Diving into Twitter is like visiting the social media version of the Mos Eisley cantina. You will find something useful, but all manner of weird and whacky awaits within.
The democratisation of media, manifested by cheap and easy methods of engagement and broadcasting like Twitter, proved an alluring frontier connecting like-minded people around the world.
In 140 characters, one could comment and share all manner of human activities in real time. Heck – the capture of Saddam Hussein was live tweeted by some guy on a phone in a van, beating traditional media and journalism to the punch by some measure.
There are many examples of how Twitter can be viewed as a force for good – breaking down barriers and allowing people to connect and share.
Yet, the reverse is also true. What is good can be bad. The expansion of positive shared commentary means more ugly things about people and society appear too.
Examples of ugly are many and varied, to the point where it can be more harmful and time consuming to engage than not take part at all.
This spectrum of nasty negativity sprang not from the platform, but the people wielding tweets, rich with human failings and foibles, instantly hyperconnected through cyberspace.
Twitter became a fulcrum for trolls, the virtue signallers, the egocentric, the needy. It learned the consequences of the inherent folly in quantifying the value of life via how many followers one has, constructing hierarchies and forming vigilante lynch mobs to mobilise against those who dare not agree.
Twitter is where people go to hate – and in any scroll through your feed you will see everything from passive to outright aggression and bullying that honestly, in a face to face environment, would get people fired or worse.
To be honest, there are limitless depths to discussion of the merits and limitations of Twitter, too much to explore here, but we can focus on where there be be golden treasure to find, particularly in the context of education.
George Couros, Canadian educator and writer, is a big advocate of creating professional learning networks via Twitter. In his book ‘The Innovator’s Mindset’, Couros explains and outlines the benefits of using such platforms to scale up the possibilities for teachers to access best practice in education and tap into the wisdom of the hive.
Sceptical, but open to the advice, I found myself crossing the threshold of the Cantina and dipping my toe into the river Twitter to take the temperature and see what benefit , if any, there was.
One of the great challenges as an educator is to make time to raise one’s head above the day to day and see what else is going on in the world. This is additionally challenging because so much professional learning and development is imposed on us by our context and setting. For better or worse, our exposure to modern trends and best practice is often curated by our employers or wider organisations and networks.
Another challenge has also been the delay in educational research getting from the university or the chalk face, into publication, through the myriad traffic jams and gatekeepers and into the hands of the teachers.
For good or bad, those barriers were breeched through the magic of connectivity. Now, we can directly access the experts and their work without the need to attend expensive conferences or travel the globe.
All you need to do is follow them on Twitter.
Couros suggests that Twitter is a great way for teachers to share best practice and also connect without the impediment of cultural or temporal limitations. Moreover, he argues that engaging on a professional level via Twitter is a great way to foster creativity and growth for all involved.
At the beginning of 2020 I decided to put his ideas into action and jumped on Twitter. In short, there have been plenty of golden discoveries and links to other educators and organisations that have fuelled a bonfire of professional learning and context which is fundamentally changing my views of good and effective teaching and learning.
And in a world where the day to day act of teaching and learning is being profoundly challenged, the insights and connections have proved useful in wrestling with the wicked problem of how to keep the learning going amid the mass disruption for schools and education in general.
In no particular order, here are some things I have noticed:
WATCH WITH CURIOSITY
Admitting to being a Twitter voyeur sounds creepy, but it makes the whole experience more bearable if you don’t feel the need to compete. There is sage advice in the ‘two ears, one mouth’ philosophy of listening more than you talk. In time, perhaps active sharing of ideas and views is something to get involved with, but are plenty of good voices in the mix now. At the minimum, a retweet is enough to spread the virus of good ideas.
SHARPEN YOUR CRITICAL AXE
Well, the old saying that opinions are like a***holes – everybody has one is nowhere more obvious than on social media platforms like Twitter. Meandering around Twitter is like living in a permanent episode of Q and A, where opinions fly around like pollen in springtime. As with any opinion, quality control is the issue and the remedy is to keep a ready hand on your bullshit detector. Questions that have helped me: Is this true? Is this person believable? Is it supported by research? Education is like fashion – there are fads and trends be be wary of, and there are various ‘scenes’ who define themselves by their dogma and self-sourcing ideology. That said, just because we disagree with something doesn’t mean it isn’t useful.
FOLLOW AND UNFOLLOW WITH CARE
Jim Rohn said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Whether you agree or not, the people and topics you connect with will determine your experience and shape your views. This is a real issue on social media that bleeds over into real life – and why 5G protestors feel empowered to gather in front of Parliament House armed with the ‘evidence’ of the lizard man conspiracy. The simple strategy of remembering why you are on Twitter should serve as a good guide as to who you follow and who you do not. It is a nasty paradox – we must be vigilant not to make the voices we hear too synchronous as we end up hearing only our versions of the truth reflected back. This requires being open to dissenting voices, which is sometimes maddening, but reduces the danger of developing knowledge silos and living in a feed bubble. Which leads me to the next thing:
DON’T TWITTER ANGRY (OR HAPPY, OR SAD) IF YOU CAN AVOID IT
There is a real temptation to make Twitter an extension of your life, and our egos are only too willing to broadcast, especially if we think our ‘audience’ needs to know what we think or feel at any given time. There is a fine line between offering comment and opinion and living your life out loud online. If more people remembered that Twitter is not the place to fix life problems, and that professional ‘scenes’ demand professional conduct, the better off we’d all be. Sure as the sun rises, battalions people will see it that way and there is nothing we can do about it – except choose not to add our shouts to the negative hurricane. Also, tweets live forever – as the older and wiser versions of us are sure to discover with varied consequence.
IF WE TAKE FREELY, WE SHOULD GIVE FREELY
In essence, as educators we should put pennies in as well as take them out. While the belief that ‘good artists borrow, great artists steal’ is pretty prevalent and easy to live with in the relative anonymity of cyberspace, there needs to be professional courtesy with the sharing of anything. Perhaps the best way of giving to the professional world of Twitter is to be kind and share your own stuff freely when the time comes, not for money. Education is a service industry after all.
The search for educational gold can be challenging on Twitter, as you must sort through the muck and the micah to find it. That said, maintaining connections via Twitter is a critical step for the evolution of our profession and our craft.
While there be dragons, trolls, sharks, leeches and pilot fish, there are also great leaders in education who are as lit up by teaching and learning as you are, and more than willing to share. What is more, most don’t live in ivory theoretical towers and most show a desire to help teachers and students grow into their highest levels of contribution and achievement.
Here are some places to start looking if you decide to jump in – the water is warm, I promise!