Tag Archives: social media

We Launched a Community Events Calendar and You Can Too!

Chicago is known for having one of the richest out-of-school time learning ecosystems in the US. So much incredible work has been done in this city to advance and nurture that ecosystem through collaborative networks like After School Matters (ASM), the Chicago City of Learning (CCOL), Thrive Chicago, Mozilla’s Hive Chicago and others! In particular, CCOL and ASM have done incredible work to make these opportunities visible to young people and adults of influence through online portals, calendars, and searchable databases.

But much of what is true for the needs of young learners is also true for their educators. At the Hive, we believe that exceptional connected learning (CL) experiences for young people begin with exceptional CL experiences for educators. Learning is a lifestyle! The same organizational members of Mozilla’s Hive Chicago Learning Network that provide incredible learning experiences for youth bring that energy and creativity to the professional development of teachers, mentors, coaches, and program providers. Yet, we don’t have a community calendar or online portal for those adults.

In the Hive, we make unmet opportunities just like these our mission. Through our Moonshot challenges, community members document issues that stand in the way of a richer learning ecosystem, then curate and incubate solutions from our community to address them. The Hive-School Connections Moonshot group works to strengthen the connection between Hive and schools. Month after month of discussions yielded repeated feedback from the community: there needs to be a way to make professional development for educators more equitable, accessible, and peer-driven. After some nudging from an enthusiastic student at our Hive Chicago Buzz hack day, and inspired by what Ingenuity has done with their creative schools initiative, the team finally pulled it together and threw down the gauntlet: the Teachers @ Hive Chicago public calendar was born!

Since our launch on August 20th, we’ve already added dozens of events and had some great feedback on the work already!


Our Community Events Calendar

What makes our calendar special? Here’s what what we found were three absolutely key, must-have features:

  • Community-sourced events: you don’t have to be a registered user! Anyone can add events to our calendar. Just go to http://teachers.hivechicago.org/events/community/add/ and try it for yourself. Before it goes live though, someone on our team has to approve it.
  • Rich filtering and sensible categories: teachers wanted to be able to find stuff that worked for them and serves their needs, FAST. So we made sure that whatever we setup would be easily searchable by keyword, category, cost, subject, location, etc.
  • Social media integration: social media is key; social media posts should result from event contributions and events should be easily shareable through social media channels.

That’s it. We used these key features as design criteria and worked to find the best solution, given our tight constraints in budget, staff, and expertise.


And You Can Do It Too!

Our calendar didn’t take a team of developers or a million dollar grant. It took a rag-tag crew of local educators, network staff, and yes, a web developer working together for a couple of hours with WordPress. It’ll cost us under $500 a year to maintain the site domain, hosting and licenses.

So now that we’ve made all the mistakes ourselves, we can share our pro-tips with you. Here are the basic ingredients:

I've highlighted the steps that might need some minor web developer support in this code-y font.

0. User-Centered Design: Community Input, Feedback and Buy-In

Before anyone got code-happy, the calendar development work began in group-discussion at monthly Hive Meetups; it continued in shared-community sessions at Hive Chicago Buzz; and after receiving a modest start-up grant from the Hive Fund, it continued in teacher focus-groups and a Hive Dive workshop. So much about what would make or break this effort was learned by prototyping for feedback from the folks who would use it directly; quoting from the gauntlet-throwing blog post linked above:

Teachers had a lot of other great feedback regarding Professional Development in general. If you are interested in that feedback please click here for the slide presentation based on their comments.

Organizational representatives who attended the Hive PD Calendar Crunch Party also had a lot of great feedback. Our web developer was on deck to answer questions and to take note on the functionality of the calendar and what other possibilities were available in the design.

1. Host A WordPress Site and Pick a Theme

To begin our website build, we added a sub domain to our existing website (i.e. the “teachers” that precedes the hivechicago.org in our URL) and installed WordPress on our server, hosted with Bluehost. This is easy to do using any number of web hosting services like Bluehost, Go Daddy, or others and will cost you somewhere in the range of $100 per year, depending on your options (there’s little or no cost for sub domains).

