Tag Archives: twitter

Why I try to follow every teacher I can on Twitter

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by stevegarfield

Tony Baldasaro wrote a blog post yesterday that is getting a lot of attention regarding why he “unfollowed 5000 people on Twitter” and how he is going back to starting over.  There is a lot of powerful thoughts in his post on how we actually connect with each other in this space:

As I pressed unfollow 5,000 times, I realized that I didn’t know most of the folks that I was unfollowing.  Actually, it was more than that, I had no clue who these folks were.  They were complete strangers.  I literally had no connection to them, which, in hindsight, should not have been a surprise.  As I said earlier, I didn’t “pay any attention to them” how the hell would I actually know them.  It did hurt to unfollow folks who brought great value to my life, but I knew if I was going to do it, I had to fully commit.

Now I don’t want to say Tony is wrong, and from my several meetings with him I can tell you he is an awesome guy,  but I do want to offer a different perspective.

Several years ago when I first started Twitter, I thought, like many do, that it was probably the dumbest thing ever.  I used it randomly, followed some educators, but mostly celebrities, because I didn’t understand how it could improve me as an educator.  My brother and others asked people to blindly follow me to help me build a network even though I had nothing to contribute in that space.  It was not that I had nothing to contribute, but that I just didn’t really understand how I could do it on a social network.  So people followed me and I offered nothing other than a wise-crack here and there.  Then after a couple of weeks I decided to take a year sabbatical from the space :)

A year later, I was coaxed into trying it again and people blindly followed me knowing how I easily gave up on it in the first place.  I actually decided to give it a legitimate try and quickly I was hooked.  I was amazed at how much I learned from others and how open people were to connecting.  I remember sending out a google form and having people share and reshare a tweet that showed my staff the power of Twitter for professional learning.  I look back at that post and some people that helped have become good friends and some people I still don’t even know.  Yet they were all willing to help some guy from Canada who was trying to help his staff.

I even watch today as my brother asks people from his network to help him get others connected:

Him asking for this help while only following a select few would be hypocritical in my opinion. (He follows over 13,000 people.)

The network that I have connected with on Twitter have helped me through some tough times.  When my first dog Kobe passed away people supported me from wherever they were in the world to make it through a difficult time.  When I was dealing with some personal issues, again people rallied around me and either tweeted, commented on my post, or emailed me directly to offer stories and support.  Some I knew and some were total strangers, but all were willing to help.

Currently, I follow over 8500 people on Twitter and that count will continue to grow.  I rarely look at my “home” column because, as Tony mentioned, it moves way to fast.  I use hashtags and lists to find information I am interested in.  Every once in awhile though, I take a peek at that home column (interestingly enough, that is how I found Tony’s blog post) and find something amazing, or see someone I follow asking for help.  Either I try to help them myself, or “Retweet” them to help them find a connection.  If I didn’t follow them, I wouldn’t be able to do that.  I do this because so many people have done this for me.  Although it is my “Personal Learning Network” it is not just about what I take from it, but also what I can give, not only in information, but in facilitating connections and offering some help.  I am, as all educators are, extremely busy, but when I can help, I try to do my best.  We are all teachers and we all should focus on what is best for kids.

I look back at when I started and if people look at what I had actually contributed, no one would have followed me.  I think they looked at what I could contribute in the future.  I remember this summer when someone with 15 followers and 26 tweets, helped me out a great deal.  If I used Tony’s way, this would have not happened.

Now some of you may be reading this that I am not following on Twitter and if that is true, I apologize.  I don’t use a “follow back” function because I do limit my network to mostly teachers (yes, I do follow Justin Bieber), and do not really care to connect with companies.  I also don’t check who unfollows me because I don’t really know how that would be helpful to me in any way. I do follow people that don’t follow me because I can still learn from them. The only reason I wouldn’t follow someone is because I find them offensive.  I try to look at who follows me when I have an opportunity, and follow them back if they are an educator because I know that I can probably learn something from them.  But unfortunately, sometimes I miss people and when it is brought to my attention I am often quite embarrassed.  Allie Holland, Jimmy Casas, and Diana Williams are all people that I didn’t realize that I wasn’t following, yet I have learned a ton from them in a short time and actually would consider them friends now.

