Transform Twitter into a Research Tool for Students

Today I went to a great jamboree of school librarians from all levels – university, high, middle, elementary, and a few in between (of course, I was my usual hybrid self).  This was a first step towards more effective communication in order to facilitate college readiness among K-12 students, and there was a lot of sharing and venting and struggling to get on the same page.  Lexiles and DIBELS and critical thinking– oh my!

I promised to share a fun tech tip on the College Readiness group wiki, and I will definitely post a link to this once my membership goes through.  Ready?

How to Research a Current Event Without Breaking a Sweat

1)  Make sure your cell phone plan is set to unlimited texting.

2)  Sign up for TWO Twitter accounts if you do not already have one.  You want a PERSONAL account and a RESEARCH account.  Since you can only have one Twitter account associated with a single email address, you can open that second Twitter account using Gmail (use your Gmailusername+researchprojectname@gmail.com).

2b) FOLLOW the research account with your personal account.

3) Log onto Twitter with your personal account.  Go into Settings and select Mobile.  Verify your cell phone number.  Make sure you follow the instructions on the right side of the screen with the phone icons – the ONLY account you want to have turned ON is your Twitter research account.  (The default for phone following is OFF so this is usually not a problem if you already follow lots of accounts.)

4)  Open a new browser tab.  Go sign up for Twitterfeed.  Give it your Twitter research account info.

5)  Open another tab, and find a news site that has RSS feeds for different topicsNYT or the BBC are good starting points, or you can pick a specialized site like AllAfrica that will have just the right info you need.  (Stymied?  Use the criteria in Consider the Source to select a good online news site.)

6)  Once you have an RSS feed selected, copy and paste it into your Twitterfeed account.  It will test the feed and make sure that the new posts from the RSS feed will now tweet out THROUGH your new Twitter research account.  You have effectively made a custom Twitter news channel!

7) Repeat steps 5 and 6 a few times as needed – don’t get too many, because you don’t want your phone blowing up constantly. (See @readersadvisory and @edunewsus as good/bad examples of custom Twitter news accounts I have created using many RSS feeds.)

8) By now, your phone should be texting you any new stories from the feeds you threaded through your research account.  Not only will these stories be stored in your research Twitter account (and you can Favorite the ones you want to use!), but they will also come to you in real time – reminding you about the project on a regular basis and letting you have immediate access to new information.

It sounds a little complicated (especially if you are not a current Twitter user or RSS feed master).  Yet this is a perfect example of how a typical social media site can be transformed into a powerful automated research tool!  Twitter is not just for sharing with colleagues or chatting with friends – it has the ability to transform your cell phone into a critical support system for schoolwork.

Copyrights (& wrongs)


It’s been a busy two months since my last post… besides ALA and some much-enjoyed vacation time, everything seems to have piled up! Off to the right you will see myself and Cory Doctorow, happy to meet briefly at a Tor event in Anaheim. I told him how rad we all found his new YA novel, Little Brother, and he was glad to hear it.

When I got home, I got my new issue of Knowledge Quest in the mail and read with interest the article called “Copyright and Portfolios” by Rebecca Butler. I found the ethical questions of the subject fascinating. It concerns electronic portfolios of graduating seniors where the students have used copyrighted materials such as music and film clips: fair use or infringement? Butler concurs that yes, it’s fair use as long as the students were using said clips for public school curriculum and used them to “realize their specific learning objectives.” She cites some sources (this was the only online one, sorry) and goes on to say that such “class-generated portfolios” can be used to demonstrate expertise in applications for jobs or higher ed. Butler adds that you should inform students that the portfolios should not be used for profit (“[don’t] sell any of the pieces […] or use them in a paid presentation.”)

I was worried after reading this, because a quick scan of the article seems reassuring… if your students have “added entire popular songs to their projects, as well as large clips from movie CDs, DVDs, and videos” then maybe everything is just a-ok and kosher. It takes a close reading of this brief article and a little deep thought to conclude that A) you might need to do more research into fair use before you let students create portfolios with such egregious “sampling” (the last time I checked using a work in its entirety is not sampling) and B) you’ll need to figure out how to break it to your students that a more-than-passing understanding of copyright may be the most important “technological skill” thy could have in the 21st century.

