Saturday, July 23, 2011

How I Use Twitter & Google+

It occurred to me that I often rant and rail against lack of digital tools use, or confusion with the capabilities or capacities of digital knowledge making, yet I have never really demonstrated *why* and *how* I find value in using social platforms like Twitter or Google+.  Even though Twitter just celebrated its five year anniversary, many people I talk to have little interaction with 'tweets' or 'tweeting'.  I admit, it took me some time to figure out how to best use the service myself.  Google+ is the newest kid on the social block, and while the platform is still under refinement and development I already see potential in its usage for professionals- especially in the realm of education.  Today's post will focus on how I use Twitter and how I use/plan to use Google+ in pursuit of greater information sharing/acquisition, as well as extending my academic network.

Twitter: Call & Response

New take on the Fail Whale
Photo via Danilo Ramos
Sometime last year I decided to try and figure out what all the fuss was about regarding Twitter.  I signed up under the name @jobermallow, a play on the name of a particularly favorite character in Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, and promptly found myself with a blank screen and nary a clue.  I began by 'tweeting' some really basic stuff about my day, but quickly found that to be pretty boring as no one, generally, responded to any of my observations.  This was due to a couple of factors; first, I had far too few followers to receive any sort of meaningful reaction and, second, I hadn't grasped that Twitter works best as a 'Call & Response' medium.  (I know I read this analogy somewhere on Twitter, and cannot remember who stated it.  If anyone reads this and knows the source of this analogy, email or leave a comment below and I will post the proper attribution.)

With regards to the first issue- lack of followers- here is what I have found.  Unless you are some sort of cultural guru, or celebrity, or manage to have several of your friends also linked to you on Twitter, no one want's to hear about the boring details of your day.  Facebook already facilitates a much better interface for handling the mundane minutia one encounters on this roller-coaster we call Life.  In order to attain a useful set of followers, you have to engage others in meaningful discussion.  Some of the first people I followed on Twitter were professionals I either knew about from reading blogs or other articles online, or they were personalities I listened to on podcasts.  This gave me a good baseline on which I could expand my list of people to follow, as many of the first people provided links or retweets (more on this later) of other, interesting people who I subsequently followed.  Some people have hundreds, or thousands, of people they follow on Twitter, but I've found that having around 200 well selected people provides me with plenty of content to read and digest in my stream.  I have a good mix of journalists, academics, writers, some comedians, and just other regular people who make insightful observations.  When one of them comments on something I find interesting, I will reply and add my own viewpoint.

Just today, I had a nice back-and-forth about what people think the 'standard' assignment of pages per week for undergraduates to read should be- not only did I find new ideas and express my own, but the professor, with whom I interacted, added me to her 'following' list.  Boom- instant expansion of my academic network.

Twitter alerted me to the Egyptian Revolt, that occurred in January, far before the main media outlets had breaking stories.  It also tipped me to the continuing story of Aaron Swartz and his alleged attempt to download massive amounts of academic journal articles from JSTOR.  Because I follow a diverse swath of professional humanity, I receive several viewpoints from across disciplines and continents when notable events occur.  Following the right people makes the experience, and usefulness, much more apparent.

With regards to the second issue- the 'Call & Response' nature of Twitter- I find that this analogy does a pretty good job of encapsulating, in a pithy way, the experience of social interaction on Twitter.  Users more familiar with Facebook are probably accustomed to a more 'conversationalist' approach to social interaction.  While you can certainly have back-and-forth conversations on Twitter, it is not as easy to follow as on Facebook.  On the web interface, you have to go to the original 'tweet' and then expand it to see who replied.  I use Tweetdeck, a Twitter client for Android/iOS devices, and it does a good job of grouping your replies and direct messages into separate columns of information you can cycle through.  For larger conversations, however, I don't find Twitter as appealing- it's great to get the ball rolling, but for sustained efforts or deeper explanations other venues work much better.  That's why Twitter works great for simple information questions where crowd-sourcing is appropriate. (What is a good documentary on Netflix?  What articles should I read about 'issue x'?)  People can then respond with their answers/recommendations, often pointing to a source online for further information.

