Category Archives: Week 2 Posts

Comments and an ethos of care

Arrrrrgh! I’m trying to get all. the. things. in this post and make it perfect which is exactly what I’ve been telling people not to do…

I’ve been thinking a lot about a recent interview with Sherri Spelic on my friend Terry Greene’s podcast. Among the many interesting things in that discussion is the discussion of using “an ethic of care” in thinking about blogs and comments. (This is about 20 minutes into the episode.)

I think “care” is a challenging concept in online spaces. Well, it’s challenging in face to face spaces too, but there’s all that additional information available to us (whether or not we use it) and context is usually more apparent than it is with the written word. Online it can be harder to know whether to press or alter an approach to a discussion, which seems to lead to this a lot:

“Duty Calls” by Randall Munroe, CC-BY-NC at

Sherri talks about the power of a good comment to show care, which can feel a little lost now that we’ve entered the world that says “smash that Like button” on one hand and “don’t read the comments” on the other. But in an ideal world, we’d think about all the social cues embedded in a comment – starting with “I heard you” and continuing through “and it was important enough to talk back” and then the actual content of the comment (and the cues in how it’s phrased). I think this is an important way of thinking about commenting – that it’s not just an intellectual engagement of one text with another, but a society-building (or society-breaking) act between people.

Commenting is, of course, different on different platforms. Blogs and discussion forums tend to support longer responses, and longer discussions in those responses. Slack and Twitter lend themselves towards more conversational modes, where there might be more room for back and forth. Facebook’s commenting feature is a stinking mess, in my opinion, promising conversation but not really delivering it for any sustained or large discussion.

(We’ve also got everything from Twitter’s heart button to Facebook’s 6 allowable emotions to a full complement of emoji available in Slack, which include a lot of those cues and are sometimes sufficient, but for the moment I’m going to declare them all to be not full comments.)

Another thing I find myself thinking about is the way that different platforms map onto different spaces. A person’s blog is their own space – the comment there is kind of like the comments you might make in a person’s home. This, of course, is a group blog, but it’s still ours. A discussion forum in a class ideally belongs to the class, with some direction from the professor. Comment sections on news sites and YouTube and such are clearly the public square at best (perhaps a public restroom at worst).

Twitter is an interesting space to read because it’s a public space where it only takes a little work to discern multiple groups – multiple “publics” – in operation. You’ll even see people moving among those publics as different parts of their identity prompt them to Tweet about different things. As I think about the way I navigate those spaces on Twitter, there are places where I’m pretty vocal (ed tech Twitter, mostly) and people I talk to pretty frequently. But I also keep an eye on some places (and topics and people) where I’m still learning, and I try not to insert myself in those conversations because I can create a lot more value by listening instead of talking. (I’m a talkative extrovert and this is a lifelong struggle for me, just applied to a new domain.)

OK, this post has been open for days, and it’s time to just hit publish, but I did happen to find one more relevant thing. (Which probably reinforces a bad habit, but there it is.) We’re doing a summer book club on Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi, which presents the research on stereotype threat and discusses ways to mitigate it for better learning. In a footnote, Steele says

Reducing the threat a person sees in a setting may err in the direction of encouraging too much trust. But it may be worth the risk. I say this because it is hard to believe, in light of the central message of this book, that learning, achievement, and performance can be optimized without trust in the setting… If one has to err, in light of our research over the years, I would thus err in the direction of urging greater trust, rather than greater vigilance.

This is specific to Steele’s argument, of course, but I think it’s useful to this discussion. The Internet and higher education are both facing massive crises of mistrust right now. Some of that mistrust is very fairly placed and I don’t mean to minimize that. Still, as we move toward the pedagogy and scholarship weeks, I think it’s a worthwhile challenge to keep thinking about what we can do – as individuals, in classes and in our fields – to set up structures which normalize and reward appropriate trust, and protect those who extend it.

Which may be a lot of words to say “what we can do to care.”

Joe’s tech tip: tracking blogs

It didn’t escape my notice that we recommended 23 possible Twitter accounts this week, and at least 13 blogs/websites to watch. And then we told you “but you should go look for your own interests too.” I can imagine some of you might feel like

Animated gif of Sheldon Cooper throwing papers angrily

although our goal, when we showed you all this neat stuff, was that you’d feel more like

Animated gif of the M*A*S*H* cast throwing papers happily

(There’s a whole blog post about course design and “coverage” in those gifs, but not right now.)

