To Tweet or Not to Tweet?

This post is for people who are trying to convince non-tweeters (possibly themselves) to tweet. What are the benefits — for both students and teachers — and how does Twitter work?

I wrote in September about Why You Should Use Twitter, and that post, ostensibly aimed at convincing my wife to join Twitter, succeeded in getting her to set up an account. However, she’s not using it; her total tweets so far: 1 — the text “test tweet.”

A lot of smart people (such as my wife) don’t see the value in tweeting.

My friend Lyn Hilt had a great post earlier this year, titled Effort In = Reward Out

Here’s an excerpt:

I see many teachers and administrators join Twitter at a workshop. They tweet hello, watch the welcome tweets flow in, and then don’t revisit ever again. Why? There was no reward out, because there was no effort in. They didn’t tweet, they didn’t seek out others to follow, they didn’t try to understand the tool and what it offered them. They quickly dismiss it as a waste of their time, of which they have none to spare.

So if I can’t make the case to my wife, how do I make it for others? Well, it just occurred to me this morning that it makes sense for students at the new middle school I’m opening in 2013 to tweet as they read news articles about the world.

I’m not talking about social tweeting such as “loved the Taylor Swift concert last night.”  I’m talking about tweeting to show an engagement with the world.

I’m still learning Twitter — I started using it for real in September of this year and I’ve just passed the 200-Tweet mark.  But this morning, I looked at my most recent tweets and thought they might provide a window into why I see value in Twitter, and how it could be tweaked for educational purposes. So let’s take a look at my most recent tweets:

My most recent tweet (#1 at the top) is about a phenomena that could spark a fascinating conversation about the role of women around the world.

I read a front-page story in today’s LA Times about young women having acid thrown in their face for refusing a marriage proposal, and I decided to tweet about it. There was a troubling Time Magazine cover story back in August of 2009 that looked at the treatment of women from another angle —

This was a controversial cover choice, and here’s an excerpt of how Time described its decision to publish the cover.

Our cover image this week is powerful, shocking and disturbing. It is a portrait of Aisha, a shy 18-year-old Afghan woman who was sentenced by a Taliban commander to have her nose and ears cut off for fleeing her abusive in-laws. Aisha posed for the picture and says she wants the world to see the effect a Taliban resurgence would have on the women of Afghanistan, many of whom have flourished in the past few years. Her picture is accompanied by a powerful story by our own Aryn Baker on how Afghan women have embraced the freedoms that have come from the defeat of the Taliban — and how they fear a Taliban revival.

In my school, if we chose to discuss that article (out of several we’d read each morning), these tie-ins would be the start of a larger discussion that put this article in context… and we’d have a good 30 minutes to start to unpack the topic.

But getting back to Twitter, imagine if students were asked to tweet about three stories they read each morning. They’d have to boil the story down to its essence in 140 characters or less and provide a link. This forces them to think about what aspect of the story they find most interesting, and assuming their parents follow their tweets, it creates possible dinner conversation. They could also tweet from home before they came to school — we learn 24/7 right?

Let’s check out my second tweet:

It’s about a fun David Pogue article I read in today’s New York Times that could lead to a conversation about green energy.  Or it’s just a fun read because Pogue is a great writer who writes about cool technology.

Let’s move on to tweets 3 and 5:

These tweets are not so dramatic — they’re about pop culture, but they give a sense of who I am and what stuff I like (Superman comic books and Peter Gabriel).  I actually don’t tweet that sort of thing so often — if you look at my full stream of tweets, a good 90% are about education.

For folks new to twitter, the RT circled in blue above means that I am Re-Tweeting from my friend Tony. He tweeted about the video; I liked it and re-tweeted it to my “followers” the people who have signed up to read my tweets (a different group than Tony’s “followers”).

The fourth tweet is an example of an extended tweet.  When you have more than 140 characters to say, there are services that let you put your full post in a link that people can click on to read the whole thing.  For example, here’s what my full tweet looks like when you click the link after the (cont):

My sixth tweet is interesting, because I re-tweeted something I read elsewhere, and then one of my followers re-tweeted my re-tweet, adding that he found it to be “Intriguing.”

How do I know who re-tweeted my tweet? Well, there’s a feature you can click on your main Twitter page (circled in blue below) that shows who mentioned you in their tweets:

So when I click that tab, I get to see this:

So Chad Smith, who I’ve never met before, found my tweet intriguing and sent it out to his followers. And my friend Jennifer, who played soccer in college at Duke, is interested in the article as well.

In a busy world, it’s nice to have Twitter as a way to connect — albeit briefly — with friends. Another benefit to Twitter, aside from the primary reason I use it — to share and learn about interesting articles and blog posts in the world of education.

To answer the title to this post, there is no question… I’ve found that Twitter is definitely worth my time.  I was skeptical at first — I just lurked and read for the first several months I was introduced to Twitter.  But after 3+ months of really Tweeting, I’ve found that Lyn Hilt has it right: Effort In = Reward Out.

So if you don’t Tweet already, give it a try. You can learn a lot. Your learning won’t happen overnight, and it may will be frustrating at times to figure out what’s going on… but give it a few months of really trying it out, and I’m betting you will meet all sorts of interesting people and you’ll learn a lot.

Happy Tweeting!

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About Steve Goldberg

I teach U.S. History at Research Triangle High School, a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning.
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One Response to To Tweet or Not to Tweet?

  1. Lyn Hilt says:

    Very information post for someone trying to wrap their heads around Twitter and how it could be useful in their professional lives! Thanks for sharing this!

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