Tag Archives: twitter

Taking a break

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It’s been pretty quiet around here at Casting Out Nines lately. This is mainly due to two things. First, I’m spending five days a week home with my oldest two kids — the youngest joins us on Wednesdays — and keeping the kids active and engaged doesn’t leave much time for blogging. Second, as you all know, I’m starting a new position at Grand Valley State University in the fall and our big move to Michigan takes place in two weeks. We’re totally uprooting in this move, and preparing for it consumes a lot of time and emotional energy.

I’ve decided that, in light of all this, that I might as well declare the blog to be on hiatus for a month or so until we’re settled. There are a couple of posts that might go up soon — one of them being the last entry in the How I make screencasts series — but otherwise let’s just call it summer vacation here at CO9’s, and things will resume in “back to school” mode later. (“Back to school” time always seems to happen too soon, but that’s another story.)

I do want to mention, because it’s hard to keep it in, that there are some major changes coming up for Casting Out Nines that I am very excited about. These have been brewing for almost a year now and are just about ready to go into place. I can’t really go into detail — nor do I have an exact timetable — but suffice to say that the experience you get here at CO9’s will be better than ever, and it’s more than just another change in the visual theme.

Anyway, that’s it from me for now — follow me on Twitter if you just can’t live without my content (ahem) but otherwise, get out there and enjoy your summer!

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Four lessons from my Lenten social media fast

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This past Sunday was Easter, of course. Easter marks the endpoint of Lent, and therefore it was the end of my 40-day fast from Facebook and Twitter. I do admit that I broke cover once to announce my upcoming job change, and will also admit that I lurked a lot on both services during the last 10 days or so, reading but not commenting. Otherwise, though, I did manage to stay off both Facebook and Twitter for the duration (auto-posted tweets didn’t count).

I’ll have to say my first real tweet after breaking the fast felt awkward — like I’d been out in the wilderness for 40 days and had stepped back into a once-familiar place with people who had never left. I’m gradually getting back into the swing of it, but I also feel like I have a much different perspective on my social media involvement after giving most of it up for 40 days. I’ve learned a few things about the role of social media in my work and life:

Lesson 1: Denoising your life is good. I found this out within days of starting the fast. I didn’t realize until I gave Twitter and Facebook up for a few days just how dependent I’d become on checking status reports every few minutes, not to mention creating status updates myself. There is a tremendous amount of time bound up in these little 2- to 5-minute bursts of social media that I really benefitted from reclaiming. But more than that, I found that once I went cold turkey on Facebook and Twitter, the pace of my life slowed down several notches. I felt less hurried and more relaxed. When you make yourself try to keep up with a continuous stream of status updates, you soon begin to feel like Lucy and Ethel on the candy wrapping assembly line:

But that’s not all I learned.

Lesson 2: Getting rid of the noise is good, but losing the signal in the process is not so good. Many times over the last couple of months, I’d catch myself leaning over the keyboard about to compose a tweet asking for help or ideas on a question, or looking at Facebook to see what my friends all over the world were doing. But I had to catch myself because I was on a fast. I learned through all this that I really value the thoughts and ideas of the people and groups I follow — these thoughts and ideas enrich my life, fire my imagination, make me laugh at silly stuff, and generally make me a better person and professional. I missed all that, and the people behind them, a lot.

Despite the value I place in my connections, I also learned that:

Lesson 3: It’s good not to share everything. I remember quite clearly having lunch with my dissertation advisor one day, and he gave me a piece of advice I’ve never forgotten: Always keep secrets. Work on things that nobody knows about but yourself. While sharing is generally good, and while the power of being able to share yourself quickly and on a large scale through Twitter and Facebook creates a powerful opportunity to connect with others, I think there’s a point of sharing past which the individual starts to get diluted. For example, during the first couple of weeks of Lent, I attended the ICTCM in Denver. There was no tweeting from there, although there was ample opportunity. Instead, I kept notes, talked to people, and made myself social in real life. It was good, and I think it would have been less good if I had taken time away from the here-and-now to tweet about the here-and-now.