Once your WordPress site is up and running, pick a theme that works well with your vision for the calendar, your audience, and your brand. We went with the Sela theme because it was clean, simple and put images front and center.

Even if the color scheme isn't quite right to begin with, you can easily edit the theme CSS to use your own custom colors.

2. Buy The Events Calendar Plugins from Modern Tribe

Here’s where most of the cost came from, but we’re in love with the results. Coding something like this from scratch would be a bug-ridden nightmare and cost the budget of a small non-profit in development. So we thank the good people of Modern Tribe for bringing us The Events Calendar plugin for WordPress. For the full effect, we purchased the Community Calendar, PRO, with the Filter add-on. They’ve also got add-ons to integrate with Eventbrite and other cool e-commerce stuff we didn’t need but you might like. If your budget is extra-tight, skip the filter and the PRO upgrade.

Don't want to pay for their plugin because you've got the coding chops? OK, then you should at least fork their GitHub repo and give it a go from the source-code to make your own adjustments.

3. Install (and Hack) Some Key Plugins

Here are four, key, FREE plugins that you will need to install to get the full-effect:

  • Jetpack: this should come pre-installed with WordPress these days, but if not, get it. You’ll need to link it up with a WordPress.org account. Then make sure to activate Publicize specifically, which is the only reason you really need Jetpack. However, there’s other cool stuff in it.
  • Yoast SEO: stands for Search Engine Optimization. This will allow you to create slick Facebook and Twitter cards for your site. It’s all the rage with the kids these days.
  • Functionality: this one is a little wonky, but it lets you customize (hack) functions (stuff in plugins). See below for deets.
  • Import users from CSV using meta: this is how you’re going to save a million hours when it’s time to add users to your site. Skip it if that’s not the route you want to take. See below for deets.

Phew! That’s a lot of plugins, but it’s worth it. The hard part comes next. You’re going to hack Publicize to work special for your events.

Publicize is a particularly nice plugin that allows you to link your WordPress posts to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and some other stuff. By this I mean: when you hit publish in WordPress, it will automatically send out social media posts to publicize your posts! It also adds those nice sharing buttons to your posts. It’s awesome.

Once you have it installed, go to ‘Settings>Sharing’ in your Dashboard to link up your accounts. The only problem is that Publicize only works with standard posts, not Modern Tribe Events. So we’re going to hack it.

Basically, you need to hook `tribe_events` custom post types into the Publicize function. This is made really easy with the Functionality plugin. You can find great instructions on adding custom post support in this link (just use option #1, not #2).

The short story: copy/paste the following code under ‘Plugins>Edit Functions’ in the Dashboard menu.

add_action('init', 'my_custom_init');
function my_custom_init() {
     add_post_type_support( 'tribe_events', 'publicize' );
}

4. Customize Your Events Calendar Plugin

You’re going to have to do a little work to customize the Modern Tribe plugins to make it work with your theme and to add categories, venues, organizers, etc. Go to ‘Events>Settings’ and poke around the tabs and options. Set default currency symbols, cutoff times, etc.

Pay particular attention to “Default Stylesheet” and “Events Template” under the “Display” tab. With the Sela Theme, we found “Tribe Events Styles” and “Default Events Template” work just fine.

Under the “Community” tab, we found it helpful to set the “Default status for submitted events” to “Pending” so that it’s easy to find them in the Events list later. Also, under “Alerts”, make sure to add emails for folks you’d like to be notified when a community contribution is submitted.

Pro-Tip: Make sure to create a How-To Guide for users of your site. We used our (still draft) guide to explain what our categories meant and we’re going to add more detail to explain our event review process too.

5. Setup Admins and Authors

OK, so now that you’ve got everything setup nicely, it’s time to start soliciting for events! Nope, wait, hold on. So who exactly is going to manage them when they come rushing in?