This leads me to my second point about 'Call & Response' on Twitter- it works best when you use links to guide people to larger sources of content.  Any time I write a new post for Peasant Muse, I post links to Facebook, Twitter, and now Google+.  My limited experience (8 months) has shown that I receive the most 'clicks' and interaction from my Twitter crowd- far more so than people who see my link on Facebook.  TNW just wrote about how link-sharing is the 'secret to success on Twitter' for commercial brands.  Here is a quote from their article:

Twitter is increasingly becoming a space to share content and receive information, as opposed to a more direct platform such as Facebook, where you might just converse with friends. When we go into our Twitter stream, what we want is information and news, and we get that by streamlining the people we follow to get relevant information, mostly contained within links. Twitter is developing much more as its own news platform, competing with traditional publishers in this respect. Herein lies the biggest opportunity for brands. Instead of looking at Twitter as the place where you just try and converse with people and make friends, consider what you can give them that is going to allow them to get more out of their Twitter experience. Tweeting links to relevant articles and other content will allow people to attribute a value to you – as an important news or information source.
In 2010, when 90 million tweets were being sent per day, Evan Williams revealed that 25% of these tweets contained links. This is an incredibly high proportion of tweets being sent that contain links to external sites and it shows the importance of links to the Twitter ecosystem. Links are what we want to share on Twitter and they’re what we want to discover as well. Brands should be taking advantage of this and include it as a vital part in their Twitter marketing strategy. Of course behind this lies a complete content strategy that needs to be considered. Sharing links to interesting things online is one thing, but you’re only going to start seeing real value if this interesting content is actually on your own website and is being produced by you. Original content is what people want most of all.
Again, this only makes sense as 140 characters is really not the place to have in-depth discussions- but a short statement in tandem with a link works beautifully.  However, I have found some guidelines for how to construct tweets I want to be shared and even commented on.  Another person on Twitter (sorry, again can't remember who said it) made the insightful remark that Twitter embraces one of the basic rules of style made famous by Strunk & White- omit needless words.  When constructing a tweet with links, I often try to use far less than the standard 140 characters provided, as this allows others to 're-tweet' my link to their networks with space for their additional commentary.  When people have room to add their own take, they are far more likely to re-tweet your original post.  I also try to use hashtags (# = hashtag, not pound sign) when my tweet fits into a larger subject, or category, of importance.  This way, people outside of my network have a greater chance of seeing my comment as Twitter allows anyone to search the ocean of tweets and hashtags make it very easy to group similar themed tweets together.

For example, if I was at a conference (like the American Historical Association, or AHA) and found or heard something interesting and worth sharing, then I would use #AHA at the end of my 'tweets'.  In this way, when others search #AHA they would come across my thoughts alongside others who used the same hashtag.  In effect, by using hashtags, one can extend their voice beyond that of those who follow.  

Twitter is a great source to find curated information sharing.  That's why I try to follow academics and cultivate my academic network, as the diverse opinions across disparate disciplines exposes me to ideas I would not normally find strictly in the study of History.  New articles, blog posts, videos, viewpoints- all are shared constantly on Twitter, and while I don't find everything appealing I do find the interaction rich enough to maintain and even grow.  Twitter is a great conversation starter, while Google+ is, becoming, a great place to continue the conversation.

Google+: From Laser Focus to Wide Open

Google+ is the very new kid on the social block and has brought an equal mix of Facebook imitation and social/sharing innovation to the table.  I won't go into what makes Google+ the same/different than Facebook, nor will I add to the, in my opinion, useless banter over whether or not Google+ is a 'Facebook killer'.  It's just far too early to make such conclusions, as the service is undergoing revisions and improvements based on user feedback.  However, there are some fundamental features I feel separate it from Facebook and make the platform a potential boon to professionally minded people.  The first, much talked about already, is the use of 'Circles' to sort one's social contacts.  For example, I have a 'family' circle where, you guessed it, members of my family are sorted.  I have a 'friends' circle for the same category of people.  Yet I also have an 'academic' circle where I keep, again surprise, my academic contacts.  If I find something that would generally be only of interest to my academic contacts, I can selectively share to only that 'circle'- my 'friends' and 'family' wouldn't see it unless they were also sorted into the 'academic' circle.  Facebook has a listing feature, which accomplishes roughly the same thing, but Google+ gives users much more fine-grained control over who receives what information.  As it says in the section heading above, with Google+ you can share information with a laser focus, targeting one person or group of people, or bring it into the wide open, by designating what you are sharing as 'public'.  

