More on using Twitter with high school students

One of the things that I love about making my thinking transparent here on the Radical is the push back that I inevitably get from readers.  There’s real value in having your ideas challenged by passionate people with different perspectives.

Recently, Peter Wilson stopped by to leave me a bit of push back on the role that Twitter can play in high school classrooms (see here and here).  Peter’s central contention is that Twitter is not conducive to encouraging the kinds of deep interactions and reflection that characterizes top thinkers.

He writes:

Twitter in the classroom is not a great idea. Its 140 character minimum encourages superficial, simplistic communication when students need practice with deep thinking and interpersonal dialogue with each other and with adults.

He also writes:

If we teach students to think in bursts of 140 characters, then to what extent is their capacity to sustain attention on deep, complex matters handicapped?

My first reaction to Peter’s push back is that while it is true that Twitter messages are intentionally short — 140 characters is the length of one well written sentence — those who use Twitter as a learning tool would hardly describe it as a place characterized by superficial, simplistic communication.

Here’s why:  Twitter often becomes a place where users are sharing links to blog posts or articles connected to their areas of interest.  So while a message may only be 140-characters long, it often points readers to other content to interact with.

The best part is that this stream of information is customized by the individual.  So if I’m passionate about educational techology or education policy, I can follow other users who are interested in — and are sharing — content connected to my interests.

More importantly, I can begin to build relationships with others who share the same interests as I do — and over time, those relationships can become starting points for powerful conversations around the concepts that we have in common.

Here’s an example from my own work:  As a middle school teacher, I’m incredibly interested in the impact that awards ceremonies have on students.  While I like the idea of recognizing students who excel, I worry about the kids who never get recognized.

That’s a strand of thinking that motivates me — and that I personally wrestle with on a regular basis — but it’s not a strand of thinking that anyone in my school is currently having.  Our honors assemblies are very traditional, recognizing students for (mostly) academic successes.

A few years ago, I ran across a page of resources shared in my Twitterstream called “Rethinking Awards Ceremonies.”  It was originally shared by a peer in Winston Salem, but the content was largely created by another principal in Canada named Chris Wejr.

At the time, I didn’t know Chris at all.  He was just a name on a blog.

But his ideas resonated with me — and I read article after article having my thinking challenged.  I borrowed Chris’s ideas and tried to incorporate them into team meetings and conversations about awards assemblies in my own school.

And then I started to leave Chris comments — much like Peter has done here — challenging his thinking, asking questions, and working to build knowledge together.

I also started following Chris in Twitter — and there, we built a relationship.  We regularly reach out to each other. We regularly comment on one another’s blogs.  We regularly email back and forth to each other, offering support on projects that we’re working on.

That’s interesting, isn’t it?

Twitter has given me instant access to a never-ending stream of ideas that I care about. I’m never bored — and never far away from meaningful interactions — when I’m poking through my Twitterstream because it’s full of content connected to my passions.

Surely that carries value, doesn’t it?

Heck, I probably spend more time reading about teaching and learning today as a result of the content shared in my Twitterstream than I spent reading about teaching and learning during the 12 years of my career before Twitter existed.

But more importantly, Twitter has given me instant access to individuals who I can learn with.  I see Chris as a colleague who challenges my learning even more than the colleagues who I work alongside of me in my own building.

We’re intellectually tight even though our relationship started with a Tweet.

For high school students — who often have quirky interests that they are deeply passionate about — that kind of customization is INCREDIBLY valuable simply because schools are almost never customized places.  Students — regardless of their personal passions and interests — are marched through the same curriculum whether it motivates them or not.

More importantly, that kind of customization is POSSIBLE with social spaces.

As long as users are systematic about who they choose to follow — as long as they are diligent about finding others with shared interests and willing to follow links to interact in the space beyond the Tweets — the kinds of deep thinking and interpersonal dialogue that Peter believes in is doable.

Isn’t that a lesson worth teaching our students?  Shouldn’t we be showing them how to use social media spaces to create customized learning spaces?  Wouldn’t that make them more efficient and effective learners?

More importantly, wouldn’t that make them more motivated learners?

Now, I know where Peter is coming from:  Most of our kids AREN’T creating forums for deep and meaningful conversations on their own in social spaces.  The teens I cross paths with in Twitter aren’t sharing links to blogs and then following those links to content that they comment on and interact with later.

But my argument is that the only reason they aren’t using social spaces in this way is because no one has ever modeled that kind of behavior for them.

If teachers — who are master learners — worked to show students ways to use the tools and spaces that THEY care about to master the kinds of skills and behaviors that WE know matter, couldn’t social NETWORKING spaces become social LEARNING spaces?

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Related Radical Reads:

Doubting Bauerlein’s Dumbest Generation

Innovation in Social Spaces

Innovation and Intellectual Collisions 

One Tweet CAN Change the World