Changing the World With Samantha Adams Becker (Part 1 of 2)

This is the first half of an interview conducted with Samantha Adams Becker, President at SAB Creative & Consulting and former New Media Consortium Publications & Communications Senior Director, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; projected publication date is autumn 2018). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited. The interview began with an exercise that involved jotting down as many words that came to mind after hearing the word “Twitter.”

Obvious things I see as I have all three [of our interview] transcripts in front of me: “sharing” and “networking” came up in all three—no surprises there. Anything stand out to you as you look at your responses to “Twitter?”

I think the idea of continuous conversation and PD [personal development] jump out the most—plus the “unedited” version of Twitter, because it’s a very “respond in the moment” platform.

Let’s go with three themes you mentioned, one at a time: “heart,” “continuous conversation,” and “professional development.” How does Twitter suggest “heart” to you?

Twitter features the heart button, which is the equivalent of “like” on Facebook and LinkedIn. However, in Facebook it seems more common to “like” something rather than share it; whereas on Twitter, sharing (or re-tweeting) appears to be more common. It’s an important distinction that a user makes deciding whether to simply “heart” something vs. re-tweet it. Re-tweeting essentially means you are agreeing with it or find enough merit in it to share it with your own community (unless you add a comment clarifying your own stance). So, offering up a “heart” is like saying, “I like your idea enough to say that I do, but not enough to expose my whole following to it.” It’s very interesting social-psychologically.

Thanks; sort of like second-class social, isn’t it…As for “continuous conversation”: initial thoughts behind that one?

Yes, I think Twitter—more so than any other social media platform—allows for continuous conversation. If one of your Facebook friends made 10 posts per day, you might find that a bit excessive. However, you may find it completely acceptable that a friend tweets 10 times in a day. That reaction alone points to Twitter as a much more embraced conversation/sharing platform. Not only can a discussion continue between multiple users, but you can continue your own conversation. That is to say, if you tweet an article about artificial intelligence in education, and then you go to a workshop on that subject the next day, you’re able to follow up with your reactions and opinions using a specific hashtag.

Perhaps most essentially, a conversation you may have started in person can continue on Twitter. This seems to be very popular at conferences where you may have a brief encounter with a person who winds up being a lifelong friend because you’re able to transition your connection to Twitter and respond to each other’s Tweets.

That very much parallels a theme I’m already exploring in the first-draft-in-progress: the value and inherently unique nature of conversation onlinewhat has become a “moment” that extends over days, weeks, months, even years as a strange variation of a “moment.” You seeing extended conversations like those and, if so, how is that changing the way you view the concepts of time and conversation?

I love the way you are interpreting a “moment.” Twitter now has a moments feature that allows you to add a series of tweets or photos that represents a moment in your life.

Now, a conversation doesn’t have to take place in real-time to be considered deep and meaningful; it can stretch on for our entire lives. I think about the “moment” I met my husband—online. Granted, it was a specific online dating platform, but our correspondence was through a series of messages before we met in person. I’d say that’s a 21st-century way to describe the “moment” you meet someone, but I also liken it to earlier centuries where people wrote to each other via snail-mail back and forth, and maybe saw each other once [a year] or every few years. Twitter is like that, but responses can instantaneous—if the user sees fit. A user can be inspired by a tweet and meditate on it for an evening or a few days before responding, and that is perfectly acceptable within the frame of a conversation.

I see extended conversations take place all the time, oftentimes organized by hashtags. I think this is what Tweet-Ups are essentially—scheduled conversations (or unscheduled) that are continued once a week, once a month, etc.

[here’s a link to the article that initiated that thought process a few years ago among a few of us in #etmooc [the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course in early 2013]: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1023/2022]

Very cool!

And it actually initiated an ongoing conversation I’ve had in bits and pieces with the authors over the past few years; I was just in touch again with one of them in Novemberjust before I was doing a blended-learning presentation in Los Angeles. A very long, wonderfully extended moment that hasn’t yet ended!