Teaching Origami via Hangouts
Photo via rosefirerising
The second fundamental feature in Google+ is the 'Hangout'.  This is a group video chat feature that allows up to ten people to 'hangout' and either chat or work collaboratively.  Like the 'Circles', users have fine-grained control over who is invited to the 'hangout', so if you don't wan't random members of your network to 'pop in' you simply don't invite them!  One thought I immediately had was, "Wouldn't it be cool if the Hangout could facilitate something like a 'brown bag' or mini-conference?"  Despite the limitation of only ten people in one 'hangout', others are beginning to find ways to share the informational love with a broader audience.  On the Make Magazine blog section, Phillip Torrone posted his workarounds to get the 'hangout' to work with live streaming sites, like Ustream, so that while ten people can 'talk' countless more can 'watch'.  When used in conjunction with a chat program, to give 'watchers' the ability to communicate, the idea that academics could gather together and present their ideas or research in a real-time collaborative environment suddenly seems more real.  Once Google adds YouTube recording capability, then presentations could be recorded for future viewing.  No longer will great ideas or discussions have to be relegated to recollections of memories or scrawled notes, soon anyone with interest can load up the video and learn/make comments about what they watch.  For me, this is the future of collaboration in education.


Now I am far from the best user of social media.  But what I have tried to outline above is how I've found value in using services like Twitter and, now, Google+.  What makes these tools so remarkable is that, given the short amount of time they have been on the scene, they are are already reshaping the way we share and distribute information.  One of the consistent themes I touch upon in my posts on digital culture, that information is only relevant if it is circulated, is made possible by far greater numbers of people that use these new digital platforms.  I highly recommend trying out these services, if only for the incredibly potential they hold in the production and distribution of information. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Anyone See A Problem Here?

I normally don't engage in such short posts here on Peasant Muse, but really felt like this needed a comment.  Anastasia Salter recently posted on ProfHacker (A sub-blog of The Chronicle of Higher Education) an article titled, "A Weekend at the Engaging Departments Institute".  Here she dives into the thrill and excitement of gathering for conferences in which new ideas of how to collaborate across department lines and disciplines are discussed.  Here is a quote:
Attending an AAC&U institute can be an opportunity to have a collective dialogue on an important concern for your college or department in an environment with a lot of support. The institute involved four tracks: educational leadership; departmental outcomes and aims of twenty-first century liberal education; faculty roles; and the learning, assessment and improvement cycle. Unlike a traditional conference, where the choice of what to attend is made more or less independently, the tracks build on each other and teams are encouraged to divide and assimilate as much information as possible.
Bravo, I say.  However, further down in the piece, Salter makes the following observation that completely takes the shine off any enthusiasm one might have for the conference listed above:
However, despite the presence of a track entirely focused on twenty-first century education, technology was often remarkably absent from the conversation (and the setting). While a number of attendees were sporting iPads or the occasional laptop, conference wireless was lacking, a Twitter backchannel (as far as I could find) nonexistent, and final presentations were made sans Power Point or Prezi. We engaged in a lot of “low-tech” brainstorming, complete with giant presentation pads and paper-prototyping of curriculum design. The results did keep us very in the moment, but they limited opportunities for sharing ideas outward.
This is the epic fail currently engulfing many sectors of academia.  No wi-fi?  No continuing conversation via Twitter?  Use of paper only?  The last line says it all- "limited opportunities for sharing ideas outward."  As I argued in my response to a previous Chronicle article on 'Ideas in the Ascendent', the new digital age requires circulation of information in order to be relevant.  This conference might have had really great discussions and ideas as to how we, as educators, can improve our craft in the digital age.  But I will never know what they said, will never comment on or improve ideas given.  Others, who did not attend the conference, will also miss out.  How can you debate the best techniques for twenty-first century learning when you use outmoded twentieth century methods to discuss the ideas?  

