Author Archives: leannaoertel

Walt Whitman’s Twitter

“Writing has and is still becoming, more social, collaborative, and intertextual, and it both invites and enables the active participation of the audience” (Spilka, 215).

I found this to be true in my own line of work. If we are studying a particular author in class, I will often look for parody Twitter accounts, as they seem to amuse my students. (The Walt Whitman one is particularly entertaining.) Twitter is also a great way to connect students to the world outside of the classroom. During NaNoWriMo, many professional authors give writing tips for students who are working on creative projects. These tweets can be inspirational, and it’s nice for my students to see encouragement from successful storytellers.

“Writing has and is still becoming, more social, collaborative…”

Ferro and Zachry suggest that social networking sites are transitioning from being viewed as ‘‘productivity killers” to necessary tools in the digital workplace. The students in my Written Communication class just had an assignment where they practice their business letter writing skills by writing to an imaginary boss, supporting or disagreeing with the pretend company’s policy to police employees’ social media engagement during business hours. I bet they’ll be very interested to hear about this study! 

“Social media create a way for individuals to research the social context surrounding a given writing subject matter” (Pigg, 14).

I thought it would be interesting to conduct a study like Pigg’s for myself and my co-workers to see how often we employ social media tools in our lesson planning for our online school. Many of the teachers in our elementary school use Pinterest for lesson plan inspiration. If I tracked my screen display, how often would I notice myself moving between tabs as I graded and commented on student papers? How often do my students multi-task in this way when they are doing their homework? 

Dancing in the Streets

Last night, November 7th, 2020, I ventured into downtown Kalamazoo to witness people celebrating the projected winner of the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden, and Vice President-elect Senator Kamala Harris. Local activists put together a Facebook event inviting citizens to the courthouse for an impromptu, socially-distanced dance party. My friend told me about the event, so she and my husband walked over to join the celebration. It was only the second time my husband had been downtown since the beginning of the pandemic.

A Biden supporter sprays Champagne along Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

This week’s Spilka reading focused on the role of technical writers and how they interact with communities. The reading discussed the potential technology has to “help citizens revitalize democracy” (Spilka, 151). The Arab Spring/Twitter Revolution of 2011 comes to mind: activists used Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to coordinate protests and broadcast them to the world.

Using social media isn’t a necessary component of social change in communities, though. Activist Brittany Packnett Cunningham recently stated on her Instagram: “Black media has been DOING THE WORK of educating OUR communities, cutting through mountains of disinformation that targeted us, and galvanized voters. A lot of the work was never done on Twitter, even tho folks act like this is the only space we can be seen.” As the Longo reading suggests, “we need to look at cultural assumptions underpinning the design of these tools and how we envision people using them.” Mainstream media does not seem to be aware of how Black communities work to organize and educate themselves. Major news networks assumed that if it wasn’t happening online, it wasn’t happening at all.

“We want to feel connected to other people” (Spilka, 156). If technology alone was a suitable replacement for in-person interaction, then people across the world wouldn’t be celebrating in the streets during a pandemic. Perhaps the most important takeaway from the readings and events of this week is, although technology can be an effective tool for organizing a community, it’s the people of that community that truly facilitate change.

Preparing Students for the Future

Part of my job is to prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet, and a large part of that preparation is improving communication skills and collaboration skills. As Dicks states on page 68 of Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, “technical communicators must learn to work well on teams and with minimal supervision”. This quote echoes what we have been told by local business leaders when our school administration asks what top skills employers are seeking in employees. Their top answers are always communication skills, collaboration skills, and problem-solving skills.

I would like more information about resources I can use as an educator to help my students be aware of specific industry expectations. If a student is interested in selling agricultural equipment, for example, is it enough for me to coach them on public speaking skills? Or should I dig deeper into the Agricultural Industry? Can anyone recommend courses, websites, podcasts, etc. that would give me a place to start?

The Internet and Grind Culture

This year I started following an Instagram account named “The Nap Ministry”. The account is maintained by Tricia Hersey, a.k.a. The Nap Bishop. Hersey is a performance artist who works to normalize the idea of rest and relaxation in the Black community. Hersey and her Nap Ministry “examine rest as resistance through collective napping experiences, immersive writing workshops, site-specific installations, and performance art” (Cullors & Williams, 2020). 

The Nap Ministry Instagram account is an antidote for “grind culture”, the idea that “seeming to be busy and connected is to be alive, to be recognized – to matter” (Chayko, 190). “Rest”, says an Instagram post from October 10th, is not some cute lil luxury item you grant yourself as an extra treat after you’ve worked like a machine and are now burned out. Rest is our path to liberation. A portal for healing. A human right.” Rather than encouraging readers to click and spend money. The Nap Ministry’s mission is to encourage people to turn off their phones or computers and sleep or meditate.

Have you seen any other social media accounts that encourage users to log-off and practice self-care?

The Nap Ministry Instagram:

Cullors, P., & Williams, A. B. (2020, September 3). Q&;A: Nap Ministry’s

Tricia Hersey talks  rest and racial justice. Retrieved October 19, 2020,



Mead, Fan-Fiction, and Star Wars

I was drinking mead with a friend last week (because my life is blessed) and we lit upon the subject of fantasy novels. She told me how much she enjoyed the work of Cassandra Clare and mentioned that Clare took audience feedback into consideration when creating new fiction. Perhaps it was because of Clare’s background in writing fan-fiction that made her tune-in to audience feedback so enthusiastically. When fans mentioned they saw the potential for a polyamorous relationship between some of Clare’s characters, she added a polyamorous relationship in a short story. Clare has also reached out to fans for advice, like when she asked fans of Middle-Eastern descent for feedback on a Persian character she was writing.