Then, the Wednesday after I returned from Denver, I noticed on my right leg a series of painful, angry-looking red streaks going from my lower right calf all the way up to the top of the thigh. I went to the doctor to have it checked out, and they sent me directly to the emergency room, and from there they sent me directly to a hospital room. I was diagnosed with cellulitis, an infection of the subcutaneous tissue under the skin that I probably picked up from walking around barefoot in my Denver hotel room. I spent three days in the hospital getting IV antibiotics around the clock to fight the infection. Had I waited till Thursday morning to go to the doctor, the infection would have made it to my femoral artery and I likely would have gone septic, and it would have gotten considerably worse from there.

I’ll admit it: I was scared, frustrated, and sorely in need of people to connect with during those three days. Had I been using social media, I would have been posting Facebook and Twitter updates, probably with pictures, about as often as I was getting antibiotics. But by choice, I kept this experience to myself, to share with my wife and kids, my doctors, and with God. Instead of tweeting, I prayed and wrote and talked to my wife and children. I watched a lot of Netflix and got some grading done. So while it would have been a comfort to have social media as an outlet for sharing with others, by concentrating my sharing to the real people in my life who matter the most, and keeping the rest a secret (till now), the whole experience somehow has more meaning and lasting power in my memory.

Finally, I learned:

Lesson 4: Social media is a permanent part of who I am, and when managed well it is a powerful force for good. Early on during Lent I realized I liked the slower pace of life so much that I wondered if I would go back to Twitter and Facebook once it was all over. Honestly, I can’t see giving those two services up. I’ve carefully groomed and built my list of people and groups to follow so that whenever I look in on the Twitter update stream, I learn something. Facebook is the same way except on a more personal level with friends from real life. So I can’t see just giving these things up. They are an antidote to stagnation. But I do like taking a more minimal and focused approach to engaging with social media — which, by the way, leaves me more ideas and energy for blogging — so that the signal-to-noise ratio is high.

So ends my Lenten social media fast, with results that I consider successful. I feel that I’m now more apt to use social media outlets to grow and learn and connect in positive ways, less prone to share indiscriminately and inappropriately. Like most things, it takes some time away to help you appreciate what you have.

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Filed under Christianity, Family, Personal, Social software, Technology, Twitter, Web 2.0

Why I am giving up Twitter and Facebook for Lent

I don’t often write on CO9’s about my faith, so I hope you’ll indulge me for a bit. Since this is also a post about technology, I figured it fits. This has to do with Lent.

In the Christian church year, Lent is a season in which believers participate in acts of personal sacrifice to help us prepare for Holy Week. Lent begins tomorrow with Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter, which is on April 24 this year. I haven’t always given something up for Lent, but this year I’ve decided that I am giving up Twitter and Facebook.

It may seem silly to use abstinence from social media to commemorate the sufferings of Christ, but there’s a serious twofold purpose to my choice.

First, in giving up Twitter and Facebook, I am seeking to recover time that I am spending in 15–30 second increments and re-invest it elsewhere. If you took all the little bursts of time I spend checking Facebook and Twitter in a given day, I think it would add up to about an hour. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a lot more than an hour. I can do a lot in an hour: pray, read, spend time with the kids, or just be still. Right now I complain that I don’t have enough time for these things, but in fact I do.

Second, I’ve used Facebook and Twitter status updates to vent out all kinds of behavior that are best left off the public record, and I’d like that to change. In particular, I think back to the tweets that followed this one a few weeks ago. It was an outburst of anger toward a student comment on the MATLAB course blog that shouldn’t have been posted. While I deleted the worst of the tweets in that series, I looked back on that rapid-fire set of tweets the next day and I recoiled at the ugliness of it. That is not the kind of man I would like to be.

Although the idea of giving up Twitter for Lent popped into my head after that incident, it’s certainly not the only time I’ve engaged in character assassination or whining or self-indulgence or attention-seeking on Twitter or Facebook. It can be frustrating. There is so much good to which these social media outlets can be put, like sharing interesting links, making connections to old friends and new friends who share my passions, and discovering new ideas from interesting people. But it’s also a fact that I’ve used the quick-hit nature of Twitter and Facebook to share things that I ought to be sorry for even thinking.

I’m hoping that by stepping away from social media for a while, I will starve some of those tendencies to act immediately upon the impulses to bash, whine, hurt, indulge, or emote and give myself instead a chance to fill the space with better things. I’m thinking of how Luther explains the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism. For Luther, each commandment is phrased explicitly in the negative (e.g. “You shall not murder”) but implicitly carries with it an equal and opposite command given in the positive (e.g. instead, we should help and support our neighbors in every physical need). In fact the Catechism’s entry for the Eighth Commandment really gets at the heart of it:

The Eighth Commandment.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

What does this mean?–Answer.