This last quote hits on my complant squarely:
I’m entering my first year as an assistant professor—I haven’t been involved with administrative or committee work much yet. But after attending the AAC&U Institute, I feel like I have a much better idea of how things work and what some of the processes for curriculum reform and starting new initiatives might look like. I’ve also got a better sense of what some of our programs and general education requirements look like compared to universities across the country who also had teams at the institute.
 Too bad the rest of us, mingling with digital technology in the twenty-first century, are left in the dark. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Digital/Analog Divide in Academia: My Opinion

One of the themes I attempt to draw attention to on Peasant Muse centers around the Digital/Analog divide- a topic that, I know, has been covered ad nauseam by others more qualified than myself.  The reason I straddle such a weary horse and attempt to plow already furrowed fields is that I occasionally see confusion among different groups as to the continued effects this divide brings on all levels of the cultural-production process and transmission.  I was reminded of this seeming confusion upon reading 'Ideas in the Ascendant' by John Swallow in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  

The brief essay makes the following argument: students are increasingly encountering ideas on their own, free from the explicit guidance of traditionally 'certified' knowledge provided by, to only name a few, advisors and reading lists.  This leads to ideas being served a la carte, providing greater opportunities for creativity and individualism- yet, Swallow argues, without proper guidance students will falter in their capacity to judge and manage ideas successfully.  In this way, Higher Education not only has a purpose but a driven mission to provide this guidance to students in an increasingly digital era where 'ideas are ascendent'.

Catalog of 'received authorities'
Photo via Jessamyn West
Swallow uses the anecdote of working with a student of his, named Adam, in attempting to solve a vexing mathematical proof.  Adam rushes in- (the plucky always do) to explain a new idea that would prove to be the breakthrough in the theorem they had both worked on for the past year.  Here Swallow explains the divergent methods of knowledge acquisition between himself and Adam; whereas Swallow consulted sources by 'received authorities', Adam ignored the structure of books handed to him and picked out only the relevant pieces or was far more open to sources of information beyond those considered the most reliable.  Adam represented for Swallow this new generation of students, soon to be scholars, who fill their ideas pallet a la carte.

I believe Swallow has some excellent observations.  From my own experience, I could not imagine being where I am today without the guidance I received/continue to receive from my incredible advisor.  She has been a valuable sounding board for new ideas, questions over readings, debates on the meaning of the past- in short, for helping me develop into a professional scholar.  I've seen other grad students flounder and fail due to lack of a proper relationship with their advisor.  He also states the importance of teaching students to not just accept ideas or arguments without first considering points both for and against.  Conventional wisdom is not enough to satisfy the most basic level of academic skepticism.  On these points, Swallow has my full confidence.

