September 26th, 2017 by Jon Becker

Apparently Twitter is trying out a 280 character limit. So many jokes…




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August 8th, 2017 by Jon Becker

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March 6th, 2017 by Jon Becker

Today, the GOP released the text of their proposed new healthcare plan. I’m blinded by my privilege and thus pretty clueless about our healthcare system and healthcare policy. So, I was looking for some healthcare policy experts to follow on Twitter. After only a short time looking around, I saw this tweet which included a Twitter list of experts. I love me some Twitter lists; they are an underutilized and under-supported feature of Twitter. 

Follow the list and/or make it a Tweetdeck column and you’ve got real-time healthcare policy analysis1.

  1. even if, like me, you can’t understand most of it. []

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February 28th, 2017 by Jon Becker

Other than President Trump’s joint address (which I am avoiding right now), today’s big story was an outage at Amazon Web Services. It hampered lots of #edtech platforms including Canvas, Coursera, and others. There were lots of jokey/snarky tweets about the outage, and I thought the one above was crisp and funny.

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February 4th, 2017 by Jon Becker

I fell asleep rather suddenly and unusually early last night. As a result, there was no tweet of the day. Again, I received about 1.5 million1 inquiries about this. Since I couldn’t respond to each of those, let me just offer a global apology here. I’ll try harder next time.

So, let’s pretend today is actually yesterday and that I’m blogging from yesterday. And, I’m telling you that Dan Cohen nailed it. If you missed the video of Swedish people diving from the 10 meter platform, I HIGHLY recommend it. I’ve embedded it below. I literally laughed out loud at multiple points. As one with an acute fear of heights, I related to a few of the folks on that platform. Actually, I probably would have quit halfway up the ladder.

And, yeah, opening up Twitter these days is a harrowing experience. Great analogy, Dan!

  1. actually, zero. Glad you’re all paying attention here… actually, I’ll assume you’re all too busy in #resistance []

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January 27th, 2017 by Jon Becker

I tried something new a few months ago, and I’m not sure I like it.

You see, I used to tweet a lot about sports. Still do, kinda. I tweet about lots of things related to my interests, but for some reason, tweeting about sports always felt different to me. I felt like:

  • it was turning off people who follow me mostly because of my identification with professional pursuits around education and/or technology. I just felt like VERY few of the people who follow me and/or with whom I engage somewhat regularly have any interest in sports.
  • it was stopping people who might otherwise follow me from following me because it meant a volume of tweets that may be offputting. Mind you, I have issues here that are personal. For example, I don’t want to be viewed as a blabbermouth and/or a know-it-all. I think this is somewhat cultural in that ever since I moved from New York to Virginia, I feel like I’ve been coded as a blabbermouth and/or a know-it-all. I don’t like that feeling, so I don’t want that feeling carrying over onto Twitter.
  • it was somehow “less than;” that is, relatively speaking, sports is neither particularly important nor high-minded. Thus, for some reason, I felt a little embarrassed to tweet about sports. To be a sports fan is to be a heathen relative to other pursuits such as the arts or literature or even politics. This is likely personal, too, but, I’m just sharing why I made this move.

So, I created a separate Twitter account, @profballer. Before I offer my observations of having done this, let me say a bit about the logistics of the move.

  1. First, I created the account and followed a bunch of sports writers and clearly sports-related accounts1. Each time I followed someone new, I looked at Twitter’s recommended “similar accounts” and followed accounts I thought I’d be interested in. I also looked at some lists that sports writers had created and followed individuals on those lists. I currently follow 111 accounts.
  2. Second, I unfollowed overlapping sports-related accounts from my @jonbecker account. This uncluttered the stream of tweets I was seeing via @jonbecker rather considerably. This wasn’t a clean separation, though. People like Richard Deitsch and Seth Davis work in the sports media, but they tend to tweet about other things, including journalism and politics. Same with Jeff Pearlman. There are probably a handful of such accounts that I follow with both accounts. I can’t seem to fully dissociate…
  3. Third, I added @profballer as an account to TweetDeck such that my first 4 columns (left to right) are as below. This makes it pretty easy to follow the streams and mentions of both accounts. On mobile, I use the Twitter app and it’s pretty easy to toggle back and forth between accounts.
  4. Fourth, I stopped tweeting about sports via @jonbecker. Maybe not entirely, but pretty close, at least initially.
  5. Finally, I started using @profballer and engaged from time-to-time with other accounts.

