Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Twitterverse and Infinite Meteors

Okay...the title may seem a little vague but by the end of this post hopefully it will become clear. I have technically spent more elapsed time around Twitter the last few months than any other Web 2.0 tool and yet I feel inadequate and unprepared to add to the cosmos of information about it.

Quick hint#1: How many meteors per minute would generate the most amazing light show you have ever seen?

Three Stages of Personal Learning:

Stage 1: Clicking Blind

Stage 1 Screencast-2009-11-17_1240

Stage 2: Desperately Seeking Accomplished "Twitteronomers"

Stage 2 Screencast-2009-11-17_1320

Quick Hint#2: How many meteors per minute would totally ruin a meteor shower for you?

Stage 3: Returning to Ground Control

Stage 3 Screencast-2009-11-17_1437

Social Implications

I think it is important to look at the broad social implications to tools such as Twitter. At the end of this posting I will provide links to sites that give specific applications of Twitter to your daily life but I found the "bigger picture" stuff to be most interesting this week.

While I could bounce around from resource to resource, I would like to springboard off of an impressive transcript of Danah Boyd's presentation at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York (click here for transcript). Some of her thoughts more eloquently describe the intended message behind my concept of "infinite meteors".

Quote #1: "Consider what it means to be "in flow" in an information landscape defined by networked media and you will see where Web2.0 is taking us. The goal is not to be a passive consumer of information or to simply tune in when the time is right, but rather to live in a world where information is everywhere. To be peripherally aware of information as it flows by, grabbing it at the right moment when it is most relevant and valuable, entertaining or insightful. Living with, in, and around information....Being in flow with information...it's not about perfect attention, but it is about a sense of alignment, of being aligned with information."

Twitter and other social media are definitely about being in tune with the world around us. They are about being surrounded, immersed in diverse experiences and connections. Twitter and other similar tools such as texting and instant messaging focus on the present. What is my point? I am concerned about what direction this intense emphasis on immediate information combined with the growing cultural drives to (1)be in the flow 24hrs a day and (2) have our peripheral senses/attention constantly jammed pack with stimulation. As I am typing this I have Tweetdeck chiming constantly with updates from Twitter and Facebook. Next to me I have my Blackberry registering an inflow of text messages and email updates. For good measure I have two screens operating so I can work on this post while keeping up with my two email accounts. When I go downstairs to relax, I will turn on my xbox which now has full Facebook and Twitter capability. When I head into town my Blackberry will be constantly chiming with updates from 2 email accounts, Twitter, Facebook, Blackberry Messenger, Times Magazine, Macleans Magazine...and the list goes on.

I feel like this meteor shower of information that started off as stimulating, beautiful, and inspiring is now approaching a critical social juncture for us which leads to quote #2 from Danah Boyd.

Quote #2 "People consume content that stimulates their mind and senses. That which angers, excites, energizes, entertains, or otherwise creates an emotional response. This is not always the "best" or most informative content, but that which triggers a reaction.

This isn't inherently a good thing. Consider the food equivalent. Our bodies are programmed to consume fat and sugars because they're rare in nature. Thus, when they come around, we should grab them. In the same way, we're biologically programmed to be attentive to things that stimulate: content that is gross, violent, or sexual and that gossip which is humiliating, embarrassing, or offensive. If we're not careful, we're going to develop the psychological equivalent of obesity. We'll find ourselves consuming content that is least beneficial for ourselves or society as a whole."

Imagine what it would happen if a meteor shower hit every night for 15 years. Each successive night the number of meteors that illuminated our sky grew in number exponentially to the point that no dark sky remained. Imagine the stages we would go through as a society...slight amusement, wonder, awe, concerned, scared, annoyed, avoidance accepting, dependent and numb. By year 15, people's lives would be fully dependent on the light the meteors provided and yet consciously they wouldn't even acknowledge their presence. You would even have a whole new generation that is born and being raised based on this dependency.

I don't want to come across all doom and gloom. I just think everyone including parents like myself need to consciously look at what is going on. There are consequences to the road we are on.

What will happen to my son if I make the conscious decision to limit his access to social media? How will my work suffer if I make the choice not to have internet access at my house? How will intergenerational relationships survive when you have one generation who is in the flow and another who isn't? How will my view of graduate professors change if they aren't immersed in the flow and I am? How can businesses and communities in the Northwest Territories compete when so many of them lack adequate connections to the flow?

Danah Boyd goes on to discuss other equally important challenges such as democratization, power imbalances, and homophily. If nothing else it may draw you back to making sure you have a conscious purpose (http://www.crowinfodesign.com/downloads/twitter_beginners.pdf) for things like Twitter instead of just going with the flow.

Professional Implications
Despite the challenges listed above. Twitter does have potential for professionals in the world of education:
1) Instant connections with other teachers about what is going on in your classroom (http://twitter.com/dstresca)
2) A consistent flow of encouragement between professionals (http://twitter.com/LitCoaching)
3)Up to the minute updates between the providers of technology and the educators that use it (http://twitter4teachers.pbworks.com/Interactive-Whiteboard-People)
4) High interest content instantly accessible from experts in cool fields such as astronomy (http://twitter.com/NASA)
5) Twitter taps into the natural drives of youth which opens the doors for more engaging lessons (check out this news story)
6) "Self Awareness and Reflective Practice" (http://mrslwalker.com/index.php/2009/03/29/nine-great-reasons-why-teachers-should-use-twitter) I have enjoyed conversations between and with educators that are struggling through real issues or who are experiencing the joy of real triumphs. I have traditionally used Ning or Facebook for this but Twitter may be slightly quicker and more portable to support those surprise reflective moments.
7) Interactive presentations that can better respond to the needs of the audience. Imagine being in a large conference where you can receive Tweets right into your Powerpoint to guage the effectiveness of your presentation or to take poles of your audience to support your stance with highly local data. (Tools to support this)

There are many other potential applications for Twitter but I will close on a couple big picture considerations.

First of all, much like kids who become aware of meteors for the first time, teachers will have to adjust their focus to fully participate in what applications like Twitter have to offer. Instead of just focusing on the world inside the four walls of your classroom, you will have to truly open your professional life to other professionals and possibly your students and their parents. Certain mysteries held behind close doors will become transparent to the broader community which can be humbling but it also opens the door to new possibilities...new lasting connections.

The final consideration is for administrators, parents, and community members. Take the time to get to know the staff within your schools and your divisions. If people like Danah Boyd, Joyce Valenza, Wesley Fryer, and Will Richardson are right then the world's focus is changing. Education is being influenced by new generations of star gazers that aren't content to watch the meteors as they pass. They want to hop on, go for a ride, and to invite everyone else to share the experience. Support your staff and students as they consciously wade through the Twitterverse. It will take time for meaningful educational change to happen. Join in on the conversation and help guide practice instead of closing doors because of perceived risks.

Finally, don't assume that a closed classroom door means that students aren't learning. Who knows, the kids on the other side of that door may have spent the day mingling with astronauts, researchers, activists, and heads of state. Are experiences like this worth the risks? You decide....

My place in Twitterdom