However, without any personal disrespect towards Dr. Swallow, I could not help but feel the other points of the essay were narrowly focused and the general tone somewhat paternalistic.  Here are some examples of what I mean:
I showed Adam a graduate textbook that I thought might be helpful to our project. What did he do? Just as he might click from Web page to Web page, he flipped through the pages, looking for theorems. If a potentially relevant one used terms or concepts he did not know, he learned about them. Adam's intellectual delivery system was need-to-know, just-in-time.
and this:
Consider the principal fears that trouble observers about the ascendancy of ideas. Nicholas G. Carr, who writes about technology and culture, offers two in his recent book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Norton, 2010). With access to so much, he argues, students will, ironically, know less. And they will lose their ability to think deeply. I would add a third: In navigating a galaxy of ideas, students will be less able to determine "truth," however we define it.
or this quote, towards the end, discussing the need for these new students, using 'just-in-time' intellectual delivery systems, to perform checks on their sources:
Mathematicians have implicit checks against error. Students in other disciplines need such methods as well. 
I think one word sums up all the concerns expressed by Swallow above; Certification.  This is probably one of the most often cited causes among academics for distrust of many things digital.  Swallow worries that when ideas become ascendent, students will fail to evaluate the sources and counterarguments of their a la carte choices.  As they increasingly seek knowledge outside of traditionally 'certified' sources, they will become increasingly distant from the truth.  But this concern comes across, to me, as a reactionary stance against the encroachment of digital knowledge production on the traditional relationships of academia.  As ideas grow in abundance and increase in their circulation, previous analog methods used to 'certify' knowledge- be that journal articles, reading lists, even presence of monographs- need to evolve in order to accommodate this new potential.  It's not that the older methods are defunct- quite the opposite.  However, the older methods are struggling to keep pace with the explosion of knowledge-circulation digital technologies enable.
Analog Lecture Hall, filled (mostly) to capacity.  The Digital flood of information could fill
this room several times over with participants.
Photo via University of Innsbruck
This debate forms the core of a post on the science-themed blog Genomes Unzipped, titled "Why Publish Science in Peer-Reviewed Journals?" Joe Pickrell, who wrote the post, suggests that established methods of scientific article submission, utilizing peer-review, involve inordinate amounts of money, time (both in reviewing and preparing the article for publication), a fair dose or randomness in that anonymous reviewers can have wildly different takes on the same subject and thus judge its applicability to be published accordingly.  Pickrell does not discount the journal process entirely, however:
...journals do perform a service of sorts: they filter papers, ostensibly based on interest to a community, and also ostensibly ensure that the details of an analysis are correct and clear enough to be replicated (though in practice, I doubt these filters work as intended). 
So let’s take this goal–that of filtering papers based on quality, interest to a community, and reproducibility–as the legitimate service provided by peer-reviewed journals. When phrased like this, it’s simply absurd that our way of achieving this goal involves a handful of unaccountable, often anonymous, reviewers and editors, and takes so much time and money. Certainly the best judge of the interest of a paper to the community is, well, the community itself. Ditto for the best judge of the quality and reproducibility of a paper. (Emphasis in the original)
This kind of language- that the community is the best judge of quality and reproducibility- is anathema to the cause championed by Swallow above.  How can the community, Swallow would argue, understand what is relevant and what is not if they only take their ideas a la carte and, thus, distance themselves further from the 'truth'?  Perhaps, in the 'analog' methods of knowledge certification, this claim could hold water.  Yet in the digital realm, much of this claim falls flat.

Speed of Digital Circulation
Photo via Pierre Yves Lacroix
Why?  Circulation of knowledge in digital systems is exponentially greater than that encountered in current and past analog models.  One of the biggest complaints of the peer-review system of today is that it can take up to a year or more to get one's research into a published journal- for some fields, this year wait is more than an eternity as situations change so rapidly.  The supreme reason many academics hold the 'certification' issue so dear is that, in the analog world, an idea, once published, can take years to correct if proven wrong.  Books last a long time- so do journal articles.  It is entirely conceivable that a person can be in a library, perusing the shelves, pick out a volume of history and be totally ignorant as to the errors in argumentation or use of evidence, especially if corrections to the text come in the form of other books or journal articles which may or may not be close, physically on the shelf, to the offending text.  Under the old system, 'certification' via journals and respected authors became not only necessary but invaluable in acting as a filter, allowing only the most rigorously evaluated texts and ideas to enter the somewhat permanent state of published existence.

At once, the digital revolution has done away with this concern.  When I look up journal articles via digital means, I am far more likely to see the 'conversation' surrounding the work, through comments or reviews by others as to the importance or failures of the text at hand, either in the search engine or social network used to query the information.  This is invaluable data, as reading comments and reviews can somewhat alleviate 'reinventing the wheel' in scholarly pursuits.  If one author sees a flaw in the text, their comments can help me save time in going through the same evaluation process myself.  

Swallow might cry foul at this last sentence, stating that this is exactly the problem with 'ideas in the ascendent'.  Yet Swallow failed to acknowledge a key process that occurs with idea sharing over social networks, something that his student Adam no doubt drew upon in his sampling of ideas a la carte- trust in the opinions of ones peers.  If a colleague of mine recommends a text or article, I am far more likely to actually read the text.  Because of the sheer amount of text in the digital aether, networks of trust must arise if any scholar desires to find quality 'signal' amongst so much other 'noise'.  While many attempts have been made to build a platform upon which these networks of trust could support themselves, (most notably arXiv, Faculty of 1000, and to some extent Google Scholar) not one has gained traction across the diverse disciplinary landscape.  