Although there are some tweeters that I look at daily, Tony could have done what he was talking about by simply creating a list of his favourite tweeters and inserting that column into Tweetdeck.  It really is that easy.

I have learned over and over again, that I have no idea who I can help, who can help me, and who I can be the connector for between two separate parties, so I do my best to follow as many teachers as possible.  You do not have to be a prolific “Tweeter” to help me become a better educator although your sharing does help.  A ton of people trusted that they could learn from something from me a long time ago when I had contributed very little, so I am going to continue to do the same.

Typical Friday Night?

While waiting for my flight to Adelaide late on a Friday night, I caught these two tweets:

Two teachers from our school division, that are from two different schools, talking about connecting with classrooms across North America.  The world is shrinking.



Don’t Use a 2.0 Technology in a 1.0 Way

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by jurvetson

“And that’s the grand dilemma of social networking: it’s intended to allow participation, to let companies and individuals all engage and interact, but all too many are one way channels, broadcast media where responses or engagement is ignored completely.” — Dave Taylor

Many organizations or schools are starting to get on the Facebook and Twitter bandwagon and seeing the importance of having a presence on the largest social networks. Yet, there is much more to Twitter than having an account, and unless you are Justin Bieber, you have to change your mindset to make meaningful use of social media.

The old-school philosophy of communication lent itself to making a fancy website so that you had a nice Web presence. Not only could you look flashy on the Internet, but there also was great opportunity to share key messages, events and happenings from your school. This was a step up from what many had done previously, and it was great for a prospective student or parent to look up information on a school before committing to be part of that community.

As we have progressed, not only in our use of technology but also our understanding of effective leadership, we know that communication includes effective talking but, more importantly, listening. Being able to hear what is being said from those we serve is extremely important to how we develop our schools, and the conversation is extremely valuable. Yet, many schools and organizations use social media in the old fashion: sharing information but not having a conversation. In reality, just because you have ears doesn’t mean you are listening.

Many businesses have a 1.0 mindset. They have a Twitter account to share sales, events or whatever with customers, and because of that type of information, they do have many followers. Yet, having followers does not mean that you have people who “buy” what you do or whom you are; they use your service because they have to, not because they are loyal. Schools should think about that as well. Would a parent or child want to stay in your school if there was another choice?

Recently, I wrote about United Airlines and its lack of response when dealing with my concerns about service. Its Twitter account seemingly is only about sharing information, not connecting with customers. The more savvy someone is with social media, the more frustrated the person will become with this approach, and if he or she has another option, the person will take it. Yet, someone such as Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi learned how to not only use Twitter but also to use it effectively to build his brand and win an election.

Ultimately, this is not about having a Twitter or Facebook account but about how we use it and about rethinking the work we do and how we connect to those we serve in our schools. Having a website on which YOU communicate while watching parents use a Twitter account through which THEY communicate doesn’t make sense anymore. We need to not only get into the same room but also talk when we are all there.

This post was originally shared on the SmartBlogs site.

Humanizing Our Organizations Through Social Media

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Alyssa L. Miller

Social Media is becoming dominant in every facet of our society.  I remember years ago, walking into a church for a concert and seeing on their TV screens, links to their Facebook and Twitter pages and them sharing ways that  you could connect to them.  It was interesting to think of an institution that is usually known for being so steeped in tradition, thinking of ways they could use this new technology to connect with people that live in an ever-changing world.  Yet we still see many schools and school districts fearful of what social media can do in a negative manner to possibly the way they do their day-to-day “business” or even the impact it can have (in a negative way) on their reputation.

As more organizations outside of school begin to embrace social media, we have to think about what the purpose of using social media is and how we can learn from others.  This technology has proven to be an effective way to learn openly, but there is also an opportunity to create a deeper connection with those that we serve.

Culture of fear

As society changes, schools need to change with it.  We have to model how we continue to grow and learn.  Yet many schools are extremely fearful of using social media or are pushing the idea aside as if it were a fad.  As I have traveled around to many different schools, I have been frustrated by the blocking of social media sites from not only students, but staff as well.  We cannot simply flick a switch and say “go”, but as Greg Whitby stated, we need to “start moving yesterday” on changes within our schools.  There are many purposeful ways that our schools can be utilizing social media sites, and we need to start figuring this out sooner than later as everyone has the technology to these sites in their pockets any way.

But even in business, companies are extremely fearful of what social media can do.

“In just a few years, social media has come to dominate many of our personal communications. We collaborate daily, sometimes productively, sometimes not. Most organizations, however, still view social media as a threat to productivity, intellectual capital, security, privacy, management authority, or regulatory compliance.” Most Organizations Still Fear Social Media

Recently, social media has impacted a school when a 9 year old student was reporting about the inadequate lunches that were being served in the school cafeteria through her blog.  Ewan McIntosh wrote about this so eloquently in his recent blog post about the subject and how the school tried to actually ban Martha Payne from uploading content to her blog:

Argyll and Bute, the school district rather than the otherwise very supportive school itself, issued a damning edict, preventing Martha from taking any more photos, writing any more blog posts about her lunches. Dinner ladies were, said the illiterate press release (we serve “deserts” to our children, really?), “afraid for their jobs”.

So as a school, the easy thing to do would be simply to ban blogs, Facebook, or Twitter, in fear of people saying negative things about the organization.  The hard work though (and the right thing to do), is to focus on actually getting better.  The voice of those we serve is, and should be, extremely important in the way we do our day-to-day work.  If the meals served there were of an adequate quality, there would have been nothing to block. In fact, I would be surprised if Martha would have even started the blog.  Customers of businesses have learned that they are not happy with something, having a voice on social networks is now an option.  Schools need to realize this as well.  We can be fearful of having these sites that represent our schools, but really, shouldn’t we be more fearful that someone else is going to start our Facebook page for us and misrepresent what our values are?

We should focus on just being better.

Changing world

More leaders from around the world know that connecting with people is imperative.  From the recent article “Twiplomacy“, some interesting statistics were shared regarding the use of social media by many political leaders:

“Some 264 world leaders now have a Twitter account, and the researchers believe that 30 of them do their own tweeting. Altogether they have sent more than 350,000 tweets to almost 52 million followers, the study shows…

World leaders tweet in 43 languages, with English favored by 90 of the accounts. Spanish is the next most-used, with 41 accounts, French is third with 25 accounts and Arabic fourth with 17 accounts.”

Although many nations and their leaders are using Twitter and other social media sites to connect with constituents, the same article goes on to discuss some of the countries that are not as open to the use of this type of communication:

“Sixteen of the G-20 leaders are actively using Twitter for public diplomacy, but it is sad to see that the heads of state and government in China, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Italy still have not joined the Twitterverse,” said Matthias Luefkens of Burson-Marteller in Geneva.”

On that list are obviously some countries that would not be considered the most democratic so is it a surprise that they have no interest in extending conversations through social media?  Seeing political leaders like Mayor Nenshi from Calgary not only share his political beliefs, but actually reach out and have conversations with people is something that many are learning will create very strong connections with constituents.

The world is taking notice of the power of social media and are continuously developing ways that they can reach out.

The need for human connection

Recently I read this great article from Simply Zesty regarding the use of social media use within corporations and how they really stress how “customers” want to connect with organizations and how they are connecting back:

“People want to interact and connect with these major companies, and these platforms are the bridge directly to the heart of these organizations,” according to Burson-Marsteller Chief Global Digital Strategist Dallas Lawrence. “What’s even more impressive is how much companies are engaging back with followers. Seventy-nine percent of corporate accounts attempt to engage on Twitter with retweets and ‘@mentions’, and 70% of corporate Facebook pages are responding to comments on their walls and timelines.”

