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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Flood Contingency map copyright the City of Fargo

Have been following a few stories recently, and using the idea of 'data mining' the 'Twittersphere' as a resource.
On the BBC News this morning, there was a report on the city of FARGO in North Dakota, where people were being evacuated due to record levels on the Red River..

For many people in the UK, 'Fargo' puts them in mind of the classic Coen Brothers film with the woodchipper... For others, it's paired with Wells on the side of stagecoaches in westerns...
For the residents of the city though, the current issue is that of record levels of flooding on the Red River, up to almost 41 feet above normal.
'Trending' on Twitter (i.e. one of the most popular current words or tags that are included in people's 'tweets') is the word FARGO
Using a service like TWITTER SEARCH or TWITTERFALL, the tweets with the word FARGO in them can be seen as they appear: sometimes 20 or 30 a minute... With the latter, they 'cascade' down the screen as they appear.

This is particularly useful because the nature of Twitter means that many users will post links to news reports, background reading, pictures of current events, or their personal thoughts, which means that an event is being 'broadcast' in a number of short inputs, but together these can be assembled to create an 'alternative narrative' for the events.

Reading the tweets is fascinating, as each one has a particular 'angle' or 'message', many offering a perspective on the story which makes one think about the event in a different way, and would provide tremendous material for some high-level descriptive or persuasive writing.

This is the sort of creative work that can act as a useful counterpoint to what we might call more 'traditional' resources and classroom activities. Used occasionally it might provide a useful 'news room' style event which could engage pupils and provide a memorable (even compelling) learning experience.

The city's website also has a great deal of useful information in the form of planning and floodplain maps HERE.

There are also other tags or hashtags e.g. #fargoflood emerging as the event develops.

The nature of these events is that they are ephemeral, and teachers would have difficulty planning a session in advance in many cases. The new KS3 PoS includes a deal more flexibility than in the past, and this means that there is a chance that if an event happens that is relevant to the particular units that are being taught in a longer term scheme, that time can be given to exploring events 'as they happen'... This sort of reactive, immediate work could prove to be valuable in preparing students for the sort of employment that they may well have in the future.

Of course, another issue is that what compels large numbers of people to 'talk' about the same thing is generally (although you can argue with me here) something 'negative', so we reinforce the idea of disaster geography, rather than reflecting on more positive changes and events. One can imagine that the next major earthquake, volcanic eruption etc. will all create a major outpouring of tweets... Are we still to have our first major post-Twitter disaster ?

In the meantime, my thoughts are with the people of Fargo as they watch the waters rise. My best wishes to you all, and of course to other settlements in the area, as although the focus may be on Fargo, other communities are also suffering....

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