While I think it’s imperative that students (and citizens) have the right to fair use of copyrighted intellectual work (especially in the cases of criticism and parody), I believe that it may be encouraging intellectual laziness to reach for the latest Coldplay song and pop it in as the musical backdrop to a PowerPoint report. Sure, it’s popular culture; sure, it’s handy; sure, it’s easier in the short run than searching for music where the creators have given explicit permission for its use. I maintain that in the long run, using apparatuses such as Creative Commons can serve to build students’ appreciation and understanding of copyright so that they may gradually build up to the use of commercially copyrighted works with full knowledge of the risks and benefits. By making the due consideration of copyright and fair use integral to the construction of such electronic portfolios, we can equip students with skills that they can put to good use in the workplace and/or academia.

Cited:

Rebecca P. Butler. (2008). Copyright and Portfolios. Knowledge Quest, 36(5), 74.

Technically speaking


This week was pretty productive, technically speaking. I did a Cyber 6 Pack workshop with some school library media specialists, and made lots of notes about how I need to adjust the presentation as I forge ahead. But in other news, we discovered that we might have problems giving wireless access to a local school participating in a 1:1 laptop program (Macs!).

Our crack IT teams are exploring the issue and will try to isolate the problem. Even though this school isn’t in our service area, the kids with the laptops use our libraries. I think it’s vital to provide all users with a great experience to the best extent possible, so the outcome of this situation is important to me. Plus, when we have users bringing in their own laptops it greatly eases the demand for our desktops – resulting in more access for all patrons. It’s a win – win.

Another awesome thing I saw this week was a recording studio in a NZ library. I have agreed with colleagues for some time that what we need is a sort of library “gadget lab,” where users can come in and explore new technology and find out what it’s all about. If it doubled as a recording studio for video and audio, all the better! We are doing more and more podcasting and vidcasting so a room like this would help us as well as patrons. It’s called Beatbooth, and lots of users are flocking to its affordable hourly rates and cool library location. You couldn’t wedge a 5 piece band in there, but it’s got a keyboard, mic, and Mac. Awesome 🙂

Creative Commons and Content

Tonight I think I hit a tipping point: I decided I’d rather watch a TED talk online than channel surf after class… that’s a huge content choice that indicates, for the first time, that television and streaming video are equal choices in my world. *applause for the 21st century girl*

And this is what I watched:

I am going to recommend this to everyone when I start giving Creative Commons workshops (already have one group of librarians interested, woot woot!). It’s too long to share during a session since we usually have such a short time together, but it will be good “homework.”

What struck me as I watched it was the connection between the message we send to students and the standards we then hold them to… lots of educators (and I include myself here) say to students “oh, we can use (this video, this article, this picture, this music) and it doesn’t matter, we’re not making any money, it’s for SCHOOL.” And I’m afraid all they’re hearing is the sound of the teacher in Charlie Brown (wah wuh wah wuuuh wanh) and “it doesn’t matter.” The rogue librarians or teachers who emphasize the importance of copyright are treated as pariahs who are just totally out of touch.

Then when it comes time to create a works cited page for their term papers, we wonder how they became such flagrant plagiarists. Oh, the morality!!!

Creative Commons gives us a wonderful parallel road to travel and an awesome model to emulate. The most common license I see used is the “non-commercial/attribution” which, in a sense, is the one we have been presuming exists in our classrooms and libraries all along. And what a wonderful thing for students to hear over and over: “We’re not making any money here, and we just need to give credit where credit’s due.”

Now that’s a term paper I can’t wait to read 😉

India Calling

So our state provides a subscription to Tutor.com as part of our “homework suite” of services – in-person, online, and virtual reference. When I tried to get caught up on my reading today this article on offshore tutor services caught my eye. I mean, I knew this was going on but I guess I was in denial about how much it cost, etc. $99 a month for unlimited sessions… That’s a pretty good deal but how many families can afford an expense like that? It drives home the point that we are a highly stratified society in which the “haves” can shell out $40-$60 an hour or $99 a month for extra tutoring for their kids and the “have-nots” can’t even think of doing something like that. I’ve heard teachers get a pretty sweet deal occasionally when NCLB requirements have them tutor a kid after school and they pick up an extra $30 or so an hour for that.

It makes me wonder if offering free services like we do through our libraries are devalued. Not because they are of less quality, but because they are explicitly free and therefore are seen as having no value by parents who are used to seeing big price quotes. Maybe we look cheap or shabby? Must muse more on this subject.

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