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Teaching by Twitter in Missouri: Why Lobbying for It Makes Sense?

By Travis H. Brown, MBA

It has been no secret that I have lobbied to make online public schools as useful, effective, and transparent as any other classroom in Missouri. It likewise may come as no surprise that I am an avid user of twitter to provide government transparency (having completed my 3,000 tweet recently).

As technology expands into communication and business, it is encouraging to see that some public school teachers are looking at ways to integrate it into classroom experiences in a positive way. It seems inevitable that digital natives would expect and thrive off curriculum approaches fluent in their digital devices and media.

EdWeek Magazine examines several classrooms that are using Twitter in particular to supplement their curricula.

American History teacher Lucas Ames has his students tweeting articles about Constitutional issues, old and new. @coolcatteacher shares resources between colleagues to get and give feedback about technology in the classroom. Yet another teacher in Houston is hoping Twitter will help her bilingual class to learn about other cultures and customs by partnering with other classrooms around the country.

Some critics wonder if it’s really appropriate to use social networking in the classroom. And it’s not just the stigma that video games and social networks are toys and typically distract from learning, but also because there is little to no data about these tools helping or hurting achievement. Daniel Willingham, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia-Charlottesville notes the lack of research, but goes on to say:

“Like any other tool, the way we make it useful is to consider very carefully what this particular tool is very good at, rather than simply say, ‘I like Twitter, so how can I use it?’ ”

So what is useful about Twitter in this context?

It can improve the speed by which we get information. Homework help, project collaboration are possible ways for students to integrate technology into time-management.

Downside: easing a manner to cheat, or providing shortcuts to research

It can present information in a more useful or appropriate format.
Peer reviews or ongoing class discussions where students can integrate, say, news stories into their feed to support their point could be useful in teaching analysis, debate, and how to use resources.

Downside: disadvantage for kids who may not have Internet access at home.

It can connect you with experts.
You can follow @NASA, search for Ayn Rand, follow elected officials, journalists and researchers.

Downside: It can also connect you with spammers and people with bad information.

Crowd-sourcing the best ideas. For teachers, Twitter is beginning to be a way to share ideas, lesson plans and class notes. For students, it could be asking a question or asking for opinions and learning how sharing ideas produces better results and sparks creativity.

Students can also be challenged to develop their own uses and applications for Twitter. One of the most interesting uses of Twitter I came across was an elementary teacher that used Twitter to teach students about probability and geographic climates, so the network actually served to illustrate a lesson, or put a human face on an abstract thought.

Twitter is merely one example among thousands that have the potential to enhance a lesson, show the possible practical uses of a “social” network, and get students used to integrating technology into their work. One objective of administrators and teachers could be to create methods to learn about technology and reap the benefits while avoiding some of the pitfalls.

One leader in the national conversation about technology in education will be Karen Cator, a former executive at Apple, as she joins the U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology.

“We need to craft an entirely new research agenda around this issue so people can’t write that technology doesn’t work,” said Cator to Edweek. “We know it works…but we need to get good at saying and articulating what exactly technology can do.”

If Americans seek to improve the competitiveness of our next generation, then it is vital to embrace this challenge to define better experiences.

Otherwise, I am sure that tweet feeds like this one will regulate our future.

Photo by Kevin Zollman under a Creative Commons license.