Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Is Your Child's Teacher a Twit?

Actually, the correct term is "tweep", but headlines exist to grab your attention and hopefully this one worked.

Of course, the focus of the question is whether or not your children's teachers make use of Twitter. For the uninitiated, Twitter is what is known as a Microblogging site, where people can post updates about themselves, or about anything, so long as those posts are constrained to 140 total characters (and, yes, spaces count). Twitter has become popular both as a favored communication tool of celebrities and sports stars, as well as a prime tool for bringing people together in last year's Arab Spring uprisings.

For many people who do not use Twitter, their knowledge of it mainly consists of the celebrity use and scandals such as Anthony Weiner's injudicious posting of a raunchy image on the site (this costing him his congressional seat). Many parlay this aspect of Twitter into a high-minded and moralistic defense of why they do not use the site and look somewhat askance at those who do. However, I would argue that such a logic is tantamount to not reading The Economist because there is a magazine called People, or not watching the news because television also brings us The Jersey Shore. Like other media, Twitter is a tool that can be used to appeal to both the lowest and the highest common denominator in society.

Which brings me to Twitter in education. Over the past several years, people in various fields, including educators, have realized that Twitter is a very powerful tool for communicating, collaborating, and even for creating community. One participates in Twitter both by posting "tweets" as well as by following the postings of others. I can choose exactly who I follow and their tweets will be the only ones that I see - thus no Justin Bieber or Eli Manning ever appears in my "stream". A majority of the people that I follow are educators, and their posts either share ideas about education or, more commonly, share links to sites and articles about education (Twitter automatically shortens URLs so as to satisfy the 140 character requirement). Better than almost any professional development session I have ever attended, the people that I follow on Twitter have kept me up to date on trends, developments, and new websites that have made a tremendous difference in the way that I educate my students. And, of course, I try to reciprocate by sharing what I find as well (you can follow me as @RabbiRoss on Twitter).

But Twitter is even more powerful than that. In my last post, I wrote about #jedchat, a weekly discussion held among Jewish educators on Twitter, just one of many such chats that exist (and which were highlighted in a recent article in the Washington Post). The pound sign is known on Twitter as a hashtag, and by placing them within a tweet, a person allows even non-followers to find his post if they choose to follow that hashtag (obviously actually trying it yourself will make it far more understandable). A Twitter chat takes place when people decide to discuss a given topic at a specified time, with all posts containing the hashtag pertaining to the discussion (in this case, #jedchat). Conversations take place at a break-neck pace, as all participants view the constantly-updating stream of comments and attempt to respond and reply to those that they have thoughts about. Such conversations, involving a wide range of participants from a wide range of schools, communities, and geographic locations, inevitably are rich in content, surprisingly deep in their analysis, and infused with a true spirit of collegiality and community (you can see for yourself by viewing the jedchat archives here).

And, as I noted in my last post, such chats have led to the creation of broad communities of educators from around the country and around the globe. In the past month alone, I have taken part in at least three events or live discussions that grew out of Jedchats, and I am not the only one. Given that this chat is only three months old, I consider that quite an accomplishment, and it certainly seems to be one important (and far cheaper) new way that professional development is done in schools - what is commonly known as Professional Learning Networks, or PLN's.

And so, to return to the original question - is your child's teacher a tweep? I should certainly hope so.

No comments: