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RebelMouse: Smart Curation for the Classroom

RebelMouse[This is a guest post by Abir Qasem and Tanya Gupta. Abir teaches intro to programming, AI, cloud, and device programming courses for the Computer Science Department at Bridgewater College. You can find him online at http://people.bridgewater.edu/~aqasem/ and follow him on Twitter @abirqasem. Tanya is a technology writer, international development professional and a former academic. You can find her online at http://techtanya.com and follow her on Twitter @tanyagupta--@jbj]

Undoubtedly Twitter is a powerful communication tool. However, using Twitter in the classroom presents challenges. Simply embedding a tweet stream on blogs or webpages is not enough because all tweets from our account are included, not only the ones relevant to students.  Embedded tweet streams are also not particularly attractive or informative – especially for the Twitter novices. Though not targeted specifically at academia, RebelMouse presents an interesting solution to this problem, by intelligent curation of social media wrapped in a great design.

The use of social media, particularly Twitter, is a common ProfHacker topic.  In fact, back when Twitter was not quite in fashion, ProfHacker was one of the first to make a case as to why academics should consider using Twitter. Since then the site has covered disposable Twitter accounts, Twitter in the classroom, Twitter for conference backchannels, and using Twitter as part of a web presence strategy.  The challenge then becomes how to use Twitter effectively.

ProfHacker has described how Twitter can be an effective one-way pedagogical communication tool for sharing news or broadcasting links over the weekend (full article). How do you present your tweets in an attractive fashion ? How do you then coordinate your blog or website with your Twitter feed? Current blogging platforms are separate from social media.  Although tweets can be linked through an embed code on your web page, embedding may not always work as intended.  For example a tweet directed at a particular student displays on your tweet stream but may not be relevant for your other students. How do you ensure that only relevant tweets are posted when current tools only allow embedding of all tweets or use of a basic filter ?  

ProfHacker has discussed Twitter curation tools before.  In February ProfHacker talked about using Storify as a browser-based tool for curating stories drawn from across social media.  It is based on the idea of dragging and dropping content from Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and other networks into a new linear post. One problem that ProfHacker faced was integration with a self-hosted WordPress site.  Another challenge that Storify poses is finding the right content to drag and drop.

This is where RebelMouse comes in. RebelMouse is a social media curator. It has a decent algorithm for identifying “good” tweets, which is then presented to the world in an attractive and informative layout. The algorithm determines what tweet or facebook post or social signal is going to make a great front page story. For example they exclude the material that doesn’t have a great image or video or if you directly reply to someone. Or from Facebook they exclude material marked as private. However, should they guess incorrectly, the social media stream still gets saved as a draft so that users can edit the posts and publish stories they choose, to their front page. The algorithm was pretty good in predicting the “right” tweets for both of us. The RebelMouse team includes several former Huffington Post folks (along with their former CTO Paul Berry).  Their experience in sorting out what makes a good story seems to have translated well from a general media platform to a personal social media platform.

Here’s a short tutorial from the RebelMouse site, partly modified with a pedagogical perspective in mind:

  1. Go to rebelmouse.com.  Sign up for an account.  Although they don’t have an instant sign up yet (coming in 1-2 months), they process most signups in 24 hours.
  2. Once the account is active, users can integrate Twitter, and Facebook accounts as needed.  RebelMouse will use the social media stream to set up your base page.
  3. Look at your drafts tab in the dashboard. That’s where the RebelMouse puts stories it found from Twitter and Facebook that it wasn’t sure would make good “print” material.  Publish items they missed.
  4. Class tweets on one page: Launch a RebelMouse page for your classroom based on your tweets. To bring together tweets of the entire classroom as well as the faculty, we can create a unique hashtag.  It is possible to automatically publish any tweets with a particular hashtag that has a link or image in them. If you have a Facebook page for each of your classes as well as separate Twitter accounts, you can sign up multiple accounts powered by different Twitter accounts and/or FB pages.
  5. Browse other RebelMouse sites that may be relevant for your classroom.
  6. Add the “Stick” bookmarklet  (for Chrome) to your browser. This allows you to add great educational content to your RebelMouse page as you browse the Web.   
  7. Try embedding your RebelMouse. In the dashboard, the embed tab allows you to add your RebelMouse stream to any site.

You can get a pretty good sense for the interface from this 6-minute video:

We have found that RebelMouse is a great way to liven up your social media stream in a way that makes your stream relevant, attractive, integrated and user friendly.

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