I should also add that when I created the @profballer Twitter account, I also bought and thought I might try out sports blogging as a hobby. You’ll see that I didn’t get far with that. But, I haven’t given up on the idea entirely. I actually went to college thinking that I wanted to be a sportswriter. My first year at college, I wrote for the sports department of The Chronicle. It wasn’t a great experience. I was assigned women’s lacrosse and men’s and women’s soccer. I enjoyed those sports, but I hated tracking down the coaches after the game and asking them questions about the games. I was just a little too introverted and not assertive or confident enough. Maybe I needed to give it more time, but I stopped writing for The Chronicle after my first year in college. Then, later during college, I was locked out of a course taught by the great John Feinstein who was a visiting professor one semester. I took that as a sign that I wasn’t meant to be a sports writer. But, again, I’m not giving up all hope. I think I’d enjoy sports blogging, but I’d have to prioritize it in my life in ways I’m not yet comfortable with.

But, back to Twitter…

After three or four months, mostly, I feel dissociative. I feel like I’m not being true to myself at @jonbecker. And, I feel a little too anonymous and inauthentic at @profballer. But, I’m also cognizant of the possibility that what kept me from fully enjoying my time as a sports writer for The Chronicle may also be stopping me from enjoying using @profballer. That is, I’m a little shy and hesitant to engage with that account. Having been on Twitter for so long as @jonbecker, I had completely forgotten what it’s like to be a noob on Twitter. When you mention someone using an account with 20 followers, they are really unlikely to take you seriously. Most of my engagements using @profballer have been with people who follow me at @jonbecker and who also follow me at @profballer. So, it takes some courage to reply to or mention someone like Bomani Jones who has over 379K followers. Why would he bother to engage with me?

Additionally, I find it hard to engage with other completely random people. So, for example, during a VCU basketball game, I look at the #LetsGoVCU hashtag and see folks tweeting about the game. Often, those tweets come from an individual who presents as maybe 19 years old and who mostly otherwise tweets about getting drunk and hating college classes. It just feels weird to me to engage with that person. It’s probably completely elitist and snobby of me, but I just can’t get past the feeling of not wanting to engage with someone with whom I’d most certainly have nothing else in common.

So, I have had no luck trying to engage with people who are really smart and who think a lot about sports but who are likely bombarded with tweets and therefore unlikely to reply to me. And, I don’t feel fully comfortable tweeting with Joe or Jane sports fan who is probably half my age and who probably doesn’t want to have conversations about sports like I do. And, frankly, that’s kind of what I’m looking for; much like I have actual conversations about education and/or politics over at @jonbecker, I’m looking to have reasonably sophisticated conversations about sports on Twitter. And, that’s hard to find and to do.

When we see events like Serena and Venus Williams reaching the finals of the Australian Open like they did this week, that kind of event transcends sports. There are massive socio-cultural implications of that story and it’s not possible to put it in the box of just sports. And, it’s not possible for me to comment on that with *just* my sports hat on over at @profballer. Same thing with the upcoming Super Bowl. That sporting event has become a massive cultural event in this country. It’s not *just* sports.

I’m constantly reminded that David Weinberger taught us that these days, Everything is Miscellaneous. The subtitle of that book is “The Power of the New Digital Disorder.”

I’m going to keep the split for now, but you may also see me going back to tweeting a little bit about sports via @jonbecker. If I decide to trash the whole experiment, it’ll be because I’ve decided that in the digital age WE are miscellaneous; our identities are not meant to be dissociated. Time will tell…

  1. For example, I followed some official team accounts []

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January 23rd, 2017 by Jon Becker

I might have to rename my #365project “Twitter thread of the day.” This is now the 2nd tweet of the day that was actually the beginning of a good thread/string of tweets (again, click on the timestamp of Korte’s tweet to see the whole thread).

I know Twitter has some serious problems around harassment, microaggressions, abuse, etc., and I’ve been leaning with those who’ve recently said that they can no longer ask students to use Twitter as part of a course. But, I would still like to run a completely elective course where students know what they’re getting into where we follow lots of really informative Twitter accounts to supplement other forms of media and content. For example, imagine a course running this semester that’s an interdisciplinary course cross-listed between political science and journalism. Among the accounts the students follow is Gregory Korte, White House correspondent for USA Today. Then, this morning, after President Trump issued a few executive orders, students see Korte’s Twitter thread on executive orders vs. memorandums (and proclamations later in the thread). The thread starts with a link to a 2014 article Korte wrote which is very informative. That article includes lots of links, including one to a Harvard Law Review article written by Elana Kagan, former Clinton associate White House counsel. Oh, the associative trails student could blaze just by having followed Gregory Korte this morning!

