Does Twitter Improve Education?


cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by Ed Yourdon

There has been post after post acknowledging how educators love Twitter while also encouraging others to use it themselves.  With that though comes skeptics (as there should be), questioning whether the use of Twitter is beneficial to educators.  I have thought about that question  a lot and I can give a definitive answer: yes and no ( I am 100% certain of this).

So to prove this, we have to look at a few things.  First off, we have to look at how educators are using Twitter.  Simply signing up for Twitter doesn’t improve anything in your classroom (similar to the notion that having a Twitter account will make people do inappropriate things and cyberbully).  It all comes down to the use of it.  I offer two scenarios in my own use of Twitter below.

Scenario ABeing on Twitter for the sake of being on Twitter

When I first started Twitter, my first follows were my brother, Shaquille O’Neal and every other Laker related Twitter account I could find.  Although I liked talking to my brother, I was more worried about seeing what was happening with my favourite basketball team.  Then about two weeks I quit using twitter and then thought to myself, “How does this improve teaching and learning? Whoever thought that is seriously crazy.”

Scenario B -Using Twitter to follow and learn from other educators

A year later, I went back to using Twitter in a totally different fashion and followed educators, found some great information on things that were happening in classrooms and schools, and it took my learning to a different level.  I started trying different things and engaging in conversations that sometimes took place on Twitter or went to another space because of Twitter (blog, website, webinar, etc.).  I started learning about things in an abundance, but also started to question educational trends (flipped classroom, BYOD, interactive whiteboards) because I felt that I had built enough knowledge to feel comfortable wondering aloud about these trends.

So here is the thing when people that actually use  Twitter challenge with the question, “does Twitter improve education?” The first thing that I do when I see this question, is look at their Twitter stream, who they follow, and how they participate.  I have seen an educator who follows no one other than 3-10 people openly pose this question, while another educator who asked this spends the majority of his time discussing travel and talking about things that really have little to do with what is happening in schools (on Twitter).  I am not criticizing their use of Twitter or their knowledge of teaching and learning (I actually learn a lot from both of them while they may not learn much from me), but I am guessing that they probably don’t see the difference Twitter can make on the profession based on their own use of the service.  When we actually experience Scenario B, it seems we are more likely to be an advocate for others to jump on the “Twitter Train”.

Yesterday, in my own school division, teachers in numbers not seen before, were sharing what they were learning and connecting with others on our  professional development day.  It was fantastic to watch and I was glad to see what was happening around the school division, while watching this group of educators engage in further conversations regarding their learning.

So to me, ultimately here is how you can find out if Twitter “works” for improving education. Ask someone who uses it about their engagement in their own learning and if that has changed because of Twitter.  If you were to ask me, I would tell you that jumping on Twitter and using it how I do now, it has engaged me in my learning more than I have ever been in not only my career, but truly my life.  I explore things that I am interested in, and I am exposed to ideas that I would not have heard of otherwise.  If you ask someone else the same question and they say their use of Twitter has not engaged their learning, well then you have a different answer. Both yes and no, which honestly is fine to me.

If you are looking for a “number” as evidence, I don’t have one.  All I have right now is stories and experience  and to be honest, I am not sure that I need much more.  Engaging in Twitter will work for one person, and will not work for another depending upon their use of it. But if I am engaged more in my learning than I ever have been, while also sharing what I am learning with others, doesn’t that say that “Twitter” works? It does to (and for) me. Do we really need more data?  If more teachers focused on being true lifelong learners while sharing that learning openly, don’t you think education would improve?  I know what I would put my money on.

UPDATE: As I don’t want to give the wrong impression, and based on the comments on the blog and Twitter, the title should have been adjusted to “Does the USE of Twitter Improve Education?”, as that is what I am really discussing in this post.  As many have already shared this, I have chosen not to change the title so that people don’t feel what they have shared is being misrepresented. Thanks for the comments so that I could add this note and clarification.

108 thoughts on “Does Twitter Improve Education?

  1. wcarozza

    Thanks George. Tony B @baldy7 and I were talking at #cmtc12 this week about how few educators are using Twitter at workshops we give. In my social media workshop a couple of days ago, out of about 40 educators, around 7 had an account and perhaps 3 were using it regularly. But the good news is 40 people showed up to learn more. Those of us who have had a true paradigm shift (old phrase I know) with social media and Twitter in particular will continue to benefit from it. Perhaps others are using other mediums. It's OK. Thanks again for teaching all of us so much.

    Also, check out Tom Whitby's latest regarding Twitter: http://tomwhitby.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/again-r

  2. Faige

    Hope I have your permission to use this next time I get teased about my interest and use of Twitter to enhance my learning. My PLN and excitement in being a life long learner has definitely been impacted by Twitter

  3. Dean

    Could you change "twitter" to "pencil" and make a similar argument? We use that tool to produce wonderful things, communicate great ideas and solve complex problems. But we don't attribute that to the tool. We see its the people but the affordance of a pencil allows for things to be done that would be difficult if not impossible without it.

    Twitter represents a platform, a place where the things you describe happens. Perhaps the "staff room" if it became a place for conversation and sharing would be a better analogy than a pencil but my point is I worry about suggesting that twitter itself is improving things. I know that's not what you mean but I can see it bring interpreted that way.

    That's why I generally don't advocate for twitter exclusively as there are other tools and spaces that do similar things. This kind of statement suggests that any teacher not using twitter is ignoring an opportunity to improve. It's not twitter, it's collaboration, sharing and community and I agree twitter might be the best,easiest place to do that but it's a platform not a solution.