Going back to what you said in the penultimate full paragraph you wrote: what does that suggest in terms of how we can use Twitter (and other social media tools) to promote positive social change? [the one that starts with “Now, a conversation doesn’t have to take place in real-time to be considered deep and meaningful”]

Twitter enables positive social changes by transcending the necessity of a specific time and place. A conversation about climate change, for example, may begin between two people. Another person sees the tweet and then joins. And then another. And then another. The people are geographically dispersed and may not be using Twitter at the exact same time but, because Twitter sparks continuous conversation, people can join on their own time whenever they have something to contribute. And the asynchronous nature of it doesn’t detract from the subject matter or substance of it. In fact, pausing to think deeply about something before joining in is an important part of change.

When Paolo Gerbaudo wrote his wonderful book Tweets and the Streets in 2012, he pretty much saw social media (Facebook and Twitter, in particular) as prequels to social changethat’s where the organizing took placebut the real action was on the streets. Your last comments make me think you and I are on the same page in thinking that social change can actually take place as much online as in the streetssay, through the NMC [New Media Consortium] and #etmooc, for example, where we have spread ideas that filter into online as well as online learning spaces. Thoughts?

It’s not just the concept of a conversation that has evolved, but also the concept of the streets. Think about it—if conference organizers are savvy enough to encourage Twitter backchannels as an essential part of conference participation to extend organic hallway conversations, than that’s the concept of an online hallway.

A street may not be a private or more intimate conversation the way a hallway one may be, but, instead, a giant public space for conversation and action.

At the NMC [which closed upon entering bankruptcy proceedings in December 2017], we were good at carrying forward conversations from face-to-face and virtual events on Twitter. Our goal was to always extend the rich discussions that took place at a set event and ensure that they did not exist within a vacuum. You didn’t have to be physically present to “be present.”

We came up with the Horizon hashtag (#NMChz) as a way for people to respond to Horizon Reports—but also share articles, stories, projects, etc. that were Horizon-worthy. Twitter can take a static report and allow the related discussions to continue year-round. Horizon Street! Population: Whoever wants to be there.

“Horizon Street” is gorgeous! And I agree that the hashtag was part of the experience. Instead of leaving conferences and feeling depressed by impending separations, I always left with a sense of anticipation that the conversations were continuing. I’m struggling to train myself, at this point, that #NMChz is no longer open to through traffic and continuing conversationbut appreciation that #BeyondTheHorizon is a wonderful replacement road that is well on its way to bridging the gap. OK, enough with the road metaphors…for a moment. Let’s hit the third of the three topics you mentioned earlier: professional development. Care to pick up right where you left off and wrap together social media, Twitter, “moments,” and professional development into an operatic grand finale?

It’s true—all these features are connected, and they can add up to one hell of a professional development experience. I think some people may still envision professional development as something that takes place in a room—workshop or boot-camp style—that you or the institution has to invest in. But the integration of formal and informal learning has opened up the idea of personal development to be much more fluid and open to each user’s interpretation. If you feel an experience has enriched your professional life and given you new tools, skills, or knowledge to improve your own work and work environment, then why not call it professional development?

Twitter conversations and moments are ripe for professional development opportunities—the hard part is often the lack of organization and ability to archive. We’re even seeing helpful tools like Storify—that helped create something linear and meaningful from tweets—disappear.

That being said, following specific users, hashtags, lists, etc can be part of a user’s professional development strategy. It’s very much connected with the notion of a personal learning network (PLN) where there is a fixed or expanding community of peers and leaders where you teach other things.

I, for example, love to see what articles my Twitter friends in #edtech share. Just clicking on the links to three to five articles per day and reading them helps expand my own vision and ideas. Even if I don’t agree with an article or a theme, it generates new ideas and new knowledge in me. It seems so basic, but it’s like show and tell. I’m learning something new about a subject as well as how the sharer views it.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in Fall 2018. This is the seventh in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress. The next post will include the second half of this interview.

 

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