These fans are not compensated or credited for their contributions, but they no doubt find pleasure from working with this author as it allows them to “write themselves into being” (pg 119). They have direct influence over the author regarding the storylines and characters they want to see in her work. The relationship between Cassandra Clare and her internet fanbase can be considered participatory culture because it allows a group of people on social media to help the author create art “without being compensated in return” (pg 67). 

Not all artists might feel comfortable with this level of feedback from their audience, but I think it’s a healthy reminder that the role an audience plays in the act of creating art. The documentary The People vs George Lucas examines this relationship between creator and audience. While I don’t approve of the extreme sense of ownership or entitlement that some of the Star Wars fanatics display in that film, I do wonder if the Star Wars prequels would have been more successful if George Lucas had a direct line to his fanbase like Cassandra Clare.

“I Would Be Dead Without the Internet”

The “Emotionality and Intimacy” section from chapter 3 of Superconnected was information I had taken for granted as common knowledge. I wonder if that worldview is based on my age, and if older people who have grown up without the internet are unfamiliar with the “emotional glue” that online interactions can provide. I, unfortunately, can’t remember the exact podcast I heard journalist Gaby Dunn share her experience with intimacy in an online environment, but I will post it in the comments if I find it again. Gaby was a young, isolated, queer person who found a supportive community online. In the podcast episode I was listening to, Gabby told the hosts about her online experience being dismissed by one of her previous partners. “I would be dead without the internet,” she told her older boyfriend at the time. His response was, “I’m sure you would have been fine.” I’m curious how much of this disdainful response from the boyfriend was caused by his not having impactful interactions on forums, blogs, or other social media, and how much of it was caused by him just being a jerk.

I found Gaby’s story very easy to accept and identify with. Many of my friends from high school belonged to chat rooms that they found as fulfilling as in-person friendships. The high school students I teach have mentioned taking trips to visit online gaming friends (this was pre-COVID). My best friend stays at home to take care of her two young children and has found “emotional glue” from an online forum. When my friend first became a mother, she was living in a new town, hours away from her friends and family. She joined an online community of new and experienced mothers, who shared advice about pregnancy, humorous potty training stories, product recommendations, political discussions, and more. The connection my friend felt with this online group helped her ease her anxieties about becoming a mother.

Despite the damage internet bullying can do and the frustration that online trolls can cause, I am so grateful for the positive impact that online communities have had on vulnerable individuals. 

My Virtual School Community & Enforcing “Authentic” Identities

(Inspired by the section about using ‘real names’ on Facebook from Haimson and Hoffmann)

The school that I teach for is called Rural Virtual Academy, but our administrator always tells new students and families that RVA really stands for something else: Relationships, Values, and Academics. “In that order,” he always adds. Our first goal as RVA educators is to forge meaningful personal relationships with our students. The relationship between a student and their teacher shouldn’t be merely transactional. I want my students to know that I genuinely care about them because I want our school to be a community, not just a network. On page 163, Rheingold states that the difference between a social network and a community “comes down to whether participants care about each other and are willing to act on their feelings.” Rheingold goes on to ask, “If I didn’t show up online for a while, would anyone knock on my physical door to see if I’m OK?” It’s my school’s goal to create a welcoming environment for students and to let them know that they are cared for.

One way that we are trying to build these relationships is to encourage students to use their webcams more often. Last year, my online school switched to a better streaming service which allows students to have their cameras on during class discussions. I work with high school students, though, and they are shy. They tend to keep their cameras off. The Haimson and Hoffmann article online identities has me concerned about our school’s current mission to incentivize students turning on their cameras. One of the reasons many students come to our school is to escape bullying, and they might consider turning on their cameras in the invasion of their privacy. While anonymity might help them feel safe, it might damage their role in our classroom community. As a teacher, I would prefer to see my “authentic” student’s faces to build our relationship, but early online communities were able to build relationships without those. This issue is something I intend to discuss in our staff meetings this year.

9/20 Horse Limes

How can changes in the entertainment and media industries predict digital adaptations in education?

If I had to choose one line from this week’s reading that impacted me the most, it would be Rheingold’s quote from page 89: “there is nothing more important than for kids to learn how to identify fake communication”. 

When we discuss plagiarism in my class, I share this image with my students:

Some are slightly disturbed by it, but most of them appreciate the humor. I explain to the class that the image illustrates the importance of checking an author’s credentials. “The beautiful thing about the internet,” I say, “is that anyone can publish anything they want! The terrible thing about the internet is that ANYONE can publish ANYTHING they want.” 

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have policies in place for verifying accounts. Now, those cites are also beginning to inforce policies to help stop the spread of misinformation (Cohen). 

I hope that this trend will continue: if students see popular media platforms incorporate fact-checking, then maybe they will become more conscientious about the information they are gathering for themselves.

Cohen, M. (2020, September 10). Twitter expands rules against election-related misinformation, teeing up a showdown with Trump as 2020 voting begins. CNN.