  4. William Chamberlain

    Perhaps your next post will be on the subject of is Twitter the best tool for learning on the internet. Dean is right, it is just one of many ways, but in my experience it serves two functions one being an aggregator of information and the other being a place for conversation.

  5. EnglishCentral

    George,

    I don't think numbers are needed. What "develops" is something very personal, tacit and unseen. But don't get confused by the noise and that so much twitter talk means teachers are implementing better practices. Nor does more knowledge = better practices and teaching delivery.

    Dean,

    For some reason (and maybe not even related though I support your comment), you reminded me of the age old classic quote –
    “Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has laid an egg cackles as if she had laid an asteroid.”

    I think one of the best ways to promote twitter in teacher education and prof. development is to NOT present about it, blog about its great x,y and z. Rather, keep it a secret, make it important and personal. Word will get around. Use it as a mentor and others will find it – loop feedback is the proper way to go about encouraging use. Technology suffers from over promotion and under productive use. IMHO. Or perhaps my antenna needs adjusting.

  6. W Teal

    Great article! I have had the opportunity to present on using twitter for education to my local campus and have several fellow teachers jump on board. Twitter just like any other tool. You can use it to enrich your passion or use it to waste your own time.

  7. Dean Shareski

    I still think assigning any tool or platform for being responsible for improving education is somewhat problematic. I'm comfortable with saying "connecting/collaboration online" improves education but by using twitter it's a bit like saying "Ipads improve education" Not only is it too specific and limiting it suggests the power lies in that tool or technology. I realize that your post does not suggest that and I agree with all your examples, but lots of folks associated the tool with the success. That's why schools run out and buy ipads because they think it will improve education.

    1. George Couros

      Again, I am not really sure if my focus is on Twitter or more importantly that I am learning because of how I am using it. I think I explicitly said that it works for some and not others. Hence the reason is "yes and no". If it weren't for using "Twitter", it would not have opened up my learning the way it has. It is obviously the way I use it and the people I have connected with, but again, it is how I use it that works for me. It might not work for others. If I REALLY felt that Twitter was the answer, wouldn't I say "everyone should do it"? I believe that for some Twitter is not the space that they should connect, for some it is plurk, or facebook, or through linkedin. Talking and describing my own experience.

  8. David Truss

    I think this is a case where we actually want to throw the numbers out the window. I’ve been looking at John Hattie recently & he suggests that basically everything we do to improve education, by nature of our attempt, improves education… although many things do not do so in a meaningful or effective way. But people use Twitter in a multitude of ways and trying to pin a number on its’ effectiveness isn’t like trying to pin down the effectiveness of a learning strategy, (which in and of itself is also extremely challenging).

    Twitter itself, which I think is the second best professional development I’ve ever done, second only behind my blog, is still just a tool. Like my blog, it is a tool that I use continually and as such has an unfair advantage over one-off professional development events… but still just a tool.

    A teacher in his class spending more time on his phone, tweeting, than he spends with his students doesn’t make Twitter great. A teacher spending too much time on Twitter during her prep and not spending enough time giving formative feedback to her students doesn’t make Twitter great.

    Sharing amazing resources, finding global connections to connect your class to the world, finding like-minded & enthusiastic peers that challenge you to be the best teacher you can be, sharing excellent examples of learning from your classroom, asking for help and saving prep time… these are just a few ways Twitter can improve education, or at the very least, an educator’s impact on his or her classroom or school. I don’t think we can put a number on that. The data is experiential, anecdotal and in some ways meaningless, because if you think Twitter is ‘dumb’ or ‘a waste of time’, well then it will be.

    The hardest part of Twitter is that it does not have a friendly entry point. Until you develop a network, it actually takes a bit of work to make it meaningful and rewarding. Pay-off comes when your network becomes better and more effective than Google, you connect with people that you actually categorize as valued friends (even if you’ve never met them face-to-face), and your network starts to streamline the flow of information we are bombarded with, by selectively sharing only the best the web has to offer.

    Twitter is a great tool. Use it well and it will help you become a better educator. If you prefer Plurk, that will work too. Like Google+? Great use that. Have a fantastic network of educators on Facebook? Good for you. Following educators on Scoop.it or Pinterest that connect you to amazing resources? Awesome!

    Twitter happens to be my go-to tool, but it’s not the only one. That said, I think that in this day and age, if an educator is not engaging with these or similar tools online, they are missing out on some amazing opportunities to learn. Worse yet, they are likely not helping their students understand how to connect and engage in a world where this kind of connecting is becoming an essential way to learn, build community… and do business.

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  10. FinkTeach

    You hit the nail on the head with your ‘yes and no’ response. I find it surprising how challenging it is to convince other educators how Twitter can be a productive learning tool. It is very unfortunate! I am chairing a social network committee at my school, and I always walk out a bit discouraged. There seems to be a phobia about everyone on the web having access to your comments. How else are we suppose to learn if we don’t collaborate and share our experiences with each other?

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  56. Cote Annie

    I have to specify that a Scenario C exist among the French users of Twitter in education, a project I began in 2011. We call it Twitterature: the students have to produce works of exactly 140 caracters according to a theme (a dream, a tribute to something or someone, per example) once a week for 8 weeks. I discovered from the second week that the weak student’s motivation was increased and the great ones were by themselves using figures of speech (alliterations). After 4 weeks, the number of orthograph mistakes was dramatically diminished (nobody likes making mistakes in public). My students especially appreciated to have comments on their works from web users. By writing short sentences, the self confidence of weak students increased significantly.

    I think Twitter offers a world of possibilities for education.

    Annie Côté
    French teacher in high school
    Quebec city

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