Tools: Twitter

I have been asked to blog about my Open Education experiences as a part of my Master’s course, and this raised quite a few questions in my mind. The biggest one was: What is open education? Being me, I instantly went to Google to find an answer. It was a bit of shock to see that the majority of examples, definitions and sites I was given were for open classrooms.  The next step: ask my knowledgeable, university librarian, big sister. Her answer: “online courses or experiences where you can learn about things, but not necessarily get credit for it. A university course, perhaps, but it wouldn’t really count.” Well, that cleared things up, but then the panic hit. I needed to take another course I wouldn’t get credit in order to blog about it for a course I am getting credit in? I had no clue where to start. Thankfully, my fellow classmates were less panicky than I, and I found out I had been doing “Open Education” on twitter for a few years thanks to #kinderchat!

I am not going to talk about the wonderful group of people I have met through #kinderchat; there just is not enough time. But, for those of you who don’t know, #kinderchat is a twitter chat on Monday nights from 6:00-7:00 and it involves teachers mostly from North America who gather to discuss trends, policies and practices in Kindergarten and Grade 1. They have a hashtag which, when used outside of the chat times, is usually responded to by one or more “tweeps” who are there for support and advice.

The use of twitter for education is, I believe, a relatively new idea. When I first joined twitter years ago, I rarely saw groups gather to discuss topics and I don’t think the term hashtag had even been created. Now there are chats dedicated to many different grades, education systems, pedagogy, and even wine chats. Many have a set time, a schedule and some have a variety of moderators, while others have one or two that constantly take the helm. Both ways work, but only having one or two moderators can be a bit exhausting for the moderator, and might get tiresome for the participants. Having a variety of moderators can be an organizational nightmare, I imagine, but offers a greater variety of voice when choosing topics. Having some active participants in the chats is key. I started a chat with a friend this year, and although our groups are usually small, the chat is active. We are able to discuss the topic at hand, and have some great insights into our students’ learning, and our own. For me, having people to learn about Reggio Emilia from online is a huge help, as I am a novice with this kind of learning/teaching. Our varying areas of knowledge and our different time zones can be a great bonus, as a question or idea can be posted at recess , and all sorts of help and experience can have weighed in before the break is even finished.

No matter how great a tool is, though, there will always be some drawbacks. I enjoy the chats I am involved in, but sometimes they are just too fast for me. It can be very difficult, if it is a “burning” topic, to keep up with the opinions, ideas and yes, sometimes the egos of the chat. As in conversation, it is extremely easy to get off topic, and all too easy to be distracted by what is going on in the area around me. I sometimes come back to the chat and have to spend 10 minutes catching up. It continues to be very hard to read voice in some tweets, and I know that with a “real” conversation, I can rely on the tone and facial expressions to gather more information on the speaker. That is extremely difficult to do on twitter, and can lead to some misunderstandings.

Twitter as an open education tool is a good one, I believe. It allows so many voices to participate, and gives people the chance to “lurk” if they are not quite ready to push that “tweet” button. It is available to anyone who wants to join in, and I believe it gives people reading your feed, the opportunity to see what is going on in the lives of educators. We have had people pop in who are not teachers, but parents, who want to share their perspectives on topics.  I look at my students connecting on twitter to learn about classes around the continent and realize that I am on the same path as them with my connections to these teachers.

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