Twitter and School Communities

Over the past couple of months, I have been skeptical about the usefulness of Twitter. Bloggers seemed wildly enthusiastic about the new technology, but many suggested that they hadn’t found a useful purpose for it yet. Thank you to Dave Warlick for shedding some light on this mystery. Dave suggests that Twitter tells him “where my friends brains are at.” I think he is saying that microblogging deepens the blogging environment. If blogging allows me to read a message from a person in my network a few times a week, microblogging technologies such as Twitter allow me to touch these individuals several times a day. I find great value in my online network of colleagues in the constant inputs I receive that help inform my work. Microblogging could draw this network of far-flung individuals a little closer together. Perhaps that is why it has taken off so quickly. Twitter makes the quality of contact with the individuals in your network richer and more frequent.

This reminds me of a comment that Hoover Chan made last year, that the new social web technologies are all new forms of the same old social networking concept popularized through MOOs and MUDs. People continue to search for and develop new online environments that allow the richest possible interactions between individuals who are temporally and geographically widely dispersed. Though the technologies have changed from all-text environments to client-based applications (email, chat) to web-based tools (blogging, social networking tools), the goal has remain unchanged throughout. Perhaps we may understand Second Life in the same way. People seem strongly attracted to the 3D, visual nature of this virtual environment, even though I read that there is an amazing tendency to recreate traditional learning (and shopping) interactions in Second Life. If you find value in the visually rich online interactions, then perhaps you will get something out of Second Life. I haven’t yet tried it.

In a subsequent post, Warlick considers the potential of Twitter as a teaching and learning tool. He wonders whether students engaging in a reading activity during class would find value in sharing their thoughts on the text as they read. Each student would gain an instant snapshot into the thoughts of the others at the same time — an interesting possibility. I find that other social networking tools have value in schools in the same way they have value to adults in the blogging community. They bring the entire community closer together by enriching dialogue throughout the school — in classes, clubs, and in fact anywhere and anytime that students get online. School communities that might otherwise fracture into cliques based on social status and age are drawn closer together. In San Francisco four years ago, I found that students who would ordinarily never speak with each other (say, a senior girl and a freshman boy) were engaging in rich conversations in our online forums.

If we consider microblogging an extension of other social networking tools, then perhaps we will find that it has the greatest educational value by simply making it available to teachers and students and seeing how they use it. In the era of web-based social networking, I have had the most success with discussion forums, Moodle, and photo galleries. Each time, I have found that teachers and students adopt the tools in a great variety of manners, much more than I imagined or suggested that people should. I can already see students using Twitter in the same manner they already use texting — to stay in touch and share ideas throughout the busy school day. Teachers might gain a new appreciation for the challenges facing students in a traditional school schedule if they followed students’ Twitter feeds for a day!

My challenge with Twitter is twofold: will the individuals in my blogging network adopt Twitter? I have already had little success persuading the tech director colleagues I most respect to go online with their thoughts. At the same time, I have found new colleagues across the country through blogging. Will they Twitter? I can only give it a try and see. Hopefully, I’ll start this week, though my feed will be a lot more interesting once the school year has started again.

3 comments

  1. Jac says:

    Timely reflection, I’ve been trying to come to terms with practical educational uses for Twitter, Tumblr, Pownce and the others in the last few weeks.

    As with much technology, the program’s usefulness will rely on what users post. Garbage In/Garbage Out still applies – and in an educational environment the multiple audiences (teachers, students, parents, etc) will have divergent definitions of good content.

    I’m looking to use chat technology next school year for students to post real-time reflections on their learning in a group format – much the same objective as Warlick’s proposition. I look forward to discovering the strengths and weaknesses of both options.

    Maybe your early-adopter status will convince others that the tool can be productive? Look forward to hearing about your experience.

  2. ben casnocha says:

    I’m "Bencasnocha" on Twitter.

    Yes, I may have been booted from your blogroll but I’ll still comment. 🙂

  3. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach says:

    I didn’t "get" Twitter until NECC when I used it to see where everyone was and catch up with them. It became a very useful tool in that setting.

    Now that the connections have been made it is fun staying connected to those who hung out at NECC through Twitter. I am finding that folks are sharing links that they probably wouldnt have shared otherwise and that I am getting to know each of these bloggers on a more personal level.