Category: social media

10000 tweets

I recently posted my 10,000th tweet on Twitter where I interact with my communities as @polarisdotca. (That’s “Polaris” for the North Star plus “.ca” in words to show my pride of being Canadian.) It was right in the middle of the Vancouver civic election so briefly I stepped away from my election conversations to tweet

What have I said in 10,000 tweets? I discovered Twapperkeeper about 6500 tweets ago so pushing that archive through Excel, grep (with excellent help from @aquillam and @anthonyfloyd) and Wordle, there are a few words that stand out:

Top 100 words in my tweets.

I think this is a pretty good picture of how I use Twitter. The 2nd biggest word is “astro 101”. That comes from the #astro101 hashtag I use on any tweet related to teaching the general education, introductory astronomy course typically called “Astro 101”. No surprise there — that’s a big part of my job.

The other 2 most common words: “Thx” and “RT”.  The first is pretty obvious and, true to character I guess, “thanks” are the subject of my 10,000ths tweet. I’m pleased to see “RT”. RT, shorthand for “retweet”, is how you bounce another twitter user’s message to your followers. It’s how you invite new readers to join the conversation. And that’s what I think Twitter is all about: connecting people through common interests.

Speaking of people and conversations, who do I talk to most? Here’s a wordle of the 100 tweeps I interact with more frequently. What a great group to be associated with!

I have most of my conversations with these folks.

I’m learning that hashtags, like #astro101, are one of Twitter’s most powerful tools. They tag messages with keywords so you can easily pick up and follow a conversation. They also identify the content of your tweets to your followers, the people who read your messages. If I’m not in the mood to follow #edchat or #canucks, I can quickly filter those messages out. I try to add useful hashtags whenever I can. I say “useful” because there are some very clever tweeps who are very good at the “I use hashtags for sarcasm and/or irony” game. Only very occasionally can I come up with a zinger so most of the time, I leave that to the pros. Here’s my most frequent hashtags. They, too, give a good picture of my, well, a good picture of me:

These are the hashtags, or keywords, I use most frequently. Makes it pretty clear what I do, where I work and where I play.

Once again tweeps, and readers too, thanks for helping me learn, making me laugh and for the friendship.


What do you mean by that, again?

Oh sure, trust me to turn a fun Twitter #hashtag into a posting about education. Well, sorry, I filter everything I read and experience through my education filter (or my will-my-kids-have-a-meltdown? filter).

I’ve been reading my tweeps #tweetmy16yearoldself messages on Twitter, thinking to myself, Geez, that kid was way more with it than I was. Like my #spacetweep friend @Zarquil, who tweeted

#TweetYour16YearOldSelf Honestly, you’ve got it all figured out already. Listen to your own heart and don’t put so much reliance on others.

Or my math teacher friend @ptruchon who wrote to himself,

Thanks for spending so much awesome time learning the guitar. I wouldn’t have time now, and I’m still enjoying it. #tweetyour16yearoldself

And then my education friend @janniaragon tweeted something that I’m paraphrasing from memory because the tweet was a couple of days ago and it’s slipped off the timeline.

“slim-leg jeans, black hair with bangs, t-shirt from [somebody’s] concert”

You see, @ptruchon and @Zarquil are tweeting TO their 16 year-old selves, sending a wise message back in time. But @janniaragon is tweeting ABOUT her 16 year-old self, a 140-character snapshot of herself back then. That’s the way I interpreted #tweetyour16yearoldself and I’m wasn’t keen to recall and share those awkward years.

Different people have completely different interpretations of the word “tweetyour16yearoldself”, producing completely different responses. Just like I see in undergraduate physics and astronomy classes every day! The instructor says an important word which sits, in his or her mind, at the pinnacle (or is that “apex”, @ptruchon?) of a pyramid of background knowledge and concepts. But the students interpret the word in a different way and attach none of the background the instructor assumes is there. Or worse yet, attach a different background and then struggle to hang the instructor’s version of the concept on scaffolding that isn’t there.

The biggest offender in my field is “theory”. To astronomers, physicists, scientists in general, “theory” is the pinnacle of science. Why, if you produce even one outstanding theory in your career, you’ve made a valuable contribution to the field. But to students, “theory” is often a vague guess, a stab-in-the-dark. Actually, let me quote from a new astronomy textbook, “Investigating Astronomy – A Conceptual View of the Universe” (W.H. Freeman and Co, coming soon) by @caperteam and @rogerfreedman. They say it much better than I can:

In everyday language the word “theory” is often used to mean an idea that looks good on paper, but has little to do with reality. In science, however, a good theory is one that explains reality and that can be applied to explain new observations.

It’s all about interpretation. Instructors, be sure to share the pyramid of background knowledge behind key words when you use them. And students, interrupt your instructor and ask, “What do you mean by that, again?”

We're all on the same team

I work at a huge institution. In 2009, there were more than 45 000 students and 10 000 faculty members at UBC, and enrollment continues to climb. We’re split into a handful of Faculties and Schools and many Departments.

With that many faculty members, it’s no surprise that people in different departments are doing the same things. And sometimes there’s mild hostility (or more) as different departments compete for bums-in-seats, grants, recognition and so on.  Sometimes there’s a feeling of, “Why are you doing that for them? They have their own people” as if we’re giving away our department’s secrets.

And that’s too bad.

Which is why I’m so glad to be working and collaborating and sharing with a couple of colleagues who don’t live in my building.

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