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Twitter-vangelism

I had been working on another blog post, which I’m sure I’ll get to finishing and publishing soon enough (I’m not presently trapped on an airplane or in an airport, for your collective information, and therefore find myself less productive authorially,) but today’s writing plans took a slight detour in the course of the day. This morning I came across Shelly Blake-Plock’s most recent post, which indirectly responded to a post by Jim Gates about the use of Twitter in the classroom.

After reading Jim’s initial post, I posted a follow-up comment expressing some skepticism about his case against Twitter in the classroom. Almost immediately thereafter, a colleague of mine who teaches math, with whom I’d introduced and discussed Twitter the previous week, came up to tell me that he couldn’t make heads-or-tails of Twitter and was having a hard time conceiving of ways in which it could fit into his classroom. Rarely one to take the “we’ll have to agree to disagree” tact, I decided to give another go at persuading him of Twitter’s value. His initial comment lead us, and another math department colleague, into an hour-long conversation about the nuances of Twitter, how it differs from email and IM, ways in which it facilitates and enhances communication with students, and how it could be incorporated into a class structure centered around blogs and other online resources.

My colleague’s skepticism about the tool and its utility certainly pushed me to refine my thinking about Twitter and it forced me to articulate myself more clearly about how I’ve used the tool thus far, and how I plan to use it much more comprehensively in this upcoming year. Additionally, I also enjoyed the opportunity to have a colleagial, professional conversation which really considers the nuances of various pedagogical tools and their ramifications on the expectations of teachers and students (e.g. if a teacher communicates messages to students via Twitter and vice-versa, is that teacher expected to be constantly monitoring his or her feed and responding ASAP to any and every concern?) I greatly enjoy the opportunity to engage in these types of conversations because they not only enable professional teachers to share ideas, resources, techniques, etc. (in this case amongst teachers from different disciplines), but also provide valuable intellectual stimulation by forcing teachers to constantly reevaluate the way in which they do their jobs and foster genuine “professional development” (read: PD does not occur only at conferences that involve one-way discourse from lecterns.)

My colleagues both left vowing to, in the case of the skeptic, give Twitter a second chance, and in the case of the neophyte, check out Twitter for the first time. Undoubtedly there will be updates to follow.

So, back to Jim Gates’ post…

I went back and checked his comment thread this afternoon to see that he had thoughtfully responded to my initial comment, and appeared to be quite apologetic about his initial tone as it provoked such a substantive response. While I don’t think he had to be apologetic (hey, if you can manage to engage a bunch of strangers in a thoughtful debate and exchange of ideas, it seems that you’re doing something right!), I really appreciated the way in which Jim actively cultivated this discourse and engaged those who commented on his initial post. I replied back to his reply, which he then requested permission to use as a new stand-alone blog post on his page. Needless to say, I was more than happy to share my work with him and quite honored that he wanted to publish it on his own blog.

While I had not set out today planning to persuade people of Twitter’s utility, I guess I’m ultimately happy to have done so. However, it is not Twitter in particular and my advocacy on its behalf (is there any stimulus money available for the Twitter lobby?) that I found exciting about these exchanges, but rather the exchanges themselves. I always enjoy the opportunity to engage in face-to-face and electronic dialogue about the challenges facing and the craft of the teaching profession. These conversations (and now my writing about them) help keep me intellectual fresh, enthusiastic about teaching, and constantly striving to improve. In part, that’s what I’ve found so exciting about social media and its ever-expanding base of tools and resources: they foster these types of meaningful, thought-provoking exchanges constantly.

So, thanks again both to Jim Gates and my math colleagues today for striking up stimulating, engaging topics of conversation and hearing me out. Until the next intellectual bout…

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