Digital Networks, Participation, and Influence: a #digped Discussion

On Friday, April 3, Bonnie Stewart will join our #digped conversation (which Sean introduces below) to discuss digital networks, a subject connected directly to the track she’ll teach at Digital Pedagogy Lab, which Hybrid Pedagogy is co-sponsoring in August, 2015.

I am @slamteacher. My friends call me Slam. It’s a moniker I came up with after running my Slam Teaching blog many years ago, a project that was as unexpectedly successful as it was brief. The blog’s title came out of the idea that teaching, like slam poetry, could be delivered in ways that were exciting, spontaneous, responsive, empathic, and generative. But most of my meager 2,251 Twitter followers don’t know that. They don’t call me Slam. They just know me as @slamteacher — a bio, an avatar, a handle, an assortment of only sometimes disparate 140-character tweets.

In her blog post, “Networks of Care and Vulnerability,” Bonnie Stewart says that, “Participation enrols us in a media machine that is always and already out of our control; an attention economy that increasingly takes complex identities and reduces them to sound bites and black & white alignments.” My own experience of Twitter affirms this: the personality that I craft online is also the personality that is crafted for me, by the responses I receive, by the nature of my followers and who I follow, by the conversations I choose or do not choose to be a part of. My presence becomes expected in certain circumstances, a surprise in others, and unwelcome in still others. And because the community to which I adhere my moniker is one upon which I exert the same kind of influence, my participation involves, like fiction, a willing suspension of disbelief.

Twitter is fuel for reputation online. It is an incredibly fast way to insert yourself into dialogues you want to belong to. It is the quickest, most ready costume to don. Take it from me. I am a non-academic with a resumé colorful enough to include time as a massage therapist, advertising executive, spiritual counselor, documentary cameraman, and a fantasy novelist; yet, because of the networks I belong to, I am invited into academic discussions not open even to some of those with tenure and books.

“It isn’t that a single tweet constitutes scholarship, although in rare cases one might,” Jesse Stommel writes, “but rather that Twitter and participatory media more broadly disperses the locus of scholarship, making the work less about scholarly products (the bits) and more about community presence and engagement (the scrawl).” In this way, social and personal learning networks become publications of their own sort, publications that generate rather than simply land upon audiences, publications that change and grow even as the conversation about them expands and develops. And peer review, in this case, is constituted by reception and dialogue, so that every networked text (or Tweet) is written and rewritten as much by the community as by the author.

“Influence,” Bonnie says in “Open to Influence: Academic Influence on Twitter,” “is how we determine the reputation and credibility and essentially the status of a scholar.” As she states in the summary of her dissertation research:

The impression of capacity for meaningful contribution is key to cultivating influence and the regard of actively networked peers. The value and meaning of that sense of contribution is tied in part to the ways in which network signals operate individual to individual… The value is also, frankly, in the fact that we can see our signals received, in networks, in real-time. Never underestimate the power of people listening.

What this suggests to me is that the more we are perceived as scholars, the more scholarly we perceive ourselves. The cycle rolls on and our influence widens (or the perception of our influence widens). This is more than just a matter of having lots of followers, of course. Perceived influence also comes from how we engage with those followers, how we grow our networks and allow them to be grown for us. Jesse tweeted “Rigorous networked scholarship is not instantaneous. Relies on collective, recursive, and very deliberate thinking.” He also offers, “Thinking grows recursively through metonymy as Tweets brush against one another. Reveals itself over time on the platform.”

Our next #digped chat, beginning at 12:00pm ET on April 3, will explore the intersections between participation and influence in personal and professional learning networks, especially as they’re reflected on academic Twitter. Here are a few questions to consider in advance of the chat:

  • What kinds of effects has networked participation generated for you? In what ways do these effects intersect with the rest of your lives? Your institutions? Your teaching?
  • How do influence and reputation circulate in professional learning networks?
  • What counts as academic influence on a platform like Twitter?
  • Do Twitter conversations (like #digped) constitute a new kind of peer review? Or are these conversations happening in an echo chamber?
  • What sorts of social contracts do we work under in networked spaces?

Enter the fray on Twitter under #digped on Friday, April 3, at 12:00pm ET. Check out to see when to join us in your time zone. If you have suggestions for future topics, tweet them to @adamheid or @hybridped. And kick the discussion off (or continue it after the chat) in the comments below.

[Photo, “in the sea“, by Fio licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.]

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