Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A small fish in a big pond of Fark

This is a post that I have been hesitant to write, because it seems SO self-serving, but enough people on my social networks have asked about the experience and it has gotten me thinking about some larger issues, so there you go. Interested in the article that got picked up by Fark.com? Read on. Just want the rant? skip to the reflection.
My first tweet about it: Wow...just wow.

How the Fark it happened:

The subject of the post has to do with the #theatershooting and some thoughts I had on digital citizenship. You can read it HERE. What I do not detail in the post is that I was on vacation in Northern Michigan at the time of writing, so at 11:00 PM or so (while playing TICKET TO RIDE), I posted (knowing from experience that this pretty much doomed the post to initial low numbers, but ah well).

I didn't look at my email until 7am (comics to be read and all). A friend of mine emailed that he was enthusiastic about the article and wanted to flag it on Fark.com. Here is the thing: I don't really know what happened next. I know that I received another communication that it was going up on the national boards about 2am, which means one or more people with the power to pull the trigger liked what was written or at least thought it worthy of discussion/flaming. :)

Since it had been up for about six hours, I logged in to see if i noticed any spike in numbers. I had more views at that moment than any other post...ever. In fact, it had already doubled my most popular post in the wee hours of the morning between 2am and 8am. *jawdrop*

It was a nice weekend. Numbers were off the scale. There were over a hundred comments on Fark.com and another handful on the post itself (which is rare for my blog). The comments were generally positive and a few reached the level of insightful, supportive, or interesting. There was a little thread degeneration and 2nd amendment grandstanding. There were also a number of people who thought that the post was tl;dr and verbose (in that it used words like verbose :) ) -- in other words, it was a good exercise in the discourse which has been my theme for the summer.

My fark-enthusiast friend told me that it was relatively well received... a lot more positively than most blogs/first time posts, so that was nice to hear. My in-laws began asking me what to do with this new found fame, and I did briefly entertain the idea of follow-ups or trying to create a fark-acceptable voice -- and I cringed internally. It took me a number of years to check my ego in order to be a better teacher, techie, and human being and I could see that door to the worst part of my personality opening a crack. (hence me not even wanting to write this reflection).

The Farking Aftermath (yes, now i'm just having fun)

  • My blog almost tripled in numbers. There was a lot of secondary pick-up from other blogs and regeneration sites and analytics does a pretty good job of figuring which hits are spam (interestingly, older posts saw a much higher increase in comment spam than the popular one).
  • I picked up a few followers on the blog and a few more followers on twitter.
  • A lot of FB friends (and twitter colleagues) were excited to see the post on Fark, which was flattering and cool.
  • Numbers on the blog are back to normal. The post that started it all is still the most popular one day-to-day except for the day of a new entry (it has replaced the both "defining BYOT/D" post and "Tweeting about Lord of the Flies" as my constant background noise entry).

Reflection:

It is kind of a thrill and an ego boost to see the kind of numbers that I assume some of the more famous bloggers get regularly (although I am not talking about uber-numbers...wow, its no wonder marketers need Klout or some equivalent to succeed).

But what i realized...(and maybe this is why I am writing this)

I think that we as educators in social media are at risk of falling into the same type of trap that I reference in the posting and to a greater extent in my breakdown of PLNs, confirmation bias and echo chambers in postings over this last summer. 

When I log into #edchat, or #byotchat, #flipclass or #pblchat, etc., I know that I am going to be chatting with hard working, innovative teachers who, for the most part, agree with me in theory if not in the details. We all believe in the importance of individualizing for students and feel that the culture of standardized testing is leading us down the wrong path. We believe that there is a wide gulf between the educators who care for kids, work with them day-to-day and try to instill a love of subject matter and life-long learning from the politicians, corporate education lobbyists and talking heads who seem to have the inside track to hearings on capital hill. 

When we discuss new ideas or ways to get started on a new method of learning, the conversations and links are both thrilling and overwhelming. But when we discuss the state of education, we all do the twitter equivalent of shaking our heads (literally, #smh) or making fun of the powers-that-be. I say this not to diminish the power of the former (it is the new professional development) or to discount the latter (we work in a world with far too little camaraderie and support). I say this because the conversation needs to be held beyond the walls of our various hashtag-PLNs.

We, the committed and engaged educators, have a responsibility to ourselves and our students to take these conversations into the marketplace of ideas. We need to share our perspective and worldview with non-educators. Because if enough people outside of our field begin to weigh-in on the ridiculousness that is being spouted in the name of an ill-conceived measure of progress, we might actually be able to change something.
This one is going around on Facebook right now. Ha!

My suggestions:

  1. Be loud and in some cases obnoxious about what is going on in education. When someone brings up an educational idea in conversation, share with that person what the impact of that policy would be. We are the classroom teachers and our opinion matters. 
  2. Refuse to be labeled as part of the status quo. My friend (and former debater) @JakeBonifield really drove this one home for me this week. If we allow ourselves to be labeled as defenders of the status quo then we face two problems. First, we lose the ability to share changes that we are making and to contribute to the discussion of problems that we actually face. Second, and more insidious, we get to be written off in the discourse of education as self-interested and protectionist. Look, is it silly to base teacher compensation on a test score that has been shown to have alternate causality well out of the teacher's control? absolutely. But if the only thing people hear from us is "merit pay is bad", then we become the whiners who can be ignored.
  3. Begin with Parents and Students. As we have been working on our BYOT program and introducing our concept of digital citizenship to our community, I have been amazed at the acceptance and enthusiasm from parents, alums, and even students. When they hear that we have been looking at the problems of modern culture and its impact on education and working with technologists, experienced educators, and families to address those concerns they are thrilled. And they tell their friends. And the word spreads.
  4. Continue the conversation in the general discourse. As we find our voices as reasonable advocates of change that will actually improve education, we need to message that not just on twitter but on newsgroups, sites, and other places where people gather to discuss. Refer interested people to the robust conversation that is taking place on the best educational blogs. (thx. to @dugitman of Downtown Comics for making the next step clear).
Sometime in the last five years and unbeknownst to us, we became the whipping boy for all that was at issue in education. The cultural shift happened fast and sudden and made it so that some of us were unable to respond with logic or reason or even a "seriously?" 

The recovery from that is going to be long and difficult because we, as educators, don't have the money or the influence to get to speak on Capital Hill like the representatives of the Gates Foundation. Change is going to take time because politicians are almost without exception two-faced on the issue: praising specific individual teachers but decrying faceless "bad educators" in the next soundbyte.

But we have our schools, our learning networks, and social media. We can use our voices within the populous to share our expert perspective. We can talk to others about positive changes that we are making and how we are measuring and demonstrating the impact of those changes on our students.

If enough of us do this, then we can begin to break into the channels of the common discourse. We can become the voices that must be heard. We can be invited to share our ideas and visions, our successes and our challenges. We can break through the money-influence barrier that separates us from the politicians who make our lives more difficult.

Heck, we might even get an article on Fark.com.