Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Why Twitter?

Since I've started to share my ideas for using Twitter at OHS, this is the constant question that has been asked by colleagues, friends, family members and students. People hear the word "Twitter" and immediately imagine a stream of banal comments which couldn't possibly have anything to do with education. Therefore, I must be able to clearly articulate the purpose of using this tool at school and why it supersedes other options at our disposal.

Twitter will be used at Oconomowoc High School for three principle reasons:
  1. As a tool for staff and administration to communicate with students;
  2. As an instructional tool for teachers in the classroom;
  3. As a component of our staff's professional development.
Communication: This past year's survey data illuminated the vacuum of communication that exists at our school. Teachers tell of how students know little about what goes on outside of their immediate context. Announcements were at one time our primary system of delivering information to students; yet experience proved to us that most students couldn't hear, or didn't listen, to these anyway. There has to be a better way.

I believe that Twitter will allow us to deliver relevant information directly to students on a real-time basis. Students will elect to follow their teachers, club advisers and coaches for instant reminders and announcements. In addition, each student will follow their class (i.e. @OHSClass2011), which will provide them with information tailored specifically for their needs. In this way, students will have a customized announcement system that will connect them with all relevant information and allow them to access it 24 hours a day!

Instruction: Over the past several weeks, I have been following some very innovative teachers on Twitter (@Web20classroom and @TeachPaperless, for example). These educators use a variety of Web 2.0 tools and social media to enrich the learning experiences they create for their kids. Beyond just being engaging, teachers are finding ways to allow their kids to create instead of just consume, connect instead of isolate.

Twitter is one such tool that has limitless possibilities in the hands of imaginative teachers. Picture a back-channel conversation occurring while students in a history class watch a video on the Civil War. The teacher, posing a few questions at the beginning of the video, follows the hashtag and uses it as a type of formative assessment. After the video, the teacher can focus discussion on points of confusion or interest, based upon the data they gleamed from the back-channel. Think of how this transforms the role of student from a passive viewer to an active one that interacts with the content. This is just one of countless examples of how Twitter can enhance our classroom experience.

Professional Development: Perhaps the most exciting possibility for Twitter in our school is what it could do for our professional development. While we have worked hard to differentiate our professional learning, we still aren't there yet. Too many teachers feel disconnected from what we are trying to do, especially those in the fine arts and physical education. Beyond that, professional development is an event, something that occurs every other month on a half day of school. This is totally backwards.

Instead, professional development should be an ongoing process, something that is done daily, both inside and outside of school. Twitter allows for that. Teachers can elect to follow educators from around the world, to share resources, ask questions and participate in collegial conversations. In this fashion, professional development is whatever you make of it!

Hopefully this line of thinking makes some sense. The next step is to develop a plan to share this with staff and to support teachers in their use of Twitter. Look for ideas in upcoming posts.

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