Artists like Lady Gaga, whether you like her or not, understand the importance of connecting with fans (customers) and how they actually make them feel like they are part of something bigger.  Entertainers and athletes can connect with fans in a way that was not possible when I was growing up, and you are seeing people have a different connection with them because of this human connection.

Although the “social” part of social media is extremely important, some businesses are looking to automate responses and prioritizing who they connect with and also what is being said.  This is something that organizations, especially schools, need to really think about as it may cause more harm than good:

“But social media’s real value — what distinguished it from the start from traditional media —  lies in creating deeper, personal connections with followers.  And here automation of content risks backfiring.  When consumers used to turning to social media for real, human intervention and connection end up running up against yet another automated message, the results may not be pretty.” From “Here come the tweeting robots

What many organizations are learning is that actually humanizing their business through social media is something that is helping to build a deeper loyalty to not only the company, but to the vision of the organization.  This recent Adidas campaign that is currently at over two million views on YouTube, has shown how doing something so little can make such a huge impact.  It doesn’t just create excitement, but it brings out a powerful human connection to the business, not only through a famous celebrity connecting with fans, but by showing the emotion of the fan themselves.  What starts off simply as a sweet gesture, turns into an extremely powerful story:

Would you consider buying an Adidas product after seeing this? I know that they have now entered my own consciousness through this campaign.

Great companies and organizations will learn how to evoke this emotion.

Concluding Thoughts

It is easy to say that technology has dehumanized our society, but I would argue that it can actually have the opposite effect.  We can now connect to people in a way that is much easier than in previous generations, and help to build relationships that probably couldn’t exist before.  There is also the ability to further the existing relationships through the use of social media.  Face-to-face is always better, but the opportunity doesn’t always exist.

I love this Marc Prensky quote that really states to me the importance of moving forward in the work that we do, yet still valuing what great schools have always been built upon; relationships.

“We need to teach kids to respect the past but to live in the future.”

As we do move forward during this “printing press time in history”, using social media is something that is inevitable.  It will be present in every facet of our society, as humans innately have a need and desire to connect.  The sooner we as schools learn how to make use of this technology in an effective manner, the more positives that can come out of it.  We will continue to see good organizations make effective use out of using Web 2.0 technologies, but I believe that the great organizations will use social media to connect, learn, and humanize their organization in a way that we never could have before.  If used properly, the future can be more human than ever.

Why YOUR Sharing Matters

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by andrew_mc_d

I am going to have to admit it; the term “lurker” drives me nuts.

I know that there is an amount of time where someone is becoming comfortable with the idea of social media, but many have admitted to me that they just look at all the great resources yet are uncomfortable tweeting from their own account.  My response to this is that they simply “retweet” some of the great content they are reading.  You do not have to have original content or come up with the next “big thing” but simply just share.

Here is an example of how sharing and a simple retweet can create a ripple effect.

This morning (in Australia), I received a tweet from someone I don’t know.

Being the “cyber sleuth” that I am, before I responded, I checked out who they were and their tweets.  I was not sure if it was a legitimate account or not since I did not recognize the name, although I recognized the #sd36learn hashtag that they used in their tweet.  This process is something that I do for many tweeters that send me a message because there is definitely some spam out there.  Here is what I found in their profile:

So…not many followers and not many tweets.  Most would be thrown off by this but I was interested in what he had to share so I went through his tweets.  Sure enough, I found this little gem:

So now, with his 26 tweets and his 15 followers, @MrAbdolall simply retweeted a great article that I will now be using as the basis of my “Digital Footprint” workshop (I am still in the process of creating it but feel free to use) that I will be doing in Adelaide, Australia on Wednesday.  It really is that simple.  As I tried to prepare for this workshop, there were so many good ideas that I wanted to talk about, but the Forbes article just made the information so nice and succinct, making it way easier to put together.