Community-sourced contributions need to be reviewed by a site admin; someone with the authority to edit and post events, or delete them. Or, you can create other trusted authors and editors to do that for you or for themselves. WordPress has multiple “user roles” to help you manage who has permission to do what

Here are a couple of solutions to help manage this deluge of events likely to follow your site-launch:

  • Establish an event review schedule: help your contributors anticipate when they will see their calendar events appear and help your admins fit event review into their schedules. Perhaps you’ll be posting events every Monday afternoon? Or on Tuesdays and Thursday mornings? Whatever your schedule, make it public and stick to it.
  • Share the responsibilities: Identify a core-team of admins to help you review event postings and assign a rotation that everyone can stick to using calendar invites with reminders.
  • Expand your site admins: do you have strong community leaders that are likely to be trusted event providers? Local cultural institutions or community based organizations? Well, skip the review process and grant those organization representatives admin, editor, or author access to draft, preview and publish their own events without your approval.
  • Create organization logins: as we all know, organization staffing is dynamic and individuals change positions over time. Consider creating an organizational login that can be shared by multiple staff, but if you do, limit their role to contributor so that you still review their posts. You want to prevent anonymous publishing!

Depending on the size of your network, setting up all those user accounts can become a real nightmare. That’s where the Import users from CSV using meta plugin (seriously, that’s what it’s called) will come in handy. It’ll allow you to bulk-upload a CSV file (from Excel or Google Sheets) with all the user information in columns, saving a lot of time!

6. Get Social Media Savvy!

I’m no social media expert so I’m not going to get too detailed or too instructional here. I only wanted to note that even with a calendar, people tend to find out about events from their peers: learning is fundamentally social!

The biggest value-add from a shared calendar like this is visibility. But while the event postings will serve as an anchor, nobody will find them unless you publicize, publicize, publicize. The spotlight doesn’t shine on it’s own, you need to light it up.

Again, the Publicize plugin will help you do that, so make sure to take the time to understand how it works, but you should also take the time to do some good, old-fashioned networking too. Thank your event contributors when they add events and promote the calendar and events to influential members of your community. Check out the Tweets above for examples.

If you need more support, consider posting a “social media strategy” volunteer position. You’d be surprised how many marketing and communications professionals are eager to share their expertise for a good cause, or sharpen their skills. We found Catch A Fire to be a particularly nice place to do that.


The Teachers @ Hive Chicago Team

The core contributors to this project included:

Cultivating Diversity in a Networked, Digital Age

This is a post that I drafted to collect some thoughts about diversity, learning networks, social media and youth development for future use in posts by me and my colleagues elsewhere. Many of the ideas presented in this post are formative or deserve a more sophisticated treatment than is achieved here, but the underlying thread is complete. The role of digital media and social networks in our modern discourse and learning is pervasive, but those networks require a cognitive diversity amongst their members in order to be effective. Unfortunately, the modern tools we use to cultivate these networks are not without bias and they require intentional and informed use to overcome those limitations. Moreover, we bring the limitations of our offline networks to bear on them as well, requiring us to understand how this can further limit the potential of these digital tools. In our work with young people, this is an issue that is of critical importance to their future success in an increasingly connected society. So we must work to first cultivate our own diverse networks and secondly, by example, focus on doing the same with our youth.


Recently, I made an offhand remark to an old and respected friend that contorted his face into a confused and skeptical look; I absentmindedly confessed that I now received all of my news from Facebook. I didn’t even give the sentiment a second thought before I said it, though I nervously followed with: “Well, most if it anyway. I guess I catch a little NPR in the morning too.” This gave me pause. Had I really just said that Facebook was my primary source of news? Some version of myself, from a time seemingly long past, would have been dismayed and disappointed.

And yet, I was neither of those things, dismayed or disappointed. Rather, the more I thought about it, the more I felt a mixture of pride and fortune. I came to realize that this was in fact exactly how news should work. It was my diverse network of family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances that made it possible. The depth and diversity of my personal network was essential to my understanding of the world.


Why Diversity?

