Whenever I start talking about Twitter with any group of teachers or administrators, I can count on at least one person scoffing at the idea of answering the question, “What are you doing?” Many of us only know Twitter from celebrity-type tweets, which, while may be exciting for some, have little educational value for the rest of us.
To explain how I use Twitter in an educational sense, however, I often ask participants if they remember movies and shows from the 1970s such as Cannonball Run, Smokey and the Bandit, or Dukes of Hazzard. During this particular era of American pop culture, there existed a very strong CB radio culture. People would use their “Citizens’ Band” radio to ask where the closest mechanic or gas station was located. Others would warn fellow listeners about traffic jams in an area. An entire virtual community helped and entertained each other using this technology.
My Twitter community serves a similar purpose. When I’m trying to figure out a new resource or troubleshoot an issue on a computer, I can send out a Tweet to my “Twitterverse” and will, more often than not, receive several suggestions for solving my problem. When I read an exceptionally good book, news article, or blog post, I’ll Tweet about it to spread the news. If it’s something that other Twitterers also find useful, they will even “ReTweet” it by putting “RT @erhubbell” before their post.
What’s even nicer is that Twitter allows you to use hash tags to denote a specific topic of interest. For example, when I and many fellow educators were in Copper Mountain for Colorado’s Technology in Education (TIE) conference, we used the hash tags #cotie09 and #tie09 with our Tweets so that folks could follow what was happening at the conference. Likewise, when I wasn’t able to attend ISTE’s NECC conference, I searched the hash tag #necc09 to follow events as they happened. Other teachers actually use Twitter in the classroom with their students to help foster conversations and collaboration.
Perhaps no event has brought more attention to “micro-blogging” sites such as Twitter lately than the recent Iran elections and the aftermath following. Suddenly, the world had much more limited access to news and events due to government constraints on internet activity in Iran. Instead, many of us communicated what news we could find by using the hash tag #iranelection. While incoming news was sometimes unclear or debatable, it was better than the complete isolation that Iranian citizens would have experienced prior to the invention of tools such as Twitter and cell phones. (See the Common Craft videos for a great explanation on how Twitter and TwitterSearch work.)
Which brings up an interesting point from Clay Christensen’s Disrupting Class: that a disruptive technology first is embraced, however imperfect, by current “non-consumers.” While very few, if any, of us would rely on Twitter for our daily local or world news, it was the perfect solution when suddenly there was no news coming out of Iran. In the meantime, according to Christensen, the technology continues to improve and evolve until it is, indeed, preferable over the status quo.
If this is true, and yet blogging, Tweeting, and other forms of social networking are very often blocked in schools, how can we possibly teach our students to access, broadcast, and vet information that is coming at a faster and faster rate? Perhaps a better question is this: are YOU using 21st century forms of accessing and broadcasting information? Are you preparing yourself for the future of communication?
To start, consider creating a Twitter account and simply following Twitters with common interests. You may wish to start by following me (http://www.twitter.com/erhubbell) or Howard Pitler (http://www.twitter.com/hpitler). See who we are following, then follow and Tweet at will. I also suggest reading 25 Ways to Teach with Twitter from www.techlearning.com. You will be amazed at how quickly Twitter can become a large part of your personal learning network. We hope to see you in the Twitterverse!