Despite, or because of, the relatively sparse usage, these nascent attempts have already drawn fire from traditional scholars.  Many of the commentators of Pickwell's post highlighted the little to no feedback received on digital published material produced outside of traditional journals.  They also mentioned that current tenure and promotion systems reward publication in high profile, peer-reviewed journals, demonstrating a value beyond that which most see in digital platforms.  The truth is that these new forms are just that- new.  As these platforms stand currently, there is little value being added by the potential of digital conversation because, sadly, there are so few doing any actual commentating.  Yet there is potential there, a potential to allow more ideas to be explored for their own merit and 'certified' by the community of scholars at large.  Pickwell says there is no 'killer app' for filtering, commenting, and circulating the vast potential of scholarly material.  I have to agree, but we both share the opinion that this fact alone does not discount the potential benefit of the process, once properly conceived and executed.

'Certification' isn't limited to Analog
Photo via Matthew S.
Because the real issue with scholarship and the rise of digital natives, what one might term the digital/analog divide in academia, is that 'certification' for the new breed comes from information that is not only applicable but circulated.  Ideas that are shared, re-shared, commented on, modified, used to build new ideas- this is what 'certifies' knowledge in the digital world.  The older methods do a superb job of producing quality, filtered work- but they do so at a painfully slow pace, compared to the speed with which the digital age moves today.  Moving away from the traditional methods of information 'certification' and embracing digital means has the potential to augment, not replace, the current scholarship produced.  Will errors occur in a more open 'digital' method?  Of course- even in today's peer-reviewed world mistakes are made and once sacred arguments come under piercing scrutiny by new thinkers.  Swallow worries that these 'ideas in the ascendent' will lead to students actually learning less, even as they consume more.  I say this ignores feedback mechanisms inherent in the digital circulatory process, that community efforts funneled through a network of trust can produce high-quality results. 

Already I see promising developments and ideas towards building these networks of trust.  The recent debut of Google+ and its use of 'Circles' to define relationships, I believe, will allow greater professional sharing across informal networks.  Another source of inspiration is that of Longreads- the community sourced long-form reading recommendation service.  Users, upon finding a noteworthy read, submit their link with Twitter, including #Longreads in the tweet, to promote the find.  Both Google+ and Longreads demonstrate the ease with which community involvement can be leveraged and utilized to sort through the digital mass and find the gold nuggets within.  While Swallow may worry that students sampling ideas fail to evaluate those ideas, I believe that digital platforms and evaluation systems are developing to address the need- yet there will always be a need to train would-be scholars in critical evaluation of the sources they select.  Adam's 'just-in-time' intellectual delivery system isn't a cause for alarm- it's a call for scholars to evaluate how they will interact and circulate their ideas in a new digital landscape.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Old Believer Games (1976 Edition)

Today I would like to continue with my series looking at archival evidence I've uncovered in my ongoing dissertation research project centered on Old Believer migration to Oregon in the mid 60's.  (See my previous post, Fragments of the Gaze, for the first installment.)  Up for examination: "A Manual for Educators of Russian Old Believer Children in Oregon", produced by the Marion Intermediate Education District in November 1976.

(Editors Note: A reader kindly pointed out to me that there exists an online viewable copy of the document I examine in this post- view it here.)

The document totals 49 pages and covers a diverse range of topics.  Marion county teachers could read about Old Believer history, marriage practices, holy days and additional summaries of cultural information that would not have been widespread knowledge at the time.  Since my topic is primarily concerned with how Americans 'viewed' the Old Believer immigrants, this education manual makes for very interesting analysis.  While I found only the 1976 edition, evidence in other documents suggest that the manual went through several earlier revisions and I would be most interested in charting the change occurring between the various editions.  For this post, I want to look at one particular portion of the education manual: games.

Among the various sections covering cultural awareness, the games section is perhaps the most informative as to the ability of the Old Believer populations to integrate cultural elements from their previous homesteads outside of the United States.  Beyond the more standard games of 'Marbles' and 'Football' (Soccer), more esoteric titles are discussed- 'Lopta', 'Nitochka, Igolochka, and Uzelochek', 'Gusi', 'Krug', and 'Djonza'.  Of all the games noted, only 'Djonza' is identified as distinctly foreign to Old Believer culture as its origin, noted by the manual, hailed from Central Asia.