In his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki makes a compelling case that “Large groups are smarter than an elite few”. I say compelling because not only do his case-studies and statistical references ring true, but as a former Adler Planetarium employee and an early witness to the birth and development of the Zooniverse.org project, I know this to be quite accurate, first hand.

For most of his book, Mr. Surowiecki concerns himself and the reader with the specific application of this crowd-wisdom to problem solving, and one of the most stunning elements of this argument concerns the role of diversity. It turns out that:

Diversity and independence are important because the best decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus and compromise. — James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds

This is a sentiment that somehow feels wrong at first, but one that isn’t far from our actual experience. Diversity isn’t easy, it requires cultivation and intentionality, it can be contentious and uncomfortable, but it is essential for success because it expands our experience and understanding. Diversity challenges us.


Diversity Is Not Easy, Even Online

Sure, diversity can be a challenge to manage, and it’s the challenge that gives it value. But in some cases, the challenge of achieving diversity can seem unattainable in the face of deep-rooted social inequalities; those that face the youth we work with in the Hive every day. Yet, we hope that maybe technology can overcome this divide.

In her book, It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens danah boyd dedicates an entire chapter to how inequality is translated into the digital space; one that struck me deeply. She details how despite the promise of networked information technology to break down our boundaries, diversity online can still be undermined by the same forces at play offline.

Ms. boyd points out that throughout modern history, even with the advent of trans-atlantic telephone communications, people have continuously projected their dreams for a more integrated world onto new technologies. Yet, whether by the intention of their designers, or the broader social constraints they are designed within, this is rarely the case. Technology itself will not break down what divides us and a blind devotion to this faith can have dire consequences.

Because prominent figures in society – including journalists, educators, politicians – consider social media to be a source of information and opportunity, our cultural naïveté regarding the ways social and cultural divisions are sewn into our mediated social fabric may have more damaging costs in the future. — dana boyd, It’s Complicated

When the designers of our social media experiences fail to include diverse experiences and perspectives into their designed online platforms, or create systems that propagate, reinforce, or exaggerate social mechanisms that lead to segregation and homogenization in real life, then they can make it impossible for users to explore and network with each other unfettered by offline limitations. As educators and mentors, this means that our choice of platform can have serious limiting factors for our youth, or can create new opportunities otherwise inaccessible to them.

Moreover, the very same power that can re-enforce our divisions can also be used to make them visible in ways that we have never seen before. We are mapping and visualizing our human networks in spectacular fashion. There is much to be learned and Ms. boyd reveals some fascinating insights in her book.


Diversity, Repressed

Over the last few weeks, there have been a spate of articles that have pointed out the obvious: Facebook is designed to serve you more of what you like to see. This, we have learned, is of course so that Facebook can in turn better serve its advertisers. These articles have explored the question, “What happens when I like everything or nothing on Facebook?” The lesson is simple, but the implications are of great consequence. If you are provided the luxury to see what you like alone, then your world becomes very small indeed.

But how small? Does it really matter who’s Facebook posts I see or not? Yes, it does.

When we “like” something on Facebook, we cast a vote to see more of it and give up the opportunity to see something we don’t like. When we unfriend, unfollow, or even just ignore someone who we don’t agree with, we lose their perspective on the world. We narrow our worldview and we constrain our thinking in exchange for reinforcing our own existing beliefs; we give up challenge for comfort, democracy for security.

Gilad Lotan makes this quite hard to dismiss in a brilliant Medium article, Israel, Gaza, War & Data: social networks and the art of personalizing propaganda. It’s a fairly unbiased look at how online social networks trace an underlying segregation of beliefs and opinions, and how that segregation may be reinforced by these networks.

As compelling as Mr. Lotan’s global perspective might be, Ms. boyd brings is all back home for us:

When teens go online, they bring their friends, identities, and network with them. They also bring their attitudes towards others, their values, and their desire to position themselves in relation to others. — dana boyd, It’s Complicated

This means that teens are bringing their real-life experiences, biases, and constraints with them to their online networks and by doing so, are re-creating the same divides that they face offline. And this isn’t just a failure of imagination or intentional neglect on their part. There are many forces at play that re-enforce these networks on and offline. Fear of social stigma, a feeling of resignation to social pressures, and sometimes a threat of real violence can constrain the extent of a teen’s online network. In other cases though, it’s just the benign human desire to seek comfort amongst like-minded, homogeneous social groups, known as homophily.

