Digital story-telling: the @Arras95 live-tweeting project

Introduction

World War I Centenary: Continuations and Beginnings is a project creating a suite of learning and teaching resources that provide an international, cross-disciplinary reappraisal of this historic event. It  brings digital content together to be presented as OERs. The idea behind the project is to surface lesser known aspects of the Great War and provide resources to make these perspectives freely available for teaching and learning. As part of the project, between the 9th April and 16th May 2012, the @Arras95 social media experiment was launched. Through @Arras95 the events of the Battle of Arras were tweeted in real time, from the perspective of a neutral reporter on the field. What makes this Twitter event different from other real time tweeting initiatives was that @Arras95 engaged online communities, crowdsourcing facts about the battle and the individuals who played a part, asking for reappraisals and additions to the action as it happens.

After the event a searchable archive of the Twitter conversation was made available, open content was be added to the Resource Library  of the web site, and the event maps and geotags were analysed and refined to produce OpenLayers of data for overlay on 2D maps and 3D Earth browsers. This project in total produced 2545 Tweets, 9 new articles and 132 OERs.

The Challenge

The purpose of @Arras95 was to surface a key, but lesser taught, turning point of the War. By asking online communities to contribute their own knowledge and materials, @Arras95 aimed to increase open content around this one focal point, providing a wealth of resources for free use and adaptation.

Fionnuala Barrett, Student Ambassador and Social Media Co-ordinator for @Arras95, oversaw the live-tweeting project. Her challenge was to convert a Battle of Arras factsheet, prepared by Everett Sharp, Subject Expert on the project, into 120-character tweets to facilitate easy retweeting. She was also responsible for managing responses to and retweeting of the messages of others. The group interaction made this part of the process most interesting, even including a few other users tweeting in character.

The Innovation

The @Arras95 project used Twitter client called Tweetdeck, which allows tweets to be scheduled ahead of time for publication at a specified time and date, as well as to add geotag information which we would later use to create a map of the tweets.

The innovation of using Twitter for a historical project is that it takes full advantage of the potential for engagement through this new technology. Whilst the brevity of the medium means that only a few details can be surfaced, this project can supplement traditional education, and the resources available through ww1centenary, by generating interest and exchange of ideas around the Battle of Arras, as well as linking out to more in-depth resources.

Feedback

As with all crowdsourcing projects, especially those based in social media like Twitter, feedback has been abundant and various. A select few of these comments and responses are recorded here:

“This shows the future use of collaborative digital technology in historical studies has huge potential.”

“It is now cluttered and confused, not helped by tweets commemorating the fallen; not I feel the purpose of the exercise.”

“This medium is only as good as its contributors (I might be wrong but I don’t think @Arras95 was supposed to be providing all the content – that is down to us, I think)”

“[A] possible advantage of the brevity imposed by the 140 char[acter] limit, and the disjointed nature of things that some people have mentioned: is that it gives some impression of the fragmentary, and sometimes incorrect, nature of the reports being received on the way up the chain of command.”

Top Tips for Success

  1. Use tools to schedule tweets in advance, like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite.
  2. Check that material is open licenced. Acceptable licences include various Creative Commons licenses [hyperlink]; Open Government LicenceOpen Parliament Licence; other Open Content Licences; and items in the public domain with no copyright restrictions.
  3. Make contributors aware of ways to make their content openly available online, such as uploading images to Wikimedia Commons; to photosharing sites like Flickr, specifying a creative commons licences; or to their own website, with a clear statement of a specified open licence.

Further Information

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