This brings up some questions I have with the text- there is no indication as to who or what group provided the cultural information contained within the manual.  I can distinctly attribute parts of the manual to a Catholic monk, trained in the old rites, named Brother Ambrose, who was a noted personality in the documentary evidence.  (Ambrose was a staunch advocate of the Old Believers, although his true motivations for assistance and his general presence among the community is still unknown to me- hope to remedy this when I visit the abbey where he served.)  Yet the larger question of who put together the manual- who decided what should be included and the veracity of the information contained- begs answering, as that would be very key to my larger dissertation thesis.

Even with those concerns in mind, the manual section on games provides tantalizing evidence.  I want to focus on one particular game explained- 'Gusi', or Geese.  This game involves a group of children who divide themselves into distinct groups- one boy/girl becomes the shepherd, one girl becomes the 'farmers wife', two boys become 'wolves' and the rest of the children are designated as 'sheep'.  The game begins when the shepherd chases the 'geese' into the field, whereupon the shepherd and wife engage in a dialog:

At this point the shepherd attempts to chase the geese back 'home', while the two wolves also chase the geese and take them back to their 'den'.  Once the geese have returned home, another dialog ensues:

This process is repeated over and over until all the geese are caught by the wolves, at which point the final dialog is voiced:

Now the geese decide, via raised hands, who they want to stay with- the farmer's wife or the wolves.  Then the farmer's wife and wolves face each other and the geese are asked again what side they have chosen to remain.  Standing on one leg, each goose individually goes between the farmer's wife and the wolves and faces the side they desire to join.  Having gone through two rounds of sorting, the geese who sided with the farmer's wife form two rows, while the geese who sided with the wolves are made to walk between the rows, one by one, three times in succession.  As walk between the two rows, the farmers geese chastise the other geese's decision to side with the wolves- all while slapping them on the back as they pass.

Of all the games described in this portion of the education manual, 'Gusi' contains the most curious mix of traditional Russian cultural elements and foreign influence.  Some aspects of the game immediately tie themselves to traditional Russian folk culture.  The relationship between the 'lazy' shepherd and the more active, diligent wife is a motif found often in peasant folklore.  Of broader note, the use of the Shepherd as a main character possessed a deeper meaning than what is, on a surface level, immediately evident.  Traditionally, the Shepherd occupation was seen to possess a closer connection to the spirit world as they held the responsibility of keeping the herds and flocks safe from threats, both natural and supernatural, that lie outside the defined borders of the village.  It was often assumed that the Shepherd maintained the safety of the animals they kept via agreements or contracts with forrest (Leshii) or water (Vodyanoi) spirits who, if displeased, could either lead their animals into danger or kill them.

Yet there are some elements of the game that indicate integration and assimilation of cultural elements outside the traditional Russian experience.  The reference to the geese desiring 'Toosie Rolls' and the wolves response to the clapping noise as 'Old ladies making tortillas' are immediately recognizable as foreign to the larger 'geese-wolf' themed background.  While the source of the Toosie Rolls comment is more difficult to define, as the candy was widely and perhaps globally distributed, the tortillas reference most likely came from the years the Old Believers spent in Brazil.  Since I know that the two colonies of Old Believers came from wildly divergent sources- one lived in Turkey for a few hundred years, the other bounced from Hong-Kong to Brazil to the United States- I can make the statement that this game most likely originated from the Brazilian group.  

If this is true, it could have impact on my larger analysis of the manual as a whole.  Did this mean that the Brazilian group possessed special access to the writers of the manual?  What were some of the other cultural differences between the two Old Believer colonies?  From the reports I've read there is a tendency by observers to lump the two groups together, despite their largely separate experiences and settlement patterns.  Clearly there are tantalizing clues in a subject most would completely overlook.  

(Note- I realized, after thinking about this document a bit more, that the tortilla reference discussed above could have originated from the Woodburn area itself, as there was a large hispanic population centered there, and that the manual, dated 1976, was published years after the arrival of the Old Believer colonies.  Thus, until I can look at previous editions of the manual published, I cannot make assertive claims on the possible knowledge origin of the game and its influences.)