Despite our best intentions and the intrinsic power of technology, diversity can be repressed when we are not intentional about cultivating it.


The Intentionality of Diversity

We have all heard it before, and the truth is, we may have said it once too: “everyone was invited”; “I wasn’t being exclusive about it”; “the opportunity was open to anyone”; etc. Yet, while deep inside we know that it’s complicated, and that it takes more than an open door to invite a guest, somehow, we have fallen in love with the idea that the internet makes all that simple. We have decided that just “posting something online” will make it visible and understandable to all. By “sharing it on social media” we have released our information into some collective intelligence we all share. That, assuming you can access it, the internet is inherently equitable.

In her final words on inequality, Ms. boyd reminds us that “Networks Matter” (in a way that is eerily reinforced by a recent University of Phoenix TV ad campaign).

… just because people have access to the internet does not mean that they have equal access to information. Information literacy is not simply about the structural means of access but also about the experience to know where to look, the skills to interpret what’s available and the knowledge to put new pieces of information into context. In a world where information is easily available, strong personal networks and access to helpful people often matter more than access to the information itself. — dana boyd, It’s Complicated

In a modern, connected, online society it becomes more important than ever to cultivate diverse social networks of people, to help us not only access information but also to receive information that contests our existing perspective and puts new information into a greater, richer context. To tap the wisdom of crowds.

Diversity does not come easy. It requires intentionality. It requires us to ask hard questions about who’s not there, to understand the complex barriers that can divide us, and take the difficult step to cross them and reach out to someone different than us.


What We Can Do

Young people live in a culture of pervasive social inequality, but that does not mean that they are equipped to deal with it. Likewise, although they have spent their entire lives immersed in a glut of information technology, it does not mean that they are equipped to interpret and manipulate it to their needs. We must lead the way.

First, change always begins within ourselves. We start by cultivating our own diverse networks. By looking around at our network: in our meetups, in our projects and proposals, or in our social media spaces to ask the hard questions: are we represented by a thoroughly diverse set of people, ideas, experiences, backgrounds and passions? Who is not at the table? How can we welcome them?

Together as the Hive Chicago Learning Network, we must create an environment that welcomes members of our community who are underrepresented in our work. We must invite diverse perspectives into our work, whether that includes race, geographic location, or subject matter. No, not only invite, we must reach out and make welcome. Again, an invitation is only just that and nothing more.

Individually, online or off, this might mean thinking twice before deciding to un-friend or un-follow someone who challenges us, or to proactively seek out a dissenting opinion, to go out and visit a place we have never been to before, a place that challenges us, to follow the comments of someone who is different than us, to give voice and space to ideas that conflict with our own.

Second, we must take responsibility to acknowledge that technology is not a panacea and only we can access it’s untapped potential to empower young people through intentional intervention. Diverse social networks do not build themselves. Build a Community of Participation with Mozilla’s Webmaker Web Literacy materials. Through mentoring and modeling, we can help the next generation cultivate a diverse social network, online and offline. This is not a self-emergent phenomenon, even online.

In some cases, we need to identify safe spaces online where young people can thrive without threat of offline social repercussions. Introduce your youth to safe, intellectual social networks that offer a greater degree of privacy or anonymity without sacrificing social norms. Or build your own, like the Chicago Youth Voices Network’s Nuf Said platform or the Chicago City of Learning initiative. Online, open communities of practice, like GitHub, offer both a greater degree of anonymity as well as a professional experience that will distinguish youth in their career trajectory.

Helping young people to cultivate a truly diverse network of peers, mentors, and educators may be one of the most important elements of the work we do. It is the very heart of connected learning.

After years of intentional cultivation, I am very appreciative and fortunate to have a personal network that supports my lifetime of learning.