change11 tag, but even with all that information, it is still a challenge to navigate through everything.

As networked learning is something that is increasingly important in my thinking, I am hoping that some of my efforts in this area will begin to develop in some way. I am reminded of what Dave said:

I’ve also had a difficult time trying to track the responses to the given weeks

and this for me resonated.

I really like the openness and ability to process our thinking in our own ways, though echoing Dave’s comment, finding the information can be a challenge, and then engaging around it enough that community begins to develop, even in small ways (once again, as George hinted at in the webinar today). Somehow, I have not located any of this yet, and while I will put more effort into my processes, I am increasingly recognizing that my goal #3 is very important for my sustained involvement.

I wonder if a sense of community or belonging or valuing plays a role in any online endeavor, especially a 35 week one where we develop and monitor and work toward our own goals?

Managing Technology in Higher Education: A Discussion Undiscussed #change11

This week’s #change11 MOOC features Tony Bates, who started the session off with a rare Sunday synchronous session on the topic of Managing technology to transform teaching, based on his book Managing Technology in Higher Education: Strategies for Transforming Teaching and Learning. I enjoyed the live session of this, even though I missed the first half of it due to login issues with the required Java environment that was not included in my copy of Mac Lion.

While I did not feel I have much to talk about in this area (quite interesting, but somehow I need more prompts), I visited Tony’s website for the book (as he suggested in his week’s intro) and then I saw it–he invited us to discuss the topic on his book’s built-in forum. The site is rather flashy, nicely built and designed (publishers do nice work to help promote and publicize books, as well as savvy authors who want to get their message out), and sure enough, there were loads of discussion questions, 34 of them to be precise. What I found most interesting is that, at the time of this post here, there were only 2 replies. Yes, that’s it–2.

Thinking about all the time and energy it took to install and design and organize the forum, as well as the resources spent on identifying those 34 questions, done 4-7 months ago(once again, at the time of this post), there were only 2 replies.

34 questions, 4-7 months old, and 2 replies.

I won’t even begin counting the nested Scenarios in the Forums (on the bottom of the same page).

The question I have, is why? Why so little discussion on something seemingly so valuable? Even after talking about this on the live #change11 session (with thousands of people registered and others informally participating), with the promotion the authors are surely doing, and even with those finding this through other means, why so little discussion?

I find the topic interesting. The authors are engaging. What I have read about the text is lively, valuable, and forward-thinking. I have had some relationship with higher education for years. I like technology in HE. I even like to read and discuss all of this, so I know I am not alone.

The question is still why? Do people not want to talk about this? Perhaps they think it may not affect change? Perhaps people are overworked and it is a time issue? Perhaps people are reacting to it in their own way (as I am with this blog post)?

I am not sure, but I think that it may be useful to consider this, as the implications for a world ever more in need of getting the changes needed to this higher education behemoth right is beyond compare with many social issues. With so much to discuss and explore and develop, why so little discussion about it (at least here)?