Now imagine the students following bunches of political reporters and conversing about what they’re seeing, both using Twitter and perhaps a blog. It would be real-time, timely, relevant connected learning.

So, yeah, maybe I’m looking forward to getting back to teaching in the Fall…

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Image courtesy of Tijakool Yiyuan
October 28th, 2016 by Jon Becker

[featured image courtesy of Tijakool Yiyuan ]


If I did this right, I will have hit publish on this blog post when I’m at 99,999 tweets and IFTTT will have automatically pushed out a tweet announcing that I’ve written this post.

My 100,000th tweet shouldn’t be a particularly big deal, but I have a thing about round numbers. Thus, I’ve been thinking about what to do at the moment I hit 100K. And, worrying. Because I also have generalized anxiety and high expectations of myself. So, yeah, Dan…


Ultimately, I decided the best way to to recognize/celebrate/mourn this moment is to thank my Twitter network. As I’ve said before, people find community in different ways and in different places. Some people find community in houses of worship, some at bowling alleys. I found and continue to find community on Twitter.

Earlier this week, this happened:

I love that. I’ve engaged with Jen on Twitter for a number of years, and we’ve only met once, face-to-face, for a few minutes at a conference. Yet, she knew about my first date with my wife. We’ve had many conversations, both in the public timeline and via direct messages. I know Jen pretty well, and I think she knows me. I’ve watched her beautiful children grow up and she mine. I have Twitter to thank for that.

And there are many other reasons why I’m thankful for Twitter and my Twitter network. Over 8 years ago, I wrote about how I’d come to know many amazing educators on Twitter who I wanted to teach my own child1. Only one of the people I mentioned in that post have disappeared from my network.

I’m not keen to singling out people or instances as I’m sure I’ll leave some out I should mention. But, off the top of my head, Twitter had a part to play in VCU getting to hire the great Tressie McMillan Cottom, The university I work for is a better place because of Twitter.

Twitter is also the first place I “met” Tom Woodward even though we lived in the same city. We subsequently got to know each other professionally at face-to-face events, but we cultivated a professional relationship on Twitter. Then, 3 years ago, when I got my current job, Tom was the first person I recruited to join our team. Again, the university I work for is a better place because of Twitter.

I first met Laura Gogia face-to-face when she was a reasonably new Ph.D. student. I encouraged her to apply to be a doctoral fellow in the teaching center at VCU2. When I got the opportunity to join her as a colleague and supervisor3, she wasn’t a big Twitter user. I like to believe I encouraged her to become more engaged on Twitter, and she sure did. Eventually, I had the magical opportunity to be Laura’s dissertation advisor and to watch and support her as she did some amazing and ground breaking research that was to some extent about the affordances of social media for Connected Learning. It’s an incredible piece of work that deserves a bigger audience. Thus, I firmly believe that the scholarship of teaching and learning is better because of Twitter.

When I taught a course on Educational Technology for School Leaders, I argued to my students that Twitter is at least 4 things for me:((yes, yes, I know, Google Sites… I didn’t know any better at the time))

  1. Human-powered search
  2. A formal conversation space
  3. A professional networking platform
  4. The faculty lounge/water cooler

I like that construction; I still think of Twitter this way, and I’d add news aggregator to that list.

Recently, Lee Skallerup Bessette, another great Twitter friend of mine, wrote about how Twitter changed her life.

Seeing the real connections that have been made over the social media platform, started there and nurtured elsewhere, or even continuing on over 140 characters, it reminds me why I can’t quit Twitter. I still have too many friends, people I legitimately care about, who live all over the world, with whom my primary contact with them is through Twitter. People I never would have met without Twitter. It is still where I can learn a lot about a lot; I have long argued I was custom-built for the Twitter firehose, so it is the best way for me to learn.

Amen, Lee.

Twitter has made me a better person because it has afforded me the opportunity to come to know some truly wonderful people. Thank you Twitter, and thank you Twitter friends. Here’s to the next 100,000 tweets4.

