October 20, 2014
Using Twitter to Understand “Scholarship is a Conversation” (2014)

A tweet (at least in principle) is a snapshot, representing a single turn in a much broader conversation.*  Taken by itself, divorced it doesn’t make whole lot of sense.  It’s a social act, which must be understood in context. 

The same can be said about any peer-reviewed, research article.  

But first, let’s begin by looking at one of my tweets (though any will do): 

The 140-character limit or Twitter’s stylistic conventions can be problematic.  But lack of context is the bigger problem.  It could be an isolated tweet; but it’s hard to tell.  It could be part of a broader conversation; but it’s hard to tell. It’s also unclear which turn is being taken.  Is this a contribution to the beginning of the conversation? The middle?  The end? It’s hard to tell.

Understanding context is key. Twitter does yield a few clues.  Here’s the same message with its parent tweet.  

Problem solved; this is the beginning of the conversation.  Mentioning Taylor Swift caused bunch of bots to follow me, cause and effect.  

But let’s not be so hasty.  The hashtags suggest a broader conversation beyond this single message. Otherwise, why would I include them?  I want to my tweets connected to other tweets discussing the #acrlilrevisions and #authorityisconstructed. (Although I’m entering an existing conversation, it should be noted, I’m attempting to push the discussion about authority in a new direction.**)  

All of this makes perfect sense…if you’re familiar with ACRL’s update to the Information Literacy Competency Standards or threshold concepts.  If you’re not, then I’m talking gibberish. (Note: Since I rarely tweet anything unrelated to my job, I feel sorry for friends and family that follow me. :)  My original 85-character message is part of a bigger, more complicated conversation. Deciphering its full meaning takes a bit of work, limiting how many people respond to the tweet.

Though longer than a tweet, a scholarly journal article is just a turn in a conversation. Take one of mine:

Burkholder, J. (2010). Redefining sources as social acts: Genre theory in information literacy instruction. Library Philosophy and Practice. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/libphilprac/413/

In many ways, this article is a beginning; I’m proposing a novel way of conceptualizing information sources.  Dissatisfied with traditional definitions and descriptions of information sources, I turned to rhetoric—and more specifically, genre theory—for something more dynamic.  At the same time, it’s a contribution to an existing conversation.  Rhetoric is as old as Aristotle. Genre Theory, at least the definition this article uses, dates from the early 1980s.  Much has been written on both topics.  But little has been written about their application to information literacy, making my article’s meaning in and value to these conversations aren’t immediately obvious.

Fortunately, as a journal article, there are plenty of clues about context.  Disciplinary discourse (e.g. “typified rhetorical actions” and “recurrent situations”) is used, defined and applied.  In-text citations lead to references, performing a function very similar to hashtags—connecting the research to other conversations.

With knowledge and experience, active participants in this discourse community have a much easier time recognizing context, determining the relevance and credibility of these connections.  For outsiders, entering a scholarly conversation and contributing to it at “an appropriate level” can be difficult. (Note: I’m not using Novice, which implies ignorance.  An outsider could have a PhD in physics, but have little understanding of information literacy or rhetoric.)  They can read the article, but miss the context. They can recognize keywords, but misunderstand their full meaning. They can follow references, but be unable to tell what’s worth pursuing and what’s worth ignoring.

Outsiders won’t develop these skills in a single lesson.  Twitter simply provides a way to introduce Scholarship is a Conversation as a situated—not a generic—practice.  Students can be taught how to recognize context and its influence on a conversation.


*Click here for more information about Conversation Analysis and turn-taking.

**These tweets inspired me to write about using Shake It Off to teach authority is constructed and contextual.

October 17, 2014

Conan - BREAKING EBOLA NEWS: Andy Richter Sneezes (2014)

Yes, ebola has reached America, but sometimes it seems like cable news might be over-reacting.

October 17, 2014
The Brookings Institution - The Bad News About the News (2014)


Interesting new essay from Brookings.

October 13, 2014


Navigating the Open Sea of Knowledge by Maria Popova.

We live in a world awash with information, but we seem to face a growing scarcity of wisdom. And what’s worse, we confuse the two. We believe that having access to more information produces more knowledge, which results in more wisdom. But, if anything, the opposite is true — more and more information without the proper context and interpretation only muddles our understanding of the world rather than enriching it.