So my suggestion to new tweeters…

You may not have many followers and you may not be blogging or creating the next BIG IDEA, but what you share still matters.  You never know the impact you can have by sharing a link or a blog post.  Simply retweeting good information can help anyone, including someone like myself who has almost 40,000 tweets to his credit, continue to learn and grow.

Keep sharing.  That’s it.

Not Going Away

Coming home from San Diego, I may have gone a little overboard on my shopping but I purposely left room in my suitcase to make sure I could bring some things home.  Obviously not enough room though.  With a 50 pound limit, my luggage weighed in at about 61 pounds so I knew that I would have to probably pay a fee for the excess weight.  When asked if I was to take some stuff out and put it into another bag, they told me two bags would cost 60 dollars (because United charges you for even bringing one bag to San Diego) yet the fee for the extra 10 pounds would actually cost 200 dollars.

What?  Who came up with this math?

I saw the picture below the other night and all I could think of is some corporate big wigs sitting in the United offices when they came up with this luggage policy:

So the deal is that I could actually pack 100 pounds of stuff  in two bags and bring it back to Canada for 60 dollars or 61 pounds in one bag for $200.  Not being a mathematician, something obviously was not adding up although I do know that most airline companies have this ridiculous type of policy.

So what was my first reaction? Go to Twitter.  I went to the masses and tweeted something out regarding this ridiculous policy hoping United would respond.

So after that, I hear nothing from United.  Nada.  What could you answer?  Even the people at the desk know it is an idiotic policy and said it when I checked in but short of change it, the company is obviously more interested in the quick buck then it is in long term customer satisfaction.  I’m not saying that I will never fly with them again, but it will be a last resort.

Organizations and leadership has to realize that we all have a voice now.  Check out what happened when someone made a joke about the durability of Smart Cars.  (Thanks to 22 Words for the story)

Not wanting to let someone else define what Smart is about, they responded in a humouros yet informational way:

Then they actually followed up with a picture proving what they are saying:

 So here is a company taking some bad publicity, and actually coming out looking much better in the end because they not only addressed the person, but also because of the way that they addressed them.  To be honest, I have never thought much about Smart Cars, but I had a newfound respect in the way that they addressed a naysayer.  They probably received a ton of great publicity from that one simple tweet than they have with their regular advertising strategy.

I guess what they have realized, and what schools need to realize, is that the Internet is not going away.  People know that they have a voice and why wouldn’t they use it?  I know United has not had a long time to respond to me but are they going to really change their policy?  Will they even have a logical explanation?

Schools and administrators need to be aware of this world and be able to address all stakeholders in an open and transparent way.  Would we rather look like United or would we rather look Smart?

Organizing School/Division Hashtags (Part 1)

I am currently working on a document that can help Parkland School Division share learning across the division through the effective use of hashtags.  Parkland School Division has approximately 10,000 students, therefore it is important that we continue to figure out how to best share information through social media in an organized manner.

I am hoping that along with the information below, people will share any suggestions that will help our school division use this social media site in an effective way so we can connect and learn together.  Please feel free to use any of the information below with your own schools/organizations.

If you are interested in creating a Twitter account for your school, this article I recently wrote can give you of some ideas on how you can use this tool to build a stronger learning community.  I would suggest looking at the “Tweeting for Schools” post.

As this is a comprehensive document, I am going to share it in two parts along with the final Google Document when it is completed.  I encourage you to share your thoughts and suggestions on anything that I have shared.  These are meant to be guidelines and suggestions within our own school division.


As Parkland School Division continues to build its social media presence to connect and learn with stakeholders, we wanted to give some suggestions on how to effectively use Twitter hashtags to connect and share our learning within our organization, as well as within schools.  If you have an effective plan in the building, it can alleviate a lot of confusion later on as you try to change procedures in an attempt to be more effective.  Here are some ideas that will help bring our learning together.

