A key attribute for any teacher is flexibility. Never is this more needed than when taking on a new technology. We encountered several problems during this project that I had not anticipated.
The case of the mystery tweets
After completing Act I, I set about compiling my student’s tweets as a record of this project. As I did so I realized something strange was happening. There were other people using the unique hashtags I had created for the project. These unique hashtags were necessary so that I could search for the tweets in real-time using Tweetdeck. As the students were tweeting in class at the end of a scene, I put Tweetdeck up on my projector screen for all to see. In this way I can see who is and is not tweeting. I can point out who is “getting” the assignment and writing good tweets. This way the other students who are not confident yet, can get a better feel for what a good character tweet looks like. Also I let the students know I can see their tweets at any time. Additionally the hashtags permitted the students to identify two key pieces of information at a glance. The first hashtag identified the act/scene of each tweet. The second unique hashtag indicated if the tweet originated with one of my students or my colleague’s students. Emily Reinert and I both teach the same level of student. I also foresaw other teachers, in our district and elsewhere, wishing to use this project so our hashtags needed to remain “ours.”
Despite my thorough preparations there were random people from Texas, Florida, and even one from France using our hashtags. Their tweets using some of the hashtags appeared remarkably similar to what my students had written, but was not an exact copy. I checked the biographies of these rogue tweeters. They were not teachers or students. Their other tweets–they averaged 20-30 tweets–were on a very wide variety of topics: hip-hop music, archaeology, pop culture. There was no pattern I could see. I needed to do some research.
It turns out that having 140 students using the same hashtags appears very much like the start of a trend like when a meme or some viral video is just getting started. And those are the perfect conditions for a Twitter bot–a fake Twitter account whose posts are generated 100% by a computer program. There is an entire underground economy established to buy and sell fake tweets. There has been considerable research done on this phenomena and I even found an infographic detailing the use/abuse of fake twitter followers in the 2012 Presidential Election by Barracuda Labs.
In the end there is nothing that can be done to eliminate the rogue tweets from these bots. So we ignored them.
The case of the disappearing tweets
My students noticed that not all of their tweets appeared in a storify search or in Twitter’s own search function. The tweets were still visible on the student’s own accounts, but they seemed to vanish from the twitterverse. This could be a potential monkey wrench to the entire project. If the tweets were not visible just a few days after they were tweeted, how would the students create their storify and analysis? We understood the ephemeral nature of tweets but only in the sense of how long they are part of the zeitgeist.
It turns out that tweets have a shelf life, not just in their relevance, but also because Twitter only stores them for so long. After about a week(sometimes less), tweets no longer appear in searches on Twitter, Tweetdeck or Storify. Thankfully I had been aggregating all my student’s tweets from Act I with Storify just to have a record. I was able to share this storify with my students to use as they complete the project.
We did discover that by using Google Chrome as our browser and installing the free Storify extension the students can add their tweets and their peers to their Storify account(or a specific story) directly from Twitter. Also the Storify extension allows easy collection of images, web pages, and other web resources just by right-clicking on the desired item.
Additionally for the remaining acts of Macbeth we are going to give the students the requirements at the beginning of the act. This way they can collect their own tweets as well as those of their peers that catch their attention as we go and most importantly before they disappear. A beneficial side-effect of our students’ vanishing tweets is that we will be able to use the same hashtags next year. This means the handouts, slideshows, screencasts and other documentation will still be valid(with minor editing) next year.
Organizing and Grading the Storify projects
My initial thought was to simply put all of the published links for the students’ storifys into a storify for each class. The idea was that once the student’s all shared their projects I could organize each class alphabetically. The links would allow me to check on each student’s progress at set checkpoints(after act 2 and again after act 4) while still allowing the students to continue working. Also it would be an easy way to share with parents, colleagues, and anyone else what this project is all about.
However, there was a fatal flaw in my plan. The only way I can see the student’s name(without opening the story) is if the student included his/her name in the title. The imported stories only display the title, not the author. We also need to double check with the district about what names can and cannot be displayed on the web from our students. There may be a safety issue with the students’ names appearing out there on the web–although logically they are out there already.
Emily had an elegant solution. The students will, after “publishing” their Storify projects, share the link with us via their school email accounts. Emily suggested we just set up class folders in Outlook and drop the emails in there as they come in. I think this will in the end be far easier to manage than my original idea.