Beautiful thoughts on knowledge and wisdom and how differentiate them. 

(Source: brainpickings.org)

October 13, 2014

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (2014)

The film follows the story of programming prodigy and information activist Aaron Swartz. From Swartz’s help in the development of the basic internet protocol RSS to his co-founding of Reddit, his fingerprints are all over the internet. But it was Swartz’s groundbreaking work in social justice and political organizing combined with his aggressive approach to information access that ensnared him in a two-year legal nightmare. It was a battle that ended with the taking of his own life at the age of 26. Aaron’s story touched a nerve with people far beyond the online communities in which he was a celebrity. This film is a personal story about what we lose when we are tone deaf about technology and its relationship to our civil liberties. (105 mins)

October 10, 2014
The Financial Times - The Invasion of Corporate News (2014)

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson writes: 

The lines between journalism and PR are rapidly becoming blurred as business interests bypass traditional media to get their message across

October 9, 2014

Via @SharyDow.



Via @SharyDow.

October 8, 2014

Taylor Swift - Shake It Off (2014)

At first listen, “Shake It Off” seems like just another entry in Taylor Swift’s impressive catalog of hits. But that trivializes its value as media criticism; in particular, what it says about the types authority we recognize and trust in a media-saturated environment..

Consider the first verse:

I stay out too late
Got nothing in my brain
That’s what people say, mmm-mmm
That’s what people say, mmm-mmm

I go on too many dates
But I can’t make ‘em stay
At least that’s what people say, mmm-mmm
That’s what people say, mmm-mmm

Her detractors, the “people,” claim she is a vapid wild-child and a high-maintenance maneater.  It may seem like an overly simplistic and sensational narrative, but for anyone with minimal awareness of Taylor Swift, it is a familiar one.  Read a gossip column.  Visit TMZ.  Listen to the court of public opinion.*  It is everywhere.

And that is part of the problem; representation becomes truth.  While we question the accuracy of certain claims (e.g. “Is this song really about John Mayer?”) or the credibility of certain authors (e.g. a random Tumblr user), we accept the authority of anything conforming to the narrative (e.g. “Taylor Swift has had her heart broken…again.”) and question the authority of anything deviating from it (e.g. “Taylor Swift has found true, everlasting love.”).

Clearly wanting to be understood on her own terms, Swift addresses the narrative and asserts her authority.

Verse two:  

I never miss a beat
I’m lightning on my feet
And that’s what they don’t see, mmm-mmm
that’s what they don’t see, mmm-mmm

I’m dancing on my own (dancing on my own)
I make the moves up as I go (moves up as I go)
And that’s what they don’t know, mmm-mmm
that’s what they don’t know, mmm-mmm

She is a normal person, misunderstood by all.  It is her life; she should know how she has lived it.**  

But does it correct any misconceptions?  Even Swift is not sure.  To a degree, she accepts the authority of external entities.


The players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate…
Heart-breakers gonna break, break, break, break, break
And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake

The narrative is too pervasive, too strong.  She cannot stop it.  All she can do is “Shake It Off.”

And now, if you’ll excuse me.  While I’ve been getting down and out about the discourse and the nitty, gritty analysis of this text, I could’ve been getting down to this song’s sick beat.


* It would be illustrative to examine other choices used by each type in constructing its authority.  Looking at gossip websites would also illustrate authority’s relationship to credibility.  They are associated—but not identical—concepts.

**This is a biased perspective.  Just because she’s an authority on her own life, doesn’t mean it is a completely accurate description.  Also, how Swift’s authority is viewed depends on how one feels about her. If you already think she is an airhead, you’re probably not going to recognize it.    

(Source: Spotify)

October 8, 2014

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - A Shot In The Dark (2014)

Samantha Bee attempts to uncover statistics about the excessive use of lethal force by the police, only to discover that such data is mysteriously nonexistent. (7:09)

October 2, 2014
Pew Research Center - The News IQ Quiz

I got 10 out of 12.


Test your knowledge of prominent people and major events in the news by taking our short 12-question quiz. Then see how you did in comparison with 1,002 randomly sampled adults asked the same questions in a national survey conducted September 25-28 by the Pew Research Center.

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