School/School Division Tweets

Whenever there is a tweet from a school Twitter account, it would be beneficial if it would use not only the hashtag for the school to help develop a presence within its own school community, but it would also be helpful to share the information with Parkland School Division so we can also learn alongside the school, as well as share some of the amazing things that are happening in schools with others in our learning community, as well as globally.  Here is an example of a tweet from a school account.  I will use Muir Lake School as an example:

Example tweets from @MuirLake:

Thank you to all of the parents that have helped #MuirLake school this year.  Glad you could come to the volunteer tea!  #psd70

Or to share learning with your school community and all of Parkland School Division:

Great article regarding the #criticalthinking project: My Favorite Liar http://bit.ly/KIu3ls #muirlake #psd70

In the last tweet, you can see the use of 3 hashtags: #criticalthinkingproject, #muirlake, and #psd70.  This enables you to share with anyone watching or searching for information under each hashtag which is beneficial to so many people.  Sending the same link out simply in an email will never reach the audience that a tweet can.  Not only can this be sent out from the @MuirLake account, but it is probable that this will be retweeted by others, including the @psd_70 twitter account.  See the example below:

Tweet from @psd_70:

RT @muirlake Great article regarding the #criticalthinking project: My Favorite Liar http://bit.ly/KIu3ls #muirlake #psd70

Although the @MuirLake account is fairly new and has fewer followers, through retweeting and sharing information, it is more likely to get the information out while creating a larger network.

Of course, tweets are always subject to the number of characters that are being used, so if it is not possible to use the school and division hashtag, that is totally acceptable.  It is however usually  beneficial to try to keep tweets as short as possible.  They are more likely to get retweeted if they have 120 characters or less which gives them room for people to retweet with their twitter user handle contained in the tweet.

Thoughts and Considerations

As there are many initiatives within Parkland School Division,  we want to be thoughtful in how we can share information with both a large audience, as well as others looking for specific information.

For example, if you wanted to have something that is specific to administrators within the school division, you can simply add to the existing hashtag.  #psd70 which could become #psd70_lead.  The nice thing about this is that if you use a service such as Tweetdeck, you will see any hashtags that start with the #psd70 or you can choose to specifically follow #psd70_lead.  Sending an email to only administrators in the school division would ensure that we could get information out to all of them, but we believe in building capacity and if we share information to other staff in our division that are interested in leadership, they can specifically follow the hashtag #psd70_lead as well.  The more we can share, the better we are.  With that being said, we want to be thoughtful in the process so that information is easy to find within our own organization.

Here is an example of a tweet:

Social Media For Administrators (Blog Posts) #psd70_lead #cpchat http://t.co/DopFaHF0

This can be done with other initiatives as well, again by adding to the current #psd70 hashtag.  Our ‘Critical Thinking’ project hashtag could become #psd70_ct, which makes it easy for all those following the #psd70 hashtag to see the information shared on Critical Thinking, as well as the participants can use other ‘general’ hashtags on the topic to ensure a larger audience sees the information as well.  The #CriticalThinking hashtag is one that is highly used and those within our school division would benefit not only from following this hahstag, but sharing to it as well.

Here is another example of a tweet:

Great post for #criticalthinking project. My Favorite Liar | Zen Moments http://t.co/7wlYA3s6 #psd70_ct

As many hashtags can be created through this process, it is important that you have a document that is easily shared and findable to your school division as well as the general public.  This can be shared on any school division websites, or more specifically, as a link on your school division Twitter account.

In the next post, I will be sharing the process of developing hashtags for a school to easily organize across classrooms.  I will share by the end of the week.  I will also be sharing the entire Google Document where the entire article is written.

Unintended Echo Chamber

cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by Laurel Fan

There is often a great deal of discussion on the idea that Twitter can be an echo chamber and that we often seek out those who already have the same views we may have.  Although I disagree with that idea to some degree, I do believe that we have to be cognizant that we are reaching out to different ideas through social media.  If we only hear what we already believe in, how far does that stretch our learning?