Specifically, you might be thinking “Joe, how the heck am I ever going to track all this stuff?” Personally, my browser bookmarks are already overstuffed, I couldn’t take one more email newsletter, and I need something else to manage blogs and websites I want to keep an eye on.

Let me tell you about RSS.

RSS icon

Many websites publish a “feed” of information in a standard called RSS. That’s a pretty technical page on Wikipedia, but we don’t have to get technical – an RSS feed is kind of a computer-readable table of contents for a website. It tells you what’s been published and when. A feed might include entire articles, small teasers, or just the title. It might include media.

Sometimes, a site will use that little orange icon to let you know that an RSS feed is available, but sometimes they’re not advertised. Some big news sites publish multiple RSS feeds, so you can get both the “front page” and the various “sections” depending on what you want. (I use this on Inside Higher Ed to follow particular bloggers on that site.) Journals we get through OhioLINK publish RSS feeds (though of course they’re only updated when a new issue comes out).

Now as I said, the RSS feed is computer-readable. So as a human, you need a tool to read it for you, called an “RSS Reader.” There are lots of RSS readers out there in the world; Bryan Alexander had a good discussion about RSS reader options on his blog this spring.

I’m just going to tell you about the one I use, called Feedly. I picked Feedly, honestly, because it’s free for the first 100 feeds, it syncs between a mobile app and the web browser version, and it’s easy to set up.

So you go to Feedly, you set up an account with either a new username and password, or using your Google or Twitter credentials and… it tells you there’s nothing in your account.

Screencapture of new empty feedly account

Well, that makes sense. So you click the “Add sources” button and Feedly will suggest some popular topics you might want to explore, or give you a search box where you can add a specific site.

Adding sources to a new Feedly account

Feedly is pretty darn good at discovering RSS feeds if a website makes them available, so my normal process is to paste the base URL for the website into that search box. If the website advertises its RSS address, you can copy and paste that instead.

When you add a new RSS feed, Feedly will have you put it in a collection… which is also called a feed. (Great.) Creating a new Feedly feed

Feeds are actually one of the most powerful parts of Feedly. They work like filters in email, sending messages to particular folders so they’re organized for easy reading. For example, in my account, I’ve got feeds for webcomics, education, food and cooking, my friends who run blogs, a catchall “interesting” category, and music sites. (A site can be in more than one feed, so my friends like Autumm, who write on education, are in both collections.)

joe's feeds

That number to the side is how many unread articles are in the feed.  I might need to weed my generally “interesting” sources. Or not; I seem to be perfectly happy keeping a close eye on some categories and just browsing others.

I can look at a merged feed of everything, or pull up a particular feed. Those are also drop-down menus, so I can pop them open and check whether there’s anything new on a particular site I haven’t visited in a while.

Feedly will save unread items for 30 days, and then they’ll roll off the feed. However, it also has some neat bookmarking options (called “boards” and “read later”) which will save things for… well, at least 4 months.

I’ve gotten a lot of benefit from using an RSS reader. It’s given me an organization system for keeping current with both professional and personal information. I feel like I have a measure of control over all those great websites I should be looking at. (The Feedly interface is also pretty clean; each article looks the same so I suspect I can scan them a lot faster than trying to find my way around 80+ different sites.)

So, that’s my pitch. Check out Feedly or another RSS reader and see if it makes the social media world of blogs make more sense for you.

I owe some credit here to Alan Levine, who happens to have just blogged on this very topic and tool (twice actually). Seeing how he structured such a post was very useful as I decided what to address in mine. I think his posts are particularly good if you’re thinking that you might like to work on blogging with students or among a research group.


Gare de triage dans l’est de Montréal (switchyard)” by Claude Robillard; CC-BY on Flickr. Because it’s got tracks. Get it?

Animated GIFs from Big Bang Theory and M*A*S*H* from Giphy.

RSS icon from Wikipedia.

Feedly screencaptures originally taken by Alan Levine or by me.