  1. I only had 1 child at the time []
  2. called CTE at the time []
  3. sort of; it’s complicated… []
  4. unless and until, of course, Twitter is sold to Salesforce or some other entity that will surely ruin it []

Posted in Social Media, Technology Tagged with: ,

January 10th, 2016 by Jon Becker
Photo courtesy of Joshua Adelman

Photo courtesy of Joshua Adelman

Ever since VCU’s Center for Teaching Excellence became the Academic Learning Transformation Lab (ALT Lab), a persistent challenge opportunity has been to let the VCU community know what ALT Lab is and does. Getting that challenge out is complicated on a number of levels, and there are days I just want to shout “Follow us on Twitter and read our blog and join our Diigo group and, and, and…After all, our tagline is ‘Connected learning for a networked world!'” But, most of the time, that’s hardly appropriate or sufficient. We do lots of face-to-face messaging, too. Shortly after the transition from CTE to ALT Lab, we held an open house party of sorts. We’ve been to the last few instances of New Faculty Orientation at VCU to introduce ourselves to new faculty and staff. We hold our own New Faculty Academy at the beginning of every year. A couple of our team members (mostly Molly and Enoch) attend Faculty Club every month to network and get the word out. I’ve asked for time (5 minutes, even) on agendas of department faculty meetings to introduce myself and ALT Lab. We have three liaisons assigned to various units around the university. We have a website (which isn’t up to our standards, but that’s not terrible relative to our peers). We tweet. We blog

And, yet, it’s never enough. VCU is a massive institution and the academic mission is carried out across mainly two somewhat separate campuses. Furthermore, a lot of what we try to do is fairly cutting edge and pretty foreign to most within the VCU community. But, those are just excuses; we can and will do better to communicate to the VCU community1 about who we are and what we do. That’s the opportunity and figuring out how to do better is one of my big goals for the Spring 2016 semester.

One thing I hope to do more of, but that I wasn’t able to do last semester (because surgery), is to get out and meet faculty and staff where they are. I have to be more shameless and extroverted in my attempts to get on agendas of faculty meetings. I need to attend more university-wide functions and “schmooze” more. In doing that, I’ll need to get better at my elevator pitch about ALT Lab. Lately, I’ve been saying that ALT Lab is about helping faculty members create awesome learning experiences for students. Period. Full Stop. That seems to be resonating, so I’ll stick with it for now.2

So, I’ll be out “pounding the pavement” more this semester. That seems apropos in a presidential election year.

Additionally, one new (to us) form of digital communication that I’ve been thinking about a lot is the newsletter. For lots of reasons, I’m not going to do the old-fashioned print newsletter. And, though I originally started down this path, I’m not sure I want to produce another MailChimp newsletter. I’ve checked out TinyLetter (which I know is owned by MailChimp) and I’ve been inspired by people like Caitlin Dewey and Laura Olin. I feel pretty confident I could find a workable platform for an eNewsletter.

The big problem with eNewsletters is figuring out who to send it to. You could use multiple avenues to invite people to subscribe and hope you build up a decent subscription base that way. Alternatively, we have built up a pretty sizable database of names and email addresses of VCU faculty and staff who have engaged with us in one way or another. When people register for faculty development sessions, for example, we keep that information in a database. But, to this point, I’ve been hesitant to use that database as a mailing list because those people didn’t ask for us to send them anything when they registered. Lately, I’ve been leaning more towards using that database and making the unsubscribe option clear and easy. We’ll see…

In addition to our newsletter, I’m thinking of ways to amp up our social media presence. We have an ALT Lab Twitter account, but until recently, it was only announcing new posts on our blog. Last week, I added Diigo to the mix. We have a fairly active, public Diigo group where we share articles of interest with others in the group. Now, whenever someone in the group bookmarks something in our Diigo group, it will be automatically (through the magic of IFTTT) broadcast via the ALT Lab Twitter account. But, I’ve long moaned about Twitter as broadcast-only, and nobody is really acting as the wizard behind the @VCUALTLab curtain. Implementing a good Twitter strategy is hard.

At the end of the day, whether it’s a newsletter, or a blog, or a Twitter account, or whatever… you need content. So, last week, at our first full ALT Lab team meeting of 2016, I did something I didn’t want to do. I told everyone that I expected at least one blog post per week. Until now, there was a general expectation that if you work for ALT Lab, you share your work publicly in some way. I asked team members to blog and/or tweet as they feel moved to do so. Doing so is even built into our annual performance plans. Unfortunately, the truth is that there was much unevenness, and a lack of content to share. Lots of interesting ideas, projects, musings were communicated within ALT Lab, but not beyond that. I told the ALT Lab team that we need to communicate who ALT Lab is and what we do and the best way to do that was to document what we do. I framed it very explicitly as documentation; public/open documentation. If the team members produce the content/documentation, I will make it all sing. It’s my job as the Director to find the best ways to promote and share the good work that the team does, and if they give me good content, I can make that happen.