Although this idea is somewhat new to me in the realm of social media, it is interesting that I am now starting to wonder if we have been continuously creating an echo chamber in the work that we do at schools.  For example, if we are proposing a new idea or initiative, do we ask people to join committees or groups that are vehemently opposed to these ideas, or simply have different viewpoints?  How often are we asking people to join us in a room that we know are opposed to our ideas, to help build them together?  We can easily dismiss these differing viewpoints as being “late-adopters” or something worse, but is there not value in bringing in these viewpoints?

As I have continued to think about this idea, would it not be better to have buy-in to our ideas moving forward from those that started off opposed?  Would that not bring clout to the rest of those staff in our buildings?  Would it not make our ideas better and have many feel like there is more ownership as we move forward?  Would it also not create a feeling that we are truly listening to all viewpoints, not just those that are most similar to ours?

I would have to admit, as an administrator, I have fallen in this trap unintentionally and probably because it may just seem easier to move forward.  As I continue in my own career though, I am continuously craving those opposing viewpoints to help myself move further in my own thinking.  I am more attracted to the blog posts that are saying something that challenges my thinking, not summarize it.  I think that the time it takes to have these tough conversations, no matter the direction, will save us time in the end.  If we have those who oppose it most at the beginning now becoming a part of the solution, I am thinking there would be a much better buy-in factor with a larger number or people.

Have we done this on purpose?  Probably not.  That being said, we must stand back and look at the way we have brought people (and who we have brought) together to move our schools forward.




“So here are some questions that keep me up at night: How are we to make our students literate if we ourselves are not? If we cling to age old definitions and ignore the wisdom of one of the oldest professional education organizations we have in this country, how do we provide my kids with the experiences they need to fully understand what it means to be a self-directed, participatory learner in this century? How do we make sure that every child and every teacher has access to these tools and connections? And what do we do when the reform conversations are being led by a majority of folks who have no context for the changes that are happening every day in these connected spaces, folks that by NCTE’s definition, may have some literacy issues themselves?” ~ Will Richardson

As literacy is so fundamental to opportunities of learning, I have been thinking about Twitter and the use of it in our schools.  If you look at this video, you will see that the use of Twitter is going up exponentially and things such as hashtags are making their way into things outside of Twitter.  For example, have you ever read a text message that has the term “#fail” in it?  Why the pound sign?

Just looking at a random tweet from Patrick Larkin, I wonder if most educators are able to decipher what the message is saying or even where to go to find out what the “pound sign thingies” mean?  Take a look:

During this time in our world, if you can’t read this, are you missing out on something important?  It is not just the words, but the links and hashtags that are in the message as well.  I have done several workshops with educators and having something up like Tweetdeck looks like it is right out of the Matrix movies.  I know it did to me when I first started using it.  That being said, I am always appreciative when others are willing to take the time, struggle, and learn to get better at using this medium.  It is so important that we model our learning continuously as educators for the sake of our students.

“The new literacy, beyond text and image,  is one of information navigation. The real literacy of tomorrow entails the ability to be your own personal reference librarian—to know how to navigate through confusing, complex information spaces and feel comfortable doing so. “Navigation” may well be the main form of literacy for the 21st century.” ~ John Seely Brown

I have written about the texting improving literacy before, but I was again reminded of how much more our students read now as opposed to the time I was a kid when I read this article discussing a recent talk by Margaret Atwood:

Thanks to the rise of the internet and of social media, “I would say that reading, as such, has increased. And reading and writing skills have probably increased because what all this texting and so forth replaced was the telephone conversation,” she continued. “People have to actually be able to read and write to use the internet, so it’s a great literacy driver if kids are given the tools and the incentive to learn the skills that allow them to access it.”

Often you will hear things on how Twitter is “eroding society”, yet there can often be much more in a tweet then simply 140 characters.  Atwood goes on to talk about how people are using Twitter to express themselves in similar ways, further their learning through the links that are often provided, and are sometimes using the medium to do different things:

“A lot of people on Twitter are dedicated readers. Twitter is like all of the other short forms that preceded it. It’s like the telegram. It’s like the smoke signal. It’s like writing on the washroom wall. It’s like carving your name on a tree. It’s a very short form and we use that very short form for very succinct purposes. There is a guy out there who is writing 140-character short stories — I just followed him today…but that’s the exception. It’s sort of like haikus [and] prose,” Atwood said.

