“What’s the deal with teachers’ obsession with Twitter?”

It’s a question I often get from student teachers. Twitter? What’s the deal with teachers and their obsession with this platform? Why not Instagram or Snapchat or something else? Given all of the fundamentally problematic issues with this platform including the fact that it can feel like an avalanche of information, that it is full of trolls hiding behind anonymous account names, that it has long been a controversial crossroads of celebrity gossip, inane messaging about nothing important, extreme and often vitriolic political positions…and lately that it has become the platform of choice for bizarre statements by the POTUS at 3AM — why would ANYONE want to be there?

Add in position statements by the OCT that highlight the potentially devastating impact of social media participation, and mainstream media outlets that report on the truly horrible things that have happened through this platform and because of this platform…and I know why this question is one of the ones I hear most often. There must be a better way, right?
And maybe there is. But this is what I think.
Social media platforms will change. They will always, always change.
So, whether teachers use Twitter or Instagram or Facebook or WeChat or WhatsApp or any other social networking application it’s important to recognize that the platform is merely a tool that allows people to solve a problem, to do something that they couldn’t otherwise do. Tools have affordances and they have constraints. And, given that the design of tools are driven (at a minimum) by market forces and big data, the companies making these tools will always be changing the platforms as people change, as interests change, as behaviours change, as communities changes, as cultures change. So, we shouldn’t fixate too much on WHAT tool we use. Rather, I think a more important question, and I think this is the real question that a student was getting at during a great conversation yesterday — why do teachers STAY on Twitter given its problems?
The answer, I think, relates to Twitter’s affordances. What does it do? Yes — it does the things that most reasonable people despise. But, it also brings people together. As Evan Williams, Twitter’s co-founder explains in this TED Talk, (I love how he says Twittering in his talk — quaint – but such a great example of how words evolve) Twitter has allowed people to do incredibly altruistic things — to raise money for communities and individuals in times of crisis, to share critical information during natural disasters, to use #hashtags to spread the word on where to find gas at the best price.
And for teachers, Twitter has somehow become the defacto place for resource and information sharing. It’s where teachers tend to share out great links to resources, where they share out images of the amazing work their students are doing, where they come together for #edchats on topics of common interest. In fact, the teacher Twitter-sphere is pretty profound. Are there corporate interests trying to promote particular ideas by hiring teacher influencers on Twitter — absolutely. But if you’re savvy and if you pay attention, you can spot this happening and move on to the authentic work of real people doing really good work and just using this platform because it’s a space for them to give, and also to learn from the people who can really teach them — their peers.
I stay on Twitter because every time I go there, I learn something from amazing educators who inspire me. Plus, over the years, I have developed a global network of colleagues in this space — my mentors, research collaborators, current and former students, former colleagues, current colleagues — all of these people are part of my professional network on Twitter and I value them. A lot. Because of this platform, I continue to learn from them and I hope, from time to time, that I also offer THEM ideas and connections to resources that are of value in their work.
I stay on Twitter because it has become a powerful space for professional learning and engagement — and I have made it that way for ME through long-term consideration of who to follow, what I will and will not read, and how I will manage my own profile in the space. I only ever Tweet or retweet ideas, links and images that align with my core principles and purposes as an educator. I never compromise on that. Ever. I am very aware of how the algorithms behind Twitter are serving up information deemed relevant to my interests or to those with profiles like mine — and so I also watch Twitter as an example of how technology is shaping perceptions of the world. I find that really fascinating because it creates such a rich point of departure for profound discussions of technology integration and its role in shaping what we thing, and what we do with students in my classes.
So I use this platform to enrich my work. It is one part of how I live and work online — but it’s not everything.
If you’re a teacher using Twitter, why do you stay? How do you use it? What rules govern your practice and participation in this space and why? Teacher candidates at the University of Ottawa would LOVE to know.

Also, there is some great scholarship on teachers’ use of Twitter.

Check out this great article by my friends and colleagues (and fellow Twitter users) Josh Rosenberg, Spencer Greenhalgh, Matt Koehler, Erica Hamilton & Mete Akcaoglu.
Rosenberg, J., Greenhalgh, S., Koehler, M.J., Hamilton, E. & Akcaoglu, M. (2016). An investigation of state education Twitter hashtags as affinity spaces. E-learning & Digital Media, 13(1-2), 24-44. doi: 10.1177/2042753016672351
[Post also shared at http://sites.google.com/site/edtechuo]

5 responses to ““What’s the deal with teachers’ obsession with Twitter?””

  1. I also use it for Professional Development to get ideas from other teachers’ lessons or advice during twitter chats. I also share my lessons and ideas for others and as a portfolio for myself. I have one professional account and another for personal. I ❤️ Twitter!

  2. Hi Michelle
    I agree that Twitter is a great account for educators, I don’t think that Snapchat, Facebook or WhatsApp can even come close. Maybe it would be an interesting idea to have some of the people you follow on Twitter come into your class to explain why they use Twitter or see if you can get your teacher candidates to sign up for Twitter to follow key educators. Even better, have them follow a Twitter chat like #Satchat.

    Here is a good post to share with your students http://bit.ly/2wrwfMI

    • Thanks for your comments and for the additional resource and recommendations to Teacher Candidates, Paul.

  3. I also think that who you follow in your social network platform defines what that network is for. More fun apps like Instagram can also become very professional if you are only following pages related to your profession.

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