We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.

That’s what I’m shooting for here.

So between now and April 24, I’ll still check for and respond to direct messages on Twitter and Facebook (because those are really more like emails than anything). Also, my Facebook group I set up for my academic advisees will still see action because that’s more job-related. Some things that I do which auto-post to Twitter and Facebook, like when I post a YouTube video or publish a blog post, I’ll leave up and running. But otherwise no posting and no @-replies until April 24. If you normally get in touch with me through Facebook or Twitter, please use my email instead: robert [dot] talbert [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Filed under Casting Out Nines, Social software, Technology

Technology FAIL day

This morning as I was driving in to work, I got to thinking: Could I teach my courses without all the technology I use? As in, just me, my students, and a chalk/whiteboard with chalk/markers? As I pulled in to the college, I thought: Sure I could. It just wouldn’t be as good or fun without the tech.

Little did I know, today would be centered around living that theory out:

  • I planned a Keynote presentation with clicker questions to teach the section on antiderivatives in Calculus. As soon as I tried to get the clickers going, I realized the little USB receiver wasn’t working. Turns out, updating Mac OS X to v10.6.5 breaks the software that runs the receiver. Clicker questions for this morning: Out the window. Hopefully I’ll find a useable laptop for tomorrow, when I’m using even more clicker questions.
  • Also in calculus, the laptop inexplicably went into presenter mode when I tried to give the presentation without clicker questions. Most of the time when I try to get it into presenter mode, I can’t do it. This time I couldn’t make it stop.
  • The Twitter client on my laptop got stuck in some kind of strange mode such that clicking on anything made it go to Expose.
  • I lost the network connection to our department printer halfway through the day.
  • GMail went down.

Fortunately everything I had planned could be done without any technology aside from the whiteboard. But when the technology doesn’t work, I have to improvise, and sometimes that works well and sometimes not. In calculus, I just had to revert back to what is often called the “interactive lecture”, which means just a regular lecture where you hope the students ask questions, and it was about as engaging as that sounds.

I do believe I can teach without all this technology, but the kind of teaching I do with the technology is, I think, more inherently engaging and meaningful for students. I ask better questions, interact more freely with students, and highlight the coherence and the big ideas of the material more adeptly with the technology in place. So when the tech fails on me, things seem odd and out of place and contrived. Students pick up on that. Maybe I’m simply addicted to the tech, but I don’t like teaching without it, and my classes aren’t nearly at the same level without it.

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Filed under Educational technology, Life in academia, Math, Profhacks, Teaching, Technology

Math-lovers of the world unite — you have nothing to lose but your pan pizza

It’s been a month since I posted last, and this seems a strange way to break back into the posting habit but: You should boycott Pizza Hut. Here’s why:

That’s a quick screen capture from a commercial that started running on various websites this month (I stumbled across it on ESPN.com). There is apparently a 30-second version on Hulu.

Readers of this blog need no explanation as to why this is worth a boycott of Pizza Hut. It’s not really a big deal. But, rather, it’s yet another small step that a high-profile person or organization has taken towards making math, and by extension all the STEM disciplines, less likely to be taken seriously by the general public and in particular young people. And it’s another little paper cut for anti-intellectualism in general that will eventually bleed us all to death.

Big companies have no business making themselves part of the problem, and every opportunity to become part of the solution. Therefore I am asking anybody who feels like I do about this commercial to boycott Pizza Hut until they (1) pull the advertisement, (2) apologize, and (3) donate a modest but substantial sum of money — say the approximate revenue they gained from running this ad — to a nonprofit organization that supports STEM education. In particular, if you are a teacher, share this post with your colleagues and administrators and encourage a school-wide boycott of Pizza Hut for school parties, trips, etc.

I’ve been beating this to death in my Twitter stream, and I’ve set up a Facebook group for people to rally around. The YouTube video has gotten upwards of 8000 views and over 50 comments since I posted it this past Sunday, so I think there is a lot of common cause happening here. Go to it!

UPDATE: Pizza Hut responded while I was typing this post. Check the wall of the Facebook group. It’s a start.