Journalists are quickly learning that a Twitter account can be the best way to connect with an audience and share information as it happens.  It is making the news more interactive and you will often see on newscasts the “Twitter handle” highlighted when a person is speaking.  Humans yearn for connections and Twitter is a great way to be able to interact with those that once seemingly were out of reach.  If journalists and writers are using this medium, should we not understand or share it with our own students?

Literacy is something that continuously evolves and I am not here to condemn those that don’t use Twitter.  There are many areas of literacy that I can continue to improve (especially in the area of media literacy), but I know better to not just brush it aside and ignore it.  We always need to get better for our kids.  If we can’t understand all of the symbols in Twitter, learn how to write a tweet, and use those 140 characters (not all of the time) to lead people to more information, are we missing out on something?

As evidenced in the video below, there can be a lot of power in a simple tweet.  We need to learn and take advantage.

Technology is More than a Tool

Definition: Tool – (noun) A device or implement, especially one held in the hand, used to carry out a particular function.

Often the saying, “technology is just a tool”, is said in the context of schools and learning.  I (vaguely) remember writing a similar comment and being challenged regarding that same statement, but since then I have looked at technology in a different way.  Based on the definitions I have read, and the way I see technology (in many cases) being used, it has the power to be so much more than a website, device, or app.  If technology transforms the way we do things, is it “just a tool”?

For example, Neil Postman talks about technology being ecological and how it changes society:

Technological change is not additive; it is ecological. I can explain this best by an analogy. What happens if we place a drop of red dye into a beaker of clear water? Do we have clear water plus a spot of red dye? Obviously not. We have a new coloration to every molecule of water. That is what I mean by ecological change. A new medium does not add something; it changes everything. In the year 1500, after the printing press was invented, you did not have old Europe plus the printing press. You had a different Europe. After television, America was not America plus television. Television gave a new coloration to every political campaign, to every home, to every school, to every church, to every industry, and so on.

There is so much more to the “just a tool” analogy in this example.  The invention of the airplane changed the way our world works and that would also fall under the realm of “technology”.  Even though Louis C.K. is joking on this little bit, he does show the transformation of our world when the airplane was invented:

People like they say there’s delays on flights (yeah) delays really New York to California in 5 hours. That used to take 30 years to do that and a bunch of you would die on the way there and have a baby. You’d be with a whole different group of people by the time you got there.

If you even look at modern day technology, the invention of Google (along with prior and subsequent search engines), has really changed the way school should be taught.  Why do we need to focus on content when all of the information you need is a “Google” away.  Really, can schools stay the same with Google existing?  It doesn’t make sense if they do.

Facebook, like it or not, is a whole different way of connecting with people.  For me, it was the phone that I spent an inordinate amount of time on, but for the new generation, it’s this social network.  It is not only a place you can connect with friends, but you can also share your life, play games, and even have advertising brought right to you.  Like it or not, it is a technology that is transformative.

Twitter and mobile devices have also pushed the edges of the way our society exists.  The recent pepper spray incident at UC Davis, still gives me shivers every time I think about it.  The way news can be instantly delivered from anyone with one of these devices and a social media account, is changing how we live our lives, and is hopefully creating more accountability for all people.  It is scary to think how many incidents like the UC Davis event have happened before the mass use of technology.

I guess the reason I even wrote this post in the first place, was from the inspiration of a picture.  I have struggled back and forth with the idea of whether technology is just a tool, or is it truly transformative.  Yes, the way people use technology is important, but again, when used in a certain way, it transforms.  I am certain I may be saying something that has been said by Neil Postman and others, but again, it was a visual that inspired this post.

If my examples above haven’t swayed you, maybe the picture below will:

I just look at that picture and think it has to be more than a tool.