Tumbling in (for 3 voices)

A couple of weeks ago, I ran into @MzMollyTL (Diana Maliszewski) and @MDHS_Librarian (Sarah Wheatley) on Twitter. Diana was admitting some confusion around Tumblr, and suggested that the 3 of us explore Tumblr on our own, and share what we found/learned. As Tumblr was a new frontier for me, I was game. We set a date  (really important for me as a procrastinator), and off we went.

photo credit: flickr user SJL via cc

One of the first things I did was talk to some of my Grade 7 and 8 students about who was using Tumblr, and it quickly became clear to me that the kids who really loved Tumblr were my visual kids – the ones who are always sketching or doing something creative with their photos – but also some of my storytellers. That started to give me a clue about who Tumblr appeals to. It’s not the same crowd that is all over Instagram, because there it’s all about the pictures, and Tumblr is definitely about the pictures, but also about the words. It occurred to me that these students might also like to explore a photojournalling site like blipfoto or a photo and writing combination like thinglink, or even a photo narration variation like fotobabble. Things to think about for the best way to help my students express themselves.

As I explored, I started to get the sense that Tumblr occupies a middle ground between the immediacy of Twitter, and the longer reflectiveness of a “blog” (and I know that term can mean a lot of things).  The first Tumblrs I encountered a couple years ago were very much like what Pinterest has now become – I remember one in particular that was a collection of  images of  70’s couches. It was a way to document your passion, and I think that having your students share the Tumblrs they love (maybe it becomes part of the classroom job list, or there’s a corner for it in a newsletter?) would be a terrific way to direct some passion-based learning.

The Tumblrs that I really enjoyed (and I think one of my absolute favourites is this one, created by the Royal Ontario Museum) managed to find that balance between an image, and the things they wanted to say about it. The ROM Tumblr makes great use of Tumblr’s visual capacity to show off their collection, but also manages to share lots of information (but not too much). And sometimes, it’s just about the image.

from the ROMKids tumblr: The entrance to the museum, looking like the Rebel base on Hoth

from the ROMKids tumblr: The entrance to the museum, looking like the Rebel base on Hoth

I was very interested in seeing how other teachers were using Tumblr, and was lucky enough to have a great example in my friend  Stepan Pruchnicky, who teaches with TCDSB. He uses his Tumblr as his class’ website, and features student work, announcements and other news. It’s a terrifically engaging way to invite parents into the classroom, and his students are obviously very comfortable with the platform. This is something I want to look into further, since I’m always looking for accessible ways to share my students’ work. I’d also like to find my way to some more teacher’s Tumblrs. Do you have a great one to share?

At about the mid-point of our exploration, Diana shared a tweet from a friend including some of Tumblr’s terms of service, which are, to say the least, a little unorthodox, and written in language most people can understand. I actually found this refreshing, and was pleasantly surprised to find this in the terms:

tumblr terms

That link takes you to an international set of crisis phone numbers, and places to get help. Not something you’ll find on every social media site, and while I know not many users would actually drill down that far, I was impressed.

I did set up a Tumblr account as part of this inquiry and I can see using it in certain contexts.  Blogging is often a long, reflective process for me, and I find that it’s tricky to find the time to get that done (I’m very aware of the clock ticking on this one). With Tumblr, it’s like a quick shout-out – again, with more room for a conversation than Twitter, but relatively easy to get it out there. I think it might be perfect for travel blogging with my own kids, because we can choose the pictures we want to talk about.

In terms of ease of use,  I like how easy it is to add a friend’s Tumblr, or something I’ve read on-line to my stream, but wish there was an easier way to do the opposite, and zip a Tumblr out into the Twitterverse. I acknowledge that it probably and I just haven’t found it yet.

Overall, I enjoyed the chance to dig into Tumblr, and am hugely thankful to my co-explorers, who checked in along the way, to keep me motivated (as well as to my students who let me pick their brains). As with any social media platform, there’s some silly stuff out there (witness this lovely bit of “internet whimsy” featuring benedict cumberbatch and otters), and using it in a classroom would need to be focused on the creation part of the equation, rather than consumption.

And maybe that’s my big takeaway. The students I talked to seemed to be willing to be creators in this format – yes, they’re reblogging pieces by others, but some of them are posting their own ideas, too. That’s something I’m looking to encourage, and this seems less of an intimidating format to my students than whatever they perceive a “blog” to be.

Here are my co-conspirators reactions:

Diana’s: Trio tests Tumblr: Diana’s path

Sarah’s: Encouraging Each Other

What do you think?

Let the sparks fly.

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