The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages.
Following the #LondonRiots or #UKRiots hashtag on twitter has made me think again about how to explore the important and relatively new concepts (in classrooms anyway) of tag, metadata, metalanguage and folksonomy. It is has also made me reflect about inclusivity and being marginalised, the importance of nurturing our civil society, including the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Politics matters. So do texts. I have always felt that English teachers have a special role in our culture and see new opportunities for engaging our students with (and analysing) social media.
English teaching involves students in becoming increasingly aware of the codes and conventions of texts but more importantly, what impact the skilful employment of these, by the composer, may have on the responder. All artful representation requires clever manipulation of the literary (and other) devices and traditions available, if meaning is to be made. It is important that English teachers use and analyse new tools with their classes. Often, these will be useful in developing cultural literacies of a more traditional hue. ‘Geeks’ have been blogging for years about these concepts/tools (folksonomies, tagging and the importance of metadata) but now, with more widespread access to the internet in classrooms, learning professionals have an opportunity to make lessons more relevant for our current generation of students.
Yes, I am trying to ‘position’ you!
The context for these particular musings are that @MBWestergaard, a new colleague at my exchange school in Viborg, wants to open the academic year for her senior English class by exploring current events in England. The class has an excursion to London later in the year and a range of texts to study. Marianne is new to twitter but could instantly see the potential of following events via the micro-blogging platform and where that could lead her students. We chatted about # hashtags and looked at the etymology and history of their use online as well as the commentary/content at the hashtags.
It was fun!
We also discussed the following.
Folksonomy. Like you (I guess), I am a fanboy of Daniel H Pink, who wrote, in the New York Times in 2005, about tagging and folksonomies as newly emerging and very democratic tools for ‘classifying mountains of digital material’ that is replacing Dewey:
A folksonomy begins with tagging. On the Web site Flickr, for example, users post their photos and label them with descriptive words.
Flickr was new then and now it is so widely used by ‘The Establishment’ (as is twitter and Facebook and social media generally) to share and it is a staple of not just our online worlds but our international culture. For example, The London Metropolitan Police used the service in their attempt to identify rioters. Interestingly enough, the #LondonRiots hashtag reveals a fascinating mix of establishment, private and the whole political spectrum of opinion. Mainstream media companies and politicians intermingle with ‘the great unwashed’ when one reads this hashtag tweetstream.
What does this mean for those analysing the event who are all so participating in real time? Rich sources for future historians indeed (as is the now archived online campaign that led to the election of Barrack Obama).
This article about hashtags, from The New Yorker last year, is excellent and insightful. And who could not agree with the quip:
Amazing how rich and complex 140 characters with a few symbols thrown in can be.
How many teachers are exploring the myriad implications of this self-organising system of classification in classrooms today? Are teachers of philosophy exploring ontology in new ways? Are they discussing ontology and the semantic web?
How many teachers are actually having students tag blog posts or exploring hashtags?
I suspect the honest answer is unbelievably few. I would like to be humbled by data that says this is an incorrect assumption, so please post a comment or send me some links or contacts that enlighten.
Our civil society thrives when the community is powerfully literate and we need to assist young people to become involved, culturally aware citizens. Inclusivity and allowing all voices to be heard seems practically and symbolically to be represented on twitter and in self-organising systems like the folksonomy. What do you think?
I am very keen to share with anyone exploring folksonomy, tagging and particularly hashtags with students in any context.