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Teachers and Twitter: What's the Point of Twitter Chats?

Twitter has been an invaluable resource for me since I began using it in April of last year. I have received support, shared resources, and learned a ton from peers and colleagues who I've had the chance to interact with. I've even had the chance to meet some educators here in Edmonton who I probably never would have known about if it wasn't for twitter.

One of the first things I learned about twitter was that many teachers participate in twitter chats about specific topics. I soon started to join education chats to interact and learn from others. However, what I've noticed, and why I haven't participated in many lately, is that teacher twitter chats do not have much room for critical dialogue on issues that impact education.

Too many twitter chats seem to be an exchange of platitudes and buzzwords without much meaning or critical lens. To be fair, I have been just as guilty as anyone with this, but as professionals we need to do a better job of embracing a critical perspective of what we do. Issues of race, class, gender, (dis)ability, sexuality and colonialism impact education. I have yet to see a twitter chat solely embrace any of these topics (#HipHopEd excluded). I understand that teachers enjoy being in a positive space where they can get positive reinforcement of what they do (myself included), but if we don't work together to understand how the issues outside of our classroom impact what happens in our classroom, then no amount of platitudes or buzzwords are going to help us.

If we just sit around and compliment each other, how are we pushing our profession? How are we learning anything meaningful about what we're doing? Sharing resources and ideas are of course a very beneficial aspect of teachers participation on twitter. But if that dialogue is completely removed from the political issues that shape teaching and education then what is the point? We must have spaces where we can critically reflect and be challenged on our practices without feeling offended.

Unfortunately, since most teacher twitter chats do not feel comfortable or provide a space for critical dialogue we just end up creating a conversation without any substance. If you think that the political issues that face education, or the socio-economic status of your students don't impact your classroom or pedagogy, then you are unfortunately failing to recognize the purpose of education and the privilege that you benefit from.

Inequality and unrecognized privilege need to be challenged by teachers to create an education system that works towards creating a more equitable world. Let's embrace critique and challenge when we interact on twitter. If we don't, we'll lose an opportunity to actually learn from one another and continue a trend of chatting without substance.

Comments

  1. I really enjoyed your post and find that I very seldom participate in chats anymore for some of the same reasons. It almost seems, regardless of the topic, we end up saying the same things over and over. When I moderate a chat or a book study, my questions focus on next steps. In other words, instead of a summary or sharing thoughts, lets share how and when we plan to implement some of the ideas discussed within the chat.

    Bill Ferriter, @plugusin, commented on one of my post a few years back. My post was centered around the importance of building a PLN that included people of differing viewpoints to cause opportunities for robust debate within your PLN. I love his comment and believe it is a good fit with your post:

    "Sometimes I think that PLNs (chats) become digital choir lofts for people, with a whole bunch of "Amens" being shouted around but without a whole lot of critical thinking going on."

    "While those "Amens" are important -- we all need to feel affirmed, especially when we're leading in difficult directions -- "Amens" ONLY aren't enough to drive real change." - Bill Ferriter

    Great post!

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    1. Hi Shawn,

      Thanks so much for your comment. I love the quote you provided as well. It sums up exactly what I was thinking when I wrote this. I think twitter is such a powerful tool for educators, we just need to make sure that it doesn't become an echo chamber without any critical reflection or debate.

      Thanks again and great connecting with you!

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  2. I found some excellent learning and great "retweets" at #WSRA14. Twitter can (and does) facilitate learning.

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    1. Thanks Dereck! I'll go check those out. Twitter is a great tool for educators. I wouldn't be on it if it wasn't. Thanks for pointing me in a new direction!

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  3. One of the problems with these Twitter chats is that they often reward the loudest and most polemic voices, pushing topics to their polarizing ends.

    I'm a new teacher in BC who has tried to engage critically with some of the topics you mention, but the torrent of hatred and vitriol that some teachers pour (thinking of @symphily) onto those who disagree with them is really a huge turnoff. Being close-minded to critical and constructive dialogue without resorting to patronizing and insulting language is incredibly intimidating for me. I put up with enough stress in the classroom, but when I try to engage with my peers, I find it hurtful. There is a herd mentality among the most militant teachers on Twitter - so much that I had to delete my Twitter account to avoid being depressed.

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  4. I'm sorry you've had such a terrible experience. I find that the overwhelming majority of teachers are extremely positive. @symphily has been an excellent resource an ally for myself as a teacher. Perhaps it was a misunderstanding?

    Regardless, if you're ever willing to give twitter a second chance, there are lots of educators who would love to chat education!

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    1. Thanks for your reply Dan. I'm still leery of posting online under my real name, finding honesty and refuge in online anonymity. But this really is the same teacher who made the earlier comment.

      It wasn't a misunderstanding on our parts. I found @symphily to be extremely aggressive and condescending to those he 'engages' with on Twitter. He kept pinging me.

      Leaving @symphily aside, thank you for the positive feedback. As a new teacher just starting out, could you suggest other teachers on Twitter to me who inspire you?

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    2. Wenger (2011) discussed the need for moderators or facilitators to balance the discussion. Sometimes the democracy of the experience may feel lost as the amount of tweets can be overwhelming and people may not feel like they are being heard (Davis 2012). Chats like #edchat are structured in such a way that allows for moe balance and grandstanding???the group puts out a survey of topics for the week! and then the discussion is chosen by vote. The actual discussions are facilitated by one or two core members. It is by far professional development that is more meaningful than many mandated workshops...and it's free!

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