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ICTCM day 2

Euclid, Greek mathematician, 3rd century BC, a...

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[Ed. note: This post was originally written on March 13 while at the ICTCM, but I ran out of time on my $12.95 per day internet access before being able to post it and only now have had the chance to get back online. So it’s about 36 hours out of sync.]

Slower day at the ICTCM than yesterday. For one thing, I took some time out in the morning to get the MATLAB course prepped for Monday; and I needed time to finish some grading in the afternoon. But I manage to have a pretty productive day nonetheless.

The main event — one of the primary reasons I came here — was a Geogebra 3.2 minicourse this morning. I’ve been a diehard Geometers Sketchpad user for a long time, but after becoming aware of Geogebra lately, I began to wonder if it might be time for a switch. I have no problem with the usability and features of Sketchpad, but if there’s free software out there that is pretty close to the same quality, the possibility of simply installing it everywhere (like we’ve done on campus with Winplot) is pretty enticing. The question was whether Geogebra’s features and usability matches up well with Sketchpad’s.

After the minicourse, I’d say the answer to that question is definitely “yes”. Particularly impressive is Geogebra’s ability to export entire constructions to HTML as an interactive web page. I have some definitely plans for this kind of thing for the class now. There’s more to learn — unfortunately we didn’t go very deep with the software in the minicourse — but definitely Geogebra will be the software platform for the geometry course this fall. Now I have to decide on a textbook — or to go without. Hope to blog on that later.

Also today I attended a session on using clickers in mathematics courses. I’ve been following Derek Bruff on Twitter for some time (he’s an assistant director at the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching, where I used to be a Master Teaching Fellow) and have gotten interested in using clickers through his work with them. This was a general survey talk, but very well done and it definitely increased my interested in folding clickers into my teaching mix at some point.

Overall the ICTCM is one of the better conferences out there for people who are interested in math, education, technology and the intersections between these. Look for the announcement for ICTCM 2011 coming soon!

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Filed under Computer algebra systems, Education, Educational technology, Geometers Sketchpad, ictcm, Math, MATLAB, Teaching, Technology

The blogging VPAA?

I was thinking over the session coming up at Blog Indiana by John Oak Dalton titled “Chancellor 2.0” which promises to address “existing and emerging obstacles of CEO-grade context” [sic? Was that supposed to be “content”?] for Twitter. In other words, it sounds like the session will be about how to get your college’s upper administration up and running with blogging and tweeting. I’m curious to see what Dalton makes of this, because his home institution seems to have embraced blogging and Twitter at a scale you don’t normally see from a university. Even the chancellor tweets.

I’d love to see more college administrators blogging or twittering, using their real names, making no secret of their institutions, and writing honestly about their successes and struggles in the work that they do. There’s no faster track to giving higher education a measure of transparency that it badly needs than this. That transparency is needed both inside and out.

On the inside, faculty benefit from having a window on what the administration is doing, rather than having an administration that lives and works behind a wall of separation. Students, for whom college administration is especially important but also mysterious, would benefit too. And as faculty have a tendency to objectify administrators and turn them into lay figures to complain about — a mirror image of what many students do to faculty — anything that administrators can do to show people their human side (up to a point, of course; there’s still such a thing as “too much information”) helps the organization operate better.

On the outside, the general public has cultivated such a distrust and dislike for higher education — and can they be blamed, the way we act sometimes? — that giving them that same window on administrative operations would be an honest, unilateral step towards reestablishing the trust that ought to be shared between town and gown. And if I were a parent with a child about to start college, the administrator and faculty blogs would be a valuable source of information about what the college is really like.

If I were a college administrator (not that I’m looking to become one), not only would I be blogging and Twittering regularly, I’d encourage the people who work under me as well as faculty to do the same. I’d be trying to make sure the resources are there to make it happen — dedicated server space for faculty and staff to have their own WordPress installations, and so forth — and most important to make sure that they have permission to speak freely. Imagine what it would be like if your official college blog posts or tweets could be used for your benefit towards tenure.

Are there other college administrators out there who blog or tweet? Or any administrators out there reading this post who don’t, and would care to explain why not?

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Filed under Academic freedom, Blogging, Higher ed, Life in academia, Social software, Technology, Tenure, Twitter, Web 2.0