The Trouble With Twitter in Education

The trouble with Twitter, I heard recently, is that it’s really just about self-promotion and is, therefore, largely a waste of time. For a free platform that offers powerful opportunities for learning, one could become disheartened by those who dismiss it so readily. I can understand why some frown upon Twitter as the domain of the Biebers and Kardashians of this world. Celebrity and fan engagement is only one aspect of social media and an important one for many. Twitter for learning is clearly something else. Educators who fail to recognise that modern learning has been amplified and transformed by our ability to actively contribute to the sum of learning and knowledge may consequently view social media as wasteful self-promotion.

Twitter is just one way for educators and learners to build connections, share ideas, and learn within a global network. I am fortunate to work with colleagues and students who embrace its potential and who are, like me, doing our best to learn through active engagement. To dismiss this potential is to make a significant statement about learning that has potentially profound implications for learners. There is no mystery to Twitter: it essentially involves reading and writing and dedicating some time to those activities. Misconceptions I occasionally hear about Twitter include the following:

  • You just follow people, there’s nothing else to it.
  • It’s about showing off and promoting yourself.
  • I have no time for this so-called professional learning.

There is a gulf, a missing paradigm shift in understanding, evident in these observations. Twitter is a way to build a learning network that transcends traditional understandings of knowledge and ideas, of connecting learners and ideas. The democratization of information and knowledge requires our engagement or it will happen without us. Eric Sheninger regularly and eloquently reminds us why educational leaders should belong to a Personal Learning Network. I appreciate how Sheninger notes that he was initially sceptical about this. I also share the perspective of Todd Whitaker and his colleagues who note that today’s teachers need to:

  • collaborate in a variety of ways … using social media to interact with colleagues from around the globe;
  • live not just as readers or viewers, but as active participants in ongoing discussions;
  • have access to a large collective brain trust consisting of diverse ideas and perspectives;
  • use technology and social media to individualize their learning for both personal and professional growth.

The old paradigm regarded knowledge as the domain of the anointed, publication as the formal recognition of the revered expert. Once upon a time the act of self-publication was regarded as “vanity press”. The implication was clear: the gatekeepers of information decided what was important. Self-expression was vain. To the esoteric, the democratisation of knowledge must be a frightening prospect. The newly-opened hierarchy of social media means this: there is no hierarchy. Everyone has a voice. Everyone can now publish, broadcast, create, communicate, contribute, and share. It is no longer enough to simply follow. Joining the conversation is not self-promotion. That’s legacy thinking.

There is now an imperative to contribute, not simply for the sake of it, but because there is an obligation to model digital literacy. And what does this really mean? It means that learners openly and actively engage in the learning process and that leaders lead the way. We live in a post-consumer era: how do we empower our students to thrive here, to contribute and create? If we are not open-minded, literate learners and contributors ourselves, how can we expect our students to be?

The digital landscape is now open. It’s time for our schools to be the same.

Eric Sheninger, Why Every Leader Needs a PLN. October 30, 2016.
Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, Jimmy Casas, What Connected Educators Do Differently. Routledge, 2015.

Image credit @BryanMMathers via Visual Thinkery.