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Should Teachers Join Twitter?

You, an educator/parent/student/citizen of the world, work hard every day at what you do, and when that day ends, you read a book or watch TV or do something that does not involve being on Twitter.

That's great, except for 10 years people have been cajoling you to join Twitter. Perhaps this is because of its potential instructional benefits. You remain unconvinced.

Twitter bloomed into a global behemoth since being launched in 2006, but while many educators extol its virtues as a tool for communication and professional development, many others continue to wonder if it's worthwhile. 

What's the point of Twitter? How do you know where to start? How do you find good people to follow? Is it worth the time?

Twitter veterans may look at these questions and ask: "Are you kidding? Don't people know this by now?" This post is probably not for you.

Instead, we will try to answer some of the central questions that those who are still reluctant to join Twitter may have, and demonstrate how educators and others have addressed some of these concerns.

What is the point of Twitter?

Twitter is, for the average person, a breaking news source, forumcultural staple, and/or humor repository, among many other things. Joanna Stern, a tech columnist for The Wall Street Journal, says that at its core, Twitter is a straight-up newsfeed:

I spend 75 percent of my time in the app getting news on everything from politics to technology to, yes, the Kardashians. Twitter is one of the few places where you can get direct access to the newsmakers, too, and eavesdrop on conversations between people you'll never meet in real life.

At the Finding Common Ground blog, Peter DeWitt suggests that Twitter works better if you know your purpose for being there:

You get out of Twitter what you put into it. If you get on for a few minutes and you're unclear what you are looking for, then you're probably not going to get the full experience. However, if you get on during a great chat session like #edchat on Tuesdays or #Satchat on Saturday mornings you will get so much more out of it.

Educators will often point to two major school uses for Twitter: As a source of professional learning, and as a tool that improves instruction for students.

How is Twitter used for professional development?

"Professional development" can be used in an informal sense here. In an article I wrote this past fall on Twitter's role in PD, I asked teacher José Vilson how the Twitter community he founded, #educolor, ties into the various kinds of online professional-development chats. He responded: "Cultural competence is professional competence." Being enlightened about an issue, in a way that informs pedagogy or school climate or interactions with students, is a form of PD.

Put another way: If most of your media consumption is based on the people around you (colleagues, friends, and the 6 o'clock news), then the viewpoints you hear may be homogeneous. Twitter opens you up to a flood of perspectives you might not otherwise cross, for good or ill.

A lot of teachers do use Twitter for weekly or monthly conversations around whatever education topic they want: English, math, STEM, high school, state policy, leadership, etc. Those chats offer personal connection to other educators, teacher voice, as well as resources and instructional ideas.

Another use: If you attend any professional conferences (or wish that you could attend some), many attendees recap the choicest bits of knowledge on Twitter. Following the event's Twitter hashtag can steer users toward a hot-ticket panel discussion or help them coordinate with other attendees.

Finally: Many teachers embrace Twitter as a social-justice platform, too. Teachers in Detroit, for example, used the service to highlight poor working conditions in their city's school district:

What are the instructional uses of Twitter?

If you're a journalism teacher, the advantages are straightforward: Twitter is a vital part of modern journalism. Starr Sackstein, over at the Work in Progress blog, offers advice for teaching students about how to cover live events using Twitter. And Mallary Jean Tenore, of Poynter, argues that Twitter can improve students' writing.

In a comprehensive list of Twitter uses, TeachHub's Samantha Miller says students in all subjects can use Twitter to follow current events, cover a field trip, aid other students with homework, or develop their own voices, among many other possibilities.

An important thing to consider, of course, is student privacy and safety. Twitter outlines tips for "Twitter literacy" (ignoring the obvious portmanteau "Twitteracy," props to them) that educators should consult before getting students engaged with the online platform.

It's not all good, right?

No.

First: Twitter can be little more than a diversion—empty calories that fritter away your time. This might be an issue with who a user decides to follow, though, which means some refining might be in order. Like with most any new community, finding valuable connections takes time. Twitter chats offer a good way to get exposed to a lot of new people all at once.

Second: The teaching profession is three-quarters women (and half of students are girls). As many social activists will point out, women may receive a lot of harassment and abuse on Twitter (like with all social media). As video game developer Brianna Wu has told The New York Times:

The beauty of Twitter is that it has connected me to some of the smartest women I have ever known in my life. It also organizes this harassment against us in a way that is unparalleled.

Twitter allows users to mute or block people, if so desired, and has mechanisms to report abuse, but problems persist:

Bringing Twitter into the classroom may need to be accompanied by a primer on digital ethics.

Third: Like with all social media platforms, users might need to be mindful of what would get them in hot water at work. Everything is public. Nevertheless:

Fourth: Twitter can just be exhausting. But it won't kill you to take a break from it whenever you want, either. Twitter is not a liver. Twitter is not a requirement for continued existence.

Who would be a good person or company to follow?

This section is going to be filled with bias.

To start:

You can also follow all of Education Week Teacher's opinion bloggers:

Do teachers need to use Twitter for education?

There are plenty of other good things on there.

What if I don't like Twitter's online interface?

Consider TweetDeck (my personal favorite) or HootSuite.

What are the actual mechanics of Twitter?

Twitter itself offers a comprehensive overview of how the service works, as well as a glossary of terms, in case I lost you at the word "hashtag."


More on social media:


twitter-bird.jpg Follow Ross Brenneman on Twitter for more news and analysis of the teaching profession.
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