So, to the VCU community, I’d say, look for me out and about on campus. Watch us on our blog, on Twitter, and in Diigo. And, as soon as I get the newsletter thing figured out, I hope you’ll subscribe to that, too. Finally, if you have additional ideas/ways for me to communicate who ALT Lab is and what we do, I’m all ears!

  1. note this doesn’t include communications external to VCU or communications within ALT Lab; those are separate strategies that might warrant a blog post at some point []
  2. I should add here that *WHAT* we communicate about who we are and what we do is another major challenge opportunity. We’re probably due a good strategic planning process that would help streamline the message. But, until then… there’s probably a good blog post here too. []

Posted in ALTLab, Open, Social Media, VCU Tagged with: , , , , , ,

January 5th, 2016 by Jon Becker

If nothing else, if this post causes you to learn that Dissociative Identity Disorder is the actual term for what lay people call “split personalities” or “multiple personalities” (or entirely incorrectly “schizophrenia”), I will feel good about having written it.

But, that’s not what I’m writing about.

I’m writing about social media and identity. Not in the way that Bonnie Stewart writes about it; if only I could…

Rather, I’m writing about a conversation I had on Twitter a couple of nights ago. It started with this tweet.

This is something I’ve given considerable thought to, before that tweet and since. The responses I received all told me not to create a separate account. Here’s a strong sampling of the responses.


OK, Audrey, I’ll blog about it…


I believe that anyone who says that they don’t care who follows them on Twitter is (a) lying, (b) failing to understand networks, (c) not nearly the insecure narcissist I am, or (d) all of the above.

I’ll focus on the most serious of the choices, aka (b). Without a whole lecture on Network Theory, let me just say that on Twitter:

  1. I care most about my betweenness centrality.  (“A node with high betweenness centrality has a large influence on the transfer of items through the network, under the assumption that item transfer follows the shortest paths.”) That is, my position within a social network matters to me. I see Twitter as a space for, among other things, community and cooperation. I believe we can be most cooperative when we pay attention to our positioning and centrality within networks. If someone I follow doesn’t follow me back, they won’t see my tweets and won’t, therefore, be in a cooperative relationship with me.
  2. I care about the density of my network. In other words, I want my ties to other nodes on the network to be bidirectional and not unidirectional. I believe we’d all get more out of the network if we paid attention to our positioning and had as many bidirectional relationships as possible. When someone I follow doesn’t follow me back, it creates a unidirectional tie.((This is not to say that I follow everyone who follows me; I don’t think that would serve me well. But, I do give a LOT of thought to who I follow back.))
  3. We all have our own ego networks, but “…each alter in an ego network has his/her own ego network, and all ego networks interlock to form the human social network.” When someone I follow doesn’t follow me back, our networks are joined, but the person I’m following becomes less central to our combined network; they become a potential point of failure of information flow and cooperation across this larger network.

Fancy network jargon notwithstanding, I’m also a terribly insecure narcissist. So, I care who follows me on Twitter…


Though I have no empirical evidence to back this claim, I am fairly confident that people I follow have made an active decision to not follow me back because of at least the following two reasons: (a) I tweet too much (I mentioned the insecure narcissist thing, right?), and/or (b) I tweet too much about things they don’t care about. Namely, sports.

I tweet a lot about sports. I’m a big sportsball fan. I know more about sports than I care to admit. I don’t know why I don’t care to admit it. Maybe because caring about sports feels gauche compared to many of the educator-scholars I do interact with on Twitter. (I mentioned the insecure thing, right?).

And, when I tweet about sports…


Notice that I put the little asterisk do-dads around FEEL in that tweet. It’s that feeling of a lack of connection that bothers me. When I tweet about sports, I feel like I’m shouting into the abyss. Not the wind, the abyss. And, that’s too bad, because I do crave connections around sports. I have (strong) opinions, thoughts, questions, etc., but Twitter hasn’t given me a platform for that with my current account. Worse, yet, I feel my network is less dense because I do tweet about sports.

Maybe I just need to go hangout in the message boards of MSM sports sites, but I don’t want to. I like Twitter. And, I’m an insecure narcissist and I don’t want to have to make new friends in a new place…

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